Tag Archives: Top-Posts

Italy’s former ambassador to Iran: No, Iranians Don’t Hate You

Roberto Toscano - Italy’s ambassador to Iran, 2003-2008

Roberto Toscano – Italy’s ambassador to Iran, 2003-2008

In 2004, when I was Italy’s ambassador to Iran, I had the occasion to tour the country together with a couple of American friends, at the beginning rather hesitant to come and visit, but then overwhelmed by the hospitality and politeness that are so typically Iranian and even more by the “extra” of both hospitality and politeness that came out when people realized that they were American.

One episode has remained marked in their memory (and in mine too): at the end of a visit to the tomb of the poet Saadi in Shiraz a mullah, who had been listening to the English translation of our guide, and had asked him where those tourists were from, went up to my friend, shook his hand, said (in English) “God bless you” and left.

[…] Most people who have seen the recent movie Argo […] are convinced that what they see is contemporary Iran: still hostile, still radical, still violently and massively anti-American. The truth is rather different. Certainly the regime finds in anti-Americanism a sort of marker of identity […] What is interesting, however, is that anti-American rhetoric is not focused on what America is, but on what America does. […] the 1953 Anglo-American coup against Mossadeq or the support given to Saddam in its 1980 aggression against Iran.

The fact is, however, that this regime narrative, and the hostility toward the U.S., is not really shared by the majority of Iranians. […]

Iran — and this will surprise the average American — is not a closed country, and its citizens can travel abroad, if they get the necessary entry visas, of course. In the second place, educated Iranians (not a narrow minority, differently from other countries in the area) have access to reliable information about the world and also about the U.S., in spite of the attempts of the regime to filter “subversive” material in both TV programs and internet traffic. […]

Actually, I found that in Iran there is a lot of admiration for America: not necessarily for its policy, but for its economy and for its culture, wildly popular especially among Iranian youth. […] A strong proof of the fact that America is not hated by Iranians came with September 11, when thousands of Iranians went spontaneously to the streets for a candlelight vigil in homage and solidarity to the victims of the attack on the Twin Towers.

The lack in Iran of the generalized and often virulent anti-Americanism that characterizes Middle Eastern populations is something that Americans traveling in Iran, even in the present tense political situation, can testify. Not only is there no hostility toward American citizens, but instead we see curiosity and friendship at the same time, though often combined with criticism for specific U.S. policies and behavior.

Definitely crowds chanting ‘marg bar Amrika’ (death to America) are today both very rare and not very much convinced: they tend to be formed by activists bused to the demonstrations. […]

Many, if not most Iranians, may be fed up with the regime, especially in its present incarnation in President Ahmadinejad, but they are a proud, patriotic people. They have problems with their leaders, but not with their country, especially in the event of an external attack.

The full article: The Huffington Post | Roberto Toscano | No, Iranians don’t hate you

Series American couple in Iran: Traveling to Iran as Americans

Audrey hanging with a group of Iranian women in Masouleh.

Audrey hanging with a group of Iranian women in Masouleh.

Traveling to Iran as an American citizen may sound complicated and dangerous. It’s not. We’re here to dispel the myths and answer the questions piling up in our inbox based on our visit to Iran just a few weeks ago.

Our aim in the following Q&A is to answer actual reader queries and to help demystify the process of traveling to Iran.

Are American citizens legally allowed to visit Iran?
Although the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran, there are currently no restrictions on American citizens visiting Iran as tourists. Currently, about 1,000-1,500 Americans visit Iran each year. […]

As an American, how will Iranians treat me?
Iranian people were often shocked to discover that we were American and that we were able to get a visa to their country. Once this fact set in, they often went over the top in welcoming us — everything from cordial greetings, to smiles, hugs, gifts and invitations to homes — especially when our guide was out of sight. We joke that it’s the closest we’ve felt to being rock stars.

