Vancouver Iranians: Protest Continues

The tree lined autumnal streets and shop fronts of downtown Vancouver were awash in a sea of green banners, placards, and wristbands as cries of protest against a widely-loathed politician reached a crescendo on Robson Street.

This was not a protest against Gordon Campbell’s controversial HST tax, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that. Rather, last Saturday’s demo saw hundreds of Vancouver’s Iranians and non-Iranians alike voicing their opposition - indeed disgust - at President Ahmadinejad’s address at the United Nations in New York in the wake of an election that many believe was rigged.

The September 19 rally against Ahmadinejad was the second and noisiest protests in a series of demonstrations organized by Vancouver’s Iranian community to voice opposition against an election result and government back home in Iran that’s increasingly regarded as illegitimate.

The first rumble of discontent came two days earlier at 6 pm on September 17, when up to 300 people converged outside the Vancouver Art Gallery to mark Qods (Jerusalem) Day.

Originally established by Iran’s Islamic government to protest against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and to support other peoples suffering ‘tyranny‘, Iranians today in Vancouver, Iran, and around the world turned Qods Day against their government, saying that it was their own nation now being oppressed.

“We came into the street at exactly the same time Iranians [in Iran] were in the street to say no matter where we are, our hearts are with the people in Iran and we do support them,” said Hamed, a student at UBC. It was Iranian students at UBC who organized the Qods Day vigil.

Supporters of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi clashed with security forces in Tehran on September 18, just as Vancouverites were gathering to mark Qods day on the 17th evening Vancouver time.

Passions rose to fever pitch at the July 19 demo, which started with an anti-Ahmadinejad picket outside the Vancouver Public Library at 4 pm before a black pickup truck with an effigy of the Iranian President dressed up like a scarecrow led a crowd of protestors along Robson, then Georgia Street.

Demonstrators chanted slogans including “Ahmadi! Pinochet! Iran Chile nemishe!” - Ahmadinejad, Pinochet, Iran is not Chile - as Iranians likened their unpopular president to the Chilean dictator.

Yelled slogans were accompanied by protestors singing the Yar e Dabestan song as they headed back down Georgia street towards Vancouver Art Gallery, a popular revolutionary anthem that their forebears sang when they toppled the Shah in 1979.

At the Art Gallery rally, speaker Robert Rahbar implored his fellow Canadians to stand by the people of Iran by condemning Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly.

“Today we have marched and gathered here to protest the attendance of Ahmadinejad - the pretending President of Iran - at the United Nations General Assembly. We are here also to express our deepest concerns about Iran and to stand in solidarity with its people in their struggle for freedom and democracy, a struggle that has been going on for three decades,” said Rahbar.

“Should Ahmadinejad be allowed to speak at the United Nations, we demand our representatives - the Canadian delegation - and [those] of the Free World to walk out of the assembly in protest.”

That’s exactly what happened when Ahmadinejad addressed the UN on September 23 as Canada’s representatives, alongside those of the USA, Britain, and other Western nations.

After his impassioned address on the Art Gallery’s steps, Rahbar told the VO that he wanted the Canadian Government to take a leading role among Western nation’s to impose political sanctions against the Iranian regime, citing human rights abuses as the reason.

“There’s a lot of torturing and raping going on in the prisons,” said Rahbar, referring to the post election crackdown that led to a large number of people, many of them students, being arrested by security forces. Exact figures are not known.

The Sept 19 demo was staged by the Neda for Freedom Society - named after Neda Agha Soltan whose death in Tehran from a police bullet was captured on TV making her a global icon - and Vancouver for Iran.

The final cry of protest against Ahmadinejad came on September 23 in the wake of the President’s UN address. Once again gathering outside the Art Gallery from 7 pm, Professor Mojtaba Mahdavi from the University of Alberta’s Middle Eastern and African Studies program, concluded what’s been a tumultuous week for many Vancouverites.

“This is the beginning of post-Islamist Iran,” said Professor Mahdavi, summing up a century-long history of democratic protest in Iran going back to the 1905 Constitutional Revolution.

“The solution comes from within. If not always, most often external forces are not helpful,” said Mahdavi, adding that US or Israeli military action would only strengthen Iran’s hardliners, especially Ahmadinejad who could divert attention from the freedom movement to a more extreme-nationalist agenda.

Mahdavi, who was present at the behest of the Vancouver for Iran protest group organizing both the September 23 and 19 rallies, concluded by reading out a letter written by an anonymous protestor from Iran.

“In the history books of the 21st Century the first chapter will be about us, Iranians.”

“We were the social movement [where] all of us were its leader. We lived the last days of guns and bullets…Bullets are pointless.”

Photo by Fram Dinshaw

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