Iranian Expatriates & Their Impact on Iran: An Undergraduate Thesis in International Relations, Part III

Here is the next portion from my thesis: The Research Design; Theoretical Framework and Methodology; and Hypotheses.

The Research Design

When considering whether or not the Iranian Diaspora can impact the regime in Tehran, there are several questions that come to mind. Generally speaking, there are two subsets of questions: one to deal with the Diaspora community and one to deal with the Iranian government. Among the first set of questions, most obvious is to ascertain where the Iranian Diaspora has fled to predominantly. It is also important to answer what are the various organizations within the Iranian Diaspora, and whenever possible to determine what are their goals are (or, at the very least, what type of organization they comprise). And because this thesis is not an isolated case study of a specific period in history, it is also important to question how the composition Iranian Diaspora evolved over time.

Equally important are questions relating to the development of the Iranian government. When dealing with the subject of Iranian regime change, this thesis is only going back to the years leading up to 1953, which was the year of the Mossadegh coup. So the first question is what were the political, economic, and religious factors surround regime change in Iran since 1953? Answering this question will help give context to Iran’s political development, which as discussed is essential when assessing the interactivity between a diaspora community and its homeland. Once this question is answered, a follow-up point for consideration is how Iran’s history has influenced the current regime’s view of foreign interference. After all, whether or not the regime is open to the concept of being influenced by actors from abroad (even if they are Iranian), is highly relevant to determining the prospects for the Iranian Diaspora to influence the government. Finally, this thesis will consider whether the Iranian Government implements policies and/or laws aimed at the diaspora community, specifically.

Ultimately, when considering the differences between this relationship before the 1979 Revolution and afterwards, the fundamental question is this: why was Ayatollah Khomeini able to produce regime change from abroad but the Diaspora since 1979 has failed to do so?

Theoretical Framework and Methodology

This thesis will employ the framework established by Varadarajan in her PhD dissertation and subsequent book on what she terms “the production of the domestic abroad.” This emphasizes the interactions between the diaspora community and the government at home as the primary variable which determines the extent to which the former can influence the latter.[1] She underscores the neoliberal restructuring of the state, which has involved the erosion of geographic boundaries when conceiving of a “nation” of people sharing common history, ethnicity, and culture.[2] Because this neoliberal restructuring impacts the relationship between the people within the “nation” (including those abroad) and the “state” or government of the homeland, the approach of this thesis is twofold: first to map the Diaspora and second trace the history of the native country.

The combined mapping/tracing process relies on several variables at play. When investigating the Iranian Diaspora, it is important to consider the number of expatriates, as well as the number of organizations run by politically active members of the community. Consistent with this thesis’ definition of the term “diaspora” and the pre-existing scholarship in the field, political activity is defined as any activity having to do with the government and/or people of Iran, be it to influence the host country, to simply foster dialogue (e.g., newspapers and magazines targeted at Iranian expatriates), or even to act aggressively against the Iranian regime directly.

And the impact of these independent variables will be directed towards the regime in Iran. In other words, the primary dependent variable is regime change, which this thesis considers any shifts away from the current model of Iran’s Islamic Republic. Indicators of such a move would be changes to the role of the Supreme Leader or other government posts and regime-controlled institutions (e.g., the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). Of course, if the Iranian Diaspora is able to sponsor activities inside Iran such as protests, then that will also be considered having an impact on the regime—but ultimately a change in the government must be exhibited for those activities to demonstrate any clear cut impact.

It is also important to also note that some variables at play will potentially intervene with the causal relationship that this thesis attempts to parse out. Isolating the activities of Iranian expatriates and examining the resulting policies will be complicated by matters such as economic ties between Iran and other governments. France, for example, while being largely energy-independent, still engages in other forms of economic coordination between the two countries.[3] And private firms and multinational corporations with large deals in Iran also have strong interests in the Iranian government and its businesses. Because these other actors do not overlap with the community of Iranian expatriates, they are outside the scope of this thesis. However, it will still be important to consider the economic variable when drawing conclusions about the cause-and-effect relationship between Iranian expatriate activity and the regime in Tehran.


This thesis hypothesizes that ultimately, the domestic circumstances in Iran will be more dispositive on the potential for regime change than will the composition of the Iranian Diaspora. Pivotally, if Iran’s government is averse to foreign influence, then the diaspora community will not likely be able to influence it or spur regime change. A secondary hypothesis is that the more fractured the Iranian Diaspora, the less chance the community will have to implement regime change.

[1] Varadarajan, The Domestic Abroad, 49.

[2] Ibid., 49-50.

[3] Izadi, pg. 49.