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  • Hi, I'm Rick Stevesin what just might be the most surprising and fascinating land

  • I've ever visited.

  • We're in Iranhere to learn, to understand, and to make some friends. Thanks for joining us.

  • Like most Americans, I know almost nothing about Iran. For me, this is a journey of discovery.

  • What are my hopes? To enjoy a rich and fascinating culture,

  • to get to know a nation that's a leader in its corner of the world

  • and has been for 2500 years, and to better understand the

  • 70 million people who call this place home.

  • We'll show the splendid monuments of Iran's rich and glorious past,

  • discuss the 20th century story of this perplexing nation, and experience Iranian life today

  • in its giant metropolis,

  • historic capital, and a countryside village...

  • ["Salaam"]

  • Most important, we'll meet and talk with the people whose government

  • so exasperates America.

  • ["situation is open.."]

  • We'll go to Friday prayers in a leading mosque,

  • consider the challenges confronting Iran's youth,

  • enjoy the hospitality of a family dinner

  • and survive the crazy Tehran traffic

  • before experiencing the tranquility of rural life and

  • meeting joyful school kids on a field trip.

  • Iran, twice the size of France, sits in an increasingly important corner of Asia-surrounded

  • by

  • Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

  • We start in the capital, Tehran, follow an ancient trade route

  • south to the village of Abyaneh, to Esfahan, to Shiraz,

  • and then finish at Persepolis.

  • Every country, including our own, limits access to foreign film crews.

  • We're here in Iran with the permission of the Iranian government.

  • And we're working within the limits it sets

  • as we explore this complex society.

  • Knowing we're here to explore social and cultural dimensions

  • rather than contentious political issues, the Iranian government is allowing our work.

  • It believes the Western media has given Iran an unfair image.

  • They gave us our visas provided we respect its limits as enforced by our guide.

  • His job: keep us safe, manage the complicated permissions,

  • and keep an eye on what we're shooting.

  • Tehran, a youthful, noisy capital city, is the modern heart of this country.

  • It's a smoggy, mile high metropolis.

  • With a teeming population of about ten million, its apartment blocks stretch far into the

  • surrounding mountains.

  • Traffic is notorious here. My first impression: wild drivers.

  • But after surviving my first day: I realized they were experts at keeping things moving.

  • Many major streets actually intersect without the help of traffic lights.

  • It's different...but it seems to work.

  • Two wheels are faster than four. Helmet laws are generally ignored.

  • As a matter of fact...sometimes the direction of traffic is ignored as well.

  • To cross town quickly, motorcycle taxis are a blessing. But wear that helmet.

  • I'd rather leave a little paint on passing buses than a piece of scalp.

  • Pedestrians fend for themselves.

  • Negotiating traffic as you cross the street is a life skill here.

  • Locals say it's like "going to Chechnya."

  • Immersed in the commotion of a busy work day

  • apart from the chador-covered women and lack of Western fast food chains

  • Tehran seemed much like any city in the developing world.

  • If you need to get somewhere in a hurryor if your motorcycle taxi is under some big

  • bus

  • thank goodness for the subway.

  • Tehran's thriving subway moves over a million people a day.

  • This subway system is really as good as anything I've seen in Europe.

  • Of Iran's 70 million people, well over half are under the age of 30.

  • While there are plenty of minorities, the Persian population dominates.

  • The local ethnicity reflects the turmoil of this country's long history.

  • You'll find people with Greek, Arab, Turk, Mongol, Kurdish and Azerbaijani heritage.

  • Iranians are not Arabs and they don't speak Arabic.

  • This is an important issue with the people of Iran.

  • They are Persians and they speak Farsi.

  • Faces seem to tell a story and are quick to smile...especially when they see a film crew

  • from the USA.

  • Actually, we found that the easiest way to get a smile was to tell people where we're

  • from.

  • Rick: I'm from the United States... Man 1: Oh, you're from the United States...Ok.

  • Man 2: America? Wow! Rick: Yeah, it's true, it's actually true.

  • Woman: I love you, America. Rick: Thank you, that's nice to hear.

  • I was impressed by how the people we met were curious and eager to talk.

  • Young educated people are internet savvy and well-informed about the West.

  • They generally spoke some English. Anywhere foreigners went, signs were bi-lingual: Farsi

  • for locals...and English for everyone else.

  • The script looks Arabic to me, but I learnedlike the languageit's Farsi.

  • The numbers, however, are the same as those used in the Arab world.

  • Another communication challenge: people here have to deal with different calendars: Persian

  • and Muslim (for local affairs),

  • Western (for dealing with the outside world).

  • What year is it? Well it depends:

  • After Mohammadabout 1390 years ago,

  • after Christtwo thousand and some years ago.

  • And all this complexity is the result of a long and tumultuous history.

  • The National Museum of Iran helps to give an appreciation of this country's rich heritage.

  • At first I was disappointed by what seemed like a humble collection for such a great

  • culture.

  • Then I learned that most of its treasures were destroyed or looted by invaders and much

  • of what survived was taken away to the great museums in the West.

