Skip to content

Archive/Anti-archive

This chant was first sung by a group of students at the Farzanegan (intelligent) High School in 2000. The poor-quality video and blurred screen, coupled with the students’ sonorous voices, recall old school days and call for critical minds to ask a few questions. It is not clear precisely which quality of the past can revive smells, voices, and ambiance once one sees an image or watches a video. What feature in this frame gives the audience, in this case, me, the possibility of existence among other students, reckoning with her past, re-imaging her present, and reframing her future? With the image, I jump into my past and become a student chanting among my fellows. I asked another student if she had ever been affected by an image and how an image knots me with her body, making a line between my past, her present and our future. My friend gave me a puzzled look and continued chanting. I am in the middle of the school hall and singing with others. Yet, I am detached from the chant. I wonder how, by seeing their image and listening to their chant, an avalanche of memories, voices, smells, principals’ yelling, and our terror in the face of seeing them at school came flooding back to me. It seems an intermemorial ceremony for me in which my visual, auditory, and kinetic memories are knotted together to revive a related experience. I didn’t want to bother my friend by asking too many questions. Still, again, I queried whether she knew how her chant could radicalize other students, imagining themselves in a just alternative future. I kept asking if she knew that what they were singing would become canon for two-decades-later students. My friend turns to other friends and loudly sings:

 

Tomorrow one hundred stars will grow

And falls from the sky

Tomorrow a bright and warm light will come out of the pitch darkness…

The chant is being sung at the Farzanegan high school, which belongs to the National Organization for the Development of Brilliant Talents. It is a high school where those talented students are supposed to be reproduced for the country’s promising future. However, the chant content is against the ideology of Islamic education! Or it means otherwise for us today. The school staff aimed to create a world where in which they could make the most of the Islamic student’s labor. Conversely, the students were chanting for a revolutionary, promising, free-of-any-ideology world. They didn’t understand, though. I jump out of the school, the video, coming back to my own body, sitting at my desk and looking at them from afar. I see their triumphant look, full of youthfulness. I see they are hand in hand, reclining on each other’s shoulders.

What encourages them to chant such a revolutionary song in the ideological educational context of the Islamic Republic? Singing this chant when today’s rebellious students demand a livable and just life knots multiple times with each other. My dim and distant school memories flood back when they shout, “Tomorrow, a bright and warm light will come out of the pitch darkness.” To whom did that “tomorrow” belong? The chant echoed throughout my forty-year-old body. I am thrown again to my high school. Somayeh. We were about to sing a political chant. Those dumb religious teachers never understood what the chant was about.

Yet, I remember our bodies in terror, lest they interrogate us about why we chanted that. I recall another day when the principal summoned and interrogated us about why we didn’t say “down to the U.S.A” at the schoolyard. These memories mingle with those students’ bodies in the video. I suppose they are in the school hall, between the chemistry lab and Namazkhaneh.[1] Like us, their noses might have been filled with the odor of socks. These students are lucky if they are asked officially by school staff to chant. Otherwise, they would be interrogated for chanting a political song. I stare at the video again, reflecting on how these students have called the next generation’s radical imagination without knowing it in advance. I reflect on how past times can radicalize the future. I am not that student anymore. Neither are Farzanegan students the same people. They might even be on the streets these days, with their sons and daughters, chanting the anti-government slogan: Jin, Jian, Azadi.

by Haleh Mir Miri 

[1] Namazkhaneh is a place mainly located in schools and governmental organizations where individuals must go to say prayers. It can be synonymous with a chapel. 

Somayeh High School- Author's Personal Photo

A Normal Day’s Breakfast or How Can Women Intimidate Ruling Class by Eating Breakfast?

