It’s enough to drive you to cheaper forms of drink
THE middle-class northern suburbs of Tehran are the wet part of Iran. In no other place in the Islamic Republic are piety and conservatism less evident and alcohol consumption more so. But a run on the rial throughout 2012, set off largely by international sanctions on Iran’s banking and oil, has made imported alcohol too expensive even for the better-off. Absolut Vodka, long a favourite tipple, now changes hands for three times more than it did before the currency began to slide at the start of last year.
This has been a boon for Iran’s Armenian bootleggers, who distil arak, a cheap and heady moonshine, from raisins. Posh drinkers of the better brands of whisky and brandy, who would previously have been snooty about arak, are now turning to it, because its price has stayed fairly stable at around 100,000 rials (less than $3) a litre. “Business is great right now,” says an arak dealer. “Many of my Armenian friends have left for America but they all now say business is better here.”
Alcohol is strictly prohibited for Muslims in Iran. Repeat offenders can even face the death penalty. But Iran’s Armenians, who are Christian, are allowed to quaff booze, though those caught selling it in large amounts are regularly thrown into prison.
Unregulated, home-brewed drinks can be dangerous. The media often carry stories of deaths caused by imbibing industrial alcohol or the sawdust that can get into home-made stuff. “If your dealer isn’t Armenian don’t even think about getting it,” explains a student. This week six people were reported to have died and more than 350 fell ill in Rafsanjan, a city south-east of Tehran, after drinking from a bad batch.
Abbas Ramezaninejad, a prominent local imam, said that there may have been more to the incident than meets the eye. A “plot to defame” the city was connected, he said, to Iran’s coming presidential poll. On the very day the victims of alcohol poisoning fell ill, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who hails from the place, was controversially blocked from running for the presidency.
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