Memory and Public Space in Tehran

Tehran is a city infused with politics. Every other street is named after a martyr of the Iran-Iraq war, and the most recent street signs include the word “martyr” in red ink on plaques otherwise uniformly blue and white. The sign below depicts an image of the martyr who gave his name to a square near the depicted alley.

The War, which was started by Saddam Hussein and supported by the US and European powers for the 8 years of it’s duration, killed over 800,000 Iranians, and casts a dark shadow over this country’s politics. Iran’s politics combines rhetoric of martyrdom, of fear, and of resistance, and Tehran’s walls are witness and battleground of these deeply intertwined but competing concepts.

Cemeteries full of war martyrs dot the urban fabric, and a walk through any of these reveals the distressingly young ages of children who volunteered for the front full of youthful zeal to defend their homes and fellow Iranians under attack in the border regions. The child below was only 14 years old when he died on the front.

Narratives of the war, however, are not the only voices competing for attention on Tehran’s streets. Today, every wall and the side of every phone booth has become a veritable shouting match between supporters of 2009 Presidential candidates Mousavi and Ahmedinejad, as each erases the others’ slogans out and writes their own.

The electricity booth lays testament to this battle of narratives, as slogans calling the other side traitor or calling for the death of the other are crossed out and re-written. The graffiti below, meanwhile, aims for simplicity. It reads: “Saddam Hussein Mousavi,” an accusation of treachery that utilizes popular memory and fear of the War and the need for national defense as a way of slandering political opponents to the neoconservative President Ahmedinejad.

Originally posted at Citynoise.

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