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No Refuge

30 Jun 2009 17:4916 Comments


Written by a University of Tehran graduate, from first-hand accounts | 30 June 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] We all have our memories of late-night cramming. The lights are low everywhere; the world is eerily quiet. At such times, the sound of my own fingers stroking the keyboard seems as loud as a thunderous volcano. Sometimes, after finishing a paragraph or coming to an end of an assigned chapter, I like to stop... and just listen, whether it's the sound of footsteps or a stranger's laugh, or a cat or dog whimpering in the distance.

It was on one such night. A 19-year-old boy was sitting in a dormitory room, quietly poring over those same books, the way he did most nights away from home, the way he did every night during exam season. Earlier, at around 10:30 p.m., an officer had come knocking on their doors. The police would only protect them if they kept quiet, he had said. If the students said as much as a word, he warned, they would do nothing to help them.

Unknown to the boy, in the dormitory a block away, at around 11:30 p.m., a group of hard-headed students head up to the rooftop and start chanting anti-government slogans.

Maybe he was too deeply submerged in Ohm's Law equation to notice; maybe those hard-headed students hadn't really been all that loud.

But a few hours later, he hears students screaming from the floor below and the shattering noise of breaking glass. He's heard the story of that fateful night, that particular summer day, almost exactly 11 years ago, when they attacked the dormitories. It had always sounded like an epic tale, or maybe a television drama. And now there he was, suddenly living it.

He runs to hide in the bathroom. Shaking, scared, alone he waits. He waits, and waits, and waits.

And then there is no more waiting. The men are at his door.

He's dragged out into the hallway. The last thing he remembers before the world goes black is that loud thud -- the sound of his friend's head hitting the ground, his unconscious body laying in blood, blood that is splattered everywhere.

A week later, he is released from prison, after agreeing to sign "a confession." He is now a fully-certified criminal in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

That friend he remembers last has not been heard from. Many others remain in prison. But more frightening yet, there are many others who have gone missing.

Hundreds of miles away, a 17-year-old high school student in a small town in the province of Khuzestan is also released, along with his uncle. They were taking part in a demonstration in the city's main square when a large group of them (perhaps along with many more) were arrested. The uncle emerges from the ordeal unscathed, physically. But the boy has been repeatedly and severely beaten. He is released one day before his University Entrance Exam.

All week now I have not been able to shake the image of that shy, timid boy out of my head. The typical class nerd, the one who gets A's even when the entire class fails. I wonder how these kids are going to grow up. My generation was always told that no matter how cruel or merciless the world may be, the school is our refuge. Where will we go now that our schools too have been violated?

And once again, it is the shahrestani (small-town) kids who are paying the price. The ones who've had to work the hardest to get where they are. The ones whose parents couldn't afford a loft in North Tehran. The ones this newly "elected" president claims to represent.

A friend of mine emailed me these lines from the University of Tehran a day before the attacks on the dormitories, which I have translated:

We are on campus, my friend. Tear gas is descending upon us like heavy snowfall. The entire building I am in right now is filled with gas. Two of my friends were wounded 30 minutes ago. There is fire everywhere. I thought I came here to study but there is nothing here but war. I have to tell you this quickly so you'll share it on Facebook. I tried using a proxy to access Facebook earlier, but it didn't work. Thanks so much. And by the way, please don't mention my name because there have been mass arrests everywhere.

It seems ironic that 30 years after the revolution, at a time when many of us, among the exploding youth of Iran, were tired and indifferent to its fruition, are now in the streets fighting for the things this revolution promised. We were born into a war, and lived through a war. Now there is a new war raging. Who thought it would last so long. My friends are on their rooftops again shouting Allah o Akbar -- God is Great -- like their fathers did 30 years ago. I've always believed history repeats itself. But I've never felt it quite like the way I do today.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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I found your personal account of what's happened in Iran incredibly moving. I have been following the news but have read nothing like this - so brutally honest and a true insight into the suffering and the number of innocent people like yourself who are being horrendously subjected to such treatment at the hands of the militia and police. My heart goes out to you and your friends.

I don't know if you have seen in the Guardian www.guardian.co.uk but they are trying to get information on the people who have been either killed, detained or who are missing. If you have any information then they would find it very helpful.

