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Scenes of revolution (from left to right): rioting against the shah; women and children join a march; burning an image of the shah

Michel Setboun/Corbis via Getty Images (protesters flipping bus); Christine Spengler/Sygma via Getty Images (women protesters); AP Photo (burning effigy)


Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, RH.6-8.10, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.7, SL.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.4

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.2, Civ.6, Civ.7, Civ.10, His.1, His.2, His.3, His.4, His.5, His.14, His.15

NCSS: Time, continuity, and change; Global connections; Power, authority, and governance; People, places, and environments


Contest Winner

Escaping Iran's Revolution

Our 2019 Eyewitness to History contest winner interviewed a family friend about having to flee a violent conflict that ripped her homeland apart

As You Read, Think About: What can we learn from talking with people who experienced historical events?

Courtesy of Uttara Krishnan

Few political upheavals in faraway lands have seized American hearts and minds the way Iran’s revolution of 1979 did. It started with Iranians taking to the streets by the thousands, demanding an end to the dictatorial rule of the shah (king). Some demonstrations turned into violent clashes between protesters and police. Then, on November 4, 1979, a group of militants, outraged by U.S. support for the shah, stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran’s capital (see “Key Moments,” below). They took 90 people hostage—including 66 Americans.

Suddenly, the problems of a country that few in the U.S. had noticed before became dramatically real. For 444 days, as dozens of hostages remained in captivity, Americans were glued to TV news reports, following events in Iran. But what was the revolution like for Iranians?

Sylvie Kadivar, then age 11, saw her once-peaceful life in the city of Shiraz turned upside down (see map, below). Even after the shah was ousted, Iranians remained divided over the future of their government. The conflict pitted those who wanted a democratic system against supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a religious leader who eventually took control and established strict Islamic rule. Caught in between were many Iranians like Kadivar’s family, whose everyday lives were shattered.

In this interview conducted by seventh-grader Uttara Krishnan, Kadivar looks back on how the turmoil of Iran’s revolution changed her life forever.

Uttara Krishnan: How old were you when the revolution took place? What did you notice?

Sylvie Kadivar: I was 11 years old. At first I noticed small things, like conversations at school and tension among people. But as more time went by, I saw protests and police everywhere. It became dangerous. My school was closed a couple of times because of the revolutionaries. Protesters burned books and friends grew distant because of different political views. Because I was so young, it was difficult to understand what was happening.

UK: Did you see any protests?

SK: I remember being in the car when one was going on, and my father told me to put my head down because people were shooting. Then it happened so often it became normal. We would get stopped by the police and it would take more time than usual to get somewhere.

UK: Did anyone you knew participate in the protests going on where you lived?

SK: Yes. My childhood friends got dragged into protesting against the shah and for the ayatollah. They would talk about it in school all the time, and it was strange. We went from playing with dolls and toys to talking about politics.

UK: When you walked outside, did things seem like normal?

SK: No. You would be scared. Before, you would play with your friends outside, you would dance, you would sing, you would have a good time. But after the revolution, people became less and less friendly. I had a teacher who used to be so caring and loving, but after the revolution, he got angry at the students and was rude to every­one with different political opinions.

The Middle East

Iran is located in one of the world’s most troubled regions.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

UK: Did your parents ever talk about their political views? Did that affect the way you thought?

SK: I think your parents’ opinions always matter to you. I mostly agreed with what they said, but I would never bring it up at school or with my friends. I didn’t want politics to change my friendship with them.

UK: With all the fighting and new restrictions, thousands of Iranians fled, including your family. You had to leave all your belongings when you left for France. What was that like?

SK: I was very upset. I felt sadness in my family. I thought we would eventually go back, but we never did. My brother took soil from Iran and put it in a bag, so he under­stood that we wouldn’t go back. Even after I realized it too, I dreamed of returning and everything being at peace.

UK: How did you feel in France?

SK: For the first three years, I was really upset. I used to dream about Iran, my life and friends. I found that I got along well with people who also had struggles in their life. I worked really hard on my grades and found that it helped me make more friends.

Courtesy of Sylvie Kadivar

AT HOME IN IRAN: Sylvie and her father in Shiraz, before the family was forced to flee their homeland

UK: Did you have to hide who you were in public?

SK: I did want to hide, so I would hide in my dreams. I would imagine going back to Iran and no one would understand how I felt. I couldn’t connect with anyone in the beginning. I needed time, and I needed someone to talk to. I couldn’t always talk to other kids, but I could talk to the teachers, and they could help me. The kids couldn’t experience what I felt.

UK: Have you visited Iran since? If not, would you like to?

SK: I would like to visit Iran, but I never went back. I feel that my country should be a real democracy. I’m not ready to go back and remember the pain of leaving.

UK: What did you learn from this experience?

SK: I learned a lot about the importance of being very careful when a politician uses hatred to move an agenda forward. Anger and revenge have no good outcome on anybody. I also learned to appreciate everyone, no matter what their opinion is. I taught myself not to follow blindly, to pay attention, to reach out to people and find solutions that work for everyone, and to be strong and resilient.

Write About It! What conflicting feelings does Kadivar have about the country she had to flee? Why hasn’t she gone back?

What This Means for the U.S.

In the 40 years since Iran’s revolution, the country has been under strict Islamic rule. The U.S. has long been at odds with this Middle Eastern country over its destabilizing actions in the region and its support for terrorist organizations.

The U.S. also suspects Iran of developing nuclear weapons—a threat to U.S. allies in the region. Last year, President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions against Iran that had been lifted two years earlier. The two countries remain deeply distrustful of one another.

Winners of Junior Scholastic’s 2019 Eyewitness to History contest


Courtesy of  Uttara Krishnan

“A Child’s Point of View: The Iranian Revolution”
Uttara Krishnan, 13
Grade 7, Ida Price Middle School
San Jose, California
Teacher: Jennifer Dodge


Courtesy Sophia Leclerc

“A Siege of Leningrad Survivor”
Sophia Leclerc, 14
Grade 8, Buist Academy
Charleston, South Carolina
Teacher: Maury Goodloe


Courtesy Oliver Viglas

“Fighting for Civil Rights in Mississippi”
Oliver Viglas, 12
Grade 6, The Hiland Hall School
Bennington, Vermont
Teacher: Brennan Cofiell

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