by Rasmus Christian Elling.
In connection with my piece on Saturday on the Iranian student movement, here are some updates on what’s happened so far in connection with Student Day:
According to an eye witness report, around 3-4,000 students demonstrated in Tehran University. When security forces and plain clothed officers tried to prevent hundreds of students from other universities from entering campus, fighting ensued and one of the main gates was forced open. Students shouting ‘Death to dictatorship!’ apparently attacked university intelligence offices after which security forces entered campus. University authorities prevented a full-scale attack and the students proceeded with speeches in which they expressed support for the women rights movement, the labor movement and ethnic minority activists. Key speakers were prevented from entering university.
After the speeches, students continued demonstrating, allegedly shouting ‘Seyyed ‘Ali Pinochet, Iran will not become Chile!’ (a reference to ‘Ali Khamene‘i, Iran’s Supreme Leader). The state-affiliated news agency Fârs reported that ‘extremist’ students tried to create unrest in the streets but that security forces ‘kept their cool’ and prevented chaos. Amir Kabir University Newsletter reports that several students were severely injured during battles with security forces – however, there are no reports of arrests yet. There are also reports of student demonstrations in other places such as Kermanshah and Mazandaran and tomorrow in Shiraz.
What in my opinion was really surprising today was the issue of ethnic minorities. First of all, the Kurdish students at Tehran University chose to have their own demonstration – apparently in protest against the main student organization’s ‘nationalist behavior’. This is interesting since DTV recently has supported ethnic minority rights. Secondly, it was reported that when an Azeri student spoke in defense of Azeri cultural rights, a group of ‘pan-Iranists’ – that is, radical Persian chauvinists who are opposed to ethno-nationalist sentiments among Iran’s non-Persian groups – tried to silence him. One can see this as a positive sign: i.e. that ethnic groups are finally being allowed to speak and be heard, and that the issue of ethnicity is no longer a taboo. However, the apparent tension between ‘pan-Iranists’ and ethno-political proponents, even amongst the students, could also point to a broader, more worrying tendency in Iranian identity politics.
BBC reported that Ayatollah Khamene‘i did not attend yesterday’s Students Day at The Science and Industry University in Tehran as planned. No official reason was given but it is probable that the tense atmosphere in Iranian universities right now is behind the decision. Apparently, Iran’s Minister of Science has declared that ‘counter-revolutionaries’ are trying to exploit Students Day. Members of a government-loyal ‘student group’ have argued that ‘liberals and those who reject the Imam [Khomeini]’ should not be allowed to mark Student Day. It also seems that today’s meeting in which Khatami was scheduled to talk has been cancelled.
Students from Amir Kabir University in Tehran have reported that ‘more than 1,800’ students joined protests against the ‘security atmosphere’ imposed by authorities here. In particular, the students objected to the installment of ‘security gates’ around university, which they think. In Hamadan, ’thousands’ of students joined an illegal demonstration to mark Students Day. Security forces fired tear gas into the crowd while the students were singing a song. It seems the authorities excused this attack by saying that signing was inappropriate since yesterday also marked the martyrdom of a Shiite Imam.
In Tehran University, pro-government students marked Students Day in their own fashion and staged a rally against, among other things, ‘Imperialism’. Fârs News Agency claimed that ‘1,000 students’ had joined this demonstration and shouted slogans such as ‘Death to America’, ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Students are aware, they are tired of Obama’.
It is reported that authorities have taken extreme security measures in Tehran University as pro-democratic students have called for a demonstration today under the banner “The Cry of Freedom”.