PARIS — Six years ago, I went to listen to a man, whom I will not name, in a café in Paris.
He said it had been 24 years since he had been back to Iran, that he had to leave right after the revolution of 1979 for political reasons.
He talked of many things, and he ended by saying: “Once you leave your homeland, you can live anywhere, but I refuse to die anywhere other than Iran — or else my life will have had no meaning.”
His statement touched me very deeply. I’ve thought about what he said, not just understanding him intellectually but feeling his meaning with all my heart. I, too, was convinced that I must die nowhere other than in my country, Iran, or else my life will also be meaningless.
At the time I heard this man speak, it had already been four years since I had been home.
Yes, I call Iran home because no matter how long I live in France, and despite the fact that I feel also French after all these years, to me the word “home” has only one meaning: Iran.
I suppose it’s that way for everyone: Home is the place where one is born and raised.
No matter how much I am in love with Paris and its indescribable beauty, Tehran with all its ugliness will in my eyes forever be the “bride” of all cities around the world.
It’s a question of geography, of the smell of the rain, of the things we know without ever having to think why we know them.
It’s a question of the Alborz Mountains protecting my town. Where are they? Who will protect me now?
It’s a question of the unbearable smell of pollution, a smell I know so well.
It’s a question of knowing that the blue of the sky is not the same everywhere, nor does the sun shine the same way in every place.
It’s a question of wanting to be able to walk under my own blue sky, of wanting my own sunshine to caress my back.
At the time I heard that man speak it had already been four years since I had been home. Today it has been more than 10 years. To be precise, 10 years, six months and three days.
During all that time, I believed I would live a few more decades without ever being able to walk in my mountains. But 18 days ago, June 12, 2009, something happened, something I never believed I would see in my lifetime: Iranians, crowding into an extremely tiny space of democracy, usually left just large enough for them to vote for a president whom the Guardian Council had already approved, truly voted.
The question much of the media asked before the election was: “Are Iranians ready for democracy?”
“YES!” came the answer, loud and oh, so clear.
With a voter turnout of 85 percent, they started to dream that change was possible.
They started to believe “Yes they can,” too.
It’s likely needless to remind you that this was not the first time Iranians showed how much they love freedom. Look only at the 20th century: They launched the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 (the first in Asia); nationalized the oil industry in 1951 (the first Middle Eastern country to do so); mounted the revolution of 1979; and engineered the student revolt of 1999. Which brings us to now, and that deafening cry for democracy.
Almost 20 years ago, when I started studying art in Tehran, the very idea of “politics” was so frightening that we didn’t even dare think about it. To talk about it? Beyond belief!
To demonstrate in the streets against the president? Surreal!
Criticize the supreme leader? Apocalyptic!
Shouting “Down with Khamenei”? Death!
Death, torture and prison are part of daily life for the youth of Iran. They are not like us, my friends and I at their age; they are not scared. They are not what we were.
They hold hands and scream: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! We are together!”
They understand that no one will give them their rights; they must go get them.
They understand that unlike the generation before them — my generation, for whom the dream was to leave Iran — the real dream is not to leave Iran but to fight for it, to free it, to love it and to reconstruct it.
They hold hands and scream: “We will fight! We will die! But we won’t be humiliated!”
They went out knowing that going to each demonstration meant signing their death warrants.
Today I read somewhere that “the velvet revolution” of Iran became the “velvet coup,” with a little note of irony, but let me tell you something: This generation, with its hopes, dreams, anger and revolt, has forever changed the course of history. Nothing is going to be the same.
From now on, nobody will judge Iranians by their so-called elected president.
From now on, Iranians are fearless. They have regained their self-confidence.
Despite all the dangers they said NO!
And I’m convinced this is just the beginning.
From now on, I will always say: Once you leave your homeland, you can live anywhere. But I refuse to only die in Iran. I will one day live in Iran...or else my life will have had no meaning.