Iran is by no means a homogeneous country by any measure. We've already covered the landscape and climate, but the people are a mixed bag too. Only half of the population are ethnically Persian. Another quarter are Azeri (known locally as Turks) with the other quarter made up of a motley crew of Kurds, Lors, Bakhtiari, Turkmen, Arabs, Laks, Baluchis and Mazandaranis. During this little jaunt down to the south I've met most of these different ethnic groups and although they all have their own languages, cultures and histories there is a uniting factor amongst them, and that is their Iranian identity. This pride goes far deeper than religion and the current Islamic regime and its ubiquitous slogans and propaganda: even fervent Muslims will often have a pendant or sticker on their car of a farohar, an old Zoroastrian symbol. More than once I've heard people say that they are Muslim in name only and that in fact they identify more closely with the tenets of the older, indigenous religion (for non-Muslims the bureaucratic machine can pose unwelcome hurdles). The biggest holiday is also No Ruz, a spring festival that predates Islam by millennia and which the ayatollahs, much like the Muslims who conquered 13 centuries ago, strove to ban when they initially came to power, but without success. The following encounters are a sample of the seemingly contradictory cross-section that there is within Iranian society.
|A farohar over the lintel of a Zoroastrian temple in Yazd. The symbol, although religious, has been adopted by Persians, proud of their non-Arab heritage, as a national symbol.|