Finding Iran

Some American registered voters, who elect our president, believe that Iran is in Oklahoma. From Morning Consult.

Teheran in the Snow

Lots more here. Via @borzou

More on This Round of Iran Protests

Further to today’s post about allegations the Iran protests are a redneck affair, @borzou tweets video of the provincials’ big city cousins showing up for the game tonight:

This Round of Iran Protests

This morning both Mary Dejevski in The Independent and Borzou Daragahi in Buzzfeed point out an apparently deep and wide cleavage between the poorer, rural Iranians leading this round of protests and the urban middle-class. Daragahi:

“The middle class in Iran are educated and experienced enough to understand who is who in this theater,” said the editor of a centrist Tehran newspaper close to the leadership,”

suggesting urban condescension for the protesting rural cadres. He writes that urbanites “derided the protesters as ‘tribal’ small-town folks; they’re burning police stations and attacking security forces, they said, not out of political considerations but to settle rural vendettas.”

Dejevsky confirms the condescension, remembering how a relative, once resident in Teheran,

“despaired of the impracticality of many of the new educated middle class, their condescension as she saw it towards their uneducated compatriots.”

Other than compiling video clips of protests, as Daraghani does on Twitter @borzou,  neither seems to have a well-developed line of communication outside the urban “fast set” in Teheran.


In the last day or so the number of demonstrations appears to have dropped, but as we learned in the 2009 protests, and indeed throughout the neighboring “Arab Spring,” we’re never far from a Friday, the holy day, a day off on which things can flare up again.

I defer to both Dejevsky and Borzou, and anybody else who has actually been to Iran. The closest I’ve ever come was on this Qatar Airways flight. All I can say from first-hand experience is that southwest Iran is very dry and not very populated.


Chekov’s Gun


Imagine last Sunday as screenplay:

Fade up as a massive C-130 cargo plane thunders overhead. Aboard is the lead negotiator in fraught talks with a longtime American adversary. There are exactly thirty days until the deadline for a nuclear deal that the President of the United States seeks as his legacy. The negotiator, who is also the Secretary of State, is being airlifted home for surgery after an accident. Blue emergency lights and that two-tone European ambulance wail, and fade to black.

Fade up on muted yellow lights and low, mournful music. It is the very same day in Washington, and the president’s second in command is laid low, gut-punched with bereavement over the death of his son. In the movie it is clear the Vice President of the United States, in his grief, will be incommunicado for days.

A cacophony erupts as the gauzy yellow at the Vice Presidential residence becomes the yellow of midnight oil burning at the United States Capitol building where the Senate, in rancorous, extraordinary Sunday session, debates whether it has unilaterally compromised American national security and laid the United States open to enemy attack. It is still the very same day. Which could only happen in the movies.


Sure it’s all a coincidence but it makes me uneasy. If the events of Sunday, 31 May were a movie, by the end of Act One Chekov’s gun would lie squarely in the center of the table. Something “no one could have foreseen” would be about to occur.

Whistle Stop Iran

Check out a nice, quick tourist’s view of Iran’s major cities. It’s by Matthew Stevenson, here in New Geography magazine.

It Doesn’t Add Up

The future of the president’s new strategy is fraught. Let’s see what the analysts say, but three first thoughts:

  • I’d like to think the president wouldn’t allow himself to escalate “just 475 soldiers at a time.” We know how that ends. But eventually an American pilot will be shot out of the sky. Mr. Obama was mocked about his toughness after the Syrian red line debacle and now, after these beheadings, goaded into trotting out America’s old air campaign trick that even he flatly acknowledges won’t be sufficient.
  • He has now declared a new American goal – to ultimately ‘defeat’ ISIS  – but plans to rely on untrusting and untrusted allies to accomplish it. After the U.S.-built Iraqi army version 1.0 turned and ran from ISIS, we now propose to push in front of us version 2.0, made up in significant part of Iranian-backed Shiite troops. These may be the only people northern Iraqi Sunnis detest more than ISIS.
  • Shame on the usual suspects for inciting Americans into another air campaign in the same part of the world where we seem incapable of remembering even recently learned lessons.

It doesn’t add up. There are too many needles that won’t be threaded here. More later.

Recommended Reading: Where the West Ends

WherethewestendscoverFun new book from Michael J. Totten. Fun, that is, if your idea of thrills is a drive from Turkey into Iraq for lunch.

Where the West Ends expands on Mr. Totten's Dispatches blog for World Affairs Journal. There are sections roughly grouped as the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Black Sea.

Many authors seem to believe they won't be taken seriously unless their work is laden with ponderous history. When well written, like in some of my suggestions below, that's  worthwhile. When it's not, it's the reason tons of books are returned to the shelf half-finished.

In Where the West Ends, Mr. Totten mostly allows a cursory sketch of the past to suffice. I suspect that satisfies armchair travelers. Then he gets on with the travel writing I like best, what it feels like to get up from that chair and actually go to a place, and what it's like, personally, to be there.

Should Mr. Totten's book pique your interest, here are some suggestions for deeper reading:

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War by Thomas de Waal

Azerbaijan Diary by Thomas Goltz

Georgia Diary by Thomas Goltz

Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya by Wojciech Jagielski

Bread and Ashes: A Walk Through the Mountains of Georgia by Tony Anderson

Rebel Land: Unravelling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town by Christopher de Bellaigue

In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran by Christopher de Bellaigue

Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup by Christopher de Bellaigue

Black Sea by Neil Ascherson

The Black Sea: A History by Charles King


Along the Georgia Military Highway, Republic of Georgia

And here, in five installments, are excerpts from Common Sense and Whiskey, the book,  about our trip through the southern Caucasus:

1: Getting to Armenia
2: Yerevan to Tbilisi
3: Tbilisi and the Georgian Military Highway
4: The High Caucasus & the Russian Border
5: Baku

Order the entire book for $9.99 at, at, or the Kindle version (just $4.99).

See many more photos of the South Caucasus in the Armenia,
and Azerbaijan
Galleries at


Women Cause Earthquakes

Via Melbourne's Herald Sun: "Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt
their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently)
increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying
by Iranian media.

This is not Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, as far as I know. I just couldn't help sharing.


Iran’s Revolution Anniversary Tomorrow – Resources

Iran bears watching. Tomorrow, 11 February, is the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. There are reported to be mass arrests taking place in advance of planned demonstrations.

The supreme leader has promised to make some news. “The nation will stun the world on the 22nd of Bahman,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei proclaimed to the Air Force division of the Iranian Army on Sunday. The 22nd of Bahman in the Persian calendar is tomorrow, 11 February.

Should there be trouble, here is a ready list of news sources that were useful during last June's election protests:

niacINsight – Blog of the National Iranian American Council
Nico Pitney at Huffington Post – was all over the story, live-blogging last summer.
Andrew Sullivan – ditto, for the Atlantic.
The Lede – ditto, for the New York Times.
Kodoom – Persian news aggregator.
IranElection – Twitter feed from last summer, still active.
BBC Persian Service – Live stream.
Rooz Online – Reformist news site.