Archive for the ‘Fajr’ Category

A Nation in Love

February 13, 2009

Over the past decade, Valentine’s Day has become increasingly popluar in Iran. Pictured (above), a chador-clad Muslim woman makes a St. Valentine’s Day purchase. Photo by Nima Afshar Naderi. Pictured (below) Qaem Shopping Center, Tajrish, Tehran. Photo by Sharto. All images from 2007.

Iranian V-Day.

Tehran, Iran
Tehran Bureau | dispatches

Red, Red, Red: It’s as if the color were splattered on the city’s stores and shopping centers. Unlike Saudi Arabia, where officials banned florists and gift shops owners from displaying anything red until after Valentine’s Day, Tehran was bustling with shoppers with a penchant for everything heart-shaped and red.

Over the past few years, Western holidays like Halloween and Christmas have caught on in Iran, but none as successfully as Valentine’s Day, which has been making its way into the Iranian consciousness for well over a decade.

True to form, malls in Tehran were flooded with young Iranians in search of the perfect gift. Even the more traditional gold stores and utilitarian drugstores did not escape unscathed and bore some signs of this approaching day of love. The phenomenon has spread from the populous capital to some far flung provinces, including Khalkhal in the mountains in the northwest province of Ardabil, where youngsters seemed giddy with anticipation. In a matter of time, teddy bears imported from China will have made their way to Iran’s smaller villages, where they will be on sale for Feb. 14.

So far this year, authorities seem to be looking the other way. Wednesday evening, in the large shopping district of Gisha-Nasr, even some middle-aged folks joined the ranks of youngsters queuing up to have their purchases of chocolate, stuffed animals and red velvet roses gift wrapped for the occasion. Officers of “Gasht Ershad,” usually on the prowl for inappropriate dress and behavior, looked on passively.

The silence, however, betrays a deep sense of discontent just below the surface. A conservative member of the parliament’s cultural committee said exchanging gifts in a lawful relationship could be the key to solving the problem. “Young men and women entering the university can enter into a ‘temporary marriage’ with a four-year duration,” he said. “After four years, they can get married — or not. It would not be a big deal if they decided against marriage” after this period was over. In the meantime, the MP said celebrating Valentine’s Day in the present form was wrong and inappropriate for Iranians.

Mohammad Reza Zayeri, a conservative cleric active in cultural affairs, was among those who suggested naming the wedding anniversary of Ali, the first Shia Imam, and wife Fatema, the ‘day of love’ in Iran.

Hossein, a student at Azad University, in Roodehen, said there was a massive celebration this year at his school to commemorate Imam Ali’s wedding anniversary. “We were strongly encouraged to carry on this celebration in the coming years and to adopt the occasion as our ‘day of love,’” he said.

So far the proposal has not met with much enthusiasm.

In the south Tehran neighborhood of Imam Zadeh Hassan, smiling young men and women happily handed over blue and green bills for teddy bears coming in a variety of sizes and heart-decorated boxes of chocolates. Still the astronomical hike in the price of decorative flower baskets around Hosseinieh Square in more affluent north Tehran made the unofficial holiday look more like a trend pushed to feed a cropping commercial enterprise than an excuse to express deep matters of the heart.

Valentine’s Day is also a windfall to the telecoms industry, as millions of youth use their cellphones to text messages of love to one another. Still others will resort to the relative anonymity of the Iranian blogosphere to express these sentiments.

Valentine’s Day comes on the heels of Fajr, the first 10 days of February, marking the return of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile and the victory of the revolution. Over the past few years, there have been signs that revolutionary fervor can co-exist with this Christian-rooted day of love. Saloumeh, a photojournalist, took part in the march commemorating the revolution a few days ago. Along her path on Azadi, Zanjan and Azerbeijan avenues, she said she saw “peppered among demonstrators, content-looking street vendors selling colored balloons and bright red hearts.”

