Samir Keshavarz, a 2017 Boise State graduate, left Iran when he was 15 years old. Years later, he returned to campus to attend a protest in support of women’s rights in Iran.
Turns out, many in the city of Boise are joining the movement.
One of these protests took place on Nov. 6, where students, faculty and recent graduates gathered to raise awareness and garner support for the Iranian people. The protest was organized by the Iranian Student Organization.
Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian citizen, was arrested on Sept. 13, 2022 for not wearing her hijab correctly. After being taken into custody by the Iranian morality police, she died three days later in the hospital from offensive wounds.
Since her death on Sept. 16, protests have erupted across all of Iran for women’s rights and freedom from the oppressive dictatorial regime. The protestors chanted “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî,” or, “Woman, Life, Freedom” which is a feminist and anti-imperialist Kurdish chant calling for rights for everyone. Iran has not seen such widespread protesting in many years, and the movement has ripple effects for the whole world.
“That’s unfortunate,” Keshavarz said. “But when you see a whole generation, especially women and girls, basically risking everything they have, they come to the streets and they’re demanding their freedom and they want a normal life.”
Keshavarz believes organizing events is what students can do to be a voice for those in Iran. He and many others from the Iranian Student Association are lobbying for more media coverage of this months-long call for change. By getting media attention, they aim to raise awareness and pressure the American government into action.
Professor of civil engineering Avrin Farid was born and raised in Iran before moving to the United States to finish his Ph.D. Farid said he witnessed the government’s human rights abuses firsthand.
“This regime has always been brutal, but this is much more widespread — they are using every weapon in their arsenal,” Farid said.
Protesters are beaten back with batons, paintballs with metal and plastic casings and even live ammunition. Students have been kidnapped from college dorms, and both women and protesters are taken off the streets for not complying with strict religious laws.
Following these acts of violence, the regime then pressures victims’ families to say their death was caused by pre-existing medical conditions or suicide, according to Farid.
In past revolutions, the government was more successful in suppressing dissidents. Farid explains that 43 years ago, this all began with the current government kicking the Shah out of Iran. When the new regime started out, it seemed like a legitimate democracy.
“That fragile democracy that only lasted for a year or so. They tried to break it and turn it into a dictatorship,” Farid said.
During the Green Revolution in 2009, the government escalated their tactics to suppress dissidents.
“Not only they would shoot and kill the ones who were protesting, they shot and killed the ones who were trying to help the injured protesters as well. I know firsthand,” Farid said. “My wife’s cousin was just walking and noticed somebody was shot in the head. He went to help him and they shot him in the eye too.”
The cousin died shortly after due to the fatal wounding.
The recent protests aim to bring hope for the Iranian people. Unlike protests of the past such as the Green Revolution and the 2019 gas price protests, this movement focuses on more than just one issue.
“This is way more widespread. It’s poor, rich, young, old, especially women and it’s in every city or even rural areas,” Farid said.
The role of social media and young Iranians has had massive impacts both inside and outside Iran according to Farid. Iranians haven’t been protesting just in Iran, but all across the world.
“Even though the Iranian population in Boise is only a couple of hundreds, in Berlin there were 80,000 people protesting in the streets,” Farid said.
He compared Boise’s numbers to the 30,000 protestors in Washington D.C. and in Los Angeles.
“Hopefully, the large silent population will join the group that are brave enough to go into the streets despite the level of brutality that is the biggest impact, in my opinion,” Farid said.
Farid accuses the government of being “hired thugs.” He isn’t the first to share this criticism. For years the Iranian morality police have committed human rights abuses without trials for those accused of religious immorality.
The fight for Iranian citizens’ freedom extends beyond Iran. The student organization at Boise State University, the Iranian Student Association, has been organizing protests and events on campus to raise awareness.
Awareness is key, because it can encourage foreign governments to recognize the regime is not legitimate. Farid and others in the ISA believe foreign governments should be exerting pressure on Iran for reform.
“We want to live freely, just like other Western countries,” Keshavarz said.
The Iranian Student Organization is hopeful that this movement can accomplish change.
“We’ve had revolutions in the past,” Keshavarz said. “The main difference is, it’s pretty comprehensive. You have the capital, you have more than 100 cities that are rising. There is a great chance for success here, their victory is for sure. It might just be a matter of time.”
Saman Rastgar, who graduated from Boise State in 2022, emphasizes the importance of uplifting Iranian voices.
“There is no justice for these people, there’s no place for them to hear their voice,” Rastgar said. “And we want to say why is this happening? You don’t get any response from the regime and all the answers they can give us is killing.”
“This time we want to make it official that this is a revolution, let’s not just call it a protest,” Rastgar said.