Artists in exile: Bringing a talented Iranian couple to Canada

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Names: Sina and Pariya
Home country: Iran
Current location: Sakarya, Turkey – for over five years
Risk of returning: Arrest, torture, death
Need: Private sponsorship to Canada. Fundraising!!!
Advantages: Strong English, strong skills, UNHCR certificates

These two dissidents fell in love as exiles from a brutal dictatorship. She’s an artist who converted to Christianity, a crime punishable by death in Iran. He is a music lover who was arrested and tortured twice for helping to host a rock concert. They can only go forward now, never back.

They fell in love in Turkey and were married in a church. That alone makes it impossible for Sina and Pariya to ever return to Iran.

His story

But their difficulties started earlier. For Sina, it was arrest and torture by the Basij, the Iranian religious police, in May 2009. His crime? He and his friends hosted a rock concert in a garden villa in the suburbs of Shiraz.

“After an hour we saw the red lights of police cars outside the garden. The policemen forced their way in and shot guns to the sky. It was a panic. A group of us jumped over the wall to the next garden. We were on the main road when an unmarked sedan pulled up.”

Sina was forced into the car and detained in an unknown location for a week, where he was beat and burned with cigarettes. His tormentors accused him of loving America and worshipping Satan. He was then transported to Adel Abad prison in Shiraz, where he faced more interrogation and torture.

He only escaped when his father bailed him out of jail. But there was more to come.

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Her story

When Pariya was in her last year of high school, her parents divorced and she moved in with her aunt to focus on her studies. Her aunt held a secret: she had converted to Christianity. And when her aunt’s church was raidedin 2011, she knew it was no longer safe to stay in Iran.

Pariya moved with her aunt to Turkey and started attending church. By the time she was 18, and returned to Iran to write her exams, Pariya considered herself a Christian too. Her mother understood. By this point she had married a Christian and was attending secret church services.

For Pariya, the secret was too much to keep – she told a friend about her new faith. Soon everyone knew. She was questioned by the school authorities. Strange cars parked for hours outside the house. The family’s church was raided.

“Arrests were made and phones were tapped. It was a very hard time for me and my family. Our life was falling apart.”

On March 4, 2013, they family decided that it was no longer safe to live in Iran. Pariya, her mother and stepfather returned to Turkey and applied for refugee status with the UNHCR office in Ankara.

Their story

That year, 2013, was a tumultuous one. In September, Pariya’s mother returned to Turkey with her husband to get medical treatment for her baby daughter. Her husband was detained again for his Christian faith and his passport confiscated – leaving Pariya alone in Turkey.

In the summer of 2013, Sina returned from his studies in Cyprus and was arrested and jailed for four days – again for his love of rock music. On September 19, 2013, he left Iran for the last time – and the police raided his house shortly after, and confiscated everything he owned.

In November, the couple’s luck turned when they met in Turkey through a mutual friend. They quickly fell in love. Although Sina is not religious, the two of them were married in January 2015, first in a civil ceremony, then in a church a few months later.

“My husband is not a Christian. He is a non-religion person, but we respect each others’ beliefs deeply, as I think every human being should.”

One other bright spot: in 2016, both Sina and Pariya were declared refugees by the UNHCR, in recognition of the mortal danger they faced if they were to try to return. At one point they were told they would be resettled in the US. But due to the Trump election, that option has disappeared.

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Their life now

For the past five years, they have lived in Sakarya, Turkey, told to live there by UNHCR officials. It is not an easy place for a couple of artists and free thinkers. Pariya is a talented painter (you can see amazing examples of here artwork here), but has trouble selling her works in their provincial town. Sina gets by as a professional tailor.


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Hand-to-Hand Supporting Newcomers Canada


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