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Participants in the rally voted on war on Iran (Photo by Golnaz Fakhari)

My country in the headlines: Iranians in Vancouver look ‘back home’

As Ali Bigdeli stood in his West Vancouver Persian food store, Alborz, recently, surrounded by dried yellow apricots and tiny…

By Gudrun Jonsdottir and Golnaz Fakhari , in Culture , on March 29, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , ,

As Ali Bigdeli stood in his West Vancouver Persian food store, Alborz, recently, surrounded by dried yellow apricots and tiny green raisins, he talked about setting his Haftsin table, which he does every year ahead of Persian New Year. Known as Nowruz in Farsi, the New Year celebration is the most cherished of all Iranian celebrations.

Nowruz marks the first day of spring, and is a time for renewal and reflection. For Bigdeli and many other Iranians, part of the tradition involves making wishes, usually for things like good health and prosperity.

But the recent tensions between Israel and Iran that have dominated the news cycle mean that many Iranians are more focused on well wishes for those still “back home.”

Haftsin table
Traditional Persian New Year Haftsin table (Photo by Golnaz Fakhari)

To that end, Bigdeli said that when he and his family gathered to celebrate Nowruz this year, his wish “was for Iranian people to find peace and success.”

Listen: Golnaz Fakhari reads the traditional saying in Farsi which describes how people’s negativity should be washed away with the Nowruz spring cleaning [audio:]

So close, yet so far away

The headlines accompanying the increased verbal conflict between Iran and Israel are hard to avoid. Once again, Iranians see their country mentioned in newspapers, on radio and on TV.

“There is a misperception about Iranian people in the West,” said Behshad Hastibakhsh, a political scientist who has lived in exile in Canada for more than 28 years. Local conflicts within Iran are more important to people than regional ones, he said. And he knows better than most about the role conflict plays in the lives of Iranians.

“I have witnessed the tragic outcomes of the 1979 revolution in Iran,” he said. “My family has suffered greatly from religious discrimination and prosecution.”

After living in Vancouver for 30 years, Zahra Jenab said she has little connection to Iran anymore. “I don’t know if I identify with this issue same way as ‘Iranians outside Iran.’” Jenab moved to Vancouver at the age of 12 and has built her career as a family lawyer.

But while she has no immediate family in Iran, she is active in the Iranian community in Vancouver as has provided legal services to a number of new immigrants throughout her career. This involvement has made her think about the recent headlines about Iran.

“I think there should be a little bit less emphasis on an issue where nobody knows what the truth is,” she said.

Like Jenab, Bigdeli has been away from Iran for a long time, but his sense of connection to his home country remains strong.

“I visit Iran regularly and every time that I come back I miss my country more and I kind of want to stay there,” he said.

People holding banners at the rally
On Saturday, March 17, B.C.'s Stop War Coalition held a rally opposing war on Iran (Photo by Golnaz Fakhari)

Fighting for peace from Canada

Parvin Ashrafi fled the country because of her political activism. She cannot return to Iran, but 27 years later, she has not stopped fighting for social justice.

“We don’t have freedom of speech in Iran and no freedom of parties at all,” she said.

Now in a free country, she fights the war in a way she could not back home — as a member of the Iranian Centre for Peace and B.C.’s Stop War Coalition.

The coalition organized a rally held on March 17, and Ashrafi was the main speaker.

“We are concerned about what is happening in Canada and what is going to happen in Iran if a war happens,” she said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent comments have made Stop War Coalition act on Canada’s involvement in Iran’s situation.

“We really want Canada to play an actual diplomatic and constructive role in international affairs,” said Derek O’Keefe, co-chair of B.C.’s Stop War Coalition.

“The only people affected will be the ordinary people,” Ashrafi added. She wants people in Iran to be able to live their lives in peace, the way members of Vancouver’s Persian community are.

Woman votes on war on Iran
Participants in the rally voted on war on Iran (Photo by Golnaz Fakhari)

Listen: Radio report on a rally held on Saturday March 17 held by B.C.’s Stop War Coalition opposing war on Iran.


When Bigdeli reflected on his Norwuz table wish this year, he believed he had reason to be hopeful for the people he wished for back home.

“I believe that this is the year that people will find the comfort and peace they need, regardless of politics,” he said.