  • The collection starts in prehistoric times, back when nomadic hunters were becoming farmers.

  • This bronze plaque featuring Gilgamesh dates from about 1000 BC, a time when this region

  • was in the realm of Mesopotamia.

  • Then in about 500 BC, with the great kings Darius and Xerxes, the mighty Persian Empire

  • was established.

  • Their art glorified their kings and the notion of peace through strength.

  • Culture flourished and it was about this time that, with cuneiform, the Persian language

  • was first put into writing.

  • That first Persian Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great from Greece.

  • Later, a second Persian Empire was conquered by Arabs. Then came invasions by Turks and

  • Mongols.

  • Finally, with the establishment of a Third Persian Empire in the 16th century, this culture

  • enjoyed a renaissance. While it's weathered wave after wave of conquerors, the essence

  • of today's Iranian culture is still rooted in that first Persian Empire from 2,500 years

  • ago.

  • Newsreel: Persia; At the turn of the century, a poor agricultural country, rich only in

  • legend and undeveloped natural resources...

  • In the 20th century, with the discovery of its vast oil reserves, Iran became entwined

  • with the West.

  • Newsreel: ...oil was struck at last and drilling commenced...

  • During WWII, Iran was a vital oil resource for the Allies. After the war Iran's young

  • shah, or king, Mohammed Reza Shah Palavi became more closely involved with the West. Oil flowed

  • easy and he was a friend of western oil companies. Then things changed...

  • Oil, again poses a threat to peace and the Middle East again becomes a trouble spot as

  • Iran's vast petroleum reserves aroused nationalists...

  • In 1951 the popular Prime Minister Mossadegh nationalized Iran's foreign-owned oil industry.

  • With the resulting turmoil, the shah was forced into exile. This is when the troubled relationship

  • between Iran and the United States began.

  • Every Iranian school kid knows the date: 1953. That's when the CIA engineered a coup that

  • over threw the democratically elected prime minister Mossadegh. He had angered the West

  • by nationalizing Iranian oil. So they installed the pro-Western shah instead.

  • Newsreel: Former premier Mossadegh's ruined house is a mute testimony to three days of

  • bloody rioting culminating in a military coup from which the one time dictator of Iran fled

  • for his life. The Shah who had fled to Rome comes home backed by General Zahedi military

  • strong-man who engineered his return to power. Iranian oil may again flow westward.

  • Back on the throne, the shah allowed Western oil companies to run Iran's oil industry again.

  • With the profits, he modernized the country. Through the 60s there was a return to stability

  • and the shah was a key American ally in the Middle East.

  • The shah ruled in royal opulence from grand palaces. He enjoyed summers in this one until

  • the late 1970's. Strolling through its fine rooms visitors are reminded how the shah lived

  • in extreme luxury. But his materialistic decadence and pro-Western policies offended Iran's conservatives

  • and alienated religious and political groups. Angry people hit the streets.

  • The unrest led to crackdowns by the shah's forces that tortured and killed thousands.

  • All of this emboldened a revolutionary movement and burned into the national psyche a fear

  • of American meddling in internal Iranian affairs.

  • After 25 years of the Shah's rule, the Islamic Revolution threw him out and brought Ayatollah

  • Khomeini back from exile. That Revolution and the Ayatollah established the Islamic

  • Republic which rules to this day.

  • Walking the streets here, I felt a disturbing presence of government. This is not a democracy.

  • In 1979 the new government brought Iran not freedom, but what they call a "Revolution

  • of Values" - it legislated morality such as no alcohol, and no casual sex. As far as many

  • parents are concerned here, it's family values.

  • Iran is ruled by a theocracy. They may have a president, but the top religious official,

  • a man called "the supreme leader" has the ultimate authority. His picture-not the president's--is

  • everywhere....

  • Religious offering boxes are on every street corner.... The days when the shah's men boasted

  • that mini-skirts in Tehran were shorter than those in Paris are clearly long gone. Women

  • must dress modestly and are segregated in places like classrooms and buses.....

  • And yet here in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to me, the atmosphere felt surprisingly secular

  • compared to other Muslim countries.

  • Skylines are not punctuated with minarets; I barely heard a call to prayer. Except for

  • women's dress codes and the lack of American products and advertising, life on the streets

  • here seemed much the same as in secular cities elsewhere in the developing world.

  • While relatively uncluttered with commercial advertising, there are plenty of billboards

  • and murals and they pack a powerful propaganda message.... Some religious murals are uplifting-this

  • one is a Shiite scripture claiming; the most caring help is to give good advice.

  • Yet others are troubling and hateful-this one condemns what's considered American Imperialism

  • with skulls and dropping bombs rather than stars and stripes. And this one glorifies

  • Hezbollah fighters and their struggle with Israel which many here consider Americas'

  • 51st state. This mural honors a martyr-one of hundreds of thousands who died fighting

  • Saddam Hussein back in the 1980s.

  • These murals mix religion, patriotism, and a heritage of dealing with foreign intervention.