Mahdi Bakhtiar, 26, moved to Tehran from his hometown Tabriz city in northwest Iran early last year for his engineering studies. To fund his education and cover the exorbitant living expenses, he took up a part-time job at a consultancy firm.
That was before U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal signed between Iran and a group of world powers known as the P5+1 in 2015. The unilateral withdrawal in May 2018 was followed by re-imposition of tough economic sanctions.
For Bakhtiar, moving away from home and adjusting to life in a big city was a challenge.
But what made matters worse was the sanctions, which came barely two months after he had rented an apartment in downtown Tehran, joined university and started working part-time.
With the re-imposition of sanctions, Iran’s economy went into a tailspin, leading to devaluation of currency, low wages, inflation and discontent.
Bakhtiar wasn’t prepared for it. He was earning less and paying more for his education and living costs.
“It was like a bolt from the blue. I didn’t know how to deal with the situation and I didn’t want my parents to support me financially,” he told Anadolu Agency.
“The whole idea of coming to Tehran was to be independent but the reality hit me hard.”
Iran has faced sanctions since the Islamic revolution of 1979, says Mehdi Mohammadi, a university lecturer and historian.
“But this time, the Americans are using the ‘maximum pressure’ tactic which also means maximum risks of war,” he told Anadolu Agency in an interview.
Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani admitted that Iran was facing “unprecedented” pressure due to sanctions, which have led to “worse economic conditions” than during the country's 1980-88 war with Iraq.
Besides squeezing the Iranian economy through sanctions, Washington has also ended waivers given to countries to buy oil from Iran, depriving the Islamic Republic of its main source of revenue.
-Heat of sanctions
People from all walks of life are feeling the heat this time.
“The value of rial has seen four-fold drop in last one year and prices are skyrocketing,” Hussain Alizadeh, a trader based in Tehran, told Anadolu Agency.
“Even essential commodities and life-saving drugs have become expensive, which proves that the economic war is not against the regime but the people.”
Alizadeh says his business has suffered considerably over the past year with losses to the tune of millions.
“Iranians don’t want war with the U.S. and that’s the reason our government signed the nuclear deal and adhered to it despite Trump unilaterally walking out of it.”
His sentiments are echoed by many Iranians who want the ‘toughest ever’ sanctions to go, but at the same time they remain resilient and defiant.
A group of young Iranians have started an online campaign for seeking the intervention of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
They have been raising awareness about the impact of sanctions on ‘ordinary Iranians’ through social media with hashtags like #StopEconomicSanctions.
“These sanctions impact ordinary Iranians more than anyone else and endanger the security of the region, leading to poverty, insecurity, immigration and war,” Touraj Saberivand, an Iranian activist who started this campaign, told Anadolu Agency.
Despite the tough sanctions, Iranians are not losing hope.
“I keep telling myself that this shall pass too because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Mohammad Hanifi, a student and researcher at Tehran University, said.
“Trump’s chances in next year’s election have plummeted. Hopefully the new regime will pursue meaningful diplomacy rather than saber-rattling.”
The tensions between Washington and Tehran have heightened with U.S. sending 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East, weeks after it deployed aircraft carrier and bomber planes to the Persian Gulf.
Last week, the U.S. accused Iran of attacking an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, a charge Tehran rejected.
In response, Rouhani announced partial withdrawal from the nuclear deal, which he said was a 'minimum' measure his country could take in retaliation to Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and subsequent economic sanctions.
“With Americans pulling out of the deal and Europeans failing to honor their commitments, Iran didn’t have much choice,” Ibnul Hassan, a Tehran-based political commentator, told Anadolu Agency.
“As Iran’s supreme leader recently noted, there will not be any war and Iran will not compromise. People are defiant and they will see through this.”
By Syed Zafar Mehdi in Tehran