PART VII: We are not dirt and dust, we are the nation of Iran

Saturday, 13 June 2009

We didn’t sleep that night. We didn’t utter a word. We just watched the news, every minute of it, hoping it was all a bad dream, a mistake. The Iranians began to express their astonishment on their blogs and across social media. No one could believe the news. There must be a mistake. Arguments and disputes broke out. How could they announce the results while the balloting continued? The ballots weren’t computerized. The counters had to check every slip and record it by hand. It had taken days before earlier election results had been announced. Something was wrong. No doubt about it.

Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami asked the people to remain calm. They said Mousavi had won without a doubt and that this was all a mistake. Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Majlis, had already called Mousavi and congratulated him.

The results were announced every hour, and Ahmadinejad’s 63 per cent remained constant. Then information began to trickle out. Millions of ballot papers had been printed and were unaccounted for. The Revolutionary Guard had once again raided the ballot centres, thrown out Mousavi’s and Karroubi’s representatives and taken over the voting process.

The reformists kept asking the people to remain calm until further developments. But there were no developments, and in the morning a group of people began to protest in Tehran’s Vanak Square, asking for a recount. They were crushed savagely by the Basij and the plainclothes police. Films of the first crackdown were posted on YouTube instantly and picked up by the international media. The night before, a few prominent reformists and strong supporters of either Mousavi or Karroubi had been arrested. No one knew why. One of them was a former Minister of Heavy Industries, the other was Khatami’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs. Khatami’s brother, a former MP, had also been arrested.

Without knowing what I was doing, I packed my suitcase to head towards Heathrow. Maryam tried to stop me, begging me to postpone my trip by a few days. Afraid of something happening to me, she even offered to come along.

But I was determined to go.

‘Maryam, if I don’t go now, I will die of anxiety. The country is going to turn upside down. I have to be there. My friends and colleagues need me there.’

I kissed Kay and headed out. I felt so empty. All the hopes had come crashing down, and the darkest times were on their way. If this fraud went unnoticed and if Ahmadinejad could retain his power, there was nothing to stop his wreaking vengeance on all those who had challenged him during the campaign.

At the airport I saw scenes from Iran on TV. The plainclothes guards and the police were attacking the unarmed people with their batons, pulling them to the ground, kicking them with rage . . . My heart was pounding. One or two Iranians watching with me decided to abandon their travel plans.

But I could not. I had to go back.

I don’t know what it was that pushed me towards Iran that day. Perhaps it was a sense of responsibility for my employees. Many of my friends and employees were young. Most of them had been quite active during the campaigns and had participated openly in propagating the Green Wave. I already knew, having talked to them, that they were furious; they felt betrayed and cheated, and I was afraid they would go out and get themselves hurt. I also needed to talk to my friends, to discuss the situation and not to be left alone with my despair.

The most reasonable thing would have been to leave the airport, to go back to the haven of Oxford, to wait a few days and to go to Iran once things were ‘safe’. But I couldn’t. A voice within me called out incessantly, ‘Go! Move! You’re needed there!’

So I stepped into the plane on the evening of 13 June 2009, in order to take part in what destiny had determined for me.