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Ely’s Tehran Diary: 'Tear Gas Left White Trails, We Could Hear Gunshots'

Protesters cover their faces from tear gas during clashes with riot police in Tehran on June 20
Protesters cover their faces from tear gas during clashes with riot police in Tehran on June 20
By Elham Ahmadi, Tehran

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Bia pishe baba” ("Come to Daddy’s arms"). There was a beautiful field of green. My father was waiting for me at the top of the hill and I was running into his arms. The sun was shining, the butterflies dancing on the wild corn poppies...


“Maryam has been arrested, the newspaper has been closed, there are guards everywhere, don’t come to work, there is no more work," screamed Hooman on the phone and then hung up.

This was a rude awakening. The mobile phones were still working so I called Jaleh and asked her if she was going to attend today’s rally. "Didn’t you hear the people’s reply to the leader? Didn’t you go to the rooftop and didn't you scream Allah Akbar [God is great]?" asked Jaleh as if she knew all of the answers beforehand

Then, sarcastically, she said, “Write your will, 3:30 p.m. in front of Tehran University, let's take the path of no return, no turning back, no turning back."


I had lunch with Jaleh and Hooman in Farahzaad (northwest Tehran) and decided to park the car near Azadi Square and take a taxi back to Enghelaab Square in order to be able to get out of the way in case there was a disturbance.

As we reached Azadi Avenue we saw that the whole area looked like a big fort. "All of our friends have gathered," murmured Hooman as he looked at the “armed-to-the-teeth” group of “anti-riot” police, plainclothes militia, black Sarallah force, Basij paramilitary forces, and the regular police.

We parked the car to the north of the street near a highway exit. “Hand guns, sharp-shooter rifles, short-barreled rifles, tear gas, paintball guns, pepper spray, boy we are going to a party," said Jaleh referring to the security forces' armory.

There was no news from Maryam and the mobile phones went dead at 3:15 p.m.

We started our march somewhere close to Tehran University. Near the gates of the university, the “dogs of war” pushed people to the south side of the street, beating anyone near the gate. We found out why as Hooman (who is about six feet tall) told us, "the university students are chanting behind the gate and the dogs are standing right outside."

We saw about 100 guards in black armor. They looked like a Japanese Samurai army facing the gates of Tehran University which was -- and is -- a symbol of defiance. (A picture of people demonstrating under the gates of Tehran University is printed on some banknotes.)

By the time we got to Enghelab Square tension was mounting. People were walking in small groups of five without chanting and without showing any colors. But all that changed right after we passed Jamalzadeh Avenue as the small groups of people slowly started clumping together.

4:20 p.m.

A small-framed girl who was walking next to me reached in her purse and took out a green wristband. She raised her hands in the air and made a victory sign. We all followed.

"Towards Freedom," Hooman said aloud referring not only to the square ("Azadi" means "freedom" in Persian). His voice was hoarse from nights of chanting “Allah Akbar” on the rooftops.

The security forces had everything planned and they stopped us in front of the Dampezeshki University (Veterinary University). They blocked us from the front, back, and the street side. So we pushed ourselves out into the street and then the war began.

They charged towards us and the victory signs became screams. Jaleh, Hooman, and I held each others' hands as the wild dogs attacked and people scrambled and fell over each other. Within seconds they reached us and they were swiping at everyone with clubs, chains, and some innovative piece of black rubber that looked like a short water hose.

We hid behind Hooman but he was hit on the leg and fell on top of us. Jaleh was hit on her face and I fell on my right ankle. Everyone was yelling and screaming. At first we were very scared but that fear disappeared after the first hit. People started chanting “Natarsim, natarsim maa hame ba ham hastim” ("We are not afraid because we are united").

5:00 p.m.

Tehran is officially a war zone.

Our peaceful demonstration quickly turned into a riot. Jaleh, Hooman, and I just joined the flow and by the time we got to Navab Avenue, we had been attacked three times.

Blood was everywhere. Right after Navab Avenue the guards started firing tear gas into the crowd and boy did that hurt. As all three of us escaped into a small street choking from the gas, the security forces attacked us from behind.

I looked back and saw a young man fall to the ground. I screamed “khodaaaaaaa” ("God"), Hooman quickly ran towards him, and the three of us carried him to a corner. He had been hit on the head, his eyes rolled back, and could not comprehend anything.

Young people started throwing stones back at the security forces and charged back at them. This gave us a bit of time to take the young man into a corner and try to help him.

Hooman's bruised back

Jaleh is a nurse so she started treating him. I held his head on my lap and Hooman held his legs high in order to get the blood circulation back to his head. We did not care what was going on around us. We just wanted to revive the young man who seemed to be about 18.

"What is your name?" I asked him trying to make him talk. He sat up, shrugged us off, and started to walk again. "What is your name?“ I yelled again. "Omid,” he said and marched on towards Azadi. Omid means hope.

Limping, we tried to keep up with Omid but couldn't. Our eyes were burning from the tear gas. In a couple of minutes, he was gone.

5:30 p.m.

“Ely! Hooman! Omid!" screamed Jaleh. The police and plainclothes militia had cornered Omid and were beating him.

We ran towards him and attacked the dogs. Hooman charged towards the guards in the street, opened his arms wide, and with his operatic bass voice screamed “Bezan, Bezan" ("hit me, hit me").

The guard raised his club but his hands were shaking. He then brought his club down. I arched over Omid as Jaleh was screaming “bi gheirat” ("dishonored"). People started chanting “bi gheirat” to the guards and the police. I felt a burning on my back as I tried to shield Omid, he was crying, “I just wanna go home."

They were hitting me hard, on my hands and my legs, and suddenly there was darkness as I felt a terrible pain in the back of my head and then sounds and vision blurred into oblivion.

Time unknown

The sound was circling in the sea of darkness. “Ely, Ely, Ely,” Jaleh was whispering as she was spraying water onto my face.

We were in my car speeding away from the war zone: cars, buses, trash cans, and motorbikes were on fire, stones flying through the sky. Tear gas canisters left white trails in the sky; we could hear the sound of gunshots.

I looked out of the car window and for the first time I had tears in my eyes. “We were supposed to go to Azadi, where are we going?" I mumbled. “For now, anywhere but here," Hooman said, turning his head towards me, dried blood on his right shoulder, and with a glint in his hazel eyes said, “for now, of course.”

Elham Ahmadi is pseudonym for a journalist in the Iranian capital, Tehran, who contributed this piece to RFE/RL's Radio Farda

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