Steven Saum posted an articlePhotographs from the city of Arak and central Iran from 1967–69 see more
A selection from Dennis Briskin’s photos from Iran in the late 1960s. His book was recognized with the Rowland Scherman Award for Best Photography Book by Peace Corps Writers.
By NPCA Staff
Dennis Briskin has published a collection of 60 photographs from the city of Arak and central Iran, where he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer 1967–69. Briskin writes that he calls the collection The Face of Iran Before… because these photographs were taken before “the Islamic Revolution took the country back to oppressive intolerance and brutality. Before oil wealth brought engines and electric motors to replace mule, camel and horsepower, sometimes even human power, for pushing, pulling, lifting and carrying. Before towns spread out to become cities, and the capital spread up and out to become a dense, polluted metropolis.”
This is a companion to a 2019 collection of Briskin’s photos, Iran Before. Here, in The Face of Iran Before…, the photos focus on the faces of people he saw. “How much you see and understand depends on what you bring to the seeing,” Briskin writes. “We see and respond through our personal filters: what we love, what we want, what we fear and who we think we are. If you see below the surface in these 60 photographs, you may know the people of Iran better than the 22-year-old man behind the camera. I saw more than I understood. I understood more than I can say.”
A selection of Briskin’s photos also appears in the print edition of the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine. Read more from Dennis Briskin here.
Smoke and shadow.
Cover photo: A woman smiles as she adjusts her chador.
A young boy who was the sixth child after five girls and much beloved. He died young.
A woman in conversation in Hamedan. She and her male companion had parked a Mercedes sedan on the main street.
Fine silversmithing takes intense concentration, steady hands, sharp vision. Visitors to Esfahan love the metal craftwork.
“I love the pure contrast of light and dark,” Briskin writes. “Her smile touches my heart.”
Story updated May 3, 2022.
Orrin Luc posted an articleHe served as a U.S. consul in Iran, and in Isfahan witnessed a revolution unfold. see more
With the Peace Corps, he and his wife helped set up the first high school for girls in the town of Farah. As a diplomat in Iran, he helped evacuate hundreds of U.S. citizens.
Photo courtesy the family of David McGaffey
By NPCA Staff
Born on a farm in Michigan, David McGaffey was 15 years old when he enrolled at the University of Detroit. He studied theater, folklore, psychology, and math, and met his future wife, Elizabeth. They wed and applied to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in Chile.
“The Peace Corps looked at my application and said here is somebody who likes mountains,” he recounted, “and called me up and said, ‘How would you like to go to Afghanistan?’”
The couple served 1964–66 in Baluchistan, setting up a science lab and the first high school for girls in the town of Farah.
He joined the foreign service and went to Manila. He returned to Afghanistan as an economic officer and saw firsthand the battle for influence between the U.S. and USSR. He served as a U.S. consul in Iran, and in Isfahan witnessed a revolution unfold. He organized evacuations of thousands of Americans.
He was nearly killed himself while trying to defuse the aftermath of a knife-turned-shooting argument over a shady business deal between a U.S. employee of Bell Helicopter and an Iranian taxi driver. The hotel where they were ensconced was surrounded by a mob of thousands ready to burn the place down, and police refused to intervene. McGaffey enlisted help from mullahs and got them and the American into a car to escape. “But I didn’t get in and was seized by the mob, shot, stabbed, hanged, and had both of my kneecaps broken.”
McGaffey received an award for heroism.
Operation Assured Response, 1996: David McGaffey, left, was working with the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Here he talks with U.S. Air Force Major Bryan Holt and a reporter while awaiting the arrival of evacuees from Monrovia, Liberia. Photo courtesy Department of State
McGaffey served some months in Tehran with the embassy before departing in fall 1979; 40 days later the embassy was stormed. He served as deputy chief of mission in Guyana and as U.S. representative to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
He wrote four volumes on diplomacy and a children’s book. He finished a master’s at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a doctorate in international relations at Johns Hopkins. He taught at universities in the U.S., Portugal, and Sierra Leone. He died in April at age 79.
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Communications Intern posted an articleA conversation with John Limbert, one of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran from 1979 to 1981. see more
Iran past, present, and future – with diplomat John Limbert, one of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran from 1979 to 1981. They were released 40 years ago this month.
From a conversation at the National Peace Corps Association 2020 Shriver Leadership Summit
Photo: The U.S. Embassy in Tehran, seal defaced
Storming the Compound
My connections to Iran go back to 1962, when my dad was assigned there with USAID and I was a college student studying history. The first Peace Corps Volunteers went to Iran that year; Rep. Donna Shalala was part of that group. I served there as a Volunteer 1964–66, and I went back a few years later to teach at Pahlavi University. My wife, Parvaneh, and I were married 53 years ago, and I’m proud to be part of a welcoming, well-educated, very kind Iranian-American family. The first language for both our children is Persian. My dream is to take our grandchildren to see Iran. A group of Friends of Iran Peace Corps people have been back multiple times. But I’m not welcome — because I remind them of a very black chapter in their own history.
