Iranian American

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Iranian American
ایرانیان آمریکا
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Total population
448,722 (2010 ACS)1
Regions with significant populations
California, New York, New Jersey,2 Texas, Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC.3
American English, Persian, Azerbaijani, Armenian, Luri, Kurdish, other languages of Iran. (see Languages of Iran).
Islam, Christianity, Bahá'í Faith, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Agnosticism, Atheism, Irreligion.4

Iranian-Americans, or Persian-Americans, are Americans of Iranian (Persian) ancestry or people possessing Iranian and American dual citizenship. Iranian-Americans are amongst the highest educated people in the United States.56 They have historically excelled in business, academia, the sciences, arts and entertainment – but have traditionally shied away from participating in American politics or other civic activities.7


Iranian American is used interchangeably as Persian-American,891011 partially due to the fact12 that Iran was called Persia officially prior to 1935; as well as the fact that Iran and Persia continue to be used interchangeably since classic times.13 There is a tendency among Iranian-Americans to categorize themselves as "Persian" rather than "Iranian", mainly to disassociate themselves from the Iranian regime and the negativity associated with it, and also to distinguish themselves as being of Persian ethnicity, which is around 65% of Iran's population814 Majority of Iranian-Americans are of Persian-speaking backgrounds, however there is also a significant number of non-Persian Iranians within the Iranian-American community,1415 leading some scholars to believe that the label "Iranian" is more inclusive, since the label "Persian" excludes non-Persian minorities from Iran.14 The Collins English Dictionary uses a variety of similar and overlapping definitions for the terms "Persian" and "Iranian".1617


Iranian immigration to the United States has been continuous since the 1980s. Between 1980 and 1990, the number of foreign born from Iran in the United States increased by 74 percent.18 Today, the United States contains the highest number of Iranians outside of Iran. The Iranian-American community has produced significant numbers of individuals notable in many fields, including medicine, engineering, and business. The community chiefly expanded in the early 1980s, following the Iranian Revolution and its abolition of the Iranian monarchy.

Pre- and post-revolution migration

Prior to the Islamic revolution in Iran and the severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries, America and American universities were very popular among Iranians, and this popularity was a major force in drawing numerous Iranian students to the United States. During the 1977–1978 academic year, of about 100,000 Iranian students abroad, 36,220 were enrolled in American institutions of higher learning. During the 1978–1979 academic year, on the eve of the Iranian revolution, the number of Iranian students enrolled in American institutions rose to 45,340, and in 1979–1980 the number reached a peak of 51,310: at that time, more students from Iran were enrolled in American universities than from any other foreign country. Out of a total of 263,938 foreign student enrollment in the United States in the 1978–1979 academic year, 17% were from Iran.citation needed The expansion of Iranian economy and the resultant higher revenues were the cause of investments in students' education abroad, either directly by the government's financial aid services and/or indirectly by the students' families. This investment paid off and resulted in an excellent cohort of Western-educated professionals. Due to Iran's increasing demand for high-level manpower in the years prior to 1979, the majority of students were returning home after graduation to work including those who had received financial aid in exchange to serve the government or industry upon graduation. During and after the revolution, most students did not return to Iran and those who did, were gradually purged from the newly established Islamic Republic. Many students who graduated abroad after the revolution also did not return due to ruling clergy's repression. As the result, the educated elite who left Iran after the revolution and the new graduates in the United States who chose not to return home created a large pool of highly educated and skilled Iranian professionals in the United States. Today, over 1.5 million Iranians have chosen to leave Iran for other countries due to Islamic government's authoritarian practices.19


Although Iranians have lived in the United States in relatively small numbers since the 1930s, a large number of Iranian-Americans are immigrants to the United States after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 338,000 Americans tracing heritage to Iran. The 2000 U.S. Census undercounted the numbers of many ethnic groups and minorities, including the Iranian-Americans.20 The U.S. Government and other sources estimate that the numbers of Iranian-Americans are close to 2 million.212223242526


Federal data on Iranian Americans is not derived from the question of race in the Decennial Census but rather from question of ancestry, which is collected through the annual American Community Survey (ACS). Data on Iranian ancestry from the annual ACS is available on the Census Bureau’s American Factfinder website.27 In 2010, the number of self-identified Iranian Americans in the US was 448,722.1 Iranian Americans are most likely far more numerous in the United States than census data indicate, according to research done by the Iranian Studies Group, an independent academic organization, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The group estimates that the number of Iranian Americans may have topped 691,000 in 2004—more than twice the figure of 338,000 cited in the 2000 U.S. census.5

