Award-winning foreign correspondent and local resident Steven Kinzer, one of the South End library's invited speakers last year and the author of The Brothers, recently returned from a two week trip to Iran, details of which he discussed at the Truro, MA, public library in June, the town where he grew up. "I'm a great fan of libraries," declared Kinzer before the enthusiastic audience of locals and summer people.
Kinzer, who also wrote the 2008 All the Shah's Men: an American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, wasted no time getting to the point. "Iran is the most misunderstood country in the world," he said. "Everything you know about it is wrong. It's a vibrant society with the most pro-US population of any country in the world. When they hear you're from America, people are jumping and shrieking 'I love America,' and taking selfies with you." Kinzer added, "I don't get that in Canada."
With his wife, Marianne as the photographer, the two-week bus tour took his group of about 25 people to cities like Shiraz, Teheran, and Tabriz. Marianne Kinzer narrated slides she had taken, some of urban areas with the same highways and traffic jams found in the West ("The heart of darkness," her husband joked) but, unlike Western roads, they were lined with public art on billboards and video screens. These billboards also included photographs of the 'martyrs,' some of the faces of the 500,000 casualties of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
Other pictures showed ancient buildings and mosques decorated with magnificent tile-work, walls and ceilings adorned with richly reflected mosaics of glass. Cities with lushly irrigated urban gardens and parks were silhouetted against a harshly dry landscape. Only a few tourists were to be seen at Persepolis, the astounding archeological site of the former ceremonial capital of the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, who ruled the greatest empire that existed in the fifth century BC. Kinzer suggested that would change dramatically in the event of a new US/Iran relationship.
"It's a particularly interesting time now," Kinzer told the library audience, "because everyone we met was 'hopeful' that the US and Iran could come to an agreement. And it's a huge opportunity for the outside world," he pointed out: "There are 80 million Iranians; they have a 99 percent literacy rate; and the average age is 25. It is the last 'untapped' market," he added.
Perhaps another sign of the melting of the US-Iranian ice cap is the re-opening of the Christian Armenian cemetery in Tabriz, where an American teacher and missionary, Howard Conklin Baskerville, is buried. Baskerville was killed fighting for Iranian democracy during a monarchist uprising in 1909, and a number of schools and streets in Iran appear to have been named after him. Steve Kinzer and his fellow travelers were the first group of foreigners to be allowed to go there.