Iranian Americans Closely Watching Protests in Iran

04 January, 2018

Iranian Americans have been closely watching protests in Iran.

An Iranian government campaign against protesters led to the deaths of at least 21 people over the past week. More than 400 others were arrested.

Thousands of Iranians have also taken part in pro-government demonstrations.

Many Iranian Americans are hoping for a peaceful resolution and reform. Southern California is home to the largest Iranian community outside Iran.

The largest number of Iranian immigrants live in the Little Persia neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles. People there are openly critical of Iran's religious government, which they consider useless and corrupt.

"When you are mullah," one immigrant says of Iran's religious rulers, and "you want to manage a country like Iran, you destroy everything." He added that Iranians are tired of the government.

Iran's government has a history of repression, said an immigrant named Ali. He told VOA that "the people are angry, especially young people," and everyone is worried there will be more violence.

United States government officials have criticized the Iranian government's actions.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has called on the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting over the protests and government actions.

Iranian officials have restricted the use of social media sites such as Instagram. U.S. President Donald Trump has promised "support from the United States" in messages posted on Twitter.

Some Iranian Americans say the U.S. government should react carefully because the anti-government protests are the result of internal problems.

Muhammad Sahimi works at the University of Southern California. He also follows Iranian politics.

"If the U.S. intervenes in any shape or form, or even supports some faction against another, the hardliners in Iran will use that as an excuse" for more violence, he said.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already blamed what he calls "enemies of Iran" for inciting the protests. The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council accuses the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia of supporting the opposition.

The demonstrations started last week as workers in a number of cities marched to protest corruption and high unemployment.

Sahimi does not believe that the protests are as popular as those in 2009. That was when students and members of the middle class denounced election results in a movement that came to be known as the Green Revolution.

Others believe the current protests will spread, as the earlier ones did.

Los Angeles publisher Bijan Khalili says corruption and mismanagement of the Iranian economy are the reasons people are protesting in Iran.
Los Angeles publisher Bijan Khalili says corruption and mismanagement of the Iranian economy are the reasons people are protesting in Iran.

Los Angeles publisher Bijan Khalili blames mismanagement of the Iranian economy. He says Iranian officials will not accept responsibility, and "the only thing that is left is blaming it on foreign countries and foreign people."

Muhammad Sahimi says that U.S. measures set up to punish Iran for its nuclear activities are also an issue. He notes that President Trump has promised to strengthen those sanctions by removing waivers on Iranian oil. He says stronger actions will only worsen economic conditions in Iran.

Businessman Sam Kermanian says the nuclear agreement with world powers raised the hopes of Iran's people. But when the economy did not improve, he adds, people became angry over corruption among religious leaders.

Los Angeles grocer Todd Khodadadi says Iranians are "trying to get their rights, and they raised their voices...Hopefully, peacefully, they (will) get what they want," he says.

"What they want is freedom," says travel agent Farhad Besharati. "It's not too much," he argues. "We're in the 21st century. The government killing them? This is not fair. It's not good," he says.

These Iranian Americans say the nations of the world should defend the right to peaceful protest. They add that the demonstrations should be left in the hands of Iran's people to avoid giving the government an excuse for more violence.

I'm Susan Shand.

VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reported this story from Los Angeles. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

mullah – n. a Muslim learned in Islamic teachings and religious law

hardliner – n. a member of a group, often a political group, who is not willing to compromise

sanctionsn. a threatened penalty for disobeying a law or rule.

waivern. a document recording the surrendering of a right or claim.

grocer – n. someone who sells food, meats, fruits, vegetables and usually other products

excuse – n. reason

managev. to direct or supervise someone or something