Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Leaving Iran...

There are several ways to leave Iran. Among them: marry an American, claim asylum in the Netherlands if you are gay, apply for a student visa or residency, or win the Green Card lottery. For Christians and Jews and Ba’hais, there is another way: asylum based on religion. It requires a few months stay in Vienna or another city where paperwork is processed and “homeless” Iranians find temporary housing before moving on to new homes in Orange County, Chicago, or Virginia.

If Muslims could do the same they would. They would pick up and move out in higher numbers than the minorities. Iranian law may be harder on minorities, but the minorities I know express no more displeasure with their lives in Iran than do the Muslims I know.

Awhile ago, a Ba’hai family that I met told me that Iranian society had become more tolerant since the revolution. The law, they explained, had become less tolerant, but their neighbors and friends had become more tolerant.

I asked a young Jewish friend how his parents felt. He told me that they would agree. “Before the revolution, Iranians were much more religious. If my father would visit a shop or the home of a Muslim, they would clean everything. They felt he was dirty. Now, it is never a problem. Muslims shake my hand all the time. Most of my friends are Muslims.”

“My grandmother was that way,” Keivan added. “She would clean the house from top to bottom if a Christian came over. My mother, no. I had a Christian friend who was always over.”

An Armenian friend of ours recently made the move to Vienna to await her paperwork for residency in the US. “My father is broken-hearted. He loves Iran,” she told me. “Iran saved our family. They were refugees from Turkey. They all love Iran so much, but it is too hard to continue. He is sick of lying all the time so we are moving to America.”

Soon, Iran will have almost no religious minorities. They won’t be able to point to their “big” Jewish community of 30,000. In Hamadan, where the tomb of Esther and Mordecai is located, only 17 Jews are left. Iran reports that there are 30,000 Jews here, but every day the number gets smaller. It isn’t because of any “special” persecution. It’s just that they *can* leave.


Chris said...

Thanks for posting this. I hate it when I hear people say "well, if they hate it so much, why don't they just move!"

Hell, moving across town can be hard enough, much less moving to another country. That's not even bringing up the issues of leaving everything you've ever known behind.

Is it really that simple for religious minorities to get asylum and get out of Iran? If someone were to do that would they ever be able to go back?

Anonymous said...

I've read (in a western newspaper) about Iranian Jews who left Iran for Israel, but couldn't stay there because they didn't know anybody there, and shortly after they returned back to Iran.

Et, do you know of any Iranians returning back from western countries?

hossein said...

soon,iran will be devoid of any intelligent and educated person who refuses to live with corruption and can score a 600 on TOEFL or a 7 on IELTS

Regolo said...

First of all I want to thank you for writing your lines, I think you use a blog in the best way, showing people an inside point of view that today is often difficult to find.
About your post, I'm happy to read there's more freedom to leave the country, but it comes to my mind a young Iranian I met in Australia who told me she couldn't speak about what happens in Iran becouse if she would do it she'd be scared of what might happen to her relatives back there... Do you think that it's something that still does happen? And if it does, don't you think it a sign of a strong control on people's freedom of speech?
Thanks, and keep writing!

ET said...

"Is it really that simple for religious minorities to get asylum and get out of Iran? If someone were to do that would they ever be able to go back?"

It is not so simple: it is simply possible. And yes, they can and do return. In one way you could say that it is an abuse of the asylum system because people can and do return. On the other hand, just because you can manage to live here does not mean that there is not legal difficulties and oppressive policies.

"Et, do you know of any Iranians returning back from western countries?"

Yes. I have met people who are too in love with the mountains in Iran to live away from them. And I know others who missed their family life too much and decided to come back.

About speaking out when after you leave: it's interesting that you would bring that up. At lunch with my dear friends I said this:

"The problem with Iran is that you fall in love with it in many ways. So when you leave, you watch what you say so that you can come back. What happens next is that only those who hate Iran or who have broken all ties with the country really critique it. Instead of criticism it becomes bashing."

I am not an expert on how much families are affected by the speech of relatives abroad. That is something for others to speak about.

