Urmia Lake ; Saving Iran’s Precious Lake

Urmia Lake ; Saving Iran’s Precious Lake


Many of Iran’s once flourishing wetlands have dried dramatically in recent years. Urmia Lake in particular, the sixth largest salt lake in the world and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is dangerously receding and threatens to vanish entirelly. Spanning an area larger than the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake combined, the dwindling lake lies tucked in the Zagros Mountain range in northwest Iran near the Turkish border.
Hossein Akhani, a biologist at the University of Tehran, argues that Iran’s high water consumption and energy and agriculture demands put pressure on the lake. Disturbing photographs of the Urmia Lake today compared to two decades ago show that now the southern half completely evaporates in summer. Plants, migrating birds like flamingos and pelicans, a unique species of brine shrimp, and other wildlife have begun to disappear.
Akhani, a longtime advocate on conservation issues, argues that people should take emergency actions to stop the Urmia Lake from contracting further. Only then, he says, can Iran try to bring water back—from dams, river flow, and treated wastewater—to replenish, revive and restore the Urmia lake to its natural state. He believes efforts to save it will be more fruitful as the international community lifts sanctions, following successful negotiations involving Iran’s nuclear program last year. As restrictions ease, Akhani says, there should be more opportunities to collaborate among scientists, conservationists, and international organizations.
Akhani traveled to Washington, D.C. in February for his first meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In a symposium titled “Iran: Science Cooperation in a Post-Sanctions Era,” he spoke in English—his second language—about Urmia Lake’s plight. Afterward, he met with me to answer questions, often pausing to translate a word properly or to convert from the Iranian calendar.

How did you become involved in environmental and ecological research?

In 1987 I was employed as a part-time researcher in Iran’s Natural History Museum. I performed studies of national parks and protected areas. Then I continued my research in saline habitats like Urmia Lake, and [I studied] biodiversity in protected areas including Gulestan National Park in eastern Iran, one of the richest natural parks in the Middle East.

What was Urmia Lake like in the 1990s?

It was a large lake and people often swam there. Many people believed that swimming in the salty lake was healthy for their skin. There were a lot of hotels and tourist centers, but now unfortunately most of them are out of business.

Based on your research, what are the main reasons why the Urmia Lake is receding?

The main reason is the extensive water use in the basin, which happened after 54 dams were constructed in the area. There are only eight permanent rivers, so there is no chance for running water to flow into the lake. There are also a lot of wells, which pump water from underground aquifers. These two pressures prevent water from accumulating in the basin.

When did you realize that the lake was shrinking and that this was a serious problem?

In 2001, when I visited the northeastern part of the lake to collect plants, I saw that the lake is receding and there were many areas where the salt was exposed to earth. It was completely different from what I saw in 1987.

Were plants and wildlife struggling to adapt?

Over thousands of years, salts accumulated in the lake’s basin. When the lake shrinks, the area exposed to air is extremely salty. There is no chance for plants to grow there. After the lake became desiccated, we lost many vegetation types. Plants just dried up or were in bad condition.
The salinity tolerance of brine shrimp is 160 grams of salt per liter, but now the salinity of the lake is almost 450 grams per liter, so they cannot survive these conditions. In the surrounding wetlands and estuaries, the salinity is lower, so we can still find them there. When the shrimp are gone and flamingoes come and find the remaining water extremely salty, then it’s dangerous for them. We’ve lost many migratory birds coming to the area.

If nothing were done, what would happen to the lake?

If land use and water consumption remained as it is now, then the lake would disappear pretty soon. There’s no doubt about that—unless there is an unexpected rainfall, but we cannot rely on that. We believe that the only way to help the lake survive is to take emergency actions to stop further reductions, and then try to restore it in a reasonable time and reduce water consumption in a well-managed plan.

What do you think are the main courses of action Iran should take?

Agriculture in the area is currently unsustainable. You could provide technologies and improved irrigation systems that require less water. Agricultural products that use lots of water, such as sugar beets and apples, should be reduced. Previously, the area was famous for its wine gardens and wine production, which needs one-fifth the water of apple production. We need to support the farmers to change the crops they are cultivating and the government needs to compensate them during this transition.
Many dams transfer water to urban areas where the population has grown tremendously in recent decades. With the restoration projects running now, the construction of new dams is prohibited, fortunately. It should be our goal to remove many dams.

It sounds similar to Mono Lake. Los Angeles was taking a lot of water from the lake and it was shrinking and its habitat was suffering.

Mono Lake is a good example of a correct decision to restore a lake. Thanks to the activities of Friends of Mono Lake Reserve—about 16,000 people who were involved took judicial actions and got water rights back to the lake— it was a great success. We should learn from Mono Lake history.
Owens Lake [in eastern California] is completely dry, and they are spending $1.2 billion dollars to prevent dust emission in the area. This lake is only 5% the size of Urmia Lake. If we were to use the same measures, it would take hundreds of billions of dollars. It is less costly and more practical to save the habitat.

In your presentation, you mentioned the government’s current restoration plan. Are people working on it now?

Yeah! The Urmia Lake Restoration Committee set up expert committees who made an action plan in 2014, which was approved. In the Iranian calendar for 2015 until 21st of March in 2016, 660 million dollars was invested in 88 projects in the area. For example, they gave 200 million cubic meters of dam water to the lake and connected two rivers so the water flows more easily. They are constructing a canal to bring water from a river near the Turkish border to the lake. They also started subsidizing agricultural sectors to reduce their water use.

How will the lifting of the sanctions aid these efforts to restore the lake?

When the sanctions are lifted, there will be more opportunities for cooperation between Iranian and international scientists. Then we can learn more from [similar water problems] in the States.
The new era will also help restoration programs. Environmental conditions in Iran became worse after the revolution, because of sanctions and the eight-year war in Iran and Iraq. I’m sure that if relations between Iran and the world improve, then there will be chances for foreign investment in the country, implementing new jobs for people, and supporting industries that reduce pressure on the environment. Environmental problems are world problems, and the world should work together to solve them. But sanctions make them worse, when you can’t import necessary technologies, talent or manpower.

Are people in other countries trying to help in some way?

