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The Islamic Republic at 40

2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution when, on 11 February 1979, the Iranian Army declared its neutrality, yielding power to revolutionaries loyal to Ayatollah Ruholah Khomeini and ending the Pahlavi dynasty that had ruled the country for over 50 years. The event was a pivotal power change in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, creating a Shia theocracy under the rule of a Supreme Leader.

Panos photographer Hossein Fatemi was born in 1980 in Iran, one year after the Iranian revolution. Soon after, in September 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, beginning the 20th century's longest conventional war which claimed one million lives on both sides. His childhood and early memories where dominated by the events of this long and brutal war.
He began his journey as a photographer at the age of 17, capturing political and social events for the next 15 years. What emerges from his years in Iran is a more nuanced picture of the country than the one of an often demonised, sanctioned and isolated pariah state. On the 40th anniversary of Iran's revolution, Hossein has selected a series of his images that allow us to look beyond Iran's oft maligned public image.

Iran's younger generations are have become impatient with the paternalistic oppression of the Mullahs' Republic and have access to the usual trappings of youth and modernity that are being beamed into homes via the internet and (as yet still illegal) satellite TV. Iran's Basiji volunteer militia prowl the streets looking for women whose headscarves reveal too much hair or young couples holding hands but behind closed doors, Iran's largely secular majority tries to live life as undisturbed as possible. The country has increasingly become a nation of two halves.

Over the years, Hossein has tried to document all parts of Iran's complex society, lifting the veil on some of the less observed areas of daily life, showing the conflicts that arise between the official version of Iranian life and the reality of for Iran's youth which is struggling to find an identity in a fast moving, ever changing world. Travelling across the country for over a decade, meeting and convincing hundreds of individuals to allow him into their lives he has been able to observe the interaction between different type of people in their daily lives and to show a complex and changing society from the inside.

Much of Iran's history has been conveyed to the outside world through images - from blurred images of public executions to the American hostage crisis and the devastating Iran-Iraq war all the way to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, one of the country's most controversial leaders. To many onlookers, Iran is a volatile, prickly troublemaker bent on disturbing the status quo. Yet as these events have occurred and governments have come and gone, life in Iran goes on. Shepherds graze their sheep in the lush mountains of western Iran while farmers prepare the fertile ground for rice cultivation in the North and women in traditional dress dance to folk music. Iran encompasses a range of diverse ecosystems with ancient cities like Yazd and Isfahan lying in the parched centre south of the Alborz mountains and the verdant Caspian coast which combine to prevent moisture from penetrating further inland, making 20% of the country a barren desert.

Social constraints imposed by the conservative regime and the lack of public spaces, especially in Iran's villages and smaller towns, mean that people spend much of their time watching foreign satellite stations that provide more stimulating fare than the country's dour state broadcaster. This creeping 'Westernisation' of society, especially among the young, is driving the slow decline of traditional ways of life.

Constrained by conservatives that have run the country for almost four decades, Iran's youth is pushing the boundaries of what is deemed as acceptable.
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