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Witnessing Protests at the Iranian Embassy in London

A summer semester abroad becomes more than academic

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Visual impressions of the scene unfolding this week in front of the Iranian embassy in London appear in the slide show above — there is no caption information provided, as protestors do not wish to be named. Photos by Sorina Ioana Crisan

I have been spending part of my evenings in front of the Iranian embassy in London.

I first noticed the protests by accident late one afternoon when I heard some loud chanting while jogging with a friend. Curiosity brought us in front of a throng of people wearing green scarves, shouting slogans, and holding up banners. I decided to go back the following day.

Since the results of the June 12 Iranian presidential election were announced, protesters have been allowed to gather in front of the Iranian embassy every day from 6 to 9 p.m. Everyone is required to stay within a fenced area, and in civilized British style, to clean up after themselves when the demonstration ends. A few British policemen are scattered around the area, but there is no sense of danger; the entire affair seems both very emotional and extremely civilized. Traffic continues as usual and tourists take endless pictures.

After three days of attending the demonstrations, I was addressed in Farsi. When I answered in English, people became reluctant to talk. One Iranian student, from Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College, asked me not to make public use of the picture I took of him; he was going back to Iran, he said, and didn’t want to get into trouble.

Of all the people I spoke with, only one gave me her name, and then only her first name. Miriam, born and raised in London, said that she came to protest because her best friend is in Tehran. I asked whether she thought the protests there would continue regardless of the violence. “If anything, the violence used by the government is making Iranians even more passionate about their cause,” Miriam said. “There’s a need for change and people will not stop until they see it.” She told me that after joining the protests, she was motivated to find other ways to help: “I want to do more than just sit in front of the embassy.”    

I made my way into the middle of the crowd. People all around were holding up flowers and lighting candles in front of pictures of Neda Agha-Soltan, whose murder on a Tehran street was captured on video and sent around the world and who has come to be regarded as a martyr. Green and black balloons were flying beside Iranian flags. Towering black flags inspired a solemn, somber feeling. Moments of silence were interrupted by chanting in English and in Farsi. Some cried, others hugged.  

Leaving the protest, I was handed a leaflet titled “Freedom and Democracy in Iran.” One sentence captured my attention: “There is a growing fear that the state might lash out against its people and no one will know until it is too late.” The text asked for help: “We do not want the outside world to take sides in this electoral contest. But we need the world to stand out against the cheating and the violence perpetrated by the state in Iran.”

I do not know what these protests will bring or how long they will last. I walk home hoping that the Iranian people will find justice and thinking about the strange ways of the world: as a BU student studying in London for the summer, I never expected to see anything of this magnitude here or to be touched by turmoil and tragedy so far away. A typical semester would involve learning about these events with a sense of being removed, reading books, and attending lectures. I could have had no idea that I was going to experience this firsthand.

Sorina Iona Crisan is enrolled in the BU London Graduate Mass Communication Program this summer, studying global marketing communications and international political and media systems.

3 Comments

3 Comments on Witnessing Protests at the Iranian Embassy in London

  • Anna M. on 06.29.2009 at 11:41 am

    in the world

    Excellent witness account from an intelligent and obviously sensitive observer who went beyond the role of a study abroad student. Well done!

  • Anonymous on 06.29.2009 at 12:08 pm

    Brilliant, necessary, thank you.

  • Jim Clancy on 06.30.2009 at 2:43 pm

    in the world said…

    “Excellent witness account from an intelligent and obviously sensitive observer who went beyond the role of a study abroad student. Well done! ”

    …and I couldn’t agree more. Thank you Sorina for your observations.

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