In recent years, the case of Urmia became more publicized in international media and generated interest among scientists and international organizations. For example, Japan invested $1 million in the area to improve agricultural management. Several international meetings took place in Iran, and even scientists from the United States came. The Iranian government is very open and welcomes any kind of contribution.
Instead of criticizing Iran, the world should do something! It’s the duty of developed countries that have more scientific facilities and funding to help.

What are your thoughts about how things will change after the sanctions are lifted, especially for Iranian scientists and science in Iran?

Iran’s education and universities expanded in the last 20 years. There are more than four million students in Iranian universities and the number of scientific publications in Iran has increased. But during the sanctions, we couldn’t get equipment and didn’t have opportunities to participate in international conferences, and exchanging students became difficult. Lifting sanctions will be beneficial for Iranian universities and universities in developed countries.
We have seen thousands of Iranian scholars [working] in the United States and Europe. Iran is a huge country and provides a unique platform for top researchers, especially in fields of photosynthesis, plants, adaptation to harsh environments, and other environmental and biodiversity issues. When the economic situation and the stability in the area improves, our educated students should have opportunities to stay, too.

Are there other things that you’ve been thinking about lately or that you look forward to after the sanctions?

Our big concern now is that [U.S.] Republican presidential candidates say that if they’re elected, they will cancel these agreements. This would disturb an achievement that cost decades of negotiations. We should not destroy what has been planted—such a very expensive cultivation. I hope we’ll always think that relations and cooperation are the best solution for solving problems.
How long do we have to have conflicts? We are big nations! Not all Iranians love America—but they have a lot of enthusiasm for development, a better life, and to be in contact with the world. We have to try to respect each other in spite of our differences.

Source: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/saving-iran-s-precious-lake-urmia/

Bombardier ; With New Iranian Airline?

Bombardier ; With New Iranian Airline?


Bombardier Inc., the world’s third-biggest planemaker, is in negotiations about a deal with a prospective new airline serving the tourist island of Qeshm in southern Iran.

Montreal-based Bombardier’s Chairman Pierre Beaudoin held talks with officials from the Qeshm Free Zone during a recent visit to Tehran, a spokesman for the district at the southern end of the Persian Gulf said by telephone. The manufacturer confirmed that discussions in Iran are under way.

Bombardier makes a variety of aircraft models, spanning turboprops through regional jets to the C Series narrow-body designed to compete with short-haul planes from Boeing Co. and Airbus Group SE. Airbus has already secured a 118-jet, $27 billion sale to Iran, while Boeing started talks earlier this month.

“We’ve had continued discussions — they’re exploratory discussions — with a number of people there,” Bombardier spokeswoman Marianella de la Barrera said of Iran. She added that the company has “identified significant opportunities in the region with regards to the commercial aviation sector.”

Planemakers are targeting Iran as the country seeks to renew its aging aircraft fleet and modernize archaic infrastructure following January’s lifting of economic sanctions imposed over Middle Eastern country’s nuclear program.

Qeshm Free Zone officials have held talks with several companies but are keen to strike a deal with Bombardier in the next two months, the spokesman said.

Bombardier and Iran

The Canadian company, which reckons Iran will need about 300 planes over the next decade, declined to comment on the topics or aircraft models discussed.

Iran Air may remain a sales prospect despite the Airbus purchase, with Chairman Farhad Parvaresh saying after that deal that the carrier would need at least 20 regional jets and that Bombardier had made a presentation.

“We’ve had continued discussions, they’re exploratory discussions, with a number of people there for transport solutions required for the region and what we can offer,” Marianella de la Barrera, Bombardier’s manager for public affairs and communications, said by phone from Montreal on Sunday.

While confirming Mr. Beaudoin’s travel to Iran, she declined to comment on the content of the talks. The company has “identified significant opportunities in the region with regards to commercial aviation sector,” she said.


Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-24/bombardier-explores-new-airline-project-in-post-sanctions-iran


Clash in Iran; Supercell mobile gaming

Clash in Iran; Supercell mobile gaming


Supercell has joined the club of foreign game developers to accept Iranian rials (the nation’s currency), at least for its flagship title, Clash of Clans.

The mobile gaming giant struck a deal on March 24 with the largest third-party app store in Iran, Cafe Bazaar, which plugs Clash of Clans into its local payment gateway. This enables Iranians to pay for in-app purchases using their debit card by way of an interbank system called Shetab (this is mostly because of the sanctions the country has faced). Supercell is left with 61 percent of revenues after a 9 percent VAT is deducted and Cafe Bazaar claims its 30 percent. The metrics on Cafe Bazaar site clock Clash of Clans downloads to over 5 million installs to date and Clash Royale at over 1 million.

Other members of the club include Elex-Tech and it’s rival title, Clash of Kings (which as of December has 100 million downloads and is a top revenue generator in mobile, on a tier lower than Clash of Clans and Game of War). The company can’t be happy after having Supercell bump out its competitive advantage in the market — and so soon after the technical upset in Februarywhen its hosting provider, SoftLayer, decided to suddenly block all user traffic coming out of Iran. Its gamer base had to start using VPNs to access Clash of Kings, and in combination with this move by Supercell, the future doesn’t look too bright.

To give you a clearer picture of the landscape Supercell is dealing with, I ran a survey between April 22 and April 24 of 1,030 mobile gamers in Iran.

Clash in Iran

Sixty-four percent of mobile gamers in Iran are playing Clash of Clans, and 30 percent are playing Clash Royale. Compare this to the 9 percent share for Clash of Kings and you get a better sense of Elex-Tech’s plight. There is simply no other contender to be seen, which effectively monopolizes the entire country.

Clash of Clans’ popularity has grown to soaring heights in Iran during the past few years and the newcomer, Clash Royale, became an immediate hit upon its global release. This isn’t necessarily surprising since the whole world is witnessing the stunning success of this elegant card collectible-strategy hybrid. GamesBeat’s Jeff Grubb recently reported on Newzoo’s latest figures indicating that Clash Royale is nearing the $1 billion mark globally in record time. The same figures indicate that the Middle East only contributes a paltry 1 percent share.

“I downloaded Clash Royale before its global launch by creating an Apple ID on the Canada store, while it was being initially rolled out for testing and debugging,” said Amir Lajevardi, aka CeNaRiuS, a 35-year old software engineer who distributes computer devices in Iran and has been a pro gamer for 14 years.

