Millennial voices and political action points merged with historical remembrance and musical performances to rally for regime change in Iran during this year’s annual Grand Gathering for a Free Iran at Le Bourget, Paris, France.
The annual Iran Grand Gathering is a pivotal rally event for the Iranian diaspora known for its display of culturally and politically organized unity pushing for a democratic and pluralistic Iran. The rally’s success, built over months, is realized with the collaboration of hundreds of volunteer crew members in support of the NCRI (National Council of Resistance in Iran), a Paris-based opposition coalition group that was exiled by the Iranian government which convenes each year to renew its annual pledge for a free Iran. The rally took place on Saturday, 9 July 2016.
The 8-hour, jam-packed event featured many key moments from a slew of parliamentary officials. The delegation of French officials kicked off the event, welcomed by the Mayor of Le Bourget, the site of the rally. Senator Vincent Capo-Canellas’ opening words were followed by the master of the ceremonies, Chairwoman of the US Center for Equal Opportunity Linda Chavez, notably named by the US Library of Congress as a living legend.
Among the French parliamentary delegates was Gilbert Mitterrand, President of France Libertés. Mitterrand is the son of former French President Francois Mitterrand, who, while president, supported wife Danielle led to the PMOI (The People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran), the main organized alternative to the Iranian regime, to be granted exile in Paris.
Valiant words continued, this time delivered from the people of Karaj, Iran, located 30km west of Tehran, The attendees, many hailing from the diaspora of European Iranian communities, roared alongside their supporters in manifest solidarity to the words:
“When we are in this hour of solitude, we shall plant the flowers in the garden of freedom.”
Alongside members of the Iranian diaspora were upwards of 500 representatives from all sides of the political spectrum. Speakers taking the podium had one collective message: to stand up for resistance against oppression and to end the Iranian regime’s destabilizing actions in the region and globally. Foremost, the speakers took a stand for regime change in Iran.
This massive political rally also mixed a celebratory program of amazing choreographed dance performances and orchestral interpretations, both folkloric and classical. These kinds of freedoms of expression are, sadly, totally suppressed inside Iran under the mullahs’ theocratic regime. A message was transmitted clearly by the resistance: that culture and liberty is not to be feared, but embraced.
Leading a remembrance of Iranian political prisoners and testimonies of the role young millennials can play toward pushing for regime change, elegant words came from French-Columbian activist Ingrid Betancourt, herself liberated from Columbian rebels FARC after 6 years in captivity.
Received by a chanting crowd, Betancourt invited Paria, an 18-year old Iranian girl, to take the microphone; outlined with the fertile words “in the voices of these women and men from all the corners of Iran, the Resistance is alive, it’s organized and it’s strong. Paria! She is the flame and the fire under the ashes. The flame and the fire that this regime will never be able to extinguish.”
Paria started by addressing the Iranian diaspora and political representatives before going on to share her story of her and her father, a political prisoner in the hands of the Iranian regime:
“I have to say I’m nervous”, Paria said, “after seeing the incredible size of this crowd. After all, I used to watch this gathering every year when I was in Iran. I used to tune into to the opposition channel to catch a glimpse of the Annual Gathering. I could only watch it on the TV. But being present here and seeing the incredible size of this first hand, I’m very happy to be with you. Those supporters of friendship who have come from all over the world to bring your support to us: I would like to offer this flower to those present here today.”
Moving on to to talk of her father as a political prisoner, Paria made this statement in a tone as defiant as it was emotionally charged:
“I’m Paria Kohandell. I’m 18 years old. I’m here to be the voice of my father, who is my source of pride and my hero. He has spent the last 10 years in prison because of his commitment to bring freedom to our generation. He’s resisting and persevering in the clerical regime’s prisons. I was 8 when they arrested my father. For 10 years I could only see him for 20 minutes at a time each week, with a glass panel separating us. But we made a lot of memories together in those 20 minutes. He was with me when I was sad. And he laughed with every fiber of his being. The sound of his laughter still echoes in my ears.
“When I was sad it was dad that consoled me, but when he was sad I had nothing to say to ease his pain, like the moment regime took his cell mates and friends for executions. They were my uncles.
“My dad used to say ‘there are a lot of 17 year old and 18 year old teenagers who are being sentenced to death and long-term sentences on petty charges. He said that he could see me in their faces.”
Paria pleaded for a free Iran for those silenced voices:
“I wish those teenagers were here so they could freely scream the things they haven’t been able to say under this regime; so that they could say it without being censored. This is a generation that has watched public executions and experienced the pain of child labor through all its life; a generation that was unwittingly thrown into a war that is still in progress.
My country, Iran, is at war. A war for freedom, a war for being able to create a free Iran without prison and execution. But the regime tried constantly to make us become our own enemies while trying to convince us that we’re alone in this fight. But we are not alone, we have something to lean on, to count on, that’s helped us all these years. To come alive like the fire, instead of being motionless like the ashes remaining from the flames. And that one can rebel against repression, that we can be free. In the process of leaving Iran I met Iranian immigrants who were with me every step of the way in those tough times without much help. I didn’t even think that I would be able to see them again. But amazingly I met some of them here today. Like me, they have found what they have been looking for. I wish them all welcome as well. We came here representing all the youths of Iran. We represent them to scream for them. And create the engagement to free Iran.
And also to Maryam [Rajavi, president-elect of NCRI] and Masood [Rajavi, NCRI founding leader], that the fight for freedom will go on. And that Maryam, whose name is banned in Iran because it is a source of fear for the ruling regime, has taught us that “We Can and We Must” bring Maryam to Iran and to bring the glowing light to Iran and that day is near”.
Other issues expressed at the podium by high-ranking officials as well as humanitarian leaders included calls to stop executions in Iran, to end juvenile executions, to permit freedom of speech alongside press freedoms, to expand the rights of individuals to practice their own religion, and the freedom to gather, and positioned arguments in favor of economic rights for workers and the promotion of economic liberty and equality for women and young people.
Unanimous was the call from the gathering of official voices from the international community to implement the NCRI’s 10-point democratic plan for regime change in Iran, part of the NCRI’s mission and its blueprint for regime change, which calls for domestic and foreign policy reforms including:
– abolition of the death penalty
– separation of the religion and state
– equal participation of women in political leadership
– a non-nuclear Iran
– peaceful coexistence of Iran and its neighbors
A version of Diamond Aurora by a singer from Camp Ashrafi, Iraq was performed in support of the Iranian resistance in exile in Europe, US, and Iraq – everywhere, to ‘acknowledge their endless and unconditional sacrifices for Iran.’ This was complemented by a performance to celebrate the various ethnicities, diverse culture and music of Iran, told through a medley of Iranian folkloric anthems composed by Master Mohammed Shams.
Mrs. Rajavi payed homage to the Iranian people’s ongoing fight for resistance, portrayed through banner-sized images and historical montages depicting the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 for a Nationalist Movement, through to Prime Minister Mossadegh’s 1952 movement, leading finally to today’s reinvigorated resistance of the NCRI.
The event was broadcast live via satellite into Iran and throughout the Middle East, Europe and North America by global cable and mainstream media channels and outlets. It also emphasized getting the word out to a globally reactive audience through social media, which has been an effective voice of advocacy for freedom in Iran. Many young people who have fled Iran embrace social media as a means of resistance because they cannot physically be in Iran.
Join the discussion and react to this year’s annual Grand Gathering of Iranian Communities 2016 by following on Twitter @4FreedomIran and @Maryam_Rajavi or by searching hashtags #RajaviYes, #FreeIran, and #MaryamRajavi.