Battle in the Bazaar

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On Wednesday, police used tear gas to disperse protesters around Tehran's grand bazaar as the country's currency, the rial, continued its free-fall. Officials then closed the bazaar for what were described as security reasons. The location of the protests was no accident: Iran's bazaars have long held a special place in Iranian culture, and recently they've also become gathering spots for strikers and demonstrators intent on highlighting the regime's economic instability. As tension builds in sanction-riddled Iran, here's a look inside Tehran's vibrant marketplaces.

Above, Iranian riot police stand next to a garbage container set on fire by protesters in central Tehran near the main bazaar on Oct. 3. This protest is one of the first signs of public unrest over Iran's plunging currency. The rial lost more than half of its value since last week, and the plunge has greatly increased inflation in Iran, which is widely seen as far higher than the official 23.5 percent reported by the central bank.

Clouds of tear gas filled the streets after protesters scuffled with security forces.

As Arang Keshavarzian explained in an article for , "Iran's traditional covered marketplaces earn their reputation as objects of historic and architectural interest, but they aren't just tourist destinations. They are still-active trading posts where small peddlers hawk their wares, and some of the country's most wealthy import-exporters and wholesalers conduct their business."

Above, Iranians shop at Tajrish Bazaar in Tehran on June 24, 2009.


Keshavarzian argues that, "Indeed, Tehran's jewelers, textile sellers, and carpet merchants may ultimately have more to say in determining Iran's future than the country's nuclear scientists." Above, crowds throng to the bazaar in Tehran on June 7, 2006.

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The winding alleys of the bazaar are good places to take the pulse of public opinion. In 2005, the frontrunner of the presidential elections emerged in informal polls inside the grand bazaar. Above, an Iranian man takes a nap at the Imam Khomeini mosque inside the bazaar on June 12, 2005.

In addition to food stuffs, Tehran's grand bazaar sells assorted manufactured goods and products. Above, Iranian customers browse through piles of Persian carpets inside the grand bazaar on May 12, 2007. Iran was once the undisputed king of the world carpet industry but has faced rising competition from Asia.

  Much of the unrest expressed in the bazaars is patently due to economic concerns: the bazaar's vendors have lost profits because of political turmoil, high unemployment, and inflation -- and the instability has led to a drop in consumer spending. Above, Iranians shop in a bazaar on March 1, 2012.

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