Lajevardi is the quintessential hardcore Supercell fan. He started playing mobile games about 7 years ago, but he only became a serious mobile gamer with the launch of Clash of Clans back in 2012. He was a steady contender in the top charts until he stopped playing last year, refocusing his energies to Supercell’s Boom Beach strategy game and more recently, Clash Royale, which along with Boom Beach he plays 3 hours-to-4 hours a day.

A major element to what makes the game so successful in Iran lies in the social aspect. Over two-thirds say that clans are important to them when it comes to Supercell games. It’s quite common nowadays to find that friends or even romantic couples in Iran having met through playing one of these mobile hits.

Telegram is the messaging app of choice in Iran, and that’s where clans like Lajevardi’s “Persian Gulf ” anchor all of their communications. Dedicated Telegram channels to Supercell titles are springing up all over the place. It’s where they share the latest game news, strategies, and details on offline events that offer the gamer community an opportunity to connect in real life.

The enthusiasm has even extended into esports. Iran Cyber Games (ICG) ran a Clash Royale tournament for the first time this month. It consisted of a double elimination of 50 players hosted on the Toornament esports platform. Each player paid $2 as a registration fee, with a grand prize of $400 for grabs. That’s a considerable sum when you take into account that two-thirds of mobile gamers in Iran make less than $571 per month.

But the whales exist, and they can be found in the top charts.

“I have spent around $2,000 in Clash of Clans but already $1,000 in Clash Royale,” added Lajevardi. “I know a lot of players who spend $100 a day to stay in the top charts.”

You read that write. In three months, he’s spent half in Clash Royale than he has in three years in Clash of Clans. One thousand bucks is quite the sum to fork out for a game that has been around for only a few months, especially by someone who lives in a country with a GDP that is 9 percent that of the United States. He ranked 5th last week and 12th this week in Iran, which is of no surprise to any Supercell player who understands the intense volatility at work. A single match can swing you in and out of the top spots.

Supercell’s deal with Cafe Bazaar is certainly a step in the right direction, but it needs to address a few stumbling blocks. One is that 43 percent of respondents said they don’t trust paying through Cafe Bazaar for their in-app purchases on Clash of Clans. Like Lajevardi, they prefer to pay using gift cards that are trafficked illegally into the country in abundance and allow them to stick to the official app stores.

In fact, about 48 percent of the Android gamers indicate using Cafe Bazaar, which is more than half the market share their CEO, Hessam Armandehi, proclaimed back in Game Connection last year on a panel we were both on (85 percent). The other half (52 percent) are downloading games primarily on Google Play. Even more telling is that 82 percent say that they would prefer to use the official app stores over third-party ones if they were simply more readily available to them.

The other issue is that global pricing of the in-app items is simply too expensive for ordinary Iranians. Over half or 53 percent of those who play Supercell games have never even made an in-app purchase. Of those who do pay, 46 percent primarily pay by Shetab, 34 percent by credit cards that are somehow acquired in foreign countries, and 21 percent by gift cards.

One immediate step Supercell can make in order to help support Cafe Bazaar is to release a formal statement of its official entry into the Iranian market and the legitimacy of this newfound partnership.

Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh is a cofounder at Gameguise, a Dubai-based publisher of online games in the Middle East and a consultancy to global game developers and publishers that need local help in understanding and operating in the market.

Source: http://venturebeat.com/2016/04/24/supercell-stakes-a-beachhead-in-the-mobile-gaming-clash-in-iran/

Qeshm consortium on tourism in island

Qeshm consortium on tourism in island


Managing Director of Qeshm Free Zone has said the island has hosted Qeshm consortium on tourism with five countries of Russia, China, Italy, France, and Germany participating.

Qeshm consortium

Hamid Reza Momeni told Iran’s state news agency IRNA on Tuesday that the Qeshm consortium sought to improve the odds of the island in attracting foreign tourists; “Moscow had hosted the first Qeshm consortium where participants tentatively discussed establishing of an executive body for Qeshm consortium; a part of agreements included establishment of a company in the Qeshm Free Zone to take the responsibilities of the executive body by private sector as a partner,” he told the press.

“In line with goals set by the Cultural Heritage Organization which demanded that 100,000 tourists be attracted to the island, the island has been hectic in three exhibitions held in China, Russia, and Italy since last year, with a modest success through winning the best pavilion award of the Moscow exhibition,” Momeni asserted, believing that campaign would help attract maximum number of tourists to the island.

However, Momeni also said that the necessary infrastructure to achieve the feat should be improved in the island; “for example, we have plans to establish eco-camps in 8 different spots of the island to develop historical tourism in cooperation with the Cultural Heritage Organization; a motorcycle track will be opened in near future and a car track will start construction,” he detailed.

He also announced operation of a special airline of the island with cooperation by a Canadian airline by next September; “Qeshm Island houses 117,000 inhabitants in an area of 1,500 square kilometers. The island is a rectangular form with 135km length and 14km of average width. The island is greater than 22 countries of the world,” he added.

Where is Qeshm

Qeshm Island has excellent tourism and recreation capacities with the first ever international Geopark of the Middle East. It is destination to millions of domestic and international tourists who come to island to enjoy natural beauties water and geography created in the Persian Gulf.

Source: http://en.mehrnews.com/news/115583/Qeshm-Island-hosts-consortium-on-tourism

Exploring the real Iran, with social media ( Facebook )

Exploring the real Iran, with social media ( Facebook )


Travelling independently, our writer relies on the advice and generosity of the young Iranians who are using social media ( Facebook ,…)to show foreign visitors the warm, fun and defiant reality of everyday life in their country

Being completely disconnected on holiday isn’t as romantic as some purist travellers may suggest. It might be fine if you plan to stay on a beach or spend your days snorkelling with dolphins, but if you have to navigate your way around a country, travelling without access to GPS-assisted maps, currency converters and email seems a silly restriction. Especially when travelling in a country like Iran. Here, the private and public spheres are two completely different worlds and access to social media can make the difference between merely learning about heritage through visits to historical sites and experiencing the everyday lives of modern Iranians.

