In LA's Persian Square, Iranian General's Killing Stirs Strong Emotions

Local calligrapher Manouchehr Mohagheghian called Maj. Gen. Soleimani "a terrorist." (Photo by Josie Huang/LAist)

In his Westwood calligraphy shop, Manouchehr Mohagheghian clings to a tradition from his native Iran, reproducing the words of the Persian poet Rumi in trellis-like Farsi script.

His face darkens, though, when he talks about what he wanted to leave behind in his home country: an authoritarian regime that suppresses dissent.

He calls its leaders 'terrorists.' So it was with grim satisfaction that Mohagheghian greeted the news that the U.S. military had assassinated Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike in Iraq early Friday. He would have rather Soleimani been tried in a court of law, but he was also glad the commander was gone.

"Killing each one of these terrorists is a benefit for the Iranian people, Middle East and saving the American people, the American military in Iraq," Mohagheghian said.

Los Angeles is home to the largest Iranian population outside of Iran, and this pocket of Westwood where Mohagheghian does calligraphy is referred to as "Persian Square."

Here, amid one of the city's densest concentrations of Iranian American-owned businesses, President Trump's order to take out the country's top military commander is stirring up strong emotions.

Sahra Mohammadi worries that the general's assassination will further destabilize Iran, where her older sister lives. (Photo by Josie Huang/LAist)

Sahra Mohammadi, who owns a beauty salon here, was less than enthusiastic. She said that she is worried that Soleimani's killing could further destabilize the region and endanger the lives of her 70-year-old sister and her family, who are in Tehran.

Top Iranian leaders have vowed revenge for the general's death. Meanwhile, more airstrikes have been reported since.

"I just pray for them, that everybody stay healthy, and stick to each other," Mohammadi said.

At the same time, Mohammadi was hopeful about regime change. She said that for too long the Iranian people have been suffering under the rule of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"The people don't have any money, and the situation is very bad," Mohammadi said. "Medicine is very expensive. If you want to buy bread, just one (loaf of) bread is $5, $6, maybe more."

In contrast, Albert Rad, a mobile phone wholesaler, full-throatedly supported the strike against Iran. A Persian Jew, he said he emigrated to the U.S. with his parents when he was 24 to escape religious persecution.

"Donald Trump 100% did a good decision," Rad said. "U.S. government (is) No.1, no questions asked."

In Los Angeles, and other major U.S. cities, the general's killing spurred law enforcement agencies to call for greater vigilance.

Albert Rad, a mobile phone wholesaler who fled religious persecution in Iran decades ago, said that he fully backs President Trump's decision to assassinate Iran's top military commander. (Photo by Josie Huang/LAist)

Earlier today, the Los Angeles Police Department wrote from its Twitter account that although "there is no credible threat" to the city, "we ask every Angeleno to say something if you see something."

The tweet set off immediate backlash on the Internet. Nazanin Nour, an Iranian American actress, sent this retort to the LAPD account:

Nour told KPCC/LAist she felt that the LAPD was putting Iranians and Iranian Americans on notice by saying "Hey, we know what happened and we're watching you."

Nour, who was born in Arlington, Virginia, said she was "just as American as everybody else," but that "seeing something like [the LAPD tweet] does make you feel like the 'other.'"

She said Iranian Americans faced heavy discrimination around the time of the Iranian hostage crisis, which lasted from 1979-1981. She worried tensions between the U.S. and Iran could lead to "our generation's version of that happening all over again. So it's very unsettling."

Mohagheghian, the calligrapher, said he found the police department's tweet alarmist.

"I think is not necessary," Mohagheghian said. "Why (do) you make a big case of it?"

UPDATES:

6:51 p.m.: This article was updated with quotes from an interview with Nazanin Nour.

This article was originally published at 5:47 p.m.