The Revolution in Retrospect

February 9, 2009

Top photo: On 12 Bahman 1357 (Feb. 1, 1979) Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran from exile. Bottom: Tehran’s philharmonic orchestra marks that day’s 30th anniversary at Mehrabad International Airport earlier this month.

Children of the Revolution

Tehran, Iran
Tehran Bureau | dispatches

Ruholla, a young man in his late 20s, owes his very name to the essence of the revolution—Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. His family’s revolutionary credentials are impeccable. From the basement of the family compound on Iran Street, in Tehran, his father dubbed cassettes of Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches and distributed them along with anti-Shah pamphlets to the masses he helped mobilize. His father was badly injured in a demonstration, and even to this day, according to his son, the scars remain visible. Contrary to many former revolutionaries whose fervor may have faded over three decades, Ruhollah’s father’s remains strong.

On the other end of the spectrum, Simin, 45, who skipped classes to take part in the demonstrations, grew disillusioned long ago. “If I knew what just the first five years after the revolution would have looked like,” she said, “I would not have supported it.” At that time however, she admits there was much to protest: “Under the Shah, there was no political freedom. Class divisions were sharp. The Shah had no knowledge or understanding of the lives of the people over whom he dictated. And more importantly, he had no bond with them, he had no respect for them or some of their religious values.”

As the Islamic Revolution marks its 30-year anniversary this week, what do Ruhollah and those in his generation think? Most of them were not around or too young to remember the revolution. But they came of age when the first 10 days of February were marked by nationwide celebrations. In school they made newspaper clippings of their own articles hailing Ayatollah Khomeini’s return and the Shah’s departure. Many in this generation know by heart this poem by Mostafa Rahmandoost: That day was like a blossom, a blossom that flowered even in the cold of February, on a dried up tree… With more than 60 percent of Iran’s 75 million population under 30, the revolution’s future may well be in their hands.

“I love Khomeini intimately,” said Ruhollah. “I have never wished for a moment that there had been no revolution.” But, he adds, “I may not endorse some of the things that happened afterward. I may not be in agreement with some aspects of those events, some of the details; but, I believe this is a revolution that had to take place.”

Some of the biggest problems Iran faces today may have been as a result of certain excesses and hard-line policies implemented, he said. “I still believe with all the difficulties we have today, we are better off than we would have been under the Pahlavis. From a cultural and international standpoint, I’m happy the revolution put an end to that dynasty. At least today we’re not at the mercy of some foreign power.”

Ruhollah said if he were old enough in 1978, he too would have joined the ranks like his father.

Omid, a 25-year-old electrical engineer, wasn’t around for the revolution either. But he gets an earful from his older siblings about those days. Upon Mr. Khomeini’s command, that Iranians “should not watch the Shah’s television programs,” their father had purged his household of its TV set. Omid’s father was a bread-maker. He was arrested for refusing to shut down his bakery on the orders of royal authorities.

“Iranians are highly emotional people with many beautiful and lofty ideals. Sometimes, under certain circumstances, those emotions overflow,” Omid said, referring to those days. “With the charismatic leadership of Imam Khomeini, I too would have probably been moved to action.”

Omid, whose name means hope, continued, “The past is the past. 30 years have gone by. I believe we should try harder to achieve the goals that my father and so many others paid a price for. We should try to convey the ideals and reasons for the revolution to my generation, and to the people of other nations, in a more dignified manner, just as our former President Mohammad Khatami tried to do.”

Because of certain excesses after the revolution, there are those among this generation who have reinvented the image of the Shah in their own thinking and speak wistfully of some of the social freedoms that existed under his rule.

But Alireza, who is 47, and a beneficiary in his youth of those social freedoms, did not think it was a viable alternative. “The Shah was very self-centered, members of his government were supremely arrogant and foreigners had a strong hand in our affairs. This was unacceptable,” he said.

