From Iran to Portland
MOST 13-year-olds in Portland worry about their friendship groups and having fun, but in Soroush Ighaniyan’s 13th year he was making a stealthy cross-border escape from his country of birth with his family.
The Portland Aluminium manufacturing engineer, his parents, twin brother and 19-year-old sister were forced to escape from Iran after life became too difficult for them there.
He grew up in a community a similar size and with a similar climate to Portland, going fishing, eating different food including corn cooked on charcoal at the beach, and learning about the talents of his multi-skilled father, a “Mr Fix-it” of everything from tractors and pumps to air conditioners.
“Lots of locals would depend on his expertise; often people didn’t have money to repay him so they would pay him in rice, or find another way to repay him,” he said.
His father was also a senior public servant with responsibilities, but being of a minority faith made life difficult for him.
Earlier in his life he recalled playing at home with his mother when an unfamiliar man walked into the house.
The pre-school-aged Soroush asked his mother who the stranger was, and was told that was his father.
The talented, kind man had been jailed because of his religion – being Baha’i in a majority Muslim nation – and he spent so long in prison that his son didn’t recognise him.
“The jail was not in the village; it was like Alcatraz; you wouldn’t know if he was alive or dead,” Mr Ighaniyan said.
“Mum would have to bribe people there to learn how he was going.
“But the government officials would take him out of jail to fix things, then bring him back.”
He said the government wanted his parents to renounce their faith, but they refused.
“We had others of the Baha’i faith in the town.
“My mum came from a Muslim-dominated family; they had all been Baha’is and during the revolution they gave that up,” he said, noting that converting made life easier for people there. “She sacrificed a lot.
“Our religion is about uniting religions; we believe in independent investigation of truth.
“It’s forbidden to have alcohol in this faith, and we provide service to humanity, mankind – and peace – and don’t see Baha’i people getting involved in politics.
“In Iran when you belong to the Baha’i faith you can’t go to university, are bullied in the school all the time and your inheritance entitlements can be taken away. Once you’re in that faith you don’t belong anymore.
“I remember waking up one morning and all the tyres of our car had been slashed; they treated us unfairly.
“People would go out of their way to make you feel you don’t belong.”