On Friday, September 28, 2012, nearly 250 guests attended the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) Annual Gala at the West Lounge of the historic Metropolitan Club in New York City to commemorate the achievements of four distinguished Iranian Americans: Zohre & Kamran Elahian, Dr. Lotfi Zadeh, and Christiane Amanpour.
Bita Daryabari, the first recipient of PAAIA’s Philanthropist of the Year Award, presented this year’s award to Kamran and Zohre Elahian. Through their foundation, Global Catalyst Foundation and Relief International, the Elahians have supported a wide array of humanitarian and charitable projects. As the project manager for Relief International’s program in Bam, Zohre partnered with other NGOs to build 870 homes and developed a successful microcredit program for the women of Bam. Through Global Catalyst Foundation, the Elahians initiate and support projects that “improve education, eradicate poverty, promote social tolerance, and celebrate diversity.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented by Dr. Firouz Naderi to Dr. Lotfi Zadeh, best known as the Father of Fuzzy Logic. Dr. Zadeh, a young 91 year old, inspired the attendees with his lifelong dedication to the field of artificial intelligence and his commitment to the younger generation, many of whom waited in line to meet him. With true humility, in his acceptance speech, Dr. Zadeh, said, “It is hard for me to find adequate words to tell how deeply I appreciate being a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Many members of the Iranian community in the United States have risen to positions of high seniority within the worlds of business, finance, science, technology, media and government. For me it is an honor to be included in this group.”
Christiane Amanpour, world renowned international journalist, was the recipient of the Career Achievement Award, presented by Dr. Vali Nasr. Ms. Amanpour’s journeys through some of the most troubled parts of the world and her ability to accurately and clearly relay international news have resonated with audiences everywhere and have made her one of the most respected journalists in the world. Ms. Amanpour accepted the award with her husband, James Rubin, noting the pride that she felt as an Iranian American being honored for a job that she has performed with great passion and dedication.
Standing ovations abounded for each of the above recipients, as well as for Dr. Hamid Biglari and Dr. Firouz Naderi, the first Chair and Vice-Chair of the PAAIA Board of Directors who were thanked for their commitment to Iranian Americans and for their role in shepherding PAAIA through its early years.
The award ceremony was followed by entertainment by Loris Tjeknavarian, a well known Iranian American conductor and composer, accompanied by soprano Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai. The pair performed works by Tjeknavorian & arrangements by David Garner for the Persian Melody Project. The entertainment, which lasted one hour, was met with a standing ovation and was followed by a gathering that featured traditional Persian pastries and a silent art auction.
The gala was the mid-point event of PAAIA’s Annual Retreat that featured numerous distinguished speakers and panelists from the Iranian American community. The retreat, as one attendee, Mr. Shahram Yaghoubzadeh noted, “was the most professionally run, informative, intellectually stimulating and organized event that we have ever attended. Although this event really humbled me in terms of my own achievements, I was so proud to see the success of my fellow Iranian-Americans. It was an honor to be amongst them.”
Following welcome remarks by Saghi Modjtabai, PAAIA’s Executive Director, on the first day of the Retreat, Dr. Vali Nasr, Dean of the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, interviewed Christiane Amanpour. In a dialogue, Amanpour provided anecdotes on what it takes to be impactful when interviewed on TV news. She also gave her perspectives on how Iran has been portrayed in the media, how that portrait shapes public opinion, and what impact it can have on Iranian Americans. Lastly, she gave her perspectives about how minority groups such as Iranian Americans can more effectively project their image and interests using public media. She spoke about her pride in being from Iranian descent and the importance of our community’s active involvement in policy and political affairs and having its voiced heard loudly.
In a panel moderated by Afshin Molavi, three world class practitioners who are in constant interaction with government, business, and investor circles globally - Afsaneh Beschloss, Mark Zandi, and Hamid Biglari - discussed the uncertain outlook for the world’s economy. They discussed how centrifugal forces are pushing to fracture the Eurozone, noting that political dysfunction is making any resolution of US fiscal challenges unclear at best and that stresses are being felt across many of the most important emerging economies.
The second day of the retreat included two panels on politics and medicine. Panelists Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Ambassador Frank Wisner, Nader Mousavizadeh, and Dr. Vali Nasr discussed the balance of power in a potential three-superpower world and its implications for Iran. The experts noted that one of the most significant developments in recent history is the rise of China and India as global actors. Backed by their rapid economic growth, these two Asian giants are now important international players whose interests shape geostrategy in the Indian Ocean region, stretching from Japan to Africa. China and India are now also wielding influence in the Middle East and especially over the international response to Iran’s nuclear program. The panelists discussed the geopolitical balance of power in this tripolar world, with a focus on how competing superpower interests may impact the evolution of Iran.
For the final panel, Dr. Jamshid Ghajar and Dr. Kaveh Alizadeh discussed the latest advances in their respective specialties and how these advances impact our lives. Dr. Ghajar--neurosurgeon, inventor, neuroscientist, and tireless proponent of an aggressive approach to treating severe head injury-- discussed diseases and illnesses related to the brain, how to focus better, and what neuroscience teaches about increasing and enhancing brain functions, particularly in later life. Dr. Alizadeh, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, discussed the latest developments in anti‐aging medicine, regenerative medicine, global pressures in plastic surgery with medical tourism, the pitfalls of certain plastic surgery, and what individuals can do to enhance their quality of life. Finally, both surgeons, who are very involved in philanthropic and volunteer work, discussed the latest updates regarding their foundations, the Brain Trauma Foundation and Mission: Restore.
The retreat not only allowed participants to hear from experts in various fields, but to network with one another as well. As one participant noted, “The meeting was meticulously planned and executed. It definitely hit the “pleasure center” in everyone’s brain!” Another attendee said: “It was the first time that I attended a PAAIA retreat and gala and it wouldn’t be the last. I learned, networked and enjoyed during my time at the retreat. Thank you for doing what you do for our community.”
For pictures of the retreat and gala click here.