Thursday, February 11, 2010

Azadi, Freedom, and 22 Bahman

In Tehran, taxi drivers call out destinations: Vanak, Vanak, Vanak. Tehran Pars, Tajrish, Arjentine, Resalat, Pol-e Hemat... If you are traveling to any of these places, you hop in and wait for the car to fill up. Everytime a taxi driver shouted out Azadi, which means freedom in Persian, I wanted to laugh. Sometimes I would shout out, No Azadi in return.



During the time I was in Iran, four 22 Bahmans came and went. The first was spent in the center of Iran, where I heard the rooftop calls of Allah-o Akbar for the first time. A handful of families were out on their roofs shouting back and forth. The men would call out Allah-o Akbar and the women would respond in kind. Kamran explained to me that they were remembering the revolution when street protests were forbidden and people took to the roofs to chant. "Forbidding the street protests really backfired," he told me. "Everyone went on to the roofs. It was safer and easier than going into the streets. If you did not go, your neighbors would wonder about you and why you weren't on your roof."
(youTube video: Inja Kojast, Where is this place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7MvSHuOFuA)


When we stayed in Tehran, we heard no chants at all on 22 Bahman. It was just another day off: one of many. When people in Iran started using the chants to signal their dissent after the contested June presidential elections, I had never heard anything like it. For four years I had only heard handfuls of people chanting and never with the passion I heard when listening to the recordings posted all over the Internet. In those voices, mainly of women, I heard desperation, anger, and a fierce longing for change.

Living in Iran meant many things for me: I learned to wear hejab and do so fashionably despite my unfashionable nature. I learned to shut up and keep my opinions to myself. I learned to speak cautiously. I learned to make jokes that allowed me to express myself. I learned to read small gestures. I learned to dance whenever there was music, sing despite my off-key voice, and really live inside every crack in the system.

I fell in love with Iran in a way that I have never fallen in love with any place before. This made me worry about my sanity.

When people in Iran took to the streets, en masse, to protest in June, I knew that they were risking their lives, their livelihoods, their futures. I heard protesters call for the rights of the Bahai and other minorities. I heard their demands for equal rights for women. I heard them call for peaceful confrontation. There was nothing left for me but to support those calls and to do everything I could, however small, to amplify them. Supporting those calls costs me so little and costs those in Iran so much.

Today, when I join other protesters at a demonstration in Amsterdam to support the demands for civil and human rights, no one will shoot at me, tear gas won't be used, my life won't be in jeopardy, my work won't be stolen, and my computer won't be confiscated.

Join me. Join them.

Read other posts written for Amnesty's Unite! Blog! Human Rights for Iran!

8 comments:

Marie said...

"I fell in love with Iran in a way that I have never fallen in love with any place before". I understand. And it's been 29 years since I left Iran.

Tori said...

@Marie, one day we really have to meet each other...

Eric said...

Wow. What a powerful video.

Matt said...

Tori,
I understand the importance of reading the small gestures, the jokes that would allow you to express your opinions safely, etc. However, it's lost on me since I've never had to do so. Are there any expressions Iranians will use, like body language, to show that they would concur with a controversial opinion for example? Sorry if the question and comment in general make no sense. I really have no idea how I should have worded this!

Or if you could give an example of one of those jokes, I'd appreciate it! :-)

Tori said...

@Eric, I could see that video a thousand times and still be moved/

@Matt, the jokes are difficult because Persian is such a funny language. I think it's because it is so filled with courtly phrases, which makes it easy to build amazingly flattering insults. If you know anything about Yiddish and the art of insulting, you could think of Persian as its counterpart. While Yiddish flatters with insults, Persian insults with flattery.

OK, a gesture: my niece in Iran cannot for the life of her give a direct yes or no answer to a question. Finally I learned to read her eyebrows. If she really wanted to say no, she would raise her eyebrows the tiniest bit. Yes, and no eyebrow lift.

That is just one example...

Kamran said...

"If you know anything about Yiddish and the art of insulting, you could think of Persian as its counterpart. While Yiddish flatters with insults, Persian insults with flattery."

You are so right about this. I have very hard time to tell you which I like the most. In any case you teach me something I should had know it for long time.

indonesian said...

freedom is human right... for all of human in this earth

Ruslan Asad said...

"I learned to dance whenever there was music, sing despite my off-key voice, and really live inside every crack in the system."

Great saying! No matter how harsh and repressive the authoritarian regimes are, there is always a room for action, for spreading the word around. Chanting on top of the rooms, blogging, twittering, FBing are great examples of it.

I believe language of repressive regimes is very different from what the repressed ones, new generation youth activists, human rights defenders are speaking. Your cause and your status is morally and skill wise higher than the regimes. Therefore you are more creative and your creativity allows you to conduct different activities within the system.

I am from Azerbaijan, very interested and morally very supportive to what is happening in Iran. Change in Iran will affect the whole region: Afghanistan, Arab world, Azerbaijan from north, Turkmenistan, Palestine and Israel conflict and etc.

Good job guys. Best of luck and courage to you. You are inspiring not just me, but a lot of people from all over the world. Keep it up!

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