What was going on at the scene of the November protests in Iran? How and why did people protest? What was the composition of the protesters? How did the security forces attack and kill?
“Until a week ago I was living a normal life. When one gets out of the house, one does not think that a stranger is meant to be killed in their arms. I have seen people buried several times but never anyone killed. I have never been shot at and I have never seen anyone shot. In movies and on TV, I have seen many people being shot or killed by a gunman, but what I saw that evening was not like movies. Everywhere there was fire, smoke and crowds, and my brain was exploding by screams coming from myself and others. The city lights were either turned off or people had broken them. I saw the face of the person who was shot in the light of a burning bank. He was not more than seventeen or eighteen; maybe less. I don’t know if he was still alive or dead when resting in my arms. People wanted to take him away, but I found it was too late. He could not make it to the hospital, I thought. I put one hand on the bullet wound and with my other hand tried to give him a heart massage so he could stay alive if possible. There was no pulse. Someone held his hand, another held his other hand, someone else was testing his neck, but no pulse was coming from the body.
It was awful. Every pressure I put on his heart felt like pumping blood out of the bullet hole. The more I pressed down the wound, the more it didn’t work. His underwear was drenched in blood and my hands were slipping. The blood on his clothes was getting cold and maybe because of the air felt like starch. I sensed some mild movements that felt like a tremor, but with that he looked more dead than coming alive.
People gathered to help or see what’s going on. My back was getting hit by their knees. The push made me fall on the dead fellow a few times. My clothes were bloody. Everyone was talking. I was growing mad by the noise. I shouted to silence those gathered, but I didn’t hear myself. Maybe I was so sick that I didn’t know what was going on. I think my voice was not coming out. I thought I was screaming, but I knew my voice was only echoing in my head. They grabbed me by the collar from behind dragging me away. I was going to say let me stay with him, but I couldn’t hear myself. A group of security plainclothes with pistols attacked the crowd. Shots were fired in the air and people were fleeing. At first, I couldn’t hear the shots but as I was being pulled away, I came to myself and heard the gunfire.
They brought in a bottle of mineral water, but blood couldn’t be washed. They took me into a courtyard and took off my shirt. They washed the blood off my hands and chest. They said the security forces will shoot or detain me if they see me drenched in blood. My trousers were bloody, but I couldn’t walk without them. They could only give me a T-shirt and a jacket, and we left the house. Companions I did not know pulled my hands and drove through the crowd. One of those fellows hit my shoulder several times and shouted, “Go, go. Get into the crowd!”I walked with the crowd for a minute or two, but my eyes were searching for the spot that the youth was lying on the ground. I went back and he wasn’t there. There was the pool of blood. People said they took him; I don’t know if he was alive or dead. They dragged him like sheep and there was the line of blood left on the ground.”ا
I saw most of the story described above with my own eyes [Time and location and other information kept at the Zamaneh editorial office], but I chose to tell the story from the first-person narrative of the one person who was holding the body of a protester and trying to help him untill the moment of death. It was clear the young man who was shot had died in the first minutes. While some of us were trying to bring him back to life, I was checking his pulse which wasn’t beating. I was trying to find his name, but he didn’t have a cell phone, nothing in his pockets other than some change and a keychain. Later when we went back to the scene one resident said, “The plainclothes threw him on a bike like a carcass, his hands were dangling, and his legs were dragging to the ground. One was running behind the bike and holding it. They went up to a cross section and threw him into a car and sped away.”
People or Aliens?
Who were the protesters who came to the streets because of rising gasoline prices and soon started chanting “Death to Khamenei?”
Officials in the Islamic Republic have called the protesters “thugs,” agents of the US and Saudi Arabia, looters and arsonists. I don’t know what other countries’ agents look like, but I knew the faces of the people in the alley and the market. Those protesting in the streets were like the people we see in the streets every day. They had no difference with ordinary people. I knew some of them. Some I didn’t know by name, but I had seen them in the streets of my city many times in my life. Those who came were protesting the expensive gasoline and everything else. There was no money in their pockets, they were screaming against price hikes and decision makers. If they had received money from foreign countries, they would have run away when the situation became dangerous, but the people stayed on the streets, and the word that was most repeated was that, “If we continue for two more days, they will be forced to lower gasoline prices.”People were wrong. The government did not restore the price of gasoline and instead killed hundreds of the protesters.
Iran is a large and populous country. Since the scope of the protests is so wide, there may be different things happening in different places. In one of the hundreds of film clips released in protests from more than a hundred cities in Iran, one person is shown cutting a bank door shield with a cutting machine. It is said that there are reports of terrorist teams among protesters. This is an insult to the Iranian people. People who have endured clerical rule for more than forty years. And the Supreme Leader, a senior cleric, calls them hooligans. The Revolutionary Guards, which for most people in Iran are the main cause of corruption and disorder in Iran, call the people who have been protesting under pressure terrorists and the “enemy.”
One of the people who participated in the protests says:”Our country is built by the toil of the same people that Khamenei calls enemy. YOU are the enemy, not the people! ”
During the first three days of the protests, no religiously dressed cleric was seen in the city, and people laughed as the mullahs fled. It is still rare to see a clergyman in this city. They are afraid to appear among the people, and this is likely to be the case in all cities that have been the focus of protests.
