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Trump’s sanctions have forced some Iranians to abandon their cultural traditions

VICE News visits Tehran's biggest cemetery to look at how Iran's economic woes are affecting burial customs.

by Angad Singh and Gelareh Kiazand
Feb 19 2019, 4:26pm

Iranians rallied in the streets of Tehran on February 11, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's U.S.-backed monarchy by supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Since the Islamic Revolution, U.S.-Iranian relations have largely been defined by sanctions. While President Obama offered Iran respite from some sanctions with the 2015 nuclear agreement, President Trump has imposed the toughest unilateral sanctions on Iran to date. This pushed Iran’s economy further into crisis: Since last year, inflation is up almost 40 percent year over year.

Because of the Trump administration’s sanctions, Iranians like Masoumeh Karimi and her son Amir have been forced to choose between economic survival and maintaining their cultural traditions.

Last year, Amir’s grandmother died, so the Karimi’s buried her in Zahra’s Paradise, Iran’s largest cemetery. Now, they’re struggling to pay for her plot.

Most burials in Zahra’s paradise happen in a section where graves are stacked in threes. The bottom ones are given away for free, in compliance with Iranian law that ensures everyone the right to a grave. The Karimi’s took a free grave, but they also wanted to stick to their traditions, which means purchasing the rest of the graves in the plot.

“My grandmother is buried on the first level, and I don’t want them to bury someone else on the second or third level,” Amir Karimi told VICE News. “I wanted to keep those for our family. I didn’t want a stranger in the grave.”

Other Iranians under pressure from sanctions are considering abandoning tradition altogether. Sima Saeedi, a local cafe owner, is having trouble keeping her business afloat under the new sanctions.

“2018 saw more serious sanctions by the U.S. that have become very real, which resulted in a decline in our quality of life,” Saeedi told VICE News. “People used to order individual plates, now they order one meal and share it.”

Saeedi has owned a grave plot next to her father in Zahra’s paradise for 24 years, but she's thinking about selling the plot to make ends meet.


Reporting contributions from Katy Arsanjani, Leila Amini, Yasmin Afshar.
Editing by Ross Laing and Adam Deniston

This segment aired on VICE News Tonight on February 11th, 2019.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of misspelled the name of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.