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Farzaneh Family Center Hosts Scholars from Afghanistan as Part of CIS Scholars-at-Risk Initiative

Husnia Hazara
Husnia Hazara

In 2022, the Farzaneh Family Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies in the College of International Studies is hosting two visiting scholars from Afghanistan. The College and the Farzaneh Family Center would like to extend a warm welcome to our Omar Khayyam scholars, Husnia Hazara and Mehri Rezaee!


Hosting these scholars would not have been possible without the generous financial support of the Farzaneh Family, as well as the efforts of Farzaneh Family Instructor of Persian/Director of Outreach Programs Marjan Seirafi-Pour, Dean Scott Fritzen, and Center director Joshua Landis.


Mehri Rezaee
Mehri Rezaee

The scholars-at-risk program is an initiative of the College of International Studies to host scholars across the University of Oklahoma campus. Other scholars-at-risk currently being hosted at OU include Shabnam Khalilyar of Afghanistan, formerly a visitor with Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and now a graduate student in our Master of International Studies program; Feroz Bashari, also from Afghanistan, who is being hosted jointly by Gaylord College and Price College of Business; and Myo Win of Myanmar, who is hosted by the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences.


“The scholars-at-risk initiative was initially proposed by our International and Area Studies faculty for one scholar,” explains CIS Dean Scott Fritzen. “It really took off and expanded several-fold when I was able to tap into great and generous co-funding by the Farzaneh family as well as co-sponsoring colleges (including our own). It has been tremendously gratifying to see the enthusiastic support that has been extended to the scholars from across our OU community, and we look forward to welcoming several more, who are in different stages in visa and refugee processing, in the coming months.”


Meet Our Omar Khayyam Scholars

Since August 2021, when the government of Afghanistan collapsed and the Taliban took control, many scholars and academics have been trying to leave the country. Under Taliban rule, many fear being persecuted due to their international affiliations, ethnicity, or gender, and universities have been stripped of funding and academic freedom. The Taliban's rule has also had a devastating impact on women's rights, making it difficult for women and girls to get an education, work, or even receive health care. We are grateful that Husnia Hazara and Mehri Rezaee were able to find a new academic home here with CIS and the Farzaneh Family Center. Read more about them below!


Husnia Hazara holds a master's degree in urban planning and a bachelor's degree in urban development from Imam Khomeini International University, Iran. Before the August 2021 collapse of the government in Afghanistan, she served as dean of the faculty of basic sciences, engineering and technology at Payam Noor University (PNU) in Kabul. She also worked in the quality assurance department and teaching master's degree as professor at PNU. For several years, she worked as a coordinator (Destarkhan Meli Project); site engineer (GEO Built Construction Company); child supporter and social facilitator specialist (DRC); and manager (Esteghlal Educational Institutions) with International, national, government and private sectors in Afghanistan and Iran. In addition, she did volunteer work supporting children's and women's rights, an area of interest for her.


After the crisis in Afghanistan, Hazara corresponded with many bodies and organizations on her options. Finally, with the cooperation of Fatemeh Shams, she was connected with the University of Oklahoma. After obtaining a humanitarian visa from Mexico, she was able to go to the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and get a U.S. visa. She arrived in the U.S with her family on March 13, 2022.


After arriving to OU Campus, Hazara began taking English language courses at the Center for English as a Second Language, and during the summer she taught Persian as teacher's assistant. Hazara also celebrated a personal milestone on May 11, when she gave birth to her daughter in Norman. She says, "It was a great gift from my God!"

For the fall 2022 semester, Hazara has a full-time English class at CESL, and she will teach Persian language as assistant professor (supporting Marjan Seirafi-Pour). She also plans to conduct research on urban planning issues with John Harris in the Gibbs College of Architecture Regional and City Planning program.


"I’m so glad to be at OU in Norman as an academic city. It is a peaceful and lovely place for living and working with great people and professionals from all over the world! In the end, I would like to sincerely thank all the people who cooperated with me and my family in this long trip from Kabul to reach Norman." - Husnia Hazara

Mehri Rezaee holds a doctorate in international law from Allameh Tabatabaei University and a master's degree in international law from Tehran University, Iran. She has taught international law and human rights at the undergraduate and graduate level for over eight years at universities in Afghanistan.


In addition to teaching, Rezaee served as commissioner and chairwoman of the Ghor Provincial Complaints Commission during the 2018 parliamentary election, and for the 2019 presidential election she served as commissioner and chairwoman at Bamiyan Provincial Complaints Commission. She also worked as a human rights, women, and children expert in the office of the second vice president of Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover of Kabul. At the same time, she was working as a researcher at the Holding Group for Afghanistan Institute for Legal Challenges of Afghan Women.


Rezaee's area of expertise is human rights and women’s rights, and she has published several articles on Afghan women’s rights in domestic and foreign journals. The topic of her Ph.D. dissertation was the interaction of the international law system and Afghan law in the fight against human trafficking from Afghanistan. Her master's thesis focused on the most important legal challenges for women in Afghanistan — namely education, violence, and forced marriage.


Mehri Rezaee was introduced to The University of Oklahoma through an Iranian friend, Dr. Fatemeh Shams, and she then applied to the Scholars-at-Risk program. She arrived in the United States on May 25, 2022, and has been taking English courses at the Center for English as a Second Language.


During the fall 2022 semester Dr. Rezaee will teach in OU's Persian/Farsi language program as an assistant professor. She will continue her English courses with CESL as well, and hopes to prepare a lecture for students on the interaction of international law and Afghan law in the fight against human trafficking (the subject of her dissertation). She also plans to prepare a speech on the legal foundations of the Hazara genocide in Afghanistan.


"Norman is a beautiful, peaceful and lovely city. I love the University of Oklahoma and my educated, kind and friendly colleagues, and I am very happy to work at this university. I hope that I can have a good and beneficial cooperation with the Department of International Studies and the Iranian Studies Center in this semester." - Mehri Rezaee

For more information on the Farzaneh Family Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies, visit the center webpage. For people, academics, research and events related to the Middle East and North Africa at OU, visit our MENA page.