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Great pain
Eyewitness accounts of tension in Tehran

July 13, 1999
The Iranian

Eyewitness reports by of recent student protests. The first two are from today's events near Tehran University, written by S.M.A. The other is from a few nights ago originally posted on the Iran News alias, forwarded by Payman Arabshahi. Also see photos from various news agencies.

Report 1

Near the University of Tehran. Noon.

Two major prongs on the east and west side of the university making evasive moves. Just two hours ago there was nothing to report. Now, burning tires and newspapers, refuge from tear gas.

On side streets perpendicular to Enghelab Street mostly young people are milling about. The riot police in regalia is disorganized and seem taken by surprise. Tear gas is shot at regular intervals.

Near the Vesal encampment, where not too long ago city-district mayors were held and tortured, a dark mass of green-clad riot police can be seen.

Enghelab square is no doubt in turmoil as well. Enghelab street is approachable in places, like the university street, where today candidates for the university entrance exam were supposed to receive their entry permit. They can still be seen there, cross-fingered for something to change or take place.

Further north, at the entrance of the dormitory, where last Thursday's events took place, and where for the past few days student sit-ins have continued with some skirmishes, things are quiet.

A student told me that they were half-forced to stay in, while Ansar roamed outside wielding their extention clubs. Tahkim-e Vahdat is asking students to remain put. Discussion groups spontaneously formed. All were radical beyond comprehension. Not even Khatami remained unharmed from severe criticism.

Report 2

Itinery: Vesal to Enghelab streets, to Valiasr function to Valiasr Square back to Keshavarz, down 16th of Azar to Enghelab Street and back to Vesal Street.

Enghelab Street: Riot police is letting people thriugh. Down the center of Enghelab, the special bus route, white shirted vigils are strewn. They coerce people to walk the ped-walks, sometimes gently, sometimes with a holler. Pavement is carpeted with rubble, demolition waste.

Valiasr junction:

The whole junction is controled by whiteshirts, no riot police can be seen. Cellular phone has become a cachet of Hezbollahis. A vigil orders the rest northward. Suddenly a swarm of motobikes fume their way toward Valiasr Square. Halfway there the riot police can be seen forming a line.

Vigils (whiteshirts), every now and again, spot someone and attack him en mass. Private trucks are also seen moving north loaded with whiteshirts. A no-more-than-twelve-year-old can be seen among them.

The encarceration truck belonging to the police is now void of uniforms; instead, whiteshirts are using it as their fishing basket. Having cracked the skull, they haul their catch inside the netted cargo compartment.

Pavement is carpeted with stones, some try to remove them, flinging them in waterways. People are not afraid. They walk the ped-walk north, where the calling is.

Valiasr Square

On the southern entrance another soul is captured. The square is void of police but rife with whiteshirts. On the northern side of the square whiteshirts are arguing with a middle aged lady who is apparently pleading with them not beat up the captured. They retort, "For five days now we have been roughed up by these thugs." Other whiteshirts are detering them from getting into arguments with people.

A few young men start running past us. Pandemonum breaks. Bikes fly on their heel, radio hams can be seen in one hand of the passenger, a club in the other. Clubs come in different size and shape. Some are custom made, with green, ornamental band wrapped around as handles. Others are simple metal pipes with a designer cross on top for effective delivery. Yet other whiteshirts are carrying clubs visibly belonging to the riot police.

On the eastern side, a young man is being carried on a whiteshirt's shoulder. Others join in beating him up blue and black. Some regular police try to interfer but are pushed aside without any exertion.

Keshavarz Boulevard: People are generally walking east toward the square. A riot police truck is seen unleashing a special unit. Functionaries and office workers are behind their windows watching. By looking at people's expressions one could hardly imagine anything running amok.

16tth of Azar Street: Riot police has cordoned off the university periphery. No sign of tear gas. Things are in relative control. Only two hours earlier, at the time of the first report, riot police fired tear gas on this very spot.

Enghelab Street: Cars are moving alongside people. Whiteshits are all over the place. Cellulars are working incessantly. Last fumes of burned tires and newspapers. Incidences are reported all around the city:

Pol-e chuby, Shohada Square: Nothing so far from the university dorm, where it all began.

Report 3

Last night the dorm was unapproachable by laymen, controled mostly by vigilante groups who wouldn't hesitate using their clubs on anyone looking young and remotely decent. I was witness to one such beating by Ansar. No one knows who is out there on Enghelab street. My observation is that the crowd is mixed, mostly composed of fed up students. But the possibility of infiltrators cannot be dismissed. It is a jumble. Meanwhile, I shall report to u at reg intervals. Please signal me if u find the report fitting. If not, tell me where to post it. S.M.A.

I am writing this with great pain, confusion and hopelessness. This visit to Iran was particularly harsh. Apart from various personal problems, watching the events in our beloved country with my very own eyes makes me so depressed. The same city that we grew up, the same schools in which we studied, the very people we lived with, everything is awfully messed up.

