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I cannot blame them
Why many expatriate earthquake experts won't go to Iran

By Mehdi Sharif
June 24, 2002
The Iranian

It was late into the night, in early hours of today, when I heard the news of a 6.3-Richter earthquake in Bou'in-Zahra near Qazvin. I could not sleep because I was ill with a 101.9 F temperature. So if these lines and what follows are incoherent, please forgive me.

My thoughts immediately turned to 40-years ago when Bou'in-Zahra had been hit by a similar strength earthquake and then I asked myself why after 40 years, knowing how well Iranian towns and villages are earthquake-prone, we do not have building codes and civil engineering know-how in implementing earthquake-proof buildings in Iran.

Then, in 1962, the Imperial Government of Iran and Iranian Red "Lion and Sun" (a member of ICRC) soon began to seek public assistance and donations to help the victims of Bou'in-Zahra's earthquake.

Then, as now, Iran's charity organizations were government owned and managed by the family members of those who were in power. Then Ashraf Pahlavi, Shah's twin sister, headed the Imperial Social Services Organization while Shams Pahlavi, Shah's other sister, headed Iran's Red "Lion and Sun" organization. Now, brothers and cousins of Vali-e Safih and former President and ever-strongman, Rafsanjani, control and embezzle Iran's charity organizations such as Mostazafan Foundation.

Then, in 1962, because of lack of trust in the government's institutions and high level of corruption, Iranians decided to help the Bou'in-Zahra's earthquake directly and without government intercession and intervention. My father was among a courageous number of Tehran University's students who spearheaded a fundraising and collection of blankets, tents, medicine, to be taken directly by the students to Bou'in-Zahra's earthquake.

Tehran University medical students and medical interns mobilized to go to the village and assist those who had been injured in the earthquake. In this effort, the students enjoyed the support of some patriotic Iranian national figures. The late Gholamreza Takhti, Iran's wrestling hero and Olympics champion times over, joined the students in arousing the public to bypass the government to assist the suffering people of Bou'in-Zahra.

Within 24 hours after the earthquake, a mass of Tehran University students along with other populace of Tehran, with Takhti at the forefront headed in a caravan of food, tents, medicine, clothings and blankets to Bou'in-Zahra, right before they were to enter the vicinity of Qazvin, their caravan was blocked by Iranian Army and National Guard which ordered the caravan back to Tehran under the threat of firing to kill anyone who did not obey.

Not long after that event, Takhti's body was found in a hotel in Tehran and the cause of death was announced as a suicide as the government reports contradicted themselves, one said that he had suffocated himself to death, another said that he had injected himself with a deadly substance. The suspicion arose that his death had been carried out by SAVAK on orders of the Royal Family for the immense embarrassment he had caused in exposing them.

Also, then, Shah felt threatened to witness anyone enjoying the kind of popularity and respect that Gholamreza Takhti enjoyed. Soon after, Towfigh, an Iranian comic magazine, published an issue with the cover showing Takhti dead on a hotel bed, his hands were tied the to bedposts while the headline above the cartoon read "Takhti was suicided!" (Takhti khodkoshi shod.). Immediately, Towfigh was banned, its offices closed and destroyed, and its editor and cartoonist arrested and imprisoned.

Fourty years after 1962 Bou'in-Zahra earthquake and the murder of Takhti, and after a popular revolution and institution of a new system of government which promised in 1979 to be just, honest, transparent, egalitarian and humanitarian, not only things have not changed but they have gotten much worse.

Then my thoughts turned towards other matters. I am a mechanical engineer by profession, and because of it and my past interest in the field of shock and vibration analysis, I know of more than 74 Iranian earthquake specialists (engineers and physicists) across American, Canadian, Japanese, and European universities, some with very highly impressive credentials, who have played major roles in the development of earthquake-proofing of the buildings and structures in the past 20 years.

Some even are long-standing members of the continuing immense research and developments project undertaken by National Science Foundation in 1983, whereby National Centers for Earthquake Engineering and Research were established at University at Buffalo and University of California at Berkeley.

Could not these Iranians be instrumental in developing Iran's civil engineering to prevent disasters like Bou'in-Zahra's? The answer is a strong affirmative "YES!" Then, why have they not? Why are they here instead of living and working in their country of birth?

No, I cannot blame them! They are not to be blamed, as I am certain that many would have returned long ago, had it not been for the wrong policies of the post-revolution regime. Many would have returned had Ayatollah Khomeini stuck to the grand promises he made to all of us while he was in Nuephle-le-Chateau.

Who, after all, would want to live under a rule of suppression, brutality and terror? Who, after all, would want to live in a country where its Supreme Leader announces that "the economy is the concern of jackasses." ["Eghtesaad Maal-e khar ast" --Khomeini 1979]. Who would want to live in a country, whose "economist" president (Bani Sadr) accepts the nomination for presidency from a man who has just made such foolish utterance as "the economy is the concern of jackasses."

When I was in my undergraduate years, I had a housemate, Kayumars E., who was studying civil engineering and went to finally receive his Ph.D., specializing in earthquake engineering. While the 1979 revolution had taken him by surprise as he had not considered anything wrong with Iran or the Shah before then, a summer visit to Iran, in 1979, made him an ardent supporter of Islamic Republican Party.

Yet, once he graduated with his Ph.D. and despite all the devotion and loyalty he displayed towards the new regime, its institutions, and its leaders such as Khomeini, Beheshti, Rajaii, and Rafsanjani, he never returned to live Iran, though he would go for a visit once in a while.

Last I knew, was that up to 1994, he was living in New Jersey and New York area. If he, an ardent supporter of the new regime did not ever find reason or cause to go and live under the regime whose policies and rule he so strongly supported, then how can I blame the 74 others who never had much love for the new regime.

Good night!

PS: Only one solitary cleric was among the caravan of students and Takhti which headed towards Bou'in Zahra's earthquake victims in 1962. He was Mahmoud Taleghani. A couple of weeks later after that mobilization in 1962, Mehdi Bazargan criticized the students' action in a speech at a local mosque. His speech was later published in a pamphlet/booklet titled "The Youth Play with Politics" (Baazi-e Javaanaan baa Siyaasat).

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