Esfahan – Iran’s ethnical diverse Mosaic City host of multiple world heritage sites

A mere hour’s flight south from Tehran, a visit to Esfahan could alone justify a trip to Iran.

It is hard to say whether the city’s immense charm lies in its aquamarine-tiled mosques and elegant gardens and palaces; in its location at the foot of the snow-capped Zagros mountains and along the curve of the Zayandeh river with its fairytale arched bridges; in its unique, majestic urban plaza and its evocative bazaar; or, year-round clear blue skies. Winters here are crisp and cool, summers sizzling, and spring balmy.

Undoubtedly the most elegant city in Iran, Esfahan was the Persian capital for a hundred-year period from 1588, when it flourished under the rule of the arts-loving despot Shah Abbas I. Traditionally a crossroads for international trade and diplomacy, the city has never ceased to wow visitors.

Isfahan Naghsh-e Jahan

Naqsh-e Jahan Square

However, Esfahan is more than a living, breathing work of art: it is an industrial supremo, a modern, cosmopolitan city, with a population of over 1.5 million. Ethnically diverse – the Christian and Jewish minority live alongside the Muslims in peace – the streets are alive with the irrepressible vitality of its youthful residents. Whether you strike up a conversation with a local, lose yourself in the winding alleys of the old quarter or relax in one of the city’s cosy teahouses, you too will fall under Esfahan’s spell. Esfahan Naghsh-e Jahan 2_HQ Esfahan Naghsh-e Jahan 3_HQ

What to do First stop has to be Naqsh-e Jahan Square, in the centre of town. Begun in 1602 and originally used as a polo ground, it’s one of the world’s largest – beating Russia’s Red Square – and is now a Unesco world heritage site.

The grassy fountain-filled courtyard is the perfect spot for people-watching, a picnic or simply soaking up the splendid monuments that surround it, such as the massive Imam Mosque complex. Adjacent to the Imam Mosque is the more intimate Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – its intricately tiled dome never fails to mesmerise visitors.

https://i0.wp.com/persepolis.free.fr/iran/history/images/aliqapu.jpg

Ali Qapu Palace

Opposite it, is the Ali Qapu Palace, one time roost of the Safavid rulers, and at the far end is the entrance to the Grand Bazaar. It, like the covered arcade that runs around the square, is your best bet for booty: miniature paintings, decorative tiles, enamel vases and plates, jewellery, carpets, clothes and accessories – from colourful scarves, to fake designer handbags, rupushes, a type of long coat, and hijabs – as well as nuts and sweets. The city is famous for gaz, a type of nougat.

Chehel Sotoon

Chehel Sotun

Drag yourself away, if you can for another opportunity to savour high Persian culture in the form of Chehel Sotun Palace, with its mirror work, pillared hall and landscaped gardens, now filled with gaggles of friendly students. Conveniently, it’s also in the vicinity of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which exhibits works by both local and international artists.

Vank Cathedral

Don’t forget to check out Jolfa, the Armenian quarter, south of the Zayandeh River. It’s dotted with churches, including Vank Cathedral which is famous for its striking religious tableaux. Whatever you do, be sure to take a sunset stroll along the banks of the river to the striking Khaju bridge, a discreet haunt for courting couples.

khawju bridge isfahan1

Khaju bridge

BBC: Iran’s proud Jews – “anti-Semitism is a European phenomenon”

Although Iran and Israel are bitter enemies, few know that Iran is home to the largest number of Jews anywhere in the Middle East outside Israel.

About 25,000 Jews live in Iran and most are determined to remain no matter what the pressures – as proud of their Iranian culture as of their Jewish roots. […]

It is dawn in the Yusufabad synagogue in Tehran and Iranian Jews bring out the Torah and read the ancient text before making their way to work. It is not a sight you would expect in a revolutionary Islamic state, but there are synagogues dotted all over Iran where Jews discreetly practise their religion.

“Because of our long history here we are tolerated,” says Jewish community leader Unees Hammami, who organised the prayers. He says the father of Iran’s revolution, Imam Khomeini, recognised Jews as a religious minority that should be protected. As a result Jews have one representative in the Iranian parliament.

“Imam Khomeini made a distinction between Jews and Zionists and he supported us,” says Mr Hammami. […]

In the Yusufabad synagogue the announcements are made in Persian – most Iranian Jews don’t really speak Hebrew well.

Jews have lived in Persia for nearly 3,000 years – the descendants of slaves from Babylon saved by Cyrus the Great. […]

It is one of only four Jewish charity hospitals worldwide and is funded with money from the Jewish diaspora – something remarkable in Iran where even local aid organisations have difficulty receiving funds from abroad for fear of being accused of being foreign agents.

Most of the patients and staff are Muslim these days, but director Ciamak Morsathegh is Jewish.

