IRGC: Drills forced Israelis to halt empty anti-Iran threats
The spokesman of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) said Iran’s recent show of force compelled Israeli rulers to halt their empty military threats against the country.
In an interview with Al-Alam television, Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif referred to the IRGC’s latest large-scale military exercises, saying the Israelis issued lots of threats against the Islamic Republic only before the drills, according to Press TV.
The IRGC held massive military exercises, dubbed Great Prophet 17, in Iran’s southern coast last month. During the five-day maneuvers, Iran’s senior commanders sternly warned Israel against continuing its anti-Iran rhetoric.
Before the drills, Israeli officials had ratcheted up threats against Iran, especially over the ongoing negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which the Israeli regime staunchly opposes.
They suggested that Israel will attack Iran and the country’s nuclear facilities.
However, Brigadier General Sharif dismissed the remarks as empty rhetoric, echoing Israeli military assessments that the regime lacks the power to launch large-scale attacks against Iran.
“After the exercise, the Zionists’ prime minister [Naftali Bennett] officially ordered their military men not to talk about Iran at all,” he said.
The brigadier general stated that the Israelis are clearly interested in taking destructive action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but the Islamic Republic’s deterrent power and the location of its nuclear facilities prevent the Tel Aviv regime.
“Regardless of whether they act or not, our assessment is that [the threats] are rhetoric intended for political gains, especially to overcome their problems in their occupied lands, which makes them try to distract [the public] with an external issue,” Brigadier General Sharif added.
He said if the Israelis felt that they were not dealt with decisively, they would conduct major attacks against the intended country, especially with regard to nuclear issues.
Pointing to the Zionist regime’s attacks against the nuclear facilities of Iraq and Syria, Brigadier General Sharif said the Israelis’ main manifesto is that no Muslim or Arab country has the right to have a nuclear program.
Iran is a land that cannot be unloved
By Amir Mollaee Mozaffari and Zohreh Qanadi*
How do we know that we belong to a nation? It’s not about papers, that’s for sure. Political and anthropology theorists have been arguing about the answer to this question for more than a century. Many candidates have been proposed: A shared language, a shared religion, a shared ethnicity, etc. The list can’t be exhaustive. It has to be about experiences.
In the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual society of Iran, one has to look beyond the standard menu of the shared characteristics to find out what makes us Iranian. There are some other promising candidates.
“Armenians of Iran are Iranians through and through who have always defended this land with their blood and have strived for preserving and developing this country,” said Movses Keshishian in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily on the occasion of January 6, the birthday of Jesus Christ according to Orthodox Christians.
Editor-in-chief of Arax, a biweekly newspaper published in Iran in the Armenian language, Keshishian is a staunch proponent of unity in Iran.
“We have about 100 Armenian martyrs,” he said. There it is: Collectively going through as big a trauma as defending the country against an aggressor should do a lot to make a nation.
In the following interview, we have talked about many aspects of the Iranian identity which Armenians share with their compatriots, as well as some things characteristically Armenian.
*Amir Mollaee Mozaffari and Zohreh Qanadi are staff writers at Iran Daily.
Would you please tell us more about Armenians? In Iran, Armenians are mostly known as Christians.
Armenians enjoy a distinct identity, language and nationality. Being an Armenian is not dependent on religion. Armenians follow Christianity brought by Saint Gregory in Armenia in 301 (AD). He was a religious leader who converted Armenia from paganism to Christianity. Hence, Armenia was the first state in the world to officially accept Christianity as its state religion.
How is the Armenian Church categorized?
In terms of church denominations, the typical Armenian Church is much closer to the Orthodox Church. Armenian Church is also known as Apostolic Church.
In what ways would you say that Armenians’ religion is different from other denominations of Christians?
I think the difference between narratives created about the birth of Christ is the core concept I can describe in this regard.
Until the fourth century AD, every existing church and Christian celebrated the birth of Christ on January 6. Then, this date was moved to December 25, mainly to deal with the juxtaposition of how gloriously the birthday of Mithra (the Zoroastrian Sun God) used to be celebrated on December 25. That is why Eastern Orthodoxy celebrates Christ’s birth on January 7.
