Imaginary Tehran

26 Feb 2010

■ Shervin Nekuee
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During the twenty-two years I have been living in exile in the West, I have encouraged many precious friends to go and visit Iran. As the path to the country of my youth has been cut off, the need to share the beauty of Iran with those people I love has become deeper. I am what they call a ‘Tehrani’, moulded in the streets and alleys of the Iranian capital. The view of Iran’s Damavand, the highest mountain of the country lying at Tehran’s feet, is undoubtedly the landmark that is closest to my soul and will remain so for the rest of my life. If I see Damavand, I know I can find my way home. Also, the energy and rhythm of the kind of Persian that is spoken in Tehran reverberate my inner voice the best. Nevertheless, I always have a compelling advice for those travellers I send to Iran: “avoid Tehran!”

Iran is full of staggering landscapes and breathtaking colours of nature. It is a country where the genius of civilizations as old as 5000 years can be admired – from the gigantesque pillars of Persian palaces to magnificent miniatures the size of a stamp. The ancient but still inhabited city parts of Tabriz, Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd and Mashhad range among the most remarkable gems of human civilization. The authentic music, lifestyle and matching landscapes of Iranian Kurds, Lors and Turkmen all deserve a trip to Iran. There is whole collection of elegant and glimmering jewellery that makes visiting Iran worthwhile and that is scattered on the path of the average tourist.

Tehran is a patchwork where all forces and thoughts of Iranian society meet; all differences in ethnicity, religion, intellectual movements, ideology and lifestyle

But Tehran is an entirely different case.
The beauty of Tehran is veiled for the eyes of the hasty visitor, who only experiences pollution, thousands of honking cars, millions of people rushing through the street and restaurants that generally only serve kebab. That is the impression Tehran leaves the (disappointed) arbitrary tourist with, who falsely assumes that he/she can get to the bottom of mysterious Tehran in only a few days. No, as a visitor with little time on your hands, it is better to avoid Tehran.

If you want to get to know Tehran, you should go and live there. Only after many years will the city unveil its secrets and its beauty, and it will do so only for those who commit themselves with heart and soul to the Tehran way of life.
Still, trying to understand Tehran should be a compulsory assignment for anyone who wants to understand Iran and its development as a country. Tehran is the heartbeat of Iran. It is the place where an invisible hand keeps making new sketches for the future. It is a patchwork where all forces and thoughts of Iranian society meet; all differences in ethnicity, religion, intellectual movements, ideology and lifestyle. It is this multiple dialectical dynamics of either convergence or clash that feeds the country with impulse and energy. It is this centre and this city that is different from all other Iranian cities because it is in reality many times bigger than its official size (already huge) and population figure. Tehran is a cosmopolitan entity, which enables it to hold on to many Iranians both inside and outside Iran; people it communicates with and whose thoughts and choices it influences. This cosmopolitan significance of Tehran represents much more than the walls and bricks of a city.
It represents a shared conversation, a discourse that gives meaning to Iran’s future. All in all, this creates an imaginary Tehran, a huge moving entity not only within Iran’s borders but also, because of the diaspora of millions of Iranians, outside the country.

At a time in history when the importance of the Middle East in international politics is relevant to anyone, and given the prominent place of Iran in this region, it is vital for every world citizen to get to know this imaginary Tehran; to interpret and know its debates, conversations and internal clashes.
On the other hand, the cosmopolitan character of Tehran more than ever needs to be given a concrete expression. Reading classics from India, Japan, the Arab world or the West is no longer sufficient in this age of high-speed and massive exchange of information. The increasing amount of available information and mutual worldwide dependency unfortunately no longer automatically lead to wisdom and insight. The cosmopolitan Tehran should communicate more intensively with the world and inform itself about the deeper meanings of worldwide developments.

This imaginary Tehran absolutely needs to be unveiled, and more than ever needs communication with the entire world, from which it will greatly benefit. This imaginary Tehran, which represents a cosmopolitan Iran, deserves to truly claim and take its place on the world’s centre stage. To establish a link between Iranian and world citizens is not a simple task, but is the task that we, the makers of Tehran Review, have given ourselves.

Shervin Nekuee
Chief editor TehranReview
March 1st 2010

Tehran Review
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