One of the proudest moments in the life of a teacher is when they have the opportunity to introduce one of their former students to an audience because they take pride in what he has accomplished and his courage.
Farshid Tebyani was a student of mine when I taught at the Iranzamin International School in Tehran in the early 1970s. At the time the Shah of Iran was in power until his overthrow in 1979. The change in power was especially difficult for Iranians who belonged to the Baha’i faith.
I asked Farshid to share some of his experiences about Iran, coming to the United States and his education. Because Farshid shared many interesting thoughts about Iran (a country which remains a mystery to most Americans) and his story, consider this to be part one of a two-part series. With Iran in the news again, his words are timely.
Thank you, Farshid, for sharing your story with us:
The most positive influence in my early life was my mother. She was educated, and was one of the few women at that time who received a postgraduate degree in Iran. She had a firm belief in education, was a biology teacher, and taught me so much about anatomy and biology before even attending elementary school.
My father was also well educated, eventually earning his doctorate in international law. They had a strong belief in family structure, and I grew up with my grandparents always making sure that the immediate family would get together at least once a week, and then the second cousins and relatives made sure that they had some sort of a gathering at least once every few months.
I graduated high school and came to the United States to attend college in Lowell, Mass. As you know, Iranzamin was primarily conducted in English, and we were tailored to go to an English speaking country to pursue our college educations. I transferred to the University of South California a year later.
I visited Iran in the summer of 1975, and that was the last time I saw Iran. In 1979 Iran had its revolution, and immediately following that the Baha’is were persecuted. My father was not allowed to leave the country, was disbarred because of his religion, and died in 1981. My mother was sick before that, and passed away in 1976.
My father had brought my brother and sister here to be with me, and had gone back to Iran to sell his estate and return here when he got detained. The result was many years of hardship, to get legally situated in the U.S., and to get even work permits. With the passing away of my father, all our properties and monies vanished, and we had to start all over again.
The news from Iran was dire. Every week I would hear of a cousin, an uncle, or a close relative being either killed or imprisoned, and the '80s was one of the darkest decades of my life. The problem was intensified because of the absolute anger in America over the hostage situation, and the awful behavior of the Iranians here, as well as in Iran.
I basically did not keep in touch with any of my relatives in Iran until five years ago. There was a box with some of the papers belonging to my father, including my report cards from Iranzamin, which was found in the basement of my aunt's home in Iran. It was in that box that we found the liens to a few properties belonging to my father, and it was then that I began calling and getting in touch with one of my cousins in Iran.
She was my age, and had become an attorney, but was also not allowed to practice law because she was a Baha’i. I spoke to her on the phone regularly. She had spent seven years in jail, from the time she was in her mid-20s to her 30s. An extremely, educated, well read, well-informed woman, I truly loved my conversations with her. Two years ago she passed away suddenly from an aggressive form of cancer, and that was another devastating event in my life.
The last time I saw her in person was 1975. She was very beautiful, but was never one who used her looks. She wanted to be her own person, and despite being pursued by many men, she studied and finished university, only to be imprisoned on some made up accusations.
As you see my picture of Iran is not a very good one. There are two different versions of Iran that I know. There was an Iran that was once the land of sciences, poetry, literature… that was once the Persia of Cyrus and Darius the Great, where justice, care for others, making sure all were educated and fed, and cared for, was the norm.
It was an Iran that the last Shah of Iran tried to resurrect. It was a land of hospitality, where all were welcomed. It was a land of architecture, agriculture and living together in harmony. I do not think that the Shah was very successful in bringing back the Old Persian culture, but the Shah’s Iran was very different than the post-revolution Iran.
I hear that today some of those traditions of family and culture are still alive in Iran, but the negative forces combating them are even stronger. Those who visit Iran tell me that I would not recognize Tehran if I went back. Some say that the people are very nice, and others say that you cannot trust anyone.
It shows that the Persian values are still alive in Iran, but the country still suffers from corruption. Baha’is are nonpolitical, so I will not make any political statements, but let’s just say that the state of affairs needs much improvement.
Education, without a doubt, was a major part of my life. In the Baha’i Faith, education of children is mandatory, both academic and spiritual, for both men and women. If a family cannot afford education, the Baha’i administration will help. Education of women is given an even higher priority, because women are the first educators of children, which is why the members of my family were all well-educated, and all reached very good positions in their careers.
We'll hear more about Iran and Farshid in next week's column.
Get to know Iran: What is the tallest mountain in Iran? (Answer: Mt. Damavand is part of the Elburz range and stands 18,400 feet tall. It can be seen from Tehran (population 8.6 million), the capital of Iran. I enjoyed seeing its snowcapped peak every day as I walked to school.
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John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.