Zan, Zendegi, Azadi — ‘Women, Life, Freedom’

The words ‘zan, zendegi, azadi’, when chanted after one another, reverberate through Iran and land like daggers at the feet of those who restrict our freedoms. But if Mahsa Amini gave her life for this fight, what have we done to leave our mark?

I wake up every morning and jump at the sound of gunshots. I hear the rattling of handcuffs, tender bodies being thrown into the backs of vans. I smell a pungent iron odour polluting the air. It is as if literal stink waves are emerging from the pools of red trickling down sidewalks. I hear the beating heart of a family confronted by upheaval and persecution, and the pulse of a people steadying change.

But I hear, see, smell, and feel from a distance. Through lifeless screens, disrupted phone calls, and conversations that plummet into existentialism. Over ten thousand kilometres away from where I live, on unceded Dharug Country, I come into contact with a land I have been taught to call ‘home’, despite it being far beyond my reach. 

The brutal murder of Mahsa (Jina) Amini in police custody lit a wildfire in Iran and across the world. Detained by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s morality police for the improper wearing of her mandatory hijab, Amini — God rest her soul — has become a catalyst for action for the global Iranian community. Those within the country have waged a war against the dictatorial government and its theocratic values: staging political protests, the burning of hijabs, the cutting of hair, and student demonstrations culminating in widespread international coverage and response. They lead with the chant, ‘Zan! Zendegi! Azadi!’.

Accompanying this, Shervin Hajipour’s original tribute song to the Iranian people, Baraye (For), gained over 40 million views within 24 hours of being released. Composed of tweets posted by Iranians, Hajipour’s harrowing lyrics saw his arrest and the song’s removal from his social media platforms.

On a larger scale and beyond Iran, the first of this month saw a ‘Global Day of Action’ for Iran, with protests in capital cities led and fueled by Iranians. Though widespread and immensely empowering for the Iranian diaspora, little support from non-Iranians, government officials, and other institutions was shown at the demonstrations.

While I am unqualified to speak for Iranian women, shir-zans, I can say with confidence that my sisters, my brothers, my aunts, my uncles, my neighbours, are all tired of the burden this crisis carries. Those in the Motherland are facing bullets, and they’re still fighting whilst we sit in our safe democratic countries with no immediate threat to our loved ones. 

Our shoulders have been burdened with the weight of tragic events, told to us through muffled voices halfway across the world. In response, we say that things will get better, and we run to our Instagram page and desperately share all the posts we see relating to the Islamic regime’s crimes. We try to sneak the topic into commonplace conversations, to informally signal to our friends how distressed we are, but it seems that batting even an eyelid is too much to ask of them. 

Even I find it too difficult to express my disappointment at times — disappointment in the Australian community and those non-Iranians closest to me who have let an immense and ongoing violation of human rights slip their attention. 

My family on my mother’s side recently bought their first home after close to thirty years of exile in Australia. Australia accepted them with an open embrace during the Keating era of multiculturalism, but the bittersweet forging of a new home outside of the Motherland has loomed over them and their children to this day. When leaving their old home — in Australia this time — my grandparents were most pained by the abundant fruit trees they had to leave behind. Sweet lemon, greengage, pomegranate and bitter orange were some of the last memories they had of their homeland, speciality fruits adored by Iranians but difficult to find — at least of good quality — in the Australian market. After arriving at their new home one of the first things my grandfather did was plant a sweet lemon tree in the backyard, but with little success. It currently stands there with withered leaves and droopy branches, a reminder of a life gone by and exile in a land inhospitable to his culture.

The old garden’s homeliness made me think of my grandparents, at least of their old selves, having been born and raised in an Iran that was widely respected throughout nations. Their generation, nasle tabeed shode (the Displaced Generation), both inside and outside of Iran linger between the Iran of old, Irane ghadeem, and the hellish landscape they live in now. Their children, nasle sookhte (the Burnt Generation), have been stung by the fanatical rule of the regime and the monotonous life that ensued. Lastly, their children, nasle sar dar gom (the Lost Generation — my generation), live with little hope for the future. In my case, I have the luxury of a future with employment, love, freedom and so on. But I yearn for a sense of cultural connection unburdened by the Iran of today. The youth of the country, however, are left with little hope as the cost of living soars, regulations are tightened, and democratic values are swept under Persian rugs. 

In 1979, after the overthrowing of the monarchy, Borje Shahayd (Shah Memorial Tower) was renamed Borje Azadai (Freedom Tower) in the name of Iranian freedom. False hope seeped through the masses and the national monument, in its all its glory, became a symbol of a movement led by the people. With such momentum behind the overthrowing of the shameful Islamic regime in the present day, I hope to wake up to the sound of freedom one morning. 

I hope for freedom for the generations that have come before, for my own, and for my descendants, nasle ayande. With the ethereal feeling of freedom in our hearts, we will stroll through the gardens surrounding Freedom Tower, the blossoms of speciality fruits and liberation blooming in clear sight. We dream of this day, and I plead with you to join us in this fight for human rights.