A Unique Eye-Opening Visit to Iran

A scene from the 85th anniversary of Alik newspaper in Tehran
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

Along with 16 other Armenian journalists from Armenia, Artsakh, the Czech Republic, France, Lebanon, Syria, and the United States, I was invited to attend the 85th anniversary celebration of Alik daily Armenian newspaper, published in Tehran since 1931.

As this was my first visit to Iran, I quickly discovered that the country was a lot different than what I had heard and read about in the United States. It is an important country with an ancient civilization that is often misunderstood by outsiders.

Tehran is a large city with millions of inhabitants trying to cope with the maddening traffic. Making matters worse, tens of thousands of motorcyclists zip around cars in every direction, while pedestrians dart through several lanes of heavy traffic, foolishly risking their lives. Basically, the scariest part of visiting Iran is neither the regime nor the militants, but the simple act of crossing the street!

I also found out that both Iranians and Iranian-Armenians are extremely hospitable, gracious and polite. They go out of their way to help total strangers. Armenians, as a Christian minority, enjoy their full freedoms of education and worship. They have their own schools and churches all over the country. There are Prelacies of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Tehran, Isfahan, and Tavriz.

Armenian journalists from around the world gather in Tehran to mark the 85th anniversary of Alik newspaper

Armenian journalists from around the world gather in Tehran to mark the 85th anniversary of Alik newspaper

One of the stunning Armenian community centers is the Ararat Armenian Cultural Association’s center which encompasses several acres of sports facilities, including a soccer stadium, basketball and tennis courts, swimming pools, and a chapel in the one of the most prestigious parts of Tehran. Our visit to Iran coincided with the opening ceremonies of the 48th annual Pan-Armenian games with Armenian scouts and athletes participating from various parts of Iran, Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakh, Georgia. The next day, Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Iran dutifully complained to the Iranian government about the inclusion of athletes from Artsakh in the Pan-Armenian games.

Iranian-Armenians serve as a vital bridge between their twin homelands: The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Armenia. Despite Azerbaijan’s complaints and its persistent efforts to undermine relations between Armenia and Iran, the Iranian government steadfastly maintains a balanced relationship with the two neighboring states. Armenia’s Ambassador to Iran, His Excellency Ardashes Toumanian, a highly competent and seasoned diplomat, is another important link between the Republic of Armenia, the government of Iran, and the local Armenian community.

The management of Alik newspaper had organized a hectic schedule for the incoming journalists which included visits to Armenian schools, an Armenian medical clinic, the Gulestan Palace, the Royal Jewelry Museum, and the Charmahal Society Center where a Talk-Show was held for the community. The journalists also met with the Armenian National Committee of Tehran, the Armenian Embassy, the Armenian Cultural and Athletic Association, two major Iranian media outlets, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, the Minister of Culture, and the Institute for Political and International Studies. The visitors were received everywhere with much warmth and respect!

The visiting journalists had also the pleasure of meeting with the two Armenian members of the Iranian Majlis (Parliament) who play a key role as the intermediary between the government and the Armenian community.

A scene from the 85th anniversary of Alik newspaper in Tehran

A scene from the 85th anniversary of Alik newspaper in Tehran

Last Saturday night, the journalists attended the official celebration of the 85th anniversary of Alik where they took the podium to congratulate the unique accomplishments of the newspaper that has educated and informed several generations with great sacrifices by dedicated editors, journalists, staff, benefactors and community organizations.

The highlight of the visit was the tour of the historic cities of Isfahan and Tavriz, including a special ‘pilgrimage’ to the ancient monasteries of Sourp Tadeh and Sourp Stepanos monasteries.

The most emotional part of the trip was driving along the Arax River on the border between Iran and Nakhichevan, formerly a part of Armenia, currently an autonomous region of Azerbaijan. Many of the journalists had tears in their eyes as they observed across the border an empty field that used to be an ancient cemetery with thousands of Armenian Khachkars (cross-stones) which were cruelly destroyed by the authorities of Azerbaijan, thus committing a cultural genocide and a crime against humanity!

