Eyewitness accounts of tension in Tehran
July 13, 1999
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
Pol-e chuby, Shohada Square: Nothing so far from the university
dorm, where it all began.
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
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
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
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.
see photos from various news agencies.
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