Aberystwyth, 21 March 2023
Much has happened, in Iran and in the world, since we spoke back in January. Those Iranian exiles who have a large platform have been supporting the Women, Life, Freedom movement by putting pressure on Western powers, asking them, begging them, not to support the illegitimate regime in Iran. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Islamic Republic’s ideological militia, continues to oppress protesters. The West has so far refused to proscribe it as a terrorist organisation. As a result, the illegitimate regime still has the power to commit further unimaginable crimes.
Recently, the poisoning of schoolgirls has been making the headlines. Although it started three months ago, it is only now that we become aware. One analyst told BBC Persian that the poison attacks may well be the work of some opponents within the Islamic Republic, who are likely to be more extreme, foreseeing the collapse of the regime and preparing to take power.
And today, on Nowruz, our New Year, they have been massacring the Kurds who are celebrating at the tombs of their lost ones.
My own hopes for Iran seem to be vanishing. But I don’t want to pass on hopelessness, neither do I want to linger in hopelessness myself.
You are a comfort to me for knowing our saying: May your Nowruz be victorious!
Peace and love,
London, 22 March 2023
Happy Nowruz to you, too! Your words are really precious to me. Sometimes I think that you are the wisdom that has been missing from my all-passion-and-emotion life…
I am still so hopeful about the future of this movement. Not only because it is the first time that women’s rights have become the focal argument of an uprising in Iran, and the word ‘woman’ appeared in its revolutionary slogan, but I’m also hopeful for the paradigm shift in our traditional society’s thought about women.
This revolutionary uprising, with its very progressive slogan, ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’, is a combination of all the protests that I have witnessed throughout these years. Mahsa Zhina Amini has become the embodiment of the oppression that Iranians, especially women, have experienced. She has become the symbol of youth, who didn’t have any role in the 1979 revolution but lost many of their rights with it.
You are right, one of the most shocking news stories in the last few months was the poisoning of schoolgirls (also boys on a smaller scale) in Iran. And it’s not clear whether the system is taking revenge for the significant presence of schoolgirls in the movement, or it is the beginning of banning girls from education. But either way, the attack admits the power of women that has always been denied by the Islamic regime.
You are right. The women-led movement is unprecedented in the whole world. There’s reason for hope. It is already changing the entire world.
I feel honoured to be connected to your generation through you. It’s true that many from my generation in pre-revolutionary Iran could have a wonderful life. People could thrive as long as they didn’t criticise the Pahlavi regime. Nonetheless, the inequality and censorship led to severe unrest. But we now know that actual regime change was facilitated by the Carter administration in the US. According to declassified CIA files referred to in a BBC article and official documents revealed by the National Security Archive, the USA was influencing political events in Iran… That’s where my hopelessness is rooted. It’s my impression that world powers neither want a free Iran, nor free women.
Hopelessness cannot defeat me. We must worship life, which is the heartbeat of our dear culture fighting its way through this hell of 44 years. A variation of the heroic myth of liberation, Arash the Archer by Siavash Kasrai, still echoes in me. School stuff of old days before you were born. This is a passage I’ve translated:
Yes, yes, life is sublime,
life in a fire temple flaring all the time.
If you light it, the flame’s dance will reach every skyline.
If not, it’s dark, and the darkness is our crime.
…You might remember that there was a very popular slogan in 1979: Bullet, tanks and machine guns are not effective, tell my mum that she has lost her son… at the time, dedicating your own life was a predominant idea. And during the war as well, martyrdom became more important than the fighting itself. I remember when I was in primary school everything was in praise of death, and like anyone who grew up in the post-revolutionary interwoven dichotomy of the Islamic-Iranic climate, my life was an everyday battle to find a corner in which celebrating life was possible; a corner to laugh, to dance, to listen to music, to love… this new generation notice the huge gap between their favoured lifestyle and what these elderly cleric rulers are violently forcing them to be, but they don’t want to celebrate life stealthily as we did. They want to drag the flame’s dance to every skyline…
Your account of how the Islamic Republic turned life into nightmare fills me with grief. I have never experienced such hardship myself, but have always communicated with close relatives in Iran. My aunts and uncles sent my cousins abroad just to free them from the nightmare. When I talk with my relatives, it is as if we are talking through prison walls, for I too feel imprisoned in my freedom in such moments. I lose my sense of belonging to where I want to live. All these losses!
But what can we, who are free, do for their freedom? Even if we don’t commit ourselves to doing something, we are involved.
These days I am not sure how free we actually are in the West. Those who divided the world and made our homeland a ‘third world’ are wrathful towards their critics. It is in the shadow of their wrath that I try to sustain my own freedom. As a lawyer, I see dark days for democracy. As a human, I search Buddhism and the African experience. I wander through the thoughts of the Persian poets Saadi and Hafez. They used theirs to set others free, at least in the mind.
Protesters on the streets of Iran have made it clear again and again that they don’t want the slightest trace of oppression ever again. What if those in exile make wrong decisions at their expense?
The row among exiles awakens bitter memories. In 1979, around the age of thirteen, I loved to hang around the Goethe University in Frankfurt whenever I could. I dreamed of studying there myself. It was there and then that Iranians from different political groups were suddenly at each other’s throats, blaming each other for the failing of that revolution.
I turned my back and went my own way. At my German school, and later at the Goethe University, I quenched my thirst for the meaning of Democracy and rallied for peace and justice.
Iran is caught in a new cold war between superpowers. I have no reason to trust any superpower. The West doesn’t have a good reputation when it comes to regime change in other countries. Their cruelties cannot be wiped out from history. China and Russia are using the Islamic Republic for their own interests, disregarding its unimaginable barbarity against Iranians. Therefore I am free not to take sides. I am free to keep a record of my observations. But if this revolution fails, Iran will be caught in civil war like Syria and Afghanistan. For the protest will never end. Protest is freedom.
A photo from 1975 at the Caspian Sea. I’m the one in the middle
Peace and Love,
I really loved your photo: the way that you naughtily smile at the camera. I can feel the joy that you felt at the Caspian Sea. In the photo that I enclose, I am 10 years old. We are at the same beach, 20 years later. Any word that I add to explain this photo seems unnecessary. During those years, they were constantly promoting the concept of Freedom. It might sound weird but freedom has never sounded like a positive word to me. Did I feel free while I was imprisoned in that heavy gown, especially on that sharp noon?
Ah… Freedom has been repeated throughout history. You could see freedom or liberty in almost all the slogans, but in my experience the meaning of freedom today is quite different. Freedom used to sit next to ‘justice’ and ‘independence’, and it was mingled with political demands, but today it has altered in the face of a basic but more essential right that is so personal: the right to choose the way you want to live. Being deprived of the ability to live freely, the revolt of the youth could have been expected. This is a generation that is connected to the world via the internet, and also a generation in which most had a chance to partly experience freedom through their parents. These kids are the grandchildren of the 1979 revolution and the children of the so-called ‘burnt generation’ whose prospects were crushed by the revolution. I don’t know what will happen in the future, and if I will turn my back and continue my own path… but we all know that it will not be easy.
In your last letter, you have beautifully brought into question what we can do in such a situation. I was beside myself trying to do something in support of this movement. I tried a few ways: raising awareness on social media, being a good listener when my friends broke down, and writing letters to politicians. But now, I believe that as a writer my share is to narrate the stories of Zhina’s Revolution.
A photo of my mum, my brother and I, taken in the summer of 1995 at the Caspian sea