New Canadian Media

by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

It’s been 100 days since the Iranian regime imprisoned Concordia University anthropologist Homa Hoodfar in the country’s notorious Evin Prison. As the Iranian Canadian Congress called on the Trudeau government to re-establish diplomatic ties with the country Wednesday, Hoodfar’s family said they fear re-engagement may come too late to help the imprisoned academic.

“The fact that there’s no relationship means that step one is to establish that relationship, step two is to discuss matters such as my aunts’ case,” said Amanda Ghahremani, Hoodfar’s niece and one of the family’s spokespeople. “So we haven’t even reached a point where this case can be properly engaged with the Iranians. For the case of my aunt I worry that the renewed interest in re-engaging with Iran is coming much too late.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a vow to re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran and re-open Canada’s embassy in its capital of Tehran.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper severed ties in 2012, citing Iranian support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, its continued nuclear programme and consistent human rights violations as reasons.

However, that decision has raised serious problems for Iranian-Canadians such as Hoodfar because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship and treats any dual Iranian-Canadians visiting the country as its own and has shown a willingness to punish them for things such as criticizing the regime or conducting research in areas it deems unsuitable.

The latter appears to be the case with Hoodfar, who has built a name for herself studying the intersections of gender and sexuality in Islamic religious tradition.

While the exact charges against her are not known and there’s no date set for a trial, she is rumoured to be accused of “collaborating with a hostile government, propaganda against the state, and ‘dabbling in feminism.’”

While Ghahremani says she has been in constant contact with consular officials working to liaise with her about her aunt’s case, she stressed the lack of direct engagement between consular officials and the Iranian government has likely led to unnecessary delays.

“This is of course a constant roadblock in terms of how quickly things can progress,” said Ghahremani.”It’s been 100 days that my aunt’s been in prison and that’s 100 days too many. If there had been direct diplomatic relations, I’m speculating but I assume that a lot of the engagement could have happened much quicker.”

Speaking during a press conference to announce the launch of a new e-petition, Iranian Canadian Congress president Bijan Ahmadi urged the government to prioritize re-engagement with Iran in order to ensure it can protect Iranian Canadians, who he says “have suffered disproportionately” from Harper’s severing of ties.

“After four years it is now evident that this policy to sever diplomatic ties with Iran has failed,” Ahmadi said. “Diplomatic rapprochement at this point will not only ensure Canada stands with its allies … but also will strengthen Canada’s historical role of promoting peace.”

The e-petition, number 553, launched last week and currently has more than 5,500 signatures from Canadians.

It is sponsored by Liberal MP Majid Jowhari, who also spoke to reporters Wednesday and said he thinks the e-petition “provides a piece of evidence that would be hard to ignore” to show Canadians want their government to re-engage.

Jowhari largely stuck to repeating past government statements when asked whether there is a timeline for re-opening the embassy and what concrete steps are being taken to pursue breaking the diplomatic ice.

“There are a lot of common elements that both parties need to reach an agreement,” he said. “We will take this step by step.”

When asked directly what the government is doing to pursue its pledge of re-engagement, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said the same thing.

“We have repeated our commitment to re-engage with Iran in a step-by-step manner,” said Chantal Gagnon, press secretary for the minister.

Gagnon acknowledged not having diplomatic ties as the government tries to secure Hoodfar’s release makes the issue much more difficult.

“The challenges posed by the absence of a diplomatic presence cannot be underestimated,” she said. “Privacy considerations and the fact this is an active case prevent us from discussing Government involvement in further detail, however rest assured that this case is a priority for us.”

It’s expected the issue of Hoodfar’s imprisonment will be a prominent topic at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which Trudeau will be attending next week.

Twenty former UN rapporteurs released a statement Wednesday calling for Hoodfar to be released and adding their voices to a growing global call for her case to be resolved, which includes 5,000 academics from around the world who signed a petition earlier this summer.

The calls are taking on increasing urgency as Hoodfar’s health deteriorates. On Wednesday, an Iranian hard-line judge dismissed her lawyer and appointed one he preferred.

Published under arrangement with iPolitics.ca

Published in International

by Shan Qiao in Toronto
 
Queer activist Arsham Parsi took a risk when he left Iran and began to help other Iranians escape persecution for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

At a reading for his book Exiled for Love at the Toronto Public Library’s St. James Town branch, Parsi recalls the first time he attended Toronto’s Pride Parade 10 years ago, where he met an Iranian woman enjoying the parade.

He gave her his business card, hoping to get support from his own community.

“‘This is not us, this is them!’ she said and turned her face and walked away,” Parsi recalls. “I think I must have ruined her day because she couldn’t believe that Iranian LGBT exist.”

