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Tension Back Home: SoCal's Iranian Community Feels The Heat

Sarah Parvini |
March 19, 2012 | 12:25 p.m. PDT

Senior News Editor


The former flag of Iran, which many in the U.S. wave in defiance of the current regime. (Creative Commons)
The former flag of Iran, which many in the U.S. wave in defiance of the current regime. (Creative Commons)
Ali Sadr sits in his office at the Persian Cultural Center in San Diego, surrounded by posters of Iranian landmarks and Persian artists. A small “haft-sin,” the traditional table setting for the Persian New Year, tops the short wooden bookshelf near him. 

He takes a deep breath and scoffs at the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. 

“It’s always been ugly on both sides,” Sadr, a 58-year-old engineering geologist who moved to the U.S. in 1986, said. “All this rhetoric is nothing new.”

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979 that ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s regime, relations between Iran and the U.S. have been lukewarm at the best of times and hostile at the worst. 

The two countries are currently at odds over Iran’s development of nuclear energy, which the U.S. and other world powers fear could destabilize the region if the nation acquires nuclear weapons. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have said the U.S. should consider military action against Iran to stop the country’s enrichment program. 

The Iranian government has fired back, saying its programs are for peaceful purposes. In response, the president criticized his conservative counterparts for “beating the drums of war,” and called for a softer approach emphasizing diplomacy, without ruling out war. 

In Southern California, which boasts the largest Iranian population outside of Iran, some Persians are concerned about escalating tensions, but feel the two countries are unlikely to go to war. Many Iranians’ strong ties to their homeland put them in a unique position of fiercely opposing the current regime in Iran, while strongly favoring diplomacy. 

A national survey of Iranian-Americans showed 38 percent said the U.S. should use diplomacy in dealing with Iran, while only three percent preferred military actions. Seven percent favored tighter sanctions, according to a study done late last year by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans.

Sadr said he is more concerned with the sanctions on Iran than the possibility of war. 

“It’s not that the Iranian government doesn’t deserve what it gets…but this is so childish. People are suffering in Iran because of sanctions,” he said. “I know families that for months now have not been able to afford food or basic necessities.” 

Like many Iranians who moved to the United States, Sadr still has family in Iran. He remains in constant contact with his two brothers and three sisters who live there. He said he is concerned for them, but that their worries have shifted away from war.

“They are so tangled up with their daily struggle and survival and so used to these games that they don't take it seriously,” Sadr said. 

U.S. sanctions against Iran have a lengthy history, dating as far back as the 1980s, when restrictions were passed that prohibited weapon sales. In 1987, the import and export of any goods or services to Iran were outlawed completely. Earlier this year, the Obama administration tightened existing sanctions banning Iranian banks from transferring money to U.S accounts.

Iran has been able to survive sanctions in the past, but as more and more nations close in on the state, it has become harder to find other means of trade. As Iran faces trouble importing rice, a staple in the Iranian diet, and defaults on payments for its food imports, Iranians worry that a food shortage is imminent.

Despite these hardships, some Persians say Iran should be allowed nuclear power for scientific and energy-related purposes. They believe fears of the government creating nuclear weapons are overblown. 

“I don’t really feel the threat [of nuclear weapons]—it’s a long shot,” said Alireza Mehrzad, 26, who moved from Iran to California six years ago. “A lot of countries have nuclear power, but no one uses it like that. I think this is more security for Iran.”

Mehrzad said he favors a more laid back and open approach with Iran. The U.S should step back and allow Iran to continue on its current course, he suggested.

“It’s time for us to try something new,” Mehrzad said. “Maybe we should respect that Iran wants to gain nuclear power.”

In Westwood’s “Little Persia,” stores this weekend put up decorations and banners welcoming Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Iranians braved the rain to buy their last-minute goods in preparation for Monday’s festivities. 

Parvin Boogabde stood behind the counter at Café Glacé, an Iranian eatery on Westwood Boulevard, yelling back at the kitchen to prepare a Persian pizza for a customer standing at the register. Boogabde moved to Los Angeles just two years ago. Most of her family is still in Iran, she said, and she can’t help but feel for them.

“The U.S. and Iran are just like Tom and Jerry,” Boogabde, 50, said in Farsi. “They go back and forth and nothing really ever happens—but it hurts the people.” 

Boogabde said she constantly advises her family to save for that reason. It’s the New Year, and parents cannot afford to give their children the traditional gifts of money or coins, known as “Eidi,” to celebrate, she said. Putting food on the table has become hard enough.

Armon Vahidi, 25, an Iranian-American studying at San Diego State University, said he is also concerned with the effects tight sanctions are having on the middle-class in Iran, and the way they affect his family there. His grandparents are currently visiting from Iran, and they told him meat costs around 20 dollars a pound.

“Iran is definitely hurting,” he said. “But what do you want? Do you want to bring them to their knees?” 


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