Will Roozbeh Farahanipour bring revolution to Iran from the streets of Los Angeles?
Striving for over two decades to make political strides in his homeland, Iranian political activist Roozbeh Farahanipour will have a chance to play out his political ambitions in Westwood, a region of west Los Angeles, which boasts the largest enclave of Iranians outside of Iran.
Farahanipour, founder of the Iranian political party Marze Por Gohar, or Iranians for a Secular Republic, was one of 19 elected in a late June election to the neighborhood council in Westwood. The area is also known as Tehrangeles, or Little Persia; it has a high concentration of Iranian American residents and business owners.
Currently a resident and business owner in Westwood, Farahanipour escaped Iran in 1999 after being convicted of participating in the organization of the Tehran University uprisings. As a result, he was incarcerated in the notorious Towhid Prison.
Gaining political asylum in the U.S., Farahanipour arrived in Los Angeles, and immediately began his activism from a distance. He left a large constituency of political party members in Iran, and thus maintained ties and communication with like-minded Iranians. In Iran, he helped organize local protests, boycotts, and launched a number of newsworthy campaigns.
Here in Westwood, he has attempted to build a strong following among Iranian Americans through political activism and community service. He has testified in the California State Senate in favor of divestment from Iran. He has helped unite the Los Angeles community for large-scale demonstrations. Years ago he even chartered an airplane from Los Angeles, taking members of the community to protest against Iran’s human rights violations in front of the United Nations. Most important, he says, has been his commitment to remain a staunch and devoted Iranian political activist.
“Serving in local politics will allow me to give back to this diverse community made up of Iranians and many other cultures,” said Farahanipour, who owns Delphi, a Greek restaurant in the middle of Westwood Boulevard.
Still not an American citizen, Farahanipour has dreams of going back to Iran and continuing his political goals once the current regime is overthrown. Revolution is inevitable, according to Farahanipour, whose political party is working to bring down the Islamic regime, and replace it with a secular republic.
In the meantime, he cannot return to his homeland. Although, in the midst of the demonstrations in Iran this year, Farahanipour illegally slipped back into the country after ten years to help organize protests marking the anniversary of the 1999 uprising.
While he patiently awaits the political plot in Iran to unfold, he is using his time in Los Angeles to build up his political party, and more recently, his resume.
“Although I never imagined myself entering into local politics, it will help me gain important political experience,” he said, referring to his long-term goal of toppling the Islamic Republic.
Westwood has a population of just under 50,000, and its Iranian community is part of the larger 1/2 million Iranian American enclave that stretches across the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Westwood’s main commerce area, Westwood Boulevard, serves as the center of the Los Angeles Iranian community with its numerous Persian restaurants, music shops, bookstores and media centers. The store signs are written in Farsi and the language can easily be heard walking on the boulevard. Even the businesses that do not cater specifically to the community are nonetheless owned and operated by Iranians. This area has long been referred to as Little Persia, but local officials formally named the area “Persian Square” this past spring.
Los Angeles became a hotbed for emigrating Iranians in the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution, when the fall of the Shah caused many Iranians to flee from their homeland. Since then, the enclave in Los Angeles and its smaller counterparts in Washington D.C., New York, and other major American cities, have grown into significantly assimilated and simultaneously traditional communities.
As council member, Farahanipour says he will do what is best for the local community in Westwood, yet it is also the perfect platform to continue vying for the support of his Iranian American constituents, as he has done for the past decade.
As a vocal and active member of the Iranian community, Farahanipour’s political sentiments and ambitions have been no secret here. Before buying his restaurant earlier this year, Farahanipour worked as the head manager at Shamshiri, one of the most popular Iranian restaurants in Los Angeles. As manager, Farahanipour would invite his staff and customers to participate in discussions, demonstrations, and information sessions. Regardless of his day job, Farahanipour’s main responsibility has been to spread the word about democracy in Iran.
Surprisingly, speaking of Iranian democracy and nationalism has been a source of controversy among the community. Farahanipour can retell several powerful anecdotes that illustrate the adversity he has faced. Over the years, he has experienced physical attacks, verbal altercations, and deadly threats against him in this otherwise safe and affluent Los Angeles neighborhood. He refers to his aggressors as “agents of the regime.”
The Los Angeles police and local FBI soon became aware of Farahanipour and the threats he has received. Lines in Farahanipour’s Marze Por Gohar office have been tapped three times. Members of his political party have been beaten up at community events. Most recently, Farahanipour reported that representatives of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) approached Farahanipour at his restaurant and offered to pay him a large, undisclosed amount of money in exchange renouncing his political activism and leaving the Iranian political scene.
“Having experienced what the regime can do, I am concerned for Westwood’s security,” Farahanipour said. “We have the Federal Building here, UCLA and the largest Iranian American community. We cannot trust them. This could be the regime’s ultimate target.”