I was born in Iran and came to the U.S. as a student to attend college preparatory school.
When I left Iran, the Shah’ regime was still in place, with no major signs of public demonstrations or social unrest, let alone a revolution.
Iran is a beautiful country that was enjoying, along its ancient culture, rapid modernization and social transformation. It was strong economically, diplomatically, militarily and was internationally respected. It was not associated with medieval standards of justice and punishment, public hangings, violations of women’s and human rights, global support and spread of terrorism.
The social structure was permissively liberal, although politically not fully democratic. As a Cold War western ally and a neighbor of the Soviet Union, Iran was not an irrelevant bystander and subject to global political dynamics. Historically, it was also a battleground for colonialist competition, mostly hard interference by Russia and the British and soft influence by France and Germany.
I did not have a full scale culture shock coming the the U.S. The environment I grew up included many elements of the Western culture in day to day and routine activities. Europe had influenced Iran for centuries, U.S. had much cultural influence through business and entertainment, dubbed movies and T.V. shows, an American T.V. station and military personnel some of whom lived in our neighborhood and who we saw at parties.
My family also had more extensive links to the West. My father went to the Gettysburg college (cool 1957 Gettysburg Times front page article, a bit awkwardly worded reflecting the culture at the time and rarity of Iranian students in the U.S.) and University of Arizona where he was a quarterback and broke some decathlon records. He was a businessman who traveled often around the world. One of my aunts graduated from Princeton, the other from London University and was a Professor of American literature at NYU who I stayed with often in Manhattan. On my mother’s side, there were multiple graduates of the French military academy, European universities, and ambassadors.
We arrived at JFK after a visit to London, Paris and Monaco, and stayed with my aunt in Manhattan. New York City was my first U.S. experience. It overwhelms the senses visually, audibly, and cognitively with its ordered chaos. For those who have lived there, it is a transformative experience — only a handful of cities have so full breadth and depth of what they embody to possess that ability.
My first weeks in the U.S. got a bit scary when, coming from a protected environment, a would be mugger pulled a knife pulled on my brother and I in the subway station. I felt a bit more secure visiting the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, CT where a family friend was there for the commissioning ceremony and taking delivery of a submarine. How cool was that as a teenage boy! Better than we are going to pick up a new car.
I then went to a boarding school in Massachusetts and my family headed back to Iran which, within 6 months, had a full violent revolution and regime change. I was very fortunate to be where I was a the time. Not just in the U.S but an institution that seeks to be and is more than a school and it did become more so for me. It is normally a privilege to go to Northfield Mount Hermon or another one of similar 8 school association. It is not just the history, academic excellence, the founder’s legacy, D. L. Moody who was called Billy Graham of his time (note: NMH is highly diverse, value based, non-denominational, and liberally stresses and incorporates religion and spirituality), or the generalizations associated with image of a New England boarding school. They all converge into, not an organization but a living organism, which was an incredibly supportive and kind environment, in addition to a learning experience, and essential in forming my first impressions of the American culture.
The revolution was emotionally consuming with its high stakes and uncertainties of violence, executions, and random lawlessness including the taking of American embassy diplomats as hostages.
I talked to my family periodically and at less when my father went on a prolonged business trip inside Iran.
It was sheer luck and a beautiful twist that in the middle of the ugly chaos of a country and your universe burning down, you are protected by the best of America while living in historical architecture and a region where the country was born. I was lucky to have have my aunt in Manhattan where I went back to for breaks and summers. I started university at the University of Rochester in upstate New York ambitiously declaring my intention to graduate with a dual physics and political science degree.
About then, Iraq attacked Iran in a war that lasted 8 years. My family and other residents lived under the constant threat and fear of aerial bombardment and missile strikes. My aunt decided to go back to Iran hoping to save the country from the revolution itself.
Meanwhile, very close family friend moved to New York with his family to teach at Columbia. Still in my freshman year, I went to visit them and that is when I learned that my father had died. He was not on a business trip as I was told.
He was imprisoned, tortured and executed for trying to overthrow the revolutionary government. He was not in the military or the previous government. My father was a business executive in then the largest agricultural complex in the region who could not stand the new government he considered anti-Iran and found true Persian values not aligned with hateful expectations and genocidal tendencies.
He was not in the military or the previous government. Unlike political activists and, unusual for civilians, he was tried in a military court. Despite various pleas for his release through our extensive networks, my family was told this is an impossibly high order that no one seems to be able to question. An extremely high level ayatollah who had taken some bribes to give out, apologized and gave the money back.
