The Revolution of Iran 79

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I took my camera and ran. There was yet another demonstration at Enghelab Square. I had to go. I reached the square just as those days …

The 24th of Esfand Square and Shah Reza Street were crowded. Thousands of people were shouting slogans for freedom and against the dictatorship of the Shah with clenched fists. People were stamping furiously and shouting: Say, “Death, Death to the Shah!” They were carrying different placards and some were taking photographs with their small cameras. In spite of governmental threats and warnings, people were out on the streets, together with their fists and voices, and I was there with my little daughter and my camera.

I couldn’t stay at home. Events had been taking place for some time and I was roaming the city camera in hand .I felt responsible. I had to take photographs, to record, what was taking place. I needed to immortalize the portrait of people rising up for freedom. It was very crowded and I couldn’t see much. I reached a bus station and decided to climb up its cabin, but it seemed impossible with a baby in my arms. A lady was standing nearby. I asked her to hold my daughter for a few minutes. She agreed, under one condition. I asked what her condition was. She wanted me to shout: “Long Live Khomeini!” I did, of course. She took my daughter and I climbed up. Once I saw the sea of people I was frightened. I had never seen so many in one place. The sight of that infinite, turbulent, resolute sea was awe-inspiring indeed. These were brave individuals who had been under tyranny. Some were holding pictures of their martyrs in their hands, those whom they had pinned their hope on. I directed my lens in every direction and took pictures. I did not feel the passing of time. I was excited and took deep breaths after every shutter click. And with each one, it seemed that spectacular scenes were sucked into my camera. That I was there, trying to record these moments, filled me with pride. I had a peculiar mood and could hear my heart beat just as when one falls in love. I don’t know how long it took. My baby-sitter had gotten tired and kept asking me to come down and take my child back. With my daughter in my arms and my camera in tow, I marched with the crowd towards Shahyad Square. Midway to the square I went on top of a monstrous building. I still don’t know and can’t remember how I climbed the stairs of that 10-story building with a baby and a camera. I was able to take pictures that now look to me like they were aerial photographs of Daneshgah Street and the teeming masses of demonstrators.

I stood on the stairs of a pedestrian bridge on Shariati Street and tried to hide myself behind the tree branches. People were taking photographs with their cell phones. Policemen were trying to diffuse the crowd and people were shouting, “Don’t be daunted, we’re all united.” I had two cameras with me. An anti-riot officer saw me and pointed me out to another who was standing under the bridge. I tried to run across the pedestrian bridge to the other side and disappear in the crowd. But he ran after me and caught me before I could conclude my plan…

That night I could not sleep until the morning. On the first day of February 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini landed in Iran and all I could think about was to capture him on camera. The state television was on strike and I couldn’t hope for a formal letter. I was informed that the Ayatollah was residing in

Alavi  School  and  that  he would  be  holding  his  first  interview  on the  3rd of February. I found my way to Alavi School.  Here and there, on the walls of that old district, people had written: “Welcome to your Neauphle-le­ Chateau!” People were beside themselves. Multitudes had gathered outside Alavi School in the hope of visiting their leader. I got to the school gate. A rather short man wearing suit and tie was guarding the big iron door. I went closer and told him that I was from the television and that I had come to take photographs. He said that on that day visiting was restricted to men. I insisted, trying to persuade him. At  last he agreed  but set a condition  – I had to take a picture of him  standing  next  to  the  Ayatollah  at  the  press conference. I agreed and he opened the door. At first he led me into the yard. Everybody was waiting for Ayatollah Khomeini’s arrival. I stood with others in a corner, opposite the window that had previously led the Ayatollah out for visits with different groups of people. You could also see people standing on the roofs of neighboring buildings.

He appeared behind the open window and at once a wave of yearning, groping hands stretched to meet him. It seemed as if I was taking picture s suspended in midair. I was trying to save my camera amid a throng that was excited to see their leader. In fact, it was my camera that had led me there. I am grateful for being a photographer and to my camera. They have allowed me to capture some of the most peculiar, magnificent, tragic and brilliant moments in the past thirty years. Only a camera could do that. After some time — I cannot remember how long — Ayatollah Khomeini went inside. The man at the gate took me into the auditorium where the press conference was to be held. I had not forgotten my promise; of course, Ayatollah Khomeini was on a platform under intense light while the gatekeeper was in darkness down below. I had a Nikon EF with no flash. I took some photographs of them as best as I could. Many times afterward, the gatekeeper came to my office at Soroush Magazine to ask me for reprints in different sizes and I was happy to oblige. I don’t know if these photographs worked for him or not!

In those days, when I went out onto the streets, despite the fear of death from stray bullets, the possibility of arrest or being framed, and the terror caused by government vigilantes, my camera and I were breathing freely and joyfully. We were full of hope and pride. In those days, I assumed that it was my duty to record and save documents of the revolution for both my own children and the children of this land. I thought if we, I mean the people, were victorious then, in addition to freedom, I would have some documents of this uprising, and areas on for me and them to hold our heads high. I imagined these documents could be used to tell our children about our struggle for freedom and here they are. My camera was witness to what had happened and together we captured the spirit of a nation and it revolution. The people who sacrificed their lives for freedom perhaps though t they would be forgotten one day, but their great hope and desire was only that their blood would at least guarantee the freedom of their children and I wanted to perpetuate this hope with my camera.

But these days my camera and I are sad and we are breathing with difficulty, because the young people, whose fathers sacrificed their lives for freedom thirty years ago, are still hoping for freedom.

The interrogator said: “You shouldn’t have taken photographs of the protest”. “It’s my job” I countered, “this is what I do. It is the only thing that I can do”.

It was February 11 or 12. I was in my office when martial law was declared. I wrote the news of martial law at 4:30 pm on the back of a contact print and put it behind the windshield wiper of my car as I went home. Because it was breaking news, I thought people should be informed. When I arrived home, I learned that Ayatollah Khomeini had ordered people to defy the martial law and to take to the streets. I couldn’t stay home. I needed to be out on the streets, taking photographs or chanting revolutionary slogans, it didn’t matter which. My photographs are my words and my outcries. I needed to be there. I knew that this massive flood, which was beyond control, was made up of individuals like me. So I had to join the flood, make it more powerful. I needed to be there. For me the feeling of freedom, standing in the middle of a square, shouting and fighting, was new, sweet, and exciting. My first chant of “Death to the Shah” was in Aryamehr Street and after that I learned to cry out louder and louder every day, for freedom. I learned to join the people on the streets and sing “Ey lran” with clenched fists.

I looked out of the window of my house cautiously. The street was deserted. A child was looking out of an open window; somebody quickly drew him into the house and s hut the window. I went forward very slowly from behind the electric light poles. There was nobody, it was a long way up to the main street (Aryamehr) but Golha Square was nearby. The square was undoubtedly filled with soldiers. I saw the soldiers in the distance. I was frightened but did not turn back. I could hear a hubbub but the street was empty. I thought if I get to the next street and turn to the alley then I could be safe from being in sight of soldiers. Quiet and anxious, from behind the wall, I approached the alley. Now I was able to see the soldiers who were ready to fire. Two or three steps before the alley I could not keep calm anymore and start to run and in fact threw myself into the alley. As human beings, we are truly unpredictable!

I realized that the alley was full of people who were ready to move towards the square in silence, without any prior agreement. Suddenly I felt powerful. I did not know that I was this strong and brave. When I was by myself I was afraid and worried but now because we were all together I was no longer scared. Since we were all together, we could hold each other’s hands and move towards the soldiers. Everyone has her/his weapon; mine is my camera and my voice. I leaned against the wall until it was time to move.

My eyes rested on the opposite wall, where, bellow the window of house, someone had written in a hurry: “Men of truth are in prison or have been killed.” I took a picture. For many years after that episode, whenever I passed that street I could still see that handwriting on the wall. Maybe it is still there.

The judge said that if I took an oath not to take pictures of any demonstration again , I would be free to go. I said yes, positively. I promised not to take photographs again and came out.

Could one cease to breath, even if she took an oath not to?!

Maryam Zandi
October 2009