Good luck and know that the world despises the treatment that Iran is giving to its people.

Victoria / June 30, 2009 2:33 PM

That reminds me of a quote from a book I just read. "If you don't like the story your culture is writing, it's not enough to rail against it or say you don't subscribe to it. You have the obligation of writing your own story - to be a contributing author of your own culture."

Tim / June 30, 2009 2:52 PM

I wish we could bring them out of there. No one deserves to be abused that way.

Peg / June 30, 2009 2:53 PM

You are correct that history repeats itself. It is also true that we seldom learn from it. It is ironic how governments dismiss the will of their people until they are awakened by their wrath. I left Iran in before revolution. I was one of those Iranians who were indifferent to what was going on in Iran. Not anymore. Now I am an American fighting for the rights of millions of Iranians under siege. Your brave uprising in the past several weeks has awakened the whole world and has put fear in the hearts of the dictators in Iran. Iran will never be the same. Words cannot describe how proud I am today to be an Iranian because of you stand for. This war is not over....history is starting to repeat itself.

Shawzdeh / June 30, 2009 2:54 PM

The military should stop supporting a government that hurts and kills its own people.

mark / June 30, 2009 3:09 PM

Unreal. No one should have to live in terror like this, especially in 2009. It was so strange to have this massive influx of videos and photos, first hand accounts of the demonstrations and brutal beatings by the police, then all of a sudden virtual online silence from Iran. I shudder to think what is going on now that I will not hear about in the US.

They can't shut down the internet forever. Sooner or later they have to turn it back on and we will all learn the truth. Until then I hope and pray for your safety.

I hope everyone there is still documenting what is happening around them even though they can't upload anything right now. The information that the citizens of Iran gather now will probably be the only accurate accounts of these troubled times.

Message to the citizens of Iran from the World: Keep in touch if you can. We are all very worried about you.

Erin Gallagher / June 30, 2009 3:13 PM

The things that are happening are horrible, i'd like to help but i don't know how, why is it that in our times of global communication it's easier to sell things but it's so hard to get in touch and support each other when it really matters. How can we help you? What can we do?

Agnes / June 30, 2009 4:17 PM

Ahmadinejad...made me feel nauseous the first time I heard him speak after his first election, because I knew in my heart this guy was a sleazy big "low-life" I don't know his manner, his slow insincere speaking, his steady artificial smile, I had an Idea...he would be bad for the world. All my comment's on the BBC since then, would support that...& his "Christmas/New Year's eve 2008 speech just pinned everything I thought of in my mind, all the before & since to a tee.

I've no dislike of Jews or no dislike of Muslim's...(as I feel there's enough room on Earth if only the Leader's hadn't got their own agenda's), but I wondered what were the electorate in Iran doing/done, that probably now will affect them & the rest of the world for years it seems, without an miracle sometime from God above. I don't even know which God anymore, there's so many different religion's with their particular version of God. I have faith in one, (but I'll keep that to myself...as even revealing this might offend someone, even reading my lines. Now after this fraud election, he makes me "Vomit". The underneath ignorant comment was sent to the BBC today...& I was sick (literally) again

Removing Saddaem has allowed democracy to flourish in the region and spread to Iran.

It is up to the Iraqis now to maintain it.

Ron Greene, Florida, United States

This was my reply;

How can they next door to Iran? & what democracy are you talking about...that you see in Iran...oh that tyrannical & made up religion as they go along one? That's democracy with a bullet, a baton, a fist & a lie!

Seems some American's in the supposedly "Land of the Free" don't know the difference between a Democracy & an "Autocracy"!

PS. With regards the future for Iran & the world...I hope I am wrong...Please? "My God"!

Jaker / June 30, 2009 5:25 PM

Juste quelques mots d'Albert Camus a partager avec vous.

"Je sais que le grandes tragedies de l'histoire fascinent souvent les hommes par leurs visages horribles. Ils restent alors immobiles devant elles sans pouvoir se decider a rien, qu'a attendre. Ils attendent, et la Gorgone un jour les devore. Je voudrais, au contraire, vous faire partager ma conviction que cet enchantement peut-etre rompu, que cette impuissance est une illusion, que la force du coeur, suffisent pour faire echec au destin et le renverser parfois. Il faut seulement vouloir, non pas aveuglement, mais d'une volonte ferme et reflechie.

