May 10, 2016
A photo booth where visitors can have their photos taken in front of images of war-torn Syria is among the attractions at this year’s Tehran Book Fair.
The booth attracted criticism after Iran’s official government news agency, IRNA, published photos of visitors sitting atop a motorcycle while wearing military attire, with a backdrop of a bombed-out city looming behind them.
Some were seen smiling while others appeared slightly uncomfortable.
One woman is seen posing with a grenade in her hand. A man had his photo taken with a little boy sitting on his lap.
IRNA said the “photo booth of the Defenders of the Shrine” allowed visitors of the book fair, which began on May 3, to have a “digital and spiritual photo.”
The pictures were widely shared on social media. “Souvenir with the misery of a nation, souvenir with interference in another country,” one man tweeted while using the hashtag #shame in Persian.
“People have taken their pictures while smiling next to a demolished city!” wrote a woman.
Another user wrote sarcastically that “if you want to take a picture with the mess we created in Syria, go to the Defenders of the Shrine photo booth.”
The move appears to be part of the effort by Iranian authorities to glorify Iranians who join the fight in Syria. Iran claims it has only deployed “military advisers” in Syria to bolster its regional ally, President Bashar al-Assad, and to fight “terrorists.”
Iranians and Shi’ite fighters are reportedly trained and deployed in Syria by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Basij force. They’re known as the “Defenders of The Shrine” who, according to Iranian domestic media, travel to Syria voluntarily.
They also include Afghans who, according to Human Rights Watch, are pressured by Iran to fight for Assad in exchange for financial rewards and legal residence.
Last year, IRNA reported that some 400 Iranians and Afghans based in Iran had been killed in Syria in the previous four years. Iran suffered its biggest death toll in Syria in a single day on May 6, when 13 military personnel were killed in clashes near Aleppo.
Iranian state media refers to those killed in Syria as “martyrs.”
Their images, last wills, and interviews with friends and families are published in media affiliated with the IRGC.
The families of some of them have met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to pictures posted on Khamenei.ir.
In a meeting that took place more than a year ago, Khamenei was quoted as saying that “if the Defenders of the Shrine weren’t [against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq], Iran would have to fight them [IS] in Kermanshah and Hamedan.”