Tehran’s own TEDx event gives the city a rare reprieve from isolation

February 18, 2013

Sara Mohammadi, one of the event's organizers, speaks on stage at the recent TEDx Tehran conference. (Mani Lotfizadeh)

TEHRAN – On Thursday, Iran hosted its first TEDx event, the locally organized version of the popular speakers’ series. TEDxTehran, which was held at Amir Kabir University, was a unique occurrence in this city.

While the speakers and attendees stayed within all the rules and regulations of the Islamic Republic, the general consensus was that the most important thing was that such an event, intended to share new ideas and broaden horizons, was allowed to take place here at all.

The attendees were mostly Iranian, but a surprising number were Iranians living abroad, some of whom had come to town just to attend the event. And quite a few of those were  Iranian-Americans.

One of the best talks had to be the first one, by award-winning cartoonist and animation artist Bahram Azimi, who gave a lively and funny personal history that included a slideshow full of twists and turns. His closing message could not have been more appropriate to the audience: Go for your hopes and dreams, but make those goals realistic and attainable.

In all, it was a good first effort, leaving hope for more chances for Iranians to connect with the larger world. Could it be improved upon? Certainly, but that it happened at all is what matters.

I asked Sara Mohammadi, one of the event's organizers, about the experience:

Why was it important for you to put this event on?

It was important to create this platform for both discovered and undiscovered ideas brewing in Iran to be heard, debated and acted on. There are some exciting things happening in Iran, with regards to technology, startup, the ecosystem and the artistic community, and we wanted to share that with Iranians and rest of the world.

What does it mean to the people to took part?

I think it means possibilities and dialogue. It means being Iranian and at the same time being a part of an international community. Unfortunately, the Iranian nation has been isolated from the rest of the world. We find bottlenecks on all levels of our engagement with the outside world - as students, professionals, tourists, and now increasingly in international business and trade. This was a chance to be a part of the international community as Iranians. For years, we've had a growing TED community in Iran, watching speakers from TED and other TEDx events. Now we finally experienced a TED-like event by Iranians, which we can also share with the rest of the world.

Jason Rezaian has been The Post’s correspondent in Tehran since 2012. He was previously a freelance writer based in Tehran.
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