Iranians Refuse to Bend the Knee: Decades of American Sanctions Not Enough to Muzzle and Cow Tehran

This Friday, Vienna hosted a very important meeting between the foreign ministers of the Iran nuclear deal member countries. Sergey Lavrov represented Russia, Wang Yi represented China, Heiko Maas represented Germany, Jean-Yves Le Drian represented France, and Mohammad Javad Zarif represented Iran. Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt represented Britain. The EU was represented by Federica Mogherini.

The fate of the Iran nuclear deal, stated 3 years ago in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA has been jeopardized by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States. Moreover, America threatened to impose sanctions against any states that cooperate with Iran or conduct business there. Many companies, including giants such as Total, Peugeot, and Renault are leaving Iran. Their American market is more important to them. However, the remaining five states and Iran are still ready to confront America together even though it's becoming difficult to preserve their unity.

Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister: "We agreed, although it was not easy given the not always coinciding interests of the European trio, China, Russia. and Iran. The mechanism of the joint expert-level commission will constantly consider options that will allow us to adhere to our commitments within the framework of the JCPOA, regardless of the decisions of the US, and provide methods of conducting trade with Iran that don't depend on Washington's whim."

Generally speaking, Iran has every reason to withdraw from the deal, especially if America decides to restrict the sale of Iranian oil. Speaking of sanctions, Iran's has already gotten used to them. Iran's been living under sanctions since the early 50's and doing quite well.

Alexander Rogatkin with the details.

Tehran has many faces. From the portraits of high ayatollahs faded in the sun and World Cup posters to modern highways leading into deep tunnels, and luxurious hotels with marble, gold, and Parthian statues. For some reason, these Shiite theologians came to an oil and gas conference. They ride a fast, panoramic elevator, rising above the massive construction of identical buildings.

For 40 years, Iran has lived under sanctions. The people have learned to live and avoid them. These huge posters show their attitude towards America. They look like a cover of the Soviet magazine Krokodil from the Cold War period.

The amazing creatures of Alikhan Abdollahi live on the roof next to the daunting agitation banner. He's a janitor and a sculptor by vocation. His studio is here in the attic. The artist complains that nobody's interested in his works.

Alikhan Abdollahi, artist: "The whole world's politicized, not just Iran."

Visual propaganda is even interwoven into the famous Persian carpets. Here's an American eagle soaring over skulls. The cup of endurance is full of human blood. This carpet was personally woven by Arab-zade by the order of President Khatami.

Kamal Arab-zade, carpet fabric owner: "We wanted to give this carpet to the UN. But they refused to accept it out of fear of offending America."

The fabric owner constantly complains. He's not directly affected by the sanctions, but due to the general economic situation, he's losing clients while having 30 weavers and 150 apprentices. He had to begin weaving again.

Kamal Arab-zade: "Unfortunately, the government doesn't support us. It's very hard but we're trying to survive."

The cacophony of sounds and the rattle of machines sewing mourning banners for the Day of Shiite Martyrs the sharp smells mixed with the aroma of eastern spices Chinese consumer goods, Isfahan faience, and shawls from Tabriz make up the world's oldest Tehran bazaar. The locals always say that the famous Tehran bazaar appeared at the intersection of Western Asian trade routes six thousand years before America imposed sanctions, or was even discovered. If you want to hear the latest news, go to your local bazaar. It's the freest place in this isolated country.

“The dollar rose and so did the rent. The price of this jug doubled during the day. There's not a single customer.”

Mustafa Hasanvand, merchant: "The business is doing terribly. I had to close for two days, and haven't sold anything today."

Some people blame the government, while others blame an American conspiracy. America is to blame. They invaded Iraq and ravaged it. After that, they invaded Syria. Now, they want to invade us. It's noisy under the pyramid-shaped dome of the Iranian Majlis. The officials are scolding the government like some market traders. The government has to come up with a plan of how to develop the country under the new sanctions.

“Why do we purchase foreign goods? Why can't we start producing our own?”

The Iranian parliament does not cease debating whether it's necessary to give America a harsh response and resume the nuclear projects. Or, perhaps, they should calm down and leave the nuclear deal intact.

Ramazan Ali Sobhanifar, member of parliament: "We don't need a nuclear bomb, we've got a superior weapon — our faith. It helped us in the war against Iraq when the whole world was supported them."

The holy defense system of ballistic missiles stands higher than the minarets of the neighboring mosques.

Hossein Kakani, political analyst: "Forty years ago, we couldn't produce a mortar. And now, we have missiles with a range of 1500 miles. Our leader said that if they strike us once, we'll strike them ten times."

