I’ve been here for two and a half months now. I’ve seen a lot. I feel like this is the most important experience of my life!
These days some people are urging me to leave Iran as soon as possible. There is talk of the US striking soon…
I’m not too sure about that!
So what do I do?
Thirteen days left and I have one more trip planned, checking out the Persian Gulf. I feel like this final trip is really important for me. Not because I want to see the Persian Gulf but I feel like there is still something I need to experience here in Iran.
Otherwise I would simply leave…
So do I give my family and friends a hard time for these two weeks to come or do I betray my own beliefs?
I don’t believe in acting by fear!
Not that I don’t and I haven’t done so in the past but I try not to base my decisions on fear.
If I had done so in the past I still would have had a job that I didn’t really like and have some future perspective that was perhaps no real perspective.
If I had done so in the past I wouldn’t be “On a Trip”, I wouldn’t be in Iran right now and I wouldn’t have a future perspective I really love.
It’s not that I am especially courageous… no, no, I am scared… but simply I feel like not acting by fear! I feel like if I live my life by fear I don’t really live! I feel like I have to stay! I have to go on this final trip!
So maybe I am just stupid and someone should punch me in my head and put me on a plane.
But one thing I learned on this trip is to live every single moment of life the very moment… and trust life!
I try to do so and for the last six months it worked out quite fine…
So even if I should be forced to serve Iran’s military or even die, I die happy 😉
So it’s been two months now that I am in Iran. My last month was much more quite than the first. In a way I’m starting to live a life here:
I have a bedroom including my personal bath at the apartment of a patron, a mobile phone, a bank account, a relationship, a few good friends and at times I even work… a bit!
I do get a feeling of how a life in Tehran could be like… if I wanted to have a life around here. Well, and life here is not too bad… for me at least.
Anyway, a friend back from Vienna told me he is more interested in current events going on in Iran rather than in some stuff that hadhappened 2500 years ago. I guess I didn’t quite make my point in my entry on “Persian Identity”. This is what I perceive when I talk to Iranian people. This is what I can talk about…
What I cannot talk about is what is “really” going on in Iran today. I try to talk with as many people as possible and I hear so many different things that I cannot “really” tell you what’s going on in Iran.
For example, a lot of people here are moaning about the government and the bad quality of life. But what does it really mean?
If you ask people in Vienna the same questions you get similar answers. So (again) Vienna is the city with the fourth highest quality of life in the world but when you talk to people you feel likecommitting suicide ; )
One of the things I perceive being here is that people in Iran are being brainwashed!
One of the things I perceive being here is that people in the West are being brainwashed!
Ergo… I’m really brainwashed…
Apart from that there is nothing specific on my mind… this very moment… maybe another day…
By the way, tonight is the beginning of spring which is “New Year” in Iran (Noruz). So I’m happy to finally experience Iranian New Year in Iran. So I’m lucky… my last month in Iran is kicked off with the “New Years Eve”.
And tomorrow I go an a trip “back to my roots” to visit the cities of some of my ancestors: Gorgan and Gonbad-e-Kavus : )
It’s interesting to me:
Some people complain about me not staying in touch. And I know that some people don’t complain but are a bit sad about it or feel offended.
So what is it that makes someone feel sad or offended?
What does it really mean if I (and perhaps people in general) “don’t stay in touch”?
So I have those friends who I don’t mail or talk to simply because our bond is not strong enough.
Then there are those friends who I mail or talk to simply because they somehow “force me” to stay in touch (or I am too Iranian to beimpolite).
The majority are good friends that I don’t mail or talk to regularly… only when there is really something going on… not the common superficial chat… but if we ever do I’m really happy about it…
Then there is very few of my very closest friends that I stay in touch with… a bit…
Finally, there is quite some very very close friends or people I highly respect or have experienced something special with, whom I hardly ever mail or talk to. To some of them I haven’t talked to in years and to some of them I might never talk to again!
What does it say about our friendship?
Or maybe: “We share that special thing we do so there is no need to prove it!”