Why Did the Protests Subside?
Four days later, the protests subsided. The news and rumors circulated on satellite channels, although some were encouraging, scared people. It was widely rumored that the security forces were using Russian machineguns (known as DShK) on the protesters. I could not find out where or how the rumor was spread.
Disconnecting the Internet had a greater role in defusing the protests because of the fear. From day two, the number of Basijis and plainclothes with pistols increased. It was clear that they were given permission to do whatever they feel necessary to suppress the crowd. In 2009 and winter of 2017, I didn’t see the plainclothes shooting where people were standing unprovoked and there was no conflict, but this year they were shooting at people directly and more intensely than ever before.
Another factor that had a major effect on quelling the protests was the arrests made at midnights and early mornings. Many houses were raided, and their young ones arrested. These arrests have been accompanied by panic. Young people under the age of twenty were heavily involved in the protests. High school students were seen in large numbers, those who had not experienced the 2009 and 2017 riots. People used to warn them to wear masks and hats, but it was too late. People say they “would arrest based on what was seen on cameras.” The family of one of the detainees has accused several shopkeepers of helping security forces identify the protesters.
The mix of those who took part in the protests included youth, workers, the unemployed and those who were felt stifled by the government policies. During the day, the women were in the crowd protesting, but by dark the number of women diminished, even though the slogans of women were heard through the rooftops and windows. On the first day, although the protests were very intense, the men were mindful of the safety of the women, and everyone looked very sympathetic. On the second day, when riot police stormed the crowd, the men set up a human chain in front of the women. When police or plainclothes detained someone, the women went ahead and tried to save them by talking and pleading. Some guards might listen and pretend that the detainee had escaped at one point, but most of the police officers were brutal.
One of the reasons for violence in the crowd was that police and plainclothes beat the teenagers so brutally that the protesters could not control themselves defending the youth. On several occasions, when police and mobilization forces beat women, people attacked them with stones and bricks. In one of these cases, a Basij kicked the back of a woman who was lying on the ground and caused a very intense conflict between the people and government forces. These plain cloth storm troopers, with a pistols or baton in proximity with the police, were more likely to be ‘agents of foreign countries’ or ‘terrorist groups!’
Banks and Police Stations
People set fire to many banks. I heard one say, “Those banks that were left unharmed are where there was no protest, and otherwise people would burn them all.”
Many people do not consider banks a private property and are very angry with the banks. Some protesters said they could not borrow even a million tomans (about 100 USD) in their lifetime, while others were angry that they had to pay large interests for small loans. There were people among the protesters who warned not to burn the banks, but the protesters responded that “banks are part of the system.”
On the first day, the police did not intervene much, as their numbers were small against the protesters. The first night when protesters lit a fire in the street and several banks were set on fire there was no police force in the streets. All the officers stayed inside the stations and locked the doors. People gathered in front of the police stations at sunset. Aerial shooting from the roofs of the police stations stirred up the crowd and, as the tension and excitement of the crowd increased, direct firing into the crowd sparked protests. Many banks were set on fire after the police started shooting at people.
Military Style Mobilization
On the first day and night of the protests, riot forces could not be dispatched because of the traffic jams. Several people said that the riot police commanders’ efforts to send troops on foot were soon met with resistance from the public, and they were retreating. But on day two, riot police have been stationed in the city.
By noon the first day, plainclothes were seen on motorbikes or on the sidelines. They were in a hurry and seemed having no plan of action, but their overwhelming presence with weapons caused a great deal of anger among the people. They insulted people from afar to trap those who approached them. This caused the people to move in waves at once, and those who fled were small in numbers. Since the morning of the second day, the number of Basij and armed plainclothes had increased.
The violence of plainclothes and riot police in 2009 and 2017 scared the people and scattered them, but this year the severe violence of the police met with resistance, it was like gasoline on fire, increasing the anger of the people. On the first night of the protests, gunshots were heard similar to the sound of Kalashnikovs and handguns, shot in public places, by Basij and special forces, but by the afternoon of the second day, there were various shots believed to be sniper rifles.
Livelihood Protests or Political Movement?
The November 2019 protests began with slogans against rising gasoline prices and harsh austerity plans, but soon, the same people who protested poverty and low wages began to chant political slogans. At first the slogans were cautious. With the growing number of protesters, political slogans went beyond livelihood demands. When the streets were filled by the crowd, the slogans aimed at the Supreme Leader(Vali-e Faqih) and the entire system of government (known as the Nizam).
The main tendency among the protesters, who expressed themselves in slogans and conversations, was that, “As long as the Islamic Republic is in power, Iranians will not see a happy day.”
“It doesn’t matter if they negotiate with Trump or not,” said one of the protesters. “It doesn’t matter to people. If they negotiate, they negotiate for their own benefit. Nothing reaches us. Nuclear deal or no nuclear deal is the same. Workers’ salary is less than a tiny rental. The mullahs don’t care about us. The mullah says everything is mine. If all the Iranian people die of hunger, these leeches don’t care a bit. This regime must go.”