Iran turmoil hits home for some
- Published: July 2, 2009
When Nacim Sajabi had her first child several years ago, she surprised herself by speaking to her baby in Farsi, the language of Iran, her mother’s homeland. While Sajabi’s mother, Farzaneh Mader, and her aunts and grandmother had spoken Farsi to Sajabi as she grew up in Yellow Springs, she most often responded in English. But the birth of her firstborn seemed to spark inside her some deep connection with the language she didn’t even know she had.
“It just came out of my mouth,” Sajabi said.
While she has never been able to visit Iran, Sajabi longs to go there. The influence of the Persian traditions of her mother, aunts and grandmother — with their generous hospitality, their love of family, and their appreciation for their homeland’s beautiful poetry — has been profound in her life, Sajabi said, and has shaped her in many ways.
“I feel a huge part of me is missing,” she said, regarding her inability to visit Iran. “I feel if I go to Iran I would feel at home.”
Sajabi is one of several current and former Yellow Springs community members who have been watching recent events in Iran very closely. While much of the world has been riveted to the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of Iranians risking danger by protesting what they perceive to be the corrupt election of President Ahmadinejad, these Iranian-American villagers are paying special attention. They still have family and friends in Iran, along with an intense connection to a country that, while they may not have lived there for decades, in some ways is still their home.
Longtime villagers Parviz Dadras and his wife, Harriet, who both have dual U.S./Iranian citizenship, drove to Columbus on the day of Iran’s presidential elections and cast their votes. They were excited by the country’s outpouring of support for reformist candidates and the possibility that Ahmadinejad would be defeated. The quick announcement of his victory was disheartening, but Dadras again felt heartened when Iranians took to the streets after the much-disputed Ahmadinejad victory.
“Initially when I saw the reaction in the streets, I was very proud. I saw reason for hope,” he said.
Retired now as professor of mechanical engineering at Wright State University, Dadras initially came to this country in 1966. He received his Ph.D in 1972 and also married that year, and he and his wife then lived in Iran for four years. At that time he taught at a university in Tehran, which became a “hot spot” of the 1979 revolution, he said. He and Harriet returned to this country in 1977, two years before the revolution. Like several other villagers interviewed, Dadras emphasized that the 1979 revolution was initially a blend of progressive concerns, after which the Islamic faction overpowered the others. While he had every intention of returning to Iran, when the Islamic faction gained control of that country, Dadras felt he could no longer go back. He and Harriet came to Yellow Springs in 1978, raising their daughter, Danielle, here.
The hope he felt at the recent Iranian protests turned into sadness as he witnessed the beatings of protestors and the gradual weakening of the resistance. But he wasn’t surprised, Dadras said, because the state’s security forces are everpresent.
While disappointed to see the resistance to Iran’s authoritarian rulers dissipating, Dadras feels grateful that his family is safe. He was able to contact his brothers, who live in northwest Iran, and inquire after their health. He asked his family only questions about their safety, he said, because, with the state-sponsored surveillance, his family could be compromised if he asked political questions.
But even though the resistance has been quelled for now, Dadras believes the Iranians’ desire for democracy remains strong and will surface again. Iranians have been struggling for more than 100 years to achieve a democracy, he said, and he still remembers from his boyhood newspaper photos of the executions of resisters. Underground efforts protesting authoritarian rule were taking place then and they may continue to this day, he believes.
“In historical terms, something will happen,” he said. “Whether it’s in five years, 10 years, or more, who knows?”
The 1979 revolution also shaped Hassan Rahmanian’s life. Raised in Tehran, he studied at the University of Tehran and was active in the student efforts of the time. Rahmanian had left the country to study in the United States shortly before the revolution, he said, and though he wanted to return to Iran to take part, his academic advisor advised against it. Like Dadras, he initially supported the student-led progressive elements of the 1979 revolution, but felt disillusioned and heartsick when the Islamic faction took control. Because he later organized protests against the Islamic rulers here in this country, he was blacklisted from returning to Iran, and has been in this country ever since. A longtime Antioch College faculty member and leader of the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute, Rahmanian recently began a new job at Pacifica Institute for Graduate Studies in California.
The demands of his new job mean that, while he is passionately interested in the recent events, he hasn’t followed them as closely as he might otherwise, he said in a recent interview, and he no longer has close family in Iran. Rahmanian receives much of his information from his wife, Azadeh, who has siblings in Tehran. She had been unsuccessful in reaching them by last weekend, he said, but she keeps trying and stays closely tuned to news sources. Azadeh Rahmanian was unavailable for comment.
Overall, Rahmanian said, while he is saddened by news of protestors’ beatings and deaths, he was heartened by the mass outpouring of resistance.
“It’s a sign of hope that something is happening,” he said.
While President Obama has been criticized by some for not taking a more aggressive stance against the crackdown, Rahmanian believes the president has struck the right tone. Obama is trying to respect Iranians’ wishes, Rahmanian believes, adding that a more aggressive response by this country could backfire.
The Bahá’í religion colors many aspects of the lives of Nacim Sajabi, her mother, Farzanah Mader, and her aunt, Farideh Tahririha, who with her daughter, Mahshad, has recently moved to Yellow Springs. The three women explained that Bahá’ís are taught not to be involved in partisan politics, because the unity of all people is a basic tenet of their religion. Consequently, they did not discuss their response to recent Iranian events in terms of their political preferences.
However, they care deeply about human rights, especially since the Bahá’ís have been persecuted by the Iranian governments since the religion began in 1844. Religions other than Islam are somewhat tolerated by Iranian leaders because the prophets of those religions were born before the Islamic prophet Mohammed, but the Bahá’í prophet, Bahá’u’lláh, was born after Mohammed, so that religion is singled out for persecution, according to Mader.
Consequently, some 20,000 Bahá’ís have been martyred, and the religion’s followers continue to face many kinds of discrimination in Iran, including lack of access to higher education and jobs, the women said.
While Mader left Iran on her own accord when her father sent her to England for higher education in 1968, her parents were forced out during the 1979 revolution. They began getting phone calls telling them that, because they were Bahá’ís, they should leave, and that their house would be burned, Mader said. Thinking they could come back after a few months, the couple took only two small suitcases and left their property and all their belongings behind. Their house was confiscated by the government, and her mother never returned, Mader said.
Being raised with these stories of persecution and the Bahá’í emphasis on world unity has affected her profoundly, according to Sajabi, whose sensitivity to the struggles of the world was broadened by her marriage to her husband, Cyprian, who is from Uganda. A Montessori teacher, Sajabi has chosen as her life’s work teaching children, and she especially cares about teaching virtue education. Perhaps if enough children learn ethical behavior at a young age, she believes, humans can finally find a way to live together in peace.
Sajabi’s religion teaches her that the recent turmoil in Iran is part of an overall movement toward human rights and equality that human beings will someday attain, Sajabi said. However, while she believes equality and justice will ultimately prevail, she is saddened by the violence involved in reaching that goal.
“We see people protesting in the streets for their rights. People are fed up, they don’t want their rights violated,” Sajabi said. But the turbulence will someday end, she believes.
“Whether you are Bahá’í or not, these are the principles that humanity is destined to embrace,” she said.