Nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran recently resumed. It is unclear if the talks will lead to a mutually beneficial agreement or come to represent yet another step backwards in the historically fraught US-Iranian relationship.
Far before these two great nations first sat down at the negotiating table in 2015, my mother’s family, originally from Armenia, served Persia. The Davidkhanians played a leading role in the modernization of the Persian state, occupying posts in politics, diplomacy, and the military since the Great Game. When the Pahlavis replaced the Qajars in 1925, my family continued to serve, setting aside partisan loyalties in service of the greater Persian nation.
At roughly the same time in history on the other side of the world, my father’s family set sail for the New World. Upon arrival, they built homes in New England. One ancestor, William Brewster, served as the religious leader of the Plymouth colony.
Over two centuries later, these two realities came into contact, a miracle only possible in the nation of immigrants. My great-grandparents left Iran for New York in 1944, my grandmother in tow. My mother was born just over two decades later and grew up in the New York apartment where Lois Lane interviews Superman, all the while dreaming of Iran. In 1991, she met my father, a recent graduate of Columbia University, on a blind date. Soon after, my twin sister and I were born, at the confluence of these two worlds.
Growing up, I visited the places that represent the American part of my identity, but Iran has always remained distant, invisible and unknowable.
I hope that one day I can see what my grandmother saw on Avenue Pahlavi as she was ferried out by a British military escort. I hope that one day I can visit the graves of my ancestors at St. George’s in the Armenian quarter of Isfahan.
I want to visit the portraits of my ancestors in the Vank Cathedral. I want to visit the house on Sepah Street where my great-grandparents lived. I want to see the baths behind the house, where thousands of Armenians came to bathe, free from the pollution of religious persecution. I want to walk around the lily pond where Reza Shah and Alexander Khan strode arm in arm, if it is still there.
I want to see it all.
I have tried to uncover what I can about the places my ancestors inhabited, but the vast majority of Iranian archives are inaccessible to the American expatriate. The US State Department has long cautioned Americans from visiting them in person.
All I have now are snapshots of history, moments frozen in time, that have led me to these dreams. Each generation, my family’s history slips closer to oblivion. If we fail to repair the fractured relationship, our shared history could be lost forever.
Amidst the chaos of international politics, it is easy to lose sight of the consequences of enmity. My family’s fragmented relationship with Iran is but one example of loss among many. The diaspora is enormous, and each family has lost something sacred.
Although the nuclear deal offers a rare opportunity for dialogue between the US and Iran, it will not bring us closer to recovering the history that is at risk of being lost, nor will it repair the relationship that has been damaged. The nuclear deal is yet another example of the US strong-arming Iran into serving national interests, just as they have done since 1953 when the C.I.A. deposed PM Mohammad Mossadegh.
Until the US sees Iran as a partner rather than an adversary to be manipulated and exploited, true progress will remain elusive.