There are other narratives floating around here, including the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in October 1582 as a modification to the Julian calendar, which reduced the average year from 365.25 days to 365.2425 days. Accordingly, the 7th of January in the Julian calendar is the 25th of December in the Gregorian calendar. The date difference can be described in this way, too. In any case, the Armenian Church remains faithful to its first principle, celebrating Christ’s birth anniversary on January 6.
What about cultural differences? Paint us a picture of an Armenian celebration.
The Armenian Church has always opted to give a cultural, traditional and national character to religious celebrations on purpose. This means that Christian celebrations in an Armenian Church take on the color of old Armenian celebrations, and in some cases, even regional celebrations.
For example, Chaharshanbeh Suri, which is a beloved historically Iranian festival, is also celebrated by Armenians on February 14, but with differences. Iranians jump over the fire and express their best wishes to each other. This festival has entered the Armenian Church now, despite the disagreements voiced by the church. In the end, the church accepted embracing cultural symbols in order to increase church attendance. This is how some feasts and cultures have entered the church.
Can you elaborate on the significance of genealogy to Armenians?
Armenian genealogies are traced back to clans, not individuals. Therefore, everyone within that lineage is important just because of who they were.
Is it true that the genealogy of some Armenians is traced back to Saint Gregory?
Saint Gregory preached Christianity and then became the leader of the Armenian Church, and his children followed the father’s path. So, in the past, such stories about Saint Gregory were advanced in connection to some missionaries. Indeed, top figures of the church once had no obstacle to getting married, but after a certain date, the leaders and top officials of the church were forbidden to marry. As a result, we see that the arguments about family history and genealogy were no longer pursued.
Was the settlement of Armenians in Iran established in the Safavid Era?
Yes, that is true. But you must know that Armenians came to settle in Iran in two or more periods of history. In the deep past, you see that the right-wing of the army of Achaemenid kings is the Armenian corps. That is, the existence of Iranian-Armenians is not tied only to the period of Shah Abbas I onwards.
At the beginning of the 17th century, during the war with the Ottomans, Shah Abbas I ordered the ad hoc transportation of the population of the northeastern town of Jolfa to the then capital of Isfahan. According to documents released by some churches, about 600,000 Armenians were relocated. During this trip, half of that population died from diseases or harsh conditions of travel.
Among this population, there were some Armenians who left Iran for Sri Lanka or India. For example, the first Armenian newspaper in the world was published in India by Father Harutun Shemovanian, an Armenian from Iran’s southern city of Shiraz. The newspaper was titled Azdarar (‘The Messenger’).
How many Armenians would you say reside in Iran?
No exact statistics are available. The Armenian population has declined since the revolution and then later, after the war [with Iraq]. Areas with a high concentration of Armenians in Iran include Tehran, Isfahan, Shahinshahr and Tabriz.
Currently, about 50,000 Armenians live in Tehran, about 5,000 in Isfahan and 1,500 in Shahinshahr. Estimates of the total number of Armenians that reside in Iran range from 100,000 to 200,000.
How many churches are there in the country?
In Tehran, eight churches are active, the oldest of which is the Saint George Church, built in 1795. Isfahan has the highest number of churches which is 13. Amid the aforementioned relocation at the beginning of the 17th century, Shah Abbas also transferred some stones from the churches in Armenia to build some churches in Isfahan. The cities of Mashhad, Rasht, Anzali, Gorgan, Arak, Qazvin and Kharaqan each have one church.
The Armenian Diocese of Azarbaijan (provinces of East Azarbaijan and West Azarbaijan) has had 223 churches under its jurisdiction throughout history, 42 of which are still afloat. The oldest of the group is the Monastery of Saint Thaddeus, also known as Kara Kilise (‘the Black Church’), which dates back to the fourth century, making it one of the oldest churches in the world. Tabriz has four churches, and Urmia has one active church.
