Back in the centre of Tehran, I visit the Peace Museum in Shahr Park, an independent museum dedicated to the development of peace initiatives.
This small museum, which asks no admission fee, highlights some of the lowest points in human history, including Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, the dropping of the atom bomb on Japan in the Second World War and the poison gas attacks on the Iraqi city of Halabja and the Iranian city of Sardasht. Some of the museum's guides are veterans of the Iran-Iraq War and can tell first-hand stories of its horrors.
Tours led by Morteza leave a particularly deep impression: he experienced the poison gas attack on the Iranian city of Sardasht and just escaped with his life, almost blind. The museum provides an independent, free platform for showing and discussing the horrors war brings to the civilian population. As a member of the International Network of Museums for Peace, it is dedicated to the promotion of peace.
A selfie-compatible portrayal of paradise
Returning to the butterflies at the Holy Defence Museum, 'peace' is not a word that the visitor will encounter very often. In the huge park behind the main building – and while Wagner music plays in the background – visitors can see almost every kind of vehicle and weapons system used in the war. In fact, the whole museum is an audiovisual fireworks display. Everywhere the visitor goes, there are light installations, screens showing films and virtual tank rides for school children.
There is even a 'bombardment simulator', where visitors can 'enter' a peaceful village scene only to suddenly witness a bombardment by the Iraqi Air Force (deafening noise and shaking floor included). The aim here is to show the visitor how it feels to be helpless and exposed to a hail of bombs. The experience ends with images from cities in Iran that really have been bombarded.
The last hall in the museum is devoted to martyrdom. Once inside, visitors cross a bridge. Here too, there is an audio backdrop. To the left and the right are photos of the fallen, which transform into stars and float up to paradise. This paradise is hinted at again in the form of a brightly lit room at the end of the bridge, which contains two model shrines, each of which can be touched and provide a backdrop for selfies. But the culture of Iranian remembrance in the most expensive museum in the country does not end with the martyrs.
'The museum is not yet fully complete,' explains Mr Solgi. There are still two halls yet to come: 'victory' and 'achievements'. There don't seem to be any plans to include peace in the museum. It is hard to find the boundary between a culture of remembrance that has developed organically and the political and/or religious influence thereof in such official state places of remembrance.
Unlike in Lebanon, where the only place dedicated to reappraising the civil war is a Hezbollah museum, there are many state-run sites of the remembrance culture in Iran. To allow for a critical, objective analysis, it is important that visitors are well informed before they visit such places so that they can more easily separate the historical facts from the romanticised view of war presented to them.
© Qantara.de 2017
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan