Did You Know? Introducing the Persian Student Organization of Minnesota (PSOM)

Iranian-American groups emerge in every crevice of the country, from coast to coast. This can be seen in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and their Persian Student Organization of Minnesota – known as PSOM. Leading the organization as co-president is Leyla Taghizadeh, a sophomore majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Spanish. PSOM was founded in 2012 and has blossomed into a group that brings the university and the town’s Iranian-American community together. The central love for Iranian culture is evident, with the club often hosting group events to view Iranian films, learn how to cook Iranian food, and other activities to showcase Iranian culture and history.

PSOM’s 2019 Picnic Fundraiser

PSOM celebrates large scale events as well as holding fundraisers and regular meetings for their members. Their largest event of the year is their Nowruz party: “Every year for the Persian new year, we throw a party gathering Persians across Minnesota, giving them a space to rejoice and celebrate the coming of the new year. The evening is full of good food, company, and dancing all highlighting Persian culture. It is also a space that we invite other cultures to join and learn about the Iranian community and how we celebrate the coming of a new year. ”

However, their large events don’t stop there. Every fall, PSOM hosts a large picnic fundraiser to raise money for the organization and their events for the year. This fundraiser is more than just a picnic; it represents a celebration of the Iranian-American community at the University of Minnesota: “Traditional Iranian soup (Ash-e Reshteh) and tea (chai) are provided and there are games (soccer, frisbee, and football) that people can play. Iranian music is on full blast while people can dance, socialize and enjoy an environment full of Iranian culture.” The fall picnic fundraiser has grown to become a celebration of Persian culture to ring in the new academic year of PSOM.

            The beauty of organizations like PSOM is that their presence is felt beyond just the Iranian-American community. Leyla herself has seen the organization’s involvement with their town: “I have grown up in Minneapolis and have attended PSOM events my whole life.” She also recognizes that the organization blossoms by creating an inclusive environment to help educate all students on Iranian culture, “While we provide a space for Iranians to come together, we also try to share our culture with others by inviting people of other heritages to our events. We are attempting to teach anyone who is willing to listen about the joys of being an Iranian American.” PSOM represents the intersection of creating a space for students to embrace their culture as well as create a more closely-knit community, while simultaneously opening up the beauties of Iranian-American culture to the entire university. 

By Ariane Sharifi

IABA D.C. Chapter Provides Legal Accessibility for Iranian-Americans in the DMV

The Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) was founded in D.C. in 2000 to educate the Iranian-American community on legal issues and ensure Iranian-American representation in the broader community. The IABA has since grown to become a nationwide organization. This month, the Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce spoke with Dr. Golnoosh Hakimdavar, President of the IABA D.C. Chapter, about how the organization is responding to the needs of the Iranian-American community across the nation, as well as the chapter’s targeted focus on D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

            The D.C. chapter achieves its mission through legal accessibility and events that it hosts throughout the year, including networking events. In the chapter’s most recent event, a legal clinic co-sponsored by the Iranian-American Community Center, attendees consulted with volunteer attorneys free of charge. The chapter coordinates with the IABA National Board to provide informational material for the community. In light of the coronavirus outbreak, the IABA released a ‘Know Your Rights’ document to help guide those traveling from countries with COVID-19 level 3 travel warnings, which includes Iran. Following the travel ban, the IABA set up a team at the airport to help those affected by the ban and filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Hawaii’s challenge to the travel ban.

Source: ‘Know Your Rights’ document.

According to Dr. Hakimdavar, the lawyers and members at the center of the organization are “driven by the service-oriented and volunteer nature” of the work. She emphasizes the importance of Iranian-American activism in the legal community. “As a community we have been at the center of many discussions whether they be political, societal…they are also legal and we as an informed group have the responsibility to continue passing on information to our community so they are acting and reacting to situations based on full information,” Dr. Hakimdavar says. By making legal information more accessible to the Iranian-American community in the DMV region, the IABA D.C. chapter hopes that individuals will become more aware of their rights, and how changes in the law impact them.

Community outreach is at the center of the IABA D.C. chapter, and Dr. Hakimdavar encourages individuals to email the IABA D.C. chapter at dc@iaba.us with any questions or if they feel that there is a matter that needs to be looked into. You can also support the IABA by becoming a member. Please note that you do not need to be a lawyer to do so.

By Nikki Vafai

The Launch of the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement

The May 8, 2018 decision by the Trump Administration to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action did not terminate existing sanctions exceptions and authorizations for humanitarian trade with Iran. However, the decision, along with further sanctions and uncertainty, had a chilling effect on the willingness of international banks to facilitate these otherwise legitimate humanitarian transactions. Prompted by these changes, politically neutral Switzerland began working in 2018 with U.S. and Iranian authorities, as well as certain Swiss banks and Swiss companies, on a plan to implement a humanitarian payment mechanism for Iran.

