Life Under Sanctions
Client: Johns Hopkins University
Project: Life Under Sanctions is a collection of stories from anonymous individuals in Iran and the impact sanctions has had on their life.
Maheen is a private English-language teacher who teaches from her home. She said, “we, ordinary Iranians, are trapped between the disputing governments. But don’t think for a second they suffer. It’s the ordinary people who suffer.” Her students could no longer afford the luxury of private tutoring, and she had lost them all.“We went from working class to working poor. We live in a lower [less affluent] part of town, but even here people can’t afford to stay.”
Mehdi, a filmmaker, summarized: “The middle class is disappearing; [there’s] no margin for anything special, just the basic food items to survive; there’s no cinema, restaurants, no doctor, dentist, psychologist. In the last two to three years, people have lost so much, all their savings and investments, yet they say the sanctions are not directed at the people.”
A 28-year old would-be toxicology PhD student, said, “I wanted to go abroad. But no one wants us.” After the JCPOA, Donya had received visas to give papers in France and the Czech Republic and was able to publish her conference proceedings as single-authored articles. However, in the summer of 2019, despite dozens of inquiries to PhD programs in Europe and Canada, Donya found no professors willing to sponsor her studies.
A couple in a less affluent part of town with three grown sons grew angry at the ideas promoted by Iran’s exile community and U.S. pundits and politicians who exhorted them to pour into the streets in protest, and risk their lives: “For what? So they can set up a puppet government here? They [the U.S.] don’t care about us. Look what they did to the Iraqi people.”
“Sanctions put people in economic distress. Most of my patients cannot afford to buy medication. I prescribed medication such as antidepressants, because one of the most important side effects of methadone is depression, but they cannot afford them. Sometimes, when I want to refer them to psychiatrists or psychologists, they cannot afford the cost of referral, or the cost of psychotherapy.”
Ahmad had supported Donald Trump’s candidacy for president in 2016 initially hopeful that “he will do things differently and maybe a positive change will come here as well.” Later he said, “I was wrong, the sanctions are really hurting ordinary people, not people of means. Business owners can’t sell their products, can’t get goods from abroad. People can’t get medication, can’t travel. “They (U.S.) want to ruin us, so that we are not a regional power – for the interests of Israel. [But sanctions] are only strengthening the hand of the government.”
Inflation stresses have affected even modest middle and working class joys. “Consider something many people have for their personal pleasure, birds. Although not a luxury item, they enhance the quality of life, and many people keep them. Five years ago , bird feed cost 1,200 toman; three years ago it was 3,000-4,000 toman; last year , it was 19,000; now  it’s between 23,000 and 25,000! “ So you see, even such small joys as feeding their pets have become heavy burdens.”
“We married three years ago, and both of us wanted kids, but now, I don’t know. We look into the future...and we don’t have any certainty about our situation. Neither of us is sure if we will still have our jobs in a year. We are not sure if tomorrow we can afford the same level of lifestyle we have today, let alone improve it. You can’t be thinking about a baby when you are surrounded by so much uncertainty.”
Reza, a pro-regime manager of an Iranian car manufacturing business in Venezuela, who had been a mid-level mechanical engineer at the same company in Iran, expressed his decision to move to Venezuela in this way: “Staying in Iran in my old job meant little growth for me. I wasn’t given the opportunity to travel and live abroad for work. In Venezuela, I run the day-to-day logistics of a factory with personnel. This is the kind of experience and learning I could never gain otherwise. We can’t do business with so many countries around the world because of all of these sanctions and Iran’s political isolation. But [in building the resistance economy] I’m now getting the experience of running an international operation.”
A medical school educator, Saba says, “Gradually you’re cut off from global debates and exchanges.” This can result in stagnation or worse, in some cases a sense of scientific grandiosity and being out of touch. Being an academic faculty member becomes reduced to being an educator/teacher with little to do with a research mindset.”