Bookda Gheisar had just gotten home from a late-night movie with her kids when she heard about the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top military official, Qassem Soleimani.

Since moving to America from Iran 40 years ago, Gheisar, 57, said there have been too many flare-ups in the relationship between U.S. and Iran to count. On her trips to her former home — where many of her relatives are grappling with economic sanctions and government crackdowns on speech — she’s heard people pose the possibility of war, always arriving at “probably not.”

But this week, as she trades voice messages with her family in Iran and listens to “Democracy Now!,” the independent news program, she said the unknown feels scarier.

“I can’t think of something like this that’s happened before,” said Gheisar, senior director of the office of equity at the Port of Seattle. “I feel very sorrowful. I think the people of Iran have been ready for positive change for so long.” 

Washington Democrats warn U.S. airstrike risks war with Iran

As they process the news from afar, some Iranian Americans in Seattle said that while the killing of Soleimani is an escalation in tensions with Iran, their families there have suffered for years as a result of U.S. actions in the Middle East.

“The worst part is the Iranian people are going to get the short end of the stick,” said Cherry Street Coffee House owner Ali Ghambari, adding that Iran has already faced decades of U.S. sanctions. “All the people living in Iran and Iraq and Syria, they’re going through hell. This is going to escalate that again.”

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Ghambari moved to Seattle in 1979 and founded the Iranian American Community Alliance in 2005. He visits his family in Iran a few times a year, and was just there last month. Since hearing of the U.S. airstrike, his family has been anxious to see what will happen next.

“People don’t want war,” he said. “They’ve been through it, so they have a certain understanding about how challenging things get.”

Ghambari, though, can’t help but sense some shallowness in the sudden interest from Americans and journalists in how the U.S. government’s actions in the Middle East have affected people there. Recent events should be seen through the lens of the long history of the U.S. government’s destabilizing actions in the region, he said.

“Tell them to Google what the CIA has done in Iran for the last 67 years,” he said.

The repercussions from these events can be felt here, said Gheisar. Beyond worrying for her family’s safety in Iran if violence escalates, Gheisar said she’s expecting a surge in anti-Iranian and Middle Eastern sentiment. When she first arrived in the United States just after the Iran hostage crisis — in which 52 Americans were held from November 1979 to January 1981 — people threw bricks through her window and called her names.

“With things like the travel banthe sense of not being welcomed is 1,000 times worse now,” she said. 

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For Omid Shamoil, who moved to Seattle from Los Angeles last summer, it’s been hard to process this news in Seattle, which doesn’t have as large of an Iranian community.

During the Green Movement in 2009, when millions of Iran’s citizens poured into the streets to contest the results of presidential elections, his community in LA would march, too.

“Here, it feels like there’s no refuge,” he said.

He’s never seen Iran, he said. His family is Jewish and no longer lives there, but he’s heard about it through his parents and relatives, and wants to visit someday.

“Things getting worse is something I’ve always feared, because I’ve always wanted to go.”