The British Council’s Danny Whitehead runs through some of the more unexpected facts about Iran, in time for today's book publication of Didgah – New Perspectives on UK-Iran Cultural Relations.
At a recent conference that I attended on EU-Iran relations, one of the speakers made the claim that the last two untapped markets for investors were Iran and the moon. And just like the moon, very few people in the UK have been to Iran, and there are a great many myths and misunderstandings about it.
Iran's economy is huge, despite sanctions
Many in the UK may be surprised to know that Iran’s economy is the second largest in the region (despite years of sanctions), and that it’s not based on petrochemicals. Income per capita from oil and gas is very small compared to its neighbours around the Persian Gulf, and according to the World Trade Organisation, Iran is the only country which exports in every single export category, making it arguably the most diversified economy in the world.
Female enrolment at university is high, very high
It may also surprise people to find out that Iran has among the highest rates of female enrolment in university in the world (more than 60 per cent), and the highest literacy rate in the region. Primary and secondary education are free and compulsory, and state-provided education at university level is also free, with significant support provided for accommodation and other expenses for university students.
The country is extremely diverse
Many will be unaware that 50 per cent of the population is below the age of 30, or indeed that it has the largest Jewish population in the region outside of Israel. Some may not know that Persian language, or Farsi, is an Indo-European language, and not an Arabic (Afro-Asiatic) language, and that the country is linguistically and culturally diverse, with Persian native speakers accounting for just 53 per cent of the population, and with seven other major cultural and linguistic minorities.
And, unfortunately, a large number of people will be unfamiliar with Iran’s incredibly rich and long cultural heritage stretching back thousands of years, and its wonderfully dynamic, modern creative industries and cultural sector.
Relations between UK and Iran are in fact strong
Despite 150 years of political distrust between our countries, cultural relations ties have remained strong, and as a result they are now amongst the most powerful tools we have for building trust and understanding. Unlike travelling to the moon, this doesn’t require rocket science – just an openness to engage in arts, education, and language.
Do you know any more unexpected facts about Iran? Add them in the comments below.
The British Council is publishing Didgah – New Perspectives on UK-Iran Cultural Relations to draw attention to the existing power of cultural relations. The publication is part of the British Council's UK-Iran Season of Culture. The season's aim is to promote deeper and more co-operation, and inspire new partnerships and opportunities for exchange between the people of the UK and Iran.