On se resigne trop facilement a la fatalite. On accepte trop facilement de croire qu'apres tout le sang seul fait avancer l'histoire et que le plus fort progresse alors sur la faiblesse de l'autre. Cette fatalite existe peut-etre. Mais la tache des hommes n'est pas de l'accepter, ni de se soumettre a ses lois. S'ils l'avaient acceptee aux premiers ages, nous serions encore a la prehistoire. La tache des hommes de culture et de foi n'est, en tout cas, ni de deserter les luttes historiques, ni de servir ce qu'elles ont de cruel et d'inhumain. Elle est de s'y maintenir, d'y aider l'homme contre ce qui l'opprime, de favoriser sa liberte contre les fatalites qui le cernent.

C'est a cette condition que l'histoire avance veritablement, qu'elle innove, qu'elle cree, en un mot. Pour le reste, elle se repete, comme une bouche sanglante qui ne vomit qu'un begaiement furieux."

Albert Camus - Alger, 22/01/56 Chroniques Algeriennes)

Isabelle / July 1, 2009 5:45 AM


I think the commenter was referring to the protests, not the current Irani government, when he spoke of democracy now coming to Iran.

He was getting a bit ahead of himself--right now, tyranny and its natural-born child, pseudo-democracy, are still in political and military control--but he is hoping and praying that the good guys--the true democrats, i.e., the Irani people--will win in Iran's power struggle.

May God have mercy on Iran, and may the the government there peacefully yield to the people so as to serve them, rather than oppress them.

John / July 1, 2009 8:13 AM

I must be dense, but I don't understand the symbolism

of the rooftop chant, or why it would be used as

a challenge to authority...


Bard / July 2, 2009 12:25 PM

Like Bard, I also don't understand the symbolism of the rooftop chant as a form of protest. I would think that all Iranians agree with "God is Great." So, there may be a subliminal message that I am missing. Maybe someone can explain it.

Victor Arkin / July 2, 2009 1:41 PM

The chanting of "Allah o Akbar" began before the revolution, when the heavy crackdowns on dissidents was at its ultimate high. (I think) through Ayatollah Khomeini, people were encouraged to go to their rooftops at a specific time each night and chant "Allah o Akbar" to show their opposition, while keeping their faces hidden and showing their religious aspirations. The significance of "God" here was also to "remind" the dictators that no matter who they are, God is above them all.

As an Iranian, I think this move on the part of Mousavi was indeed brilliant (his campaign instructed people to go to take to their rooftops once more). No matter what our personal religious beliefs, the last thing we want to show right now is that we are anti-religion or anti-establishment. It's a way of showing our dissent by saying the only thing the rulers don't object to: God is Great.

At the same time, there were very HEAVY crackdowns in many Tehran neighborhoods last week. Security guards stormed houses, ransacked a lot of apartments and so the building superintendents ordered people to stay down.

Pedestrian / July 2, 2009 2:40 PM

To Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, clerics,and all the other hardliners of this regime you are all disgusting. How can you all be so evil?

To the reformist leaders, their supporters, and all the freedom loving Iranians keep on the fight! The world loves you and continues to pray for your safety. Remember that you are not alone in this fight.

shetty / July 3, 2009 7:56 AM

"How can you all be so evil?"

Some people are evil by nature, probably from a mixture of heredity and childhood experiences.

One of the biggest problems in politics is how to prevent this type of person from gaining power. It is much easier for them to move up the ladder in a one-party state - Stalin and his allies are a good example.

A well-designed constitution can make the rise of evil people much harder, by using checks and balances so that no one person has supreme power. A US President, for example, has much less power than Khameini (or Stalin). Strict rules for the conduct of elections help. I gather that in Iran, it is possible for other people to see how you have voted, whereas in the UK a voter hides in a little booth and then folds the paper, so his vote is completely secret. Men from "The Party" cannot lean over your shoulder and influence your vote.

But the bad guys are always there, in every country, waiting to grab an opportunity.

A free press helps a lot.

Don Cox / July 4, 2009 9:03 AM

Origins of psychopathic behavior:


Bard / July 30, 2009 11:16 AM