Isfahan's 17th-century Vank Armenian church
Photo by Reza N. Bakhtiar
Iranian Christians celebrate Christmas in the middle
By Kianouche Dorranie
TEHRAN, 24 Dec (AFP) - Nativity scenes, Father Christmases, and pine
trees fill the streets of Tehran as Iran's Christians prepare to celebrate
the birth of Christ in the middle of the holy Moslem month of Ramadan.
While Iran's Moslem majority is spending the daylight hours fasting,
Christians are busily preparing their own ceremonies in Tehran and across
In the Armenian quarters of Tehran, hundreds of pine trees placed along
the walls of the buildings remind people of the approach of the "January
Families are crowding into the centre to buy Christmas presents in shops
with gaily decorated windows, often with a Christmas crib at the centre.
In the city centre and in the Armenian districts, Father Christmases
jostle with the crowd.
Of the two major Christian communities in the country, the Assyrians
will be celebrating the birth of Christ on Friday, but the Armenians have
another two weeks to wait. Their Christmas does not fall until January
6, after the New Year.
According to generally accepted figures, there are some 300,000 Armenians,
Assyrians and Chaldeans living in Iran, where they enjoy the freedom of
religion guaranteed by the constitution of the Islamic Republic.
The biggest is the Armenian community, based mainly in Tehran, where
their leader, Archbishop Ardak Manukian, resides. Their main place of worship
in the capital is Saint Sarkis Cathedral, north of Villa street.
They have a club in northern Tehran barred to Moslems, where they can
enjoy themselves without having to observe the dress code or religious
restrictions that have been the law in since the 1979 revolution.
They also have a number of religious sites, including the great Vank
cathedral in Isfahan, proof of the ancient roots and rich cultural heritage
of the Christian community that has been in Persia since the 16th century.
There is still a large Assyrian community as well, despite a wave of
emigration to the West after 1979. One of the oldest Christian communities
in the world, they follow the Nestorian rite, condemned as heretical in
the fifth century.
Most Iranian Assyrians come from the border regions with Iraq. They
have kept Chaldean as their religious language, and as their spoken language
they use Syriac, the modern form of Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
Christians are represented in Iran's parliament by two Armenians and
one Assyrian. Every year Iranian leaders send greetings for Christmas and
the New Year to show their respect for Christianity and for Christians
living in Iran.
Last December, President Mohammad Khatami send a message to members
of the Christian community in Iran, describing Jesus as "a symbol
of mercy, friendship and of the spirit and word of God." This year,
Christmas and New Year festivities coincide with Ramadan, the most holy
time of the islamic calendar during which the faithful fast during the
On Friday the people of Tehran have been invited to take part in the
Moslem prayers to be led by the spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic,
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.