“[…]Now that I put the crown of kingdom of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions on the head with the help of AhuraMazda, I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them until I am alive. From now on, till Ahura Mazda grants me the kingdom favor, I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I never resolve on war to reign. Until I am the king of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions, I never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs, I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor. And until I am the monarch, I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. Until I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. Today, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other’s rights.
People often get confused when I refer to myself as being Persian. It is true: to the West a country by the name of Persia officially doesn’t exist since 1935 anymore. In fact it never existed as it was only a term falsely used by the ancient Greeks and Romans – there was a Persian empire (founded by an ethnic Persian) but never a country called Persia. “Persians” always referred to their country as Iran andReza Shah Pahlavi “changed” this country’s name to the correct term of Iran as Persians only represent a mere 50% ethnic majority of all Iranian people.Looking at my family history I’m not quite sure if my ethnic origin is Persian!
So what is it that makes me call myself Persian rather than Iranian?
In general, people, including myself, have many prejudice and stereotypes. When people ask me “So where are you REALLY from?” they deny my Austrian identity and usually want to get an idea about what type of person I am. So depending on what I would reply, usually a stereotype kicks in to tell them: “(Most likely) this is a civilized/good person!” or :”(Most likely) this is a uncivilized/bad person!”
For many years now the term Iran symbolizes associated prejudice and stereotypes like terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and close-mindedness. More recently great associations like anti-Semitism and “The Axis of Evil” where added.
Personally I don’t really identify with that!
2500 years ago a warrior came along who conquered more than half of the then known world to become an emperor over all Iranian ethnic groups and some non-Iranian kingdoms. This man called himself the Shah-in-Shah (king of kings)… a god-like figure. This man truly was a great emperor and a king of kings!
So what is it that made this man so great? What is it that makes me think (apart from being Iranian) that this man was a king of kings?
To my behalf it is not the fact that he conquered half of the then known world. History has shown again and again that barbarians and even people with tiny intelligence have conquered half of the world or become the most powerful political leader.
It was openness that made this emperor great! It was tolerance that made this emperor great! It was a sense of social fairness that made this emperor great!
This man was Kurosh-e Bozorg (Cyrus the Great). The text above has been taken from the Cyrus Cylinder declared by Kurosh. It was buriedunder the foundations of Babylon to symbolise his empire was built on these foundations. It is interesting: there is a copy of the Cyrus Cylinder at the UN- headquarters in New York and Kurosh perhaps wanted to built some type of United Nations 2500 years ago.
Kurosh was Persian (an ethnic Persian). He was the first of many Iranian emperors to follow a tradition of openness and tolerance throughout Iranian history.
2500 years ago this man declared human rights. 2500 years ago he abolished slave labor (including freeing the Jews from their “Babylonian captivity” – kicking off traditionally good relations with the Jewish people). 2500 years ago this man believed in religious tolerance. 2500 years ago he conquered half of the known world just to let the conquered kings stay in power and their people untouched in their religious beliefs and traditions… only demanding to serve him: the King of Kings!
It is this and many more things that made this emperor great!
So I wonder: when did the Western civilized world first declare and execute human rights? I wonder when did the Western civilized world first abolish slave labor? I wonder when did the Western civilized world first live religious tolerance?
But this text is not at all about who was first or who is better or about the “greatness of the Iranian culture”… I just want to draw the picture of an Iranian perspective. It might not conform to some Western prejudice and stereotypes. In fact, the Western view of Persia and Iran has always been from the “enemy’s perspective” i.e. then the ancient Greeks and Romans and today from the West… a bit biased I would say… and usually the enemy must be bad, philistine and uncivilized… how else should war-propaganda be effective? I believe that the Iranian people and culture have always been wrongly projected to the Western world throughout history.
Anyway, it was not only Kurosh who lived this ideology. Many great emperors, kings, generals and heros like Daryoush (Darius), Khashayar(Xerxes), Ardeshir, Shapur, Anushirvan (Khosrau), Abbas and to some extent even Reza Pahlevi followed. Perhaps the most popular example to the West is Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi (Saladin). It is arguable if he was Iranian as he was a Kurd. But he was born and raised in an area of Persian cultural influence… as many others who where not from the core-land of today’s Iran!