Iranian University Students - Esfahan, Iran

Read the whole article if interested in details about getting a visa and organizing the trip:
Uncornered Market – Travel and Life Adventure | Traveling to Iran as Americans

Anyhow the blog is just great:
Uncornered Market – Travel and Life Adventure | Travel | Iran

Iranian Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani: The first woman to win the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics”

Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman to ever win the Fields Medal – known as the “Nobel Prize of mathematics” – in recognition of her contributions to the understanding of the symmetry of curved surfaces. […]

Mirzakhani was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. As a young girl she dreamed of becoming a writer. By high school, however, her affinity for solving mathematical problems and working on proofs had shifted her sights. […]

She became known to the international math scene as a teenager, winning gold medals at both the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads – she finished with a perfect score in the latter competition. Mathematicians who would later be her mentors and colleagues followed the mathematical proofs she developed as an undergraduate.

After earning her bachelor’s degree from Sharif University of Technology in 1999, she began work on her doctorate at Harvard University under the guidance of Fields Medal recipient Curtis McMullen. […] —By Bjorn Carey for Stanford University

Interesting Interview with Mirzakhani by The Guardian:

G: What are some of your earliest memories of mathematics?

I grew up in a family with three siblings. My parents were always very supportive and encouraging. It was important for them that we have meaningful and satisfying professions …

In many ways, it was a great environment for me, though these were hard times during the Iran-Iraq war. My older brother was the person who got me interested in science in general. He used to tell me what he learned in school. My first memory of mathematics is probably the time that he told me about the problem of adding numbers from 1 to 100. I think he had read in a popular science journal how Gauss solved this problem. The solution was quite fascinating for me.

G: What experiences and people were especially influential on your mathematical education?

I was very lucky in many ways. The war ended when I finished elementary school; I couldn’t have had the great opportunities that I had if I had been born 10 years earlier. I went to a great high school in Tehran – Farzanegan – and had very good teachers. I met my friend Roya Beheshti during the first week of middle school. It is invaluable to have a friend who shares your interests, and it helps you stay motivated.

Our school was close to a street full of bookstores in Tehran. I remember how walking along this crowded street, and going to the bookstores, was so exciting for us. We couldn’t skim through the books like people usually do here in a bookstore, so we would end up buying a lot of random books. Also, our school principal was a strong-willed woman who was willing to go a long way to provide us with the same opportunities as the boys’ school.

Later, I got involved in Math Olympiads that made me think about harder problems. As a teenager, I enjoyed the challenge. But most importantly, I met many inspiring mathematicians and friends at Sharif University. The more I spent time on mathematics, the more excited I became.

G: Could you comment on the differences between mathematical education in Iran and in the US?

It is hard for me to comment on this question since my experience here in the US is limited to a few universities, and I know very little about the high school education here. However, I should say that the education system in Iran is not the way people might imagine here. As a graduate student at Harvard, I had to explain quite a few times that I was allowed to attend a university as a woman in Iran. While it is true that boys and girls go to separate schools up to high school, this does not prevent them from participating say in the Olympiads or the summer camps. […]

G: What advice would you give those who would like to know more about mathematics – what it is, what its role in society has been, and so son?

This is a difficult question. I don’t think that everyone should become a mathematician, but I do believe that many students don’t give mathematics a real chance. I did poorly in math for a couple of years in middle school; I was just not interested in thinking about it. I can see that without being excited mathematics can look pointless and cold. The beauty of mathematics only shows itself to more patient followers.
Source: The Guardian

Excerpts of an article by Erica Klarreich published in Quanta Magazine that shows some other interesting aspects about her personality:

With her low voice and steady, gray-blue eyes, Mirzakhani projects an unwavering self-confidence. She has an equal tendency, however, toward humility. Asked to describe her contribution to a particular research problem, she laughed, hesitated and finally said: “To be honest, I don’t think I’ve had a very huge contribution.” And when an email arrived in February saying that she would receive what is widely regarded as the highest honor in mathematics — the Fields Medal, which will be awarded today at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, South Korea — she assumed that the account from which the email was sent had been hacked.

Other mathematicians, however, describe Mirzakhani’s work in glowing terms. […]

As a child growing up in Tehran, Mirzakhani had no intention of becoming a mathematician. Her chief goal was simply to read every book she could find. She also watched television biographies of famous women such as Marie Curie and Helen Keller, and later read “Lust for Life,” a novel about Vincent van Gogh. These stories instilled in her an undefined ambition to do something great with her life — become a writer, perhaps. […]

In her first week at the new school, she made a lifelong friend, Roya Beheshti, who is now a mathematics professor at Washington University in St. Louis. As children, the two explored the bookstores that lined the crowded commercial street near their school. Browsing was discouraged, so they randomly chose books to buy. “Now, it sounds very strange,” Mirzakhani said. “But books were very cheap, so we would just buy them.”

