In Memoriam: Renowned Iran Scholar Ruhi Ramazani

Ruhi Ramazani was a beloved member of the UVA community for well beyond his 40 years on the faculty.

UPDATE, Oct. 14, 11:20 a.m.. A memorial service for Ruhi Ramazani will be held on Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. in the Nau Hall auditorium. Speakers are scheduled to include UVA President Emeritus and English Professor John T. Casteen III; Politics Professor Larry Sabato; Professor Emeritus of Politics William Quandt; Scott Harrop, lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures; and Georgetown University Professor Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council.

Rouhoullah “Ruhi” K. Ramazani, a University of Virginia professor emeritus of government and foreign affairs who dedicated his life to UVA and to promoting political understanding of Iran-U.S. relations, died Wednesday in Charlottesville. He was 88.

Ramazani escaped a politically dangerous Iran in 1952; earned a doctorate from the UVA School of Law, and then joined the Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs (later the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics), serving on the faculty and teaching for more than 40 years until 1998. 

He advised American presidents, including President Jimmy Carter during the Iranian Revolution and American hostage crisis in 1979, and continued to publish and lecture on international relations and the Middle East, especially Iran, until a few years ago. The media came to refer to Ramazani as the “dean of Iranian foreign policy studies in the United States.”

Born in Teheran in 1928, Ramazani was in law school there when political turmoil swept the country after World War II, and he feared for his life. He and his new wife, Nesta, made their way to the University of Georgia, where he prepared to advance his legal studies. His professors there recommended he transfer to UVA to pursue his studies in international law.

At the University whose founder, Thomas Jefferson, Ramazani had studied and revered, the young professor made a home and never left, although he did have several visiting professorships over his career. He often cited Jefferson’s words to his students, and put it atop his course syllabi: “Here we are not afraid to follow truth, wherever it may lead, nor tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

A year before he finished his doctorate in the science of jurisprudence in international relations and international law, Ramazani taught the first course UVA offered on Middle Eastern politics. He was hired full-time after he finished the doctorate in 1954, becoming the first alumnus to earn that degree.

Ramazani dedicated one of his first books to UVA, writing, “The University is where I found the freedom to think, to write, to teach as I wished, and also I found happiness.” Teaching was one of his most cherished accomplishments, he said in a 2007 UVA Today profile. Between his classes in international law and U.S. foreign policy, he taught some 8,000 students over his 45 years on the faculty.

“Ruhi was the first – and for a long time, the only – person who taught anything about the Middle East in the politics department,” William B. Quandt, professor emeritus of politics, said. Quandt, who retired in 2013, succeeded Ramazani in holding the Edward R. Stettinius Professorship of Politics. “But for years and years, he had a large number of students taking a series of courses on the region, at a time when most universities didn’t have anybody teaching this,” he said, adding that his friend “was also the perfect gentleman. Always polite, considerate, helpful.”

Among his many activities at UVA, he served two terms as department chair: from 1976 to 1982 and from 1992 to 1994. During that first stint, he hired Larry J. Sabato, now University Professor and director of the Center for Politics.

“Ruhi Ramazani was one of the most special people in the entire history of the University,” Sabato wrote Thursday. “For over six decades, he was a model scholar and teacher. Ruhi made an extraordinary effort to educate the broader public, while always fulfilling his obligations within the academic community. He dedicated himself to his scholarship, students and the University, and he will be missed enormously.”

“The University of Virginia has lost one of its most loyal and wise faculty members,” said Farzaneh Milani, chair of UVA’s Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, professor of Women, Gender & Sexuality and a longtime friend.

“Ruhi Ramazani was a bridge-builder between disciplines, between countries and cultures. Ruhi believed in mutual respect and understanding between his country of birth, Iran, and his adopted home, the United States of America,” said Milani, who also grew up in Iran.

The author of more than 100 articles and 10 books, Ramazani’s last volume was a collection of previously published articles and book chapters released in the fall of 2013, “Iran’s Foreign Policy: Independence Without Freedom,” published by the University of Virginia Press. He published his last op-ed in January on the international and U.S. nuclear agreement with Iran, writing that it could lead to better relations.

W. Scott Harrop, an adjunct lecturer in the politics department and the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, assisted Ramazani with some of his later work and published a biography, “R.K. Ramazani, His Life, Work and Legacy,” for the Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis.

In addition to teaching and international policy studies, Ramazani was proud to have become a naturalized American citizen, attending the citizenship ceremony at Monticello for years afterward, and to serve on the advisory board of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, Harrop said. Ramazani argued that “international” should be part of the center’s name because Jefferson’s ideals were so important to the world, Harrop said.

The University recognized Ramazani’s many contributions with the creation of a chair in his name, his election to two endowed chairs, a Distinguished Professor Award and the Thomas Jefferson Award in 1994. (His son, UVA English professor R. Jahan Ramazani, received the Thomas Jefferson Award in 2011. They are the first father and son to each have won the award.)

Ruhi Ramazani also received a Fulbright Award, a Social Science Research Council Award, and awards from the Middle East Institute, the American Association of Middle Eastern Studies and the Center for Iranian Research and Analysis. In January 2009, the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., dedicated a volume of essays by 53 international experts on Iran to R.K. Ramazani.

He is survived by his wife, Nesta; sons Jahan, Vaheed and David; daughter Sima; and six grandchildren.

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Anne E. Bromley

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