US embassy cable - 85DAMASCUS3204

IRANIANS IN DAMASCUS AND NOTES FROM TEHRAN

Identifier: 85DAMASCUS3204
Wikileaks: View 85DAMASCUS3204 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 1985-05-22 08:55:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PINR PREL IR IZ SY TU UR
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 220855Z MAY 85
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 1369
INFO AMEMBASSY ANKARA
AMEMBASSY AMMAN POUCH
AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
AMEMBASSY CAIRO
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 03204 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS: PINR, PREL, IR, IZ, SY, TU, UR 
SUBJECT:  IRANIANS IN DAMASCUS AND NOTES FROM TEHRAN 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
2.  A RECENT VISIT OF FAMILY FRIENDS FROM TEHRAN FILLED 
IN SOME GAPS IN OUR INFORMATION ON THE STATUS OF IRANIAN 
TOURIST-PILGRIM FLIGHTS TO DAMASCUS AND PRODUCED SOME 
COMMENTS ON THE SITUATION IN TEHRAN.  THE FLIGHTS OF 
JUMBO JETS FROM TEHRAN, WHICH USED TO BRING 2,500 
IRANIANS TO DAMASCUS EACH WEEK, WERE INTERRUPTED IN 
MARCH WHEN IRAQ WARNED AIRLINES TO AVOID IRANIAN 
AIRSPACE.  FLIGHTS FROM TEHRAN HAVE GRADUALLY RESUMED 
DURING THE PAST SEVERAL WEEKS AND IT IS EXPECTED THAT 
SYRIAN AIR WILL ALSO SOON HAVE PLANES ON THE TEHRAN RUN. 
IRANIAN AIR FLIGHTS PROCEED FROM TEHRAN TO MESHED AND 
NORTH INTO THE SOVIET UNION AND OVER TURKEY TO 
SYRIA -- FOUR HOURS IN ALL.  SEATS FROM TEHRAN ARE 
NOW EXTREMELY SCARCE WITH FAMILIES OF MARTYRS HAVING 
PRIORITY.  FOR SOME REASON -- POSSIBLY NEW FLIGHTS -- 
SEATS ARE NOW AVAILABLE FOR THE RETURN FROM DAMASCUS 
TO TEHRAN. 
 
3.  EACH IRANIAN BEFORE LEAVING IRAN IS ALLOWED TO 
EXCHANGE AT THE OFFICIAL RATE THE EQUIVALENT OF $100 
FOR WHICH HE RECEIVES CASH THAT MUST BE EXCHANGED 
FOR SYRIAN CURRENCY AT THE AIRPORT ON ARRIVAL.  HAVING 
PAID THE EQUIVALENT IN TEHRAN, HE IS GIVEN A VOUCHER 
FOR AN ADDITIONAL $400 AT THE TOURIST RATE, WHICH CAN 
BE PICKED UP AT THE SEMIRAMIS HOTEL IN DAMASCUS.  BUS 
TRANSPORTATION FROM TEHRAN TAKES FOUR DAYS, ONE OF WHICH 
IS SPENT ON FRONTIER FORMALITIES. 
 
4.  IRANIAN TOURISTS OFTEN SUPPLEMENT THEIR CASH BY BRING- 
ING GOODS WITH THEM FROM TEHRAN.  THE CAVIAR SUPPLY HAS 
BEEN CUT DOWN, HOWEVER, BECAUSE OF RECENT RESTRICTIONS 
AT TEHRAN AIRPORT WHERE PURCHASES BY RELIGIOUS PILGRIMS ARE 
CONSIDERED INAPPROPRIATE.  IRANIAN VISITORS SHOP IN 
DAMASCUS FOR SOUVENIRS AND ITEMS NOT AVAILABLE IN 
TEHRAN. 
 