It was how I came to be at a party in Tehran among a crowd of good-looking, fashionable millennials: men, women, gay, straight. The obligatory hijabs were left at the door. On the kitchen table, there were unmarked bottles of aragh saghi – literally, dog alcohol – a moonshine made from raisins. People were dancing, drinking, and discussing whether it was time to call a drug dealer.

Before I embarked on my month-long trip to Iran, Iranian friends suggested I use social media to guide my travels through the Islamic Republic. Even during the first two weeks, which I spent on an organised tour, writing a feature for another publication, I was able to fill a few holes in the standard group itinerary with meaningful interactions outside the comfortable but limiting tourist bubble. It started in the ancient Silk Road city of Isfahan when I accepted an offer from Alireza, a 24-year-old auto parts dealer who had contacted me through couchsurfing.org, a social media platform for hospitality exchange. He invited me to dinner with his family.

When I arrived at his home, I was welcomed with a generous meal and curious questions from family and friends gathered around a fire in the leafy courtyard. In particular, they wanted to know about the image of Iran abroad. This had been the recurring theme from people who had approached us in the street, often stopping simply to express their gratitude to us for visiting Iran.

I had grown used to Iranians going out of their way to point out that any anti-western propaganda we encountered was an embarrassment to them. On a walk around downtown Tehran on the day of my arrival, I had paused to photograph a large sign on the side of a 10-storey building. It depicted Barack Obama on par with Shemr, the seventh-century villain who killed the beloved Imam Husayn, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. “Please, nobody takes these things seriously,” said two passersby. This apologetic attitude continued on Instagram after I posted the photo, and applied the hashtags #seeyouiniran and #tehranlive. In the comments, Iranians ridiculed the sign and assured me that “only a tiny minority of idiots” thought this way. Along with their messages came invitations to show me around in Tehran.

After we finally cleared our plates, Afshin called friends who arrived in a car to drive us all to a mountain park, where we watched the shimmering city lights, talked politics and religion, and smoked weed. It was my first glimpse of a different side of Iran: the everyday reality hidden behind news reports and history pages. It was generous, warm, fun and defiant.

In the following weeks, I travelled independently, relying on the advice and generosity of ordinary Iranians through Facebook, Instagram, and the hugely popular instant messaging app Telegram Messenger, which many believe is better secured against government monitoring than WhatsApp. Of course, not all encounters were limited to instant messages and emails. Through Couchsurfing, people invited me to stay at their homes and show me around.

In Shiraz, I stayed with a poet and human rights activist who demonstrated how he, as with many others in the city that was once renowned for its wineries, secretly produced his own wine at home. “You crush grapes, leave them to ferment, stir every three days, and after 40 days, you’ve got wine,” he explained, pointing at a large glass container in the corner of his kitchen.

While he was at work, his friends took me to their favourite sites in Shiraz: the Nasir ol Molk mosque (also known as the pink mosque), where stained-glass windows cast kaleidoscopic patterns on the Persian-carpeted floors in the early morning; and the palatial Narenjestan-e Qavam, a 19th-century merchant’s house overlooking a lush garden with fountains and towering date palms. But they also showed me their favourite shopping malls, design boutiques, and Brentin, a busy restaurant inside an old, atmospheric villa. Before the mountainous chelow kebab arrived, I had already helped myself to a salad of pomegranate and lentils, a bowl of yoghurt with little rolls of fried courgette, vegetable samosas and bread with a dip of fried aubergine, onion, walnut and mint.

In Tehran, I was shown around the city’s cinema museum by a local photographer. Afterwards, we enjoyed a lunch of tagliatelle at the posh museum cafe, where a famous actress was interviewed under the cool gaze of a crowd with fashionable hairdos, who sipped expensive teas flavoured with saffroned rock sugar. This was followed by a quick walk though past the stalls of the old Tajrish bazaar, selling everything from framed carpets to Kalashnikov-shaped hookahs, after which we moved to the intimate Cafe Kooche in the Gheytarieh neighbourhood. Here, I was introduced to a blogger who would later take me on a tour to Etemad, one of the leading art galleries in Tehran.

All this time, I was staying at the home of a pious Zoroastrian, who taught me about his religion, which was the state religion of pre-Islamic Persia, and took me to a ceremony at Tehran’s main fire temple. An avid foodie and cook, he also showed me how to cook mirza ghassemi, a Caspian dish of grilled aubergine, boiled tomato, turmeric, coriander and chilli in his kitchen. One morning, he took me to a nearby breakfast cafe to introduce me to the (rather intimidating) delicacy of boiled sheep’s head. On a Wednesday night, we attended the weekly music and poetry event that was organised by an extremely active Couchsurfing member who had already hosted more than 600 guests in an ashram-like setup at his house. In the cultural gathering space he had created in his basement, travellers and Iranians from all walks of life recited poems and sang songs in Farsi, Azeri, Turkish, English and German.

While Couchsurfing was an excellent way to meet people who welcomed me into their homes and lives, Facebook proved to be the best source of advice and inspiration. Whenever I needed a quick answer, I turned to a Facebook group named See You in Iran. Here, fellow travellers shared experiences and uploaded photos of the dusty desert town of Yazd, the adobe citadels of Bam and Rayen, the gardens of Mahan, the religious processions of Ashura in the ancient Silk Road city of Isfahan, and train rides through the hot void of the Kavir Desert. Meanwhile, Iranian members offered practical advice about bus routes, hostels, visas, virtual private network (VPN) services, safety concerns – and delighted in the posts of foreign travellers.

While I was trying to resolve the practical matter of staying online in a country where the internet was throttled and censored, it took less than half an hour to receive the necessary information about where to purchase a local sim card for data, and which app was used to circumvent the Iranian firewall. One of the Facebook group members even gave me her password to a paid VPN service.

Initially, this seemed an online extension of Iranian hospitality, which was the only form of “extremism” I encountered during my stay. But there is another, more political reason: a strong desire to battle cultural misunderstandings and what the group’s founder, Navid Yousefian, refers to as “Iranophobia”.

Clearly, Iran’s poor image abroad is an endless source of frustration to many Iranians. “I was surprised and saddened to hear that some well-travelled people think they can’t visit Iran,” wrote Yousefian, a expatriate PhD student living in California, in the Facebook group’s introduction. He called for Iranians in and outside the country to join the group to help visitors.

