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City/Local News

Lawrence Iranians reflect on troubled homeland

By Joel Mathis, Journal-World
Monday, July 7, 2003

When she was a teenager in the late 1970s, Nadereh Nasseri faced a choice: stay in Iran and live with the fundamentalist Muslim revolution brewing there, or leave.

She left.

AP Photo

Iranian women in Tehran walk past a mural of the founder of Iran's fundamentalist revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, right, and Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, in Tehran. A quarter of a century after Khomeini came to power, Iranians at home and abroad, including those living in Lawrence, are troubled by the turmoil in the nation -- and by how the United States has treated it.

"I didn't know the government that was trying to get into our country. They said it was a religious government and we weren't a religious family," said Nasseri, who works for Hospice Care in Douglas County. "Getting out of the country was an attractive option."

Twenty-five years later, students are again in the streets of Iran's cities, this time protesting against the clerics that their predecessors brought to power. Meanwhile, the United States is growing more vocal with concerns that the country is trying to build a nuclear bomb, raising the possibility Iran will be the next "Axis of Evil" country to face an American invasion.

And Lawrence's Iranians are watching.

"It's your family there, it's your heritage. It affects you," said Fallon Farokhi, a Kansas University senior from Lawrence. She was born after her family fled in the wake of the 1979 Muslim revolution, but still watches an opposition Iranian television station and keeps in contact with family there.

The 2000 census counted 187 Lawrence residents who were born in Iran. KU said seven students listed Iran as a home country during the 2002-2003 school year.

Many of the city's Iranians, it appears, are those who came to Lawrence to attend KU and chose to stay.

For some, it wasn't much choice.

Brothers Mehdi and Farhang Khosh, naturopaths with Natural Medical Care, left Iran in the late 1980s because there were no opportunities for them -- as members of the Bahai faith, they were excluded from universities and government jobs.

"If I wanted to have a future, I left Iran," Farhang Khosh said. "They do not let you go to a school unless you denounce your religion."

Because of their Bahai faith, the brothers declined to discuss politics of the situation but conceded they were watching developments in their homeland.

Melissa Lacey/Journal World-Photo
Fallon Farokhi, a Kansas University senior from Lawrence, takes a break from her summer schedule to discuss her perspective on events in her native Iran. Farokhi's thoughts often turn to her relatives and other students who are caught up in Iranian politics and protests.

"As much as 60 percent, 70 percent of the country is under age 30" and too young to remember the last revolution, Farhang Khosh said. "They want something they haven't had for many years -- better life, better schooling, whatever it is."

Farokhi's parents -- Saeed and Mariam, both of Lawrence -- are now vacationing in Iran, visiting friends and family.

Some of those family members, Farokhi said, are participating in the protests.

"Whenever we talk to them about their feelings about the government, the way things were, they were very negative," Farokhi said of her own visits to Tehran. "They felt helpless. You could sense it in the air."

Nasseri, though, doesn't approve of how her new country is dealing with her old one. The United States, she said, is acting like a bully in the Middle East.

"I think the United States is not looking at the peace option, regardless of what Iran is doing," she said. "The question is not what Iran is doing, but how the United States is dealing with the world's problems."

Nasseri said she wouldn't return to Iran, however, even if the government changed there. Neither would the Khoshes, who love the opportunities they have in the United States.

"Persia and Iran have always had troubles from time to time," Mehdi Khosh said. "There's always turmoil over changing government, people or happy or not happy -- there is always change. I'm basically praying for all Iranians to be safe, no matter what religion they are or faith they practice. I pray for all their safety."

Iran facts
Name: Islamic Republic of Iran
Former name: Persia
Location: Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, between Iraq and Pakistan
Population: about 67 million
Capital: Tehran
Ethnic groups: Persian, 51 percent; Azeri, 24 percent; Gilaki and Mazandarani, 8 percent; Kurd, 7 percent; Arab, 3 percent; Lur, 2 percent; Baloch, 2 percent; Turkmen, 2 percent; other, 1 percent
Languages: Persian and Persian dialects, 58 percent; Turkic and Turkic dialects, 26 percent; Kurdish, 9 percent; Luri, 2 percent; Balochi, 1 percent; Arabic, 1 percent; Turkish, 1 percent; other, 2 percent
Source: CIA World Factbook, March 2003

©Copyright 2003, The Lawrence Journal-World (Kansas, USA)

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