In the years 1978-79, Alireza was very active in his local mosque. When the oil refinery workers went on strike, he joined the economic mobilization front which distributed food and provisions to the needy. As the revolution picked up steam, he and neighborhood pals were tasked with collecting old tires and getting themselves to Maydaneh Enghelab (Revolution Square). “We ignited the rubbers and hid behind them as we shouted revolutionary slogans,” he said.

As Alireza explains, revolutions are a major upheaval that shatter an oppressive status quo. In the mayhem that follows, anything can happen. The future of a revolution is unpredictable. Even though Alireza has immigrated to Canada with his family, he says he would rebel against the Pahlavi regime again, if given a chance.

“The revolution was a monumental movement 100 years in the making,” he said.

Diaspora Marks 30th

January 20, 2009

San Francisco
Tehran Bureau | vitrine

Years ago, an Iranian-American friend mockingly referred to me as a ’79er. He was referring to my belonging to the group of Iranians who immigrated after the 1979 Iranian revolution, as opposed to him, who had been raised in the U.S. since the early seventies. His remark was piquing. Why define a group by a political event? Could ’79ers create an identity for ourselves independent from it? In the early years, ’79er were busy paving a path for ourselves, learning to survive in our new host countries, and I was too young to understand that one day ’79ers would not necessarily be defined for what we had escaped, but by how we had recreated ourselves. The poets in this book are ’79ers who have struggled through that path, untangling their identity questions in their work: Who are they? Where do they belong? How to live with nostalgia? How to manage their complex web of loyalties, pushing and pulling them in all directions?

Most ’79ers have lived in that ambiguous zone between longing for their past in Iran and wanting to belong in their present lives. They have strived to uphold their customs—Mehregan (Harvest festival), Norouz (New Year in the Spring)—and have inevitably adopted new ways like Thanksgiving, Oktoberfest, and Le Jour de la Bastille. In the meantime, three decades have gone by; the world has changed before their eyes, and a new generation—born outside Iran—has inherited and contended with their ’79er parents’ place of limbo, that place between longing and belonging, and lived it through their unique prism.

BELONGING features three generations of poets: those born between 1929 and 1945, 1946 and 1960, and 1961 and the present. In the first generation, we have Naderpour, Afrasiabi, Assadi, Kho’i, Nooriala and Roya’i. In the second are Farmand, Keshmiripour, Moshkani, Naficy, Ghahraman, Rashid, and Saffari. And in the third, Aghaee, Huleh, Karbassi, Moussavi, and Naanaam. The representatives of the generation born between 1929 and 1945 were by and large already established poets when they left after the revolution. The generation after that, born between 1946 and 1960, emerged just before and during the revolution, but has matured since the revolution, outside Iran. The younger generation, born after 1961, left Iran young, and its members are emerging voices.

Excerpt from the Introduction to BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World (North Atlantic Books, August 2008), edited and translated by Niloufar Talebi


The Translation Project, partnering with the San Francisco International Poetry Festival, the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, and Asia Society, would like to invite you to the Second Annual ‘Iranian Literary Arts Festival’ on February 5-6, 2009, featuring exciting Iranian poets Ziba Karbassi, Granaz Moussavi, Majid Naficy, Partow Nooriala, and Abbas Saffari, featured in BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World (North Atlantic Books, Aug 2008). The ‘Iranian Literary Arts Festival’ chronicles Iranian diaspora poetry on the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Read the poets’ lyrical, erotic, funny and moving poetry here.

Thursday, February 5 at 6:30 pm – Book Bay Fort Mason, (Building C, Room 165), San Francisco “30 Years of Be-Longing” – Roundtable talk about the future of diaspora literature with poets featured in BELONGING, SF poet laureate Jack Hirschman, and Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, professor of Asian American studies.

Friday, February 6 at 6:30 pm – Friends of the SF Public Library’s loft (391 Grove St. @ Gough), San Francisco Reading and film screening with poets featured in BELONGING. Reception to follow.

All events are FREE and OPEN to the public.

Advance registration is highly recommended to reserve tickets:
Feb. 5:,
Feb. 6:

For more information, visit: <