Happy Persian New Year to all who celebrate! Nowruz, the New Year for Iranians around the world, started on March 21st of the solar calendar and is celebrated for the next two weeks. While most Americans don’t think about Iran, let alone dare to travel there, I compel us to do so this New Year.
I just returned from a 10-day peace delegation in February/March to Iran with CODEPINK, a women-led peace and human rights NGO. I traveled with 28 Americans to form personal connections and to learn about the impacts of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal and sanctions on the Iranian people.
We met with academics, politicians, filmmakers, and everyday Iranians in our daily excursions. One thing I can say about our interactions is that the Iranian people love Americans and want nothing more than a peaceful relationship between our two countries. Like us, they may not like the actions of our government or even their own, but there is a basic humanity, respect, and friendship that can come out of our connections with the Iranian people.
On our first day, we met with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Zarif worked on the Iran Nuclear Deal and said that when it was implemented in 2015, 80% of Iranians were hopeful it would make a difference. Now only 51 percent of Iranians think they should stay in the deal. Zarif told our delegation, “The U.S. difficulty with Iran is not because of the region, not because of human rights, not because of weapons, not because of the nuclear issue—it’s just because we decided to be independent. That’s it, that’s our biggest crime.”
For Iranians, who Zarif noted are more historically focused than Americans, one hundred years is not that long ago. He stated that the U.S. coup d’état of the Iranians’ democratically elected government in 1953 is still very fresh in their minds.
This historical amnesia of many Americans came up again when we visited the Tehran Peace Museum. The museum is run by veterans of the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-1988. We were greeted by the director who had lost both of his legs in the war. The U.S. government sold chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein in Iraq that were used on Iranians during this war. One tour guide had a loud cough due to lung injuries from mustard gas. Another guide had tear-stained cheeks and told us he uses onions to make himself cry since he cannot get needed eye medication due to sanctions. We apologized on behalf of our government and presented a memorial book listing all of the 290 civilian passengers on Iran Air Flight 655 killed when the United States Navy shot down their plane in 1988. The Iranian names were written in Farsi and the book included Persian poetry and individual notes from all of us. The director told us our visit was the best day of his life. He said he hopes the next time we come back, it is not to apologize, but on how we can work together in friendship.
We learned about many ways that the Iranian people are affected by U.S. sanctions. Students at the University of Tehran told us they could not get books because of the book embargo. Hospitals have difficulty getting pharmaceutical aid. Airplane availability has collapsed because they can’t get parts to repair them.
One of our delegates learned first-hand the effect of the sanctions while hospitalized with chest pains. He was in danger of having a heart attack and needed to have an angioplasty and stents put into his heart. His insurance company would not pay for his treatment due to the sanctions. He was fortunate enough to have people at the embassy of Switzerland in Iran agree to give him a loan to pay for the surgery. While hospitalized, he learned about people who could not get needed medicines for their illnesses and died as a result.
I encourage Americans to do the following:
Elevate stories of those hurt by U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Tell Eliot Engel—Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee—to support rejoining the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Tell 2020 Presidential Candidates to support rejoining the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Tell your representatives in Senate and the House to cosponsor bills S.246 and H.R.810 that would prohibit the use of any funds to implement the Muslim ban.