Astrid Zahedi, a senior Iranian diplomat and scholar, dies at 93

Family and friends were expected to gather to remember Ardeshir Zahedi, the distinguished Iranian diplomat, doctor and scholar, at his funeral in Tehran, one of the last places on earth where he could share his passion for the cinema. Mr. Zahedi died Monday at his home after a brief illness. He was 93.

“This genius of his was steadfast and on every inch of his body in this battle and joy,” Mohammad Reza Barriani, the former head of Iran’s cultural heritage agency, said in a tribute at the Tehran Film Center, where Mr. Zahedi attended classes until a few months ago. “I believe this virtuoso of the Iranian culture will take you along the finishing line.”

Born in Tehran, Mr. Zahedi graduated from Tehran University and worked for a decade in the educational system. But his service to Iran’s cultural heritage — including state film productions — gave him a distinguished career. He was known throughout Iran as a poet, scholar and diplomat, and twice the country’s Culture Minister. Mr. Zahedi received many honors, including the Swiss Embassy medal, known as the Isfahan certificate. In 2010, the French President Emmanuel Macron awarded him the Georges Théâtre (French American Cultural Centre) medal.

Although he often kept a low profile, Mr. Zahedi made news in recent years with his outspoken criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, describing his regime as “evil” in a 2016 interview. He also distanced himself from two other high-ranking officials, Raúl Abed Hazi and Ali Akbar Velayati, who he said were going “on the campaign trail” during last year’s presidential election.

Mr. Zahedi was critical of Ahmadinejad, who was widely known as the “green” candidate in the 2013 presidential election. Mr. Zahedi had made quiet comments against Mr. Ahmadinejad and offered some critical analysis of his most notable achievements, such as the nuclear program and nuclear deal. However, since the election was close, his views on the incumbent’s victory turned out to be pro forma. It was only after the earthquake in Kermanshah in 2016 that Mr. Zahedi started to speak out more frequently, suggesting that authorities should impose collective punishment.

Mr. Zahedi’s political activism had started in 1978, when he was appointed director of Reza Pahlavi’s Cultural Foundation, which was the starting point for his career. Mr. Zahedi later became head of the National Film Institute of Iran and director of the National Book Foundation.

“He was a rare-fied man,” Mohammad Khodaiei, Mr. Zahedi’s first physician and close friend, told the Iranian news channel Press TV. “He did not lack complex thoughts about the policy of his country or its part in the world.

“If you would question him, he would narrate the first-century Persian king Cyrus the Great and his approach of recognizing the two races with equal weight.”

Mr. Zahedi maintained a calm demeanor, even when he lambasted the current administration. “He was secular and balanced,” Mr. Khodaiei said. “He never believed that by criticising his political masters he was harming his country.

The last ten years were particularly hard for Mr. Zahedi, who survived five months of treatment for leukemia. He was still taking chemotherapy as recently as February.

In his last academic paper, “Abolition of Religious War: Denial of Power of Religion in Iran,” Mr. Zahedi argued that the clergy’s hold on power is due to the central role it plays in the country’s institutions.

“This abuse of authority and the underlying power of religion … will always lead to the war against secularism and their implementation,” he wrote.

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