Inside the Middle East


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Syrian bazaarSyrian bazaar      EsfahanEsfahan

Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran are in the news for all the wrong reasons. In 2009, just before the present violence in Syria and Iraq, I unravelled a picture quite different from the news stories of the time as I followed a winding route via the Euphrates, Kurdistan and the Valleys of the Assassins to finish eventually on the Persian Gulf. I met a spectacular variety of people – Druze, Maronites, Arabs, Kurds, Yazidis and both Shia and Sunni Iranians – and despite their differences I often found them working together to survive the harsh climate and make ends meet.

                    Kurdish separatistKurdish nationalist      Iranian city of QomIranian city of Qom

Astonishingly I found little evidence of the chaos that was about to engulf Syria and Iraq. Continuing through Iran, I rather worryingly managed to get arrested in the holy city of Qom, but luckily was let off with a caution. I then turned south through the desert to Qeshm Island in the Persian Gulf, a rocky no-man’s-land that hasn’t changed much since Marco Polo was there in 1271. Marco Polo had been intending to take a local boat to India, but the boats looked so unseaworthy that he turned north and went overland to China instead. Have Qeshm Islanders got to grips with boatbuilding since then? Come to a talk and find out!

                      Gulf coast womanGulf coast woman      Qeshm Island boatyardQeshm Island boatyard

“Everyone said this was our best talk ever.”
(Gosport Discovery Centre, Hants)

Follow John’s journey as it happened through his updates:

10th May 20091st September 2009

First updateLast update

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Listen to John’s From Our Own Correspondent piece about Iraqi Kurdistan for BBC Radio 4.


Book now for this slide/sound show.

View details of talk  A Stroll through the Axis of Evil   (Right-click to download)


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