Haleh Mir Miri 
How do places become political? How does a coffeehouse, which was yesterday’s apolitical location, become a place to intimidate the ruling class? What must happen to arrest someone for eating breakfast in a coffeehouse? Locations might not be political spaces at some point, yet would become so when ‘power relations’ are materialized there. They are sites in which the subjects-bodies confront the power relations, intervening in the existing political order and interrupting the hegemonic governing techniques. Simultaneously, these localities are germane to temporalities. They are spots to remember what has happened in the past and think about what will happen in the future.

Coffeehouses are one of these places. They are one of the places in Iran where the politics between gender identities and power structures are felt, materialized, negotiated, and confronted. Coffeehouses have always been masculine spaces in Iran; although women often negotiated to enter in the past few years secretly, they have been objectively forbidden from being there. It has been said that “coffeehouses have always had a masculine connotation and women’s presence in it is not culturally acceptable” as they might draw male attention. Some women during the Qajar era [for example] disguised themselves as men or paid bribes to government officials and the city police to pass there secretly. The rule governing women’s entry to coffeehouses has not changed dramatically over the decades. Yet, some political patrons can alter this fundamental rule, politicizing the place just with their calm entry. This presence promises a new imagination, a radical one, to reframe another time and space.

Donya Rad was one of those patrons who started imagining an alternative “tomorrow.” A woman who entered a coffeehouse posted a snapshot of her experience on Instagram in the first days of the Jina uprising(s). She wrote: “In the middle of a working day, we went to a coffeehouse in Javadieh (in southern Tehran), grabbed breakfast and came back.” Donya’s image, sitting with ease at Javadieh’s coffeehouse table, circulated abruptly and revived pieces of memory for many other women’s who had never entered there. The photo brought back women’s absent bodies in the coffeehouse, where they could sip their traditional tea and eat their tasty omelette with a ravenous appetite. More than eating breakfast, this photo was both knotted to women’s traumatic memories of the past and their framing of a “tomorrow” to come. Thus, it is questionable why such a presence threatens the patriarchal political authorities. What is so frightening in this photo that caused this woman to be arrested? We, as women, used to enter several other places without permission. However, releasing this photo amid a progressive uprising resonated with our power to reappropriate those territories stolen from us because of our gender. Donya took her baby steps. She didn’t bribe government officials to buy her presence; rather, she politicized the place through her ordinary presence. We will continue marching to possess other stolen places.

This new normalcy, her calm and pleasant appearance, was a timely reminder that showed our power to act ‘with’ not ‘to’ patriarchy in changing any oppressive rules. However, this calm and performative presence intimidated the ruling class, as they knew the affirmative power behind this act. It was a turning point for those Islamists concerned about whether women would ask to enter other places from now on. “They wouldn’t, Sir!!!” Donya, and we, would say. Donya’s snapshot was a game-changer for them. It stimulated women’s imagination, directing them toward envisaging their future(s). Undoubtedly, many women have eaten Donya’s omelette and sipped her tea just by watching her photo, beaming at their victory a day after their revolution. They delightfully celebrate the collective resistance to enter coffeehouses and many other places. After posting the photo on Instagram, Donya was arrested and sent to the 209 ward of Evin’s prison for three weeks. Yet, it reminded us how to reterritorialize our stolen territories, memories, and imagination. This omelette taste will linger in our mouths for so long.

On the Self-Immolation of Women Whose Names Were Not Recorded

By Elsa

Harasswatch⸻ I’m a woman born and raised in Zagros. More and more, I heard about a woman called Homa Darabi who protested against anti-women rules, such as the compulsory hijab, by self-immolation in February 1994. I heard of Sahar Khodayari, who also set herself aflame in September 2019. But I don’t even remember the name of the woman who set herself ablaze using petrol in a village close to ours. Despite that, I do remember what she went by.

I was in fourth grade. The year was 1997. Someone said, “Gaboo has set herself on fire”. My heart suddenly dropped: I remember her and her black locks that covered her face, her posture that always looked like she was half seated. I remember her red scarf with white dots that she kept fixing around her face. No one was too devastated or shocked; it was as if all the people of the village had secretly prayed for her death. The reason she let herself burn was the talk of the town until her Cheleh*. People would spread rumours, give bits of advice to others, ask for their own forgiveness from God, and move on.

