The tenth Iranian presidential election in 2009 was different from previous elections. Four candidates were competing: incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, conservative Mohsen Rezaei, reformist Mir Hussein Mousavi and reformist Mehdi Karrubi. The outcome was announced in favor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but many Iranians including the unsuccessful candidates and their supporters refused to accept the result.
Widespread allegations of fraud and election-rigging resulted in huge protests in Tehran and other major cities. These protests lasted several months. Millions of Iranians from varied social classes and backgrounds attended gatherings all over the country. This resulted in a brutal government crackdown with hundreds killed and thousands arrested. The movement ultimately failed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stayed in office as the sixth president of Iran until 3 August 2013.
Many refer to the events between 12 June and 30 Dec 2009 as the Iranian Green Movement.
Weeks before the election, predominantly young Iranians were participating in this campaign in very creative ways. The color green, which was a symbol for a reformist candidate and opponent of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was seen everywhere. Young men wore green ribbons tied around their wrists and young female supporters wore green headscarves. Tehran was in a festive mood. Iranians were happy and excited; people debated in streets, buses, taxis, stores, and even at parties.
On 8 June, Mousavi supporters formed a human chain which ran 25 kilometers in Vali Asr Street in Tehran from North to South.
“In the human chain from Tajrish to Rah Ahan Square, there were people who said that they were ready to elect between bad and worse, the bad (referring to Mousavi over Ahmadinjead), and this choice strengthened that unforgettable chain. True reforms begin with recognizing and accepting the responsibility for electing this or that,” Mousavi wrote in the Green movement charter a year later.
The tenth Iranian presidential election was held on 12 June 2009. A few hours after the polls closed, both Mousavi and Ahmadinejad claimed victory. It was the beginning of six months of protests, which started peacefully but ended in a brutal crackdown.
On 13 June protesters filled the streets in Tehran. Tehran saw the most intense protests in decades, with riot police using batons and tear gas against demonstrators. Tehran was in turmoil.
A journalist from Tehran who was attending the protests told Zamaneh that at the beginning, the protesters had diverse backgrounds. People from almost all social and economic classes were present.
“Until the Khamenei speech on 19 June the crackdown was not as brutal as after the speech. For that reason almost every group and social class were present in the protests…all age groups, rich and poor…you could see from middle age pro-monarch to young poor students “, the journalist (speaking on the condition of anonymity) told Zamaneh.
A wide range of citizens from ordinary people to artists to political figures and even conservatives attended the protests. In a very extraordinary show of defiance, on 15 June hundreds of thousands of people marched in silence around Tehran.
On 16 June the Guardian Council said that it was ready for a partial recount of ballots but rejected annulling the poll. Protests continued and spread to other big cities including Rasht, Orumiyeh, Zanjan, Zahedan, Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz and Mashhad. Several were killed during the protests. On 18 June thousands of pro-reform candidates wearing black and carrying candles rallied in Tehran to mourn those killed earlier that week.
On 19 June the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei warned protesters. He sternly rejected any compromise over the disputed elections. He declared the election valid and warned against chaos.
“Any extremist move will fan up another extremist move, if the political elite want to ignore the law — whether they want it or not — they would be responsible for the chaos, violence and bloodshed,” Khamenei said.
After this speech everything changed dramatically.
“After the Khameni speech some of the protesters caved in, but increasingly diverse age groups were participating in the protests. Most of those who remained in the streets at this point wanted evolution. Not everybody could tolerate the violence and crackdown so some people went back to their homes. Those who remained wanted evolution or reform.” the Journalist from Tehran told Zamaneh.
On 20 June another protest in Tehran turned to violence, and riot police and militia forces fired tear gas and wielded batons to disperse thousands of opposition demonstrators. The situation was becoming rapidly scarier and bloodier. That same day, an amateur video circulated on the internet. The video showed the last moments of a young woman bleeding to death after being shot in the chest on a Tehran street. Twenty six -year-old Neda Agha Soltan later became an icon for the movement.
“I cannot say that Neda’s death was a turning point. The death of Neda did not scare people off. Khamenei’s speech and Neda’s death happened almost at the same time, but what really pushed some people back was what happened in Kahrizak.” the journalist added.
There were reports and widespread gossip that claimed some of the arrested young boys and girls were abused physically and even sexually. Those reports leaked from the Kahrizak Detention Center, a notorious prison for violent criminals.
Several protesters died after exposure to violent torture and horrific living conditions at Kahrizak in the summer of 2009.
Iranian reformist cleric Mehdi Karoubi and one of the four candidates claims to have evidence of the rape of some detained protesters.
“I ask you to organize a meeting … in which I can personally present my documents and evidence over the cases of sexual abuse in some prisons,” Karoubi said in the letter to parliament speaker Ali Larijani
“Kahrizak was a turning point, after revelation of Kahrizak many people backed off. And it was so visible. Some people criticized Karoubi because of Kahrizak and they think Karoubi’s letter scared people off. I saw people who were saying that they can tolerate everything but not rape.” the Journalist added.