As a foreign service officer, I volunteered to go to Iran in 1979. The Shah had gone into exile after nearly two years of protests. I arrived in August; in October, President Carter agreed to admit the Shah to the United States for medical treatment. On November 4, the embassy was overrun by 3,000 students and captured.
Had there been a functioning government in Iran, presumably they would have sent some help. To this day, I blame those who had the power to react and didn’t take the responsibility to do so.
November 4, 1979: the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Iran. “Despite the obvious dangers, our embassy had only minimal defense against a mob attack,” John Limbert wrote recently. “When that attack came, [Ayatollah] Khomeini not only did not condemn it, he praised the mob as agents of ‘a second revolution, greater than the first.” Photo by unknown photographer via WikiCommons.
For the next 14 months, we had no communication with the outside world beyond some heavily censored letters from our family. I was held in solitary for nine months. Usually what would happen is I would tell myself, if I can get through a day, that would be okay — then two days, a week, a month.
In July 1980, I did find out that the Shah had died. Then the Iran-Iraq war began, which was more important to them. They had grudges against Carter, but after he lost the election, that wasn’t so relevant. They had solidified their political position inside Iran. There was not much use to holding us anymore. On January 20, 1981, they put us on a plane to Algiers.
Ignore Previous Message
For the last 40 years, we have been insulting and threatening each other. We’ve come to the brink of war. In 2009, I was asked: “Would you come work with the Obama administration to see if we can change this way of dealing with each other — not necessarily to become friends, but just to break out of a pattern that has done nothing?”
As often happens in international politics, timing is everything. And the time wasn’t right.
President Obama used a phrase in Oslo that I have often used. He said, “I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation.” Most of us who have had the Peace Corps experience share this view, whether we like the Islamic Republic or not. And I do not. It’s a pretty awful regime, about as bad as you can get. But that’s not the point. The question is, What sort of policy should we have? What should we be aiming for? One day, we and the Iranians will be able to talk to each other. We got a glimpse of that in 2015–16. One day we may get there, and when we do, we will look back and ask: Why did we waste so much time hating each other?
There are voices within this country, both American and within the Iranian diaspora, calling for war. One is a strange, cultlike group, which has spread out its network in Washington: the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq.
There are voices within this country, both American and within the Iranian diaspora, calling for war. One is a strange, cultlike group, which has spread out its network in Washington: the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, also known as the MEK. Back in the ’60s, they were a Marxist opposition group to the Shah. They have changed themselves into a cult, and using money believed to be from the Saudis, they have discovered what so many in Washington, D.C., have: Money can buy you anything. They have bought people on left and right — Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Elaine Chao, Bill Richardson, Howard Dean. They would love to see a war, because they think that in the aftermath they could take power.
They present themselves as partisans of secular liberal democracy. Their real inspiration comes from the Khmer Rouge and James Jones. Most Iranians, who may well intensely dislike the clerics and their brutal, corrupt business, would hate these other people much more. They also murdered Americans in the ’70s. The problem is, these people are well financed, well organized, and have high levels of support. The U.S. Secretary of State sent out a notice in January 2020 to all embassies saying you should have nothing to do with this group. I saw that and said, “Wow, that’s progress!” The next day, he sends out a message saying ignore previous message. Who got to him?
I think a lot of steps that President Trump has taken vis-a-vis Iran have nothing to do with Iran — and have everything to do with his predecessor. If his predecessor negotiated an agreement, by definition that had to be a bad agreement.
But just because we get a new administration with a different philosophy doesn’t mean the Iranians are going to agree with us easily or quickly. That was certainly the case with President Obama. From the day of his inauguration, he sent out a clear message: We should be talking to each other. The Iranian reaction, for about three or four years, was “What’s the trick?” The other problem: We had President Ahmadinejad in Iran until 2013. He was toxic in this town. Didn’t matter if what he said was sensible or nonsensical. No one was listening to him.
There’s not going to be sort of a wake-up on January 21, 2021. It’s going to take patience, just like getting to the nuclear agreement — forbearance, listening, persistence. But there should be a determination to do things differently.
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleNPCA Affiliate group urges diplomacy, not conflict, with Iran see more
With the appointment of John Bolton to be National Security Advisor, this week’s confirmation hearing of Mike Pompeo to be the next Secretary of State, and a May 12th deadline approaching on President Trump’s decision to uphold or withdraw from a multi-lateral nuclear agreement, U.S. relations with Iran will be regularly in the news over the next several weeks.
Because of that, it comes as no surprise the Peace Corps Iran Association (PCIA) – an NPCA affiliate group – is urging Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and others to urge diplomacy over conflict.
As part of a resolution supporting the nuclear agreement that members agreed to at a conference last October 31st, PCIA noted they “strongly support diplomacy as the primary means for the United States and the international community to resolve issues of mutual interest with Iran and to prevent further military conflict in the region.”
As the Pompeo hearings and other actions that are concerning to PCIA approach, PCIA urges all like-minded members of the Peace Corps community - and others - to take a five minute action with their Senators urging diplomacy with Iran.
Follow this link and take action.
For more information, you are encouraged to visit the PCIA website.