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Life On The Iranian Side Of Astara

The mirrored cities of Astara, on Iran's border with Azerbaijan, have been divided since 1828 when the Russian and Persian empires signed a peace treaty to end a two-year war. The Astara River separates the current Iranian and Azerbajani cities.

During the Soviet period, relatives on either side could not visit each other, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Azerbaijan's emergence as a sovereign country, many family ties have been restored. Iran allows Azerbaijani citizens visa-free visits for 15 days.

Photographer Famil Mahmudbeyli visited Iranian Astara to get a sense of life in and around the city.

Ninety-year-old Bahman Lamazrur and his wife Qirdanoz Nuspar say they have nothing but their love.
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Ninety-year-old Bahman Lamazrur and his wife Qirdanoz Nuspar say they have nothing but their love.

Amirali Kuspar, a resident of the village of Askhanake outside Astara: “I earn bread for my family by working as a construction worker. I have three children. It is difficult to find a work during Muharram [the first month of the Islamic calendar]. We have to go to the city center for shopping. There is no any transportation other than taxi to the city center, and it costs about 200,000 [Iranian rials, about $6]. It is difficult to spend such amount of money every time just for transport.”
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Amirali Kuspar, a resident of the village of Askhanake outside Astara: “I earn bread for my family by working as a construction worker. I have three children. It is difficult to find a work during Muharram [the first month of the Islamic calendar]. We have to go to the city center for shopping. There is no any transportation other than taxi to the city center, and it costs about 200,000 [Iranian rials, about $6]. It is difficult to spend such amount of money every time just for transport.”

Meshman village outside of Iranian Astara. Traditionally, there is no fence around the houses here.
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Meshman village outside of Iranian Astara. Traditionally, there is no fence around the houses here.

Tea is served by the glass, unlike in Azerbaijan where it is mostly by the pot. Every tea house in Iranian Astara appears to use the same kind of glasses, with one serving costing about 6,300 rial [18 U.S. cents].
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Tea is served by the glass, unlike in Azerbaijan where it is mostly by the pot. Every tea house in Iranian Astara appears to use the same kind of glasses, with one serving costing about 6,300 rial [18 U.S. cents].

Tofa Rizalizadeh is 70. She has five children and 11 grandchildren: "My husband gathered medlars [fruit] from different gardens when he was alive. Now, my grandchildren are gathering them, and I sell them for 200,000 [rials] per kilo [about $6].”
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Tofa Rizalizadeh is 70. She has five children and 11 grandchildren: "My husband gathered medlars [fruit] from different gardens when he was alive. Now, my grandchildren are gathering them, and I sell them for 200,000 [rials] per kilo [about $6].”

Photos of girls who get high university entry test scores are displayed on a street in Astara.
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Photos of girls who get high university entry test scores are displayed on a street in Astara.

The school uniform for girls in Iranian Astara is a white hijab over a red pantsuit until seventh grade. After that, girls must wear a full black veil over all their clothes.
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The school uniform for girls in Iranian Astara is a white hijab over a red pantsuit until seventh grade. After that, girls must wear a full black veil over all their clothes.

Davud Ismayilzade, 61: “My father cultivated rice in a paddy until his death. We have several rice shops. I took over this business from him. My [foreign] clients are mostly from Dagestan [in Russia]. I am selling rice both wholesale and retail."
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Davud Ismayilzade, 61: “My father cultivated rice in a paddy until his death. We have several rice shops. I took over this business from him. My [foreign] clients are mostly from Dagestan [in Russia]. I am selling rice both wholesale and retail."

The oldest and largest bazaar in Astara. Locals said it was once called the "Russian Bazaar," but now it is known as the "Sahili Bazaar." "Sahili" refers to the nearby Caspian coastline in Azerbaijani language.
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The oldest and largest bazaar in Astara. Locals said it was once called the "Russian Bazaar," but now it is known as the "Sahili Bazaar." "Sahili" refers to the nearby Caspian coastline in Azerbaijani language.

This 36-year-old shoe salesman says he started his business immediately after his compulsory military service ended. His clients are mostly from Azerbaijan and Dagestan.
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This 36-year-old shoe salesman says he started his business immediately after his compulsory military service ended. His clients are mostly from Azerbaijan and Dagestan.

Children wait for their parents after classes at the Parvin Etesami secondary school.
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Children wait for their parents after classes at the Parvin Etesami secondary school.

Banners with the names of Shia imams hang above the street outside the Abrava Mosque in Iranian Astara during the month of Muharram -- the first month of the year on the Islamic calendar, and one of the four sacred months.
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Banners with the names of Shia imams hang above the street outside the Abrava Mosque in Iranian Astara during the month of Muharram -- the first month of the year on the Islamic calendar, and one of the four sacred months.

Yusif Şahram, 47, is a tea house owner in the Sahili Bazaar. He serves candy with each glass of tea.
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Yusif Şahram, 47, is a tea house owner in the Sahili Bazaar. He serves candy with each glass of tea.

A watermill, once used to grind flour, now stands as a piece of public art in the city.
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A watermill, once used to grind flour, now stands as a piece of public art in the city.

The graveyard in the village of Ambaran.
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The graveyard in the village of Ambaran.

The 19th-century Shrine of Sheikh Muhammad Tasettin is used as a destination for pilgrimages.
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The 19th-century Shrine of Sheikh Muhammad Tasettin is used as a destination for pilgrimages.

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