Haqiqi left Iran as a teenager more than 30 years ago and now lives in Norway as a political refugee. But her 21-year-old son, Milan, was raised in Iran by his grandparents. They saw each other several times a year, in neighboring countries such as Armenia and Turkey.
Milan has joined the protests in Oshnavieh, one of the Kurdish towns in the west where the protests have been particularly intense and the repression particularly brutal.
Last Wednesday, Haqiqi had the feeling that something was wrong. He called Iran for hours but could not reach his son or other family members. At 4 a.m. that Thursday, he finally made it through and heard the news: Milan had been killed by security forces, along with two other protesters.
“He was killed in a barrage of Kalashnikov bullets,” Haqiqi said. “It’s very difficult. I have no right to return to Iran. I have no sleep, no life. I think of him 24 hours a day. He lost his life for freedom in his country.
For the millions of Iranians living in exile, the latest protests have given them an opportunity to reconnect with their homeland and dream of a different future. But they also heightened the pain of separation and re-exposed the brutality of a government willing to use deadly force to stay in power. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds injured in the protests, according to Amnesty International.
After Milan’s death, Haqiqi received tens of thousands of messages of condolence on social media from fellow Kurds and, to his surprise, from members of almost every different Iranian ethnic group living inside and outside the country.
“If you look at the diaspora as a spectrum of different waves and different times of immigration, it’s a very unifying time where people see the death of this woman as a symbol of a lot of frustration and anger,” Persis said. Karim, president and director of the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University. “It’s frustration and anger at the Iranian regime, but it also highlights all these other moments that have happened over the past 43 years.”
Waves of Iranians leaving the country have generally followed periods of great upheaval, such as the 1979 revolution, as well as previous mass protests in 2009 and 2019. The Iranian diaspora is considered one of the largest in the world, with about 1 million people. Iranians living in the United States and many millions more scattered across Canada, Europe, Turkey, Australia and the Persian Gulf.
Over the weekend, thousands of Iranians in Los Angeles – home to the largest diaspora community of Iranians in the world – as well as in Toronto, Washington and several European capitals, demonstrated in solidarity, chanting same slogans that sounded from the capital. , Tehran, to the holy city of Qom: “We will fight, we will die, we will take back Iran!” “Woman, life, freedom!
While most of the rallies were peaceful, French police gassed protesters on Sunday as they attempted to march on the Iranian embassy in Paris. “They wanted to go to the embassy to express their rage, to protest so that the embassy workers and the ambassador would hear it,” said Ehsan Hosseinzadeh, a 35-year-old lawyer who was granted political asylum in France. in 2018 and was at the protest.
On the same day in London, protests outside the Iranian embassy turned violent after protesters clashed with police and each other. Video posted on social media showed a man, who some protesters said was a supporter of the Iranian government, being beaten by members of the crowd as police led him away. London’s Metropolitan Police said at least five officers were seriously injured and 12 people arrested.
The clashes between Iranians living abroad are not surprising, observers say, given the number of factions with different goals. Monarchists, who normally carry the distinctive pre-revolution flag ‘Shir va Khorshid’ or ‘Lion and Sun’, protested last weekend, as did mujahideen supporters–e Khalq (MEK), a former militant group that was removed from the US government’s list of terrorist organizations in 2012.
But most of those protesting did not consider themselves to have any political affiliation other than opposition to the Islamic republic and its harsh restrictions, participants in London, Paris and California said.
“You see the different groups there because of what the killing of Mahsa Amini triggered,” said Azadeh Pourzand, an Iran human rights researcher at the University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. of London, who attended a peaceful rally in London last weekend. . “It’s a time when everyone comes together, but you have to be ready for things we’ve never experienced before.”
Tehran has sought to blame outside agitators for the protests inside the country – lashing out at Western countries and launching missile strikes on Kurdish groups across the border in Iraq – but those are young Iranians leading the protests and putting their lives on the line.
“If this is a movement taking place in Iran, then people in the diaspora don’t have a lot to say about where it’s going,” said Karim, from the University of Iran. State of San Francisco. “All we can do is amplify the voices of people on the street.”
Diaspora members say they will continue to lobby the United Nations and elected officials around the world to highlight Iran’s human rights issues. They will continue to protest and share the stories of protesters who have lost their lives.
When Haqiqi’s mother went to collect Milan’s body from Oshnavieh hospital, she was initially refused entry and, after insisting, was beaten by security forces until let her faint. When the body was finally returned to his family members, the security forces gave clear instructions: bury him within the hour and do not hold a burial.
But Haqiqi is determined to keep his son’s memory alive. And even in the depths of his pain, he knows he is not alone.
“The best way to support the people of the country is to join the protests,” he said. “These protests against the government must take place every day in every country in the world.”