Iran Selects First Christian Soccer Captain, Andranik Teymourian, to Lead National Team

( [email protected] ) Jun 03, 2015 07:33 PM EDT
Iran, which is predominantly Shia Muslim, has selected Iranian-Armenian Andranik Teymourian to lead its national team. He is also Iran’s first Christian soccer captain.
Andranik Teymourian celebrates

Iran, which is predominantly Shia Muslim, has selected Iranian-Armenian Andranik Teymourian to lead its national team. He is also Iran's first Christian soccer captain.

According to Saeed Kamali Dehghan of the Guardian, 32-year-old Teymourian, who goes by Ando or Samurai thanks to his hairstyle, is not ashamed of his Christian faith on the field. He has previously played for Bolton Wanderers and Fulham.

"I'm happy that as a Christian I play in a Muslim team," Teymourian said. "I have Armenian roots but I hold the Iranian passport and I'm proud of that, I hold my flag high. I hope I can enhance the good reputation of Armenian people in Iran."

In an interview with Nemrud Kurt of Swedish website Sportbladet, Teymourian reflected on the significance of being Iran's first Christian football captain.

"In the Iranian national team, I am the first Christian player since the World Cup in 1978," Teymourian said.

Kurt then turned to the fact that women in Iran are banned from watching their national team play on the field. Teymourian provided a diplomatic answer to that aspect of Iranian society.

"For me it's the audience that's the beauty of football," Teymourian said. "I hope it gets crowded in the morning and that most are Iranians. There will be an opportunity for them to see us."

Teymourian added that the national team gets to "take pictures with whom we want, how we want, when we want."

Kurt noted that Swedish sport commentators emphasized the fact he was a Christian with Armenian roots. He asked Teymourian how it felt to represent Iran.

"It is true that I have Armenian roots, but I have a Persian passport and was born in Iran," Teymourian said. "It is [historic] and gratifying to play for my national team."

Teymourian added that he was serious about his Christian faith. Kurt reported that Teymourian regularly visits a church in Iran.

"I believe in my religion and reading the Bible, and I respect the Muslim players who follow their religion," Teymourian said. "There is nothing strange."

Dehghan reported that although the official religion in Iran is Islam, the country also recognizes Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as religious minorities. Unlike the rest of Iran, Christians are allowed to distil alcohol and consume meat from a pig.

"There are at least 600 churches in Iran, including the sixth-century St Mary Church of Tabriz, mentioned by Marco Polo in his travel book," Dehghan wrote. "The adjacent province of West Azerbaijan boasts the ancient St Thaddeus Monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site."

According to the Guardian, ethnic Armenians make up the majority of Iran's estimated 300,000 Christians. They have managed to integrate into the larger Iranian society too; in addition to Teymourian, musician Loris Tjeknavorian and clothing designer Sombat Hacoupian are also considered household names in that country.

"Significant improvements have since been made, but many big challenges remain," Dehghan wrote in regards to Iran's treatment of religious minorities.

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