The sticking points were not my mother’s family background. The summary of execution published in the newspapers mentioned the coup attempt, contacts with his cousin’s husband in the U.S. (the last commander of the army) which were recorded, collaboration with foreign powers (i.e. U.S.) and membership in the Masonic fraternity and brotherhood (the one that included brothers George Washington, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere, Mozart, Voltaire, Mark Twain, Buzz Aldrin, and John Wayne, among many others and not the imaginary conspiracy theorist target.)
My family was blacklisted, they could not sell property or leave the country and I could not go back.
At 19 and alone in the U.S., academic performance was no longer a priority. It changed to meeting a required minimum. There were a few things made big differences for me. Family friends were in the country, and close relatives in Canada provided emotional support and financial help. The U of R dean allowed me to stay in school and pay when I could and university friends helped me cope emotionally.
A few years later my father’s cousin’s husband, whom I did not see often or know well, and who was the last commander of the army under the Shah, was assassinated in Paris by the Islamic Jihad.
France – Canada
After years of dealing with the government and bureaucracy, my family was allowed to leave Iran for France. It was a big relief since they were now out of an unsafe and hostile environment where these was little or no legal protection and recourse.
I saw them in Paris after 8 years. I stayed for about a year and they decided to immigrate to Canada where we had relatives. I then moved to Seattle to be closer to them.
Family Background & History of Modern Iran
(note: I am private and most of family history I include below was not mentioned to people outside my family and over 99% of people that know me. I did so first here in November 2018 and out of necessity.)
The events I have mentioned can leave an incomplete impression of my family, especially given the current image of Iran and its regime.
While I am proud, and I am, my family background and culture, I will be more factual than I was personal about my first experiences of the U.S. and the revolution. I will also not get into relationships of position, status and power. Instead I will focus on the impact on the society and people, achievement and sacrifice.
I mentioned my father and paternal aunts before. He was a business executive in then the largest agricultural complex in the region. My grandfather was an excellent attorney (including of the Royal Court,) a journalist who published a newspaper and a skilled poet (poetry is not just a literary endeavor in Iran and much more infused with culture and daily life.) He was also very outspoken and politically active against corruption he saw in the government. 2 of his brothers were senators and another a police commanding officer.
My mother’ side is very old and instrumental in shaping of Iranian society and history impacting millions of lives. By some accounts it includes 400 years of noble and notable individuals, clearly documented for at least 250 years, and is one of what is called the 13 families which refers to the most influential families of the modern Iranian history.
Unlike politicians or strongmen who come to, or usurp power, the family, over centuries, dynasties and generations, produced many civil servants who rose to positions that allowed them to make a difference. They were patriotic, typically educated in, or were diplomats in Europe (with the exception of one who was in the U.S. when Indians attacked) who tried to modernize and democratize a country with a weak central government that was mostly illiterate, riddled by debt, disease, lack of basic socio-political institutions and physical infrastructure such as clean water and transportation, and amidst constant foreign influence and intervention. They include prime ministers, many department secretaries/ministers, ambassadors to Denmark, Switzerland and Vatican and more junior diplomats.
My grandfather was a military general, judge and a scholar and artist. I spent a lot of time with and was very close to him. He went to the French military academy, was one of the Shah’ teachers, wrote books and painted well. Jim Mattis’ warrior monk image and mobile library reminds me of him.
I used to see him go to and come back from work in his military uniform. His military rank advancement stopped when he refused a back channel suggestion to condemn some socialist soldiers to death in his military court, for their beliefs not matter how abhorrent, and out of the process. He kept his rank and continued in the military until the revolution. He was known for his honesty and not using his position to amass wealth as many did. A family story is during a ceremony at the Royal court, the Shah took the lapel of his tuxedo by hand and whispered in his ear: did you rent this?
Among significant visible social and historical impact are a key leader of the constitutional revolution and first chairman and speaker of the Iranian parliament and his brother the Prime Minister who also drafted the first law guaranteeing the freedom of press (trivia: he pissed the British off so much that they did not tolerate his presence in the same room) and was instrumental in having the monarch concede absolute power to the new constitution which established a parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, against the wishes of the Russians and the British. He later became the finance minister and initiated financial reforms and overhaul of the taxation system, including bringing in the American adviser W. Morgan Shuster when he was assassinated by 2 Georgians which was part of the Tzarist Russia. The original copy of the Iranian constitution was in his (and then family’s) custody and given to the congress 31 years later. There were the main and most effective founding fathers of the modern democratic system in Iran (Persian language link). And there goes my confidence in British and Russian support for my endeavors!
Another is my mother’s cousin who was the first woman elected to the parliament, and instrumental in bringing voting and other equal legal rights to women in Iran. She was also the first Iranian female ambassador.
A relation by marriage, my mother’s uncle in law was a military leader who became a prime minister. He was assassinated by a Muslim fundamentalist group whose founder was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, a mentor to Ayatollah Khomeini and a hero of the current Ayatollah Khamenei.