The Armenian Diocese of Isfahan and the South has 100 churches under its jurisdiction, 30 of which are still active: 13 churches in Isfahan, one church each in the cities of Shiraz, Ahvaz and Abadan, and eight churches in the villages of Faridan County. The oldest church in Isfahan is Vank Cathedral, built in 1655 during the Safavid Era.
Which professions do the Armenian community usually practice in Iran?
All industrial jobs are considered among the typical jobs of Armenians in Iran. In reviewing the history of the country, we see that the first people working in theater and cinema were from the Armenian community. Iranian-Armenians were also the pioneering pilots, mechanics, translators, etc. For example, Avanes Oganians (Ohanian) was the screenwriter and director of the first Iranian film.
Do Armenians consider themselves to be from Iran or Armenia?
Armenians of Iran are Iranians through and through who have always defended this land with their blood and have strived for preserving and developing this country. To know them better, one should only live beside them.
What are your concerns about Iran?
One of our main concerns is the dangers Iran may face in the future. What will happen if we ignore our national interests and national identity? Unfortunately, some people inside the country favor interests other than national interests, and this endangers the country and even the region. Unfortunately, some foreign states, purposefully encourage this. To counter such problems, we must look into these issues consciously and with open eyes, and preserve Iran as a united country while peacefully moving forward. A united Iran would preserve its beautiful colorful flowers.
While we are on the subject of preservation, how many Iranian-Armenians were martyred during the Iraq-Iran war?
We have about 100 Armenian martyrs. Proportional to their population, the percentage of Armenian martyrs was more than non-Armenians. In those years (1980-1988), Armenians were active in various fields including repairing tanks and weapons.
How does the world view Iranian-Armenians?
Iranian-Armenians are representative of Iran regardless of where in the world they are. The Iranian-Armenian Society of New York is an example of this. The society has been active in the United States for more than a century. That is to say, Armenians keep their deep attachment to Iran wherever they go.
Did you have an opportunity to leave Iran for other countries?
Yes, I did, but I never left.
This “why” is a difficult “why” to answer. When you are born somewhere and you depend on it and you feel as if you need it and you consider it your origin and homeland, it is difficult to move from there.
One day, I told a friend who lived outside of Iran that I would never leave Iran. I told him that “when you come back home, you can find me in three places: Here in Tehran, or Tehran, on the Khavaran Road (I meant the Armenian cemetery) or in Armenia. Don’t look for me in other places. This is my place. I was born here. My root is here and it will dry here.
This is my belief and it will not change. This is also the belief of many Armenians.
Do you feel like this attachment is bothering the enemies of a united Iran?
Unfortunately, we have been the target of enemies including the Israeli and various institutions. We have issued many statements in this regard, reaffirming our attachment to the country.
Which Iranian cities have you visited?
Since Isfahan is my homeland, I have traveled there a lot. I have also traveled to some other cities, especially the northern cities of Iran.
Which cities in Iran do you like the most?
Surely, you meant to add “after Isfahan”! (laughing) Isfahan is my homeland.
However, I’ve lived in Rasht for two years, and I like this northern city. I also like Shiraz because of its historical past and status. I like every corner of Iran: Tabriz, Urmia, Ahvaz, Khuzestan, etc.
We would like to hear a delightful memory from your trips to Iranian cities.
Well, once I was in Shiraz. I believe it was the only Iranian city where its people apologized for not knowing the asked address. That was interesting to me.
But on the topic of delightful memories … Remembering the back alleys of Isfahan, I can still feel the smell of the wet thatched walls after the rain. I love it.
Have you ever been abroad?
Yes, I’ve visited many countries including France, Sweden, Greece, Russia, etc.
Among the countries that you have yet to visit, which country seems interesting to you?
I like the two countries with an ancient history: Greece and Egypt. I’ve visited Greece but haven’t had the chance to visit Egypt yet. They have a glorious past. Greece has a rich history. It is the birthplace of democracy and parliament. However, each place in the world —like India and China, to name a few— has its own beauty and value.
Would a guest to your home notice that you are a Christian?
Yes, probably. Maybe because of Christian symbols like the cross.
