"It is only when a mosquito lands on your testicles that you realize there is always a way to solve problems without using violence."
Siamak Namazi sent me an Internet meme with this quote only a few weeks ago. It was his clever way of responding to the heated discussions I was having on social media in his defense. The Daily Beast had just published an article attacking Siamak and his family, via a pseudonym, as Siamak was being interrogated in Iran.
The article falsely claims that the Namazi family stood to gain millions of dollars from the P5+1 Iran Deal and they were promoting the deal through "the Iran Lobby," the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). It also claims that the Namazis played a key role as the "intellectual architects" of NIAC when, in fact, they had no role at all. Neither is NIAC a lobby for the Iranian government, as The Daily Beast's article falsely suggested. The writer misrepresents many more facts and in some cases, tells outright lies. Siamak was arrested soon after the article was published; it is widely believed that the article both contributed to Siamak's arrest and fabricated fodder for the case against him.
I have served on NIAC's Board for two years and I am proud to call Siamak a close friend of more than sixteen years. Some may say I am, therefore, biased. Like anyone defending an innocent friend or family friend, I am biased toward justice and facts. I do not know what agenda the author of the article has, nor will I ever, given that he or she did not have the confidence to use a real name.
The premise of the article is that the Namazi family "stands to make a fortune from sanctions relief." I have no problem with anyone undertaking legal and constructive ventures and reaping the rewards, but the author should have noted that this family is among the least likely to pursue this path. Baquer Namazi, Siamak's father, is a well-respected UNICEF retiree in his late seventies living a modest life in Tehran and working pro bono on poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Siamak's brother Babak practices law and lives in Dubai. Siamak himself does not currently earn any income; he lost his job as head of strategic planning at Crescent Petroleum a few weeks ago after getting stuck in Tehran upon the confiscation of his passport. Today, he is in Tehran's notorious prison, Evin.
I am not writing this piece to attack The Daily Beast for irresponsible journalism. I'm not writing this to defend NIAC either, though The Daily Beast's lies throughout the article about NIAC are deeply upsetting. I am writing to set the record straight about my dear friend, Siamak Namazi.
I met Siamak in 1999 when he walked into my office in Tehran to request a website for his company, Atieh Bahar (disclosure: I was paid by Atieh Bahar for that around 16 years ago, about $5 per page, under $500 total!) He was a very picky and passionate client; as a result, he spent a large amount of time in our offices. By the time the website came to an end, Siamak was a friend, and beloved across our entire team. He was always positive, joyful, practical, and extremely smart. His most remarkable attribute though was his sheer passion for Iran. We always made fun of him for being fresh off the boat in the Iran he had left long ago. The truth is that Siamak knew Iran better than many of us who grew up there.
After Iran's 1979 Revolution, Baquer Namazi, the former governor of Khuzestan province, was barred from leaving the country. His family left Iran in 1983, when Siamak was 12, and Baquer left through borders in 1984, moving to New York and starting a respectful career at UNICEF. Since then, the family has lived in different countries; Siamak grew up in Somalia, Kenya, Egypt and the United States. After graduating from Tufts University, where he studied International Relations, Siamak returned to Iran in 1993. His return coincided with the opening of Iran's economy to foreign trade and investment, though that was not his motivation. Siamak returned to reconnect with his motherland. , In 1995, Siamak returned to the United States to complete his MSc. in Urban Planning from Rutgers University before moving to Iran permanently in 1999 and joining Atieh Bahar.
Atieh Bahar was founded by Bijan Khajehpour and his wife, Pari Namazi (Siamak's cousin), expats who understood Iran's political, cultural, and economic situation very well. After a couple of decades of tense relations with the West and a long war, the country needed experts who could understand both sides. Given the wave of Western companies setting up in Iran, there was a huge demand for this kind of knowledge. Atieh Bahar became very successful and grew quickly as a result. The Daily Beast article claims, "Atieh Bahar provided various services to foreign companies...most importantly the access it provided to the regime." In fact, Atieh Bahar had a statement of business principles, which was included in every single one of their contracts, making clear that this was not the case. Other baseless and preposterous claims include, "Atieh Bahar Consultancy had aligned itself with Rafsanjani's faction early on by forging an especially close relationship with Rafsanjani's influential son, Mehdi" or "What was worse for AB and the Namazis, Ahmadinejad went after his political rivals, particularly the Rafsanjani faction, with a vengeance... AB needed to shore up a new alliance and bide its time. Co-founder Bijan Khajehpour worked for...Hassan Rouhani."
It is surprising to say the least that The Daily Beast chose to publish these outlandish claims without completing even a cursory fact check. Additionally, the publication seems to be well aware that an article can put someone's life in danger in Iran, as is most unfortunately the case with Siamak. The byline shares that the author is "a well-known Iranian dissident who requested that The Daily Beast keep his identity concealed for fear of what might happen to his family in Iran in retaliation for this article." Why then ignore the obvious fact that the article, full of false claims, could affect the Namazis' lives?
The article claims "Siamak Namazi also faced harassment after the 2009 elections and the subsequent unrest." Actually, in 2007 he decided to sell all of his shares at Atieh Bahar and move to Dubai. He didn't have any assets in Iran anymore, and furthermore his job had nothing to do with Iran. Even though his work, by choice, was completely detached from any Iran responsibilities, he couldn't put away his inherent passion for Iran and people there for long.
In 2013, Siamak put several months of his personal time to study how sanctions were blocking humanitarian trade with Iran, particularly in medicine and medical equipment. At the time, the Washington narrative was that sanctions were not blocking humanitarian trade or impacting ordinary citizens. Siamak spent months engaging the media and policymakers to demonstrate the fallacy of the argument, and challenged the Office on Foreign Asset Control (OFAC)'s rules. His study was presented at the Wilson Center and inspired an op-ed published in New York Times, which was widely considered the most detailed study on the matter. For this work, Siamak received a great deal of criticism from those who believed helping people in Iran is tantamount to "supporting the regime." Again, the anonymous writer claims "little known to the American press, the Namazis have rarely acted as spokespersons for their own cause." Lifting sanctions that impacted ordinary Iranians was Siamak's cause, and if the author conducted simple Google search, he or she would find many examples of very public declarations by Siamak.
In The Washington Post's article about his arrest, they have published parts of Siamak's notes from years ago, which reflect the Siamak I know: an idealist young man in love with Iran, still calling it "home", even though he had lived elsewhere most of his life:
"Iran had practically become a dream now, an invented product of childhood imagination," he wrote. "Still, this land of my dreams was all I thought about. My passion for return was so great, it hurt. The only thing greater than that pain was the fear that I rarely even allowed myself to think of: What happens if I someday return and find out that everything has changed? Then I will be left dry, without a dream, a hope, a home."
I hope, not just for him, but also for all of us, that he is released soon. It is a loss to not have him around. Many of us share those dreams, but Siamak is one of the few people who was ready to sacrifice (and did) to make those dreams a reality. Siamak Namazi is a rare gem and I look forward to seeing the friend that I know very soon: Strong, wise, calm, and always humorous.