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Iranian Americans Celebrate Heritage and Humanity

By Nora Boustany
Friday, April 1, 2005; Page A24

The Iranian American Technical Council, a group created last year to help preserve Persian culture and to celebrate the accomplishments of Iranian Americans, hosted its second annual spring gala in Washington last Friday on Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

The evening was dedicated to raising funds for the Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland at College Park and to honor seven people -- authors and academics, and pioneers in technology and aspiring students in that field.


ROYA HAKAKIAN

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"It is a new way of celebrating our own humanity," Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, director of the center and a Persian language professor, said about the evening. Karimi-Hakkak was among those honored.

Another honoree, Terence Ward, who grew up in Iran in the 1960s, discussed his book, "Searching for Hassan," an account of a journey he, his brothers and parents made six years ago in search of their former cook and beloved storyteller, with little but a 1963 photograph. The family, which had been shut out of Iran after the fall of the shah, finally found Hassan, "as if a hidden hand had led" them to him, Ward told the guests.

"Thirty years melted away . . . this impossible search became a search for humanity," Ward said.

Roya Hakakian, a Persian poet who recently published the book "Journey from the Land of No," about her experience as an Iranian Jew during the Islamic revolution in 1979, was also honored.

"As it grows old, I hope IATC can do what can't be done in Iran itself: showcase the merit and talents of Iranians of all backgrounds, be it religious, ethnic, but especially of political opinions," she said.

Fred Korangy, a founder of the council, said the nonprofit group was established four years ago by about 300 Iranian American leaders at U.S. technology companies. Members include Muslims, Christians, Bahais, Armenians, Assyrians and Jews, he said. Farsi, the Persian language, is spoken not only in Iran but also in parts of Afghanistan and in other countries in Central Asia. He added that the council would not delve into politics, a source of division in the community.

Korangy announced that $400,000 had been raised for the center. The money will help attract professors of Iranian history and fund a lecture series, he said. It will also go toward the celebration of a 13th century Persian mystic poet, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, who was born in what today is part of Afghanistan. The weeklong event is planned for 2007.

The president of the University of Maryland at College Park, C.D. Mote Jr., said the center's mission was to enhance understanding. He said the time had come for "examining cultures on their own terms."

The aura of the evening was enhanced by Najmieh Batmanglij, a celebrated master chef and cookbook author. Her menu included pistachio meat balls glazed with pomegranate sauce, Persian greens with candied walnuts and seared salmon served in an orange and saffron sauce.

Maz Jobrani, the master of ceremonies and a stand-up comedian, injected the evening with levity and the ultimate sign of a community's full integration into American society: Its ability to laugh at its own predicament and peculiarities.

"I don't know how we ended up in the axis of evil. What do we do? Iranians are good at avoiding the question: 'Maybe we have a nuclear program, maybe we don't. Define nuclear!' " he said.

Jobrani said he is always alarmed when the word "Iran" shows up in a speech or in a radio broadcast. "It is never about a bake sale," he fretted.

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