In April, Iranian Armenian Andranik Teymourian, who has played for Bolton Wanderers and Fulham, became the first Christian to lead Iran’s football team as its permanent captain, according to The Guardian.
“I’m happy that as a Christian I play in a Muslim team,” he said in a recent interview. “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.”
According to The Guardian, ethnic Armenians make up the majority of Iran’s estimated 300,000 Christians. Armenians are fully integrated in Iranian society, from the musician Loris Tjeknavorian to Sombat Hacoupian, who founded one of the country’s most famous men’s clothing brands and is now a household name.
Although Islam is Iran’s official religion, it recognizes Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as accepted religious minorities. They are permitted their house of worship and usual religious services, and have reserved seats in the Iranian parliament. In a country where alcohol and pigmeat are forbidden, Christians are allowed to distil booze and eat pork.
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 and the ancient St Thaddeus Monastery, a Unesco world heritage site.
In April, as Iran’s northern neighbour, Armenia, commemorated the centenary of the 1915 genocide, the Iranian government, which is usually nervous about public gatherings, took a rare decision to allow Iranian Armenians to stage a protest in front of the Turkish embassy in Tehran.