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A View Inside Iran

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Iran has appeared in numerous headlines around the world in recent months, usually attached to stories about military exercises and other saber-rattlings, economic sanctions, a suspected nuclear program, and varied political struggles. Iran is a country of more than 75 million people with a diverse history stretching back many thousands of years. While over 90 percent of Iranians belong to the Shia branch of Islam -- the official state religion -- Iran is also home to nearly 300,000 Christians, and the largest community of Jews in the Middle East outside Israel. At a time when military and political images seem to dominate the news about Iran, I thought it would be interesting to take a recent look inside the country, to see its people through the lenses of agency photographers. Keep in mind that foreign media are still subject to Iranian restrictions on reporting. [42 photos]

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Iranian grooms, Javad Jafari, left, and his brother, Mehdi, right, pose for photographs with their brides, Maryam Sadeghi, second left, and Zahra Abolghasemi, who wear their formal wedding dresses prior to their wedding in Ghalehsar village, about 220 mi (360 km) northeast of the capital Tehran, Iran, on July 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian grooms, Javad Jafari, left, and his brother, Mehdi, right, pose for photographs with their brides, Maryam Sadeghi, second left, and Zahra Abolghasemi, who wear their formal wedding dresses prior to their wedding in Ghalehsar village, about 220 mi (360 km) northeast of the capital Tehran, Iran, on July 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranians Morteza Alavi and Mehdi Hagh Badri fly with a tandem paraglider over northwestern Tehran, on May 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
A worker stands in front of an Iranian handmade carpet at a carpet workshop in Kashan, 240 km (149 miles) south of Tehran, on November 13, 2011. Persian carpet weaving is a historical part of Iranian culture, dating back to as far as approximately 2,000 years ago. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Amin Gholami, right, dances in Azeri-style as Aydin Kanani plays a Gaval, a large tambourine, in the Gharadagh mountainous area in northwestern, Iran, on October 26, 2011. In the 1980s, Iran's music almost vanished. Music schools went into full recession, police or militias stopped cars to check what passengers were listening to and broke tapes playing pre-revolutionary singers, and clerical institutions even banned music as un-Islamic. But Iran's social life has dramatically changed a decade later, with a landslide victory of former President Mohammad Khatami relaxing some of rigid restrictions on cultural and social activities, including bans on music bands, but Iran has recently tightened censorship of books, films, and music since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power. (AP Photo) #
The eclipse of the moon is seen behind the Milad tower in Tehran, on June 16, 2011. (Reuters/Raheb Homavandi) #
Iranian women pray at the historical Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan on August 31, 2011 on the first day of Eid al-Fitr in the predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran, marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images) #
Iranian dog-lover Andia caresses a puppy as she brings food donations to the Vafa animal shelter in the town of Hashtgerd, some 70 km west of the capital Tehran, on June 30, 2011. The first animal shelter in Iran, the non-government charity relies on private donations and volunteers to provide shelter to injured and homeless dogs in Iran. Canine lovers in the Islamic Republic were faced with a motion put forth by lawmakers to ban the public appearance of dogs due to their "uncleanness" and to combat "a blind imitation of vulgar Western culture." If the motion becomes law, first-time offenders will be fined five million rials (472 USD or 337 euros) and will be given a 10-day period to get rid of the dog or face the canine's confiscation to an unknown fate. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images) #
Sevan Shahmirian, a member of the underground music band "Wednesday Call" prepares for a practice session at a home music studio in Tehran, on July 7, 2011. Many Iranian bands do not bother asking for the mandatory government permits to release their music and seek contracts with foreign companies or put their music on websites blocked by the state but still accessible to anyone with a modicum of technical skill. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Iranians enjoy their holidays, at the seaside, as kites fly, in Babolsar at the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, 150 mi (250 km) northeast of the capital Tehran, on July 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
Wearing traditional dress, Salameh Bazmandegan, poses during a visit to "Darreyeh Setaregan" or Stars Valley, a tourist site on the Iranian island of Qeshm, which oversees the strategic waterway, the Strait of Hormuz, on December 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
Iranian villagers work in a rice field during the annual harvest season on the outskirts of the city of Amol, in Mazandran province, on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, on July 30, 2011. Rice is the main staple in Iranian cuisine. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images) #
An Iranian man wears Santa Claus costume, as he stands in front of a shop with Christmas decorations, in central Tehran, on December 20, 2011. (AP Photo) #
A woman walks past corn as she arrives at a holy shrine to attend a mass prayer ceremony before breaking her fast during the month of Ramadan in northern Tehran, on August 4, 2011. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
The Chogha Zanbil Ziggurat near Susa, in Khuzestan province, southwestern Iran, photographed on September 29, 2011. The ziggurat was built around 1250 BC by the king Untash-Napirisha, and in 1979 it became the first Iranian site to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. (Reuters/Raheb Homavandi) #
An evening view shows Tehran on Monday, October 31, 2011. (AP Photo) #
Iranian female kart racer, Solmaz Hamzehzadeh, foreground, competes during an Iranian Karting championship race, at the Azadi sport complex, in Tehran, on June 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
Snowy, a Caspian miniature horse, in a garden near the city of Karaj, 45km (28 miles) northwest of Tehran, on June 17, 2011. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Covering her face with a traditional veil, a vendor works at her produce shop on the island of Qeshm, Iran, on December 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
Iranian Shiite Muslims beat their shoulders with iron chains, during an Ashura holy day ritual, mourning the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, in downtown Tehran, on December 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
Tuche Ayar, a member of the Cerbrus Turkish robotic team, prepares her robot before a soccer match during the 6th RoboCup Iran Open 2011 Competitions soccer match in Tehran, on April 7, 2011. (Reuters/Raheb Homavandi) #
A view of Palangan village in Kurdistan province, about 660 km (412 miles) southwest of Tehran, on May 11, 2011. Iranian Shi'ite and Sunni Kurds live in harmony with each other in Palangan, although Sunni is the religion of the majority of the people. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Iranian Jewish men pray during Hanukkah celebrations at the Yousefabad Synagogue, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, December 27, 2011. Iran's population of 75 million includes about 20,000 Jews, the largest community in the Middle East outside Israel, and they face no restriction on their religious practice, though they must follow Islamic dress codes such as head scarves for women. They have one Jewish representative in the parliament under the constitution. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
A weaver works on a carpet at a carpet workshop in Isfahan, Iran, on November 14, 2011. Persian carpets can be mostly divided into three size groups: large (3x4 meters), medium (2x3 meters) and small (1x1.5 meters), which is called Ghaliche. For a larger 24-square-meter silk carpet, every 70 cm (27.5 inches) section takes about a month to make. The price of each carpet is set by officials from Iran's national carpet company after examining each completed work. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Supporters of Iranian soccer team Persepolis, prior to start of the match with Esteghlal in their 73rd derby, during Iran's Jam-e-Hazfi, or Elimination Cup, at the Azadi (Freedom) stadium in Tehran, on December 9, 2011. Iran's two giant soccer teams fought in a quarter final match of the cup and Esteghlal won 3-0. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
Iranian rollerbladers wait to hear whistle of referee, to start their competition, in a women's rollerblading championship league, at the Azadi (Freedom) sport complex, in Tehran, on June 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
Earthen prayer turbahs in a prayer hall during the 7th International Conference of Mahdism Doctrine in Tehran, on July 14, 2011. Turbahs are small pieces of soil or clay symbolizing earth, used by some Shia schools during their daily prayers. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Satellite dishes which were smashed by Iran's police are left at a housing estate in Tehran, on June 4, 2011. Iran outlawed satellite dishes in the mid-1990s as part of efforts to curb what it considers Western cultural aggression, but the ban was largely ignored under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's predecessor Mohammad Khatami who tried to increase social freedoms after he was elected in 1997. However, hardliners have pressed for renewed restrictions after Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Iranian youths shoot water at each other with water guns, during water fights at the Water and Fire Park in northern Tehran, on July 29, 2011. During the summer, Iran was trying to put down a new wave of civil disobedience - flash mobs of young people who broke into boisterous fights with water guns in public parks. Dozens of water fighters were arrested and a top judiciary official warned that "counter-revolutionaries" were behind them. (AP Photo/Milad Beheshti) #
A woman poses for a picture in front of the beached Greek ship Moula F, during sunset off Kish Island, 1,250 km (777 miles) south of Tehran, on April 27, 2011. The ship ran aground on the southwest side of the island en route to Greece and was abandoned after salvage efforts proved unfeasible. (Reuters/Caren Firouz) #
Iranian Ghashghai men play a traditional game called Dorna Bazi during a nomadic pastoralist festival in northern Tehran, on September 16, 2011. The Ghashghai are Iran's largest nomadic pastoralist group who live in Fars, Khuzestan and southern Isfahan province. Each year they travel with their flocks from Shiraz in the hot season to the winter pastures near the Persian Gulf. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
An Iranian family walks on the solidified salts of Oroumieh Lake, some 370 mi (600 km) northwest of Tehran, on April 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
An Iranian-Kurd woman talks on her mobile phone as she walks in a bazaar while shopping in Marivan in Kurdistan province, 512 km (318 miles) west of Tehran, on May 12, 2011. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
A trader stands in Tabriz historic market, 633 km (393 miles) northwest of Tehran, early in the morning of August 28, 2011. The Tabriz market was located along the Silk Road trade route and comprised of interlinked structures and spaces for various commercial, religious and educational uses. This market was registered as a UNESCO heritage site on July 31, according to UNESCO's website. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Iranian Christians pray during New Year Mass at the Vank church in the central city of Isfahan, Iran, on Sunday, January 1, 2012. According to both Iranian and Western sources, approximately 300,000 Christians live in Iran, the majority of them belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church of Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
An Iranian Sunni Kurd shepherd carries a lamb as he walks on a road next to a grassland in Divandare in Kurdistan province, 540 km (338 miles) west of Tehran, on May 13, 2011. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Iranian archer Shiva Mafakheri aims at a target during horseback archery competitions, in Tehran, on May 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #
Shahram Khodaie, a disabled Iranian, tries to play the keyboard by using a tool with his mouth during a music therapy session at the Kahrizak nursing home, in southern Tehran, on June 25, 2011. Picture taken June 25, 2011. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Noora (right) and Shahrzad Naraghi practice on a motocross track in the mountains overlooking Tehran, on July 3, 2011. Shahrzad Naraghi started riding motocross eight years ago to spend more time with her daughter Noora who became interested in the sport after watching her father compete in races, and began riding motorcycles at the age of four. The pair raced against each other at first and in women's only motocross races in Iran in 2009. In 2010, Noora travelled to the United States, completed training courses and raced in competitions sponsored by the American Motorcyclist Association. Women are banned from driving motorcycles on the streets of Iran. (Reuters/Caren Firouz) #
The stained hand of a worker at a carpet workshop in Qom, 120 km (75 mi) south of Tehran, on November 12, 2011. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) #
Nature lovers prepare before a trash disposal campaign in the Miankaleh area, 250 km (155 mi) northeast of Tehran , onSeptember 22, 2011. The Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), an NGO organization, arranged a symbolic trash disposal campaign with 200 environmentally friendly people, along the Caspian Sea. They collected more than 3 tons of trash. (Reuters/Raheb Homavandi) #
Customers use computers at an internet cafe in Tehran, on May 9, 2011. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and countless others were banned shortly after the re-election of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the huge street protests that followed. Seen by the government as part of a "soft war" waged by the enemies of the Islamic Republic, social networking and picture sharing sites were a vital communication tool for the anti-Ahmadinejad opposition. In Iran, trying to access Facebook on a normal Internet line will redirect the user to a filter page, which says blocked sites are those considered criminal, that offend "Islamic sanctities" or insult public and government officials. But, for many Iranians, bypassing the government filter is as easy as switching on the computer. (Reuters/Raheb Homavandi) #
Painter Iran Darroudi poses for a portrait in front of one of her paintings at her home in Tehran, on April 12, 2011. A new chapter has opened for Iranian artists enjoying a boom in sales and interest from major international auction houses such as Christie's despite a global economic malaise and sanctions hitting Iran. Works by Iranian painters have been selling for fairly high prices, not only outside Iran's borders but also inside the Islamic state where many Iranians are facing economic hardship. Darroudi, who champions the work of women artists and has had many exhibitions throughout the world is also happy with the buoyant market, but says Iranians buy art for enjoyment and education not investment. (Reuters/Caren Firouz) #

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