But many others continued to defy the government, as the street protests continued in different parts of Tehran. All of them were faced with a brutal crackdown from the government by official and non-official forces. The arrest of political activists, journalists and even foreign nationals continued. On 9 July, after eleven days in which the government succeeded in keeping people off the streets, thousands of protesters came out in Tehran and on 12 July the body of Sohrab Aarabi with a gunshot wound in his heart was handed to his family. Sohrab was 19 years old and had disappeared nearly a month earlier after attending a demonstration in Tehran. His death created anger across the country. Five days later on 17 July nearly two million people demonstrated in the streets of Tehran and joined the Friday Prayer.
In the second half of July tens of isolated protests in Tehran and other big cities were reported. Each anniversary and event was turning into an anti-Ahmadinejad protest. They all resulted in violent crackdowns.
Later in September and October, new protests and anti-government slogans were reported in universities and football stadiums. On 4 November in some of the biggest street demonstrations since mid-September, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tehran. Basij forces again attacked protesters brutally and violently. Another protest was carried out by thousands of university students on 7 December. It was stopped in a violent crackdown, mostly by plain cloth forces that acted much harsher than the riot police.
Ashura of 2009 was another turning point in the Green movement. On 27 December the most violent clashes between opposition supporters and security forces took place. Dozens were killed and more than 300 arrests were confirmed on that day alone.
The day of Ashura, which marks the death of the third Imam of Shiite, is an important day on the Shiite calendar.
On this day Imam Hossein and most of his small group of followers were killed by Umayyad forces in the Battle of Karbala. Across the Shiite world, pilgrims annually commemorate his martyrdom. The battle of Karbala happened in 680 AD.
1400 years later Ashura in Tehran was as bloody as Ashura in Karbala.
Witnesses claim that the Basij militia fired live bullets into the crowd and at some point in one-on-one fighting protesters were thrown off the bridge. Some reports indicate that violence originated from both sides. Angry protesters attacked security forces and them stripped of their uniforms, beating them with their own batons. Several police cars and motorcycles were set on fire. People fought with stones, batons and their bare hands. Pro-government plainclothes and security forces shot directly into the crowd, aiming at upper bodies and the head.
An eyewitness who was a 23 year old student at that time described the day in an interview with Zamaneh: “A day before Ashura we were under the impression that the forces would not be really violent because those days were one of Shiite holiest days. We would never have imagined that the government might have fatally undermined this tradition, since during that month spilling blood is forbidden in Islam.”
This witness told Zamaneh that a huge number of people were in streets in the center of Tehran and it was a very tense and heavy atmosphere from the beginning of the day.
“We were walking from Imam Hossein Square towards the West. Sidewalks were full of people but no one was in the main street, only police who were heavily guarded. I saw a university professor who ran towards the police and threw a stone. Following his lead, people entered the street and walked towards the police. The police did nothing and within a few minutes people surrounded the police forces. I could see some officers running away, ripping off their uniforms and leaving their cars and motorcycles behind. People set those vehicles on fire.”
The witness told Zamaneh that people were not organized and whatever was happening was spontaneous and without any plan or pre-organized. The witness believed this was one of the reasons of the failure of the movement of 2009.
“We continued walking towards College Bridge. In Enghelab Street people were running and tear gas was fired. Security forces were everywhere and beating people. It was getting ugly. We ran away to a street where a door was open. We entered and the door was closed behind us. There was a courtyard inside and on the floor there was blood everywhere. Injured people were sitting in the yard. We entered one of the apartments of the complex and kept silent. I looked at the street from a corner in the curtain. Outside in the street…. it was hell.”
This witness told Zamaneh that police were all over the streets and beating every single person, men and women, young and old. They were beating people on the head with their batons.
“One of the differences that I observed on Ashura was that I saw lots of injured people with injuries to their heads. The police usually hit protesters on the lower body and feet, but on Ashura they were aiming for the upper parts of peoples’ bodies.” the witness added.
Other witnesses on Social media reported that they saw the security forces ordered to kneel and aim, and shoot directly at people.
Azad Ahangar (this is a pseudo name) was one of the protesters during the Ashura events. He describes the events of 27 December 2009: “I was on College Bridge where the most violent conflicts took place in Tehran, alongside Valiasr Square. The images that I remember are more like dystopian movies: The streets were empty of any car, the mist generated by the tear gas was all over the place. There was endless noise from shootings, screams, and the firing of tear gas echoing on the streets … we were building a barricade with huge cables we found from a under-construction building to block the bridge to prevent the Basij from getting closer to us. We captured 20 revolutionary guard forces (those who look like a Robocop) right under the bridge and set their motor bikes on fire; we fought with stones against the Basij; we took the guns of some of those revolutionary guard forces but never used them; we set so many trash bins on fire; one person was shot dead in front of my eyes; many injured, including my close friend, by tear gas, rubber bullets and real guns. Anyone who came out alive from that conflict should feel lucky. Ashura was the most violent day in the history of the movement, alongside Bloody Saturday, and no one wanted to pay a cost like that again. Never again!”
On 30 December pro-government rallies took place in several cities to protest against the recent anti-government demonstrations.
Following this point the number of protesters began to decline. Minor sporadic protests were seen once in a while in Iran. Young people continued to be killed in these protests and two young male protesters were executed.
On 12 June 2010, during the first anniversary of the disputed election, several scattered and sporadic protests took place throughout Iran. That was the end of the street protests of the “Green movement” in Tehran and Iran.