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Iran – Discovering the Traces of Old Persia in the Islamic Republic – the Armenian district in Isfahan. Episode 8


Isfahan has many places to offer, not only the Imam Square… I liked it, I spent many hours here but it’s time to visit other parts of the town as well… So I head out south.

It was on a Friday. Friday is a weekend day in Iran because the country guides itself after the Muslim calendar. Officially, we are now in the year 1431 after Hejira – the moment when Mohammed left Mecca and took cover in Medina, where he actually founded the Islamic religion. And as Friday is the holy Muslim day, it is also a free day. In fact in many Muslim countries Fridays (and Thursdays or Saturdays) are free days, so Friday as a free day is not something out of the ordinary.

I headed south. Isfahan is crossed by the river Zayandeh which is often dried out… In a country with pretty strong censorship rules, the rumors are present as a daily routine. The last rumor is that some politician or ayatollah collects all water from the mountain and sells it in Israel at astronomical prices… Sold or unsold, when I walked on the shore of the river there was not much water inside, however I still enjoyed the famous bridges over Zayandeh, some of them built by the same Shah Abbas around 1650… The most famous is the Si-o-seh Bridge, the bridge of 33 arches under which blossom various cafes.

After I cross the river, I stroll on the shore of the river. Everywhere, tents and entire families at picnics… As I have previously said, the Iranians are great travelers, they like to visit different sites. Few go out the country, especially because of economic reasons or because of the insurmountable difficulties in getting visas. Actually, countries like Armenia or Azerbaijan are full with Iranian tourists that go to see how are things in countries where women do not wear anything on their head.

However, many cannot afford expensive escapes even around Iran. The huge majority of tourists do camping, taking with them a tent, food, everything. I did not see any organized camping spots, so that they camp in the parks… I do not realize how much they run from one objective to another like the typical Western tourist, they are happy to be among themselves with their family…probably they go to a mosque or to a famous shrine… I have passed by many with their tent pitched in parks, enjoying food cooked there, on the spot. The great majority invited us to share lunch.

Eventually, I accepted the invitation of a group of youngsters. They were from Isfahan, so they did not arrive with a tent, but just went out in the nature. One of them spoke well in English, he was a car mechanic, the other friends spoke a little as well, now and then. They were a sporty gang. They came to play football and especially volleyball… Actually, there were a lot of girls who played volleyball – yes in their chador and with something on their heads, but they played volleyball and were actually quite good at it! Other gals rode bicycles while some were actually building up muscles at some machines placed in the park. What gym? The park was the gym!

We obviously talked a lot. They asked me which is the taste of alcohol. They told me that they have never drunk, they were not the people to travel abroad. They were also upset because the prices increased a lot, especially the petrol and that their salaries remained the same. But it doesn’t matter, they will still vote for Ahmadinejad. The youngest would have wanted the former reforming president Khatami who fought against the cleric establishment, but Khatami does not run for the new elections. The new reforming candidate was Mousavi, but very few people seemed to know him, although he was a former prime minister of Iran. After I had a full meal, I thanked my hosts and then moved further on.

Later, I arrived in a special neighborhood – the Christian Armenian neighborhood – Jolfa. The Armenians were known as very good artisans. And as Shah Abbas needed some good builders in order to build a city like no other, he invited them to move from their village, Jolfa, to Isfahan. The Armenians established themselves beyond the water, in a neighborhood named Jolfa like their home-village, in which they got total faith freedom (there are no less than 14 churches in Jolfa) and, on top they have the right to drink alcohol! According to the law, they are the only allowed to produce and drink within their community…useless to say that many of them sell to the Muslims as well, as a proof one can see how the houses and the shops in the Christian-Armenian area look like!!! Where else in Iran have I seen a United Colors of Benetton shop?

I have also been to the Vank Cathedral, the main Armenian cathedral of Isfahan and I think from all Iran. It was also build in the time of Shah Abbas (there were lots of construction materials everywhere in Isfahan at that time!) and it is the center of the community. I have actually been twice to Vank Cathedral, because my first visit coincided with the day of the Armenian genocide commemoration and the whole complex was closed… But I could visit it the next day.

The Vank Cathedral is in a yard with fortress-like walls. The moment I entered, I encountered a banner on which it was written that the Armenians want the Turkish government to be condemned for the 1915 genocide… And the walls were full of banners with quotes of declarations of various Parliaments and worldwide organisms that condemned the genocide… About the Armenian genocide, maybe you know, maybe you don’t… During World War I, the Russians fought with the Turks. The Turks suspected that the Armenians are supporting the Russians, so they decided to get rid of them from the conflict area – millions were told to leave their houses and started walking towards Syria and Lebanon… Almost 1.5 million people, men and women lost their lives in this march of Death… Other thousands of Armenians were murdered in Istanbul as “traitors”.

Actually, the yard of the Vank monastery shelters a museum dedicated to the Armenian Genocide who benefited from an infinite less communication than the Holocaust…

I searched for alcohol in the restaurants of the neighborhood. The bartenders kind of tried to look clueless, even having the right to drink, they do not serve anybody… So I continued to drink the beer with pomegranates and lemon… Because the melon had a really bad taste…

I stayed only three days in Isfahan… I would still have pretty much to tell, but I will leave it for the next episode. So, stay tuned .

Pictures of Isfahan:

 Isfahan: The bridge over the dry river

The bridge over the dry river

Isfahan: The bridge over the dry river

Woman fashion in Iran

Cool in Iran

Isfahan: voleyball in Iran

In their free time, the Iranians play volleyball

Isfahan: Voleyball in Iran

Girls riding bicycles in Isfahan, Iran

They ride bicycles.

Ladies gym in Isfahan

They exercise

Isfahan: Picnic

And especially they stay at picnics

United Colors of Benetton Iran

Isfahan: The Armenian district of Jolfa

The Armenian neighborhood

Armenian Genocide banners in Isfahan

Isfahan: In Vank Cathedral - Armenian Genocide

Isfahan: The Armenian Museum in Jolfa

The Armenian Museum

Vank Cathedral Isfahan murals

Crucified Jesus

Inside the Vank Cathedral

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