“Anti-Semitism is not an eastern phenomenon, it’s not an Islamic or Iranian phenomenon – anti-Semitism is a European phenomenon,” he says, arguing that Jews in Iran even in their worst days never suffered as much as they did in Europe. […]

In one of Tehran’s six remaining kosher butcher’s shops, everyone has relatives in Israel. […]

In between chopping up meat, butcher Hersel Gabriel tells me how he expected problems when he came back from Israel, but in fact the immigration officer didn’t say anything to him. […]

“Whatever they say abroad is lies – we are comfortable in Iran – if you’re not political and don’t bother them then they won’t bother you,” he explains. […]

His customer, middle-aged housewife Giti agrees, saying she can easily talk to her two sons in Tel Aviv on the telephone and visit them. […]

“In the last five years the government has allowed Iranian Jews to go to Israel freely, meet their families and when they come back they face no problems,” says Mr Mohtamed. […]

The exodus of Jews from Iran seems to have slowed down – the first wave was in the 1950s and the second was in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.

Those Jews who remain in Iran seem to have made a conscious decision to stay put.

“We are Iranian and we have been living in Iran for more than 3,000 years,” says the Jewish hospital director Ciamak Morsathegh.

Source: BBC News

Other interesting posts on Jewish Iranians: http://theotheriran.com/tag/jews/

Ararat Armenian Sports Club and it’s stars

the Ararat Armenian Sports Club. Vanak is home to a high concentration of Armenians; half of the approximately 80,000 Armenians in Iran live in Tehran, and most of those Tehrani Armenians live within Vanak and its orbit.

The Ararat Armenian Sports Club predates the Revolution and predates Reza Shah Pahlavi.

The Sports Club is home to FC Ararat Tehran, a borderline-defunct soccer club that produced two heroes of Iranians, Armenians, and of course Armenian-Iranians. Andranik Eskandarian played for two years at Ararat before moving onto Taj (now Esteghlal due to yet another Revolution-necessitated makeover) as a stalwart defender. His national teams won the 1968, ‘72, and ‘76 and went to the country’s first World Cup in 1978. Andranik would later move to the United States to play for a legendary New York Cosmos side. A generation later, Andranik Teymourian would play youth ball for Ararat before moving on to Bolton in the English Premier League and one of the most iconic images from the 2006 World Cup: Teymourian collapes after Iran’s game against Angola

Someone like Teymourian can be a hero for Iranians of all religions without a hint of conflict.

The situation of Armenians (and other Christians) in Iran is of course far more normal than prevailing Western discourse may have an outside observer understand. Armenians have different treatment from most Iranians, with special privileges to consume pork, alcohol, and having Sundays off work that Muslims do not enjoy. But they are still effusively Iranian. Surp Khatch, for example, was built in part to memorialize the thousands of Armenian service members killed in the Iran-Iraq War. When Teymourian crosses himself before a match, his countrymen cheer this act as the mark of a pious Iranian.

Unfortunately, these days Ararat FC is far from its glory days. The team last competed in Iran’s top league in the 1995-1996 season.

http://ajammc.com/2012/12/01/towards-an-armenian-iranian-modern-tehran-church-architecture-post-revolutionary-soccer-culture/

About famous Armenian churches in Iran and Armenian Iranians in general

One of the finest examples of Iranian architecture in the neighborhood is an Armenian chapel, Surp Khatch.

Surp Khatch Chapel - Tehran Iran

Surp Khatch Chapel holds a peculiar significance within Armenian-Iranian life. There are dozens of Armenian churches within Iran, mostly in Tehran and the western provinces. Vank in New Julfa deserves special recognition, of course, for its role as the heart of the Isfahani community, brought to Persia by Shah Abbas I in the 17th century.

Vank Cathedral - New Julfa, Isfahan

The Prelacy – the bureaucratic head of the Armenian Church in Iran – makes its home in Saint Sarkis, a church that dates back to 1970.

Saint Sarkis Apostolic Church - Tehran, Iran

Armenian-Iranian architecture, particularly Surp Khatch, fits comfortably within the Iranian modernist idiom. The situation of Armenians (and other Christians) in Iran is of course far more normal than prevailing Western discourse may have an outside observer understand. Armenians have different treatment from most Iranians, with special privileges to consume pork, alcohol, and having Sundays off that Muslims do not enjoy. But they are still effusively Iranian. Surp Khatch, for example, was built in part to memorialize the thousands of Armenian service members killed in the Iran-Iraq War. When Teymourian (popular Armenian Iranian football star) crosses himself before a match, his countrymen cheer this act as the mark of a pious Iranian.