Are you satisfied with living in Iran?
That’s a good question. Life has two meanings in my view. One is that you were born here and this is your land and homeland and you cannot be unhappy about it. But, whether you are satisfied with your life situation is another question. I think it’s a little hard to be satisfied.
So, let me ask this question in another way. If you had the right to choose, as an Armenian, would you like to be born in Iran again?
Yes. I would want to be in Iran. Iran is a land that cannot be unloved.
I should be remindful that Armenians keep the name of Iran with them wherever they go. And it shows that the connection that we feel and the interest we have in Iran are everlasting.
Any last words?
I want to add that the Armenian Church is not a missionary church. Despite having an ancient presence in Iran, the Armenian Church has always believed that there is no need for preaching.
It was once succinctly said in a movie, “There is one way to reach God for every individual there is.” We Armenians have also accepted that there is no need to propagate our religion, but it might be necessary to propagate humanity, and Iran has always been a place of propagation for humanity. And blessed are such thoughts!
Iran bids farewell to 250 unidentified martyrs of imposed war
Leader pays tribute to martyrs
Iranians held large funeral processions nationwide for 250 unidentified martyrs of the war imposed by the former Iraqi regime on the Islamic Republic in the 1980s.
Out of the 250 martyrs, whose remains had been newly recovered, 150 were laid to rest in Tehran Province and the remaining in 24 other Iranian provinces.
Thursday’s ceremonies, coinciding with the martyrdom anniversary of Hazrat Fatima (PBUH), the daughter of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), marked the largest such event in recent years.
From outside of University of Tehran, trucks piled high with flag-draped coffins made their way through the streets of the capital. Men and women in black thronged the coffins, many weeping for those lost in the bloody war started by Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party in 1980 less than two years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The war ended in 1988 with a cease-fire deal, with the Iraqi dictator failing to achieve any of his goals and Iran not conceding an inch of its territory, Press TV wrote.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians lost their lives or went missing during the war.
Over the years, the Islamic Republic has carried out numerous search operations to recover the remains of its fallen soldiers.
‘Well-known in heavens’
In a message, Leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei paid tribute to the martyrs and said the coincidence of the funerals with the martyrdom anniversary of Hazrat Fatima (PBUH) “brings the good news that their memory will last forever”.
“Peace be upon the unknown martyrs; those unknown among the earth’s inhabitants but well-known in the heavens,” the Leader said.
“I send my greetings to the pure souls of these martyrs and to the waiting eyes and hearts of their fathers, mothers and wives, and I pray for God’s ever-increasing grace and mercy for all of them,” Ayatollah Khamenei added.
Speaking at the event in Tehran, Iran’s Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf praised the braveries of the martyrs during the war, which is known as “the Sacred Defense”.
Iran seeks guarantees new sanctions won’t be imposed after JCPOA revival: FM
France: Parties can reach deal
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Iran seeks assurances at ongoing talks with world powers in Vienna that no sanctions will be imposed on the country when they are removed.
“We demand guarantees that include not imposing any new sanctions, and not reimposing sanctions after lifting them under any pretext,” Amir-Abdollahian told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview aired on Thursday.
An eighth round of negotiations between Iran and other signatories to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal – France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China (P4+1) – is underway in the Austrian capital in order to restore the tattered pact from which former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and reinstated and reinforced sanctions on Iran.
The US, which is taking part in the talks indirectly, wants to rejoin the deal, known as the JCPOA.
Iran demands the complete lifting of US sanctions, as well as guarantees that the US will not pull out of the accord again. It also wants a period of time to be given to verify that sanctions are effectively lifted.
Amir-Abdollahian said an agreement can be reached to revive the JCPOA if Western parties have the will and intention to do so.
“The eighth round of Vienna talks is on the right path ... [and] achieving a good agreement is possible if the Western sides show serious determination,” the top diplomat said.
“Lifting sanctions means lifting all forms of sanctions stipulated in the nuclear agreement, and the sanctions that Trump reimposed contradict the terms of the agreement,” he added.
