Middle East studies in the News
Longtime U.Va. Professor R.K. Ramazani, An Expert on Iran, Dies at 88
by Dean Quizon
Rouhollah K. Ramazani, the former University of Virginia professor known as the "dean of Iranian foreign policy studies," has died at age 88.
Ramazani, better known as Ruhi, taught at U.Va. from 1953 until 1998. He died at U.Va. Medical Center early Wednesday, less than 24 hours after suffering a fall in his house.
The Iran native and Ivy resident is best remembered as an expert on Iranian history and politics — especially the turbulent relationship between the U.S. and Iran.
His death comes about a year and a half after the U.S. reached a deal with the Iranian government over its nuclear program — a development that gave Ramazani great hope for the future.
He laid out his hopes in his final op-ed piece for The Daily Progress, published on Jan. 24:
"It is reasonable to hope that, long after the current hostility has faded, there may be a new era of mutual engagement and amicable collaboration between the two nations," Ramazani wrote. "Both the United States and Iran seek the defeat of ISIS and al-Qaida, the stabilization of Iraq, the ending of the Syrian civil war. These and other mutual interests are the common ground to be forged."
Friends said it was a satisfying bookend to the life of Ramazani, which was turned upside down by the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
The revolution, which overthrew the U.S.-backed shah of Iran for a hard-line religious regime, was a difficult pill to swallow for Ramazani, described by former colleague William B. Quandt as a "secular moderate."
"That was not the Iran he knew and hoped would be his alternate home," said Quandt, a professor emeritus in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics at U.Va.
The rise of Ayatollah Khomeini — leader of the 1979 revolution — marked a new era of tensions between Iran and the U.S., which was deeply resented for its role in deposing democratically elected Premier Mohammad Mossadegh in favor of the shah in 1953.
Those tensions were highest in 1979, during the Iranian hostage crisis, but have flared up repeatedly over America's role in the Middle East, its alliance with Israel and Iran's nuclear program.
Through it all, Ramazani had faith the two sides could reach an understanding.
Brantly Womack, another one of Ramazani's colleagues at U.Va., said watching these ups and downs with Ramazani over the years was "like watching it in real time," he said.
He was not an apologist for the Iranian government, Womack said, but a mediator who rejected the notion that the two nations could not coexist peacefully.
"His life was dialogue among civilizations, and he very much emphasized that," Womack said.
Ramazani escaped from Iran in 1951 as it was in the midst of a massive political struggle over its oil reserves. He came to the university shortly thereafter, Quandt said, and "immediately fell in love." He began teaching classes on the politics of the Middle East just before receiving his doctorate. Quandt remembers him as "kind of an old-style gentleman" who was always immaculately dressed and well-mannered.
Several people who knew him remember that he had the rare combination of diplomacy and straightforwardness — he was polite but no-nonsense.
His decorated career at U.Va. included two terms as chairman of the politics department: from 1976 to 1982 and from 1992 to 1994. During the last stint, he hired Larry J. Sabato, who went on to become director of the U.Va. Center for Politics and one of the university's most prominent faculty members.
Among the many roles Ramazani played was as a contributor to The Daily Progress opinion pages. Anita Shelburne, editorial page editor, said she remembers him as intellectually gifted yet "one of the most genuinely humble people I've ever known."
"(He was) truly a kind man and a pleasure to work with," Shelburne said. "I'll miss him deeply."
He survived by his wife of 64 years, Nesta; four children — Vaheed; David; Jahan, an English professor at U.Va.; and Sima — and six grandchildren, Ariana, Allegra and Annika Fiets; Gabriel and Cyrus Rody-Ramazani; and Anthony Ramazani.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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