Exploring the Other: Contemporary Iran
24 Jan 2009 15:27
By IASON ATHANASIADIS in Los Angeles
[Tehran Bureau] spotlight It is the most hypothetical news story topping the international news agenda: Is the Islamic Republic pursuing a nuclear bomb? Does it lurk behind the Iraq insurgency? Is it out to dominate the Persian Gulf? Where is the fire amid the smoke?
Speculation and demonetization consistently drown out WHAT IS arguably the Middle East's most diverse ethnic and religious culture. They obscure landscapes of rare variety and geological beauty pulsating with colour and a rare light. Iran's mystical topography is the setting for the struggle between tradition and modernity. It has been a constant in the modern era, first during the Qajar and Pahlavi empires, then throughout the three-decade lifespan of the Islamic Republic.
I come from Greece, a country as rich in heritage and as culturally fractious as Iran. Moving to Tehran in 2004, I was struck by our shared culture wars. Old civilizations find it particularly awkward to adapt to a rational modernity where culture and tradition stand for little; countries where indigenous religions, Greek polytheism, and Iranian Zoroastrianism, are subsumed by Christian and Muslim monotheism.
Greece and Iran have both been crossroads and laboratories for experiments in social conditioning. The most radical consequence of these culture wars was the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Whether in the form of churches planted on top of marble temples or Zoroastrian shrines transformed into imamzadehs (burial shrines for Shiite saints), the imposition of monotheism signified the loss of indigenous traditions.
I photographed Iran from the perspective of charting shared narratives and divergent fates. I leave you to make up your mind about this secular theocracy manifesting paradox in its every fissure.