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Iranian Americans In Oregon React To Mounting US-Iran Tensions

Iranian Americans living in Oregon are reacting to mounting tensions between the United States and Iran following the killing of top general Qasem Soleimani. Many are nervous about the safety of family and friends, both those living in Iran and the U.S.

Goudarz Eghtedari said he fears conflict opens the door for discrimination. Eghtedari is a founder of the American-Iranian Friendship Council in Portland, an organization focused on promoting non-violent conflict resolutions between the two countries. He said he hopes Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and city police will make a public statement of support for protecting Iranian Americans.

“It would help if law enforcement, the chief of police and the city mayor would come out and give the community assurance despite all the high tensions in the international scene,” Eghtedari said.

Eghtedari said there are about 10,000 people in the Portland metro area who are Iranian. He fears that national unrest could lead to more harassment toward people of Iranian descent.

“[Assure] people in Portland will have a safe haven,” he said toward city leaders, “that they can rely on law enforcement to defend and protect them from intimidation.”

Eghtedari cited an incident at the Washington-Canadian border last weekend.

KUOW has reported that law enforcement detained an estimated 150 people of Iranian descent, many of whom are U.S. citizens, for hours as they tried to return home from an Iranian pop concert in Vancouver, B.C.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection denies those reports.

Nina Khanjan, a swim coach and special education teacher at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, said even though she was born in the United States, she fears for her parents’ ability to travel freely to visit relatives.

“My parents go back to Iran pretty regularly. This is something that could really limit our interactions with our family in Iran,” Khanjan said. 

Khanjan said she disapproves of the rhetoric President Donald Trump has used to justify the attack on Soleimani, and she fears his language equates anyone of Iranian descent with terrorism.

“I feel like I lost my country the last few years, and it really hurts,” Khanjan said. “I love America, but now it feels like I have no purpose. You can only ignore a bully for so long before it starts to affect you.”

Siamak Shirazi, an Iranian American vocalist and wellness professional living in Portland, said while he can’t speak for all Iranian Americans in the area, he has a sense of how people in the Iranian community are feeling.

“The general consensus is not very positive. People don’t believe that outside government should meddle in their politics, regardless of their political affiliation,” Shirazi said. “I personally do not approve of what the current Iranian government does. That’s why I don’t live in that country — I migrated.” 

While he and many other Iranian Americans don’t agree with the Iranian regime, Shirazi said the killing sets a dangerous precedent.

“I don’t like the fact that the U.S. can just go and — in my mind — assassin[ate] an Iranian general without talking much about the reason or rationale behind it.”

Shirazi said after speaking with his uncle in Tehran, nobody is excited about the prospect of war.

Iran fired ballistic missiles Tuesday evening at military bases used by the U.S. in Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. No Iraqi, American or coalition casualties have been reported in the attacks, and some Iranian leaders said they did not want to see a further escalation of tensions. Trump also appeared to back off further military response for the time being Wednesday morning as he announced a new round of “punishing economic sanctions” against the Iranian government.

Jackie Spurlock is the Vice President of the Peace Corps Iran Association based in Portland, which advocates for peace and diplomatic solutions between the United States and Iran. She emphasized in an email that Americans shouldn’t equate the Iranian people to their government.

“[T]he Iranian people (as opposed to the government) have been overwhelmingly friendly to the American people since the early 20th Century … [T]his is a country that shares common goals and values with us, although certainly our two governments have different political objectives,” Spurlock said.

“But Americans need to know that the Iranian people (at least until last week) consider Americans their friends. They long to be integrated into the world community.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the location of Reynolds High School. OPB regrets the error. 

<p>Nina Khanjan in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020.</p>

Donald Orr


Nina Khanjan in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Donald Orr is a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He was a news production assistant for OPB through the Emerging Northwest Journalists Internship created by AAJA-Portland and the Society for Professional Journalists Oregon. He is an alum of NPR’s Next Generation Radio.