In search of a community

Instead of clustering in Iranian-populated communities, Parsi says he chooses to reside in Toronto’s LGBT-oriented enclave in the Church and Wellesley area. While Canada is embracing his sexuality, he says his own countrymen still deny him and other Iranian queers. 

While Canada is embracing his sexuality, he says his own countrymen still deny him and other Iranian queers.

“[Former Iranian] President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not the first one to say that we don't have homosexuals [in Iran],” says Parsi. “I clearly remember that lady saying, ‘We don’t have it.’”

Parsi was already active during his early 20s in providing support to gay men in Iran through an online community. Still in Iran, he planned his 22-year-old birthday party at home and invited all his gay friends, only to be warned by a relative that there would be a police raid.

He says he called off the party at the last minute and learned that the police were using the Internet to entrap gay men.

While he was never arrested, he knows other homosexuals in Iran who were. Of his gay friends who were taken into custody, some received 175 lashes on their backs, while others were tortured during interrogations.

Parsi says the immanent danger he felt every day was intolerant, forcing him to escape Iran. He told his family that he was going to study at a university in Cypress, but instead took a train to Turkey and sought asylum through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ankara.  

“I continue with my work. It’s still risky, but I don’t like to admit it.”

From exile to acceptance

Parsi writes about being attacked with another gay Iranian refugee in Turkey while onlookers stood by. It took him a little over one year to finally receive refugee status and be accepted to Canada.

“Since arriving at the Canadian Embassy in Ankara, I had been treated with genuine openness and warmth,” Parsi writes in Exiled for Love. “The man smiled. I hoped that everyone in Canada would be like him.”
 
Upon arrival in Toronto in May 2006, Parsi says he, “inhaled deeply and felt the tears create wet paths across my cheeks . . . I felt as if I could breathe without pain.”

Parsi was 25 when he came to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee in the Refugee Assistance Program. During his first 12 months in Canada, he received financial assistance to cover basic needs – $604 a month to be exact.

“Not much, but it helped,” he says. 

“This wonderful country would be where I would live, but one day I would go home."

Parsi still receives threats from the Iranian community – something he says he deals with, but tries to ignore.

“I have professional relationships with the Iranian community, but I don't participate in their events because sometimes they make me very upset,” he explains. He says there are members of the Iranian-Canadian community who are intolerant and don’t support each other. 

“I don’t care what they say,” says Parsi. “I continue with my work. It’s still risky, but I don’t like to admit it.”

Railroad of support

In 2008, Parsi founded the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR). As of December 2015, the IRQR has helped more than 1,200 Iranians who identify as LGBT claim refugee status.

According to the UNHCR in Ankara, more than 26,500 Iranian refugees were registered as of May 2016. UNHCR has registered 1,177 refugees who identify as LGBT as of June 2016 – 1,046 being from Iran, representing gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. 

Parsi and the IRQR are following 820 of the 1,046 LGBT refugee applications to help them go through UNHCR processes and eventually lead them to gain refugee status in Western countries. During the process, IRQR provides support and counselling to members of Iran’s LGBT community. 
 
“I would accept the generosity and security Canada offered me. I would use it to continue my work for others back in Iran,” writes Parsi in Exiled for Love. “This wonderful country would be where I would live, but one day I would go home. Until that day came, I would be in exile.”


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books

by Maria Assaf in Oxford, England

Imagine being a child bride in pre-revolutionary Iran – suffering abuse on a daily basis, being forced into a joyless marriage and having children at the age of 13. There is no law or organization that can protect you, as the entire affair is perfectly legal.

Now, imagine having a beautiful husband and children, a mother and father, and then losing them all in a genocide.

What hope could remain in a human heart after enduring such calamities?

Could an intense desire to right the wrongs or change the world bring back life to a suffering soul?

In Amity, author Nasreen Pejvack makes her reader wrestle with such questions, page after page, as she recounts both the painful and happy memories that form the lives of her two main characters: Ragusa, a survivor of the Yugoslav ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, who is on the verge of taking her own life, and her unknowing rescuer, Payvand, who is an Iranian activist with a tragic life story of her own.

Paradox of the West

Amity shows that there are moments in some peoples’ lives in which hope does not materialize from suffering. There are times when the soul has been so utterly shattered, that the mere suggestion of finding meaning within its pain is insulting.

Pejvack presents a panorama of a Western world – with its affluence and the seeming peace of its clean streets – which hides many truths and stories of refugees or others who have fled conflict and reached what seems like a safe haven.

As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport.

As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport or British citizenship. The marks that their pasts have left on their souls will accompany them forever, like a shadow surrounding the most trivial moments of their lives.

