TEHRAN — For a long time, the building situated at 3 Kalantari Street, in the center of Tehran, was nothing but a mountain of rubbish. Today, it's the first private cultural center in Iran.
When the famous actress Pegah Ahangarani first visited the blighted site in March, negotiations about the country's nuclear program were in full swing. A month later, after the framework agreement was reached, she decided to transform the four-story building in the heart of the Iranian capital into a private cultural center.
"I was planning to give up on my idea if the talks were to fail," she explains, her purple headscarf covering most of her curly hair. Then, she and her friend Sadjad Afsharian had a month to take the necessary administrative steps and register the Up Art Maan center, which was inaugurated in mid-June.
But true relief didn't come until July 14. After 10 days of laborious and protracted negotiations in Vienna, Iran and six world powers (the United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany) reached a landmark agreement.
"I can't believe it," she says. "Even if I'm still a bit worried that everything might fall apart, I think it can work if all parties involved act reasonably."
Pegah Ahangarani — Photo: Facebook page
"The end of suffering"
On the building's second floor, Saeed (some names have been modified) manages, with other friends, a company that designs advertising campaigns, including some for NGOs. He feels the same mixture of relief and worry.
"For now, Iran and the Western world haven't signed anything final," he says. "I'm afraid that in the United States or in Iran, some don't accept the deal."
Still, Saeed is convinced that the country's general atmosphere is going to change. "Hope in a better future will play an important role in the economy and will encourage a lot of people to reinvest in Iran," he says.
On the top floor of the building, six young people, members of a music band, practice in a room transformed into a studio. "I think our situation in the world is going to improve," says Nami, a saxophonist.
"I hope the agreement and the lifting of lifting of sanctions will help to address medicine shortages and permit Iran to buy new aircrafts and spare parts," adds Behrouz, the band's drummer.
For many Iranians, such as 32-year-old architect Mariam, the lifting of sanctions represents the greatest achievement. Sitting in the Up Art Maan coffee shop on the ground floor, she rejoices in "the approaching end of suffering of the embargo years."
After living in the Netherlands for seven years, she decided to return to return to Iran when the moderate President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June 2013.
Returning wasn't easy. The architecture company where she works hasn't been able to pay her for seven months. "Even if sanctions aren't directly the cause of our situation, our clients, involved in other areas of investments, are affected," she says.
The deal is good news for her and her colleagues. "When foreign investments arrive in Iran, we'll need infrastructure, which requires development, and that's our job," says her colleague Sam.
Some educated young Iranians still worry. "If Iran's foreign-blocked funds start filling the state coffers, liquidity and inflation may increase," Saeed says.
Iranian rock band Liberty Square playing in Tehran — Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/ZUMA
"The most important thing is to know how this agreement will change the country's economy," his coworker Alborz says. "Will it weaken the industry or will it be an opportunity to have exchanges with the world, peer to peer, allowing us to handle internal problems?"
On the first floor, the curator and co-founder of New Media Society, Amir Ali Ghasemi, is pessimistic. "Corruption and fraud may grow," he says. "Only a small amount of money will help build schools and universities."
Even though he solved the nuclear issue — his main election promise — he will have to face many challenges in the coming months. "The president has always maintained that nuclear power was the priority," explains Pegah Ahangarani, who is deeply involved in Rouhani's election. "Human rights, unemployment and inflation come next."
Ahangarani was arrested in 2011, under the second term of ultraconservative former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013), and sentenced to 18 months in prison for her political activities. Now on parole, the young actress can be sent to jail to serve her sentence. "The agreement is reached," she says. "We just need to wait now. Positive events will keep happening."