As tensions continue to rise between the United States and Iran, Millersburg resident and Iranian transplant Abbas Kermani and his family are keeping a particularly close eye on the escalating confrontation and the possible fallout that may result from it.
Central to that ramping up of tensions is President Trump’s abandonment last year of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and six world powers known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a decision made due to Trump’s desire for a bigger deal that would not only limit the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program, but also rein in its support for armed proxies in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, and curb its ballistic missile program.
Since Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the JCPOA, the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran has gradually escalated.
Faced with a campaign of “maximum pressure” by the Trump administration, mainly in the form of tightened sanctions and financial penalties, Iran in turn has responded with a program of “maximum resistance,” demonstrated most notably in the form of low-intensity attacks on commercial and military assets in the Gulf region.
A BIG COUNTRY
Speaking from his home in Millersburg recently, surrounded by his wife, Tamara, two daughters, Mansoorah, 18, and Aameneh, 17, and son, Soroosh, 15, Abbas described how he first made the trip from Iran to the United States back in 1974, having immigrated to the country as a student.
“I really like the United States. It’s a big country, many states, and you’ll find something you like usually here. And if you didn’t like one state, you could go to the next. So it takes a long time to experience all the different places,” Abbas said of the country. “I like it here mostly because of its universities, the campuses, and the climate, where you can basically see different climates in the same location. And I liked California finally because of the climate — it has a good climate throughout the year, and you could go to the snow if you wanted at Big Bear (Lake). So I ended up staying most of my time in Los Angels and California.”
Now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Abbas holds a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Santa Barbara, the California campus where he met Tamara, a fellow student and native of the Golden State. The two married in August of 1999.
“So we’ve been married 20 years as of Aug. 5,” said Tamara, a family doctor working out of two clinics, one in Syracuse and one in Milford. “After we got married, we lived there and around L.A. for a while, and then I did my residency in Arizona, and then we moved out here for work in December of 2015.”
ON THE DECLINE
With a relatively large extended family still living in Iran, the Kermanis have made a number of trips back to the country in recent years, the most recent of which was just a couple of months ago. And while always greeted with a warm welcome, and always made to feel at home, the years of sanctions imposed on the country have definitely had a negative impact, they say.
“The people, they’re hospitable. A lot of them actually like the United States, despite the sanctions that have been placed on it that are affecting the economy,” said Soroosh, who just began his sophomore year at Goshen High School. “The upkeep is definitely not the best. The streets, they’re kind of crumbling asphalt, stuff like that. It’s not being maintained all that well.”
But according to Mansoorah, the growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran seem to be reserved primarily between the governments of the two countries, and are not particularly evident when taking a “man on the street” view of the conflict from the perspective of the Iranian people.
“It’s not on the ground with the people,” Mansoorah said, referencing the family’s most recent visit to Iran. “With the people, you’d never really be able to tell.”
Aameneh offered a similar sentiment.
“Unless you hear the news, you can’t really tell that there are big issues,” she said. “You can’t really tell if the U.S. and Iran are in conflict.”
NO LOCAL IMPACT
Asked if the growing conflict has had any kind of negative impact on their own lives here in the U.S., the response from the Kermanis was a unanimous “No.”
“I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever been treated differently because I’m Iranian-American,” said Aameneh, to nods from her brother and sister. “Most people are pretty understanding here.”
That said, Tamara noted that the family, which considers itself “Lax-Muslim” when it comes to a religious affiliation, may very well have been sheltered from much of the Islamophobia that seems rampant in the U.S. today, specifically because the family is not particularly strict in its following of the Muslim faith.
“I mean, there is the Islamophobic thing that goes around, but I wouldn’t say we’re the most religious,” Mansoorah said of the family. “I personally want to be open to all religions, and not be bound by one. That’s my thing.”
“I think they associate that more with people who are covered (with traditional headscarves, etc.), and we aren’t,” Tamara added of the women in her family. “So I don’t think people associate that with us really.”
A CLOSE EYE
Despite not feeling the tensions between the U.S. and Iran all that closely in their own personal experiences, the family did admit that they are keeping a close eye on the escalating confrontation between the two countries and what that conflict could bring should it go unresolved for much longer.
“And I think it really has much more to do with whoever is in charge of the governments, and what their beliefs are,” Mansoorah added of the conflict, noting that for many people in the U.S., there seems to be a belief that everyone in Iran is a terrorist and hates the U.S., when in actuality that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Tamara was quick to agree.
“Most people in Iran actually love the United States, and are obsessed with the United States. And that’s especially true of all the young people. If they hear you’re from the United States, they idolize you. So it’s not like that at all,” she said of the Iranian people. “Ever since I can remember, Iran has always been a country that has been disliked and thought to be bad. And what I think people here need to understand is that it’s not the Iranian people that are bad. It’s the government. It’s the religious people in power. They do not like the United States, and I don’t think they ever will. So I don’t know. I don’t see it changing unless the government changes.”
Even so, Abbas isn’t without hope that a peaceful resolution may one day be achieved between the two countries.
“Everybody needs to get along. It could solve a lot of problems,” Abbas said of the ongoing conflict. “Is this idealistic? Maybe. But realism comes from idealism. You first have to have an idea, and then you can try and build something from it and make it real.”
John Kline can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN