The protests are mobilizing Iranians abroad with hope, concern and unity

As anti-government protests rock cities and towns in Iran for a fourth week, tens of thousands of Iranians living abroad have taken to the streets of Europe, North America and beyond to support what many believe is a watershed moment for the homeland. them.

From those who fled in the 1980s after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution to a younger generation of Iranians born and raised in Western capitals, many in the diaspora community say they feel an unprecedented unity of purpose and kinship with the protests at home that sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman arrested by Iran’s morality police.

“I see this as a turning point for Iran in many ways — we’ve always had political rifts separating us, but this time people are saying, ‘I’m with women,'” said Tahirih Danesh, 52. human rights researcher living and working in London. “It’s amazing, it happened with such speed and this sense of camaraderie among Iranians was amazing.”

Last month, large crowds of people of Iranian descent in dozens of cities from London to Paris to Toronto turned out every weekend in solidarity with the protests that erupted in Iran after Mahsa Amini died in custody after her arrest for alleged abuse. strict Islamic dress codes for women.

Many say they are kept up at night by a mixture of hope, sadness and worry – they hope their country may be on the brink of change after decades of oppression and fear authorities will unleash more violence in an increasingly brutal crackdown that has they saw dozens of dead and hundreds of arrests.

Some, like Danesh – whose family smuggled her and her siblings out of Iran in the 1980s to escape persecution – say images of protesters being violently suppressed by authorities rekindle the trauma of similar scenes at the time of the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

“I’m thousands of miles away, it’s 40 years later, but the images I see bring it all back, it’s like I’m reliving it,” Danesh said.

While Iran has seen waves of protest in recent years, many agree that this time the resistance is broader in nature and scope because it challenges the fundamental elements of the Islamic Republic. Some say they have never seen the global solidarity for Iran demonstrated by politicians, intellectuals and celebrities, many of whom cut locks of their hair in a gesture of support for Iranian women.

“Before, many of us outside had a detached view of what was going on inside, we couldn’t find the same connection. But today Iranians at home are calling for fundamental changes. They’re saying “reclaim my Iran,” said Vali Mahlouji, 55, an art curator in London who fled Iran in the 1980s. He said he’s in self-imposed exile because his work deals with censored artists and art history.

“This unites every Iranian I know, all the different generations of exiles,” he added. “People who have been out of Iran most of their lives feel restless and sleepless. I don’t know anyone who isn’t likable and of course isn’t worried.”

The Iranian diaspora is large, including not only those who fled immediately after the 1979 revolution, but also later waves who left Iran due to ongoing repression or economic hardship. Over half a million live in the US, and France, Sweden, and Germany have communities of hundreds of thousands, with major centers in Los Angeles, Washington, London, Paris, and Stockholm.

In Paris, 28-year-old Roman Rajbaran was among thousands last week who came out despite heavy rain to march, chant and chant “Khamenei go” in Persian and French, referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Many women cut their hair and threw it in the air happily.

Rajbaran, who grew up in France, said she felt “shocked” by what is happening in Iran.

“Iran is an integral part of my history. My mom knew a free Iran when women were free,” she said, as her mother and other family members stood by her side at the rally. “It’s an international match. If we want the situation in Iran to improve, we need international support.”

The 1979 revolution overthrew the US-backed shah, a monarch whose rule was resolutely secular but was also brutally oppressive and plagued by corruption. The revolution was joined by leftists and other political factions, including Islamists, who after the fall of the shah seized full power and established the Islamic Republic, ruled by Shiite Muslim clerics.

Some expatriates were wary of joining the protests because they have family in Iran and regularly travel back and forth. Some raised concerns about the suspected presence of Iranian intelligence agents or extremist factions.

Others say they felt some concern about the goals of the protests beyond the unifying cry of “Women, Life, Freedom” and the leaderless nature of the protests.

“I love my country, I want to show support, but every time I go I’m also confused because in every corner of the protests there’s a different chant,” said Amanda Navaian, a luxury handbag designer in her 40s who has attended. all the recent weekend rallies in London.

Navaian said she wanted to attend protests “as long as necessary,” and has even made plans to organize one herself. She wasn’t sure the protests abroad would make a real difference, but said it was critical to “show we care.”

At the very least, he knows he’s doing something to dispel what he described as pervasive negative perceptions of Iran and Iranians.

“Islam was imposed on us, this extremism is not who we are. Our country has been taken over – we were a country of music, dance and poetry,” Navaian said.

“People would come up to me in Trafalgar Square to ask, ‘What are you doing?’ and I explained why we were there,” he added. “Through these protests there is more awareness. Maybe now the international community should wake up to what’s going on.”


Jade Le Deley in Paris contributed to this report.

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