Rotary Peace Fellow Ali's Work in Iran
Former Rotary Peace Fellow Ali Reza Eshraghi sits down
with The Rotarian magazine to talk about his work in Iran.
Iranian-born journalist Ali Reza Eshraghi, 35, is
the Iran project manager at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting
and a teaching fellow in the Department of Communication Studies
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
After working as an editor at several Tehran newspapers
– all of which were eventually banned or shut down by the
government – he became a visiting scholar at the University
of California, Berkeley. In 2012, he completed his studies as a
Rotary Peace Fellow at the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center.
The Rotarian: You were born shortly before the Iranian
Revolution of 1979 and the start of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. What
was it like growing up in that time and place?
Eshraghi: It was a time of turmoil and dramatic changes. I was born
and raised in Isfahan, an ancient city with breathtaking architecture,
spectacular palaces, and beautiful boulevards. But it was not left
unharmed by Iraqi air raids and missiles. Some of my classmates
lost their lives in the air raids.
TR: How has the atmosphere for journalists changed
since you worked in Tehran?
Eshraghi: Journalism in Iran is like navigating a minefield with
your eyes closed. You always feel you are in danger. Everyone suffers
from "doorbell syndrome" – the fear that the security
forces will come to arrest you. I was not in Iran in 2009, following
the disputed presidential election, but many journalists were arrested
then and are still in jail. When Hassan Rouhani became president
in 2013, things began to improve somewhat, but fears and concerns
still haunt Iranian journalists.
TR: What is the Institute for War and Peace Reporting?
Eshraghi: It is a nonprofit media development organization with
field offices in different parts of the world – particularly
in conflict zones. It tries to help people communicate with one
another under challenging circumstances, to enable them to hold
their governments accountable and to make better decisions based
on accurate information.
TR: Are you optimistic about changes in Iran's political
Eshraghi: I am cautiously optimistic. I am mostly optimistic about
the people of Iran, who helped bring moderates to power in the country.
Iran is in a region full of conflicts – the bloody counterrevolution
in Egypt, tensions in Tunisia, insecurity in Libya and Yemen, the
violent civil war in Syria, the crackdown on the democratic movement
in Bahrain. The people of Iran, in such an environment, realized
their demands in the most civil of manners. After all, elections
are a century-old tradition there.
TR: What are the obstacles to peaceful relations between
Iran and the West?
Eshraghi: Iran and the United States do not know each other well,
and misunderstandings have led to bad policymaking. The first step
in conflict resolution is to get each side to stop trying to force
the other side to accept unilateral demands. The other side should
be given an offer that it can consider saying yes to without feeling
that it is capitulating.
TR: What would you like people to know about Iran?
Eshraghi: Iran, like any other country, is a complicated place.
In the U.S. media, stories are told within a simplistic framework
of good and evil. This is not the reality. Society and government
are entangled; sometimes they cooperate with each another, and sometimes
the government is forced to accept the demands of society.
Learn more about Rotary Peace Fellowships
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