According to extrapolated U.S. Census data and other independent surveys done by Iranian-Americans themselves in 2009, there are an estimated one million Iranian-Americans living in the U.S.,7 with the largest concentration—about 520,000 people—living around Los Angeles.728 For this reason, the L.A. area with its Iranian American residents is sometimes referred to as "Tehrangeles" or "Irangeles" among Iranian-Americans.29 Beverly Hills and Irvine both have large communities of Iranian Americans (26% of the total population of Beverly Hills is Iranian Jewish, making the city's largest religious community).33031 Half of the nation's Iranians reside in the state of California alone. Other large communities include New York/New Jersey, which have 9.1% of the U.S.' Iranian population, followed by Washington D.C./Maryland/Virginia (8.3%) and Texas (6.7%).13


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Iranian Americans religious demographics as of 2012.4

  Muslim (31%)
  Atheist/Realist/Humanist (11%)
  Agnostic (8%)
  Other (15%)
  No response (15%)

According to a 2008 Zogby-PAAIA poll, two-fifths of Iranian Americans identify themselves as Muslims, almost an equal percentage appear not to practice any particular religion, and the balance are roughly equally divided among Christians, Jews, Baha'is and Zoroastrians.32 "There are religious and ethnolinguistic differences among the Muslim, Jewish, Baha'i, Zoroastrian, Christian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Kurdish, and Assyrian groups".33

Calculating the percentage of Christian Iranian-Americans is difficult because most Iranian Christians are of Armenian or Assyrian origin and self-identify as such rather than as Iranian.34

Iranians of all religious backgrounds in the United States have comparatively a mix of liberal, conservative and nationalist political leaning and opinions. Iranian-Americans thus are largely secular and tend to practice moderate, less traditional religious forms, but have strong cultural traditions.35citation needed


While the predominant non-English language among Iranian Americans is Persian (Farsi); Iranian Americans who are not ethnic Persians often speak the language of their ethnic group as well (commonly Armenian, Kurdish, Azeri).


The majority of Iranian-Americans are ethnic Persians, with sizeable ethnic minorities being Iranian Azerbaijanis, Armenian-Iranians, Iranian Kurds, and others.36

According to Hakimzadeh and Dixon, members of religious and ethnic minorities such as Bahai'is, Jews, Armenians, and Assyrians were disproportionately represented amongst the early exiles of the 1978–79 revolution.37


Nearly all Iranian-Americans are either citizens (81%) or permanent residents (15%) of the United States (2008 survey).38 Iranian-Americans regard their culture and heritage as an important component of their day-to-day life and their overall identity within the United States.35


Occupations and income

The Small Business Administration (SBA) recently conducted a study that found Iranian immigrants among the top 20 immigrant groups with the highest rate of business ownership, contributing substantially to the U.S. economy. According to the report, there are 33,570 active and contributing Iranian American business owners in the U.S., with a 21.5% business ownership rate. The study also found that the total net business income generated by Iranian Americans is $2,559,450,000.39 Almost one in three Iranian American households have annual incomes of more than $100K (compared to one in five for the overall U.S. population).40


According to Census 2000, 50.9 percent of Iranian immigrants have attained a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 28.0 percent national average.5 According to the latest census data available, more than one in four Iranian-Americans holds a master's or doctoral degree, the highest rate among 67 ethnic groups studied.6 However, according to the latest U.S. Census news, Taiwanese Americans have the highest educational levels with at least 73.3 percent having a Bachelor's degree or higher.41


The earliest Iranian professionals in the U.S. before the 1979 revolution were the physicians. They were mostly young temporary trainees who worked as medical interns or residents. Some established themselves to continue practice beyond the residency stage. Their motives to extend their stay in the United States were more geared towards professional reasons than economics. Researcher from Johns Hopkins University in 1974 reported in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) that in 1971 the number of Iranian physicians in the U.S. was 1,625.42

In 2013, another report was published in Archive of Iranian Medicine (AIM) that post revolution the number of Iranian Medical School graduates in the United States had grown to 5,045. Later, those who migrated to the U.S. after the 1979 revolution were mostly experienced physicians who came with their families and intent to stay permanently. As of 2013, there are a 5,050 Iranian Medical School Graduates in the United States.43

Prior to revolution the 1,626 physicians migrated to the United States were 15% of all medical graduates of Iranian medical school graduates while the 5,045 medical graduates who migrated post Islamic Revolution represent only 5% of total Iranian Medical Graduates. This is not indicative of the entire United States, merely of the areas in which most of the Iranian American population is concentrated.44


Another major group of highly trained Iranian professionals in the U.S. are university professors.


