Iran might be 15,000 kilometres away, but for Vancouver’s young Iranian community, its political strife might as well be in their own backyard.
The Middle East country has been thrown into a state of escalating political unrest since June 12, when its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was re-elected in a landslide victory that many suspect was rigged.
Protesters – many of whom are young and well educated – took to the streets in dissent, leading to violent clashes with police.
Reza Sabour, 29, who moved to Vancouver from Iran in the ’80s, said the Iranian community here is tight-knit, and that connection extends to Iran.
“Most of the Persian community is very dedicated to issues back home,” Sabour said.
“Most of us are here because of the (1979 Islamic) revolution. All the people you see on the streets in Iran are our age. If I had not left Iran, I would be on the streets and fighting for my rights.”
Sabour said his cousin in Tehran has “begged” him to use social media to get the protesters’ message out.
In response, he helped organize a rally outside the Vancouver Convention Centre on Sunday, which attracted 1,000 people.
Some protesters wore green to show support for the losing reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Sabour said what started as a protest over suspicious election results has turned into an ideological contention over the legitimacy of the regime.
“You have an entire nation of youth who are highly educated and suppressed. The green (campaign) now represents what Obama brought to the States – that change (and) momentum that they’ve been waiting 30 years for.”
“(Mousavi) may not have all the answers, but he came forward and said, ‘I want to improve relations with the West and create equality for women.’ It ignited a spirit within the youth that hasn’t happened in 30 years.”
Soushiant Zanganehpour, 26, works for the Liu Institute For Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, which studies, in part, domestic policies in Iran. He is also of Iranian descent.
He said Iranian Vancouverites inhabit a dual world where they consider Canada and Iran their home.
“Most of us hold Iranian citizenship still and we have the right to vote and play a role in the future of that country,” Zanganehpour said.
“In Iran and other places where you have misrepresentation or a strong-handed regime, they do a good job of externalizing the enemy. They can call this a Western coup and call protesters spies.”
He said that’s why it’s important for people abroad to be the voice of the Iranian people – who don’t have the same freedom to speak their mind – and to let them know that they are supported abroad.
“I hope people will inform themselves and contact (their) Iranian friends,” said Zanganehpour. “This may change the course of Iran.”