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Iran's culture suffering from state cronyism

Preservation suffers from mismanagement

Published on 23 October 2011

Author(s): The Daily Star/Kristin Dailey

Type:  Interview Originally published 4 Oct 2011

“There’s a poem by Rumi that says that anyone who has been in the field can do something about that field,” muses Nader Karimian Sardashti, “which means that one who has expertise is the best suited to do something in his area of expertise.

”A director of research at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, Sardashti says efforts to preserve and promote the country’s heritage and culture have been severely undermined by Iranian government mismanagement and cronyism.

Cultural authorities have been sidelined under Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sardashti says, whose administration has appointed figures without expertise to head key heritage institutions.

Several years ago, when Mohammad Beheshti headed his organization, Sardashti says he could expect to know his operating budget. Since Ahmadinejad, his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and executive vice president and Tourism Minister Hamid Baghai took the reins, this practice ended.

“Now I only know that the budget of the research department has declined,” he says.

“The policymakers of this organization have pushed it … toward more … economic activity rather than what it should be. These things are so obvious that even people who are outside this organization can sense it.

Sardashti says experts should make the decisions, not politicians.“Previously, we had at least 30 different festivals or gatherings or international meetings annually. For instance, we have had international meetings evaluating different poets or philosophers – like Al-Ghazali, Rumi, Sibuye, all Persian poets and philosophers from 7th to the 14th century.


“These were international meetings with [delegates from] 45 countries attending and participating. Nowadays, it seems that, since last year, they have not been able to hold the same international meetings on Ghazali or Rumi.

“Before Ahmadinejad’s presidency, I was the head of the implementation committee of an international meeting on Rudaki, in which 45 countries participated. Up to this day, they have not been able to publish all the papers submitted to this international conference …

Sardashti attributes these failings to mismanagement and a want of resources, “which again returns to the issue of mismanagement.”

Iran’s parliament has recently passed a law allowing people to work from home. Sardashti says this legislation has all but destroyed this organization. The center for research was moved to Shiraz, while the conservation department went to Isfahan and the handicrafts center was transferred to Hamadan.

“They have nearly destroyed almost everything,” Sardashti continues, “because they scattered the researchers and people who were employed by these different sections to different parts of the country.”

Some reassignments have actually threatened to break up married couples who are both employed. “This organization has forced employees to move to [different] cities, which is impossible for a family,” he observes. “How can one stay in Tehran for instance and the other one move alone to another city?

“It seems that Baqaei, the head of this organization, had told them, ‘You can divorce. Why don’t you divorce? If one of the family members can’t come with you, the best solution is to divorce.’”

Sardashti says it’s not merely his organization that has fallen victim to government neglect.

“The damage has been done to the whole idea of Iranian culture and heritage. There has been theft and looting, many artifacts have been stolen. Archeological treasures have been stolen.”

Holding Ph.D.s in Persian language, literature and humanities and having authored or contributed to more than 50 books, Sardashti says Iran’s cultural sector nowadays suffers from inept political appointments.

“Directorships of Iranian museums have been given to the hands of inexperienced people,” he says. “Take the Iranian National Museum. The national museum of any country is the honor and dignity of that country and should be run by the most experienced, most prestigious person involved in that field of study.”

The new director of the Iranian National Museum is 30-something Azadeh Ardekani, who studied ecology.

Sardashti contrasts the cultural policies of the Ahmadinejad regime with those of the Khatami regime, during which his organization enjoyed broad contacts and cooperation with foreign countries. Nowadays it is isolated.

“Only one part of cultural heritage has been valued,” Sardashti says, “and that is only the religious aspect. But even if we come to the religious part of cultural appreciation, it is still not what it was during Khatami’s time.

“At that time, there were three international gatherings to evaluate and understand Moharram, the month of mourning for Imam Hussein. Under Ahmadinejad there have been none. They have only pretended that they value these religious virtues.

“Heads of organizations are coming from politics and assigned by politicians,” he says. “Transients … There should be a team of experts who make these decisions and are empowered to implement them.”

Sardashti believes that the future of cultural management in Iran lies in being open to the outside. “We need to use the methods developed in other countries,” he says. “We can use methods that have been used and proven already and adapt these to our own domestic situation.”

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