Science - June 25, 2009

IRANIAN STUDENTS BETWEEN HOPE AND FEAR

As the post-election protests in Iran continue, Iranian students in Wageningen are trying to keep in touch with their family and friends back home. Their opinions may vary, but they all try to keep up with the latest developments through CNN, BBC World and Facebook.

An Iranian woman demonstrator in Canada holds up a photo of slain student Neda. Neda bled to death during a street protest. She has become a symbol of the protest against the recent Iranian election results.
‘Women are out there, fighting with the police. They show themselves to be equal and really want to defend their rights. I am so proud of them’, says Parvaneh, a student from Iran at Wageningen University. And with all the foreign press thrown out of the country, the Iranians are trying to inform the world themselves, she points out. ‘It is amazing. Every Iranian has turned into a reporter. With their cell phones they are filming the wounded; even that takes a lot of courage.’
Another Wageningen student, Hamid, also sympathizes with the people in Iran. Last weekend he was in touch with his family in Tabriz, a large city in Iran. ‘The universities are all closed and the exams cancelled. Everybody was sent home, to prevent the protest from growing. There have been many arrests and at least three people were shot during demonstrations in Tabriz. The police have been taking wounded people from the hospitals. It is horrible there.’
The courage of the people to protest shows how desperate they are for change, Hamid explains. ‘To confront the Baseej is the hardest thing on earth. These are the volunteer militia that murder any opponent of the regime without a thought – the most extreme and violent people in Iran.’
Unlike Hamid, Iranian PhD student Nick does not believe that the government unleashes violence on the protesters. ‘Iranian people are kind and the police and Baseej are no exception. The murders are committed by anti-regime organisations, supported by Western governments. For Western countries it is a big frustration that Iran has not allowed them to interfere in our domestic affairs since the revolution in 1979.’
‘Some of the protesters just go out on the streets to have some fun’, thinks Nick. The protests have to do with the younger generation wanting more freedom on the compulsory Islamic dress code, he reckons. He also questions the reports on news channels like CNN and BBC. ‘They use a magnifying glass for the current situation in Iran, just to prove that Iran is a dangerous country. They broadcast pictures without any valid sources and rely on some weblogs and anti-regime protesters.’
But Parvaneh has another story to tell. ‘The Iranian people lived for thirty years under dictatorship and can’t accept it anymore.’ She was surprised to learn that even her more conservative friends went out on the streets to protest. ‘People feel disrespected and cheated. I did not know much about president candidate Moussavi before the elections, but he has proven his strength and stood there, with the crowd. He gave people hope.’
‘The election was a big set up’, Parvaneh continues. According to Hamid there are many indications of election fraud, like the poll results in Tabriz, where president Ahmadinejad was declared winner as well. Tabriz is the home town of Moussavi, a member of the large Azeri minority group. Hamid: ‘For sure everybody there voted for him, to get one of their own in power.’
Of course there may have been some irregularities during the election, Nick says, but even if some votes were wrong, that would not influence the outcome. He thinks that new elections would still favour Ahmadinejad. ‘He is trying to diminish the gap between poor and rich people. I am sure he has the support of all the poor people, the religious people and the people living in the small villages.’
However, the other students claim that the majority of Iranians are fed up with the president. ‘Ahmadinejad has no economic programme, and inflation has increased by up to 25 percent. The oil money from Iran disappears into the pockets of the regime. Poor people live on less than 15 dollars a month. Why would they vote for him?’ Hamid asks. Of course he is worried for his family, but he hopes that the protests will continue. ‘I am afraid we’ll see the biggest bloodbath in history before this regime will leave. Hopefully it will happen in a peaceful way. Now there is a power struggle between the mullahs, the religious leaders. I hope that the entire system will explode.’
Parvaneh is torn between hope and fear too. ‘Now they have started killing people I am afraid the protests will shut down’, she says. ‘If the people in Iran can’t stop this now, the next four years will be the darkest years ever. Teachers and directors of universities have quit their jobs in protest. All newspapers that are a bit democratic have been closed, the writers imprisoned and even big shots in politics were arrested.’ /Alexandra Branderhorst
The students did not want to reveal their real names for fear of the consequences for them or their families in Iran. Or, in Nick’s case, for fear of Western countries turning down future visa requests.
The Islamic Republic of Iran was founded in 1979 after the monarchy in Iran was overthrown during the Islamic revolution. Religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini became the most powerful person in Iran. He has been succeeded by Ali Khamenei. Since the revolution, two to three million Iranians have fled abroad. Dissident writer and journalist Akhbar Ganji says the revolution ‘promised us heaven, but created a hell on earth.’ For others the Islamic state represents a ‘perfect model of splendid, humane, and divine life’, in the words of Ahmadinejad.

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