These where emperors and kings who build great universities and libraries with scientific, religious and philosophical texts and scholars from the entire world… trying to unite knowledge. These were emperors who supported intellectual exchange independent of religious, cultural and ethnic background. These were emperors who supported and embraced art and culture from the whole world. These were emperors who imposed human rights, civil laws and some type of a social welfare system (like disability benefits). These were emperors who had a higher goal in mind: Uniting the people of the world in tolerance for peace!
So when we talk about Iran of today in the West we usually don’t associate any of that. When we talk about Iran today many people think of backwarded people and/or the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is true, when we consider only the last 28 years we can make the case that perhaps nothing has remained of the Persian culture of openness and tolerance.
But maybe the government, this regime doesn’t really represent its people. Maybe the Iranian president doesn’t really represent the Iranian people. In fact, the Mullah-regime repeatedly tries to deny the importance of the “Persian” heritage on Iran… well, it works against their power-structure!
And perhaps it takes more than 28 or 66 years to abandon a cultural heritage that has existed for 2500 years. I don’t see it abandoned when I communicate with Iranians today. And I personally don’t believe that a well-established cultural influence can be abandoned within one generation.
I believe that the majority of Westerners don’t see and know any of this and look down on Iranian people (as on the people of many otherancient high-culture).
I am Iranian but I consider myself to be Persian… personally I do so not because I think or want to feel like I am better or greater than whoever… I am not! Rather, I, like many Iranians (and non-Iranians) in and outside of Iran today try to be open, live tolerance, embrace cultures and religions and believe in social fairness!
As for the Persian ethnicity: Persians are Iranians like the Azeris, Turks, Balutishis, Gilakis, Kurds, Mazandaris, Turkmens and many more! Furthermore, Iranians have a mix of Greek, Arab, Mongol and Turkish blood as they where conquered by these empires! Therefore, ethnically speaking, there are perhaps no “true Persians” left.
So, for me, to call myself “Persian” is not the reference to an ethnic group. For me, to call myself “Persian” is a reference to aconsciousness and a symbol!
Openness and tolerance, liberalism and socialism, cultural and religious diversity!
I was born in Tehran and I lived most of my life in Vienna! I am Iranian and Viennese! I am Asian and European! My “ideology” is Persian!
But most of all, I am a human being of this planet Earth!
It surprises me every day again and again how badly people in the West are being fooled about Iran and its people!
After having meet family members including close ones like the daughter of my grandfather’s nice’s nice (I guess that makes me her 2nd or 3rd grade uncle) and my great-grandfather’s nephew I thank god that the majority of my family lives abroad…
So most of these people I met the first two weeks. I’m almost through with my obligatory invitations and visits. Here in Iran the system of these visits/invitations is ritualized and it is an obligation to meet all these people… making some of these events a bit stiff and boring.
But I don’t complain. It was good that I was forced to stay in Tehran for some time. In the meantime I learned to enjoy the city so much that I don’t really want to leave too soon.
I’ve encountered some real good people here (including family members) I can connect to really well.
And I was lucky with my timing to arrive. I experienced Ashura, the 28. Birthday of the Islamic Revolution (these being two of four major yearly events in Iran with the next one coming up in a month) and moreover my best friend had two weeks off just after I finished my first round of obligatory invitations… so we went on a trip.
I love this experience!
At the moment I experience three different worlds. One is my grandmother’s and the world of those who have lost a lot during the revolution… most of all their social status. It is interesting to see how different people around her coped with what had happened then. For her and her friends the revolution was a true trauma, as they had never expected a revolution to the “god-like” king.
Another world I experience is that of Iranian artists. This world is also really interesting as, of course, in a dictatorship artist usually live a life between conforming and rebelling.
And finally, I experience the world of two 20 year old students. This life is real fun. Well, college is supposed to be the best time of your life and these to guys really push it 😉
So over the last four weeks I had a lot of impressions. There are so many that I don’t find time to reflect.
My reflections are mostly on truth and perception, identity, social and cultural influences, socioeconomic and political developments, propaganda and manipulation here as well as in the West, religion, spirituality, human relationships and, of course, love.
