With the Vancouver Art Gallery as the backdrop, we were part of a group of 10 Iranian anti-war activists rallied on January 6 to support the freedom to protest and freedom for political prisoners in Iran as well as holding signs against sanctions and Western intervention, along with a banner that said: “U.S./NATO Hands Off Iran.”
We were invited to speak at the rally. We knew we would meet with opposition from pro-monarchy, pro-intervention camps, but we didn’t expect to be attacked as soon as we unfurled our banner on the gallery’s steps.
It was torn off its poles, our signs were confiscated, and we were shoved, dragged, pushed down the stairs, spat on and verbally abused. Except for a few who intervened to stop it, most people including the police stood idly by, and some encouraged this violent assault by labelling us agents of the Islamic Republic.
For days after the rally we were also targeted, doxxed and harassed online. (For local media coverage of the incidents at the rally, see here)
We became the target of such attacks because we dared to stand up against foreign interference and in defence of Iranian sovereignty and self-determination, amid a fierce opposition from outside to bring Iran to its knees. We do so because we believe our position resonates with the silent majority of Iranians in the diaspora.
The bitter irony in the actions of groups that claim to advocate for freedom of speech and women’s rights in Iran, while assaulting young women and taking away our speaking turn at the rally, tells us whatever “revolution” they are promising is a pie in the sky and not what will help lift the economic, social or political burdens off of average Iranians. At a time when the U.S.-backed opposition abroad is hell-bent on demonizing the entirety of the Iranian state, to justify increasing pressure on, isolation of and eventually military action against Iran, progressive people in the West need to stand in solidarity with Iranians by resisting the co-optation of the recent anti-austerity protests or future ones towards such goals.
The following is the statement we intended to read at the rally on why we believe progressive solidarity with Iranian protesters is in supporting the lifting of international sanctions and opposing Trump’s threats to the 2015 nuclear deal:
Please read, distribute and share with your elected representative in the Canadian parliament:
On Dec 30 and lasting for seven days, widespread and impassioned protests erupted in Iran, leaving 21 people dead. The complexity of the situation defied simple explanations and presented an unfamiliar face of the Iranian society to the International audience.
Unlike the 2009 Green movement, which revolved around the issue of vote counts in the context of a long-standing struggle over Iranian civil liberties and democracy, the recent protests are by and large attributed to neoliberal economic policies adopted by the current government as well as grievances over economic instability, corruption, and mismanagement.
Such grievances should be recognizable to struggling people all around the world. For four decades, neoliberal policies of austerity, privatization, and cuts to services and subsidies have waged a war on the underclasses everywhere, have taken from the poor and given to the rich, widened the wealth gap, and in many places such as right here in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have made extreme poverty a norm.
Aside from these recent shifts in economic policy, what is often left out of the mainstream narrative is the impact of sanctions on the people of Iran. For 40 years, Western-led sanctions have been crippling the economic capacity of the country. While the 2015 nuclear deal had promised lifting of economic sanctions, Trump’s non-compliance with the deal and threats to “rip it up” has endangered its prospects.
As a result, necessary capital investments in Iran have been deterred. Anger over the unfulfilled promises of the deal, has been deemed in part responsible for the protests. In turn, the protests expose the extreme suffering that Iranians have been made to endure for decades, as the direct result and expressed purpose of sanctions, and most recently due to American betrayal of the 2015 nuclear deal. Naturally, when Trump tweeted his “support” for Iranians during the protests, the thinly veiled opportunism and hypocrisy of U.S. administration aggravated many Iranians who took to Twitter to respond.
In 2012, the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, called Iran “the most serious threat to international peace,” and cut diplomatic ties with the country. While doing so, the Conservative party cynically praised the state of Israel, despite its dark record of violations of human rights and international law, and continued to sign arms deals with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — a country that has been waging a genocidal war on the small and defenseless country of Yemen for 33 months and counting, and is the main exporter of religious fundamentalism and terrorism in the region and beyond.
We hereby recognize that the exceptionalism that Canada and the Western world exercise over Iran is clearly not due to sympathy with Iranians, concerns over human rights, or the combating of religious extremism as is often claimed, but rather due to U.S./Canadian interests of domination and exploitation in the region which run counter to the existence of an independent and sovereign Iran. This exceptionalist narrative is intended not to make the state of Iran cave to its own people’s interests, but to make the nation of Iran cave to Western interests.
Since 2015, the Liberal government has talked of reinstating diplomatic relations with Iran, but so far has not delivered on its promises. Despite lifting some economic sanctions in early 2016 following the nuclear deal, Bill S-219 that is currently being reviewed at the Senate threatens to introduce a new set of non-nuclear sanctions and exactly serves Trump’s purpose of intensifying tension and economic pressure on Iran. Meanwhile the Iranian embassy in Ottawa remains closed.
Given the geopolitical circumstances outlined above and in total solidarity with the Iranian people who have taken bravely to the streets to demand an end to their suffering, we encourage the Canadian public and politicians to:
- Strongly condemn any attempts by international powers to exploit the unrests in Iran for their own regional aspirations; oppose any form of interference, incitement or involvement from Western as well as Saudi and Israeli officials in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country; call on the Canadian government to normalize relations with Iran, drop the remainder of sanctions, including the proposed Bill S-219, which always hurt the most vulnerable Iranians the most, and to re-open the embassies in Tehran and Ottawa.
- Call on the Iranian government to allow and encourage the natural and constitutionally protected expression of protest and take meaningful steps toward mitigating the protesters’ rightful grievances;
- Extend our sincere condolences to the families who’ve lost loved ones in these conflicts; and while sympathizing with the anger of protesters, do not condone the kind of violence that has seen banks, gas stations, government and religious buildings set on fire, military bases attacked, and similar acts, since the victims are more often than not innocent ordinary people who get caught in the crossfire;
- Support our people’s right to self-determination and ability to carry out a domestic struggle in safety, security and free from the threat of war and increased sanctions.
- The Iranian Canadian Congress has just launched their email to politicians’ campaign regarding opposition to sanctions. Use this link to write to Canadian Parliamentarians about your opposition to sanctions on Iran.
Sara Sagaii is an Iranian housing and anti-war activist and a graduate student at SFU School of Communication in Vancouver. She was a coordinator in the Jean Swanson for City Hall 2017 by-election campaign and is on the steering committee of the Vancouver Tenants Union. She tweets @contrapoetiv..
Nyusha Samiei is an Iranian writer and poet based in Vancouver. She holds two masters’ degrees in international history focused on Middle East and feminist movements in Iran. She has been involved in anti-war organizing for eight years. She tweets @gole_yaas and blogs at medium.com/@nyushasamiei.