Most important issues to the Iranian-American community

Though Iranian-Americans have historically excelled in business, academia and the sciences, they have traditionally shied away from participating in American politics or other civic activities.7

An August 2008 Zogby International poll, commissioned by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, found that approximately one half of Iranian Americans identified themselves as registered Democrats, in contrast to one in eight as Republicans and one in four as independents (2008).38

The same poll indicates that more than half of Iranian Americans cite domestic U.S. issues, including issues that are not unique to Iranian Americans, as the most important to them. In contrast, one quarter of Iranian Americans cite foreign policy issues involving U.S.-Iran relations and less than one in ten cite the internal affairs of Iran as being of greatest importance to them.38

From 1980 to 2004, more than one out of every four Iranian immigrants was a refugee or asylee.5 The PAAIA/Zogby poll also cites that almost three-quarters of Iranian Americans believe the promotion of human rights and democracy in Iran is the most important issue relating to U.S.-Iran relations. About the same percentage, however, believe diplomacy is the foreign policy approach towards Iran that would be in the best interest of the United States. 84% support establishing U.S. Interest Section in Iran.38 Nearly all Iranian Americans surveyed oppose any U.S. military attack against Iran.45

Ties to Iran

According to a survey conducted in 2009, more than six in ten Iranian Americans have immediate family members in Iran, and almost three in ten communicate with their families or friends in Iran at least several times a week. An additional four in ten communicate with their families or friends in Iran at least several times a month. This study indicates an unusually close relationship between Iranian Americans and Iranians.45

As of 2013, U.S. laws require U.S. persons to obtain a license from OFAC to engage in transactions related to the sale of their personal property in Iran.46 Similarly, US persons will need a license from OFAC to open a bank account or transfer money to Iran.47


According to the Public Affairs of Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), nearly half of Iranian-Americans surveyed in 2008 by Zogby International have experienced or personally know Iranian Americans who have experienced discrimination due to their ethnicity or country of origin. The most common types of discrimination reported are airport security check, social discrimination, racial profiling, employment or business discrimination and discrimination at the hands of immigration officials.38

Notable individuals

Business/technology: Iranian-Americans are among the most educated and successful communities in the U.S., according to a report by Iranian Studies group at MIT, Iranian-Americans have founded and/or participated in senior leadership positions of many major US companies, including many Fortune 500 companies such as GE, Intel, Citigroup, Verizon, Motorola, Google, and AT&T.48 Pierre Omidyar, founder/CEO of eBay is of Iranian origin, as well as the founder of Bratz Isaac Larian. Hamid Biglari is Vice-Chairman of Citicorp.49 In 2006, Anousheh Ansari, co-founder of the Ansari X Prize, became the first female tourist in space. Ansari is also the co-founder and former CEO of Prodea Systems Inc. and Telecom Technologies, Inc. Other well-known Iranian-American entrepreneurs include designer Bijan Pakzad, entrepreneur Sam Nazarian, entrepreneur Shabnam Rezaei, Omid Kordestani of Google, CEO of YouTube Salar Kamangar and Sina Tamaddon of Apple Inc.

Philanthropy: Many Iranian Americans are active philanthropists and leaders in improving their community. In 2006, the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center was the recipient of a 10 million dollar donation from an Iranian American couple based in Houston, Texas.5051 The University of Southern California was also the recipient of a 17 million dollar gift from an Iranian-American,52 as was San Francisco State University which also received a 10 million dollar gift from an Iranian-American couple.,53 and Chicago's Swedish Covenant Hospital ($4 million),54 Portland State University ($8 million),55 and UC Irvine ($30 million),5657 among others.

Science/academia: Well-known Iranian Americans in science include Firouz Naderi director at NASA, Ali Javan inventor of the first gas laser, Gholam A. Peyman, the inventor of LASIK, Lotfi Asker Zadeh, Cumrun Vafa, and Rashid Massumi, M.D., a pioneer in the fields of electrophysiology and cardiology, among many others.

Media/entertainment: Well-known media personalities of America, of Iranian descent, include Christiane Amanpour, Susie Gharib of Nightly Business Report, Asieh Namdar, Roya Hakakian, Yara Shahidi and Rudi Bakhtiar. There are several Iranian American actors, comedians and film crew, including the Academy-Award nominee and Emmy Award winner Shohreh Aghdashloo, actresses Catherine Bell, Sarah Shahi, Nasim Pedrad, and Bahar Soomekh, comedian Maz Jobrani, filmmaker Kamshad Kooshan, actor Adrian Pasdar, producer Bob Yari, Farhad Safinia, author and performer Shahram Shiva, and Daryush Shokof.

