Germany's Iranians

Tehran-Berlin, an Axis of Hope

iran-berlin_AP Photo, Picture Alliance, Montage
The Iran Azadi Monument, Tehran, and Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Iranians in Germany hope relations between Iran and the West improve but also fear the government could use its new power for further suppression.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Negotiators from Iran and six world powers, including Germany, have reached a landmark deal to reign in Iran’s nuclear power.
    • Diplomats from the United States, the U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany have been negotiating with the Iranians since 2013.
    • Germany was the only non-nuclear power that participated in the talks.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Many Iranians living in Germany greeted the prospect of Iran sealing a deal with the West, ending years of sanctions and international isolation, with joy, excitement and some fear, too.

Times have been tough for Iranians living in Germany – especially foreign exchange students. Sanctions meant many students on temporary visas had difficulties in getting access to cash. “Students weren’t allowed to open bank accounts here,” said Ehsan Djafari, the head of the Iranian-German community based in Berlin.

Banks in Germany including Deutsche Bank and Sparkasse closed down Iranian students’ accounts after November 2012 due to international sanctions and pressure on banks from their U.S.-based clients, according to press reports.

“After years of negotiations, I'm sure this will be seen mostly as a positive development and I hope it will avert a war.”

Fereshteh Modaressi, Iranian researcher, journalist

In 2014, there were 6,607 students from Iran studying in Germany according to the Hamburg-based statistical site Statista.

“Even if they brought letters from a professor, they still weren’t allowed to open accounts,” Mr. Djafari said. “We’re very relieved these kinds of situations may become less of a problem.”

Mr. Djafari works in the IT industry in Germany, where he first arrived 25 years ago. He volunteers at the community organization which was founded five years ago to support Iranian interests in Germany and now has 170 members.

“The deal will hopefully also improve Iran’s economic situation,” said Reza Khojasteh, a 34-year old medicine student based in Düsseldorf. “Until now, student exchange programs between Iran and Germany were difficult to set up and it is tough to get the paperwork through. But we need that cultural exchange.”

The new deal between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany was the result of lengthy negotiations and has yet to be finalized.

There are 64,000 Iranians living in Germany. It is likely that many of them will hope the new deal will bring more freedom and peace to their country – including the freedom to study.

Hesam Misaghi, a 26-year old student of English at Sanai university in Isfahan, was told in 2007 to drop his studies because his family belonged to the Baha’i faith, not recognized by the government.

When Mr. Misaghi fought for the right to study and launched a protest within his university, he started to attract the attention of the authorities, risking a prison sentence. So he fled first to Turkey then was granted asylum in Germany.

Looking back, he said, “there was much more suppression then because the government realized that the people really wanted to change something.”

“I haven’t been back to Iran since then and I don’t think everything will be okay now with the new deal. I’m happy that it will be more open economically but the situation of Baha’is is still the same,” he said.

There were also fears that the government could use its new powers for further suppression.

 

modaressi
Fereshteh Modaressi in front of Golestan Palace in Tehran where she lived until the age of 26; she now lives in Berlin. Source: author’s own

 

“After years of negotiations, I’m sure this will be seen mostly as a positive development and I hope it will avert a war,” said Fereshteh Modaressi, who lives in Berlin and works as a researcher at the Center of Linguistic Studies in Berlin. She lived in Tehran and worked as a journalist for Agence France Press and the Germany daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, then left to settle in Berlin at the age of 26, frustrated at how closed the country was politically, and the limitations that meant, financially and culturally.

“On the other hand, I wonder what this will mean for human rights and civil society movements inside Iran and whether they will also see change,” she told Handelsblatt Global Edition.

Other expats said there hasn’t been any news on the leaders of the Green revolution who have so far been silent. The revolutionary movement was called into action in 2009 calling for the removal of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office. Green had been the color of an opposition leader’s campaign and came to symbolize hope for change. In the wake of the election, the protests were the largest since the revolution of 1979.

Now, following the agreement, some in Iran fear a crackdown by the government, they said. There is also a risk that the Revolutionary Guards, which have crushed revolutionary movements in the past, will now have more money available once sanctions end and assets are no longer frozen.

 

Iranian nucleat deal
An Iranian woman holds up an Iranian flag as people celebrate the landmark nuclear deal in Tehran on Tuesday. Source: AP

 

Many others wonder whether political prisoners will be released and what will happen regarding women’s rights, which have been weakened and ignored since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

“The hardliners just want sanctions removed, but they don’t want the contagion of relations with the U.S. to reach other areas like human rights and foreign policy,” an analyst speaking under the condition of anonymity told the British newspaper, The Guardian. “They fear Western values and American corruption that could create the breeding ground for a velvet revolution.”

Salima Khatibi, who works in finance, says that the deal could backfire if any party involved breaks the agreement or if neighboring countries intervene.

“There will always be concerns as other countries in the region fear Iran’s growing strength,” she said. Both of her parents are Iranian, but she was born in Europe and grew up in Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. “But it’s good to exit isolation; 13 years of negotiations is too long.”

Many in the country and abroad are waiting, watching and wondering what will be next.

“We’re happy but it isn’t yet clear how it will affect daily life,” Ms. Modaressi said. “People in Iran will see this victory as new beginning to address their demands.”

 

Franziska Scheven in an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition based in Berlin. To contact the author: scheven@handelsblatt.com

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