To her dismay, Mirzakhani did poorly in her mathematics class that year. Her math teacher didn’t think she was particularly talented, which undermined her confidence. At that age, “it’s so important what others see in you,” Mirzakhani said. “I lost my interest in math.”

The following year, Mirzakhani had a more encouraging teacher, however, and her performance improved enormously. “Starting from the second year, she was a star,” Beheshti said. […]

In 1994, when Mirzakhani was 17, she and Beheshti made the Iranian math Olympiad team. Mirzakhani’s score on the Olympiad test earned her a gold medal. The following year, she returned and achieved a perfect score. […]

After completing an undergraduate degree in mathematics at Sharif University in Tehran in 1999, Mirzakhani went to graduate school at Harvard University, where she started attending McMullen’s seminar. […]

She started going to McMullen’s office and peppering him with questions, scribbling down notes in Farsi.

“She had a sort of daring imagination,” recalled McMullen, a 1998 Fields medalist. “She would formulate in her mind an imaginary picture of what must be going on, then come to my office and describe it. At the end, she would turn to me and say, ‘Is it right?’ I was always very flattered that she thought I would know.”
Read on here: Quanta Magazine

Other interesting articles on Mirzakhani in iranianroots.com:

How I visited every country in the world – without a single flight – cites on Iran


On the morning of January 1 2009 I took a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia in Uruguay. This would be the first of many border crossings as I embarked on what I knew would be the biggest adventure of my life: the Odyssey Expedition, the first surface journey to every country in the world. It would take me to more than 200 countries, 60 islands and six continents. I thought I could do it in a year. It took the best part of four.

One place that will always stick in my mind is Iran. Instead of the stern, joyless place I expected, it turned out to be the warmest and most hospitable nation in the world. I was treated like an honoured guest by everybody I met. On an overnight bus, an old Persian grandmother smiled at me and passed me her mobile phone. I took it from her, a little nonplussed, and put it to my ear. The guy on the other end told me in perfect English that I was sitting behind his grandmother and she was concerned about me. When I asked why, he told me that the bus got in very early the next day and she was worried that I wouldn’t have anything to eat. She wanted to know if she could take me home with her and cook me breakfast.

What I have learnt from this adventure is that there are good people all over the world; people who will go out of their way to help out a stranger in need. I have learnt that people wherever they live are not that different: we all just want a fair deal. My faith in humanity has been restored, although my faith in politicians is even lower than it was when I started.

Blog recommendation: American woman backpacking in Iran

Read the blog and enjoy Silvia’s descriptions and pictures. Here are the links to the posts on Iran:




If you are lazy just read some quotes here and go to the links to enjoy the pictures:

“I mean, Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, hosts thirteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and boasts beautiful landscapes stretching from dense rain forests to snowcapped mountains to desert basins. Plus, so many travelers whom I met in Central Asia absolutely raved about Iran. The hospitable people, delicious food and historic sites – how could I not add Iran to my travel itinerary?”

“My first Couchsurfing hosts in Tehran, a young Ph.D. student and her roommate, said they were so excited to be hosting an American girl, and that they hope more tourists will start to come to Iran. They were incredibly warm and welcoming hosts, cooking delicious Persian food and asking me countless questions about Norway and the U.S. and foreigners’ impressions of Iran.”

“The thing is, I haven’t felt alone once since I landed in Iran. The receptionist at my first hotel took me in as her daughter, accompanying me to breakfast and lunch and suggesting sites for me to visit, my Couchsurfing hosts were like cool older sisters, chatting with me about religion and politics as well as the plot twists of Lost and J-Lo’s divorce (I’m so out of touch), and Rana truly has adopted me as her sister, with an invitation to lunch turning into a trip to visit Esfahan and then several days with her family in Tehran.”

“So far my experience in Iran has only been one of warmth and hospitality, and really, really amazing food! Though, in a few hours Rana and I are heading to Marivan, a small Kurdish city on the border to Iraq. So you know, maybe I’ll have some more eventful things to share from there! (Kidding, family, Kurdistan is of course totally safe.)”

