Note from the Editor: Trust between Americans and Iranians remained eroded for many years as a result of the Iran hostage crisis, in which Americans were held by militant students at the US Embassy in Tehran for 444 days (1979-1980). Then came the 2009 Green Movement, when many in the U.S. were sympathetic as they watched millions of protestors flood the streets throughout Iran, contesting that summer's presidential election results.
For the most part, however, U.S. foreign policy positions Iran as an enemy nation, and both the U.S. and Israel speak about Iran's nuclear capability as well as its dominant position in the Middle East. There is a genuine danger that Israel with U.S. backing could pummel the country with a bombing campaign. What can we do to humanize the Iranians and dissuade our leaders from choosing a violent response to a political-diplomatic challenge?
Teresa Cutler-Broyles' interview reminds us that the Iranian people are not their government, and that Americans can and should travel to Iran and explore the country for themselves.
At some point in the last few years, Iran became country-non-grata for many in the United States. Blame it on the media. This is more than unfortunate for any number of reasons, not least of which is the fear engendered now by simply a mention of Iran. Images that spring to mind invoke not ancient archaeological sites or extraordinary architecture, not exquisite food or scenic countryside, certainly not modern cities or outstanding universities. No, ‘Iran' today is the latest victim of Orientalist notions that bind Americans into a belief system based on fear that doesn't allow for thinking of the country or its people in any but the broadest negative terms.
Rahman Mehraby is out to change all that. Since 2002 he has been leading tourists through Iran with Destination Iran, a tourguide outfit offering carefully sculpted tours that showcase everything from Iran's culture, architecture, and history, to ski trips that pull visitors in during the off season. Through his extensive and effective web presence and his skill at web optimization, networking, and marketing, Mehraby's business is growing as he shows more and more people his lovely country.
Mehraby and I recently exchanged email about Destination Iran, in which I fielded him a number of questions. His answers may surprise you; certainly they will intrigue you, and quite possibly they will awaken an eagerness to visit Iran and learn for yourself about an area of the world shrouded by media-created misperception and haziness.
Based on my own interests, I asked first about the types of tours he offers, and why people travel to Iran.
My tour packages are mainly focused on culture, history, and archaeology, all main attractions for the rest of the world. I have just added a skiing trip. Tours can be customized. Everyone likes to see Tehran, Shiraz, and Esfehan. Many have also learned about other fascinating destinations like Yazd, Shush, Tabriz, Caspian Sea, Lut Desert, and so forth.
The majority of visitors want to learn more about Iran. They've read some about our ancient history and know about Cyrus the Great and some details of our history since, like the revolution in 1979. They often want to know how things have shifted to a new era, and often have a lot of curiosity as to how ordinary people think, behave, interact, and communicate among themselves and with the rest of the world. They learn that every modern aspect of today's culture is deeply rooted in our history.
Iran could be archaeologists' heaven. A recent estimation suggests that there are about 200,000 historical mounds in Iran. Even in the middle of nowhere, construction projects often find ancient settlement sites. Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA) is one example. It is located in a desert 30 km south of Tehran, seemingly empty. Yet, many artifacts, underground aqueducts (Kariz- Iranian invention), and more were discovered during its construction.
Q: What are the most popular kinds of tours—culture, history, or archaeology?
Usually a combination of all of them with the first more highlighted by average visitors. Persepolis, the ceremonial palace compound of Achaemenians (519 BC-333 BC), Tchogha Zanbil Ziggurat temple, and a few other sites amaze every visitor, because they can see things with their own eyes. So, the majority of the travelers prefer monuments to historical mounds that the archaeologists might enjoy.
Archaeology is usually asked for by academic scholars. Ordinary travelers are quite surprised by the facts discovered at archaeological sites when tour guides explain them during the trips, but often enjoy the visits more when they can see visual manifestations of ancient civilizations.
Overall people prefer to see monuments (an appreciation of Iranian architecture), communicate with locals (enthusiasm to learn about culture) and hear about archaeology (interest in learning how things have developed).
I should mention that due to the thousands of years of human settlement and civilization in Iran, for us, a 900-year old mosque is an "old" monument, not an archeological site, and all those pre-Islam monuments (older than 1400 years) are called "ancient" ones.