Azadi Tower outside Mehrabad Airport, Tehran's domestic airport
By Ann Wright
March 5, the last day for our delegation that stayed in Iran for three more days to go to Shiraz, was as busy as the day we arrived over a week ago.
We began the morning with a visit to a museum that is housed in the former Ghasr palace and prison. Until six years ago the facility held prisoners but because of sewage problems (and probably other reasons) it was closed. The prison was used during the Shah era and in the Revolutionary Government period. During the Shah’s reign some very famous Iranians were held there. Political prisoners from the Shah’s era were on hand to tell students who visited the museum their life stories and the terrible conditions under which they were held under the Shah. Our guide said that common criminals, not political prisoners, were held in this facility during the Revolutionary Government. Political prisoners are generally held in Evin prison. We asked them about conditions in the prisons today, but they were not very forthcoming on that subject.
Located in the prison museum complex is a unique gymnasium. It consists of a marble, octagonal circle, one meter deep, in the center of the room. In traditional exercises called zurkhaneh, a singer/drummer provides music for men who perform rhythmic exercises to music in the middle of the circle. During the exercises, the men used giant wooden, weighted one-meter-long objects that looked like giant bowling pins. They twirled and juggled the wooden pins to the song and music from a singer/drummer seated in a balcony at one side of the exercise pit. This is an exercise for men-only and it showed tremendous strength, as well as balance and grace.
Saeid Ohadi, Deputy Mayor of Tehran for Cultural Affairs and Arts who has degrees from Long Beach and UCLA, met us at the auditorium in the gymnasium and then invited us at a conference room to talk.
Our delegate Bill Collins had served as the Mayor of his town of Norwalk, Connecticut in the mid-1980s, so he and deputy Mayor Ohadi had a nice chat about responsibilities in city government.
Ohadi had been studying in the US in the late 1970s and returned to Iran in 1979 after the revolution. Ohadi told our group that within a year after the revolution, Sadaam Hussein, speculating that the Iranian army was weak after the revolution, attacked Iran. Ohadi went to the southern part of Iran and was on the battle front of the war with Iraq. He was captured by Iraqi forces and spent 8 years in Iraqi prisons in Mosul, Ramadi, Arashid and Tikrit.
Ohadi mentioned that he has two sons-both studying electrical engineering. One son is a student in Canada-he had been admitted to Cornell University, but with the Trump ban on Iranians coming to the U.S., even as students, he couldn't come and instead, he is studying in Canada.
Ohadi said the Iranian government’s goal is peace and that its nuclear program had always been for energy production, NOT weapons. He added that Iran has been under sanctions from the United States for over 35 years and that Iran will not bow to international threats and will fight any country attempting to subvert the independence of Iran. He said that despite the most stringent sanctions leveed on any country, Iran is almost self-sufficient in the key areas for survival and despite sanctions is still a leader in development of scientific technology.
Ohadi said that President Trump does not realize the strength of the Iranian people. He added, “We will survive the sanctions as we have done for decades.” He chided National Security Council director John Bolton’s comment that the Iranian government would fall before its 40th anniversary—which was earlier this year.
He commented that the United States actions in Iraq had produced ISIS and the 80,000 deaths in Syria from trying to end the ISIS caliphate that is a threat to Iran as well as to Iraq and Syria.
Ohadi spoke at some length about the Iraqi military, including the Revolutionary Guard forces. All young men in Iran must serve in the Iranian military, although the length of time in the military may vary from person to person. One of our guides said that he served only eight months because he was a university student.
Ohadi also commented on achievements in Iran despite the sanctions, including Tehran having 220 Kilometers of subway transportation, the 6thlargest underground transportation network in the world.
Ohadi thanked our group for traveling to Iran and seeing Iran and its people first-hand without the filter of the US media. He said that he wanted to assist in getting visas for tourist trips for American citizens.
Following our meeting with Ohabi, we went to the new, remarkable 1950s restaurant at the museum complex. Decorated with telephones, radios and other memorabilia of the era, it stands in sharp contrast to the prison. So does the collection of vintage cars in the complex, including a car that was owned by President Mosaddegh, the elected president that the CIA overthrew in the 1953 coup.
Our final press conference for the delegation was held at the Fars media offices with 11 video cameramen and a total of 30 media attending. We were on Channel 1 at 7pm www.hamshahriphoto.ir/detail/photo/30560/4
At the request of the group, we added a stop to see ancient pottery and statues from Persepolis at the National Museum, followed by a late lunch of falafel and samosas from a small café in front of the museum. We stopped to chat and take photos with some young Iranian archaeologists who were attending a conference at the museum.
The day of activities ended with a one-hour drive in Tehran’s heavy, heavy evening traffic to the remarkable Tabiat Green Bridge. Dusk was falling as we got to the bridge with a rose glow shining on the snow-capped mountains to the north of Tehran. A young woman architect designed this unique three-level bridge that is a pedestrian walkway above a busy freeway. One of the levels has sit-down restaurants as well as fast food venues.
Green lights illuminate the walkway at night and two giant Iranian national flags fly on both sides of the freeway. We stopped for delicious ice cream and handed out CODEPINK’s popular “Peace With Iran” stickers to restaurant owners.The area around one end of the bridge has small concert arenas, bronze sculptures with the story of Abraham and a magic water feature with spirts of water. It is a very popular place for families and couples to stroll at night, in a tranquil space high above the Tehran's traffic.
Returning to the Esteghlal Parisan Hotel, several of us stopped at the hotel banquet hall and met Iranian Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who were having an event. The Iranian Scout movement is not a part of the international scouting movement, but the leaders said they would like to join it and they were delighted to take photos with us.
Heading home, six of us left before midnight to the airport with two more following later in the morning. Barbara will be the last to leave Tehran on Wednesday night, after a last day of touring Tehran with our wonderful guide Sama.
We have had a great trip to Iran. We have learned much about Iranian life and culture, and despite the sanctions, the excellent medical care experienced by a member of our delegation, as well as about Iranian government policies and concerns.
I know we will use our knowledge to help our communities and Congressional representatives understand that Iranian people are just like us, but the difference is that they are living under very difficult sanctions that include medicines, in violation of international regulations about sanctions and despite the Iranian government’s compliance with the IAEA nuclear regulations and inspections. We will also follow up on a number of ideas we came up with on the delegation, such as sending books to the University library, a joint mural project, future delegations, and a European-based conference against sanctions. Most of all, we are anxious to go home and lobby our elected officials to rejoin the nuclear agreement and lift the sanctions that are hurting the wonderful people who we have come to know and love.