- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

With Iranians demonstrating daily to protest their disputed presidential election, the Iranian-American community has also taken to the streets in major U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Boston and Washington.

Sheida Jafari was among several hundred Iranian-Americans who gathered last week in front of a Washington office that houses the Iranian Interests Section to protest what they viewed as rigged election results that gave a landslide victory to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

“For me, it’s more about showing my solidarity with all my friends in Iran, my family in Iran, everyone who has to live under a regime that prevents them from living their lives freely,” she said.

The Iranian-American community is estimated at more than 1 million. Many Iranians immigrated to the United States following the 1979 Islamic revolution; some came to escape the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war; others moved here in pursuit of economic opportunities and education.

Despite differences in political views, the community seems united in its concern for the fate of Iranians back home.

Pouya Gharehdaghi said he wished he could be in Iran right now.

“It’s my brothers and sisters - literally, it is my family,” he said. “They’re in the streets, and I wish I could be with them.”

Mr. Gharehdaghi said he moved to the United States as a teenager and recently returned to Iran to work with the children of Afghan refugees and to produce a documentary.

For Iranian-Americans, the scenes of massive protests in the streets of Tehran evoke powerful memories.

“I remember going to all the parts of the city, and I can only imagine that what’s going on in those same streets right now,” said Ms. Jafari, a designer who spent a year in Tehran recently.

Despite the physical distance, Iranian-Americans have managed to stay connected to Iran through social-networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

“Facebook and, more recently, Twitter - despite my misgivings about another Internet site sucking hours of my life away - have been my primary source of information,” Ms. Jafari said.

Several protesters mentioned how hard it has been to keep in touch with family and friends in Iran because the government has severely restricted cell-phone communication.

“From Sunday, I kept trying to call my family constantly. It wasn’t until Tuesday that I got in touch with them. The lines just weren’t working,” said Mr. Gharehdaghi, who was holding a green and white “Where is my vote?” poster and flashing peace signs at drivers on Wisconsin Avenue, where the Iranian office is located.

The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since 1980 but maintain so-called interest sections in each other’s capitals. Iran’s office is nominally under the Pakistani Embassy, while Switzerland represents the U.S. in Tehran.

George Washington University student Reza Rad said he was trying to be optimistic that the protests would advance the cause of democracy in Iran but said he was cautious and worried at the same time.

“I think that Iranians are so desperate for change that they won’t realize what the change they’re going towards is,” he said.

While most of those protesting last week demanded a fair recount of votes or a new election, a minority stood separately and chanted “Death to the Islamic republic.”

Mr. Gharehdaghi said that he would not expect big changes if Mr. Mousavi became president but that Iranians’ votes should be respected.

“This won’t be a different Iran,” he said. “I don’t expect the regime to change, and I don’t expect anything major to change. I’m just glad people are seeing the power they have.”

An Iranian official who spoke on the condition that he not be named responded to the chants of “Where is my vote?” by saying, “They’re in Iran. We send them there immediately after we count them.”

Iran encouraged participation in the June 12 election by Iranian passport holders abroad, setting up 304 voting stations in 130 countries outside of Iran, including the United States, Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.