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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Tehran - The Big 10
April 26, 2000

I went to Centennial High School in Compton, California, and our school nickname was The BIG 10! When we all arrived in Tehran that nickname seemed to be a perfect match for this huge, capital city. It is definitely a 10 in looks! Tehran's beautiful grassy parks and fancy water works are a dreamy contrast to the bustling city streets. Also, because the Alborz Mountains dominate the horizon to the north, you'll easily remember that nature is but a call away from anywhere in the city.

In our recent live chat with Iranian students one American student asked about the National Park system. Katayoun responded that the Sisangan National Park was her favorite because it is completely surrounded by nature: the Caspian Sea to the north and the Alborz Mountains to the south. I completely understood what she meant. Tehran is on the opposite side of the Alborz Mountains and there is no body of water here, but after a four to five hour drive you can vacation at the Caspian Sea. The trip is a frequently chartered tour for Tehrani families. I'd sure take advantage of it, wouldn't you?!

There are so many factors that make Tehran such an amazing city. That's what made it so hard to believe that it hasn't always been the popular capital city of Iran. No, the Big 10 has not always boasted a population of over more than 10 million. Yes, you heard it right, 10 million people! That's over one-sixth of the country's entire population. Believe it or not, this chaotic metropolis was once a shanty ghost town of about 15,000 inhabitants.

Tehran has always maintained a distinctive reputation. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, Tehran was run by highway robbers that attacked passers-by. It later grew from a pirate hideout into a prosperous trade center after the Mongols sacked the nearby town, Rey, which at that time was the major commercial center. It was not until the royal Safavids laid claim to the territory, however, that recognition was first brought to the backwater town. They were the first to recognize that Tehran had more to offer than a quick heist. The game hunting, the serene natural setting, the clear rivers, and thick forests made it an ideal location. After the Safavid King, Tahmasb I, established a presence there, he erected walls to fortify the growing city. Shortly thereafter, the Ghajars came into rule, refortified Tehran, and later declared the city the capital of Iran.

Iranian history is very actively taught (almost like brainwashing) to Iranian citizens. The movies, for example, are mostly historical dramatizations of great historians, poets, and leaders. In addition, one of Tehran's biggest businesses is centered around its museums. There are museums for everything from Persian jewels to ceramics and glasswork: all with the purpose of affirming Iranian national pride. I was most impressed with the National Jewels Museum, where you can see the largest uncut diamond in the world. The exquisite Sea of Light, or Dary-ye Nur, diamond weighs 182 carats and is worth over $500,000. Now that's a rarity to be proud of!

Another local and national hero is, of course, the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose mosque is located in central Tehran. The huge complex is a heavily trafficked intersection in the sardine-packed streets of the city and is a very popular hangout in Tehran. It seemed as if all 10 million people, in cars, on foot, playing soccer, sitting on the grass, rushing into the city, honking their horns, were all in the square at once.

It was a scene that I had to see to believe. It was indescribable chaos and in no way prepared me to grasp what we saw next. Murals sped past the windows of our bus mixing into a swirl of bright blues, reds, and vibrant pinks. The murals seemed to go on for almost two city blocks. It wasn't until the murals of the Statue of Liberty (whose face was replaced by a frightening skull and crossbones) that I realized just where we were--the old US Embassy! This is where the hostage crisis took place and it's now vacant. The only US political presence in Iran now is inside the Swiss Embassy.

We went back by foot to the beginning of the murals and watched a timeline unfold before our very eyes. The US flag in the shape of a gun pointed at Iran is meant to illustrate the evils and bloodshed caused by America. US flags on which the stripes turn into barbed wire with Iran captive inside are representative of the trade embargo America imposed on Iran. The Statue of Liberty is meant to portray that America's speeches about liberty and justice are all a farce. Therefore, the liberty she symbolizes is dead.


shanty - crudely built, of low economic status
propaganda - information deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

Wow, this was it. These were the signs that our interpreter didn't want to translate for us: billboards that cursed America as the Great Satan. It was astonishing. These signs were not indicative of the behavior that any Iranians had displayed toward us. We have been welcomed with open arms by Iranians all over the country without a single negative incident. It is understandable when you think about it, though. Iranian propaganda is just as separate from the peoples' view of us as ours is of them.

In America we only hear that Iranians, and other Middle Easterners, are terrorists. In the same vein, they only know Americans as the 'Great Satan'. Both sides use propaganda as weapons to keep people apart. Seeing the displays of propaganda made me appreciate our stay here in Iran even more so than before. Recognizing the politics behind the symbols helped reinforce the importance of gaining knowledge for ourselves and not just sitting down and allowing ourselves to be brainwashed by media and our government. It is my philosophy that we all have a great deal to learn form one another. We can't close our doors on people without knowing the facts, even when our government would lead us to believe otherwise. Ask questions. Investigate. Free Your Mind.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Kavitha- The Jesus of Iran
Kavitha- The Great Satan
Monica- Failure, and What We Can Learn from It
Team- Punishing Iran: 20 Years and Counting
Team - Earth Day: a Celebration and a Reminder

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