By Melina Tavakoli Moghaddam, BA Politics and International Relations
16th of September 2022. To many, this may be the day it was announced that NHS nurses will march in front of the Queen’s coffin. To some others, it may be the day the ‘oldest heart’ was discovered in Australia. For the people of Iran, it marked the beginning of an outcry reminiscent of 1979. The death of Mahsa Amini.
Being twenty-two in the Western world can mean many things. Blasting Taylor Swift’s song dedicated to the age, hosting dinner parties with friends, revelling in the epoch of your prime. In Iran, it can look different. Mahsa Amini was living twenty-two with a few revealed strands of hair outside of her hijab. She was living twenty-two with a smile on her face as she was ready to visit her brother in Tehran. As her name denotes, she was like the moon, a light in the darkness for her family members. But this light was soon to be diminished when the morality police stopped her. In the space of a few minutes, twenty-two no longer seemed as fun.
The Iranian morality police covered their crime as Amini suffering a ‘sudden heart failure’. Yet everyone knew this was not the case.
Blows to the head and limbs translated into death due to pre-existing medical conditions. Blame the victim and neglect how her family verified Amini had no long-term brain disorder. Blame the victim because she ‘broke’ rules on wearing the hijab. Blame the victim and not the Iranian authorities who obstruct free speech. But outside of the hospital, Amini resided that very night, voices were not silenced, protests would not be resisted, the victim was not blamed.
As demonstrations rose from the night of the news and diffused across the country, the death toll only climbed higher. Chants of ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ could be heard globally whilst Iranians were beginning to transform into statistics. By December, the death toll was roughly estimated at 500, not including the numerous cover-ups by Iranian officials. Beyond women, any man who spoke out in defence of freedom for their motherland was either imprisoned or brutally murdered. In the face of adversity, Iranians sacrificed their lives for a crumb of attention. And they succeeded.
8th of January 2023. Amnesty International aided those cries by organising a rally in Trafalgar Square. With the House of Commons debate following four days later, this march aimed to urge the UK’s representatives to investigate further into the unnecessary deaths being carried out in Iran. Three thousand individuals in perpetual rain presented a ‘sea of solidarity’ with the women of Iran. London was only the start of international unity against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran.
16th of September 2023. A year of torture and distress had passed. The vicious cycle of Iran lingers, eating away at itself. Those we lost include but are not limited to: 16-year-old Nika Sharakami, 16-year-old Armita Geravand, 22-year-old Hadis Najafi, 17-year-old Ali Mozaffari Salanghouch, 20-year-old Alireza Karimi.
Today, the remnants of the 1979 Revolution are more prevalent than ever. Interests of the elite are as entrenched as the capacity of women discarding their headscarves out on the streets. The US and partnering Western allies have since imposed sanctions on Iranian media outlets. It has been speculated that several university professors were terminated not due to inadequate performance, but due to their alignment with the anti-government cause. Most significantly, the protests have not ceased and will not cease any time soon.
We must continue amplifying the stories of Iran, the country that has never known freedom. Even under the Shah’s regime, democracy was still a far-away ambition for the population. After a conversation with my aunt, Samira Aramesh, it became clear how such a wealthy country with excessive oil exports has hitherto persisted in the divide of classes. In 1977, Aramesh completed her compulsory two-year associate degree in midwifery and began her work in the wards. A section of her work involved visiting the homes of her clients to ensure healthy living conditions for both the mother and the child. However, what she was met with at a client’s home instead choked her with sheer horror. No food, no resources, scarce conditions. The worst part? She could not speak out against such unwarranted treatment at the risk of arrest under the Shah regime.
When one is faced with the polarization between one’s convictions and the prevailing order, movements and organisations arise. Aramesh found herself joining the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, otherwise known as the MEK, which commenced by opposing the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and established itself as a socialist collection with a cause of overthrowing Iran’s theocracy. Aramesh spoke to me of the MEK’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, and the latter’s ten-point plan for combating the spirit of authoritarianism in Iran. Presented worldwide at events such as the Free Iran Global Summit of 2023, the accessible list of demands sets forth the need for emancipation, as almost every Iranian has experienced the opposite; justice is not in our vocabulary… yet.
“History is full of bitter experiences, but if we do not continue to echo these, they will ultimately be forgotten in the name of nothing”
My uncle, Amir Borjkhani, offered the most fitting words for Iran. As a past political prisoner for his participation with the MEK, he recognises how ‘history is full of bitter experiences, but if we do not continue to echo these, they will ultimately be forgotten in the name of nothing’. Bravery may never be enough standing on its own, but perseverance is what shines through. We must never forget. For Iran, for freedom, for Mahsa.