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U.S. Sanctions Take A Toll On Ordinary Iranian Families


How are American sanctions affecting ordinary families in Iran? Well, Iranians taking a break in Istanbul, Turkey, spend some time talking with NPR's Peter Kenyon about how they're coping.


PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Istiklal Street is Istanbul's most famous commercial boulevard. And on a recent afternoon, a street musician serenaded people from all over Turkey, Europe, Asia and Iran. For Iranians, heading next door to Turkey for a break is both easier and less expensive than trying to get to Europe or the U.S. I met several Iranians who were nervous at the idea of having their views recorded, worrying about possible retribution by authorities back home. But some agreed to speak if their family names weren't used. Kourosh, a young man with sunglasses, says Iranians have grown used to economic hard times brought on by political clashes beyond their control.

KOUROSH: (Through interpreter) I have nothing to do with sanctions. I don't even really understand what they are. But I do know many businesses are struggling, and some are closing.

KENYON: That includes his own small business - a textile shop he opened with his brother to produce T-shirts. Kourosh says as President Trump's sanctions reduced incomes and spending money, he was forced into bankruptcy and closed the business. Now he comes to Istanbul to buy items to sell back home. But even with this scaled-back business, he's grown used to not being paid on time.

KOUROSH: (Through interpreter) I have been doing business this way for a year now. And in the past few months, it has become harder, especially after this last announcement by the U.S. about new sanctions.

KENYON: Maryam, also from Tehran, is strolling down the boulevard with her husband and young son. She says inflation is terrible. Everything is three to four times the usual price.

MARYAM: (Through interpreter) And there's no stability. You cannot feel secure. Things are very uncertain in Iran right now. There's no way of knowing what might happen in the next year or two. And on top of this, there's lack of trust between the people and the government.

KENYON: Maryam's husband Ali, who towers over his wife, says he works in the manufacturing sector in Tehran. For him, the biggest impact of the recent tensions has been losing hope of seeing his older son, who's studying in America. Ali says they haven't seen him in three years.

ALI: (Through interpreter) Since Trump has been in office, we haven't seen our child. We only see him online, and I really miss him as a father.

KENYON: Ali says getting a U.S. visa has been difficult for some time. But with the way U.S.-Iranian relations are going now, travelling to America seems less likely than ever.

ALI: (Through interpreter) Now everything has gone wrong, and we're here to go to the Canadian consulate. If we can get a Canadian visa, we will go to Niagara Falls. And if our son comes to the other side of the falls, we can wave at each other.


KENYON: Under the American sanctions, Iran is facing double-digit unemployment, and inflation is running at some 40%. Sixty-two-year-old Tehran resident Farzaneh breaks off a conversation with friends to explain that there are so many ways people are suffering these days, it's hard to say which is worst. But she thinks it's the loss of hope in the younger generation.

FARZANEH: (Through interpreter) The unemployment is very bad and young people have no motivation. Everyone has lost hope. The ones who are out of work feel the pressure of not having a job. But the ones who do are always worried they're about to be laid off.

KENYON: When asked who people are blaming for all these troubles, Farzaneh's response echoes the views of most of the people interviewed for this story. Of course, the Trump administration is to blame, but so is the government in Tehran, which is riven by fierce infighting. She says some even believe these hard times could lead the government to be more responsive, but she doesn't think so.

FARZANEH: (Through interpreter) But people are so desperate and hopeless to save themselves from this crisis that some even turn to the U.S. government and the U.S. president to save them. But I don't think this is the right mentality.

KENYON: She sighs and gives a wry smile, as if to say, please, just let her enjoy her few days in Turkey before she has to think about what awaits her back home.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.