Projects & Initiatives
Strengthening Bonds of Friendship between American & Iranian Peoples
Enhancing Peace and Mutual Respect
Forty years of recrimination and mutual demonization, much of it driven by ideology and identity, have prevented many Americans and Iranians alike from realizing the long history of cultural connections that have, since the 19th century, linked their countries. This modern enmity masks the friendships that have endured the test of time, the extreme politics of the era, revolutionary transformation and international conflict.
The cultural connections between United States and Iran run deep. Iran and the United States have had a unique people-to-people interactions dating back to 1811. This included the missionaries who helped build schools and clinics, financial advisers who brought their expertise to banking and commerce, and educationalists and aid workers and more than 1600 U.S. Peace Corps volunteers who went to Iran from 1962-1976. Many of these volunteers received their training at Utah State University, selected because of Utah’s topographical similarity to Iran. One source estimated that approximately 850,000 Americans traveled to Iran from 1969-1979 during the Shah of Iran’s last decade in power. On the other hand were the Iranians who went to the United States, especially students who attended American institutions of higher learning. There were more than 50,000 Iranian students in the United States when the shah was overthrown in 1979. In that year, Iranians were the largest group of international students enrolled in universities in the United States.
Today, any traveler to Iran will notice that Iranian people want to distance themselves from the actions of their government. While anti-Americanism is sweeping across the Middle East, many young Iranians (individuals under the age of 30 constitute two-thirds of Iran’s 80 million people) hold genuinely pro-American sentiments. This is especially true for the students, workers, teachers, artists, journalists, athletes and entrepreneurs who are part of a vibrant Iranian civil society seeking peace with all nations. When American wrestling teams or volleyball teams went to Iran, they were surprised at the level of Iranian public’s support for them and how pro-American they are.
Why a Baskerville Institute?
An institute like Baskerville Institute is needed to guide us toward how Americans and Iranians have ample historical experiences that point to friendship and commonalities. We named our institute after Howard C. Baskerville, a young Presbyterian missionary, who after graduating from Princeton University, went to Iran in 1907 to teach in an American school in the northwestern city of Tabriz in Iran. He was killed in 1909 fighting for Iranian democracy and liberty during Iran’s Constitutional Revolution (1906-11). Inside Iran, Baskerville is known as the “American Lafayette.” This is, of course, a reference to George Washington’s most trusted French lieutenant from America’s revolution.
Our guiding principle comes from Baskerville’s own words: “I cannot remain and watch indifferently the suffering of [Iranian] people fighting for their rights, I am an American citizen and am proud of it, but I am also a human being and cannot help feeling deep sympathy with people of this city [Tabriz].”
Howard C. Baskerville gave us a model of friendship and mutual respect more than a century ago that is still relevant and provides an alternative to government-promoted narratives of mutual satanization and conflict.
We have many “Baskervilles” in the United States and in Iran who are the true representatives of America and Iran. Whether as former diplomats, current and retired academics, professionals, artists, filmmakers, athletes, students, cultural ambassadors, Americans and Iranians have built a lasting foundation for people-to-people exchanges and transmission of ideas and expertise. Our principal mission is to build, sustain, cultivate and enhance interactions between American “Baskervilles” and Iranian “Baskervilles.” As Reza Aslan aptly put it, “Baskerville provides an alternative model for a future relationship, one based not on violence and conflict and angry rhetoric, but on sort of a mutual understanding of each other’s humanity.”
Why Baskerville Institute in Utah?
Baskerville Institute is part of a long history of exchanges between Utah and Iran dating back to 1912 when John Widtsoe (1872-1952) then president of Utah State University, met a young Iranian diplomat, Mirza Ali Gholi Khan, Consul General for the Shah of Persia [Iran] in an irrigation conference in Canada. A noted scientist, author and academic.
Widtsoe built on his friendship with Gholi Khan, exchanging information on irrigation methods, Utah’s ecology and how similar it is to Iran. Gholi Khan wrote to Widtsoe, shared information about Iran, Persian culture and poetry, its topography and similarity to Utah. Widstoe invited the Iranian Consul General to Utah State University in 1915 to deliver the graduation address. In 1922, the first Iranian student came to Utah State University.
Since this historical friendship that started in 1912 thousands Iranians have received their education from Utah State University, Brigham Young University, and University of Utah. Hundreds of American professors, peace corps volunteers, and aid workers from Utah have traveled and lived in Iran. Many are still resident in Utah and their presence provides a rich environment for enhancing and building on a century of civil society interaction with Iran.