Introduction to Elise Auerbach

Elise Auerbach is the Iran country specialist for Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). Since 1995 she has been an active member of AIUSA’s Middle East Coordination Group, which monitors the work done by Amnesty International USA in the Middle East. Earning her Ph.D. from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, Elise produces content focused on Iran used by Amnesty International activists and the public, a spokesperson for AIUSA on Iran, and having given many interviews to various outlets about Iran she works with Amnesty International staff and volunteers as well as partner organizations to organize events such as press conferences, rallies, and seminars, as well as to plan and carry out campaigns and other actions. She has worked on numerous asylum and refugee cases from Iran. She is currently the acting chair of the Amnesty International USA Country Specialist Refugee Casework Committee which oversees all the work done by AIUSA on behalf of asylum seekers and those contesting removal based on the provisions of CAT. 

Interview with Elise Auerbach |  Amnesty International in Chicago 

Okay.  Well, I have always been fascinated by the near East and my academic field was ancient near east.  So I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and I was in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.  I got my Ph.D., uh, from that department and I actually studied, ya’ know, the ancient near east. I studied archaeology and I, I worked in several countries in the Middle East.  I worked in Turkey. I worked in Syria. I worked in Jordan. I worked in Israel. And all that time, um, ya’ know, Iran was, was closed off to Americans pretty much. Some of my professors, um, both in college and graduate school had actually worked in Iran, and, uh, but, ya’ know, Iran was – it was just not possible for Americans to do any kind of research in Iran when I was in graduate school, when I was in college and graduate school.  

So Iran always seemed like this fascinating, mysterious place.  And so, ya’ know, very inaccessible and, um, I’d always been curious about it.  I mean, I certainly studied Iranian history and Iranian archaeology, Iranian culture.  I’ve always loved Iranian film and Iranian literature and the Persian language and at the same time that I had been fascinated – I have this fascination with the near east, um, I also got involved with Amnesty International when I was a, ya’ know, graduate student at the University of Chicago.  I joined a group that was a combination local and student group, at the University of Chicago in the late 80’s. And actually at the time, um, my human rights interests were more, um, I was really very upset and horrified by our government’s involvement in human rights violations in Central America.  For instance, in Guatemala and El Salvador. Then I think it, it – for it was, um, the fact that our, ya’ know, the U.S. government was basically paying for, these horrible, ya’ know abuses by the Guatemalan and El Salvadoran military against their own people and so that’s why I got involved with Amnesty because I wanted to help do something about it.  And so I was involved with the student group for a while and then, ya’ know, as time went on, I wanted to become more involved, more active in Amnesty. 

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