Faces of Uzbekistan

Some portraits from Uzbekistan. My only comment here, something I would like to discuss at greater length in a future post, is that two of the biggest, most important cities of Uzbekistan, Bukhara and Samarkand, are actually culturally and ethnically Tajik, and so a lot of the people pictured below are probably Tajik-ethnic Uzbek nationals.

Uzbek men in Uzbek hats

Young boy in Uzbek hat. This kid was running a shaved ice stand, little boy serving other little boys.

An aksakal, or white-beard, and his wife, Bukhara

A Bukharan artisan and vendor

Beautiful gold teeth–a common Central Asian ornamentation

Also central to Central Asia–bread

Some non-Tajik minorities:

A couple Russian girls. Russians have been “left behind” in Central Asian countries in varying numbers, although many are choosing to emigrate to Russia.

An ethnic Korean woman selling what I believe Uzbeks would call salads, but to me look like Korean banchan. Most of the Central Asian countries have an ethnic Korean population, from a WWII-era migration from the Soviet Far East (near Korea) to Central Asia forced by Stalin.

A “gypsy,” belonging to a community in Samarkand that is believed to be the descendants of slaves that Tamerlane brought back from India. Note the tribal tattoos.

Faces of Turkmenistan

Some portraits from our brief stay in Turkmenistan:

One way of categorizing countries may be countries where you can take pictures of police and soldiers and countries you cannot. Surprisingly, for a place reputed to be a police state, this Turkmen officer permitted Derek to take his picture. I believe the exaggerated brim must be a feature of the old Soviet police uniform, as we also recall it from our 2003 visit to Uzbekistan.

These girls must have been on their way to some sort of cultural performance. The Turkmen government, headed by former president Niyazov, has very aggressively pursued national cultural/heritage-type projects in an effort to develop a strong sense of national identity for the newly independent republic. Most famous among these is Niyazov’s book the Ruhnama, an epic telling the (legendary) history of the Turkmen people from ancient times to present, which is compulsory reading in Turkmen schools.

A blushing bride.

Gold-capped teeth–a very common Central Asian sight.

Some attractive young ladies. Derek thought Turkmen women were generally quite attractive.

In front, ethnically Russian but born in Turkmenistan.

Faces of Iran

Soldiers, Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Esfahan

I thought that you might enjoy seeing some photographs of the many, many friendly Iranians we met on our trip. Iranians truly deserve their reputation, among travelers, as some of the warmest and most hospitable people on earth. As I mentioned in my post of 5.9, one of the justifications for the hejab, or Islamic dress code, for women is the outstanding beauty of Iranian women, which would drive men to inappropriate or violent behavior–you can judge for yourself how they stack up to their freer sisters in other parts of the world! [Note: None of the individuals pictured was a source of any information for this or any post.]

A fairly typical young man, Shiraz. Persian Iranians generally have dark hair and eyes.

A fashionable young lady, Shiraz. The form of cover here, a black hood separate from the rest of the outfit, is very common among students–it must required in Iranian schools and universities. Shiraz is, after Tehran, the most liberal of Iran’s cities, and this lady fits in–note the ample and dyed hair peaking out from under the veil and the relatively heavy makeup. Iranian women, for all their legal restrictions, are famous for being rather vain–nose jobs are practically de rigueur.

This feisty girl from Hamedan started out fairly friendly, bringing us cookies, but then, with our guide as translator, gave us a taste of her sharp attitude with comments on our backpacker mode of dress (“I thought Americans were rich, why do you look so poor?”) and Derek’s shaved head (“You better put on your hat, or you’ll burn your head.”). Before long, a large crowd was gathered to hear our repartee.

Young girl, Shiraz. The hejab is required starting from age 9 (termed by Derek the “magic year,” and presumably the age at which the religious establishment thinks that women become enticing), and so I assume this girl is around 8 years old.

Young girl, Yazd. Too young to require cover, but cute in it nonetheless!

Some attractive young adults, Kerman, Yazd and Esfahan. There was a huge population boom after the Islamic Revolution (promoted by the government), and now some 70% of Iranians are under the age of 30.

This cute soldier was satisfying his compulsory military service with museum duty, at a museum that is closed for renovation no less. Sweet gig!

Elderly man and woman, Abiyaneh (see post of 5.22)

Elderly man tending shop in the Kerman bazaar. He told us that he had been at his current location selling bathing goods for over fifty years–he had not changed his line of merchandise despite the fact that the bath his shop is located in front of had been converted into a teahouse more than a dozen years ago.

A cleric, looking particularly unpleasant during a procession for the death of Fatima, Esfahan

Cleric, Qom. Qom is, after Mashhad, Iran’s holiest city and is also the center of religious education in Iran. This gentleman worked in the tourist office at the central shrine in Qom, and answered frankly and helpfully my many questions about Iranian Shiite Islam until I asked whether Muslim Iranians are able to change religions if they wish (my question was repeatedly evaded and then answered untruthfully).

Below are pictures of some of Iran’s many ethnic minorities–Persians make up only some 50% or so of Iran’s population (cf. Syrian post of 4.25), the rest consisting of Azeri Turks, Kurds and others.

An Azeri Turk. When asked, this taxi driver answered that his family was originally from Russia, by which I assume somewhere in or around Azerbaijan, which was part of the former Soviet Union. Azeri Turks form Iran’s largest ethnic group after the Persians, comprising some 25% of the population.

Also a Turk, with a bit too sensitive a face to be a waiter!

A Kurd, selling baggy Kurdish pants. Kurds were not only among the friendliest of Iranians (tough competition for this title!) but, we were told by a Persian, “Kurds never lie.” Some Iranians of Persian descent felt that their Persian brothers were sometimes, or even “always,” duplicitous, though this was not our experience at all. Kurds make up some 10% of Iran’s population.

The Lors, Bakhtiary and Qashqai are three nomadic or partially/formerly nomadic ethnic groups, living around central/western Iran. Many believe that these groups are some of the original inhabitants of now Iran.

A young Lorish man. We were told that the Lors hold a privileged position in contemporary Iranian society. They are also known for their strength–the soldiers pictured at the top of this post were from Lorestan, and one was able to match Derek in his finger strength trick.

An elderly Lorish man, in traditional hat

An elderly Qashqai man, in traditional hat

Bakhtiari man, Tehran

Southeastern Iran, as well as the part of Pakistan that is across the border, is known as Baluchistan and is peopled by Baluchis, who are South Asian in appearance and culture. Baluchi man, Kerman.

Jewish man, Hamedan. We were told that there are about 25,000 Jews left in Iran (largely in the biggest cities, where they form a rather wealthy minority). Some Iranians were quick to point out that Jews live peacefully and unmolested in Iran, and that their problem was not with Jews but Israelis and Zionists. This man confirmed that no problems stemmed from his religion in Iran.

Zoroastrian man

Afghan boy, Shiraz. Many Afghanis have come to Iran for work, including primarily construction work. Young Afghan boys troll around city parks and other public spaces, selling gum or fortunes to passers-by. Despite the extensive shared history and common language (the Afghanis in Iran seem to be largely Persian/Dari speakers), Afghanis in Iran seem to suffer from a fair amount of discrimination.

Another young man from Afghanistan, this time Hazara, the “Asiatic” minority group of Afghanistan. This young man had lived in Iran all of his life and was working in southeastern Iran as a mechanic. Incredible smile!