“My stay in Tehran was far too short and left much of the city unexplored, but I did leave with an overwhelming crush on a city so full of life and passion. Shopkeepers greeted me with warmth (if also a degree of surprise), and the discussions I had with people there were always filled with genuine interest and reflection. ”

“While now a bustling modern city, Isfahan was once one of the largest cities in the world as it sat on a major intersection of the main north-south and east-west  routes crossing Iran. We seemed to stumble on reminders of Isfahan’s past glory around every corner, from impressive squares and tree-lined boulevards to covered bridges, palaces and mosques.”

“Moreover, while Isfahan might be dominated by Islamic architecture, the city is also home to important Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian sites. Rana and I visited the Church of Saint Joseph of Arimathea, built by an Armenian community that settled in Isfahan in the early 1600s.”

Ok if you read so far, just make sure to visit the links above


Iranian players handed white roses (a symbol of peace in Iran) to the US players prior to soccer match

All must read USA – Iran posts: The other Iran | Tag | USA

The game was an exceptionally fair game and both teams received the 1998 World Cup FIFA Fair Play Award “for the two countries’ good sportsmanship surrounding the World Cup match between their teams, despite their mutual political tensions for nearly 20 years.”

Below more photos from the match and the episode “Breaking Barriers: USA vs. Iran, 1998” from Fox Sports’ “Rise as One Series”:

Iran hosted 114 – 300 thousand Christian and Jewish Polish refugees in World War II

In 1939, Poland was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union. The war and the destruction caused by heavy bombardment resulted in the displacement of millions of Polish civilians. Most of them were sent by Joseph Stalin to Russia as prisoners in labor camps in Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union. It was not until Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 that Stalin freed the Poles and agreed to the creation of a Polish army to fight the Nazis, and that’s when the great journey started. Iran was chosen as the rendezvous point of the now-free Polish prisoners in Russia. […] Every day, more ships came from Russia bringing more Poles to Bandar-e Anzali. Some Poles also entered Iran from the north-eastern city of Mashhad.

The healthy men and women were organized in an army and were sent to join the war effort. The rest were sent to Tehran and Ahvaz. The sick were treated in hospitals in Tehran, and the American and British Red Cross donated clothes and food. Additionally, Polish language classes were established for the kids. The orphans were sent to Isfahan. Ryszard Antolak claimed that Iranian civil authorities and certain private individuals vacated the premises to accommodate the children. Schools, hospitals and social organizations sprang up quickly all over the city to cater to the growing colony. The new Shah took special interest in the Polish children of Isfahan. He allowed them the use of his swimming pool and invited groups of them to his palace for dinner. […]

After the war was over, many Polish men, women, and children who lived in Iran went back home. The Poles who lived in Iran, even for a little while, however, always remember Iran as a great host. As said by Ryszard Antolak, “The deepest imprint of the Polish sojourn in Iran can be found in the memoirs and narratives of those who lived through it. The debt and gratitude felt by the exiles towards their host country echoes warmly throughout all the literature. The kindness and sympathy of the ordinary Iranian population towards the Poles is everywhere spoken of.” In the summer of 2008, the Polish postal service issued a stamp commemorating the role of Isfahan in caring for Polish children. Source: www.mypersianspeakingfriends.org

In all, between 114,000 and 300,000 Poles are thought to have made it to Iran. […] “The friendly Persian people crowded round the buses shouting what must have been words of welcome and pushed gifts of dates, nuts, roasted peas with raisins and juicy pomegranates through the open windows,” wrote Krystyna Skwarko, a schoolteacher who came with her own two sick children to take charge of a growing orphanage in Isfahan. Skwarko’s book, “The Invited,” recounts a journey from Anzali, through Persia and on to New Zealand, where she and 700 orphans were eventually resettled. She died in 1995. More than 13,000 of the arrivals in Iran were children, many orphans whose parents had died on the way. In Russia, starving mothers had pushed their children onto passing trains to Iran in hopes of saving them. Skwarko’s impossible task was to wipe the scars of war from children who had been robbed of their childhood. […] Jewish orphans were cared for by a Jewish organization in Iran and later sent to Israel. Others went on to new lives in the United States, Britain, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and elsewhere. Source: Cornell University Library

Book on this topic: The Children Of Esfahan – Polish Refugees in Iran by Abolqasem Jala