Beginning a New Conversation About Iran
by Sara Razavi, Director
Members of my family, like many Iranians, emigrated from Iran in waves. Some of our family left to study abroad before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and never returned. Some fled after the Islamic Revolution because of persecution. And some, like my immediate family, left because of “the War.” And one of the two plays I’m directing this year, Songs of Our Childhood by Nahal Navidar, is set in 1980 in an Iranian triage on the frontlines of the Iran-Iraq War. It’s a story that I’m eager to stage as an Iranian American.
The Iran-Iraq War lasted for eight years, and is considered to be one of the deadliest wars of the 20th century with staggering casualties on both sides. Many young men eligible for military service and middle-class professionals left Iran in droves after the onset of war. With a young son coming of military age, my mother made the hard decision to leave her life in Iran and move the family abroad. However, instead of all of us leaving together, only my brother was granted a visa, and we stayed behind waiting for ours to clear. While I remember very little of Iran as a child, I do remember the War. The War is why we were separated as a family and I didn’t see my brother for four years; the War is why we would huddle in the basement during bomb raids; and why every neighborhood window was taped with big “X’s”—a protection from shattering glass.
Thankfully, the Iran I visited more recently had few visible markings of the wartime I remember. But in Iran, people talk about the War; in everyday memories, in the political rhetoric, in TV shows, movies, and definitely in the theatre. Abroad, in the diaspora, I don’t hear the conversation as much. People ask me about the hostage crisis (I was barely born), the Islamic regime (I lived under it as a child, and have only been a tourist there), but no one asks about the War (the War that worried my family for years about those who were left behind).
Maybe, it’s still too fresh. Or maybe, with the secure isolation America has always been privileged with, this War is just too far away to be discussed. Which is why I am so grateful to have the opportunity to begin a conversation with you, an English-speaking audience, about this little-known in the U.S. yet hugely important part of Iran’s history.
For those who suffer war, the very notion of conflict is motivation to compromise. No amount of warmongering will entice a people to sacrifice so much again. Iran is often portrayed as a ready assailant, and while it has its sovereign right to protect itself, I hope dialogue like this play will raise awareness that having experienced the devastation of modern warfare, many Iranians will strongly protest acts of war. The price is extremely high not to.
Sara Razavi has long been a Golden Thread artist, and is a member of the Golden Thread Board of Trustees. This is her second time directing for ReOrient Festival, although she appeared as an actor in the ReOrient twice before. Her most recognizable Golden Thread role might be as a Palestinian American comic riffing about the Palestinian state in Yussef El Guindi’s solo play The Monologist Suffers Her Monologue, which she performed in two separate ReOrient Festivals.