CITYWIDE — Nima Ghalehsari was excited as he sat watching the news on the evening of June 12. The Iranian student at Santa Monica College was looking forward to hearing the results of the presidential election in Iran, but when the television anchor announced the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he was shocked.
“It was impossible,” said Ghalehsari, who cast his vote for president at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel, the local polling station. “It’s not computerized in Iran. It’s impossible for them to count the votes in like an hour.”
Despite the logistics of counting votes, Iranian officials announced Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory of 63 percent against challenger Hossein Mousavi, who received only 34 percent of votes, in less than 24 hours.
“I think it’s obvious for everyone that it wasn’t a true election. They cheated,” Ghalehsari said.
The greater Los Angeles area has the largest population of Iranians in the United States, with around 500,000 living in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Santa Monica also boasts a large community, with many residents and business owners of Iranian decent.
Citing voter fraud, Mousavi’s supporters took to the streets in Tehran and other cities in what some are calling the largest demonstration since the 1979 Revolution. L.A. responded to the protests in Iran with rallies of its own.
A rally outside the Westwood Federal Building on Saturday saw more than 1,000 protesters, both Iranian and American, calling for an end to the Iranian government’s violence.
Sharya Sadeh, manager of the Ohaam Persian Grill on Santa Monica Boulevard, said the rallies in L.A. are meant to show support for the protesters in Iran.
“It’s important so people inside know we are helping them. We are behind them,” said Sadeh, who voted in the election.
With communications in Iran such as cell phone and television signals almost entirely shut down, Iranians in America are also turning to Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about the suspected election fraud and the phrase “Where is my vote?” has appeared as Facebook profile pictures.
“They’re saying that we voted for someone else and we selected someone else. It means it wasn’t an election, it was a selection. It means we want our votes back” explained Ghalehsari, who has had a hard time reaching his immediate family still living in Iran.
Aghdas Hazi, a Santa Monica resident and member of the Baha’i Spiritual Assembly of Santa Monica, said the protests remind her of those in 1979.
As a Baha’i in Iran, Hazi and her husband were persecuted and she moved to Santa Monica with her four children 30 years ago. Two years later, Iranian authorities executed her husband, leaving her a widow.
Hazi, who has not returned to Iran since she left in 1979, said she hopes for peace in Iran today and for the government to stop their violent action against the protesters.
“All of them are killers. I want to change all of that,” she said.
Baha’is have a long history of persecution in Iran, especially at the hands of Ahmadinejad’s government, but Larry Hanser, secretary for the Spiritual Assembly of Santa Monica, said they are less concerned with the election results and more concerned with creating peace in Iran.
“We’re not interested in the politics of that country. We’re interested in human rights of people in Iran and all over the world,” he said.
These last few weeks have been important for the political atmosphere in Iran, Ghalehsari said.
“People are tired of the regime, tired of the dictators of Iran. People want freedom. They want democracy,” he said.
This seems to be the prevailing hope among the Iranian community in Santa Monica.
“They want to change the country. They don’t want brutality, but freedom for the people,” Sadeh said. “Everybody in the world, they want the same thing I think.”