After 25 years
Part 6, last
July 28, 2004
That those in the seat of power in Tehran cannot tell the difference
between good and bad is also obvious in carpet-making, which is
becoming a losing venture,
not least because the beauties spontaneously produced for centuries by illiterate
girls are so bastardized now. How can you combine wheeling and dealing with refinement
and knowledge about architecture?
When I saw Coca Cola bottles in cafés
to the delight of Iranians addicted to the stuff (except dentists who know
that dentures left in a glass of Coke overnight have been found
to dissolve), I expressed
my surprise that Coke should be readily available instead of the local variety,
so heralded once as a substitute drink of non-American make.
I was told that
the concession had in fact been obtained by the Grand Ayatollah of Mashad,
Vaez Tabasi, probably via an emirate like Dubai. No wonder the
beautiful complex in Mashad
has come to look so much like Disneyland now. For all one might know, some
mollas may be involved in the production of wine, for I tasted
an excellent velvety
one at a dinner party and was told that it is produced not only by Armenians
who are officially allowed to produce and sell wines, but by local farmers
in Takestan near Qazvin, whom thankfully nobody seems to pursue.
How can they pursue
a farmer when the quantities of hard liquor imported cannot have slipped
through without paying bribes to high officials? The same people
who sell Iranian girls
to the sheikhs bring back liquor.
The contrast between the good work and the bad is very striking,
enough to make one a manic-depressive, as already said. The consensus
is that everything good is achieved by the people themselves, including
those who work for Miras-e Farhangi, such as the person in charge
of the Azarbaijan office, about whom I heard praise from every
quarter. How he must squirm when he passes in front of the Mosalla
in Tabriz. By contrast, the Blue Mosque under his care is a jewel
to behold, well taken care of, mainly because it is no longer in
And so is the lovely Armenian monastery of St. Stepanus set
in a delightful red gorge of the Aras river, not far from Julfa.
As is the Sasanian sanctuary of Shiz at Takht-e Soleiman, high
up on a volcanic plateau at 2200 meters, with a deep and dark
lake in the middle of extensive ruins that comprise a hunting pavilion
of the Ilkhanid Mongols, the beautiful tiles of which, ornamented
with simorghs and graceful deer, can be seen in the Museum of
Art in Tehran, while local artists have taken to painting charming
copies of the same tiles to sell to the decreasing number of
foreign tourists. Leave the people alone and they will eventually
to do what is right.
One only hopes the government will not interfere in one of the
loveliest areas of Iran. With the pink-coloured earth of surrounding
mountains, also used for the façades of village houses (which
have so far remained immune from concrete) and embellished with
doors and windows painted blue to dazzling effect, the site and
its surroundings, including the bucolic Zarrineh-Rud (whose twin
river, the dried-up Simineh-Rud, is a harsh reminder of the potential
risk to water reserves), the whole area exudes a magical mystery
that is hard to match.
The local boys, mostly Afshar Turks and
Kurds, go up to the site on Fridays to 'admire our heritage',
said one who was armed with a guitar and an antiquated movie camera
for fun. (So much for those who believe that the Kurdish and Turkic
tribes are not an integral part of the history of Iran). They were
cleanly shaven and impeccably dressed, something one would not
have expected around here twenty-five years ago. Yet, instead of
assembling to play cards or attending a sermon in the mosque, they
come here to breathe in the magical atmosphere of an ancestral
The mollas do not care, so long as their hold on power and money
is not contested. The people at the top pride themselves on the
fact that they have risen humble backgrounds, indeed from the slums.
There is nothing wrong with that, if only the move from the rags
of the slums to the riches of the top occurs with a corresponding
change in values. You cannot apply the vision and values of the
slums to the country at large without incurring substantial damage
to culture, to environment and even to the integrity of a time-honoured
land whose neighbouring areas, once part of itself, are gradually
becoming hotbeds of intrigue against Persian culture.
attached to the land always knew about its limits from the cumulative
experience of the centuries past , and never inflicted the kind
of damage that ignorant bureaucrats so often do. But the slums
teach nothing, except vulgarity, corruption, hatred and profiteering.
While Iranian exiles are contributing their talents to the flourishing
West, this regime has chosen to ignore the experts and employ
on the basis of how ragged and unshaven a candidate looks. Qualification,
knowledge, experience are not a concern, even less are they considered
It is a mistake to view the present regime in Iran as a theocracy,
for that is a façade for populism. It so happens that the
lowly, who were left out of the boom, grew up with an overdoes
of religion at home, for lack of other education to be had. That
they should have found the road to riches a better one than that
to God shows how skin-deep their religiosity was.
They bear all
the hallmarks of populist regimes: the explosion of poor taste,
disregard for the natural environment which, to them, is no different
from wealth confiscated from the rich, something to be used and
abused without heed for tomorrow's backlash. The environmental
damages wrought by the Soviet Union and by Mao's China are
well-known enough, even though they were better endowed than
Iran in terms of water. One would have thought that the mullas,
how cut off from the world, would have learnt their lesson.
The long-term results are yet to be seen. It takes little to
upset a fragile environment like that of Iran, which has been subjected
to over ten thousand years of abuse since the dawn of agriculture.
Does the Minister of Enviroment, the hostage-taker who swapped
the miniskirt of her Amercian youth for the voluminous drapes required
for the high seat of power, have enough compassion for her children's
Even if she does, she no longer will have the last word
henceforth, since her new deputy is no other than the notorious
former ambassador to Argentina, who has been suspected of a murderous
plot in Buenos Aires; justly or unjustly is irrelevant in the
light of the fact that he is not qualified for the post he now
and has no doubt been placed there to defend the bazaar's
right of developing agricultural land, to which his predecessor
had proposed to put an end. He is already committing crimes against
the future generations of Iran.
