After twenty months of arduous negotiations, 159 pages of written agreements, and the involvement of seven global hegemons, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was finalized and implemented on the 14th of July, 2015. Also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, this agreement promised to relieve the hostility between Iran and the world, and effectively force the discontinuation of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Iran would no longer process plutonium and uranium, the crucial components of nuclear weapons, in exchange for pardonment of economic sanctions. Three years later, this past May, through a few confrontational tweets and adhoc press conferences, President Donald Trump announced his violation of the historic agreement. Tehran’s lack of compliance and sponsorship of regional terrorism sparked a justified exit from the nuclear deal, as well as potentially triggering a crisis in the Middle East.
After Trump backed out the JCPOA, the global community expressed concern about the best way to handle Rouhani’s leadership in Iran. The United States re-imposed sanctions on a scale far greater than before and these have proven to be catastrophic in Iran’s economy and extremely detrimental to their stability. Since then, many countries in Europe and the GCC have continued to cut ties with Iran whilst condemning their sponsorship of terrorism in the region.
Citizens in Iran have also shown discontent with decades of oppressive administrations, most notably during the 2009 Green Movement where a widespread protest broke out against election fraud. This resulted in 21 fatalities, 450 arrests, and oppressive restrictions to media imposed by the government. Since then, protests are far from uncommon and have common themes of corruption, economic mismanagement, and lack of opportunity for the Iranian youth. Iranians are subject to a burdensome regime and unjust impositions. This leads me to the big question- are the US’ sanctions further oppressing people who are already oppressed?
Iranians have a deep-rooted sense of pride and nationalism dating back to the rule of Cyrus of Great and the Persian Empire. Cyrus the Great conquered the Medes in 539 B.C. and united the Iranian people under one ruler for the first time in history. Cyrus became the first king of the Persian Empire, the King of Ancient Iran, and went on to establish one of the largest empires in world. Babylon, under Cyrus, was an ancient capital of scholarship and science, and to this day his legacy remains. As a way to appreciate and celebrate the splendor of his new land, Cyrus the Great pioneered the trade of carpet weaving in the Persian Empire. This craft dates back 2,500 years, has been passed down through generations of families, and has withstood the test of time. Persian rugs are signs of wealth and prestige, and are known for the highest standard of complex and labor-intensive craftsmanship. These carpets have gone on to inspire movies such as Aladdin, based off of the Prince of Baghdad, and have certainly created a sense of magic that lies within the history and culture of Persia. At a glance, Iranian carpet weaving is a craft that has been perfected through centuries of creativity and ingenuity, and is extremely influential in both the culture and economy of modern day Iran.
Historically, the majority of exported Persian rugs have gone directly to the United States. Monavar Khalaj from the Financial Times estimated that 30% of the rugs were sent to the U.S. in 2015 after the JCPOA was signed. 43% of the rugs were exported to various European countries in the same year, and the earnings of the industry were close to $330 million. In short, buyers from the U.S. and other Western countries are the largest market for carpet weavers in Iran. Given the current political climate, ongoing hostility between Rouhani and Trump, and newly re-imposed sanctions, the Western world can no longer financially support carpet-weavers or their extraordinary craft. The future of the the industry as well as the livelihood of millions of Iranians is at serious risk.
The people who are most burdened by the U.S. economic sanctions are the people already living under a corrupt regime. Civilians live with the decisions of the ruling Shiite Islamist elite under the authority of unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his puppet Rouhani. Beyond the scope of politics, we must express solidarity with people who are being crushed from all sides. The recent sanctions are most greatly affecting men and women whose livelihoods depend on carpet weaving, the majority of whom live outsie of the ancient city of Shiraz, in the mountains. Thomas Erdbrink from the New York Times interviewed a woman from Shiraz, Mina Bahram Abadian, who commented:
“Divorce rates are up, as is drug use… They cannot cope with all the changes. They get depressed and stop making carpets.”
The carpet weaving industry has survived thousands of years but is defenseless against economic sanctions, compounded with cheaply manufactured rugs from China and India. Carpet weaving is an art of Iran, one of the most widespread crafts and important traditions, but has little chance of survival if sanctions are to continue. Killing the industry would mean killing Iran’s cultural pride and joy. A tradition that was passed from father to son will become a lost art and shred of history in Iran’s toppled economy. The preservation of culture is in compliance with the ability to continue to create it. Carpets are a testament to the love they have for their country. Carpet weaving is a labor of love, a source of livelihood, and ultimately has nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program. It is impossible to condone the actions of the administration in Iran but equally crucial to understand the lasting repercussions of our actions as far-removed actors. While the JCPOA had many flaws, it is important to go forth and consider ways to find congruency between liberation and stability.