As a result of these efforts, the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA) officially launched and became fully operational on February 27, 2020, after an initial pilot period in late January, which involved Geneva-based bank BCP and a shipment of Novartis cancer and organ transplant drugs worth approximately $2.55 million. It establishes a payment channel with a Swiss bank, through which payments for exports to Iran by Swiss-domiciled companies are guaranteed. The arrangement is open to companies domiciled in Switzerland, including those owned or controlled by U.S. or third-party persons.

(During the trial period in January, Novartis supplied Iran with $2.5 million worth of cancer medicines and medicines needed for organ transplants. (Photo: Keystone/Walter Bieri))

Under the rules of this new arrangement, the U.S. provides assurances that the proposed transactions do not violate U.S. sanctions. In exchange, the system is subject to strict due diligence measures. Participating financial institutions commit to conducting enhanced due diligence to ensure that humanitarian goods reach the Iranian people. For example, both exporters and participating banks have to provide information on their business activities and partners in Iran. The mechanism is designed to ensure that no revenue or payment is transferred to the Iranian Government, by restricting the Central Bank of Iran’s role in facilitating the transactions.

In humanitarian terms, the SHTA comes at a much-needed time. Certain large Swiss companies like Nestle and drugmakers Roche and Novartis already produce in Iran, and could expand their production. The SHTA also could encourage smaller Swiss companies to export food and medicine to Iran. This, in turn, would improve the flow of humanitarian goods to the Iranian people. Even before the global coronavirus epidemic, many foreign banks had categorically refused to engage in Iran-related transactions, even for sanctions-exempt humanitarian trade. This reluctance contributed to soaring medicine prices in Iran and severe consequences, especially for people suffering from illnesses that require imported medication. The COVID-19 crisis has given rise to even greater concerns over Iran’s access to humanitarian trade in food, medicine, and medical supplies. The SHTA may prove to be a significant player in the international network seeking to preserve humanitarian trade with Iran and avert humanitarian disaster.

By Amin Bahrami, Legal Fellow

U.S.-Iran Scientific Collaboration Explores Patterns in the Spread of COVID-19

In early March, researchers in Iran (Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences and Shiraz University of Medical Sciences) and the U.S. (Institute of Human Virology, a Global Virus Network Center of Excellence, and University of Maryland College Park) collaborated to issue a scientific paper examining seasonal patterns in the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The paper reflects a global scramble among the scientific and medical community to understand and treat COVID-19. Specifically, the researchers consider whether there is a link between temperature and the spread and environmental survival of COVID-19. Examining climate data, the team found that epicenters of the outbreak all have similar climates with an average temperature of 5-11°C, combined with low specific (3-6 g/kg) and absolute humidity (4-7 g/m 3 ). The group found that COVID-19 has spread in a consistent east and west pattern, with virus epicenters situated along the 30-50° N” zone (fig. 1). Based on the distribution of community outbreaks, the researchers suggest that using weather modeling, “it may be possible to predict the regions most likely to be at higher risk of significant community spread of COVID- 19 in the upcoming weeks, allowing for concentration of public health efforts on surveillance and containment.”

Source: “Temperature, Humidity and Latitude Analysis to Predict Potential Spread and Seasonality for COVID-19”

Figure 1. World temperature map November 2018-March 2019. Color gradient indicates 2- meter temperatures in degrees Celsius. Black circles represent countries with significant community transmission (> 10 deaths as of March 10, 2020). Image from Climate Reanalyzer (https://ClimateReanalyzer.org), Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA.

It will take many months for the global medical and scientific response to COVID-19 to finalize, and this paper will become one of hundreds attempting to shed light on how the virus spreads. The collaborative nature of the paper is a triumph for scientific exchange between the U.S. and Iran. This type of cooperation is permissible under U.S. sanctions because the exchange or importation of information and informational material from Iran is exempt from sanctions, and exemptions allow a broad range of academic publications. Nevertheless, Iranian researchers also have faced many barriers to conducting their research as a result of U.S. sanctions. For example, the U.S. National Institutes of Health had funded researchers at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences and at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City to study cardiovascular disease patterns. However, the partnership was cut short when Mount Sinai was unable to transfer the grants to the team in Iran.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 is a testament to global interconnectivity. As it continues to plague the global community, papers such as this one remind us of the importance of cooperation and collective efforts in addressing global crises.

By Nikki Vafai