Search

 

Cablegate: From Ashgabat to Mashhad: Western Diplomats Get A

VZCZCXRO6339
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #0577/01 1271202
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 061202Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0755
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 3738
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 1556
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 1423
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 1992
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 2494
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 000577

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SOCI SCUL TX IR
SUBJECT: FROM ASHGABAT TO MASHHAD: WESTERN DIPLOMATS GET A
TASTE OF IRANIAN CULTURE ON ROAD TRIP

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: Two female Western diplomats made a
visit recently to Mashhad, Iran, and got a feel for the city
and its residents. Although the city was historically and
culturally interesting, the visitors increasingly felt the
effects of Iran's closed and conservative society.
Nevertheless, its citizens do not seem to harbor deep
resentments against those from the West. END SUMMARY.

3. (SBU) During a recent lunch meeting with PolOffs, the
OSCE Center in Ashgabat's Security Dimension Officer, Anna
Suotola, described her recent tourist adventure to Iran with
a female friend. On a lark, Suotola, a Finnish citizen, and
her friend decided to embark on an unplanned, unscheduled
road trip to Mashhad, having decided that Iran was too close
to Ashgabat and too interesting to pass up. The trip had
been so spontaneous that the two women did not even have
hotel reservations.

4. (SBU) Having somehow procured Iranian visas at the
embassy in Ashgabat, Suotola and her friend packed their
scarves and procured road transportation to the Bajgiran
border crossing point some 40 kilometers south of Ashgabat.
They walked across the border, then hired a taxi to take them
on to Mashhad, at least 200 kilometers south and east of the
border crossing. The two women befriended the taxi driver,
who helped them make contact with a little tourist agency in
town and find a hotel. (NOTE: According to information
available on the Internet, most foreign visitors are required
to provide information on their itinerary and hotel
arrangements as part of the visa application process. We are
not sure how the women circumvented this requirement. END
NOTE.)

5. (SBU) Finding an available hotel was difficult, since
Mashhad is a major Shi'a pilgrimage destination, but the
agency found them a room on the outskirts of town. Their
tourist agency contact was also very helpful, and offered to
help them gain access to the most sacred Shi'a site, the
Shrine of Imam Reza. (NOTE: Imam Reza was the eighth imam
of Shi'ite tradition, martyred in the 9th century. Some 20
million Shi'a are thought to visit the site each year, a
pilgrimage considered by Shi'a to be second to that of Mecca.
END NOTE.) The shrine is exceptionally sacred, and only
Shi'ite believers are permitted to enter its grounds.

6. (SBU) The tour guide acquired appropriate chadors for
the two women, and instructed them on how to wear them. He
instructed them to cover all but their eyes, and said they
should say they were "Turkmen" if anyone were to ask. (NOTE:
Suotola is a tall, ultra-blond Finn with blue eyes. END
NOTE.) The women were permitted to enter the shrine. Anna
said that there were women officials on the grounds of the
shrine who monitored security and assured the appropriate
dress of women visitors. If a veil was being worn
inappropriately or a woman was not otherwise properly
covered, they were authorized to tap the violator with a five
foot-long, rainbow-colored duster, and demand immediate
correction of the infraction.

7. (SBU) Anna reported that the trip was an amazing
opportunity to see things that few international tourists are
able to see, but that the constant requirement to cover up
with long jackets and veils in the warm spring weather was a
stifling experience for modern Europeans. She said the city
was vibrant with commercial and tourist activity, although of
a domestic, rather than foreign nature. The primary reminder
that they were in a unique location, she noted, was a
solitary sign in English that she saw: "Down with America."

8. (SBU) Another sign emerged when the two women ordered
food for delivery to their hotel room. When the young
delivery man knocked on their door, Suotola said she forgot

ASHGABAT 00000577 002 OF 002


to don her veil, and quickly answered the door. The delivery
man was visibly shocked, and backed away from the door and
averted his eyes. Suotola said she had to pay the man while
concealed by the door. The next day, another delivery person
brought food to them, but had apparently been briefed by his
colleague about the foreign women in the hotel and stood with
back turned away from the door and eyes on the floor.
Overall, however, she said she found the city's residents to
be friendly and openly interested in all things Western.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: Although we are uncertain how the women
were able to acquire visas so easily, their spontaneous road
trip underscores the reality of how close Iran is to post.
However, it is not surprising that Western visitors would
note the effects of Iran's self-imposed isolation and
religious conservatism before almost anything else. END
COMMENT.
CURRAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>

ALSO:

Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>

ALSO:

 
 
 
 
 
 
  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC