TEHRAN, IRAN, 28 January, 1999: Two Iranian girls stand
next to a modern sculpture, January 28, in Tehran. Iran's teenagers are
showing scant interest in the 20th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution,
for which official festivities are about to begin. [Photo by Atta Kenare,
AFP] Thanks to Payman Arabshahi
To be 20 in Tehran ...
TEHRAN, Jan 29 (AFP) - The boys don baseball caps, the girls trainers
under their black Islamic veils or chadors.
If they can afford it, they'll eat out in one of Tehran's many burger
joints or pizzerias, as trendy as any fast-food eatery in the West.
Iran's teenagers or 20-somethings are showing scant interest in the
20th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, for which official festivities
are about to begin.
"Football is my thing," said 18-year-old Mohsen, who is getting
ready to go to university.
His bedroom at home is plastered with posters of Iran's football stars,
especially Ali Daei and Khodadad Azizi, "who were lucky enough to
get taken on by German clubs."
The only picture of an official here is of Iran's reformist President
Mohammad Khatami, voted into office in 1997 by millions of youngsters who
like Mohsen, were eager for change.
"It was the first time I voted in my life. He was the only person
who spoke about young people, so I voted for him," he said.
Last month Khatami again challenged Iran's establishment to pay greater
heed to young people's wishes. "Young people need legitimate pleasure
and we cannot ask them to go only to the mosque," he said.
With about half the population aged 20 or less, Iran has one of the
youngest populations in the world, and Iranians can vote at the age of
Every day, young people quietly but persistently undermine the social
and religious taboos traditionalists have imposed on Iranian society since
the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Police continue to swoop on house parties in a country where alcoholic
drinks are forbidden and boys and girls must not socialise outside marriage.
But they can now be seen walking hand in hand in Tehran's parks, an
unthinkable sight a little over a year ago.
The blockbuster film Titanic, seen all over the world, is banned from
Iranian cinema screens, but people have watched the film at home on thousands
of pirate video tapes circulating across the country, while a government
paper even devoted a special report to what has become the cult film for
"They never knew the shah and have only a vague idea of Khomeini.
After 20 years of the official cult of martyrdom, memories of the war against
Iraq and the exaltation of sacrifice, they just want to live and have fun,"
said Dariush, a university lecturer.
Youngsters have their favourite trendy places where they hang out, such
as the Golestan shopping mall in the Shahrak-e-Qods in northwestern Tehran,
where they'll find anything from fake or real designer clothes to the latest
Another favourite spot is the Capital Computer Complex in posh northern
Tehran, a brand new mall offering the latest computer equipment and software.
But tough living conditions and simmering discontent are the order of
the day among young people from less privileged backgrounds.
These are the second generation of the Mostazafan, the "disinherited"
in whose name Khomeini called on people to rise and topple the Western-backed
With unemployment rates running as high as 30 percent in some poor areas
such as Islamshahr in southern Tehran, even scraping together a marriage
dowry is a daunting challenge for many young people.
Marriage has indeed become a national headache for a country undergoing
one of its toughest recessions, and has prompted special television programmes
on the issue. Drugs are also increasingly used by the young here, a fact
illustrated by the hauls regularly publicised by the authorities.
On the eve of official celebrations to mark the Islamic regime's 20th
birthday, Iran's former middle-of-the-road president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani,
has recognised that Iran's youth is now the main challenge facing the government.
"We should get the young generation acquainted with the Islamic
revolution if we don't want to see their deviation" under Western
influence, he said.