The Iranian official said the most “practical model” for the removal of sanctions would be when it comes to Iran exporting oil and obtaining revenues through the country’s own banking system.
“There’s an informal and an indirect exchange of message with the Americans in Vienna – we hear good words from that delegation, but what is important to us is to see practical and serious American actions,” said Amir-Abdollahian.
Progress in Vienna talks
France’s foreign minister said on Friday progress has been made regarding the Vienna talks although time is running out.
“I remain convinced we can reach a deal. Bits of progress have been made in the last few days,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV and RMC Radio, according to Reuters.
“We have been heading in a positive direction in the last few days, but time is of the essence, because if we don’t get an accord quickly, there will be nothing to negotiate.”
Western diplomats have indicated they are hoping to have a breakthrough by the end of January or early February. Iran has rejected any deadline imposed by Western powers.
Kazakh president gives shoot-to-kill order to restore calm, vows to destroy ‘armed bandits’
Iran calls for peaceful settlement amid protests over fuel prices
Kazakhstan’s president on Friday rejected calls for talks with protesters after days of unprecedented unrest, vowing to destroy “armed bandits” and authorizing security forces to shoot to kill without warning.
He said earlier that order had mostly been restored across the country, after protests this week over fuel prices escalated into widespread violence, especially in main city Almaty.
“Terrorists continue to damage property... and use weapons against civilians. I have given the order to law enforcement to shoot to kill without warning,” President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in his third televised address to the nation this week, AFP reported.
He dismissed calls from abroad for negotiations as “nonsense”.
“We are dealing with armed and trained bandits, both local and foreign. With bandits and terrorists. So they must be destroyed. This will be done shortly.”
Call for peaceful resolution
Iran said on Thursday it was closely monitoring the developments in Kazakhstan.
“We believe that the wise government and nation of the friendly, brotherly and neighborly country can resolve their problems and disputes peacefully and through dialogue, without foreign interference and based on their own national interests,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.
He also cautioned Kazakhstan against attempts by foreign parties to exploit the unrest and meddle in the country’s affairs.
Long seen as one the most stable of the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia, energy-rich Kazakhstan is facing its biggest crisis in decades.
Protesters stormed government buildings in Almaty on Wednesday and fought running battles with police and the military, with officials saying 748 security officers were wounded and 18 killed.
Tokayev said Almaty had been attacked by “20,000 bandits” with a “clear plan of attack, coordination of actions and high combat readiness.”
He gave his “special thanks” to Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) sent troops to Kazakhstan to help quell the unrest.
The Interior Ministry said Friday that security forces had taken all the country’s regions “under increased protection” and that 26 “armed criminals” had been killed and 18 wounded in the unrest.
Tokayev earlier declared a nationwide state of emergency and appealed for help from the CSTO, which includes five other ex-Soviet states, to combat what he called “terrorist groups” that had “received extensive training abroad”.
Local media reports said late on Thursday that security forces had cleared demonstrators from the square and other key government buildings.
The first units of Russian forces from the Russia-led peacekeeping force had arrived in Kazakhstan, the Russian Defense Ministry said, after Tokayev appealed for assistance on Wednesday.
It marked the alliance’s first major joint action since its founding in 1999.
Russia said it saw the unrest as “an attempt inspired from outside to undermine the security and integrity” of Kazakhstan.
The Interior Ministry said Thursday it had detained about 2,300 people.
Officials said more than 1,000 people had been wounded in the unrest, with nearly 400 admitted to hospital and more than 60 in intensive care.
Protests spread across the nation of 19 million this week in outrage over a New Year increase in prices for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is used to fuel many cars in the country.
Thousands took to the streets in Almaty and in the western province of Mangystau, saying the price rise was unfair given oil and gas exporter Kazakhstan’s vast energy reserves.
Iran says daily COVID death toll below 20 after 22 months
Iran’s daily COVID-19 fatalities dropped to below 20 on Friday for the first time in the past 22 months, according to the Health Ministry.