The one thing I have learned in Iran is that freedom of speech trumps democracy and requires patience, practice, civility, and education. Removing the legal barriers to free speech does not necessarily lead to free speech. It takes a lot of work and some thick skins.

As my dear friend who was having lunch with me said about her experience leaving Iran and settling in the west: "I thought I knew what free speech was. When I got to the west, I discovered that it was also for people who disagreed with me."

Whew... that was a bit long-winded.

m. p. said...

ET, I read your blogs with great interest, and appreciation for the mature and balanced presentation of life in Iran. Your love of Iranians and their country is palpable.
I wonder tho', at your "several ways to leave Iran". Mostly, you're describing ways to immigrate to another country after having already left Iran. What happens for people who are or were once banned from leaving? Do these souls have any hope of getting an exit visa? (There was a time when the punishment was to exile a person from his homeland. How sad that now the punishment is to ban a person from leaving.)
Thank you for opening this window on true Iran. Peace and blessings.

ET said...


Good question. From what I understand, many of the Iranians with travel bans actually did not want to leave Iran for good, they wanted to travel to conferences.

I do not know enough about the experiences of these people to respond to your question well.

Jimmy said...

I have a Zoroastrian Iranian friend who immigrated to the US in 2003. According to her, Iranian police enter fire temples to make random searches and force everyonethere to discard there liquor and make the women wear scarves.

Anonymous said...

keyvan, not publishing my comments only means you are a lier who is trying to show Iranian Moslems are some poor creatures who need pitied while jews and others are the lucky ones. I'm sure you are the one who erased the comments not your wife. thirty years of living under Islamic racism and brainwashing revolution has turned every Moslem into liers. I can see it now. This revolution was won with lies, it continued with lies and everyone seems to be participating in furthur destorying the country with lies.its a pity that you and your family is not getting affected by all this lies but only the oppressed people of the country.

m. p. said...

ET, I'm aware of a dual national who has been banned from leaving Iran. This individual has suffered considerable judicial harrassment -- all of it trumped up, yet has been told by consular officials in the overseas country of citizenship that "there is nothing we can do to help, because Iran doesn't recognize dual citizenship." This is an appalling limbo. We know how generous the regime can be re 15 foreign 'trespassers', but how might it respond to diplomatic pressure on behalf of this individual with dual citizenship? Thanks for any insight you might offer.

Anonymous said...

There have been numerous cases of people who became refugees in European or North American countries going back to Iran.
I remember there was this one man who had claimed he was persecuted for his religious beliefs in Iran, yet he traveled to Iran several times a year and also smuggled illegal immigrants in. The US government arrested him and I think he is now in prison.

Anonymous said...

I'm an Armenian guy living in Iran. I'm planning to leave Iran and as far as I can see everyone I know has a plan to leave too. Most of my educated Muslim friends have already applied for immigration to Australia or Canada. And most of Armenian friends have also applied for asylum though Vienna. Why? That's easy to answer. Because Iran is a sunken ship. We have given up. It's only getting worse. I'm highly educated myself. I'm one of the best. And I do love Iran and its beautiful mountains! But you just give up after fighting for a few years, pack you life and just run away to a place with less headaches and a brighter future. Some say it's solely the regime to blame, but what I see is that the society is disintegrating. The last time I went for vacation to the seaside I was close to crying. The jungle had become a big rubbish can with some trees here and there! Why? Because no one has a feeling of ownership of the country, so everyone just fills it with more rubbish! Where's this nationalist feelings of the Iranians I hear everyone talking about? I don't see it in my daily life. No one cares about the country. Everyone just tries to consume its treasures with no sense of owning it, or belonging to it, or nourishing it. The fake nationalism is a disorder caused by a disintegrating society....

ET said...

Anonymous Armenian,

What you wrote was heartbreaking.

Seraph said...


What you tell is really very sad. It reminds me of a Tajik saying that a friend from Dushanbe once told me:

"He who does not steal from the government is stealing from his family."

It sounds like in Iran things have reached the point where people have really been pushed to the point where they can not "afford" to think about much more than their immediate circle/concerns.

Anonymous said...

I am so worried about the brain-drain, where the best and brightest of Iran are leaving the country.