Posted by Karmel Melamed
Dr. Rosemary Hartounian Cohen is perhaps one of the rare authors and academics you’ll ever come across today because of her identity as an Iranian, Armenian and a Jew. Her unique background, her life experiences and those of her own family have enabled her to see the world— especially the conflict in the Middle East in a totally different light. So when she asked me to read and review her latest book, “The Mother of Jersualem is Crying” I gladly accepted. To my delight Dr. Cohen does indeed manage to convey the heart wrenching personal pain that the three families in the novel who are Jewish, Christian and Muslim encounter because of the blind hatred and lack of human decency in their world.
I particularly enjoyed learning about the tremendous hardships Armenians living in what is now Turkey encountered at the hands of the Turkish military during the early part of the 20th century. It was not easy reading the story of the Armenian family in her novel that was decimated and devastated in the genocide, but it is an example of just one of the thousands of true life stories many Armenians today carry with them about their own families. The Armenian genocide is among one of humanity’s worse episodes and its occurrence must be recognized. My hope is that this novel and others will continue to raise awareness in the world about the Armenian genocide and encourage human beings to stand up against future genocides! Dr. Cohen’s ability to humanize the suffering endured during the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust as well as Arab and Israeli conflict in this novel is remarkable. The emotional, historical, religious and cultural complexity of the Middle East and its people are often very difficult for authors, journalists and even politicians to explain to individuals not from that part of the world. The Middle East is just not easy…but Dr. Cohen’s message in this novel lays out the overriding solution to the suffering endured in that part of the world— that with love and tolerance, those who truly cherish life can overcome all difficulties. Readers of “The Mother of Jersualem is Crying” will not be disappointed because the novel tells three compelling stories and conveys a powerful message for humanity’s need for co-existence in the world.
Here’s a recent online video interview of Dr. Cohen about her latest book…
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November 19, 2011 | 3:51 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Two weeks ago on the 32nd anniversary of the hostage-taking of the American embassy in Iran, nearly two dozen current and former Iranian student activists wrote a open and very heart breaking letter to President Obama. The letter which was translated into English online was practically begging President Obama for greater diplomatic help, strong leadership and open support for the people of Iran who have been enduring unspeakable human rights abuses at the hand of Iran’s current regime. The letter also speaks volumes about how the average people of Iran are truly disappointed with the President’s failure to stop the Iranian regime from killing and torturing its people— human being that are just yearning for democratic freedoms. The following is just one excerpt from the letter…
“On numerous occasions in recent years, the Iranian people have demonstrated to the world that they want to free themselves from the oppressive grip of the Iranian regime. Two years ago today, the Iranian people, while being beaten by batons and shot at with guns, cried out to you. They asked you which side you were on, the hostage-taking regime’s or the people’s. The Iranian people chanted, “Obama, Obama, you’re either with us or with them.” They cried out for your direct help. However, you have been considering talks with the hostage-taking regime, based on the advice of your advisers, which has worked to the benefit of the Islamic Republic and the disadvantage of the Iranian people. Your administration’s Iran policy gave the Iranian authorities much confidence to visibly suppress citizens during peaceful protests”.
One is left wondering why President Obama and his administration have continued to sit on the sidelines since the 2009 Iranian elections after seeing the people of Iran being crushed by their evil government when protesting in the streets for greater freedoms? Why has President Obama not responded to the student groups and democratic opposition groups in Iran that have repeatedly asked him to apply stiffer economic and political pressures on the Iranian government? Why did the President and his administration repeatedly call for the immediate removal of Egypt’s dictator Mubarak and voiced support for the Egyptian people’s freedom this year, but not call for a similar regime change in Iran and support for it’s people that want to be free? Why has President Obama extended a hand of friendship and desire for negotiations with Iran’s leadership since 2008 even though the ruling Iranian mullahs have repeatedly said they do not want dialogue and only want to destroy America? Why has the President and his administration failed to publicly shed greater light and taken the Iranian regime to task for imprisoning torturing and killing hundreds of innocent people whom have spoken out against the regime? Why have the President and his administration not more actively engaged the world’s leaders to shut down or slow down Iran’s banking and financial institutions that are keeping the Iranian regime alive? These questions and others about President Obama’s lack of leadership on the Iran human rights issue are the main reasons why the people of Iran have lost hope in our president who wrote about “the audacity of hope” and won a Nobel Peace Prize, but has clearly failed to help them.