Sports: Professional tennis player Andre Agassi, NFL football players T.J. Houshmandzadeh, David Bakhtiari, Shar Pourdanesh, professional wrestler Shawn Daivari, professional Mixed Martial Artist Amir Sadollah, and professional soccer players Sobhan Tadjalli, Alecko Eskandarian and Steven Beitashour.

Politics: The son of the late Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, lives in the United States, as well as several high-ranking officials in the Shah's administration such as Hushang Ansary and Jamshid Amouzegar. Goli Ameri is the Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as well as the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs from 2008 to 2009, during which she was the highest-ranking Iranian-American public official in the United States. Beverly Hills elected its first Iranian-born Mayor, Jamshid Delshad, in 2007.5859 In November 2011, Anna M. Kaplan was elected Councilwoman in the Town of North Hempstead, New York, becoming the first Iranian-American to be elected to a major municipal office in New York State.60 Cyrus Amir-Mokri is the highest ranking Iranian-American official in government as of 2012, who was appointed as the Treasury Department Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions by President Obama.61 Also, in November 2012, Cyrus Habib, from the 48th district in Washington State, became the first Iranian American elected as a state legislator. Alex Nowrasteh is a well-known political commentator, policy analyst, and economist.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Iranian-Americans and the 2010 Census: Did We Shrink?.
  2. ^ Monsy Alvarado (March 20, 2014). "N.J. Iranians celebrate Persian New Year with music, dance in Englewood". North Jersey Media Group. Retrieved March 21, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ a b "Iranian-Americans Reported Among Most Highly Educated in U.S". 2012. Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Migration Information Source – Spotlight on the Iranian Foreign Born". Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  6. ^ a b "Iranian-Americans Reported Among Most Highly Educated in U.S". November 24, 2006. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  7. ^ a b c d By Azadeh Ansari CNN (June 16, 2009). "Iranian-Americans cast ballots on Iran's future". CNN. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  8. ^ a b Maryam Daha (March 25, 2011). "Maryam Daha, Contextual Factors Contributing to Ethnic Identity Development of Second-Generation Iranian American Adolescents, Journal of Adolescent Research September 2011 vol. 26 no. 5 543–569: "the majority of the participants self-identified themselves as Persian instead of Iranian, due to the stereotypes and negative portrayals of Iranians in the media and politics. Adolescents from Jewish and Baha’i faiths asserted their religious identity more than their ethnic identity. The fact Iranians use Persian interchangeably is nothing to do with current Iranian regime because the name Iran was used before this period as well. Linguistically modern Persian is a branch of Old Persian in the family of Indo-European languages and that includes all the minorities as well more inclusively."". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  9. ^ Raymond M. Nakamura (2003). Iranian/Persian Americans - The flow of Iranian citizens into the United States began in 1979, during and after the Islamic Revolution. Health in America: A multicutral perspective. Kendal Hub. 
  10. ^ Mark Zanger. The American Ethnic Cook Book for Students. p. Excerpt pp-212-214: (Iranians) Most of the million Iranian-Americans have come to the United States since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah and established an Islamic Republic in Iran. 
  11. ^ Racial and Ethnic Relations in America, Carl Leon Bankston,"Therefore, Turkish and Iranian (Persian) Americans, who are Muslims but not ethnically Arabs, are often mistakenly..",Salem Press, 2000
  12. ^ Fereshteh Haeri Darya, "Second-generation Iranian-Americans: The relationship between ethnic identity, acculturation, and psychological well-being" Capella University, ProQuest, 2007 pp 3–4: "According to previous studies, the presence of heterogeneity is evident among Iranian immigrants (also known as Persians – Iran was known as Persia until 1935) who came from myriads of religious (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Armenian, Assyrian, Baha'i and Zoroastrian), ethnic (Turk, Kurds, Baluchs, Lurs, Turkamans, Arabs, as well as tribes such as Ghasghaie, and Bakhtiari), linguistic/dialogic background (Persian, Azari, Gialki, Mazandarani, Kurdish, Arabic , and others). Cultural, religious and political, and various other differences among Iranians reflect their diverse social and interpersonal interactions. Some studies suggest that, despite the existence of subgroup within Iranian immigrants (e.g. various ethno-religious groups), their nationality as Iranians has been an important point of reference and identifiable source of their identification as a group across time and setting."
  13. ^ Greater Iran: a 20th-century odyssey – Richard Nelson Frye – Google Books. Google Books. June 30, 2006. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c Mehdi Bozorgmehr, The new Americans: a guide to immigration since 1965 // Mary C. Waters, Reed Ueda, Helen B. Marrow (eds.), Harvard University Press, 2007, p. 469
  15. ^ Elizabeth Chacko, Contemporary ethnic geographies in America // Ines M. Miyares, Christopher A. Airriess (eds.), Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, pp. 325–326
