Parham Aqdassi, Expelled Nuclear Physics Student Atcity of Hamedan’s Bu Ali Sina University

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Parham Aqdassi, expelled nuclear physics student /ABF Interview
Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation
March 26, 2014
Interview
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Interview dates: September 2, 2009 (prior to leaving Iran) and October 2, 2013 (Subsequent to leaving Iran)

1. I took the university entrance examinations in 2006. That was the first time that Baha’is were officially authorized to choose a major, once they had passed the entrance exams and obtained a report card.

From 2004 onward, Baha’is were allowed to participate in the entrance exams. There were, however, only a handful who were admitted, [and then, only] in majors such as English. They, in turn, abstained from attending [citing as their reasons for doing so] discrimination against, and prevention of, other Baha’is from pursuing their education.

2. I was among the first Baha’i students who attended college in Iran after the [1979] Revolution. I was able to study nuclear physics at Hamedan’s Bu Ali Sina University. Being Baha’i, I expected to be expelled from the university. That was why I regularly checked the university [announcement] boards to see whether they mentioned my name or not.

3. I registered at the university on September 29, 2006. I was summoned to the university Herassat [the security and information unit of all public and many private organizations, institutions, and companies] on November 4, 2006.

There was no talk of being expelled. They simply conducted a short interview to make sure I was, in fact, Baha’i. They had identified me as a Baha’i due to the fact that, for a very long time, we Baha’is have indicated our religion by drawing two horizontal lines where we’re asked what our religion is in [various questionnaires and application] forms. They asked me a number of questions related to religion and other matters, ostensibly wanting to know if I needed a dormitory room or other facilities [and amenities] for my life and education.

4. I was summoned, once again, by university Herassat on December 24, 2006. The meeting was attended by the university Vice-President for Education and the head of Herassat. I was orally informed that I had been expelled from the university. I was not given anything in writing. [In fact,] they wanted me to voluntarily withdraw, so that they would not have to give me a letter of expulsion. I refused to do so. They proceeded to create an atmosphere of fear and chaos and made me promise that I would return to them my university identification card, library card, food card, and other cards. They did not even allow me to attend classes that day.

5. I was subsequently banned from taking my exams and, finally, from entering the university grounds. Having been the first Baha’i student expelled from a public university in Iran, I made great efforts to return to the university:

I wrote letters to [Iran’s] Ministry of Higher Education, the Entrance Examinations Organization, the Cultural Revolution High Council, and other institutions, requesting permission to continue my education, to no avail.

6. When I was summoned to Herassat, they told me I was banned from continuing my education, because I was Baha’i. They cited the Cultural Revolution High Council’s directive of February 25, 1991, Article 3, which states that Baha’i students are banned from pursuing higher education. Finally, after numerous attempts [on my part], they showed me a letter, in which the Ministry of Higher Education had [officially] deprived me from exercising my right to education. They did not give me the letter but simply showed it to me. They further told me that, if I renounced my religion, I would be allowed to pursue my education, something I could not do, since our religion does not allow us to hide our belief. I was therefore expelled from the university.

7. I had only a few seconds to read the expulsion letter when they showed it to me. They quickly took it back.

8. The Cultural Revolution High Council’s directive of February 25, 1991, was revealed at the United Nations in 1993-94 and is available online. So is the letter of the Ministry of Higher Education to other universities in the country, prohibiting Baha’i students from continuing their education.

9. After expulsion, I kept going back to the university to see what I could do to return to my studies. I even stayed in [the city of] Hamedan and kept in contact with my fellow students. I considered myself a student and kept going back to the university. Because of my activities and the interviews I gave to foreign radios regarding my expulsion, Herassat officially warned me that, from that point on, they would post a [security] officer at the university entrance to prevent [me] from entering the grounds, which they did, conditioning entrance to the university upon one’s having a student identification card. I was not able to go to the university after that.

10. I wrote numerous letters to the effect that banning Baha’i students, who were mostly considered good students, served no purpose but to cause harm and inflict damage on the country. Most responses stated, however, that there was nothing they could do, given the regime’s directive. The various [government] organs kept giving banned students the runaround and providing no answers.

11. The day I was expelled, nearly all students of the Faculty of Science, where I was a student, conducted a sit-in, [protesting my expulsion]. A number of students reported the expulsion to news agencies. The university warned them, however, that the dissemination of the news was against national security and that no one was allowed to protest. One of the students who was an ISNA [Iranian Students’ News Agency] reporter, had asked the head of Herassat the reason for my expulsion. The latter had stated that the only reason I was expelled was that I was Baha’i. [The reporter] was [subsequently] chastised many times for having recorded the head of Herassat’s voice, talking about my expulsion, and was suspended from the university. Later, he was expelled [altogether] and spent some time in jail for his [political and] student activities.

12. There were a number of student activists, two of whom had been expelled before I was, and one after. Their main activity was to demand students’ rights, come to the defense of expelled students, and publish student publications. These publications criticized the practices of the university Herassat and its treatment of students. On one occasion, the reason for a student’s expulsion was stated as having criticized Herassat’s practices.

13. I am currently studying civil engineering at our own university, BIHE.  Most classes are held online and through partial attendance, and we are in touch with the professors mostly via the internet.

14. When I first started attending our own university, in the spring of 2007, I was shocked by its limited facilities [amenities, and resources]. It absolutely cannot compare to Hamedan’s Bu Ali University, which is considered to be among the country’s top schools in basic science curricula. Nevertheless, I was able to gradually adapt to the new environment, in spite of the absolutely awful way the government sometimes treated the Baha’i university.

