October 20, 2018

Memories of youth breed distrust of Iranian government

When Iranian-born Nazy Rafaeil, 44, a computer engineer from Woodland Hills, was asked about the proposed P5+1 nuclear accord, she started off with a litany of complaints about the current Iranian regime. However, after she finished, she said she wanted to be clear that she’s not against the people of Iran.

Speaking about Iran elicits all kinds of reactions, especially among Jews such as Rafaeil, who left in the wake of the Iranian revolution of 1979. When the United States and Iran, plus a group of international powers that includes China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany, decided to sit together for months in marathon meetings in an attempt to reach an accord that would restrict Iran’s nuclear program and also pull back sanctions, the decision was met with a mixed response. Rafaeil is among the many who do not trust the Iranian regime to finally let go of its nuclear program. 

“Where do I begin?” Rafaeil said when asked about her years growing up in Tehran. Speaking to the Journal by phone, she said she faced multiple problems while growing up in the city that before she left was the only home she’d ever known. “Whether it was waiting to get into a university, or waiting to get my passport for 10 years, or being scolded by the moral police for not taking the hijab while walking on the streets, to being called a Zionist, I went through it all. I didn’t introduce myself as a Jew, fearing harassment.”

Rafaeil was accepted into Allameh Tabataba’i University in 1986 with English literature as her major. Despite passing her exam in June of that year, she had to wait until March 1987 to be allowed to enter the university. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, it was quickly evident to anyone hailing from various religious minorities that the Iran they once knew had changed for them. “I felt like a guest or a stranger in my own country,” Rafaeil said.

In 1984, Rafaeil’s father, who owned a shop selling Persian rugs in Tehran, was asked by the Iranian regime to hand over “40 years’ worth of money” that he had earned running the shop. That same year, the government confiscated the family’s ancestral property in Urmia, West Azerbaijan. No reason was given.

“My father asked me to secure my future and move to another country with my husband,” she said. “I applied for an exit visa that very year, but had to wait till 1992 to finally get my passport. The officers kept delaying the process by asking me to return six months, or at times, eight months, later. If it were on me, I wouldn’t have taken this long to get out.”

All the while, she witnessed the growing conservatism in her country, making anything “Western” or “liberal” a target of the clerics, she said. 

In early January 1989, Rafaeil and her husband spent a night in prison, because a “police officer thought I was with my boyfriend.” Subsequent documentation provided by Rafaeil the next morning proved their “innocence,” and they were let go. “That was the last straw. The idea that I’m not free in my own country hit me really hard. And as soon as I got my passport in 1992, I moved to the U.S.” Rafaeil’s parents moved out of the country soon after. 

Now that Iran is again part of a larger discussion with regard to the nuclear accord, Rafaeil, like many other Iranian Jews settled in Los Angeles, is averse to the idea of any “deal with Iran,” but she said she softens her reproach when it comes to the Iranian people. “I hope this deal proves economically beneficial for countless innocent Iranians back home. I have a university friend still there, and we speak occasionally, and for that moment I remember Iran very fondly. But to be honest, I don’t trust the Iranian government. They haven’t changed. They are hiding behind innocent people to make this deal go through.”