I think what is most powerful about this latest student letter directed to the President is the fact that the Iranian students do not ask for U.S. military help, but rather ask the President to apply greater sanctions on Iran’s individual leaders, call for human rights abuses to end in Iran, obtain greater international pressure on Iran’s banking institutions and more actively voice support for the average Iranians who are seeking to overthrow their evil government. By the way, the Iranian individuals who signed their names to this letter are perhaps one of the most courageous individuals in Iran that you will meet because they have risked their own lives by identifying themselves and potentially making themselves targets for being imprisoned or killed by the Iranian government they are openly criticizing.
Yes the Iranian government’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is an important issue, but many Iranian Americans believe the U.S. should be more actively encouraging regime change in the news media, in diplomatic channels and creating both a diplomatic and economic environment where average Iranians can themselves throw off the yoke of oppression place upon them by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic leaders. One would think that President Obama’s administration would encourage a policy of regime change in Iran by the people of Iran as a more effective and less violent method of solving the Iranian nuclear weapons crisis. But it seems as if the President and his advisors are totally asleep at the wheel because for the last three years they have done none of this, but followed an obviously ineffective and foolish policy of engaging the Iranian mullahs in “diplomatic dialogue”. Your first term as President of the United States is fast coming to an end Mr. Obama and the people of Iran have lost faith in your ability to help them, when will you listen to their pleas for real help and real solutions to overcome the tyranny they are plagued with?
November 13, 2011 | 3:17 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Three years ago I had the rare opportunity to interview Simon Sion Ebrahimi, one of Southern California’s prominent Iranian Jewish authors about his true life experience of being held hostage in his own accounting firm in Iran during that country’s revolution. In November 1979, when the U.S. embassy in Iran was taken over by armed revolutionary thugs, Ebrahimi and his partners were also held hostage inside their nearby offices by his armed employees.
Now 73, Ebrahimi recently published “Veiled Romance”, his first book in his fictional multi-generational Iranian Jewish family saga. The book is a twisted love story about two young Iranian Jews caught up in the whirlwind of Iran’s revolution. Ebrahimi is among a small but growing group of Iranian American Jews who have gathered the courage to write about the life-altering trauma they endured as Iran begun to plunge into the darkness of fundamentalist Shiite Islamic rule. I enjoyed the book and found that its correct portrayal of historical events in 1979 Iran offers non-Iranians a better perspective of the pure evil that is the current regime in Iran. After reading this very compelling story, I recently caught up with Ebrahimi to chat with him about his new book and experiences in revolutionary Iran. The following is a portion of our recent discussion…
The characters in this book encounter some of the same circumstances that you faced at the start of the revolution in Iran while being held hostage in your accounting firm. What was your main motivation in telling this particular story? Was it to tell your story but in a fictional setting?
My motivation in writing “Veiled Romance” was to tell the life stories of our people in Iran while at the same time addressing some of the questions many of us faced when we first immigrated to the States. A writer’s work is a blend of personal experiences with the power of imagination. “Veiled Romance” utilizes my experience of being taken hostage by my 500 employees on the same day— November 4, 1979 that the American Embassy compound in Tehran was raided by Khomeini’s followers. However I chose to tell the story from the point of view of another character, Leila, who personifies women who live under fanatic, autocratic regimes where they are, at best, treated as second class citizens. The 53 American Embassy hostages who endured 444 days of captivity were seen by Khomeini as agents of “The Great Satan”—America. I was merely a Lesser Satan: an Iranian Jew who, because his position, knowledge of the world and perspective on government and law, made him equally a threat to the new regime in Tehran. To sum up my response to your question, this state of affairs, which many Iranians shared during the Khomeini’s Revolution, begged to be told not just from my experience but from the experience of many people who have suffered from the Khomeini regime.
Many of your contemporaries in the Iranian American Jewish community have written their memoirs in the Persian language, so why did you decide to break the mold and write this book in English?