 

               “She was pregnant.

               Her dad beat her up with the water hose.

               There was the smell of smoke in the air that night.

               We ran out of the house when we heard her mother’s scream.

               She was a ball of fire rolling around the farm.

               A man can get by all on his own, but what about a woman?

               After she set herself on fire, she did the same thing to the farm.

               No amount of water could put it out.”

I remember these garbled sentences. But Gaboo, 22-year-old Gaboo, was already buried in a small grave; a grave way smaller than her being. Her death wasn’t the end of anything but the loving breaths that she wanted to take for days to come; but here, they kill so that love doesn’t revolt.

This narrative was meant to paint a general picture of self-immolation as a protest against the social and political state. Homa Darabi’s protest gets plastered all over the media because she was an academic. She was a political activist who had risen against the compulsory hijab rule. After all, she had a place among social activists. Homa Darabi’s protest gains importance when it is brought from the home to the streets. She brings all she has read, seen, written, learned, taught, and lectured to the streets and stitches it into the fabric of the society. All of her burns but none of her is lost. Homa will always be the Iranian women.

Sahar Khodayari’s protest is also reflected in the media since she was a soccer fan, and a soccer fan can be anyone. She doesn’t want to see things through a middleman. She is observant. She is an explorer. She fights for her presence in forbidden places yet she is banned from living a free life. But not all of Sahar dies, Sahar remains possible in our dreams.

Nothing is ever heard of the women in Dishmok, Ilam, or South Khorasan who have committed self-immolation. When there is some reflection in the media of these women, it is limited only to rumors about their family feuds and personal matters. An image with a piece of sad music that only reminds people of the fright of living among the so-called barbarous.

               Now, remembering Gaboo.

               Why is she not remembered? Why did no one bring her a mirror?

Because where she set herself aflame, being honorable was everything. The commanders of Gaboo’s life were the headmen of the village, the elders, fathers, and brothers who had fed her. People who had brought her up and now she had to keep their honor. A group of people that believed a woman’s virginity, right up to her wedding night, is the very basis of their life and death. Now imagine the fruit of your love being fed in your womb. They went on to deny even this fragmentary reason for her death.

She didn’t set herself on fire because she was pregnant. She did it because she couldn’t tolerate the burden of this “sin”. She couldn’t bear the flogging, the constant reproach. As her family would say, she wouldn’t even have been able to walk to the garden without their permission after that. For years, law, as a connecting bridge between patriarchy and religion, has convicted Gaboo as a sinner, Homa as disobedient, and Sahar as unrestrained. Yet there was something different about Gaboo from Homa and Sahar: Gaboo never knew what great rebellion she had committed and how she had struck against a tyranny with her body. She didn’t want a mouth to even whisper her sin. She didn’t want her body caught in the dance of whips and lashes. Her sin was something that she couldn’t hide behind and so she wanted all of her burned.

She thought the whole world was just that small village and the names of the cities she had heard. With self-immolation, she wanted to set her mother, her father, her whole village, and finally the government free, by showing that Gaboo, the sinner, is dead. Gaboo never understood what fight she fought to regain her lost dignity. Her name was never mentioned anywhere in the media because people like Gaboo are denied from the streets, the bazaar, the library, and all non-familial gatherings. Because the only book Gaboos have is the story of their mothers, in which mothers can be replaced with daughters, the same torment, only different in their sense of solidarity.

However, one thing stands tall and in union in all three narratives:

Rebellion was made for the life that women were denied and freedom is a pallid word on the walls.

*Cheleh: A religious ceremony forty days after a person’s death.

The Burned Graveyard

The article’s authorship comes from the Harasswatch website

Translated into English by Tanide 
@Tanide