One of the Iranian Americans supporting the National Council of Resistance of Iran holds a single rose
One of the Iranian Americans supporting the National Council of Resistance of Iran holds a single rose at their '2020 LA Convention for Free Iran' at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020.

WASHINGTON - Iranian Americans are closely watching the unfolding situation in their home country as protests continue in Tehran over  the Iran military’s admission on Saturday that it mistakenly shot down a civilian Ukrainian plane, killing all 176 on board.

Many Iranian Americans have taken to the streets to express their support for the Iranian people and their demands in the ongoing protests in Iran.

On Sunday, dozens of Iranian-American activists gathered in Washington D.C, to honor the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash and to show support for their fellow countrymen who reportedly have been facing a violent government crackdown on recent protests.

WATCH: Memorial in Washington for plane victims

"I’m here to support the Iranian people [and] be their voice," said Monir, an Iranian-American, who only gave her first name. 

"If you go in the streets  [in Iran], you might be jailed, you might be killed in the streets, and these people are so brave," she said as she was standing with a crowd in downtown Washington.

Framarz Zafi, another Iranian American who attended the Washington gathering, said while he appreciated U.S. support for protesters in Iran, he didn’t want a military confrontation between Washington and Tehran.

"It’s nice that President Trump [is] tweeting in Farsi, but we want to tell him that we don’t want war," Zafi told VOA.

"People of Iran don’t want war. They have suffered enough," he said.  

More activities are expected to be held by the Iranian-American community in other U.S. cities.  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s  2018 survey, there are over 450,000 people of Iranian background living in the U.S.    

Activists in the Iranian-American community said they have been increasingly watching developments after  the recent tensions between the U.S. and Iran, following the killing of  top Iranian general  Qassem Soleimani  in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad.

"I’m constantly checking the news and I’m in touch with various people both in Iran as well as in the Iranian diaspora community,” said Cklara Moradian, an Iranian-American activist based in Los Angeles.

Candles and flowers are displayed with condolences offered to the families of the passengers of the Ukrainian jetliner shot down by Iran by accident at a memorial at the "2020 LA Convention for Free Iran," Jan. 11, 2020.

"One of the biggest points of contention has been this idea of wanting to support the Iranian protest movement against the Islamic regime in Iran while the same time not beating the drums of war," she told VOA in a phone interview.

Demands  evolved

Some activists said demands of Iranian protesters have evolved over the years from basic reforms to regime change.

"If you listen to people on the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities, it is clear that people are fed up with this regime," said Ahmad Batebi, a human rights activist based in Washington, who was imprisoned in Iran for his role in a student protest movement in 1999.

"In today’s Iran, there are two governments," he told VOA. "One that is just a façade, which is represented by people like [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani and [Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif."

The other is the government that works in the shadow and holds real power is represented by the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Batebi said.

In April 2019, the U.S. government designated the IRGC a terrorist organization.  

Lobbying lawmakers  

Sadegh Amiri, another Iranian-American activist who lives in Annapolis, Maryland, said that his objective is to raise more awareness among the American public about what has actually been happening in Iran.“

"We reach out to local lawmakers [in Maryland] and ordinary people to tell them Iran is not what they see on television," he said. 

"We would like people in America to understand (that) Iranian people wish to live in freedom, and that this current regime in Tehran doesn’t represent them," he told VOA.

People gather for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Ukraine plane crash, at the gate of Amrikabir University that some of the victims of the crash were former students of, in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 11, 2020.

Ali Afshari of the Iranians for Secularism and Democracy, an advocacy group based in the U.S., says Iranian Americans could be effective in two ways in response to the latest events in Iran.  

"First we, in the diaspora, need to amplify the voices of protesters on the ground," he told VOA, adding that, "we need to empower people so that can sustain their demands against the Iranian regime."

"Second we need to be more active in terms of reaching out to lawmakers and policymakers in Washington. Iranian Americans have a historic responsibility to convey accurate information and facts from inside Iran to people in the United States," Afshari added.  

Divisions

Analysts say there are many differences among Iranian Americans that reflect their political, ethnic and cultural diversity.  

Shahed Alavi, an Iranian political analyst based in Washington, says when it comes to attitude towards the Iranian government, there are three types of people within the Iranian American community.

"There are those who fully support a regime change in Tehran and hope this ongoing protest movement will turn into something bigger," he said.  "There are others who believe that Iranian people have the right to protest, but they don’t think the U.S. should interfere in Iranian affairs."

However, he added, "the silent majority among the Iranian community in America refuses to get involved or even have an opinion about what’s happening in Iran, because they visit Iran and still have relatives there. So they simply fear retribution from the Iranian regime."

VOA’s Persian Service, Cindy Saine  and  Saqib  Ul  Islam contributed to this story from Washington.