Numerous books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been written in Farsi about the events surrounding the 1979 Revolution in Iran. There is a big vacuum in English-language fiction on this subject and also on how Persian Jews have lived in Persia for over 2,500 years. I believe that we need to approach English speaking readers who are curious about the way religious minorities were treated in Iran, not to mention millions of Americans of Persian descent who, regardless of their religion, are hungry to read historical fictions set in their homeland.
Your book is in English, but I noticed you’ve woven in many words in Persian into the story. So what were you trying to achieve with this unusual mixing of another language?
I believe this gives the work both authenticity and a sort of native flavor. You see, in every language, words and expressions carry their particular music, melody and message. For example, the Farsi word “aaraam,” as it has been employed in the novel, literary translated means “relax.” “Aaraam or relax,” I’ve asked many, “Which one sounds more soothing and comforting?” And “aaraam” has won the contest. By the same token, there are many instances that the reverse has been true.
Please explain the reason why your Iranian “thug” characters use such foul Persian language in the story?
I’m sorry, but I based that on my experience. I wouldn’t have been honest with my readers if I had censored myself. Although fictional, “Veiled Romance” tells it as it is. I’ve talked to many people who have been incarcerated in the Islamic Republic’s jails, and do they have stories to tell! I have a Muslim friend here who endured five years of verbal, physical and psychological abuse at “Evin”, the notorious jail of the mullahs.
One of the book’s main characters, Cyrus, goes in depth about the anti-Semitism and the brutal beatings he encountered as a Jew living in the Jewish ghetto of Esfahan, also known as “Jewbareh”. How much of your own personal experiences while living in the Jewbareh did you incorporate into this story and what message are you hoping to convey to Iranian Muslims who may read the book about this anti-Semitism?
The brutality of our neighboring nomads was beyond words. Admittedly, some of my childhood memories are vague, therefore I conducted extensive interviews with the elders of my community to corroborate my own memories. Of course, as in any other community, there’s a major gap between the educated and non-educated. I have many Muslim friends who are shocked by some of the bitter experiences of my childhood and even adulthood. They don’t believe that we were considered “najes”, Farsi for “filthy” or “untouchable”, by Muslims in Iran. They have a difficult time believing what I say, and I don’t blame them, for I am not “najes” to them. These are the very people who helped break the hostage situation I was caught in. These are friends to whom I am beyond grateful for having saved the life of my family and myself. And the more they hear the stories of our people in Iran, the more they feel embarrassed for what their forefathers have done to us. My hope is that with “Veiled Romance,” my Muslim readers learn more about the history of their Jewish compatriots, because it is through knowledge that the walls of prejudice can be destroyed.
What feedback have you received from Iranian readers of your book who are not Jewish?
The feedback has thus far been overwhelmingly positive from Jews and non-Jews alike. Many people have identified with the story and have been moved by it. On the other hand, one of my Muslim friends who ordered ten copies of the book to give as a gift to his friends tells me that one of the recipients of the book has called me a “Mossad agent!”
Can you please explain why you decided to include real life individuals from the Iranian regime such as the current Iranian president Ahmadinejad and the notorious late Ayatollah Khalkhali in your book?
From my office, I witnessed the American Embassy hostage-taking situation and, to be honest, although these hoodlums look very much alike, I can swear it was Ahmadinejad that I saw on the top of the Embassy wall. So, with that on my mind, he very easily fitted into the puzzle of my novel. As for the notorious Khalkhali who was known as Khomeini’s Angel of Death, he was born for my story.
Your book does not spare the details of the true brutality of the current Iranian regime and the bloodshed of the revolution. Do you think Iranian Jews like yourself who witnessed this brutality by the regime firsthand are perhaps the best individuals in the U.S. today to educate Americans on the dangerous nature of Iran’s government?
Yes and let me tell you why. In the 32 plus years that I have lived in this great country, I have shared all such information through my articles in “Shofar”, the monthly magazine of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, and on my radio and TV programs. Even to this day, I continue to get first hand information about the situation in Iran from my Muslim friends in Iran—and NO, I’m NOT a Mossad agent!
