"Of the approximately hundred thousand Jews in Iran at the time of the revolution, only twenty thousand remain. They…no longer felt welcome in their homeland. Today, despite promises by the new president, Hassan Rouhani, to protect the freedom of ethnic and religious minorities (and the appointment of an aide to focus on their affairs), the persecution continues."
Last March, I sublet my Manhattan apartment. A woman called Shireen answered my ad, and when she came to visit I was surprised to learn that, despite her traditionally Persian name, she was Indian. Mentioning this, Shireen replied, "But I am Persian! I'm Zoroastrian." In India, she explained, Zoroastrians are called Parsis (literally, "Persian") in reference to their Persian ancestry.
Zoroastrianism was Iran's primary religion until the mid-seventh century, when Islam was imposed on the country by conquering Arabs. Many Zoroastrians fled to India to avoid forced conversion and discrimination. Today, Iran counts some 30,000 Zoroastrians; those who practice openly face persecution and are considered second-class citizens. Still, I urged Shireen to visit Iran and explore her heritage. But my encouragement was a painful reminder that I, born and raised in Iran, hadn't been back in 14 years. After being arrested and jailed in 1999 for reporting critically on the government, I fled to write and work freely. I wasn't certain I could visit anytime soon.