In August 2005, I had the opportunity to work in Tehran for a month, teaching English to a group of professional engineers as part of a Masters of Engineering program. My time there was one of the most interesting, rewarding and profound experiences that I have had as a traveler or educator. I invite visitors to the blog to read my posts from 2005 to help give some more shape to the place that is dominating news headlines at the moment. I was supposed to return again in June 2009, but things have been "delayed."
If you don't have time for that please let me share with you my thoughts and observations on the place where these events are taking place.
Iran first splashed into my consciousness the last time things were this uncertain there, winter 1979. The Shah was about to flee from the opposition protests and Ayatollah Khomeini ascended from exile to leadership of the country. At the end of the year, the US Embassy was captured and a 444-day drama was hatched that captured world attention and sowed the seeds of enmity that continue to fester between the US and Iranian governments. One of the first books I ever bought for myself was a paperback account of the hostage crisis.
Iran remained very much in the back of my thoughts until the opportunity to go in 2005 was presented to me. Perhaps I should not say the back of my thoughts. With the election of Ayatollah Khatami as president of Iran in 1997, there was hope that the moderate would be able to establish some rapprochement between Iran and the west or at least make the country as moderate as its young population wanted it to be.
When I arrived in Iran in 2005, weeks after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election there was a bit of anxiety about the government or police being emboldened to crack down a little stronger on things but there was still a willingness to privately voice disdain for Ahmadinejad's leadership as mayor of Tehran and pessimism about how he would lead the country.
After my 30 days there I came away with the impression that it was a youthful, engaged country aware of the world beyond and eager to resume its place in the world community. Prior to the revolution in 1979 Tehran had aspirations of hosting an Olympics and the economic might and cultural prestige to warrant serious consideration. It had the same standard of living as South Korea before the revolution had fallen far, far behind while the government preoccupied itself with religious issues and its impermeable dogmas rather than the economy. It was the promise of dealing with the economy that won Ahmadinejad what support he got but since 2005 he has squandered that credibility.
At this point I believe that the protests taking place in Tehran and beyond right now are a step in the direction the people of Iran want to go. There will be a great deal of change that will have to take place in order for Iranians to have the country that they want. What is happening is very much like eastern Europe in 1989, though it may not be as "velvet" as the changes in Czechoslovakia or East Germany.
I encourage you to read on. Check the archives for 2005. If you have any questions let me know and I'll give you the best info I can or send you to a reliable resource.