Images from Iran reach us every day – courageous, violent, frightening. How do people with Iranian roots experience the situation? We spoke to three women.
For the past nine weeks, women have been leading the rebellion against the Iranian regime. Their uprising has now spread across society, across the country. The regime reacted brutally – and bloodily.
Demonstrators are beaten up, arrested and shot at. There are reports of sexual assaults in prisons. Several people, including children, were sentenced to death. It started with the death of Mahsa Amani. The UN now speaks of 300 deaths, including minors. But the protests continue.
How do Iranians in Germany experience the situation? How do you feel about the pictures and what appeal do you have to the EU, Germany and each individual? We spoke to three women.
We conducted today’s* interview with Maryam S. She was born and raised in Iran. 21 years ago she came to Germany on a work visa. The 47-year-old IT expert has lived in Munich ever since and has two children.
FOCUS online: You were born in Iran, lived there for more than 20 years and still have family there. What goes through your mind when you see the pictures?
Maryam S.: I was hoping that this question would come up at the end because it emotionally affects me so much. When I saw the pictures in the very first week of the protests, I was sad and angry.
Mad that I’m not there. Why am I here in a protected environment, can go to the playground with my son, and my compatriots are put down? In the second week I found out that young people were also shot or tortured.
I was glad I wasn’t there because I also have a 14-year-old son. At the same time, I was sad about this thought and had a bad conscience. How can you worry about your son now while the others are risking their lives on the street?
I was sad, angry and downright paralyzed the whole time. I couldn’t work, don’t do anything with the children and don’t make a difference here, at least for the time being. So I decided to stop looking at the pictures all the time. I only wanted to check the headlines once in the evening and otherwise I deal a lot with the theory of revolutions.
And did you last the picture break?
Maryam S.: No, although I promised myself I would. Just a few days ago I read the terrible news on social media that a 19-year-old artist has been arrested.
Then after 48 hours she was released and she… [here she falters, visibly struggling to contain herself] and after that she killed herself. It is not known whether she was raped or tortured. But something must have happened to make a 19-year-old artist, mentally healthy, kill herself after 48 hours in detention.”
The artist is perhaps a symbol for the women who take to the streets in Iran. The wave of protests emanated from them. What is the role of women?
Maryam S.: “Women, life, freedom” is the central slogan of this movement or this revolution, I would say. And a society that does not respect and observe these values also does not respect human rights.
Your courage is an outlet for many problems. The expression of everything that went wrong. The suppression has been going on for 43 years. We are only allowed to go out on the street with our hair covered, we are told what to wear, where we are allowed to stay, with whom we are allowed to talk on the street.
An example: I was arrested once for being on the street with my brother. He’s seven years younger than me. We went shopping, of course we didn’t have any ID with us. We were arrested and detained for two hours.
Until our parents came and could prove with our ID cards that we are siblings. Mind you: I was 19, he was twelve. So not a man, a child. This oppression… it’s a big feminist movement – that’s also supported by men.
Second example: My grandmother was the first Minister of Education in Iran, back in the Shah period. After the revolution she was executed simply because she was a woman.
They executed her together with a prostitute, according to the motto: They’re the same. She was the first Minister of Education and since then there has been this oppression in Iran.
What distinguishes the current protest from previous ones?
Maryam S.: I no longer see it as a protest, for me it’s a popular uprising. And it has the potential to lead to regime change. It is a new generation of men and women, mostly between the ages of 15 and 30, who are showing very strong dislike of the regime and making clear demands.
What is also new is that the wave of protests spans all classes and ages. Fourteen years ago, numerous people took to the streets after a controversial presidential election.
However, the riots were confined to major cities and led by the middle class and intellectuals. In 2017 and 2019, economic hardship sparked protests across the country, but mostly from the poorer classes.
This time it is different with the death of Mahsa Amini, the protests across classes and ages. Because the fate of Mahsa Amini could be the fate of every single woman in the country.
And for the men: It could be the fate of our daughters. The uprisings are across the country, all ethnic groups and minorities are joining. All provinces that have not previously participated in the protest are now also protesting.
They said they make clear demands. Which are they?
Maryam S.: Freedom of the individual, enforcement of human rights, democracy with free elections and separation of powers, separation of religion and state, rule of law and equality.
What’s next? You said you see potential for regime change. What has to happen and can it still happen peacefully at all?
Maryam S.: Very difficult question, no one can see into the future. The fact is that we have been trying to reform for over 20 years. We hoped it would work peacefully.
But the structure of those in power rejects any reforms. They don’t allow it. The organizations are so structured, so brutal – reform is impossible.
None of my countrymen want a bloodbath. They want their reforms to be peaceful, but I don’t think that’s possible anymore. There has to be a regime change. And I don’t think those in power just give up their power.
Many say that regime change has never felt so close as it is today. What do you say?
Maryam S.: What does close mean? In a week or two, a month or two? no I can’t judge it, but I’ve prepared myself internally for one to one and a half years. Much blood will still be shed. But of course, the sooner the better.
What is still missing in this popular uprising is leadership. Someone who organizes this and gets people onto the streets. At the moment people come on their own, but at some point fear for their lives will prevail, at some point they will have to go back to work and earn money.
It is still good that there is no leadership. She cannot be arrested and executed. But at a certain point, this movement needs leadership.
Who could that be? Is there someone?
Maryam S.: There are opposition figures abroad, but they are not accepted – neither in Iran nor abroad. So no, that is currently still completely unclear and open.
How do you see the reactions in Germany and Europe? Has anything changed?
Maryam S.: A lot has changed, especially after the Berlin demonstration. Then politicians finally took notice of us. Ms. Baerbock got in touch in the first week, but very, very cautiously.
In the meantime, politicians are paying more attention. The Chancellor also spoke at the weekend. I also see that realpolitik is difficult. You’re doing business with other countries, you don’t know where it’s going. As chancellor, you also have to be careful.
But I think it’s good that our politicians are now taking clear positions. Sanctions are also decided, but they must be tightened. The senior officers of the Sepah [iran. for Revolutionary Guard, note d. Red.], especially the economic arm, they must be called terrorists.
So that any business with them becomes punishable. Their accounts and those of their loved ones must be frozen, much like the Russian oligarchs. And I say senior officers of the Sepah on purpose, because a lot of our younger men have to do their community service there. We don’t want to sanction them.
The EU and Germany must also stop financially supporting Iran. The nuclear deal with Iran must be stopped. Not that we don’t have a right to nuclear technology. Nuclear technology for medical purposes is necessary. But with this regime should not be discussed. You’re not going to stick to an agreement.
Some criticize that higher officials preach morality, but live freely to liberally in the west. The same goes for their children.
Maryam S.: I’m ambivalent about that. I don’t know whether to punish children for their parents’ crimes or watch them. You have your own life. If you plead for freedom and democracy, you have to allow everyone to do the same.
Although it’s annoying, I know that. It’s annoying that we’re being oppressed and the kids come here and party and they’re free. But personally I’m careful. As long as they don’t launder money for their parents, they should live as they want.
Do you worry about making public appearances?
Maryam S.: I’m worried, as are many others. There have already been attacks on organizers of demonstrations in Berlin. We know the regime and know that they are active abroad. These are my fears, but also the fears of all Iranians. This also connects us in a very deep way. We know this feeling and have learned to deal with it over the years. At the demonstrations we express courage and encourage each other. These are moments from which we also draw strength.
*We conducted the interview on November 14th.