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August 5th, 2009 Katie Litvin | News Stories
 

Taking Pause

Why local Iranians tried to put aside their protests for a weekend.

     
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FARAMARZ MEHRDADFAR: “It’s very important we show solidarity with the people of Iran, so they know they are not alone.”
IMAGE: Katie Litvin

For one sunny Saturday, Portland’s Iranian community gathered happily in the South Park Blocks for something besides its somber weekly rally to highlight the violence in Tehran.

Instead, Aug. 1 marked the 10th annual Iranian Festival, where delicious beef and chicken kebabs from Blue Tangerine and Mediterranean Market, and booths with Persian books and artwork replaced bullhorns, chanting and banners.

“The organizing committee tries to put together something that is reflective of the community, something that is for old people and young, with dancing and performance,” says festival organizer Goudarz Eghtedari. “It is a showcase of the community. But we did not limit the attendants’ expression of their opinions.”

And the troubles in Iran remained in the thoughts of the roughly 300 Iranian-Americans—some recent transplants and others longtime Portland residents—who attended. One of them was Meead Saberi, an engineering student in Portland State University’s master’s program.

Saberi says this weekend’s festival was an unexpected find for him that turned out to be fun, but not perfect.

“I expected more tents about Iranian culture, that they would be more artistic and represent more of the [larger] culture of Iran,” says Saberi, a 23-year-old photographer who arrived in Portland almost one year ago from Mashad, Iran. “Also, why aren’t they playing more music?”

Saberi snapped pictures throughout the event for his photo blog, portlanddailyphotos.blogspot.com. He says he likes taking photos because being a good observer in photography helps him catch problems in engineering that others can’t see.

One of his friends currently living in Iran also runs a photo blog, but under much greater stress. After the unrest began, Saberi’s friend was arrested and detained by the Iranian government after he posted pictures on his blog of the violence in Tehran’s streets. He has since been released, but he updates his blog with nonpolitical content, Saberi says.

“After the election, I was shocked at what was going on in the streets, so I started posting [in Farsi] on my Portland blog about Iran’s news so people in Iran could have access,” Saberi says. “Then they blocked my blog in Iran, just as they also blocked my friend in Iran’s blog.”

Saberi also photographs for a group that was at the festival, Portland Stands With Iran.

Faramarz Mehrdadfar, a volunteer for Portland Stands With Iran and an Oregon resident for 31 years, says he has attended the Portland Iranian Festival since it started 10 years ago. Although he moved from Iran to the U.S. when he was a high-school student, he continues to talk with his parents back home.

“It’s very important we show solidarity with the people of Iran, so they know they are not alone,” he says. “They ask us to keep the [Portland rallies] going as long as the protesting continues.”

After Saberi finishes his graduate program, he plans to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. But he ultimately hopes to return home to Iran.

“They might not let me into the country, especially because of my blog and everything,” Saberi says. “If I can work there, I definitely will.”


FACT: WW’s James Pitkin, who has written several pieces about the local Iranian community in the past year, was among six people and organizations honored at the festival with a Community Appreciation Award.
 
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