Emami Namini is a German professor with an Iranian background. He has visited the university a few times before, to give guest lectures and mini courses. His most recent visit to the University of Tehran was part of the Erasmus Mobility Programme. Erasmus University and the University of Tehran are connected through this, which means that faculty members can go to the other university to give a guest lecture or teach a course. Additionally, professors go to the other university for joint research, to understand how that university works, and to see what the students are like.
The mourning ceremony of the assassinated Iranian general Soleimani was held on the campus of the Tehran University and many of the professors participated in it. The German embassy advised Emami Namini to avoid the ceremony. “They said that it would be better to keep away from it because there were high security measures. The police would identify me as a foreigner, and to avoid any misunderstanding I decided to stay in my hotel.” Even though the ceremony was in the center of Tehran, and his hotel is in the far north, he could still see military helicopters cruising over Tehran. “As millions participated in the mourning ceremony, the streets were much quieter than usual, which was actually quite pleasant.”
He was still in Iran on the 8th of January, when Iran fired missiles at bases hosting American troops in Iraq, retaliating for the killing of Soleimani. In the hours after the attack, it was unclear how the U.S. would respond. “This was the only time that I felt scared during my visit in Iran, because I didn’t know what was going to happen” says Emami Namini. According to him, the threat of a potential war was felt amongst the students. In Iran, young males are only allowed to leave the country if they have served in the military. “I talked with male students who told me directly: if there will be war, we will have to go there.” These male students were waiting for Trump’s speech around 8 in the evening, which would let them know whether there would be a war or not.
Emami Namini still remembers that day in detail. “That particular evening, I had a dinner appointment with a few students, and I asked them: ‘Should we go for dinner before Trump’s speech, or should we wait?’ They told me: “Let’s go for dinner now, so we can at least enjoy the evening if we have to go to war tomorrow.” Of course, in the restaurant everyone was watching the news and there was great relief when Trump said that he wanted to embrace peace. From one minute to the other, you could feel the students relax, because they knew that if Trump declared war, they would have to report themselves the next day to be in the army.
Academic consequences of the boycott
The U.S. has applied economic, scientific and military sanctions against Iran. According to Emami Namini, any academic exchange is explicitly exempted from any sanctions by the U.S. This means that Iranian academics have access to foreign academic journals and are also free to publish their articles. On an academic level, there are no restrictions whatsoever. However, the U.S. boycott of Iran has some practical issues. “European banks to not process transactions with Iran due to the US sanctions. This had the implication that the professors from Tehran that visited Erasmus University had to receive their Erasmus Mobility Grant in cash, and they face difficulties making their travel arrangements.”
Emami Namini does not expect any negative consequences of this partnership for his own career. According to him, it is rather the opposite. “I think that people will start to understand each other better if we communicate and connect directly. I did not encounter anyone who does not consider this partnership as positive.” The partnership is also supported by the Dutch government, because before any Erasmus Mobility grant is awarded, the ministry of Foreign Affairs has to approve it.
He wishes to continue the partnership with the Iranian university. In 2018, four professors from Tehran visited EUR, and two professors from EUR visited the University of Tehran. The exchange is not only limited to faculty members and staff. So far, three students from Tehran have visited EUR. One of them continues her master studies here, another student is now a PhD student at Tinbergen institute. Two of Emami Namini’s bachelor students went to Tehran last May, where they attended several lectures during their three weeks visit. “Students at Tehran University are some of the brightest students of the country, which means that if those students come to the Netherlands, we are able to benefit from their brightness.”