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02/24/10

Iranian Americans Focused on Political Situation in Iran

By Jeff Baron, Staff Writer, America.gov

Survey respondents also cite close ties with friends, relatives in Iran

Washington - Fereidoon has lived in Chicago for years and is a U.S. citizen, but ask him about the issue that's uppermost in his mind and he talks about Iran: the 2009 election that he says was stolen, the restrictions on human rights and the crackdown on dissent.

"Everything I can find on CNN [Cable News Network], I never miss any of it," he said.

Fereidoon's concerns are mirrored in a report on the latest survey of Iranian Americans. It finds that they are focused on what is happening in Iran and maintain close ties with relatives and friends there.


Most important issues to the Iranian-American community

Fereidoon, like other Iranian Americans interviewed, asked that his full name not be used because he does not want to put his relatives in Iran in danger. And like most people who participated in the survey, he is close to people back home: in his case, his mother, who is in her 90s, as well as his brothers and a large extended family. He calls home about two times a month and visits every two years - or did, he said, until last summer, when his brothers advised him to cancel his trip because it would be too dangerous for a U.S. citizen to arrive during unrest that the Iranian government blamed on Western agitators.

He said he worries that he might not see his mother again.

The survey (PDF, 1.1MB) for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) offers a picture of a community very much in touch with a country 10,000 kilometers to the east but easily reached by e-mail and phone. Half of the Iranian Americans surveyed said their families have been in the United States at least 30 years. But two-thirds said they communicate with family members in Iran at least several times each month, and 6 percent are in touch every day. Ten percent said they don't communicate regularly with family in Iran, and that would include the 7 percent who said they have no family there.

When asked what issues most matter in their lives, most of those surveyed in August 2009 and September 2009 had their eyes on Iran. One-third listed foreign policy issues involving U.S.-Iran relations as their top concern, and an additional 20 percent chose internal affairs of Iran. Issues in their lives and communities that aren't unique to Iranian Americans - such as health care and the economy - were at the top of the list for 22 percent, and 16 percent said domestic issues involving Iranian Americans - such as civil rights - topped their list. The rest, about 10 percent, said that they weren't sure or that their top concern was something else.

Eighty-five percent said their heritage is very important or somewhat important to them.

And many Iranian Americans do more than call home to stay in touch. Thirty percent said they travel to Iran once every two to three years, and an additional 11 percent said they go every year. About a quarter said they never make the trip.


Views of survey respondents on the Iranian elections and the Obama administration

The link to Iran is strong, but those surveyed are overwhelmingly Americans in a legal sense: PAAIA's first survey, a year earlier, found that 9 percent were born in the United States but 81 percent are U.S. citizens; an additional 15 percent are permanent residents.

"They're almost exclusively secular. Otherwise they wouldn't be living here," said Mahasti Afshar, PAAIA's executive director.

They also are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the protesters in Iran. When asked whether the Iranian presidential election was free and fair, 87 percent said it was not, 7 percent said it was and 6 percent said they weren't sure.

Fereidoon laughed bitterly when he heard that question. He said he has no doubt that the election was stolen.

As for U.S. policy, 72 percent said it should promote human rights and democracy in Iran. One-third said it should promote regime change.

"We Iranian Americans want for Iranians - want for the world - what we have here, which is human rights," Afshar said.

Maryam, a resident of Great Neck, New York, echoed that idea in explaining her deep interest in what happens to Iranians. "They need freedom. They need rights of speech, freedom of chador," she said.

Fereidoon offered some praise for President Obama's approach to Iran, saying Obama has spoken for democracy but not tried to interfere. "He handled it very well," Fereidoon said. "He didn't get involved - because if he got involved, he would be blamed" by the Iranian government.

Those surveyed tended to agree with Fereidoon. Half favored diplomatic negotiations with Iran, compared with 42 percent who said it would be in the best interests of the United States to seek a change in regimes in Tehran. Five percent said they favor U.S. military action against Iran.

The survey was done for PAAIA by the polling firm Zogby International, which called phone numbers at random from a commercially available list of people with Iranian last names. Zogby interviewed 402 Iranian-American adults and said the margin of error for the results is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

This was the second time PAAIA had surveyed the people it tries to represent. The first survey, a year earlier and 10 months before the disputed presidential election, showed the same close ties with Iran but much less attention to its politics. In 2008, U.S.-Iran policy issues and Iranian internal affairs were at the top of the list for about a third of those surveyed, and the biggest area of interest, at 38 percent, involved general issues not unique to Iranian Americans.


About America.gov:
U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) engages international audiences on issues of foreign policy, society and values to help create an environment receptive to U.S. national interests.

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