  16. ^ "Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition". Retrieved September 4, 2012. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Migration Information Source – Spotlight on the Iranian Foreign Born". Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  19. ^ Torbat, Akbar E (Spring 2002). "The brain drain from Iran to the United States". Middle East Journal 56 (2): 272–295.
  20. ^ "". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  21. ^ Gopalan, Shamini. "U.S. State Department". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  22. ^ "Iranian Americans Observe Persian New Year Traditions". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Nobel-prize winner Shirin Ebadi". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Douglas McGill". February 24, 2002. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Alliance of Iranian Americans". January 7, 2003. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  26. ^ "Iranian Trade Group". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  27. ^ The Iranians Count Census Coalition Releases the Special Tabulation Results from the 2010 U.S. Census.
  28. ^ The Wall Street Journal, Iran's Political Crisis Fuels Expatriates' Fears, Hopes
  29. ^ "Iranians at odds over talks with 'the Great Satan'". London: The Sunday Telegraph. June 4, 2006. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  30. ^ Universe: Total population more information 2006–2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
  31. ^ Los Angeles Times, Irvine embraces diversity at the polls, November 9, 2008.
  32. ^ Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans. Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA)/Zogby, December 2008. Retrieved April 11, 2014.
  33. ^ Nilou Mostofi, Who We Are: The Perplexity of Iranian-American Identity, The Sociological Quarterly (published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Midwest Sociological Society), Vol. 44, No. 4 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 681–703, p. 685
  34. ^ Mohsen Mobasher (September 1, 2006). "Cultural Trauma and Ethnic Identity Formation Among Iranian Immigrants in the United States". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  35. ^ a b PAAIA Releases 2011 National Survey of Iranian Americans. (December 7, 2011).
  36. ^ "Iranian Studies Group at MIT, Iranian-American Community Survey Results, 2005". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  37. ^ By Shirin Hakimzadeh and David Dixon Migration Policy Institute -Spotlight on the Iranian Foreign Born Migration Information Source – Spotlight on the Iranian Foreign Born". Retrieved 2010-02-15. "The exiles were disproportionately members of religious and ethnic minorities, such as the Bahai'is, Jews, Armenians, and Assyrians. Also in the second wave were young men who fled military service and the Iran-Iraq war, followed by young women and families who came for educational and political reasons. "
  38. ^ a b c d e PAAIA 2008 National Survey of Iranian Americans
  39. ^ "SBA Report: Iranian-Americans with one of highest rates of immigrant-owned businesses". November 22, 2006. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  40. ^ [1]
  41. ^ Ogunwole, Stella. "US Department of Commerce 2012". US Government. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  42. ^ 39. Ronaghy HA, Williams KN, Baker TD, Emigration of Iranian Physicians to the United States, A Ten-Year Follow-up of Graduates of Shiraz Medical School. Pahlavi Med J. 1973; 4:174-193.
  43. ^ Ronaghy HA, Shajari A, Islamic Revolution and Physician Migration Archive of Iranian Medicine 2013; 16: 10
  44. ^ Ronaghy HA, Cahill K Baker TD, Physician Migration to the United States: One Country's Transfusion is Another Country's Hemorrhage. J Am Med Assoc. 1974: 227: 538-542
  45. ^ a b "PAAIA Releases 2009 National Survey of Iranian Americans". Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ "Iranian Studies Group at MIT". Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  49. ^
  50. ^ "Profile of an Iranian-American philanthropist: Ali Saberioon". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  51. ^ "Title_ – M. D. Anderson Cancer Center". April 22, 2009. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  52. ^ Mankin, Eric (November 23, 2011). "Alum Gives $17M to USC Viterbi Dept". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  53. ^ "SF State News". June 1, 2005. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  54. ^ "Archive Pages". April 9, 2007. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  55. ^ Portland State Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science | Visionary Alumnusdead link
  56. ^ "University of California, Irvine | The Paul Merage School of Business". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  57. ^ "Archive Pages". April 24, 2005. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  58. ^ "Living in Tehrangeles: L.A.'s Iranian Community". NPR. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  59. ^ Kasindorf, Martin (March 14, 2007). "Beverly Hills will have first Iranian-born mayor in USA". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  60. ^ Zendrian, Alexandra (November 9, 2011). "Kaplan Wins North Hempstead Town Council Race – Port Washington, NY Patch". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  61. ^ White House Hosts Iranian-American Community Leaders for Roundtable Discussion.

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