So I hope to manage to find the opportunity to share at least a bit of that…
We saw a lot but we didn’t particularly travel to see… so most of the time we spent in the car moving on to whereever… enjoying the beauty of nature and life… listening to Hafez, reading Hafez, singingHafez…
The moment to come to Iran was perfect. The first 10 days ofMuharram Shia Muslims mourn for Imam Hussain – one ofMohammend’s grandchildren – who was killed by his political and religious rival Yesid near Kerbala.
This incident eventually lead to the split of Islam into Shia and Sunni sects and seems to have an impact not only on the region, but from today’s perspective, on the entire world.
For now there are two important aspects that I can identify.
Firstly, there is the rivalry between the sects which at times is quite bloody, as, for example, we can see in Iraq today.
But more importantly: A cult developed around this incident: For almost 1400 years every year the Shia Muslims mourn for ten days (those ten days Hussain was trapped in the desert before being killed) and castigate themselves because supposedly they have betrayed the Prophets grandson. This castigation starts with hitting yourself and even goes on to “suicide”… to die a martyr like Hussain… going straight to paradise!
So what’s the impact of that: Religious leaders abuse that cult! Ayatollah Khomeini definitely has taken advantage of this cult for his sake, like the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which has a much bigger impact on international relations and world politics than mostWesterners today realize. And more importantly, this cult can be exploited to excess, potentially having an even bigger impact on world politics.
So much for the politics…
This whole cult has also a strong influence on Iranian culture. Iranians like to “sacrifice” themselves in daily life. It manifests in simple things. For example if you accidentally hit someone and say “sorry” the answer is “please” whereas in English you would say “no problem” or whatever. “Please hit me!” This is something very Iranian and perhaps even one of the most essential aspects of Iranian culture, and therefore their whole life. It starts with simple things like language and ends with things like children walking through minefields sacrificing their lives like Hussain.
One lesson learned is: Iranian psyche is very masochistic!
So for ten days people spend on the streets following the processions or taking part, hitting themselves on their chests with their fists or with chains on their back, mourning for Hussain and that their failure to help him. Some people hit their heads with knifes (in closed rooms as it is legally forbidden nowadays). And you have people in public rooms having some type of ritual dances, reminding you rather of a discotheque than a religious ritual. In fact the “Hussain”-chanting sounds a bit like Ragga Dancehall at times.
Well, this is perhaps a major aspect of this whole cult today. Of course there are many that are really into this ritual. But most people seem to take advantage of the fact that they can go on the streets, meeting people and partying, let’s say, “the Iranian way”!
This is as good as it gets, partying publicly in a country where dancing and music are forbidden in public.
And the same seems to be true for demonstrations… more people here seem to go to demonstrations because they like to gather with people in public rather than supporting anything of what that guy with his beard is yelling into the microphone.
Some seem to be really into it with their heart (much less than it might seem when watching Western TV). Most seem to enjoy the party 😉
So I have to stop here… this is it for today… of course I’d like to write more as there is so much more going on inside and outside of me… but I have to leave for now…
It was interesting how Turkish people perceive Iranians. Almost all of them think Iranians are Arabs… personally I don’t care too much but for most Iranians that’s a bold insult! Well, Iranians are not Arabs as most Westerners don’t know either – but their ignorance may be forgiven… they also think Alexander the Great was the first “civilized” emperor of the world.
Anyway, at least the Turkish should know what their neighbor’s ethnicity is. Then again, many Turks don’t even know that Kurds are not solely some rebelling mountain-Turks but an ethnic minority. So their ignorance may also be forgiven.
The other stereotype some Turkish seem to have about Iranians is: “Oh it’s the country of Kalle-Pache”… whatever that is supposed to mean 😉
So after two days in Istanbul I took the Trans Asian Express from Istanbul to Tehran.
I liked it! It was my first time on a train for three full days.
I shared my cabin with two Tehranis. One was a young rebel who entertained the whole wagon by expressing all of his frustration with the current situation in Iran. The other one was gay but tried to deny it, which was funny since it was so obvious that he was gay. It was a bit unfortunate for me that he wasn’t open about it as it would have been interesting to get an insight into the life of homosexuals in that regime and into the Tehrani gay-scene.
