Iranian Baha'is who have fled their country to avoid persecution make a new home in Lake Oswego

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN: VERN UYETAKE - Farah Ramchandani hosts monthly gatherings of the Baha'i community at her Wilsonville home for a traditional Persian meal and a discussion of the faith. Expelled from their jobs, denied education, hunted down and executed in their native Iran, many members of the Baha’i faith have sought refuge in the United States.

“I have so many people in my family who were (hanged), who died for their faith because they didn’t want to recant,” says Farah Ramchandani, a Wilsonville resident.

Ramchandani is a member of the local Baha’i community, which has 63 members in Lake Oswego, nine in Wilsonville and eight in West Linn.

At the Lake Oswego Baha’i Center, Baha’is can come together and practice their faith without the fear of persecution that has stalked followers since the start of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. The center hosts a variety of events, including worship services or “Feasts,” weekly book club meetings, monthly discussions ranging in topics from human rights to justice, study groups, potlucks and special devotionals.

Ramchandani is renowned within the Baha’i community for her hospitable monthly gatherings at her ranch overlooking rural Wilsonville. Guests can look forward to a traditional Persian meal and a discussion of the Baha’i faith. Ramchandani says some guests do not identify themselves as Baha’i, but are simply interested in the faith.

“Some are Baha’i in their hearts,” Ramchandani says.

Baha’i is a monotheistic religion based on unity. It teaches that all religions should coexist peacefully. Members believe that there should be equality between men and women, a world language and government, and that science and religion must go hand-in-hand.

A prayer for Persia

International headlines in May revealed that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had destroyed the historic Baha’i cemetery in Shiraz, Iran, leaving nothing but a hole in the ground. One of Ramchandani’s brothers and several of her uncles were buried in the Shiraz cemetery.

“We must pray for Persia,” Ramchandani says.

Another brother, Mohi Sobhani, was one of the 52 American hostages held captive in Iran during the early days of the Islamic revolution. Sobhani, an engineer from Los Angeles, traveled to Iran in hopes of delivering technology. The engineer and his family were boarding a plane in Tehran when Iranian officials detained him and sentenced him to death.Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN: VERN UYETAKE - The Baha'i faith doesn't want to change anyone, Farah Ramchandani says. It wants to change the hearts to acceptance and equal rights for everyone.

Ramchandani sought out newspapers and government officials for assistance in rescuing her brother. She struggled to acquire appointments with government leaders until she spotted former California Sen. Alan Cranston jogging past her house. In her urgency, Ramchandani dashed outside without shoes and asked Cranston if she could jog with him to share her story.

Ramchandani says Cranston was one of the main reasons why Sobhani and his family eventually returned home safely. Ramchandani says she felt no pain while running barefoot.

“I was on a mission,” she says.

Sobhani was released with the other hostages in 1981. However, he was prohibited from leaving the country. Sobhani decided to escape Iran with his wife and child after eleven months in hiding. The family traveled primarily by camel to the country’s border, where U.S. officials greeted them with passports and escorted them to their home in Los Angeles. Sobhani died in 2005.

“It is the law that protects you and protects me,” Ramchandani says. “Every nation has law, but those who are administering the law, they need to have a mind that is fair and just.”

Bob and Kianna, a Baha’i couple currently residing in Lake Oswego, also experienced obstacles when leaving Iran. (Because they have been targets of persecution, the couple asked that their last name not be published.) The couple sent their children to England for higher education prior to the revolution. When the revolution began, Kianna wanted to visit her four children, so she sought out a passport. The process took 20 years.

During this period, Bob and Kianna’s house was broken into three times by the Revolutionary Guard. One of those break-ins played a minor role in a larger plan to burglarize and make arrests in 30 Baha’i homes on the same night at midnight. Bob and Kianna were driving home from Tehran when they received a call from a relative warning them of a “terrible rainstorm” and to not come home. Little did they know that this was a warning to prevent Bob’s arrest.

Bob and Kianna returned to their ransacked home at 5 a.m., safely evading the Revolutionary Guard.

After two trips to Tehran to speak with officials and an interrogation regarding her religion, Kianna finally received her passport.

A gift of hope

A senior clergyman named Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani is known as an advocate for minority rights and an artist whose pieces challenge elites in powerful positions. Masoumi-Tehrani’s latest art piece features passages of writing from Baha’u’llah, the most recent messenger of the Baha’i faith.

One of the passages says, “Consort with all religions with amity and concord, that they may inhale from you the sweet fragrance of God. Beware lest amidst men the flame of foolish ignorance overpowers you.”

The art piece was framed and given to the Universal House of Justice in April, giving hope to Baha’is everywhere for peace among all religions. (The Universal House of Justice is the international governing council of the Baha’i faith; it strives to maintain the integrity and flexibility of the religion, safeguard the unity and guide the activities of its followers, and exert a beneficial influence on society.)

“The Ayatollah (Masoumi-Tehrani) was very brave to do what he did, giving a gift to the Baha’is,” says Janice Cockrell, a member of the Lake Oswego Baha’i community.

Ramchandani and other local Baha’is say they hope the Ayatollah’s gift and efforts to restore the Baha’is’ civil rights in Iran is the start of a new trend. Recently, a group of Iranian Baha’i activists gathered in Iran to express their concerns to Masoumi-Tehrani about prejudice and persecution against Iranian Baha’is — a sign, Ramchandani says, that cross-cultural communication is being explored once again.

Ramchandani says she knows there will be peace in the future, and that it will come by helping people who hold on to hate to let it go.

“The Baha’i faith doesn’t want to change anyone. It wants to change the hearts to acceptance and equal rights for everyone,” Ramchandani says.

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