It was a cold, windy day in Buffalo, but that did not stop over 80 protestors who then marched around Niagara Square, Buffalo City Hall looming large, chanting slogans like, “Women, Life, Freedom,” “Justice for Iran” and “What solution? Revolution!”
The march was organized by Buffalo Iranians to protest the long-standing injustices that the Iranian government has inflicted on its citizens.
Buffalo’s protest comes alongside rallies in Iran and across the world in response to the killing of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who was taken into custody by Iran’s “morality police.” She was taken to the hospital in a coma and died under suspicious circumstances last month, according to The Guardian. Amini was arrested for wearing her hijab too loosely.
Iranian officials say that Amini died of a heart attack from a pre-existing condition. Her family disputes this, saying that her body was covered with bruises. Prior to the rally, protestors displayed signs on the McKinley monument that read, “We stand in solidarity with Iranian women youth,” “Say her name Mahsa Amini” and “Scream, so that one day, a hundred years from now, another sister will not have to dry her tears wondering where in history she lost her voice.”
When the protest’s leaders spoke about their experiences and why they advocate for reform to the Iranian government, Armeeta Hajikandi, a recent UB graduate, and her Aunt Maryam began to hug each other, tears flowing down their faces.
“My aunt was born and raised in Iran,” Hajinkandi said. “I was the first generation born in America, so I didn’t grow up in that struggle, but I saw my family and the protests as I was growing older... There was a protest when they were talking about ‘Where’s my vote?’ and [people] were throwing acid into the crowds, and nobody did anything. There was no media coverage.”
The protest was more personal for Kasra Borazjani, a PhD student in the Department of Electrical Engineering, who moved to the U.S. four weeks before the protest. He said some of his friends, students at the Sharif University of Technology, were detained by police and the Basiji, a plain-clothes militia, in a siege of the campus during student protests.
Students were surrounded for “about seven to eight hours.” Many were shot with paintball bullets and taken into custody. If students tried to leave the premises, they were arrested and taken to an undisclosed location. Borazjani says that when students at other universities protested the incident, their campuses were also sieged.
“Just think what would happen if the U.S. attacked Harvard like this,” Borazjani said. “What would any U.S. citizen feel like? This is what each Iranian has to go through each and every day. The frustration, the pain, the anger. And no one knows how to deal with this.”
While the right to protest is protected and guaranteed for U.S. citizens, that’s not the case for Iran. Borazjani thinks it should be.
“The students, every human being in Iran, should have that right and should not be killed, should not be injured, should not be attacked by guns, just for protesting,” Borazjani said.
This is a familiar fight for UB alum Nadia Sharam, who co-led the protest. Sharam came to the U.S. as a student from Iran, eventually receiving her law degree from UB. She now works as a private attorney and a local activist.
Reflecting back on her experience as a student, Sharam encourages current student leaders to be aware of their freedoms and know who is responsible for putting them in the positions to have such freedoms.
“Sometimes I think the younger generation does not understand how hard our grandparents, especially our grandmothers, have worked to bring us the freedom that we take for granted now,” she said. “I want the generation of my daughters to know that sitting on the sidelines is not an option if we want democracy. If we are not careful, it will be taken away from us in a heartbeat. Until 1979, Iran was a socially democratic country. For the last four decades and shortly after the 1979 revolution, rights were taken away, especially from Iranian women, from our sisters.”
Iranian women and girls have, in many cases, led protests against the Iranian government and Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Some have even burned their hijabs in the street in protest, according to CNN.
But Saturday’s protestors say their fight goes beyond rights for their family and friends in Iran. It’s also a global fight for human rights, democracy and equity.
“It’s not about Islam, it’s not about religion, it’s not even about women alone, it’s human rights,” Hajikandi said. “If you have humanity you would do something about it.”
Morgan S.T. Ross is an assistant news/features and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A.J. Franklin is an assistant features editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Morgan Ross is an assistant news/features editor.