At the border the trip became even more interesting!
On the Turkish side I had no problems at all and everything was easy.
When we arrived on the Iranian side I soon realized that I was not in a free country anymore!
The whole train was locked down with soldiers guarding the train outside. A border officer came into our cabine and checked our passports. He didn’t exactly have a very friendly nature!
When he saw my passport at first he seemed to be confused. Then he mumbled something about “You have only two days left!” and finally left with my passport saying he would be back in a second.
The second turned out to be an hour…
In a way I expected something like that to happen. Let’s say, my family history doesn’t potentially make me a friend of this regime. So with the current political situation and the US trying to infiltrate the country with young exile-Iranians like me, I could potentially be an American sleeper.
After an hour another guy came back telling me to go to the dining car.
From that moment onwards I felt a bit like in a movie scene:
When I entered the dining car I could clearly feel a strange atmosphere. I sat down in a chair. To my right were two uniformed immigration officers. In front of me sat two plainclothes officers… I figured they were from the secret police. To my left sat a train attendant.
At first they all starred at me. I was a bit irritated. Then, finally, one of the immigration officers wanted to confirm my name. As I confirmed it the officer slowly repeated my name looking onto his lap-top’s screen. I don’t have a Muslim name, which could be, I thought, irritating. Non-Muslim names are less common for my generation… and even worse, I have a king’s name, which can be considered to be political confession.
After the officer had repeated my name it was silent for a few minutes. Everybody in the room looked at me. One of the secret police officers had a very negative aura around him. And of course it had to be him who would stare at me not looking away for a single moment. I could feel how he observed every single move I made. I figured they tried to provoke some type of nervous reaction off me.
But I remained calm!
For a strange reason I felt really relaxed. And when I realized that the weird guy starred at me thoroughly I relaxed even more. I almost had to laugh out loudly as I found that situation too unreal.
After a while another Iranian traveler entered the dining car. He sat down next to me. He was a about 60 and lived in Canada. The officers asked him some questions. He had to fill out a form and was allowed to go back to his cabin.
After a while, one of the secret police officers told me to follow him. We left the train to enter the border station. Two soldiers guarded outside with four more standing around inside. We entered a filthy room with a table, a laptop and two chairs. I was told to sit down while he would check out something with his computer.
I was a bit confused about the special treatment!
After I was waiting for a while he started asking me some questions. Since my Persian is not fluent he got a bit irritated.
He would ask me the same questions over and over again, trying to figure out if I had something to hide. Again I found this whole scene a bit funny as I was in a similar type of situation once before, trying to enter the US as a teen – having a “special security check” there too after the immigration officer was convinced I didn’t speak German. Then, I also had to go to a special room to be questioned.
So for the Iranians I could potentially be a American sleeper and for the Americans I could potentially be a Iranian terrorist 😉
Anyway, the officer was a bit confused as I couldn’t specify my grandmother’s address (where I would stay in Tehran) and furthermore didn’t know her last name by heart (in Iran women keep their maiden name after marriage)… well, I just call her grandma!
When he asked me how I would get to her place, I just replied that I would call her on arrival, which again is a bit strange as it is quite unusual for Iranians not to be welcomed by the whole family at the train-station/airport.
Finally, after more than 30 minutes of questioning he asked me eventually the most important question:
What is your religion?
Unfortunately I don’t know the Persian term for “religion” so I couldn’t answer at first!
It was the last question as perhaps it made two things very clear:
Quite likely I am a god-damn pagan!
But more importantly, I’m not very likely to be a sleeper if I don’t even know the Persian term for religion!
He gave me my papers, told me that I could stay for three months – no day longer – and asked a soldier to escort me back to the train.
Back in the train my cabin members enjoyed the story…
The next evening we arrived in Tehran and fared-well.
So this is it… I’m finally in Iran.
I’ll have almost three months to find (out) something… whatever it might be…
Perhaps I’m here to see what my original culture is like.
And of course I also want to know what this talk about the axis of evil, terrorism, anti-Semitism and evil evil Islam is all about.
I’m here to see how evil my roots really are 😉