IRANIANS IN EXILE
REPORTED BY RODRY KAMEHZARI
Independent Documentary photographer established in East Europe.
Photo part of the project "Iranians in Exile"
IRANIANS IN EXILE
“The photographs and the short biographies of the individuals included in this volume are meant to depict their lives as they were in 2019 and in the first half of 2020; hence any changes in their situations since then are, while followed up on, not reflected here due to the nature and purpose of our work being an in-depth case-study rather than a longitudinal one. Furthermore, their names have been purposefully changed to protect anonymity”.
Iranians in Exile is a photo project which focuses on young Iranians, a post-revolution brain drain group, who left their home country in order to build a future elsewhere. The idea of documenting injustice and inequality occurred to me many years ago, but it was not until my move to Turkey in 2019 that I understood one of my ultimate purposes: to depict the untold tales of fellow Iranian migrants.
Currently there is a 5 to 7 million Iranian-born diaspora spreading to all corners of the globe. Some fled to save their lives, some left to escape the limitations within Iran, while others relocated for educational or personal reasons. Regardless of their motivations, they all had a similar goal: to build a better life, mainly in nearby lands with higher living conditions and the West. Turkey, being one of the most developed countries in the region, has also become a popular midway stop, although many had to or chose to stay in the end, joining their over 500 thousand compatriots.
Iran, with its nearly 84-million population today (almost half of which is under the age of 30), failed to utilize the window of opportunity that presented itself in the 1990s, mostly due to population growth, falling oil prices and corruption. This led to the emigration of even more members of the Iranian middle and upper class, many of which had already fled as soon as censorship, human rights violations and war began to devastate the country. Such a large-scale exodus has greatly contributed to the low average of Iran’s GDP growth rate (merely two percent over the last 43 years) and to the decline in the life quality of its people. Data also shows that relative poverty and income inequality have remained at a high level, partially caused by severe educational reforms and the low labor force participation of women.
Rights of women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ communities and political oppositions are all crushed by the same iron fist that has been ruling Iran for 43 years. Therefore, it is not very surprising that the first thing Iranian youth think about after graduation is migration – to seek a land which can offer them peace of mind.
Sam was born in 1998, in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. Since migrating to Turkey in 2017, he has become a self-taught musician who is also well-versed in the theoretical aspects of music. He earns his bread and butter as a teacher, translator and occasionally, as a performer. He constantly strives to improve his musical skills in his cousin’s basement apartment, without light and, more often than not, without much hope. Sam has released several singles on a variety of media including Spotify and played on stages all around Ankara – unfortunately, he did the latter mainly to pay the bills, and rarely for pleasure.
Sam posing for his portrait, Ankara, Turkey 2020.
Sahar was born in Tehran in 1987. She came to Ankara about two years ago with her son, Reza. Initially her Russian partner did not join them, but now they all live together, along with Sahar’s mother and two sisters. They followed her to Turkey in order to build a more desirable tomorrow as a family. All of them work hard to support each other; for example, Sahar is a tutor at a local kindergarten teaching language and other skills. And when they are not punching the clock, they try to enjoy the relative freedom this country gives them and dream about heading to the West.
Sahar in her room, spontaneously laughing as I try to take her portrait, Ankara, Turkey 2019
Ruzbeh was born in the capital, Tehran in 1980. After acquiring a doctorate degree from a reputable South Indian university, he moved back to his home country with his wife in an attempt to have a stable and productive life. Due to certain unfortunate circumstances, however, they had no other choice but to relocate shortly after in 2019, this time to Turkey, where they continued their struggle. Nowadays he earns his livelihood by teaching English, while his wife is stuck in Tehran as the second wave of the ongoing pandemic forced the neighboring countries to close their borders with Iran once again.
Ruzbeh while having me as guest at home, ascribing how much COVID-19 has impacted on his relationship, his plan to work as lecturer particularly in western universities as well as his economy perspective. Ankara, Turkey 2020.
Maryam was born in 1996 in Tabriz. Her parents’ divorce and her mother’s search for better living conditions brought her to Turkey at the age of ten. As a citizen of two countries and fluent speaker of their tongues, she first decided to expand her linguistic skills via learning English language and literature. When she realized that she wanted to help people through psychology instead, she began working towards that goal by contributing to the activities of the UN Refugee Agency. Currently she is enrolled in the philosophy program of a local university in order to acquire background knowledge for her future psychology studies, either in Turkey or abroad. Besides the human mind and emotions, she is also enthusiastic about music and bicycles.
Maryam at her deck, Ankara, Turkey 2020.
Ali was born in 1996 in Tehran. Upon completing his degree in medical engineering, he left Iran in 2017 for the sake of better educational and professional options. Even though Ankara was only supposed to be a springboard to get a “leap” closer to his career goals, he has already spent three years here in search for an opportunity to continue his studies. Meanwhile he took up English teaching out of necessity, but he did not remain idle in his free time either: he has collaborated on several art projects with fellow Iranians, begun writing his first novel and completed two photography albums.
Ali showing me his momentous, Ankara, Turkey 2019.
Ashkan is from Shiraz, where he was born in 2000. His family sent him, their only son to Turkey in 2019, before he even turned 18, to provide him with better career opportunities. His first stop was Ankara, where he learnt Turkish and successfully passed the exam for higher education. Currently he is a medical student at the Istanbul Aydin University, aspiring to become a doctor one day. Unfortunately, the path he has embarked upon is not free of stress: he feels as if he had aged a decade in the past year and a half, as a result of loneliness and financial problems.
Ashkan before an afternoon lesson at his school, Ankara, Turkey 2020.
Payman was born in 1982 in the ancient northwestern city of Ardabil. He earned his degree in civil engineering back in Iran, and he stayed in that field for about a decade until his interests shifted to education. The following four years he spent running a private school, however the flaws of the Iranian legal system and the rampant bureaucratic corruption drove him to Turkey in the end, where he continued to prepare students for university and develop their “hidden talents” as he likes to put it. He is a neat and punctual person with an organized schedule that includes, among other things, early morning jogs and a personal diet.
Peyman standing next to the mirror in his bedroom, Ankara, Turkey 2020.
Behzad was born in 1996 in the western city of Kermanshah. During his teenager years he and his family returned to Turkey, the land of their parents and grandparents, in hope for a brighter future. He believes that it was the right choice, for Ankara has a more diverse international community as well as a more suitable environment for his desired path than Tehran. He is studying psychology at a local prestigious university with the aim of becoming a clinical psychologist, while also working as a Farsi-English translator and interpreter. His affectionate dog, Doom, is a great source of stability in his life.
Behzad posing for his portrait. Ankara, Turkey 2020.
I aim to address two major concerns through this project: to what degree a totalitarian regime can have sociopolitical impact on its citizens, and for how long a community or a nation can possess immunity against such actions of terror. In order to visualize this modern tragedy, I captured the day-to-day lives of small group of Iranians (Eight candidates) in Ankara, for I believe that a documentary reflecting how they cope with such new circumstances is one that is long overdue. Yet the project will not stop there. I must relentlessly keep on narrating the successes and failures of Iranian immigrants, to reveal the adversities of an entire generation to the world – at least until they have a motherland to return to.
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