In recent decades, even though many Iranian-Armenians have immigrated to other countries, mostly Glendale, California, the bulk of the community remains deeply committed to doubling its efforts in order to continue its role as a critical bridge between Iran and Armenia!

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10 Comments

  1. Garo M. Tertzakian, M.D. said:

    Excellent article! I am in Yerevan and thousands of Iranian tourists are enjoying the beauty and amenities of Yerevan. Iran is the most reliable and trustworthy neighbor of Armenia, a strong bond centuries old,

  2. Arsen Margossian said:

    Thank you Harout Sassounian for the detailed overview of your trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI)
    Once again, we Armenians feel priveleged citizens and pioneers in our endeavors in host countries, such as IRI.
    It will be a great loss if that Armenian community too is reduced to dwindling numbers such as those in other Middle Eastern countries.
    I personally felt proud of our Iranian-Armenian sisters and brothers and the warmth they’ve embraced you with during your visit there.

  3. teevee said:

    Thanks for your unbiased accounting of what Iran and Iranians are.Compare Iran to the likes of the Saudi cult of hate, yet here in the US indispensable allies are the Wahhabi head choppers

  4. State of Emergency said:

    “I quickly discovered that the country was a lot different than what I had heard and read about in the United States. It is an important country with an ancient civilization that is often misunderstood by outsiders.”………..Why, did you need the US to tell you this? The US is an open society with untold sources of information and publications. Surely, as inquisitive journalist, you would have had access to all sorts of publications to discover and learn on your own. Don’t be trigger happy and blame the US for everything wrong is this world. Iran is actually the place where censorship is the order of the day. Practically, everything is spoon fed to the masses. No independent verification or criticism is ever tolerated. Sure, if it serves our purpose, we’re ready to jump into bed with the devil himself, but at a certain point, one expects more objective reporting. The Persian-Armenians are the first to tell you about the realities of that backwards society and their reasons to emigrate in mass.

    • AD said:

      As a Persian-Armenian now residing in the US let me tell you the first reason for mass emigration: the war between Iran and Iraq. That war was started and supported by the same people that spread the disinformation that was mentioned in the article. Mainly the war mongers who are even today trying to start more wars in the Middle East and specifically with Iran. I think you completely misunderstood the point of the author which was to praise Iran and Iranians for their good relations with Armenia and their diplomacy without getting into the good/evil in their politics. (Never mind the fact that all governments are riddled with corruption).
      Furthermore, Persians as a people are one of the most hospitable and friendly people in the world.
      If you want a backward society go to Saudia Arabia where women can’t even drive. Persian women drive, attend universities in greater number than men, and hold various types of jobs. Also, speaking of spoon feeding the masses, have you watched CNN or Fox News recently??

    • Kevork Hagopian said:

      Shame on you put down and disgrace a great country such as IRAN. I don’t even know if you are Armenian or Azerbaijani. Iran was the only country in the region that opened its borders to Armenia and supplied our country with oil, food and any product needed. I am an Armenian from the Middle East (not Iran) but love the Iranian government for all its support to Armenia. You are an ABERAKHT Armenian if you are really an Armenian.
      To all our Iranian cousins I apologize on behalf of Armenians for the rude and ignorant comments of the author. LONG LIVE ARMENIA AND IRAN,

  5. David Karamian said:

    Grew up in Tehran and moved to US in 1974 as a young teenager. Brought back lots of great memories of family and friends who are no longer around. Thank you!!

  6. anne D said:

    TKU Harout, super article. Iran remains one very reliable friend in the troubled region. Once upon a time did we not have a similar relationship with Turkey? The funny thing is more than any other country Armenians understand the region and can live with them quite well. Case in point Iran.

  7. Alex Postallian said:

    The reason,the U.S. politicians,and diplomats,dont speak well of Iran,they don’t bribe them,$$$$$$$$$$$$$$,like the crooked jerky turks do.How low and dirty,can you get…Now what is the U.S. doing,doing about this,simply,how farUP does the dirty money go..

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