Too close to home
The impacts of the Iranian Revolution on students and staff
His father has been nervous before, but this is unusual — he looks terrified. His father hands him the papers and tells him to tuck them into his jacket. Those documents will give his family a new life in the U.S. — a life free of the oppression that has become a regular presence in Iran in the last 12 years.
His father told him stories that had given him hope for the future. He said that in America, the streets were so clean you could lick them. In America, he might finally be able to get a dog. But now, he points to a mountain and tells him to take his little brother and hide behind it.
He is scared, but he tries not to show it — instead, he tells his brother stories until the sky turns dark. Finally, he sees a silhouette coming towards him. His father arrives and tells them it is safe to cross. The time spent behind that mountain felt like forever, but his father knew all it would take was one person to destroy those papers — and with them, dreams of a better life.
In 1992, when he was 12 years old, Biology teacher Pooya Hajjarian crossed the border between Iran and Turkey with his father and younger brother. They were the last people from his family to flee the Iranian Revolution, a political uprising that took place in 1979.
Before the revolution, the Shah, Reza Pahlavi, led Iran with the help of the U.S. and the U.K. who had an interest in the country because of its oil. But as the economic state of the country deteriorated and the people began to feel more restricted by the Shah’s rule, they took to the streets to protest until the Shah abdicated his throne and fled. Soon after, Ayatollah Khomeini, a former revolutionary speaker against the Shah, took over as the country’s political and religious leader.
According to Hajjarian, the people of Iran initially believed Khomeini would change the country for the better — because of European imperialism, Iran became very Westernized and was in dire need of a ruler who was capable of bringing cultural and religious stability. However, the outcome was far from their expectations and Hajjarian believes Khomeini left a lasting negative impact on Iranians.
“They didn’t realize that [Khomeini] was not going to bring back stability, but he was going to bring oppression,” Hajjarian said. “I think my parents’ generation feels responsible for what happened because it was a revolution of the people. So I think my dad always had a sense of guilt about what he had done because he played a role in the revolution.”
Hajjarian’s parents saw signs of the revolution early and began applying for Visas for their children. Even though Hajjarian was born soon after the revolution began, it took him several years to leave the country.
“When my dad was on his deathbed, and he was passing away, one of the last things I told him was I thanked him for bringing us [to the U.S.] because it changed my life,” Hajjarian said. “I look at people who are my age in Iran and they have such different lives than me. Here, the freedom that I have to do what I want is incredible. And it makes me happy that I’m here, [but] it makes me sad for the people who are there who don’t have a lot of what I have.”
Junior Roya Ahmadi’s parents experienced the Iranian Revolution first hand as well — both lived in Tehran, the capital of Iran and a central part of the uprising. The political unrest meant there were often protesters flooding the city. Ahmadi’s mother’s family had political affiliations to both sides of the revolution. While many family members had high positions in the Shah’s military and government, others took to the streets to protest.
Ahmadi remembers stories about how her mother and her aunt, who were both teenagers at the time, would sneak out to join the protestors against their parents’ wishes. It wasn’t uncommon for the younger generation to be more vocal about change in Iran, while Ahmadi’s grandparents and older relatives were more reserved about their opinions in the time of conflict. To Ahmadi, her parents’ exposure to that time period impacted their lives, and she believes they carry their experiences with them even today.
“[The Iranian Revolution] just instilled a revolutionary spirit in them,” Ahmadi said. “And I think that translates to a combination of wanting independence and striving for it, whether it’s a better government or in terms of their personal [lives], wanting to pursue an education and taking it to a pretty extreme level and moving across the world to do that.”
Every year, MVHS sophomores learn about the Iranian Revolution in both their history and English classes. Students read the graphic novel “Persepolis,” an autobiography by Marjane Satrapi detailing her coming of age in a time of political instability. This book and its portrayal of the revolution intrigued junior Suraj Gangaram.
Before reading “Persepolis,” Gangaram had little to no knowledge about the Iranian Revolution. Because of this, he believes reading “Persepolis” in class was an important experience; it provided him with insight on past political conflicts and stressed to him the importance of not repeating the mistakes of history. Additionally, Gangaram believes the novel was successful in disproving any stereotypes of Iranian culture, such as their perceived religious values.
“I feel like those people are misunderstood or mistaken for something else, even though they’re just normal people,” Gangaram said. “There are a lot of stereotypes, unfortunately, which are negatively associated with them. [The book] really proved that a lot of people are adhering to their cultural and religious values and it’s unfortunate for a lot of people to just mistake them for whatever fundamentalist or religious ideals they have. I feel a lot more open-minded and less judgmental as I was before [reading] the book.”
Hajjarian also recognizes the negative assumptions made about Iranians after the revolution occurred. He believes that because the public had the wrong idea about the revolution, Iranians have often been mislabeled as terrorists, despite no Iranian having ever been involved in a terrorist attack. Additionally, Hajjarian believes these incorrect judgments have also led the U.S. to list Iran as a dangerous country without any real justification.
Hajjarian was subject to some of these stereotypes himself when he immigrated to the U.S. and attended MVHS. He appreciates students learning about the revolution and understands the importance of reading books like “Persepolis,” especially since none of his peers were aware of his situation in high school.
“I think it’s about perspective,” Hajjarian said. “I get to see life from a different lens, [which] I think [is] really important, especially from the lens of a country, a culture. I think it’s just mind opening in a sense. The world is so different — it’s like we’re a flight away from completely flipping our lives upside down. So I like that [students] do that, it doesn’t have to be about Iran. But selfishly, I’m glad that it is because [if] you look at the Persian Empire, there’s so much pride.”
Ahmadi believes that her experiences as a second-generation Iranian are influenced by her parents’ experiences in the Iranian Revolution. Additionally, their experiences with a large political conflict have made her more grateful for the opportunities she has in America.
“I always consider my parents’ involvement in this revolution as this really historic thing,” Ahmadi said. “I’m proud of it. Especially more recently, as I’ve become more politically active myself and have been interested in learning more about my own history, the history of my family, their involvement with politics and their history with the revolution. I think just learning about all of that has really made me thankful for the opportunities that I have here and how I can focus on school without having to think about the government changing.”