Blog author: Violet Baghdasarian, author of “Tehran to Malibu.” (To be released in the near future.)
Imagine if one day you woke up and your country was being ruled by unfamiliar people requiring you to live in a way that corresponds to ideals not of your own. It’s an interesting thought to have, especially if you are where I am now—The United States of America. I anticipate that most of you aren’t readily going to accept the thought of your freedom being taken from you. Imagine if you lost your freedom of speech, your freedom to practice your religion, to express yourself. What if even the way you dress were things that were going to be monitored and overlooked by government and other officials with this new form of governmental power. What if any religion or belief that was different from the one in power had to be practiced discretely. ff, say, you were to preach your religion to any nonbeliever of the majority religion, your penalty could result in death. This seems like an unimaginable change, right?
Most people have this belief that their life today is immune to change and won’t be subject to a complete redirection. I was one of those people. I never thought about the possibility that the normal that I was used to was going to be long forgotten and my life was going to have to adapt to life under a new regime. I was just a young girl who didn’t have a full understanding of what was going on at the time of the Revolution which made the change of my country that much more confusing. Growing up in Iran, a Muslim country, was very different preceding the Revolution because our leader was the Shah, who was very accepting and tolerant of every culture and religion. After the Islamic Revolution the government became not so accepting of the diversity that Armenian people embodied in Iran. Armenians as well as other Christians were always the minority in Iran, but the Revolution divided Armenians and Christians to greater lengths.
The fact that my destiny was going to be me growing up in a strict Muslim country wasn’t a concern of mine until after the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran. I knew I was different from the other kids on the block, but could never comprehend the reality of why this was. I didn’t really have a definitive concept of race and culture. I didn’t know these factors could contribute to feeling different from your peers as I wasn’t familiar with what race and culture represented. The Revolution changed my perspective completely. From a very young age, I learned to respect others’ beliefs even when their views didn’t align with mine. Living in a Muslim country, I was always so accepting of individuals with religions other than Christianity. It wasn’t a standard of our culture or religion to not associate with someone or to treat someone differently based off their religion. This general acceptance of all people made it a hard pill to swallow when the same treatment wasn’t directed towards me or other Christians like me.
As I grew older, each year I noticed the unimaginable ways that Armenians were discriminated against. There were so many Muslim neighbors and friends that I had the pleasure of being acquainted with. The ones who I had limited interaction with were the ones who came from families who were radical Muslim families. In the eyes of these radicals, Christians and any other religion other than Muslim for that matter were considered to be less pure. They had a word for this which was called “najas” which meant exactly that in Farsi, “not pure” or “dirty.” This was their way of segregating themselves from Christians because of the discrepancy of religious beliefs. Because anyone other than Muslim was seen as one who was lacking purity, they were not allowed to enter a house where worship was taking place. This was because of the rule that if one actively prays and practices Islam, the sanctuary which they hold their worship cannot be tainted by anything seen as not pure.
Learning to adjust to the heavier enforcement of Muslim ideals after the Revolution was a big transition for me. Although I was born and raised in a Muslim country, I lived in a Christian neighborhood and was raised in the hands of the Armenian culture. After the Revolution was when I really felt the constraints of being a young Christian Armenian girl in an Islamic dominated country. I went from being permitted to wear whatever I pleased to having to cover up my clothes and hair in a hijab. This new reality for me wasn’t as simple as not having the freedom of expression through my clothing, but it was changing everything around me. A change so great that it affected every aspect of my life. This included how I received my education. I went to a private Christian Armenian school where I felt a sense of familiarity through interactions with my teachers. Unfortunately, after the revolution most of these teachers were replaced with teachers who were non-Armenian women belonging to the religion of Islam. Although they wouldn’t teach us the actual Muslim religion, they would educate us on how to assimilate to the cultural ideals through religious teachings.
The intense version of what I had formerly been accustomed to was shock—a wakeup call. One that made me understand that nothing is permanent nor is it everlasting. The life that I had in Iran where I was as free as any man was long gone. A new life which included rules I had to abide to were enforced and I had no choice, but to conform to them. A life that was dictated by the newfound regulations and limitations that were carried out by the Islamic Revolution. As I do respect every religion and culture for what they are, as a Christian girl, I didn’t know why I was being forced to live a life following the rules of a religion that wasn’t mine. Everyone should have the right to freely practice any religion and live a life accordingly. After the Revolution, I felt as though my right to live my life with respect to my religion was long gone. Unfortunately, I was forced into the belief that nothing is immune to change and forever is not a guarantee.
In America, Christians are not a minority in comparison to Christians in Iran, in fact quite the opposite. This makes us comfortable with the idea that we will not be subject to the consequences of great national change. This change is not limited to a religious influence over the country, but it could be the type of government which holds power, or even a complete change of our norms. Given the freedom of speech and expression in America, individuals of various beliefs and preferences voice their position in strikes and protests. There could come a time where this leads to a huge change in how America is governed or how its people live.
Christian, or not, do not let the comfort that you are accustomed to blind you from the possibility of unwanted change. Change knows no boundaries and it can happen sooner than you think.