Tea, War and Protest in Iran

Marching soldiers, Tehran, Iran

Since the overthrow of the Shah and the kidnapping of the American hostages in 1979, Iran has always been in the news. For nine years, while Iran was closed to most Westerners, I travelled there taking pictures of events, life under the Ayatollahs and the Iran/Iraq war.

This area was once the cradle of civilization, a place where most people I met knew more about the West then the West knew about them.

On the weekends we would go skiing north of Tehran, and during the week we would go to demonstrations where the crowds would chant, “Down with America, Down with Russia, Down with Israel.” After the cameras were put away the crowd would sit down, drink tea, eat bread and gossip. Later in the week, we’d see the same crowd going through the same scenario at another location.

Once, I was the only foreign correspondent standing on a platform near the president of Iran in front of 10,000 people. The president was shaking his fist and waving a gun at the crowd, and they leapt to their feet yelling and throwing their arms in the air. I turned to my interpreter and said, “What did the president say?” The interpreter said, “All foreign correspondents tell lies, death to all foreign correspondents.”

The government used posters and blood fountains to encourage the people to continue the revolution and fight the war against Saddam.

They also encouraged people to become “Basij.” These were a volunteer militia group who would charge at the Iraqi soldiers in human waves and run across the minefields.

We always stayed in the same room of a hotel in Tehran, a room on the top floor with a sweeping view of the city. We later realized that no locals wanted that room because when Saddam sent his missiles across, they would hit the building and only knock out the top floor.