Ayaz Marhouni recalls the Iranian protest rally of February 14, 2011, which led to several deaths, widespread arrests and, finally, to the house arrest of opposition leaders MirHosein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi. In the leaders’ absence, some opposition groups have called for another rally on the anniversary of last year’s demonstrations.
As we heard news of the protest fever in Tunisia and Egypt last year, during the Iranian month of Bahman (January 21- February 19), we were envious because of our own lost days of protest.
A whole year had elapsed since we last took to the streets, and still we had not managed to stand up for the rights of our prisoners, the mourning families of our martyrs and the lost ones themselves. We could do nothing but sit and watch the scenes of raw courage in North Africa, as people proclaimed their dreams through their defiant fists. Mousavi and Karroubi were still not under house arrest and there was still hope that together we could make our own defiant move. On Bahman 25 (February 14), we reclaimed our dreams and came once more to the streets.
During the early hours of our demonstration, I was on Azadi Street, witnessing the bold rebirth. Plainclothes forces were present in greater numbers than the police at every square and intersection, becoming more and more agitated, more and more abusive by the second. Anyone who moved in the streets was seen as the enemy by them. In an instant, the crowd joined together at Enghelab Sqaure. It was five in the afternoon. A traffic officer was standing at the Jamlzadeh intersection, refusing to let people loiter. It was three days after Bahman 22, when the usual Islamic Republic carnival had marked another anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and the propaganda banners could still be seen in the streets. The people rushed to the middle of the street, thus forming the first and last nucleus of the day’s demonstration.
Protest and …smile
The move took ten minutes, and I will describe for you those ten minutes:
The street was closed down. The cars were stopped. Some honked in protest. Some cars in the special lanes let out their passengers to join the crowd. The police were confused. Plainclothes forces were about to leave their posts and report the situation. Special Units were probably loading club-wielding thugs into vehicles to be dispatched to the scene. No one had expected to see a crowd come together after a year of crackdown and oppression. The people chanted slogans such as: “Death to Oppressors; both in Cairo and Tehran” and “Mobarak, Ben-Ali; now it’s time for Seyed Ali.”
Azadi Street is so wide that this dense nucleus had the potential to grow into an uncontrollable force. I joined the crowd, and what I can never forget is the nervous smiles of the people. Almost everyone wore such a smile. We could not believe that we had made it. After a whole year of oppression, the street was ours once again. Empathy was being rekindled among us. Strangers standing side by side got to know each other. We were sharing our protests, and at times there was silence and awe at the fact that we’d actually done it.
Near the Navob intersection, where people were flooding toward Azadi Street, the Special Units began their first rhinoceros attack. The people fell over each other and were forced to retreat: some to the north of the street, some to the south. Fear once again overtook us. The crowd, after ten minutes of moving in the street, had no longer expected an attack. With such strong numbers, to attack us would be idiotic. But then our resistance was met with bullets and batons, and we had only our heads and hands to stop them. People ran into alleys and re-emerged, chanting slogans. Azadi Street became the main route leading people into the alleyways. People would return and, from the street corners, begin to chant again. Bullets continued to assail bodies. On Behboudi Avenue, I heard shots. A few minutes later, someone’s body was taken away in a car by what appeared to be intelligence officials. Tear gas and beatings and nervous smiles wiped clean from everyone’s face.
Nevertheless, those smiles had witnessed the birth of a street protest on that day in Bahman, the 11th month of the Iranian calendar. The regime of bullets and batons brought the year to a close in great hardship, a year that was marked by constant ranting and raving at the people; this year has been much the same.
Soon we might once again use our smiles to mark another anniversary of the birth of a protest. This year, as famine stalks us with slow steps and the threat of death haunts Iran’s borders, the iron-fisted government refuses to abandon its ravings.
The only force that can stand up to them is the power of our smiles.
[translated from the original in Persian]