Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ava Homa writes for Toronto Star

My country, Iran: ‘We fight, we die, we will take Iran back’

Published On Sun Mar 13 2011
Ava Homa, 29, is a Kurdish-Iranian writer-in-exile based in Toronto and the author of 'Echoes from the Other Land'.
Ava Homa, 29, is a Kurdish-Iranian writer-in-exile based in Toronto and the author of 'Echoes from the Other Land'.
Handout
Ava Homa Special to the Star
“An Iranian dies but does not accept humiliation,” chanted the freedom-seeking Iranians who took to the streets on Feb. 14 and Feb. 20 of this year. “Political prisoners must be freed!” they chanted, burning pictures of the late Khomeini and of supreme leader Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei in the streets of Tehran and in other large cities. “Tehran, Cairo, dictators must go!”
I murmured along with the slogans every time I watched the footage on YouTube. “Mubarak, Ben Ali, now it’s Syed Ali’s turn!” people shouted in harmony in Iran, and we repeated here in Mel Lastman Square.
Less than four decades ago Iran prided herself on freedom and a booming economy. Back then, Iranian-Canadians were welcome and trusted by the rest of Canadians.
I regret that I wasn’t born then, that I missed those smiles and that friendliness. In 2007, when I entered Canada, my country’s name was associated with terror. “I don’t want anybody to bomb my kids when they go to school,” said the gentleman fishing next to me at a riverside in Windsor. How could I make him believe I did not want anyone to be bombed! Tears formed in my eyes but I didn’t let them roll down.
Thirty-five years ago, Iranians were angry that their king was despotic and corrupt. The shah and his family were living in luxurious palaces while hundreds were struggling in poverty. Protesters took to the streets to ask for justice and democracy, and the Islamic revolution followed a few years later.
A victorious revolution was supposed to mean the establishment of a fair government and a better life for Iranians. The Islamic Republic nonetheless proved itself to be just the opposite when, within a few years, it arrested and executed all the opposition groups, made hijab obligatory, and fired all female judges. My father and uncles were among the political prisoners who still carry the visible and invisible injuries of experiencing Evin prison. My mother was fired because she refused to wear the hijab. My aunt’s nine brothers were hanged for opposing the Islamic Republic.
Disillusioned and frightened by the despicable regime, many Iranians refused to participate in elections. For years this was our way of protesting. When four years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency culminated in further suppression and the “disappearance” of human rights, pro-democracy and women’s movement activists — and in economic crisis and the obliteration of the country’s international reputation — we realized that refusing to be active only makes the situation worse.
So, in July 2009, millions of Iranians voted for candidates other than Ahmadinejad — that is, for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. For many of us, these candidates were far from ideal. It was a matter of choosing between bad and worse. Many Iranian-Canadians took a Friday off and travelled to Iran’s embassy in Ottawa to vote for reform.
When votes were shamelessly stolen, peaceful protesters took to the streets in the millions. The Green Movement was started by protesters wearing a green bracelet, scarf or shirt to symbolize solidarity with the fight without resorting to violence.
The Islamic government of Iran shut down city lights, blocked the Internet, brought down mobile networks, and issued a curfew. They did not hesitate to shoot at peaceful protesters, or to use illegal force against demonstrators, such as running them over with cars. Thousands of protesters were detained and tortured; hundreds were executed or are now on death row. Many of those who did manage to return home were depressed or suicidal, filled with shame and guilt for having been raped.
Along with many of Iranian descent and some other Canadians, I rallied at York University and Queen’s Park in solidarity with Iranian protesters and announced to the world that “Ahmadinejad is NOT our president.”
Despite my attempts to seem strong, every time I spoke by phone to my family in Iran, I would burst into uncontrollable sobs, begging my brothers to be extra careful. We could not communicate freely, knowing the conversations might be monitored by the government.
Based on reports from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI), during the Feb. 14 and Feb. 20 demonstrations protesters were repeatedly dispersed by tear gas, pepper spray, electric batons and live ammunition. Fifteen hundred people were arbitrarily arrested, three deaths were confirmed, dozens were hospitalized for severe injuries from being beaten, and many were taken to prisons directly from hospitals.
Despite the continuous crackdown on protesters, Iranians still chant, “We fight, we die, we will take Iran back.” History has proven that dictators do have an expiry date. In a few decades Iran will become what it used to be: free, peaceful, and blooming.
Ava Homa, 29, is a Kurdish-Iranian writer-in-exile based in Toronto and the author of Echoes from the Other Land.

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