A week’s lights and shadows in Iran

A week’s lights and shadows in Iran

Last week, I was appointed by the Ministry of Culture of Venezuela to represent our country in the 35th. Tehran International Book Fair. On this occasion, the Venezuelan delegation was led by Omar Rangel, president of Monte Ávila Ediciones Latinoamericanas. I attended the event as a writer for that prestigious Venezuelan publishing house.

In Venezuela’s second participation in the Tehran International Book Fair, we were the object of multiple attentions from the Omar Khayyam Foundation, attached to the Ministry of Culture of the host country, which acted as host to our delegation. In addition to the presence with an exhibition of 68 titles, the Venezuelan delegation had meetings with other instances of culture and academia of the Persian country.

Thus, we were received by the professors and students of the Department of Latin American Studies and the Center for Hispanic Studies at the Faculty of World Studies of the University of Tehran where we held an exchange with participants interested in the context of Latin America and especially Venezuela. We also had an interesting debate at the headquarters of the ANA newspaper, a private institution that is known for reporting on the areas of academia, science and technology and innovation.

Venezuela, along with 16 other countries and 60 publishers, was part of the international advance at the Fair. Personally, it was very interesting to greet and, as far as the language barrier permitted, to exchange with publishers, booksellers and authors from countries as far away as Yemen (guest country of the Fair), Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan among others. We also spoke with representatives from Syria, Lebanon, Russia and Vietnam, countries best known to us. Venezuela, along with Mexico, represented Latin America in the exhibition of books written in Spanish.

With the slogan “Let’s Read and Believe” the fair was held for 11 days in the Great Mosque of Imam Khomeini, a huge religious and cultural complex still under construction. When fully completed, it will have an area of more than 20 km², with a cultural and tourist center, a university, a seminary, a shopping center, etc. and a parking lot for 20,000 vehicles. With more than 2,700 publishers, the Tehran International Book Fair is considered to be the most prestigious and largest cultural event in all of West Asia. Iran’s booming publishing industry publishes about 115,000 titles annually by about 5,000 publishers.

It was a special and moving surprise for us to meet directly the large number of young people and even children interested in studying and learning Spanish. With an endless continuity of attendees, dozens of citizens of all ages and genders came to our stand to see our books, exchange opinions or simply learn about Venezuela and share their impressions. It was particularly moving to learn how the name of Venezuela was immediately linked to Commander Hugo Chavez, for whom the Iranian people profess a special respect and admiration that they do not hide in the dialogue.

A significant commotion was caused in our delegation by the visit of Saba, a 12-year-old girl who in perfect Spanish told us that last year she had obtained a Venezuelan book as a gift and now she came to require another, after fulfilling her promise to read it in its entirety. Omar asked him if he knew the literature of Aquiles Nazoa, a brilliant Venezuelan writer, journalist and essayist, one of the most prominent intellectuals of the twentieth century in our country, who wrote abundant children’s literature. With absolute certainty, Saba answered: “I have learned about him but I have not read his work”, to which Omar gave her a book from our stand that she herself chose. Saba told us that she was self-taught and that in addition to her native language and Spanish, she spoke English and French and was learning German. She also informed us that she was “an English teacher for younger children.”

In general, Iranians (men and women, adults, youth and children) are very open and talkative. At no time was our stand empty, on the contrary, it was very difficult to attend the avalanche of people who approached him exposing multiple expressions of appreciation and closeness to Venezuela. In the dialogues, I never heard any sign of hatred, contempt or exclusion towards another country, sector or person. All this and the multitudinous presence of tens of thousands of daily attendees at the fair, helped to understand that the great event of the book was an expression of a true cultural festival of the Persian nation, which after millennia continues to cultivate its appreciation and respect for wisdom and knowledge.

I have always thought that life always seeks balance. It’s never all bad or all good. There are trade-offs. After an extraordinary week of positive experiences, on Sunday night when we were preparing to return the next day, the unfortunate news flooded the air, surprise gave way to astonishment, and this to hope. The helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and other senior Iranian government officials had crashed to the ground.

I was reminded of a similar incident 20 years ago involving a colleague in the cabinet of the government of the state of Chiapas in Mexico. From the first moment, although clinging to the miracle, he knew that it was very difficult for any of the passengers to survive. On Monday, already at the airport, in the midst of extreme tension and already about to board the plane, the dire news was confirmed by the Iranian authorities.

Upon arriving in Istanbul, the media was awash with conjecture, conspiracy theories and opinions from brainy analysts who “were in contact with very well-informed people.” A few days before, I had been contacted to give an interview to the Turkish news channel NTV during my stay of a few hours in that city. Although the focus of the interview was Venezuela and the presidential elections in July, knowing that I was coming from Iran, they asked me about the matter.

I said that Iran was a country with strong and consolidated institutions. Being a theocratic state, the head of state is the supreme leader elected by the Assembly of Experts. The President of the Republic is the head of government. Thus, after the death of President Raisi, the constitutional mechanisms established for that purpose were put in place, an interim president was appointed, and elections were called for June 27 to elect a new president. The same thing happened in the Foreign Ministry, when almost immediately the diplomatic expert Ali Bagheri was appointed acting foreign minister.

The unfortunate loss of the Iranian president will not bring transcendental changes in the politics of the Persian country. Its continuity is given by the leadership of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Interestingly, on Tuesday the 21st, a new Assembly of Experts was inaugurated, in order to begin debating the succession of the 85-year-old Khamenei. The body made up of 88 clerics, of whom 83 were present, is elected for a period of 8 years and has the mission of supervising the work of the leader and has the power to replace him.

Iran’s institutional strength is evident when, after the painful and unexpected death of President Raisi, which will mean the holding of new elections, the possibility of electing a new supreme leader is also manifested in order to prolong, chain and successfully project the management of the State and government of the Islamic Republic into the future.

Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein
Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein
A Venezuelan international relations expert, Gelfenstein was previously Director of the International Relations of the Presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, his country’s ambassador to Nicaragua and an advisor for international politics for TELESUR. He has written numerous books, among them “China in the XXI Century – the awakening of a giant”, published in several Latin American countries. You can follow him on Twitter: @sergioro0701

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


June 2024