Yes, many of them have been saved; the lucky few have even re-married in their new countries and found jobs and successful careers. But who can take away the pain of the memories, the tears, and the nightmares that keep survivors trapped in their minds as if in a prison of their pasts?

Pejvack’s book is heartfelt throughout. It is honest and direct and her phrases are simple, clear, and concise.

For those readers who are fortunate not to have suffered the misfortunes of war, oppression and tragedy, this book will provide insight into the lives of the millions of people worldwide who are experiencing similar fates as Ragusa and Payvand.

Understanding each other, and the world

Amity is a testament of sympathy with victims and the experience of sharing an understanding of tragedy and pain; of expressing empathy towards those who feel that no one could possibly understand the depths of their suffering. 

This book grabs the audience’s attention rapidly, with its strong life stories and its vibrant political, economic and historical debates, made intentionally easy to read.

Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.

The writer’s political debates illustrate the evils that have plagued Iran and the nations that formed the former Yugoslavia, creating strong sentiments between two women who shared impassionate days and brought joy to each other in their pain.

The book succeeds at making the audience care about global politics and the way it creates wars that lead to the kinds of crises that have made these two protagonists suffer so much in their lives.

As Payvand tries to pull Ragusa back to life by telling her stories, this book also grabs the reader’s attention and curiosity from the beginning by making us want to learn more about the fascinating characters Pejvack describes in each chapter.

For those interested in the histories of the places where conflict has struck recently, this book embarks on detailed accounts of Iran’s recent past, explaining how the country came to be what it is now.

Pejvack’s explanations are nuanced and politically knowledgeable. Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.

… Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.

Call to action                        

Each of Pejvack’s characters is an activist in her own right.

Ragusa, a Croat, married a Serb – something inconceivable during tense times in which Croatian and Serbian populations were at war.

Payvand, an Iranian revolutionary, had to see her comrades die and experience the disappointment of witnessing the onset of what she calls an ignorant revolution.

From the portrait of violence Pejvack presents comes a call for revolution. Formerly a writer and poet for an underground activist publication in Iran, Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.

The call for unity regardless of nationality and other differences is one of the most beautiful premises this book proposes. This work is a must-read for inspired young citizens of the world, as Pejvack appeals to those who are trying to make a difference and are in need of some accessible guidance on how to contribute positively to the world.

Maria Assaf is a Colombian-Canadian freelance reporter who writes for Latin American, Filipino and other immigrant publications in Canada, including New Canadian Media. She completed her bachelor's degree in journalism at Ryerson University and is currently pursuing a master's degree in development and emergency practice at Oxford Brookes University, where she is researching refugee freedom of expression.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

Several high profile Canadians of Iranian descent expressed their support for the recent P5+1 Nuclear Deal currently before US Congress. Following earlier two reports…

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Salam Toronto

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Published in Arab World
Wednesday, 15 July 2015 12:04

Diaspora Sees Return of Hope Over Iran Deal

by Aziza Hirsi in Toronto

After months of intense negotiations, Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations (the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom), plus Germany, struck a deal.

The six countries agreed to lift sanctions on Iran earlier this week on the condition that the country’s nuclear program was to be regulated to prevent the development of nuclear weapons.

The accord not only signals the beginning of the end to the diplomatic and economic isolation of the Iranian regime, but also for many Iranian-Canadians it marks the beginning of restoration of ties between their homeland and the West.

In a survey of just over 200 Iranians living across Canada, the [Iranian Canadian Congress] found that 80 per cent viewed the agreement favourably and felt it would benefit them.

“Many Iranian-Canadians feel an agreement is the best opportunity to avoid a devastating war,” announced Arsalan Kahnemuyipour, president of the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC), in a statement released Tuesday. “Also, many of those in favour of a nuclear agreement believe a negotiated deal will lift the sanctions on Iran, which will improve economic well being of the Iranian people.”

In a survey of just over 200 Iranians living across Canada, the ICC found that 80 per cent viewed the agreement favourably and felt it would benefit them.

Saeed Rahnema, a professor of political science and public policy at York University, agrees the deal will be positive for the region.

“If there was no deal, there would have been more sanctions and the Iranian regime would have resorted to other means,” says Rahnema. This would have created more problems for the U.S. and its allies, eventually leading to another war in the region, he adds.

“Some believe that a nuclear agreement will not have any impact on the human rights condition in Iran or will result in a strengthened Islamic Republic of Iran becoming even less considerate of people’s rights.” - Arsalan Kahnemuyipour, Iranian Canadian Congress

The ICC and others continue to express doubts, however, over the impact the nuclear deal will have on efforts to improve human rights in Iran.

