Greek Diaspora in Iran - The Forgotten Hellenes of the Middle East

"The Forgotten Hellenes of the Middle East" - published in
by Iason Athanasiadis

When I moved to Iran, hearing there were Greeks in the Islamic Republic of Iran was bizarre enough. Finding out that it boasted a splendid Greek Orthodox church, just metres away from the infamous US embassy that dominated the international media throughout the 444 days of the American diplomats' hostage crisis in 1979-80 was even stranger.

But Iran's Greek community has been in irreversible decline since the early 1980s when many fled a socially restrictive Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Today, two monuments in Tehran stand testament to the crumbling Greek community: a church and a cemetery.

As they escaped a new communist government in Moscow in the late 1910s that had branded them undesirable capitalists, many Pontic Greeks, such as my grandfather, sought to return to Greece via the southern route, across Iran, and avoid a hostile Turkey whose army was then struggling against invading Greek troops. Upon arriving in Iran, many of these Greeks decided that in many ways it was a better and richer country than Greece - then a barren, mountainous and economically limited country they had never even visited and could hardly call a homeland. They busied themselves with woodcutting, silk and rice-farming. Others used their expertise in the tobacco industry to develop a 'cigarette route' from 1935 onwards, hoping that it would rival the old Silk Route. As news of the business opportunities to be had in Iran spread, more Greeks arrived in order to build railways and harvest the tobacco crops. The Caspian shoreline cities of Rasht and Bandar Pahlavi became centres of the booming tobacco trade 
and the Greek community thrived, peaking at between 3,000 and 4,000 people."Most stayed here, brought their wives over or married a Fatima or Leila and settled down," one old-timer told me. . . . .