The negotiating of political space for religious minorities in an explicitly Islamic Republic is an ongoing political issue that is going strong on its fourth decade. But political concerns hardly frame daily life; Armenians and other religious minorities in Iran generally name their primary concerns as drug use and a rapidly deteriorating economy. The communities’ problems aren’t necessarily their status as minorities, but the general problems that stem from being Iranian. Indeed, minorities in Iran are well-integrated not only socially and culturally but politically as well. There are five Armenians in Parliament (compared to four Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, three Jews, and two Zoroastrians in the 290-seat Majlis). There are also Armenian observers to the Expediency Council and the Guardian Council.

http://ajammc.com/2012/12/01/towards-an-armenian-iranian-modern-tehran-church-architecture-post-revolutionary-soccer-culture/

Blog recommendation: American woman backpacking in Iran

Read the blog and enjoy Silvia’s descriptions and pictures. Here are the links to the posts on Iran:

http://www.heartmybackpack.com/blog/backpacking-solo-through-iran/

http://www.heartmybackpack.com/blog/kafka-cigarettes-tehran/

http://www.heartmybackpack.com/blog/isfahan-iran/

If you are lazy just read some quotes here and go to the links to enjoy the pictures:

“I mean, Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, hosts thirteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and boasts beautiful landscapes stretching from dense rain forests to snowcapped mountains to desert basins. Plus, so many travelers whom I met in Central Asia absolutely raved about Iran. The hospitable people, delicious food and historic sites – how could I not add Iran to my travel itinerary?”

“My first Couchsurfing hosts in Tehran, a young Ph.D. student and her roommate, said they were so excited to be hosting an American girl, and that they hope more tourists will start to come to Iran. They were incredibly warm and welcoming hosts, cooking delicious Persian food and asking me countless questions about Norway and the U.S. and foreigners’ impressions of Iran.”

“The thing is, I haven’t felt alone once since I landed in Iran. The receptionist at my first hotel took me in as her daughter, accompanying me to breakfast and lunch and suggesting sites for me to visit, my Couchsurfing hosts were like cool older sisters, chatting with me about religion and politics as well as the plot twists of Lost and J-Lo’s divorce (I’m so out of touch), and Rana truly has adopted me as her sister, with an invitation to lunch turning into a trip to visit Esfahan and then several days with her family in Tehran.”

“So far my experience in Iran has only been one of warmth and hospitality, and really, really amazing food! Though, in a few hours Rana and I are heading to Marivan, a small Kurdish city on the border to Iraq. So you know, maybe I’ll have some more eventful things to share from there! (Kidding, family, Kurdistan is of course totally safe.)”

“My stay in Tehran was far too short and left much of the city unexplored, but I did leave with an overwhelming crush on a city so full of life and passion. Shopkeepers greeted me with warmth (if also a degree of surprise), and the discussions I had with people there were always filled with genuine interest and reflection. ”

“While now a bustling modern city, Isfahan was once one of the largest cities in the world as it sat on a major intersection of the main north-south and east-west  routes crossing Iran. We seemed to stumble on reminders of Isfahan’s past glory around every corner, from impressive squares and tree-lined boulevards to covered bridges, palaces and mosques.”

“Moreover, while Isfahan might be dominated by Islamic architecture, the city is also home to important Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian sites. Rana and I visited the Church of Saint Joseph of Arimathea, built by an Armenian community that settled in Isfahan in the early 1600s.”

Ok if you read so far, just make sure to visit the links above

Abdol Hossein Sardari – The Iranian Muslim that saved the lives of thousands of Jews from the Nazis

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Abdol Hossein Sardari: Iranian Schindler

An Iranian official risking his life to save Jews? This scenario, while implausible nowadays, actually happened during the Holocaust. Meet Abdol Hossein Sardari, a diplomat at the Iranian mission in Paris during the 1940s. Known as the “Iranian Schindler,” he helped thousands of Jews escape certain death – by turning the Nazi race ideology on its head. […] Born into a privileged Iranian family, Sardari was a junior diplomat at the Paris embassy who enjoyed fine dining and the company of pretty women. After the Germans invaded France and the Iranian ambassador left the capital and went to Vichy to reconstitute the embassy there, Sardari was put in charge of consular affairs in Paris. When the Nazis started implementing anti-Jewish decrees in occupied France, Sardari made it his mission to protect his fellow Iranians in the region, regardless of their religion. […] Writing on the letterhead of the Imperial Consulate of Iran, Sardari tried to convince the authorities that according to “an ethnographic and historical study,” the members of the Jewish communities of Persia and central Asia were not Semitic but rather Aryan, like the Germans themselves. […] Sardari’s plan actually worked. When Jews were forced to wear the yellow Star of David, a directive was issued that Iranian Jews should be exempt. In addition, Sardari gave out between 500 and 1,000 Iranian passports, without the consent of his superiors. This saved 2,000 to 3,000 Jewish lives, as passports were issued for entire families.