“Some believe that a nuclear agreement will not have any impact on the human rights condition in Iran or will result in a strengthened Islamic Republic of Iran becoming even less considerate of people’s rights,” Kahnemuyipour adds. “Others believe that the economic benefits will lead to a strengthening of the middle class – the back bone of any progressive change – ultimately leading to an improvement in individual freedoms and human rights in the country.”

Sayeh Hassan, an Iranian-Canadian lawyer and blogger from Toronto, criticizes what she calls a U.S. agreement with an ‘Islamic dictatorship’. In one tweet, she writes: “#Iran will continue public execution, torture of political dissidents and oppression of religious minorities #IranDealVienna Successful Deal.”

Rahnema agrees.

“A major weakness of the deal is that it has no provision preventing the Iranian regime from its continuous abuse of human rights against Iranians,” he contends. “Obviously the U.S. government, and the Troika (a three-part commission comprised of the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund) couldn’t care less about human rights in Iran, and Iranian opposition outside the country was incapable of demanding this.”

Canada-Iran relations at a stalemate

For some Iranian-Canadians, the punitive sanctions on Iran have significantly restricted their connection to family members back home.

Arash Abadpour, a research scientist and blogger based in Kitchener, Ont., finds that the lack of political relations between Canada and Iran has been rather detrimental for the Iranian-Canadian community. “Iran doesn’t have an embassy and as an Iranian-Canadian that hurts me because I want to be able to participate in the elections and I cannot.”

Similarly, Reza Ashkevari, a realtor in the Greater Toronto Area, believes that the economic impact on Iranians, including Iranian-Canadians has been dire. “My parents have property in Iran and collect retirement income from it,” says Ashkevari, “but because the value of the Iranian currency is dropping drastically, my parents are becoming poorer and poorer.”

“Canada’s position and policies on Iran are very much influenced by its close relationship with Israel. So its position will be different from its American and European allies, but will eventually change.” - Saeed Rahnema, York University professor

The lack of positive relations between the two countries can also negatively impact Iranian-Canadian families. “One of my sisters is living in Iran and she applied for a visa for herself and her family,” explains Ashkevari. “One of the effects is that I haven’t seen my sister in 15 years.”

Canada-Iran relations continue to be at a stalemate. A statement released Tuesday by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said: “[Canada] will continue to judge Iran by its actions not its words,” and that the federal government will examine the agreement carefully before making any policy changes. It’s a view echoed by Israel, a close ally of the current Canadian administration.

“Canada’s position and policies on Iran are very much influenced by its close relationship with Israel,” Rahnema says. “So its position will be different from its American and European allies, but will eventually change.”

‘Moon landing’ moment

On Twitter the #IranDeal is inundated with tweets praising the agreement as “historic” and an example of diplomacy succeeding over armed conflict.

The Economist magazine tweeted that while the Iran deal was “not perfect, [it] appears much better than any plausible alternatives.”

One Iranian student, Nima, tweeted, “I won’t forget today. This is our generation’s “moon landing” moment.” And an Iranian based in Tehran, Milad Mansoori, tweeted, “We will come back to our golden ages… Say Hello to world… I am Iranian. Thanks @JZarif @JohnKerry #IranDeal #IranWinsPeace.”

Abadpour confirms that the response on Facebook and Twitter from Iranians has been overwhelmingly positive.

“After the Green Movement (the political movement that arose after the 2009 Iranian presidential election) you could definitely see a lot of pessimistic views that nothing is going to happen and there is no hope. It was just going to be a disaster all around,” he explains. “But now with this we can definitely see some hope coming back.”

Rahnema is also cautiously optimistic. “It is hard to anticipate what will happen after 10 years,” he says, “but I think there will be changes in Iran for the better.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories
Tuesday, 12 May 2015 02:00

Being Iranian Means Being Together

In May, Canada’s official Asian Heritage Month, the explorASIAN festival will celebrate art and culture from all parts of Asia with many different events. Vancouver’s Iranian community will mark the occasion with events featuring Persian art, poetry and more. Yet, for Iranian Vancouverites, maintaining their cultural identity is a year-round effort. There are, however, also…

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The Source

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Published in Arts & Culture

Winnipeg’s David Matas, one of the world’s leading human rights activists, was in Ottawa on February 19  to present a submission on Iran to the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

The Jewish Post and News

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Published in National

 More than 1,000 members of the Liberal Party of Canada voted on Sunday, September 7th to select the candidate that will represent their party…

Salam Toronto

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Published in Politics

 TORONTO — An Ontario court has ordered that properties in Toronto and Ottawa owned indirectly by the government of Iran be sold to compensate...

The Canadian Jewish News

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Published in International

 TORONTO — An Ontario court ordered the seizure of more than $7 million in assets belonging to Iran to compensate American victims of terror....

The Canadian Jewish News

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Published in International
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