My mother’s maternal uncle was Iran’s first 4 star general who by some accounts was framed and dismissed for direct contacts with the Eisenhower administration about U.S. military aid being plundered by corrupt military generals in the Iranian army. He was also awarded U.S. Legion of Merit during the Cold War.
Other leaders include Chief justice of the Supreme Court, members or parliament and other military generals.
On the civic side, my mother’s uncle is one of, if not the most influential writer in 20th century Iran.
None of them were ever accused of corruption of lack of patriotism or treason in a culture and society that gratuitously does so.
Beautiful and giants of men and women and role models. Some of the personal family stories I heard as I was growing up were actual stories about the history of Iran in the making.
For a more military focused bio, view and thoughts see my Memorial Day post.
Professional, Personal & Passional
I have been driven by activities and hobbies that included creativity, curiosity, figuring things out and novelty. There are the essential ingredients of entrepreneurship and innovation. I did not know what entrepreneurship entailed until I wen through my Master in Information Systems program and when the director told me they knew early that I was an entrepreneur. That and lots of life change led to a non-linear “career,” if it can be called that.
As I was going through a very hard time in college, my major went from physics and political science to political science in the 3rd year, and then an incomplete degree since I never took English 101 (it was boring when you have taken years of English classes and are better than native speakers.) What I did not miss was spending hours in the computer center every day. I had become fascinated with programming when I was first introduced to it in my high school, which had one of the few mainframe systems serving other schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
I wrote programs which I marketed to accounting firms. I worked on other programs as I did odd jobs before going to France after my family got there. I continued learning new languages and programming in France and then in Canada.
As an early adopter of computing technologies, I was also early on the Internet and dabbling in more obscure operating systems like UNIX which I became good at. So when the Internet started to become commercialized in early 1990’s, I sensed the potential opportunity, got some investment commitment and started a Web company in Seattle. As I learned, being and early mover is not always advantageous and investors matter. My main investor thought “this internet thing is not going anywhere” and I had to stop after a year.
I then worked at a couple of startups where I developed some of the firsts of Internet-centric software, managed systems and networks, had one short AT&T Wireless experience, and consulted while trying to get financing for my new idea until the dot com bubble burst. The software and Internet industry was becoming more structured and technology executive positions required higher education degrees. I started looking at formal education and a master degree in business and technology which cost over 40k in early 2000’s and over 80k now at the University of Washington and which I could not afford.
I met a Boeing manager who mentioned their education reimbursement program. There was a large sum “short term” sum pay cut but seemed to be worth it at the time. I was hired as a programmer/analyst but did not code (I was made a senior lead in a week) on then the largest data conversion project in the world. I mostly analyzed processes by collecting relevant data, identified issues and defects, performed root cause analysis and recommended improvements. The project was part of a major process re-engineering effort and converted all airplane data from a legacy system to a new one. Meanwhile I earned my Master of Science in Information Systems and an MBA at the University of Washington. the program cherry picked the top instructors fro each department and is more than the sum of its parts – it changed my perspective not just on business but how human nature and needs link exchanges, social and political structures.
The data conversion program came to an end and some of the team was selected to form Information Architecture (part of Enterprise Architecture) which stared as a new concept and group. We were tasked with developing and implementing Information Architecture frameworks, standards and practice, and also audited and assisted major, multi million dollar or high risk or impact projects as IT governance architects. I also went on special tiger-team one-off projects.
I was laid off from Boeing in 2009 after the economy crash, despite good performance reviews, in what I generally categorize as expectations and personal value misalignment.
I have since consulted and identified new opportunities in health and fitness industry which I am trying to get off the ground.
I am very active in the entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem. Along with a focus on entrepreneurship in my masters program, I became involved with entrepreneurial organizations in Seattle. One organization where the mix of people, and programs of highest quality resonated with me was the all volunteer non-profit MIT Enterprise Forum of Northwest which is one of 28 worldwide chapters of the MIT Enterprise Forum. I was very active for 9 years, fortunate contribute by serving on various board positions including the President and Chair and get to know and work with many great people.
Meanwhile, I have been and am working on a few investigative, mystery solving projects related to events of high impact on me, family, friends and many other people over time, with wider social implications and which match and use my background, skills and experience. You can follow them at the Lux ex Tenebris: Light from Darkness program blog.
Recognitions & Acknowledgments: 2009 and on have been particularly difficult with back to back major life events stacking on top of existing ones, even without considering challenges articulated in Lux Ex Tenebris. At such times, we get by with a little help from our friends. Here is a minimalist time line of challenges and — all inclusive everyone who helped out — rich or poor, near or far, financially and semi-financially, with slightly obfuscated first name initials. Moral support not included 😉