Iranians and Facebook

Today, See You in Iran has close to 45,000 Facebook members and has branched out to Tumblr, Instagram and Telegram Messenger. “What makes it different from the usual guidebooks is that all the input is directly from Iranians and former travellers,” says Sogand Fotovat, an American-Iranian repatriate studying Iranian history in Tehran, who is one of five active administrators of the group. “Because of our on-the-ground organising and networking efforts, See You in Iran is grassroots. We don’t dictate or control any of the content.”

Following this success, Yousefian is developing a dedicated See You in Iran app. “It will have two features,” says Yousefian. “Localiser, which will help travellers find locals to show them around and, if they want, stay with them for the night. And Travel Mater, which helps people find travel buddies while in Iran.”

One surprising aspect of Iranian internet censorship is that it seems oddly permissive in unexpected places. Facebook is blocked but Instagram, owned by Facebook, isn’t. Here, the Rich Kids of Tehran, an obnoxious yet fascinating band of spoiled brats, emulate the popular Rich Kids Of Instagram feed. Aside from the inane displays of wealth and excessive rhinoplasty, their posts are often provocative and pro-western.

While the popular dating app Tinder is, perhaps predictably, blocked, Grindr, a similar app for gay men, isn’t. Indeed, in a country where sharia law prescribes death to sodomites, the app hosts a thriving community whose members don’t seem concerned about persecution. Tellingly, even in Mashhad, a deeply religious city towards the Afghan border that rose to infamy a decade ago for the hanging of two gay teenagers, the men I spoke to were remarkably unafraid to show their faces on their profile photos. “As long as you’re not having sex in public, they’ll leave you alone,” one of them said. “The police have better things to do than to case us.”

Tinder is still used, of course, as people know how to circumvent the Iranian firewall. Through both dating apps, I received invites to underground parties in private homes and desert valleys.

This is how I ended up being offered dog alcohol at the home of someone who named her kitten “Coca”. I had not imagined taking such a risk – and it was a risk, considering Iran’s strict laws and customs governing music, dress codes, and alcohol consumption – but after a few weeks among young, modern Iranians, it was a risk I had grown used to. Even though sharia law prescribes 80 lashings for those caught drinking, partygoers remain defiant. “The risk of a raid makes it more exciting,” the friend who had invited me to the house party said. “In 95% of the cases the police just want a bribe. But, yes, there’s always that 5%.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/apr/19/exploring-iran-travels-facebook-instagram-couchsurfing

Air France to bring more French tourists to Iran

Air France to bring more French tourists to Iran


The number of French tourists to Iran will be increased by resuming of Air France flights to the country, Air France Chairman Frederic Gagey announced during a press conference at Tehran’s Espinas Hotel on Sunday.

The first flight from Paris to Tehran since 2008 landed in Iran on Sunday. It carried French Transport Minister Alain Vidalies and a business delegation.

“It’s a tourist destination which I believe is going to become very popular, very attractive,” Gagey said, adding that he hoped Paris would serve as a hub for tourists from the U.S. or other places that were traveling to Iran.

“We have solved the problem of headscarf rule for female crew as well. This is not the problem with all members of our crew.” He explained.

At a welcoming ceremony Vidalies said he was “proud of the resumption of these direct flights” and said being “able to move between Paris and Tehran was crucial… for entering into partnerships.” Iran’s deputy transport minister, Ali Abedzadeh, said he was happy to see the Air France service resume, AFP reported.

The resumption of the service caused controversy in France after unions said the airline sent an internal memo saying female cabin crew would have to wear loose fittings and headscarf when they leave the plane.

Air France said female crew members who objected to the rule would be able to opt out of working those flights.

“It is really an honor for Air France crew to have cooperation with Iranians and come to the country,” he added.

Gagey said that they surprised by the Iranian hospitality during their first flight to the country.

“Iran is an exceptional tourism destination and we will encourage French people for traveling to this country,” he concluded.

Iran and Air France

Air France flights will take off three times per week from Paris to Tehran.

Sanctions have been slowly lifted following passage of the deal last July. And the two nations have begun rebuilding their trade relationship.

A visit from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in January led to the purchase of 118 aircraft from Airbus for approximately $25 billion.

Source: http://www.tehrantimes.com/news/300704/Air-France-to-bring-more-French-tourists-to-Iran-CEO

Ab-e Ask village One-day reign of women in Iranian village

Ab-e Ask village One-day reign of women in Iranian village


There is an interesting tradition of one-day governorship of women in Ab-e Ask village, Mazandaran province, northern Iran.

Ab-e Ask village and women

On this special day which is selected every year by an elder of the village, no man is allowed to stay in the village and women take charge of the village affairs.

The event, naming Zan Shahi (women’s governorship), is celebrated on one of the Fridays of the month of Ordibehesht (April 21-May 21).

The ritual begins before sunrise. All inhabitants gather in the village’s big square. Members of the Village Council and the elderly sing songs and inform everybody that no man, older than 5, could stay in the village. Then women give the men all things they need for a day, and see them off till they leave the village.

Then the women of the village prepare themselves to rule over the village. Symbolically, one woman becomes the queen and another becomes the bride of the village. Others become ministers, guards and soldiers.

The soldiers take the busiest responsibility as they should frequently report the queen about the village’s conditions. The guards safeguard the village not letting any man enter the village.

The queen and others first visit families who have lost one of their members that year. Then they go to families who have sick members. The bride congratulates all women who have been newly married.

The queen of the village who is one of the prominent elders of women of the village, resolves any problem other women face on this day. If a woman has a complaint about another woman, she should raise the matter in public so that the issue would be tackled.

On this day, women dress beautiful colorful outfits, wearing no headscarf. They sing, dance, and play traditional games and tell stories. Many women, whose wishes are fulfilled that year, prepare and distribute food.

On the same day, men of Ab-e Ask village perform Barf Chal tradition outside the village. Barf Chal is the storing of snow in a well which will be used as drinking water on the hot season.

As the sun sets men of Ab-e Ask village return home and join their family.

Similar rituals are also held in different Iranian villages. The reign of women is marked also in Afus village, Isfahan province, at the end of spring, and Javaher-Deh village, Mazandaran province, in summertime.

Source: http://www.tehrantimes.com/news/300713/One-day-reign-of-women-in-Iranian-village

By Naghmeh Mizanian

‘Drive between the lines’ campaign calls for safe driving

‘Drive between the lines’ campaign calls for safe driving


Initiating not very long ago, drive between the lines campaign, which calls for safe driving, is a spontaneous move that has its roots in social networks.

The campaign which initially began in twitter and then gained strength in Instagram and Telegram asks drivers to stay between the lines while driving to avoid any chaos and accidents.

Start, between the lines

Siavash Kashmiri isa 25-year-old guy and one of the main contributors to the campaign.He  told ISNA news agency that the campaign first set off in February 2016.

“Our main goal was to print stickers and paste them on the rear windshields of the cars with the sentence ‘I drive between the lines’ written on them,” Kashmiri explained.

“We started our activities in Instagram and telegram with ‘khatcampaign@’ account and with the ‘#I_drive between the lines’ hashtag asked the users to support us,” he added.

“Soon we built up a great reputation among the users in the virtual world,” he noted, adding “unfortunately we didn’t have any sponsors to support us financially so we asked users themselves to print out the stickers which was warmly welcomed.”

“So far we have ordered 5,000 stickers which will be printed within 2 days and will be distributed in Book City branches, book stores and some coffee shops in Tehran,” Kashmiri said.

He further pointed that some of the printing presses have expressed readiness to print stickers for free. “some of the actors and actresses are also helping us to reform our traffic behaviors.”

So far, the cities of Gorgan, Mashhad, Kermanshah, and Tehran have taken part in the campaign.

An official with Tehran’s traffic police also voiced police approval for this spontaneous movement and expressed hope that such movements would bring order and structure to the traffic in the city.

Colonel Eynollah Jahani explained that driving between the lines both reduces traffic and the probability of car accidents, as 10 percent of the car accidents result from not driving between the lines.

“As we believe that two parallel lines never meet, cars which move between the lines never collide,” Jahani highlighted.

Source: http://www.tehrantimes.com/news/300632/Drive-between-the-lines-campaign-calls-for-safe-driving

Iran’s UN-registered sites; 1.8m tourists visit in Nowruz

Iran’s UN-registered sites; 1.8m tourists visit in Nowruz


During Nowruz holidays (March 20-April 1), some 1.845 million tourists paid visit to 19 historic sites in Iran registered on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage (UN sites).

Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC), was the most-visited place during Noruz holidays. Gonbad-e Qabus, a 1006-AD decagon baked-brick-built tower in northern Golestan Province, was at the bottom of the list.

The Iran’s UNESCO-registered sites earned over 177 thousand dollars by visitors during Nowruz, the Mehr news agency reported on Thursday.

Bam citadel, Shiraz’s Eram Garden, Tehran’s Golestan Palace, Shiraz’s Pasargadae, Isfahan’s Chehel Sotun Garden, Kermanshah’s Bistoun, Susa, and Zanjan’s Soltanieh dome are amongst Iran’s UNESCO-registered sites.

UN Sites in Iran

Iran’s World heritage list:

  1. Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran (2008)
  2. Bam and its Cultural Landscape (2004)
  3. Bisotun (2006)
  4. Cultural Landscape of Maymand (2015)
  5. Golestan Palace (2013)
  6. Gonbad-e Qābus (2012)
  7. Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan (2012)
  8. Meidan Emam, Esfahan (1979)
  9. Pasargadae (2004)
  10. Persepolis (1979)
  11. Shahr-i Sokhta (2014)
  12. Sheikh Safi al-din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble in Ardabil (2010)
  13. Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System (2009)
  14. Soltaniyeh (2005)
  15. Susa (2015)
  16. Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex (2010)
  17. Takht-e Soleyman (2003)
  18. Tchogha Zanbil (1979)
  19. The Persian Garden (2011)

In Picture:

Pasargadae was the first dynastic capital of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus II the Great, in Pars, homeland of the Persians, in the 6th century BC. Its palaces, gardens and the mausoleum of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization. Particularly noteworthy vestiges in the 160-ha site include: the Mausoleum of Cyrus II; Tall-e Takht, a fortified terrace; and a royal ensemble of gatehouse, audience hall, residential palace and gardens. Pasargadae was the capital of the first great multicultural empire in Western Asia. Spanning the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to the Hindus River, it is considered to be the first empire that respected the cultural diversity of its different peoples. This was reflected in Achaemenid architecture, a synthetic representation of different cultures.

Source: http://www.tehrantimes.com/news/300594/Over-1-8m-tourists-visit-Iran-s-UNESCO-registered-sites-during

Building Hospitals in Iran; Foreign countries offer

Building Hospitals in Iran; Foreign countries offer


TEHRAN — Some Asian and European countries have offered building hospitals in Iran. These countries are South Korea, Japan, China, and Italy. Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said.

“We are trying to create a competitive atmosphere for investors in hospital construction to get the best offers that benefit both people and the country,” Harirchi told IRNA news agency on Monday.

“As we tend to keep the environment competitive we don’t want to reveal any details yet,” he said, adding “we have already signed memorandums with these countries but so far none has turned into a contract.”

Hospitals in Iran

“We are in serious shortage of hospital beds and we at least need some 100,000 beds to reach an acceptable condition,” he lamented, adding “we have already negotiated for 10,000 hospital beds.”

Investment in hospital construction is not an easy task to accomplish worldwide and in almost all cases long term contracts defining the tariffs and the return on the investments must be drawn up, he explained.

Ebrahim Raeesiyuon, the economic advisor to the health minister, has earlier said that 60 foreign companies offered for investment in building hospital in Iran and so far Samsung and Daewoo, two Korean companies, and Italian Pesina Company have signed memorandums of understanding with Iran.

According to the MOU with Pesina Company two 500-bed hospitals, one in Rasht, Gilan province, and the other in Neishabur, Khorasan Razavi province, and a 1000-bed hospital in Tehran will be constructed, Raeesiyuon said.

Samsung has also committed to build a 1000-bed hospital in Tehran, he noted, adding soon the contract for the construction of this hospital will be finalized.