5.  RELIGIOUS DUTIES CONSIST OF VISITING THE SHRINE IN 
THE OMAYYAD MOSQUE IN DAMASCUS WHERE HUSSEIN'S HEAD IS 
BURIED.  MORE IMPORTANT FOR MOST IS THE VISIT TO THE 
DAMASCUS SUBURB WHERE SIT ZAYNAB, SISTER OF HUSSEIN 
AND HASSAN, IS BURIED.  ACCORDING TO TRADITION, ZAYNAB 
WAS BROUGHT TO DAMASCUS AT THE SAME TIME AS HUSSEIN'S 
HEAD.  HER SHRINE IS SELDOM MENTIONED IN TOURIST 
LITERATURE AND WAS, UNTIL THE IRANIAN INFLUX, SCARCELY 
EVER VISITED.  HOWEVER, SINCE IRAN IS THE RESTING PLACE 
OF ONLY ONE OF THE TWELVE IMANS AND IRAQ, RICH IN SHI'A 
REMAINS, IS OUT OF BOUNDS, SIT ZAYNAB'S TOMB HAS 
ACQUIRED A NEW PROMINENCE. 
 
6.  ALTHOUGH A SIMILAR SHRINE IN IRAN OR IRAQ WOULD NOT 
BE OPEN TO NON-MOSLEMS, SYRIAN TOLERANCE PREVAILS HERE, 
WITH THE ONLY WARNING IN ENGLISH BEING:  "MAKE UP LADIES 
ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER."  BLACK CHADORS ARE AVAILABLE 
AT THE OUTER GATE WHERE THERE IS NO ENTRY FEE.  THE 
ARCHITECTURAL STYLE IS PERSIAN, BUT THE MODERN SQUARE 
TILES WILL NEED MANY YEARS TO DEVELOP CHARACTER.  THE 
INNER  SANCTUM IS IN THE IRANIAN TRADITION, HEAVILY 
DECORATED WITH MIRRORED CEILING AND SILVER GRILL AROUND 
THE TOMB. THE SCENE INSIDE THE ENCLOSURE COULD BE FROM 
AN ORIENTALIST PAINTING, WITH WOMEN IN CHADORS AND MEN 
IN TURBANS AND LONG GARMENTS.  THERE WERE ONLY A FEW 
PERSONS WHO LOOKED LIKE REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS IN MILITARY 
UNIFORM DURING OUR VISIT ON A SATURDAY DURING NOON 
PRAYERS.  THERE ARE NO PICTURES OF KHOMEINI ANYWHERE TO 
BE SEEN IN THE SHRINE AREA OR THE NEARBY STREETS.  THIS 
COULD HARDLY BE ACCIDENTAL AND PROBABLY REFLECTS A SYRIAN 
REQUIREMENT.  (ASAD'S PICTURE IS ALSO ABSENT.) 
 
7. COMMENTS BY OUR PROFESSIONAL AND MERCHANT CLASS 
VISITORS ABOUT THE SITUATION IN TEHRAN AGREED WITH OTHER 
RECENT REPORTS REGARDING A GROWING MALAISE AS THE PUBLIC 
AWAITS THE END OF THE KHOMEINI ERA.  WHETHER RUMOR OR 
FACT, OUR FRIENDS REPORTED FREQUENT MANIFESTATIONS OF 
ANTI-REGIME FEELING, INCLUDING WALL SLOGANS AND BOMBINGS 
THAT HAVE NOT BEEN REPORTED IN THE MEDIA.  THEY ALSO 
SPOKE OF CONSIDERABLE USE OF ALCOHOL AMONG THE PUBLIC, 
WITH OPIUM THE PREFERRED DRUG OF THE CLERGY.  MONTAZERI, 
WHO IS REPORTEDLY A HEAVY USER, IS DISMISSED AS A NOBODY. 
PREDICTIONS RE KHOMENEI'S SUCCESSOR CENTER ON RAFSANJANI. 
OPPOSITION TO THE WAR IS ALSO REPORTEDLY STRONG AND 
GROWING STRONGER.  THOUGH OUR VISITORS DID NOT SEEM TO 
BELIEVE CLERICAL RULE HAD A LONG-TERM FUTURE IN IRAN, 
THEY COULD NOT SUGGEST WHEN OR HOW THE RETURN TO A MORE 
TRADITIONAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT WOULD OCCUR. THE ONLY 
POSITIVE THING THEY HAD TO SAY ABOUT THE KHOMEINI REGIME 
WAS THAT IT HAD, FOR THE TIME BEING, SUBDUED THE TUDEH 
PARTY. 
 
 
EAGLETON 

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