Filed under: war-machine
“As protesters confronted the full force of the regime’s crackdown at the weekend, Iranian academic Besandiar Poorgiv in Tehran describes how anger and euphoria in the crowd evaporated into bewilderment and despair amid growing uncertainties over the opposition’s next move
On Saturday, we got together with my students and tried to keep up our morale. We are determined but scared, like most people at the demonstration. After [Ayatollah Khamenei’s] fierce speech at Friday prayers, we knew that today we would be treated differently. We felt vulnerable, but at the same time were aware of our power. But no matter how influential it is collectively, it would have done little to protect us today.
Then comes another student to have lunch with us, but who is not coming to the demonstration. She’s too scared and while pretending to be in control bursts into tears. She says she hates to see people suffer. We tell her we have suffered for years. She says she doesn’t want people to die. I tell her tens of thousands die each year on the roads in Iran; at least this time it would be for a good cause.
In the bus, everybody goes to the same destination. All streets to Engelab are blocked. In front of Tehran University, you see the students inside, clutching the rails. They shout. But you can’t hear. In front of the students, on the other side of the bars, are two rows of anti-riot police and a row of basij militia holding posters insulting the demonstrators of the previous days. One says, “The trouble-makers pertain to MI6”.
Then comes one of the main attractions: two water-spraying machines. They’re huge, the size of a bus but taller, with fenced windows and two water-guns on top of each. We burst into laughter. They don’t know how to use it. They shoot second floor windows, riot police and the people, if they do at all, and these including girls in tight manteaus. It’s more Zurich than Tehran. One machine is stuck. They don’t know how to drive it. It’s a hot day, and it feels good to become wet. Much of the time, the sprays are not very powerful. It’s as if they’re watering the grass.
And it just does not fit the horror that’s in the air, the aggression with which the people are hit with batons. A beautiful day. It has been beautiful throughout the past week; you wonder whether nature is ironical.
They push the crowd back and forth, but soon realise people are on all sides. In a couple of minutes, the crowd goes away, the anti-riot police leave, and the students are gone. We don’t know why. Deprived of communication, you never see the big picture. Maybe they have attacked the university from behind.
At Towhid Square the scene changes. The streets to Azadi are blocked. But this time, people don’t change their path. They fight for it. There’s a shower of stones. Tear gas. Fire. The battle extends to nearby streets. People are shouting, “Down with the dictator”. Riot police throw back stones. I also grab a broken brick and throw. I’m amazed. Never thought I’d do it. But I need practice: it was a very bad shot. I grab another one, the size of a pomegranate and hide it behind my back. I am part university teacher, part hooligan.
We get a lift to avoid the teargas. Then there is the attack. A woman is beaten. She’s hysterical but so is the anti-riot police officer facing her. She shrieks, “Where can I go? You tell me go down the street and you beat me. Then you come up from the other side and beat me again. Where can I go?” In sheer frustration, the officer hits his helmet hard several times with his baton.
A couple of minutes later we get off. Here’s a true battleground. This time it is vast. Columns of smoke touch the sky. You can hardly see the asphalt. It’s covered with bricks and stones. Here people have the upper hand. The street consists of three lanes, the middle one separated by opaque fences, under construction for the metro. The workers have climbed up the fence and show the V sign. They start throwing stones and timber to the street to supply needed armament.
I tell myself, “Look at the poor, the ones Ahmadinejad speaks of”. But the president’s name is no longer in fashion. This time the slogans target the leader, something unheard of for three decades.
Two basijis’ motorbikes are burning. People have learned how to do it fast. They lie the motor on its side, make a small fire, then spray it to a point where it becomes inextinguishable. We climb up a bridge and watch. People shout from the bridge, “Down with Khamenei”. A basiji is caught: he soon disappears under the crowd beating him. As if in a Roman coliseum, those on the bridge shout, “Beat him up!” I shout with them before coming to my senses. What is with me? He staggers away as a group of 10 kick and punch him all over.
You can get on any car to go back home. People trust one another now. The woman in the seat next to me says: “It’s no longer about Mousavi or election results. We have suffered for 30 years. We didn’t live a life.” An old man next to her offers me fresh bread. They tell jokes about the political figures and laugh out loud. They feel victorious.
But this morning I was so depressed. Some friends came around, but there has been no announcement about any protest. There were rumours it would be in Hafteh-Tir square, but a friend has called to say there’s nothing going on there. On Saturday there was a sense of victory – many people were happy expressing what they couldn’t express for 30 years. But today there wasn’t any. It’s bewildering. There is disappointment at Mousavi’s latest statement. For me, I wouldn’t die for someone like Mousavi. But if there’s greater change at stake, then it’s worth it.”
-Besandiar Poorgiv (is a pseudonym)
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