Arizona's Iranian-American community gives voice to the voiceless 7,500 miles away
“Women’s rights are human rights,” a woman repeats into a bullhorn outside of a P.F. Chang’s restaurant on the corner of Camelback and Scottsdale roads. About 50 people are here, within feet of the entrance to Scottsdale’s busy Fashion Square Mall. The group gets a permit from the city of Scottsdale for each demonstration.
Some fly Iranian flags. Others hold hand-crafted signs with sayings such as “Woman Life Freedom,” “Down With Dictator” and “This is the voice of Iran.” And some are carrying pictures of a 22-year-old Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini.
“Say her name!” the woman blares to the crowd. “Mah-sa A-mi-ni,” they respond.
Sam is with the Scottsdale-based Iranian-American Society of Arizona. They help promote these weekly events which are organized by Arizona for a Free Iran.
“Yes. We are here every Saturday, rain or shine. We were here in the middle of a thunderstorm a few weeks ago. Our message is too important,” Sam said.
And the importance of that message is being delivered across the globe.
“We’re here supporting the people of Iran and being their voice. They have no voice," Sam said.
Sam believes they are being heard 7,500 miles away. “Our voice is reaching them back home and provides them with comfort and reassurance and energy that the world is watching, that we’re on your side and we’re gonna be here. As long as you’re out there, we’re gonna be there too.”
There are an estimated 25,000 Iranians living in the Phoenix area. Many of the families came to the States in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
Shahram was one of them. He says things are now as bad as they’ve been since then. “What’s been disturbing is the escalations of human rights. The government is standing against the human rights of Iran, especially when it comes to women, to children, to minorities, to children and on and on.”
Women are among the most vocal at this protest. Shohreh, who is Jewish, also came following the revolution four decades ago. She calls for a new government.
“Change the regime. Because the regime is not good for everyone. Not for Jewish friends, not for Muslims, not for anybody. It’s not just a woman’s protest. This is (an) Iranian protest," Shohreh said.
The recent protests, which started in Tempe in September, are in reaction to the death of Amini, who died under suspicious circumstances while in the custody of Iran’s religious morality police after refusing to wear a hijab — a Muslim headscarf —in public.
Also among the crowd is Nina, who can relate.
“Two years before I escaped, I got arrested too. The same thing. That could be me. That could be my sister. That could be anyone," she said.
She fled Iran nine years ago. “Because of this regime. Because they wanted to kill me and my family. Thank G*d I’m alive, but there are so many who are dying right now. And I can feel them because I’ve been through that and I could escape, but they can’t.”
Nina says women and most Iranians are treated more like property than people.
“People talk about rights? There is (are) no rights there! People talk about human rights–basic human rights? There’s nothing there. They literally look at you like a thing," Nina said.
Mimi stands nearby. She hopes those observing their protests can tell the difference between the people of Iran and the oppressive government.
“We want to be the voice for the people of Iran, who have no voice, no internet, who have been characterized as terrorists in the world, where it’s actually the regime that is the terrorist, not the people," Mimi said.
The U.S. pulled out of an Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reinstated sanctions on the country, which now cover some of Iran’s financial sector.
But Mimi says even that is not enough.
“You know, we keep meeting with Senators and congresspeople, and one of the things they always say is ‘we are standing with you, we are standing with the people of Iran. We are tired of hearing that. We want them to do something,'” she said.
The group wants the U.S. to further denonce Iran’s human rights violations, expel its diplomats and further isolate the Iranian government.
Until something changes, Sam and his group plan to show up every Saturday to give a voice to the voiceless on the other side of the planet.
“That’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna be here until they can breathe free air and dance in the street and enjoy their lives," he said.
A more silent protest will take place this Sunday evening with a candlelight vigil at the Arizona Persian Cultural Center.