The Health Ministry announced in a statement on Friday that the country’s daily COVID-19 fatalities and cases in the past 24 hours stood at 19 and 1,178, respectively.
On March 6, 2020, the country had for the last time seen a daily death toll of less than 22, with fatalities standing at 17.
According to the ministry, the total COVID-19 death toll and cases since the beginning of the outbreak in the country in late February 2020 stand at 131,821 and 6,204,224.
It said 2,060 patients are in critical condition, and 245 new ones have been hospitalized.
According to the statement, 6,048,957 people have so far either recovered from the disease or have been discharged from hospitals, and 42,661,568 diagnostic tests have been carried out in the country.
Since the outbreak, Iran has grappled with five waves of COVID-19 infections, with the last one being the greatest and deadliest of all and troubling the country until a few weeks ago. Sparked mainly due to the spread of the Delta variant, the wave caused the country to see record high daily deaths and cases of over 700 and 40,000, respectively.
The wave has subsided in the country thanks to the greater pace of the public vaccination on the back of the rise in imports and domestic production of COVID-19 jabs since the beginning of the incumbent administration’s term in office in August under President Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi.
Iran has so far imported over 150 million doses of COVID-19 jabs and produced a number of vaccines including Fakhra (Defense Ministry), Razi Cov Pars (Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute), and Soberana 2 – or PastoCoVac (Cuba’s Instituto Finlay de Vacunas and Iran’s Pasteur Institute).
The Health Ministry added in its Friday statement that the total number of administered vaccine doses in the country stands at 121,982,424, of which 60,032,419 have been given to people as the first dose, 52,444,380 as the second dose, and 9,505,625 as the third, booster, shot.
Iran on December 19 said the first definite case of infection with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected in the country and two suspicious patients were also identified.
According to the latest figure, a total of 244 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the country.
Iran urges South Korea to release frozen funds regardless of Vienna talks
Top negotiator Ali Baqeri Kani on Thursday urged South Korea to release Iran’s frozen funds and not to await the outcome of ongoing talks in Vienna for the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal.
“Whatever the result of the negotiations in Vienna, the South Korean government has a duty to unblock Iran’s frozen funds, and the unilateral American sanctions cannot justify non-payment of these debts,” Baqeri Kani told South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun in the Austrian capital, according to IRNA.
He also underlined that South Korea’s “unjustifiable” refusal to repay its debts to Iran would be “a dark spot in the history of relations between the two countries”, adding that Seoul should act as soon as possible to unfreeze Iran’s assets.
Last year Iran warned that it would take legal action unless South Korea released more than $8 billion in frozen funds for oil shipments.
Iran had been one of South Korea’s main suppliers of crude before the 2018 US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and the reimposition of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Iranian authorities have said on several occasions that they expect South Korea to do more on the release of the assets blocked at two South Korean banks under the pretext of the United States’ sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The meeting between Iran’s deputy foreign minister and his South Korean counterpart was not directly linked to the negotiations underway in Vienna to restore the nuclear agreement, JCPOA, and took place at the request of South Korea.
Pointing to the significance of Seoul-Tehran relations, Choi, for his part, offered explanations about Iran’s blocked funds in South Korea and said his country is making efforts to repay its debt to Iran.
In a tweet on Thursday, Choi said he “had a good meeting” with Baqeri Kani in Vienna.
“We exchanged views on our bilateral relationship including the frozen fund,” he said, AFP reported. “Korea and Iran will work together and preserve our historically important relationship.”
In a statement on Tuesday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said its delegation aimed to “explore ways to resolve the issue of frozen Iranian assets in Korea on the sidelines” of the nuclear talks.
Choi and Baqeri Kani “agreed that the release of the frozen assets should take place in an urgent manner,” the statement said.
“The two sides agreed to hold working-level talks between experts to discuss technical issues related to the transfer of the frozen assets.”
In addition to consultations with Iran, this would involve “close coordination and communication” with the US, European Union, France, Germany and Britain, the South Korean statement said.
France, Germany and the UK are participating in the talks about the 2015 deal, along with Russia and China, while the US is indirectly involved.