Iran is a country with a complicated relationship with the United States, which includes the US assassinating their elected president; Iran imprisoning US embassy staff for 444 days; the US supporting Iraq, Iran’s enemy, in a war that lead to a half million deaths; and Iran making threatening statements about the United States and developing nuclear capability to endanger regional and global stability as the US labels Iran “Axis of Evil” and subjects them to cyber warfare and an economic stranglehold. Against this geopolitical backdrop, Iranians struggle with balancing government-mandated religious control and a desire for modernity. These struggles manifest themselves in the country’s food, music, signs and murals, and apparel. The people’s everyday interactions reflect a blend of optimism and fear.
I led delegations of international business leaders to Iran in 2013, 2014, and 2015. The difference between the conservative past president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the current reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, is palpable throughout all aspects of Iranian society. There is now an increased feeling of hope and desire for normalizing relations with the West.
For articles stemming from my travels in Iran
Outside the Ayatollah Khomeini Mausoleum in Tehran. The mosque, mausoleum, and complex span over 5,000 acres and will cost 2 billion dollars to complete. Khomeini’s image evokes fear in many Westerners while most Iranians revere him as the founder of the Revolution.
Housing the sarcophagi of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ahmad, his second son, the Mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage for Iranians showing respect to their Revolution’s founder.
Mural on wall surrounding former US Embassy (or US Den of Espionage as it is called by the Iranians). During the Iranian Revolution in 1979-1980, 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days, part of the complex American-Iranian history.
While Americans are warmly welcomed by Iranians, tensions remain at the political/governmental level on both sides.
On learning I was American, this spice vendor in the Isfahan market exclaimed, “America, we’ve been waiting for you for 30 years!”
Billboards throughout Tehran are meant to inspire patriotism and support for the military.
Grave of martyr who died in the Iran-Iraq war, which took 500,000 Iranian lives. Many Americans know very little about the Iran-Iraq war. From the Iranian perspective, the US gave support to its ally at the time, Saddam Hussein, to launch and carry out this devastating war.
In Tehran, written in Farsi with crossbones and covered by ominous shadows, this is not a political message but rather a “No Parking” sign.
Construction worker, Shiraz
Though many in Iran desire Western products like Coca-Cola, they are officially prohibited under UN sanctions. In order to circumvent these sanctions, Coke syrup manufactured in Ireland is shipped to Dubai and forwarded to Iran for bottling and sale.
Vendor selling assorted novelties, many imported from China, which does not fully support the international sanctions.
A Mont Blanc store opening with sophisticated, wealthy, and beautiful people. The store is technically prohibited under UN sanctions; inventory must be purchased with cash in Dubai because Iran has been cut off from the international banking community.
Fruit vendor selling locally-raised and imported produce.
Hamid had arrived six months ago as an economic refugee from Afghanistan. For decades, Iran has attracted Afghanis seeking economic opportunity.
Dried tart fruits and lavashak, Persian fruit rolls.
Street vendor in Esfahan
Two men in Shiraz
There are laws about female modesty to avoid distracting or enticing men, and yet provocative undergarments are displayed and sold in public.
Hijabs, or head scarves, are mandated for women although styles and usage vary based on the orthodoxy of the wearer.
Pomegranate juice (Aab Anaar) vendor outside a major entertainmaint complex. The role of women in Iranian society is shifting with increasing liberalization.
Many of the traders on floor of the Tehran Stock Exchange are women.
Ayatollah Seyed M-Ali Ayazi in Quom, Iran’s religious center, explained that there are three female Ayatollahs in Iran and over 20,000 women studying at Iranian seminaries.
In the short time since Hassan Rouhani became President, there has been tremendous social liberalization. This couple in Laleh Park in Tehran would not have publicly displayed affection in the past.
Young Iranians rebel against social conservatism, have increasingly open and casual relationships with the opposite sex and exhibit looser compliance with dress codes and other restrictions.
Ayatollah Ansari at Madrasa-E-Khan in Shiraz explained Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa (religious ruling) determining that transgender surgeries are compliant with Islam. Since then, Iran has become one of the world’s leading centers for trans-related surgeries, notwithstanding Iran’s otherwise severe positions on LGBT issues.
Musician Shahram Sharbaf gave his first legal concert in 7 years to an audience limited to 200 to ensure that the crowd could be kept under control. During the concert Shahram continually implored his fans not to clap or cheer as he wanted to be able to perform again.
Man sitting in front of posters the Supreme and other religious leaders, which are ubiquitous in Iran.
Touran is a member of the Kater David Synagogue, one of three active synagogues serving the 2000 Jewish residents of Esfahan.
Ali Ibn Hamza Shrine
Shia Muslim woman leaving on pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca from Ali Ibn Hamza Shrine in Shiraz. Most Iranians are Shia and traveling to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni country, which can be dangerous due to conflicts between these two branches of Islam.
Traditional Persian flat bread (nan) baker
Peacock feather seller outside Fin Garden in Kashan.
Blacksmith shop in Esfahan
Bicyclist in Esfahan
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