By Amir Bajehkian
“Protect the flames of hope that reside within your hearts, for hope is the essence of our identity”
—Mir-Hossein Mousavi (defeated candidate in June 2009 presidential elections in Iran)
Ten years passed, and I still get that bittersweet grief, mixed with gratitude, thinking about those days. The days when I was watching my homeland—where I had left half of my heart, four years earlier—as it was going through something special.
Ten years passed from June 12, 2009, when Iran’s presidential election was stolen, and those who peacefully stood up for their vote were suppressed.
Ten years later, our votes were not returned, and three of the leading figures of what became the "Green Movement" (the movement of those who stood up for freedom and democracy in Iran, not the environmental greens) are under house arrest. And many of our questions are still not answered. Nothing has changed.
Well, looking back at the past 10 years, I was struck by how one moment in history, in a land far, far away, changed my path forever.
Back in 2009, I was a student at UVic, here in, you know, Canada. Yet I had nothing but admiration for the young Iranians who stood up against hate, hostility, and dogma. Those who did it with their strong, yet silent protests.
They did not retaliate. They simply asked “Where is My Vote?”
When a security force member was hit by "friendly" tear gas, there was a protester to help. And when a few angry protesters wanted to go after a "basic" (Iranian paramilitary force member), there was a "mother' who would protect that guy.
When the demonstrators grieved their fallen warriors, they did so with songs and poems looking toward a brighter future.
Yet, above all, they were pushing the "leaders" (the opposition candidates whom they voted for) toward bolder stances for democracy and human rights, and equal rights for all.
In other words, the movement had thousands of leaders, showing the way for their generation, and correcting the mess of their parents.
Back to the 25-year-old me: it was a sense of duty to be a voice for my comrades in Iran. A voice for those who were demonstrating in the most civil way of standing up to injustice.
They inspired me, and thousands like me, to step forward, instead of waiting for someone else to do that. They showed us that it is possible to shake an establishment when you’re powered with hope and determination.
I could not stay silent. I paid a price, but nowhere near that of being detained, shot, or raped. The price I paid was losing the sense of security to visit my homeland, where my roots are.
That day, and the days that followed, changed my life forever and moved me from observation to action. First, by going out to raise awareness about my comrades in Iran. Then I found allies in local circles.
Next, I started paying attention to the politics in my new home, and realized democracy needs tender loving care. Or else opportunists will sink it and abuse it, if they could.
When my friends stood up for their votes with their lives, I could no longer be apathetic. I had to vote, I had to speak out, and I had to encourage others to do the same.
Ten years later, I am a bit older, a bit less naive. And I realize that change starts from around us.
How can I pretend that I want to transform a land that is tens of thousands of miles away if I don’t care about what’s happening around me?
Ten years later, I've volunteered and worked on four different elections, two leadership races, and one referendum, here in Canada.
I started a public outreach firm and a nonprofit society.
Ten years later, I am a member of the B.C. Multicultural Advisory Council. There is nothing to brag about here. I never signed up for any of the above, and my life would’ve been very different if it wasn’t for June 12, 2009.
I wanted to be an engineer and just live a "normal" life like everyone. I just wanted to be a dude.
Ten years later, here I am.
I am a proud Canadian of Iranian descent.
I may live far, far away from the land where my roots are. I don’t know when the next time will be for me to pay a visit.
But my respect for the youths, student activists, and women's-rights activists, among others, is eternal. They changed the story from one that was about the oppression and the oppressor, to that of their resistance and bravery.
The story was no longer about how many were killed or jailed. It was about a people who stood up for their principles and aspirations.
Ten years later, I believe in the power of the person. And I reject lazy efforts to make the story about the politicians and statesmen.
Ten years later, I still think it is important for activists everywhere to connect, learn from one another, and not be indifferent to the struggles of their comrades here and there.
Ten years later, I believe that every citizen can be a media outlet and use their power to raise awareness and stand up to darkness.
Ten years later, we still reject fear, hatred, dogma, and war. Be it in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Canada, or anywhere else.
Ten years later, I reject apathy.
And I believe we’re in this together.
Green, I shall forever remain!