Is it any wonder that without accountancy about revenue and spending,
the country should be awash in the wildest rumours?
of soils, salination as a result of inconsiderate overexploitation
of cultivated lands, industrial waste seeping unfiltered into
water reserves, GM foods, pesticides, dioxins, and cancer from
mines in the vicinity of Yazd, are a few examples. Instead of
providing answers to allay such anxieties and fears, the government
its money-making schemes without consultation of the people involved.
And the speaker of the Majles goes to the Bazaar to reassure
them that the government is still behind them.
Why is there no
of alarm among groups so ready to criticize Iran for sins like
the nuclear threat and human rights abuse? What greater abuse
of human rights can match the flagrant mismanagement of natural
Significantly the report compiled by the British parliamentary
group, who visited Iran in October, did not even utter a word
on the environment. Why should they speak out when they themselves
are planning to pollute the Caspian into non-existence for
barrels of oil? When, under the late Shah, Austria was making
a deal to send out its nuclear waste for burial in the Kavir
for substantial payments to Iran, it did not give a damn about
what would happen to Iranians themselves.
So none of this is new or limited to Iran. Even the southwest
of the United States is suffering from water shortage warnings.
And as far as bad taste is concerned, there is worse in 'liberated' Kabul
which now has a hotel with a fancy swimming-pool and Las-Vegas-style
pink-and-gold colonnade planted in the midst of hovels still lacking
water and sometimes even a roof. The Taliban tragedy has left Afghanistan
with a single elderly expert of the Shahnameh and three archeologists,
of whom one in Paris, so that Halliburton has to call up the British
Museum about the important remains Begram (ancient Kapisa) buried
under Kabul Airport which a subsidiary of the company is building
But Iran has the experts who can put most things right, if
they are paid enough. And they deserve to be paid, for the scale
and the scope of problems are huge and they must be attended
to without any delay. If nothing is done with urgency to prevent
by deforestation, toxic pollution and water abuse, irreversible
damage may be round the corner. It is interesting to note the
comparison with the end of Sasanian Iran, when over-exploitation
of land without
drainage to leach out the salt unleashed terrible floods and
famine in Iran and Mesopotamia and thus did Zoroastrian Iran go
the least likely conqueror on the historical stage.
Any faith in the young of Iran must depend on whether they can
count on good water and soil. For now everyone eats and eats very
well. Even Dubai imports much of the food for its luxury hotels
from neighbouring Iran, mainly because of the high quality. But
for how much longer? The Iran of today, like the United States,
is a land cleft in two, with good an bad weeds. In Iran the bad
weeds, though powerful for now, are vastly outnumbered by the good
elements which, however, have yet to prove their ability to act
and to be effective. There is plenty of good will, especially amongst
those who work from within, and whose task is therefore doubly
As I was returning from one of my trips, my driver-guide
announced with a very long face that, according to television
reports, the arch of the Taq-e Kasra, the impressive portal to
palace on the Tigris, a landmark monument about which I have
already written in this space, was in risk of collapse. I was
and was trying to figure out how to raise funds and how to
convey them to the disaster area before it was too late. Would
be experts willing to go to Iraq and would they obtain the visas
accomplish their work?
The following day, as I was packing
to leave, my aunt, who keeps up with the news, walked in to tell
the government had announced that it was sending a team of
experts to restore the great arch. This is a momentous decision,
for it goes against everything the mollas stand for. After
all it was the fall of Ctesiphon-on-the-Tigris, where the Sasanian
palaces and administration were, that set off the Arab Moslems
on the conquest of Iranian lands all the way to the Hindu
Kush and Central Asia resulting in eventual conversion to Islam.
send off a team to Iraq to repair the Taq-e Kasra, would
I was elated, but so far, nothing seems to have been
do not even know who bears the blame for the lack of action,
of determination on the part of the mollas or American
paranoia and reluctance to allow Iranians into Iraq. A case of
devil and the deep blue sea.
Upon my return to Europe, my taxi driver turned out to be of
Macedonian-Albanian origin. As much as the other one had been ignorant
of Iran, this one (and later, a colleague of his) was very much
aware. Not only aware, but counting on Iran. They both said that
only Iran (as opposed to the Arabs, and for different reasons,
to the Turks), could really save the fate of moderate European
Moslems like themselves, in other words the original ones, not
the hot-headed immigrants of more recent date). If only Iran would
play its cards right! For to them our culture represents the more
flexible and versatile Islam, but they are fully aware of the weaknesses
inherent in the current regime.
Some day, when Iran can once again
fulfil its historical role, noone will be able to lay claim to
the culture and history we should rightfully share with others.
There is a lot at stake here and and there are indicatoins that
neither the regime nor its opponents fully understand or address
the issues and their implications. That is a story that has yet
to be told. >>> index
Fatema Soudavar Farmanfarmaian was born in Tehran in 1940 and
studied in Iran and Switzerland. In Iran she was on the committe
of a number of organizations, including the Museum of Modern Art
and the Women's University. She also did volunteer work for the
Deparment of the Environment, where she planned education for schools
and TV on environmental subjects. Since the Revolution she has been
focusing on research and writing. Her latest appeared in The
Journal of the Society for Iranian Studies (Summer/Fall 2000)
called "Haft Qalam Arayish: Cosmetics int he Iranian World".
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