Sardari never took any credit for what he did. When Yad Vashem asked him in 1978, three years before he died a poor exile in London, about his wartime activities, he responded: “As you may know, I had the pleasure of being the Iranian consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and other Jewish institutions have posthumously honored Sardari for his actions. Read more: Beating the Nazis at their own game | The Times of Israel
The BBC adds:
When Britain and Russia invaded Iran in September 1941, Sardari’s humanitarian task become more perilous. Iran signed a treaty with the Allies and Sardari was ordered by Tehran to return home as soon as possible. But despite being stripped of his diplomatic immunity and status, Sardari resolved to remain in France and carry on helping the Iranian Jews, at considerable risk to his own safety, using money from his inheritance to keep his office going. […] Fariborz Mokhtari, the author of “In the Lion’s Shadow: The Iranian Schindler and his homeland in the Second World War,” a new biography about Sardari states: “Here you have a Muslim Iranian who goes out of his way, risks his life, certainly risks his career and property and everything else, to save fellow Iranians,” he says. “There is no distinction ‘I am Muslim, he is Jew’ or whatever.”

Iranian Armenians rally in Tehran to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Thousands of Iranian Armenians rallied in Tehran on Friday, protesting in front of the Turkish Embassy to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

Many in the crowd, who marched from the Armenian Church in Tehran to the Turkish Embassy, held signs in Farsi and English asking the international community to recognize the genocide, while others chanted slogans calling for justice and the downfall of the Turkish government.

“What Armenians demand now is that the Turkish government recognize [the massacre] as genocide and accept its legal consequences,” Karen Khanlari told Iran’s Press TV during the protests.

There were different events organized to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 23 and April 24. In Tehran were the religious ceremonies held at the St. Sarkis Cathedral.

Following sovereign countries have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide:
Argentina (2003) , Austria (2015), Belgium (1998), Bolivia (2014), Canada (1996), Chile (2007), Cyprus (1975) was the first country to raise the issue to the UN General Assembly, Czech Republic (2015), France (1998), Germany (2015), Greece (1999), Holy See (2000), Italy (2000), Lithuania (2005), Lebanon (1997), Netherlands (2004), Poland (2005), Russia (1995), Slovakia (2004), Sweden (2010), Switzerland (2003), Uruguay (1965) was the first country to recognize the events as genocide, Venezuela (2005).

On Apr 24, 2015 the Bulgarian parliament approved a resolution using the phrase “mass extermination of the Armenian People in the Ottoman Empire”. The United States of America, Israel, the United Kingdom, Australia or Spain do not use the term genocide to refer to these facts.

Robert Beglaryan and Karen Khanlaryan, MPs of Armenian origin, have also had speeches in Iran Majlis concerning the Armenian Genocide Centennial. “We call on the government and the President Rouhani in particular to call the real facts by their name. That will make it possible to support the security in the region,” Robert Beglaryan said in his speech.

Iran has been conducting a moderate and cautious policy regarding the Armenian Genocide over the last years. Remarkably, though, the MPs of the 6th Majlis of Iran condemned the Armenian Genocide.

Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, then President of Iran, visited Tsitsernakaberd during his official visit to Yerevan on September 9, 2004. Vice president of Iran, Hamid Baghaei, pronounced the word ‘genocide’ during the conference ‘Iran: The Bridge of Victory’ in August 2010. “The government of Ottoman Turkey committed genocide in 1915; and a certain number of Armenians fell victim to it,” he said although the statement was refuted not to aggravate the relations with Turkey.

However, both the political and religious elite of Iran, as well as ordinary citizens admit the fact of the Armenian Genocide, as according to the Iranian sources, the Ottoman Turks have not only perpetrated genocide against the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks, but also have slaughtered many Iranians in Urmia Region in 1918.

In Iran there are Armenian Genocide Memorials in Abadan, Ahraz, Arak, Isfahan, Tehran and Urumieh, all of them on Armenian Churches ground. In Abadan the Genocide Memorial was renovated since it was next to the church damaged during the Iran Iraq war.

Other Commemoration events worldwide:
1. Los Angeles Times | Armenian Genocide Anniversary Apr 24, 2015
2. The Huffington Post | Poignant photos from around the world show Armenian Genocide has not been forgotten

Sources: www.hyeli.com, Wikipedia | Armenian Genocide recognitionarmenian-genocide.org | Recognition countries, Mehr News Agency | Photos 1, Mehr News Agency | Photos 2, IRNA | Photos 1, IRNA | Photos 2, ISNA | Photos 1, Tasnim News Agency | Photos, panorama>>am | Asory Genocide, panorama>>am | Rouhani letter, armenian-genocide.org | Genocide Memorials in Iran, uacla.com | Armenian Genocide Memorials, team-aow.discuforum.info | Monuments Commemoratifs du Genocide Armenien