Ray and I have recently returned from a three week tour of Iran where we learned a great deal about the current situation of Iran.

We would like to find ways of encouraging more people to travel to Iran and hear another side to the Iranian story. This means setting up tours through interested organizations and I suggest using the same Tour Organizer we had - Ali Oveissi, Managing Director of Abgin Tours of Persia LTD.

Here is a brief summary of our tour.

The tour was an Australians Studying Abroad Tour called "Art and Culture of Persians". In the three weeks we traveled extensively throughout Iran visiting many historical sites from many periods. The Elamite sites out of Ahwaz, the Achaemenid sites of Persepolis and Parsagade (5OOBCE) out of Shiraz a number of sites from the Sassanian period (300CE) and shrines and mosques from about 10th century onwards. We visited Christian, Zoroastrian and Jewish sites. We also visited a number of interesting sites showing the extraordinary ancient appropriate technologies of the Persians - the qanat system for bringing water from the mountains to the desert, the wind towers to cool houses and ice houses for making and storing ice.

We had an Australian art historian as our guide who gave us lectures while we traveled on the bus between cities and between sites. We also had two excellent Iranian guides - Ali, the Director of the Tour company, has a strong emotional attachment to Iran and Persia even though his father now lives in the US. Hadi is a tour consultant and well informed on both historical and current affairs. Both men were very open and prepared to answer any questions we cared to ask. We gained very different insights into what has and is going on in Iran. The account of the 1979 Revolution and the role of Ayatollah Khomeini, the account of the Iran-Iraq War and the current pressures on Iran from the US especially over the uranium enrichment issue. The fact that Iran has 2million refugees sheltering in their country from Turkey (Kurds) Afghanistan (Hazaras) and Iraq.

We gained more insight into the Shia branch of Islam and visited quite a number of Sufi shrines where the mystical side of Islam was discussed. We also visited several churches and were intrigued at the way in which Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian symbols were incorporated into the decoration in mosques. The Parliament of Iran has seats for Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians and nomads (There are 2 million nomads in Iran whose culture and pathways are protected).

Whenever we were visiting sites where Iranian students were present we would have people gather around keen to talk. We met friendliness all the way and had no instance of antagonism at all.

I would like to encourage more groups to go to Iran. Ali, the Director of Abgin Tours of Persia LTD is prepared to set up tours on a range of subjects with tours of 9 to 21 days a possibility. Amongst other tours Ali has had a group of doctors from Europe and has set up a tour visiting many churches in the country.

I am happy to discuss these issues further if you wish.

Beth Mylius
Tel: 0883632295