34th FIFF adds 7 more Iranian films for intl. guests

34th FIFF adds 7 more Iranian films for intl. guests


TEHRAN, Apr. 13 (MNA) – The secretariat of the 34th Fajr International Film Festival (FIFF) has announced the second line-up of Iranian films to be screened for non-Iranian guests.

According to the public relations office, the 19th edition of Iranian International Film Market at the 34th FIFF will screen seven more titles for international guests, festival managers, buyers and distributers. These films include ‘Lantouri’ (Reza Dormishian), ‘Coquetry’ (Jalal Ashkezari), ‘Cinema-Bench’ (Mohammad Rahmanian), ‘Gita’ (Masoud Madadi), ‘To Be Born’ (Mohsen Abdolvahab), ‘The Sacred List’ (Mohammad Hamedani), and ‘Birthday Party’ (Abbas Lajevardi).

The first line-up for the Iranian films to be screened at the festival includes 22 titles, among which are ‘Standing in the Dust’ (Mohammad Hossein Mahdavian) ‘Sound and Fury’ (Houman Seyedi), ‘Mohammad, the Messenger of God (Majid Majidi), and ‘Breath’ (Narges Abiar).

list of the screening films in FIFF

Full list of the screening programs:

  1. ‘Life + 1 Day’ (Saeed Roustaei)
  2. ‘Sleep Bridge’ (Oktay Barahani)
  3. ‘Standing in the Dust’ (Muhammad Hussein Mahdavian)
  4. ‘My Brother, Khosrow’ (Ehsan Biglari)
  5. ‘Born in 65’ (Majid Tavakoli)
  6. ‘A House on 41st Street” (Hamid Reza Ghorbani)
  7. ‘Blind Spot’ (Mehdi Golestaneh),
  8. ‘When Did You Last See Sahar?’ (Farzad Motamen)
  9. ‘Barcode’ (Mustafa Kiaee)
  10. ‘Sound and Fury’ (Houman Seyedi)
  11. ‘Cyanide’ (Behrouz Shoeibi)
  12. ‘Zapas’ (Borzou Niknejad)
  13. ‘We Will Not Get Used To’ (Ebrahim Ebrahimian)
  14. ‘Malaria’ (Parviz Shahbazi)
  15. ‘Mina’s Choice’ (Kamal Tabrizi)
  16. ‘Breath’ (Narges Abiar)
  17. ‘The Girl’ (Reza Mirkarimi)
  18. ‘The Stolen’ (Bijan Mirbagheri)
  19. ‘Muhammad, the Messenger of God (Majid Majidi)
  20. ‘Duet’ (Navid Danesh)
  21. ‘Sister’ (Marjan Ashrafizadeh).

Other films will be added to the list in the upcoming days.

The 34th edition of Fajr International Film Festival will be held from April 20th to April 25th, 2016 in Charsou Cineplex, under the supervision of the well-known Iranian filmmaker, Mr. Reza Mirkarimi.

For more information on Fajr International Film Festival, visit the festival website at www.fajriff.com.

Source: http://en.mehrnews.com/news/115798/34th-FIFF-adds-7-more-Iranian-films-to-be-screened-for-intl

Payments with paymentwall in Iran (Shetab)

Payments with paymentwall in Iran (Shetab)


Paymentwall is a San Francisco online payments company. It has integrated its payment services into the Iran Shetab. announced today. Shetab is Iran’s “unified, electronic clearance system for the entire Iranian banking operations. Shetab allows it to facilitate transactions from credit cards, ATMs and point-of-sale (POS) terminals.” The link “paves the way” for online businesses worldwide to process transactions in Iran.


Paymentwall is clear to tap the Iranian banking system now. Because the US and European Union have removed the economic sanctions on Iran. Following a deal signed last year to limit Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

In the years since Iran was economically ostracized, it has become a debit card economy, according to Paymentwall.

Previously, debit and credit cards in the country can only be used on ATMs or POS machines that were provided by the issuer bank. Shetab changed it. And now allows debit and credit cards to be accepted at any ATM or POS terminals in the country. And even in online payment portals. As a result, Iran is now one of the countries with the highest debit card penetration rate at 92%, according to techrasa.com citing E-Commerce Monitor (ECM) data. Also, online monthly transactions in the country have grown 15% from 2015 to the present time as more customers use their debit and credit cards to pay online.

The Shetab was introduced in 2002. Paymentwall expects that as Iran “re-enters global commerce, businesses will come rushing in to the country and claim their stake there.”

Paymentwall in Iran Now

It is unclear how Paymentwall’s program corresponds to statements made yesterday by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. During a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Lew said the US banking system remains “not open to Iran.” Here’s an excerpt from his comment:

I think that we have to be clear. Iran, complied with the nuclear agreement. Therefore, the nuclear sanctions are lifted. I think that that is a process that is becoming more and more clear. And we’ll keep our part of the bargain there. But the U.S. financial system is not open to Iran and that is not something that is going to change. So the challenge is going to be how to work through an international financial system. That is complicated, where there are—is a lot of attention paid to what U.S. law requires. And I think our obligation is to be clear, which I’ve tried very hard to do and our team has tried very hard to do.

Paymentwall was founded in 2010. It has not yet responded to a request for additional information on KYC and other matters surrounding its Iran venture.

Source: http://bankinnovation.net/2016/04/payments-in-iran-now-possible/

Canadians wants to revive diplomatic ties with Iran

Canadians wants to revive diplomatic ties with Iran


The Canadians want to turn the page with Iran. And they’re taking a very different approach than their friends in the United States.
Months after it went into effect, the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration is attracting no small amount of flak, with some of the criticism even coming from the two signatories themselves.
A closer relationship is precisely what Canada’s Justin Trudeau wants.