You’ve indicated that this book is just a part of a larger Iranian Jewish family saga. Can you give us some insights about the remaining parts of this saga?
As I mentioned, “Veiled Romance” is the story of the fifth generation of a family of Iranian Jews. The first generation begins with “Rueben the Rhino” in the early 19th century, followed by four more generations, headed by patriarch and matriarch protagonists. However, when you read the stories of these five generations, you will get acquainted with 1,100 years of the history of Persian Jews who have lived under the Islamic rule.
It’s been more than 30 years since the revolution, why is it still so hard for people in the Iranian Jewish community who witnessed it first hand and endured its horrible outcome to discuss it openly?
Years into the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, there were émigré who sat in Paris side-walk café’s and discussed the return of their lost emperor. Perhaps the people you’re referring to are dreaming of the old days that might come back, when they’ll go back to the old country and recover what they have left behind. Who knows, though!
For more information on “Veiled Romance” and Simon Sion Ebrahimi, visit his website: www.simon-writes.com
November 6, 2011 | 5:00 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Over the past year there have been a host of American talking heads and politicians who have opined about Iran from both sides of the political spectrum, saying some of the most ridiculous garbage I have ever heard in my life. Yet today the comments made by Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Congressman, Ron Paul on the Fox News network today about the U.S. “offering friendship to Iran and not sanctions” takes the number one spot on my list of downright asinine things any American politicians has said this year about Iran.
As a journalist who covers Iran, is fluent in the Persian language and closely follows the state-run media outlets from Iran’s radical Islamic regime, I can say that without a doubt Paul is living in some “far off dream land” if he really thinks the Iranian regime will suddenly change overnight and become friendly to us if we offer the mullahs an olive branch. The fact of the matter is that Iran’s regime since its inception in 1979 has been calling for the unconditional destruction of America and has never once waived from that policy. Moreover the Iranian government has funded countless terrorist attacks against American troops in Lebanon in the 1980s, more recently in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Not one day has gone by in Iran where the regime, its radical Islamic leadership and state-run media have not called for America’s destruction and chanted “death to America”. The regime in Iran is opposed to the freedom of religion, free of expression and other freedoms the U.S. stands for and wants to impose their radical Shiite Islamic beliefs on the entire Western world—including on America. The regime’s leaders have said this clearly in the news media and when addressing the people of Iran publicly. They do not want peace with the U.S., the Iranian mullahs have said they want one thing only… to destroy America. One cannot offer a hand in friendship to another who wants to cut off that hand of friendship!
Sadly Paul has not learned the hard lessons that former U.S. President Clinton learned after he tried to make friendly gestures to Iran by removing some sanctions against certain food items and rugs from Iran in the late 1990s. What Clinton got in exchange for his “friendly gesture” of removing sanctions, were increased calls for America’s destruction and the Iranian regime moving forward with their then new nuclear program! Again President Obama in 2008 and 2009 offered Iran’s leaders an opportunity to negotiate on the nuclear issue, remove U.S. sanctions on Iran and also spoke to the regime in “friendly” terms in hopes of bringing the Iranian mullahs to the negotiating table. What Obama got in return was a clear slap in the face with Iran’s leaders refusing to negotiate, calling for the U.S. to be destroyed, increased military support and funding for terrorist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan to attack U.S. troops and even discovered a recent plan by the Iranian regime to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington D.C. These are clear and unmistakable results of what will happen to the U.S. when they offer “friendship” to Iran— a country whose leadership wants to destroy the U.S. and would not hesitate to do so if they had the means.
I am by no means endorsing a military strike on Iran but at the same time I am not naïve like Paul to think that the evil “Iranian regime” is a simple issue that can be easily resolved by “friendly rhetoric” toward that regime. So one is left wondering if Ron Paul has either become senile in his old age or has been smoking some bad drugs to make him believe that just by the U.S. offering Iran’s mullahs friendship that they will miraculously change their attitude toward America. How do you expect the U.S. to offer friendship to a regime that is actively trying to destroy it and has sworn to destroy the U.S. by any means possible?! Are you kidding me Ron?! Hey buddy, wake up to the reality that Iran’s regime wants to destroy us!