A vigil for Neda: Iranian-Americans pick up their banners and commemorate dead protesters

Source: http://www.examiner.com/x-12370-Chicago-Foreign-Policy-Examiner~y2009m6d21-A-vigil-for-Neda-Eerie-calm-in-Tehran-as-IranianAmericans-pick-up-their-banners

A day after armed government forces clashed with protesters, the streets of Tehran have calmed. Riot police and Basij militia line the streets, but no clashes have occurred with protesters coming out. Outside Iran, however, expatriates are leading vigils for the victims of the fury the Iranian goverment unleashed on Saturday.

Iranian-Americans have come out into the streets of their own home cities, including Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, and Chicago. Earlier in the week, pro-opposition rallies were held in several cities, and 250 local Iranian-Americans came out in Chicago’s loop despite rainy weather.

The primary difference between the earlier rallies and the June 21st marches is that during the preceding week, demonstrations were held virtually non-stop in the streets of Tehran. The rallies around the world then were largely in jubilant support for the courage of the people within Iran. The attitude has since become more somber, as the participants seek to honor and commemorate those that died in the midst of the protests throughout the week. Protests have returned to their more peaceful nature, despite the prsence of government security forces.

Saturday proved to be the most violent, as government police, security, and Basij militia forces violently battled protesters trying to enter Azadi (Freedom) and Revolution Squares, two of the main venues of the week’s marches. By the end of the day, at least 19 lives had been claimed, though unconfirmed reports place the death count at about 150. Among these was the death of an unnamed young girl called by many “Neda,” Farsi for “voice” or “call,” which was captured by video recorded by onlookers.

It was unclear whether she was protesting with her father, or they were innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. The graphic YouTube video shows “Neda” collapsing from an apparent gunshot wound to her heart. Several men try to plug the wound and prevent her from bleeding out, and it appears the girl’s eyes turned to look at the camera as she draws her last breath amid blood pouring out of her mouth.

The video spread and was shown multiple times on CNN and “Neda” has within hours of her demise become the rallying cry for the protesters, the hashtag #neda quickly edging its way to most popular on Twitter, along with #iranelection. To those outside Iran, “Neda” has become the symbol of the tragedy that appears to be unfolding on the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities after a week of demonstrations during which it appeared nothing could stop the protesters from succeeding.

It remains to be seen whether the protesters will resume their marches in the coming days, and it is unclear if “Neda” will become the battle cry of an all-out revolution against the Islamic Republic itself, led by clerics under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini who sanctioned Saturday’s repression. For many Iranian expatriates, however, hope remains that their co-nationals will be able to regroup and establish liberal democracy and secure freedoms they say their people want and deserve.

Many of Chicago’s Iranian-Americans arrived in the United States after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the pro-Western monarchy and placed the current regime in power. Among them are people that were sidelined by the revolutionary regime and faced repression if they had not fled, such as the Baha’i community in Evanston. In Iran, the Baha’i are a religious minority that has been continuously restricted and repressed by the Islamic Republic, and Ahmadinejad’s staunchly conservative and pro-clerical government has exacerbated hardships.

The Iranian-Americans hope that President Barack Obama will take a tougher stance on the Iranian regime if it continues repression, though realpolitik may take precedence in the coming days, and it will be up to the Iranians themselves to continue their fight, or lick their wounds after the battering they took on Saturday.

8 Responses to “A vigil for Neda: Iranian-Americans pick up their banners and commemorate dead protesters”

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