Tonight I was an eyewitness to some events I won't ever forget. Tonight was the next night the police attacked students in Kuy-e Daaneshgaah. All over the city, one could feel the fearful tension and horrifying instability. We passed Khajeh Nasir University, and stopped to see what's going on. The students (100 to 200, mostly from the provinces) were chanting, some guiding the cars out of the way of the crowd. "Down with Ansaare Sheytan (followers of the devil)", "Marg bar estebdaad (down with despotism)", "Kazemi, Taalebaan, peyvandetaan mobaarak (Kazemi, Taleban, congratualtions on your union)". I'm not sure but I think Kazemi is the head of the police forces.

Others were reading the posters and signs outside the campus, looking at the photos from last night's incident. There was also the statement from the student group, Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, a badly paginated statement with no seal or signature. Friends told me that this is common practice for the Daftar Tahkim to deny the authenticity of statements later, if needed. Reading between the lines, it asked for another gathering and more tension. One of my friends, Saeid, whose house was in the vicinity of the dorm, had shaved his beard on the fear of being taken and beaten as a Hezbollahi. This was about 10 pm.

Around 2 am, Reza and me went to Kuy-e Daaneshgaah [Amirabad - Tehran University dorms]. On Jalal Al-e Ahmad highway there were a few traffic police cars and plenty of people in bunched in groups, with a mixture of Hezbollahi and "Rap" students arguing, pretty much peacefully. I didn't see any Hezbollahi introducing himself as Ansaar.

To the north of the highway, Amirabad was in full control of the students, mostly with no beard and lots of "Rapi" boys, a few wearing face masks. The police or Hezbollahis didn't seem to be planning on entering the students' zone. Noticeable number of women and young girls could be seen as well, maybe 5-10 percent. Young boys had sticks, knives, iron rods, etc. The faces were so angry that I thought any second there might be a blast of violence. They were walking up and down Amirabad, shouting or calling each other's names from time to time. Fortunately, both Reza and me had dressed casually and could not be taken as Hezbollahi for our beards.

We parked the car in a nearby street and walked through people. After a few feet, we heard some shouting in front. The students, maybe about 30, had grabbed a bearded man in his 30's, who had his shirt over his trousers. Someone shouted: "He is one of them", another one said "Search him to see if he has any cables with him", and another one said "Search his socks for cable". I couldn't see well, but Reza said that they were beating him with rods, even before they searched him. I couldn't see what they did to him, but it would have been suicide to try to help him.

We got out of the students' zone to see what's happening on the other side. Hezbollahis were arguing with non-hezbollahis -- either young students or men in their 40-50's with a tash-reesh two-day-old beard. About 30-40 people listened. Mostly, the hezbollahis didn't have much to say. A man was asking a hezbollahi why Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati hadn't talked even a bit about the incidents during his Friday prayers sermon. In another circle, a man with a beard was telling a student that Hezbollahis had come there the previous night, but had not staid more than an hour. He claimed that they left after chanting a few slogans (even in favor of Khatami) making their stay a maximum of an hour. He said they left because they didn't want to be called ghaddaar-e-band or chomaagh-be-dast (thugs). He said all the incidents were designed to divide the people.

When we were entering the students' zone on the way back to our car, a man in his 40's with a short trimmed beard was walking out of the zone. He offered a rod, which we refused. He seemed to be an expert in leading young students like us into trouble: he was placid, and didn't hesitate in any of his moves. He left with a smile, quickly disappearing into the crowd.

As we passed by people, we could hear their conversations. A woman in her 40's was asking boys not to encounter Hezbollahis towards the south. She said the students should not be fooled by how calm the Hizbollahis looked. Instead she said to go north, wait for them to follow, and then beat them to death. A bit farther, I saw a "rapi" boy with a knife in his hand. I saw a decade of repression and humiliation in his eyes. There were only two words in his face: hatred and anger. I never thought these soosool rapis would ever dare stand up against Hezbollahis.

Two men in short beards - could well have been members of Daftar Tahkim -- on a motorcycle were riding southbound on Amirabad, shouting "Go north. The north is clear".

We left there around 2:40am.

I don't give a damn about the Left or to the Right. Whoever had triggered the students, viewed them as a herd of sheep. There could be an explosion any minute. I am quite sure a "Down with Khatami" or "Down with Khamenei" could burst things into chaos. It was like sending young people to the minefield. There was just tension, instability and hatred.

Now, who's going to determine who started the fire? What if just one of them loses control and starts stabbing another one? Who's going to stop the escalation? Some wounds never heal. I have no idea what we should do to stop the violence. I am confused, depressed and tired. Now let's see what the newspapers will publish on tonight's incidents.

Also see photos from various news agencies.

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