The golden domes of the largest temple complex of Ayatollah Khomeini seem to be melting in the scorching sun. It's almost 100°F outside. Inside, it's much cooler. An imam is telling Pakistani Shiite students about the man who revolutionized the Middle East. The founder of the world's first Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, rests in this mausoleum behind silver bars, under the covers of dark-green velvet. The inside walls of his tomb are covered with bulletproof glass. Terrorists have tried to infiltrate and blow up the shrine several times. Pilgrims from all over the Shiite world come here every day. An invisible force raises believers even from their wheelchairs. Pilgrims sleep here on soft Persian carpets. An imam from a small mosque in Shiraz came here to bow to Ayatollah Khomeini, who taught Iran to fight the universal evil.

Ali Akbar Abodi, imam: "The USA is to blame for all of the corruption and destruction in the world. It's the main shaitan!"

Hussein Khan Ali will probably celebrate the anniversary of the revolution at work in the political prison of Tehran. It's a museum now. Hussein works as a tour guide. During the reign of Shah Pahlavi, he was prisoner #85-240.

Hussein Khan Ali, tour guide: "This was our cell. Intelligence threw me in here. There were five of us here."

In this prison, the defender of Shariah values met with many leaders of Islamic Revolution. He even shared his bunk bed with future president Rafsanjani. The tortures of Shah Pahlavi's barbaric regime are explicitly reproduced in the museum of Islamic Revolution. There was a total of 90 ways of tormenting the human flesh. Akhmat Sheikhi experienced many of them: He was electrocuted and had needles stuck under his nails. Almost 60 people were tortured to death, but he survived.

Akhmat Sheikhi, former prisoner: "They blindfolded us, tied our arms and legs, and lashed our legs with a cord. They muffled our screams with a pillow."

Akhmat Sheikhi was released shortly before the victory of the revolution.

Akhmat Sheikhi: “Upon being released, I could only crawl up these stairs.”

The director of the political prison museum spent about five years here. The toughest challenge for him was solitary confinement. When asked whether there were political prisoners in Iran now, he smiled.

Davud Asabadi Khomeini, director: "I don't think there are countries without political prisons. But it was much worse under Pahlavi. People were kidnapped and tortured. Siblings reported each other."

In 1978, rallies and strikes continued in Iran, which were violently dispersed by the Shah's guard. The country was paralyzed by the mass strike. Pahlavi fled to the US with his family. In early 1979, Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile in Paris and announced the construction of the Islamic Republic. Alcohol is prohibited and destroyed. A constitution based on Sharia law was introduced and the Revolutionary Guard was created. Women who also took an active part in the uprising, and went through prison and torture with the men, are now forbidden to appear in public in non-Muslim clothes.

Sayadah Fatima Moghemi, director: "There are no restrictions for women. If there were limitations, I would not be a manager and a boss. I would have to wear burqa and wouldn't be able to speak to you."

Sayadah Moghemi is the director of a transportation company. She drove the trucks herself sometime ago. She always defends the rights of Iranian women for their traditional way of life and does not support the idea of Middle Eastern women being enslaved.

Sayadah Moghemi: “We can go to many public places with men. No one forbids women to go to the movies. We go there with our families. However, we're not allowed to go to the stadium were men express their emotions and can sometimes say bad words."

Instead of a heavy boot, Zeynat Nazami uses a rubber mallet to test tire pressure. She can't feel the wheel of a large shuttle bus with her tiny foot. For five years, she's been driving intercity buses on the Tehran-Isfahan route.

Zeynat Nazami, bus driver: "At first, passengers were afraid to travel with me. Some even returned their tickets. Then, everyone got used to it and even began to respect me."

Tehran traffic is so erratic that even the men sometimes panic. A traffic jam can turn into a fight. We divert her attention from the traffic, to ask her about discrimination against women.

Zeynat Nazami:

—There is no discrimination.

Why are women not allowed at stadiums then?

—It's a difficult question. I don't know.

Sayadah Moghemi: “We watched the football games in Moscow and Kazan on the big screen at the stadium. Our women could go there and watch them too.”

Visitors of hookah bars also watch the Cup but not as closely as in the beginning. The Iranian national team fought well but was eliminated at the group phase. Some Iranian women went to Russia and watched the matches from the stands so beautiful, and envied by their compatriots who remained home.

The confrontation between Iran and the US is in full swing. The ball is in the penalty area of Tehran. The outcome of the struggle in the political arena is as unpredictable as football. However, this time, something bigger's at stake: peace in the Middle East.


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