Canadians, Past

Four years ago, it was a different story. The previous Canadian government — led by the Conservative Party — abruptly closed its embassy in Tehran and cut off diplomatic relations with the Iranians.
Now, Trudeau’s Liberal Party is running the show in Canada. And the government says it wants to normalize relations with Iran.
Conservative Party leaders in Ottawa gave several reasons for abruptly cutting off relations with Iran in 2012. They cited Iran’s nuclear activities, its funding for Middle East terrorist groups, and its threats against the State of Israel. That might sound like solid reasoning. But Stephane Dion, the new Canadian foreign minister, says it was all a big mistake.
“Canada’s severing of ties with Iran had no positive consequences for anyone: not for Canadians, not for the people of Iran, not for Israel, and not for global security,” Dion said last month.
Currently, official Canadian business with Iran is conducted with the help of Italian diplomats in Iran. Dion said the arrangement doesn’t make sense.
“Let’s not forget that the world was lucky that Canada had an embassy in Iran at the end of the 1970s so it could come to the aid of the American hostages. Two films have been made about this, one not very good, made by Hollywood, and the other much better, called Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper.”
Soudeh Ghasemi agrees with Dion’s assessment. She’s a 32-year-old accountant, born in Iran, who lives and works in Toronto. More than anything, Ghasemi says closing the Canadian embassy in Tehran has effectively punished ordinary Iranian Canadians and their relatives who still live in the Islamic Republic.
“Like my grandparents,” she says. “They came to Canada before, once, when the Canadian embassy was open in Iran. But they can’t do that anymore, because they can’t travel to Turkey to get … paperwork done.”
Toronto is home to about 100,000 Iranians who settled in the area in waves over the decades, going back even before the 1979 Iranian revolution. And for them, too, the closing of the Iranian embassy in Canada has meant headaches.
When Iranians in Canada need to get official paperwork sorted out for travelling to Iran or doing business there, the closest place they can do it is Washington, DC. The Pakistani Embassy there contains an Iranian Interests Section, which functions as a de facto diplomatic outpost for Iran’s government in the US — and since the closure of the embassy in Ottawa, Canada as well.
And for Iranians, getting a visa to enter the US is rarely easy. But Bijan Ahmadi, a 29-year-old Toronto real estate developer who was born in Iran, says this is not just a matter of convenience.
“Establishing a dialogue and diplomatic relations between Iran and Canada, it does not mean that these two countries are each other’s friends,” Ahmadi says. “It just means that there is a dialogue between these two countries. Both of them can actually stand on their positions regarding different issues and still talk to each other.”
That is how you how you get things done, says Ahmadi and other like-minded Iranian Canadians. It’s also how you promote human rights in a country with a dismal track record like Iran’s. Besides, it’s good for business, too.
Ahmadi and Ghasemi are both board members with a networking group in Toronto called the Iranian-Canadian Congress. They pointed out that their opinions represent their own views and not the official position of the organization.
About once a month, the group sponsors a pub night for members and others to get together and have drinks, hang out and get to know each other. Arman Ahmadi (no relation to Bijan) is a 34-year-old banker who recently became a Canadian citizen. At a recent pub night event, he told me how excited he is about doing business with Iran.
“Not just in banking, but also in every other industry,” he said. “There are major opportunities for Canadian companies in Iran.”
“Iran has been deprived of investments for three decades now and there is like huge potential for growth,” Ahmadi said.
Other young Iranians in Canada agree that the sky’s the limit. They look at Iran and see a country that’s beginning to access to the global financial system and see great promise.

Source: http://www.globalpost.com/article/6758498/2016/04/11/canada-wants-revive-diplomatic-ties-iran

Iran says Boeing officials will visit Tehran soon

Iran says Boeing officials will visit Tehran soon

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran says the United States has allowed Boeing to have direct talks with Iranian airliners after reports that a Boeing delegation will visit the country, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The report quoted Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, as saying “Boeing intends to launch its talks with Iranian companies with permission from the U.S. government.”

Abedzadeh said Boeing has provided an Iranian airline with “some technical issues to upgrade flight safety.” He did not elaborate.

He also said Iran has “appropriate offers” from airplane manufacturers in Brazil, Canada and Japan for both leasing and selling airplanes to Iran.

On Friday, IRNA said a delegation from Boeing will visit the country to review “possible cooperation” with Iranian airlines. It said officials from Iran’s national carrier, Iran Air, and other Iranian airlines will meet the Boeing delegation.

In March Abedzadeh said Iran will likely sign an agreement to buy airplanes from Boeing. The Chicago-based airline manufacturer has denied repeatedly that it will sell airplanes on the visit, instead saying it will discuss fleet-planning options with Iranian officials.

Last summer’s nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has brought an end to international economic sanctions, allowing the Islamic Republic to upgrade its aging fleet of aircraft. Iran Air has already signed agreements to buy 118 planes from the European consortium Airbus and 20 more from French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR.

Source: http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/boeing-iran-airplanes/

Louvre to exhibit Egyptian antiquities in Iran

Louvre to exhibit Egyptian antiquities in Iran

TEHRAN — Louvre Museum will display Egyptian antiquities, which are kept at the place, during an exhibition in Iran in the near future, Iran’s Museums and Historical Properties Office Director Mohammad-Reza Kargar said on Saturday.

“According to the recent agreements between Iran and Louvre Museum and negotiations with President of the Louvre Museum Jean-Luc Martinez, the exhibition will be held in the near future,” Kargar said.

Martinez, leading a seven-member delegation, arrived in Tehran on Saturday for a two-day journey.

The Egyptian antiquities present vestiges from the civilizations that developed in the Nile Valley from the late prehistoric era (c. 4000 BC) to the Christian period (4th century AD).

Louvre Museum is such an extraordinary collection, which is home to different cultures around the world, Martinez told reporters during his visit to the Golestan Palace.

He said that about 550,000 artifacts are kept at the museum that thousands of them belong to Iran but he doesn’t know the exact number.

“Iran’s artifacts at Louvre Museum were discovered during the 19th century cooperation and mutual excavation in Susa and Apadana in Persepolis,” he said.

He claimed that all Iranian artifacts, which are kept in the museum, were granted to the place according to an agreement signed in the 19th century.

“There is no specific department for Iran at the museum. The Iranian artifacts are kept in several departments including Islamic Art,” he said.

“I am here for a mutual cooperation. French experts come to Iran and vice versa. Louvre Museum and National Museum of Iran can display their artifacts in exhibitions in each country,” Martinez added.

The Louvre and the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicraft Organization of Iran signed a cooperation document in Paris on January 27, 2016.

The document covers cooperation in various fields including archeology and local arts.

Source: http://www.tehrantimes.com/news/300466/Louvre-to-exhibit-Egyptian-antiquities-in-Iran