Tehranian Homesick Blues

By Virginia Breen

Jul 3, 2009 7:00am

ABC News On Campus reporter Matthew Nojiri blogs:     

For linguistics professor Arsalan Kahnemuyipour, summer is a season typically spent locked away in his office in Syracuse, N.Y., working for hours at a time on his academic research.

But this summer, Kahnemuyipour says his mind is elsewhere, drifting some 6,000 miles to the streets of Tehran, where thousands of protesters have taken a stand against what they believe are fraudulent election results.

“The results of the presidential election have basically paralyzed our lives in a sense,” said Kahnemuyipour, a Syracuse University professor who grew up in Iran.  “I have to figure out how I can get back to work, but I’m just constantly checking the news.  My wife and I are constantly talking about it.  It has just basically taken over our lives.”

Citizens of Iran who have since emigrated say the dispute about the legitimacy of the June 12 presidential election has created a heavy burden in their lives, forcing them to live in one country while worrying about another.

“In the past three weeks, I’ve done maybe a day’s worth of work,” Kahnemuyipour said. “I’m trying to readjust myself, but it’s hard when you see what’s happening.  I’m constantly in touch with friends and family in Iran who are scared and horrified about what is going on.”

The announcement of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election with more than 62 percent of the vote has created a firestorm of controversy in Iran, leading to accusations of vote rigging, the detainment of oppositional figures and journalists, and the deaths of an estimated 17 protestors. 

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, the director of the Middle Eastern studies program at SU, recently conducted a study on Iranian elections from 2005 and 2009.  He said he reviewed the 2009 presidential election results and doesn’t believe Ahmadinejad could have won.

“There was massive rigging going on,” Boroujerdi said.  “The election results are not consistent with previous electoral behavior.  The tallies do not add up.  The idea that Ahmadinejad could win 28 out of the 30 provinces is an unbelievable claim.”

Boroujerdi said it’s unlikely that there will be a full recount or a second presidential election.  The two Iranian institutions responsible for certifying the election, the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader, both declared Ahmadinejad the winner. 

Boroujerdi predicts the protestors will be put down in the days to come, citing the jailing of the opposition’s key figures and the escalating violence.  He said the presidential elections and the subsequent protests have opened the doors to a new era in Iran.
“If the government manages to put down the opposition, which I suspect will be the case, I’m afraid we are going to enter a dark phase in Iranian history,” Boroujerdi said.  “We’re going to see more repression by the state, a greater sense of distrust from the Iranian people toward their government, and an even higher level of censorship.”

It is this fear of a more repressive state that drove Firouz Daneshgari from the country more than 25 years ago.  As a first-year medical student at the University of Tehran, Daneshgari said he saw the goals of the 1979 Iranian Revolution slipping away and decided to flee. 

“I left Iran solely for political reasons,” said Daneshgari, the chair of the urology department at SUNY Upstate Medical University.  “What happened with this election did not surprise me, because it’s never been an election. It’s a selection by the few people who are in power.”

 Daneshgari renounced his Iranian citizenship more than 15 years ago and said he’s left part of his Iranian identity behind. 

“I’ve become, in my thoughts, more American than Iranian,” Daneshgari said.  “My wife is an American. We have children who grew up here.  It’s been our home for quite some time.”
While Kahnemuyipour, Boroujerdi and Daneshgari say they are concerned about the future of the Iranian government, they are also pondering another question: whether they will ever be able to return home.

Daneshgari said he’s hopeful the protests will lead the overthrow of the old regime.  He said it’s the only way he will ever return to Iran.

“I don’t want anything to do with this government until I die or this government is gone,” he said.

Boroujerdi hasn’t been to Iran in almost 10 years. In 2000, he worked on a public opinion poll asking Iranians whether they were interested in reestablishing ties with the United States.  A few days after the results were released showing 78 percent of the public answering “yes,” Boroujerdi was banished from the country and deemed a counterrevolutionary figure.

“It’s very hard,” Boroujerdi said.  "It’s my country of origin.  I have lots of friends and relatives there.   And in moments like this, you feel homesick because you want to be with the country folk.”

 And as Kahnemuyipour sits in his office, watching clips of the protests and reading countless Persian news sites, he wonders if it will ever be safe to go back home.

“In the past two weeks I’ve started thinking, ‘ If this doesn’t go the way we hope, am I ever going to go back?’” Kahnemuyipour said. “The answer is probably not.  I’m still hoping things might change, but I don’t know if I can ever go back.”

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