15. My family and I reside in [the city of] Esfahan, and it is therefore difficult to commute to Tehran to attend classes. I have to come to Tehran six or seven times in the course of one semester (six months), and these trips are financially costly. I did not incur any lodging expenses at Hamedan’s Bu Ali University, since my sister lived in Hamedan, and other amenities, such as food, were provided by the university at a very low cost.

Attack on the Baha’i University

16. The Baha’i University has been attacked several times since its inception, all of which have led to the closure of all buildings and facilities. On September 29, 1998, for instance, all of the university’s limited facilities were looted, and all buildings were closed and sealed. At the time of my expulsion from the university, we had an institute in Tehran where classes were held. Since part of the building [that housed the institute] belonged to [and was occupied by] another organization, the building was under the security agents’ complete surveillance and control.

The Baha’i University has been attacked several times since its inception, all of which have led to the closure of all buildings and facilities

After a while, the regime forced us to leave that location. The Azad Scientific Institute then rented a school building in Tehran’s Hessarak region to hold classes. Unfortunately, however, [around March] 2008, and in the course of a widespread attack on our entire limited facilities, [the regime’s agents] looted and plundered everything, once again, after only one semester. Consequently, we had to limit the number of actual classes that were being held, thereafter, in Tehrani students’ homes, and conduct most classes online. Toward the end of my undergraduate studies, around June 2011, another major attack (the second main attack) was carried out against our university; the remaining few small buildings, which we still held after the Hessarak building [attack] (for laboratory purposes, etc.) was taken [from us], and all of the university’s property was confiscated. About 30 of the university’s authorities were arrested across Iran, some of whom were released and some who were sentenced to 4- or 5-year prison terms and are now serving those sentences.

Graduation

17. I was finishing my final projects during the 2011 attack, and I was finally able to graduate in September 2011. Our degree, however, was not accepted nor accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education. Therefore, we could not join of the [national] Society of Engineers, which made finding employment extremely difficult and nearly impossible at important [engineering] firms; the only possibility would be small private companies which paid lower salaries.

18. With help from friends and acquaintances, I worked in Iran as an intern for a while. Baha’is University graduates have helped each other by finding work for one another, once they have been able to secure employment for themselves. This type of assistance is provided both during college and after graduation, and this is how Baha’is are able to enter the job market. There are many [problems and] limitations, however. For instance, since we cannot become members of the Engineering Organization, we cannot enjoy the benefits [stemming from membership] and cannot [for instance] register our own companies.

19. I decided to come to the United States to continue my education, which has always been of the utmost importance to me. I wanted to reap the benefits of the efforts I made in our own university. However, we face certain problems in relation to our studies in the U.S., as well, because not all universities accept our degrees. American universities accept degrees that have been validated and confirmed by the Ministry of Higher Education. Personally, I didn’t have problems of this nature. This used to be more of a problem in past years. However, with more students coming [to the United States] every year, the problem has gradually subsided, and there are now more and more universities that accept our degrees.

20. I did not have any particular problems leaving Iran and was among the first people who were able to obtain a student visa and enter the United States with my Baha’i University degree. It was very difficult in the beginning, since there was no one else who had previously been in my situation. I had to experience everything myself. After graduating from Baha’i University, it took a year to be accepted to a university, obtain a visa, and leave the country.

21. I’m currently studying at the University of Texas at Arlington, which is one of the first three colleges to recognize our degrees 14 or 15 years ago. The level [and quality] of education at the Baha’i University in Iran is very high, and that’s why our students succeed when they attend American universities. I, too, have been successful here and have been able to do research with a number of my professors. I’m currently finishing the last semester of a Master’s program.

22. The major difference between going to college here, as opposed to Iran, is that, here, I’ve been able to go to actual classrooms, something I experienced briefly while at Bu Ali University. This time, it was a very interesting experience, although somewhat stressful in the beginning. The stress gradually went away, and I was able to benefit from all the privileges, amenities, [and resources] the university put at my disposal, of which I was deprived back in Iran. Studying here is somewhat calmer and more organized than it is in Iran. Although there are always hardships and difficulties in life, education-related problems are far fewer here than in Iran.

23. We had no access to a library or to scientific journals and articles at the Baha’i University in Iran. This access continues to be very limited, if it exists at all. Here, however, in addition to access to the university library, I have access to internet libraries and to published papers and research articles. The result has been that I have an extremely positive opinion of research activities here, whereas, in Iran, the lack of resources and of access to information, had effectively destroyed any possibility of doing research.

24. Comparing student life here with Iran, I must say, first and foremost, that our university did not have a campus, and students were therefore not in a proper university [setting and] atmosphere. Being on a university campus, however, gives you the real feeling of being a student and becomes [a tangible] part of your life, which definitely plays a significant role in your progress. Being in a student environment [and on campus], interacting with students in different majors and from other countries, having a place where engineering students, for instance, can be together, all contribute to the feeling of being an actual student. Unfortunately, we had none of these in Iran, because we were banned from pursuing an education. We only associated with the limited number of students who were our classmates and interacted with a limited number of professors. Here, everything is on a much bigger scale.

25. I believe that Baha’i students in Iran owe a debt of gratitude to those who founded the Baha’i University years ago and to those who have helped its progress throughout the years. The experience of studying at the Baha’i institution was an exceptional and interesting one, and I learned much there, in spite of the limitations. We learned many lessons from each other and from the professors; lessons not only in academics but lessons in life.

26. Without a doubt, living in America, as well as studying in an [American] university, changes your mindset and gives you a new perspective on life. However, I learned my most [important] lessons at the Baha’i University in Iran. Because of limitations and discrimination [which are rampant], Baha’i students in Iran reach a certain level of intellectual maturity at that university. Although the degree isn’t worth much in Iran (because it is not accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education), the students band together for the sole purpose of learning, and this, in my opinion, is an exceptional level of maturity

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