30 Nov 2011

History and furniture under attack in Tehran

International editor Lindsey Hilsum on the historic past of the Tehran ambassador’s residence that came under attack yesterday.

 I’m sorry about the breakdown in relations between Britain and Iran for historic as well as diplomatic reasons.

The walls of the building where the Ambassador’s residence is housed have seen and heard a lot over the centuries.

Exactly 68 years before yesterday’s attacks by Iran’s basij militia and Revolutionary Guard forces, on November 28th 1943,  the residence was host to rather more historic figures: Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill.

It was the scene of the Tehran Conference, where the three leaders tried to map out a strategy for victory in WWll. Roosevelt was unwell, and apparently said little, but Churchill and Stalin reportedly drank with huge enthusiasm and got along splendidly. Stalin wrung plenty of concessions, including support for the Partisans in Yugoslavia and a chunk of Poland. In return, he cooperated on what eventually became D Day. 

A few years back, the then British ambassador was poking about in the embassy residence basement where he found the furniture which the three leaders had used. He had it repaired and recreated the scene. When I visited, he showed me the seating plan, the dining table they had sat around, and the upholstered chairs where – I presume – they retired for port and cigars. The three leaders also agreed to provide aid to Iran, which was suffering because of wartime shortages 

Yesterday, the hardline demonstrators who broke into the embassy reportedly entered the residence, smashing windows and ornaments. I wonder if they knew they were destroying their, and our, history as well.