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Zan, Zendegi, Azadi: Iranian Protest Stories Shared at Yale School of Medicine

November 08, 2022
by Jasree Peralta

Over 160 faculty, students, and staff gathered in The Anlyan Center auditorium on the evening of November 2 in support of members of the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) community affected by the recent uprising in Iran. The event was sponsored by the YSM Diversity Champions Advisory Council.

As people found their places, many lining the walls of the auditorium, a music video of the song Baraye—widely described as the anthem of the recent protests occurring in Iran and around the world—played on a screen in the front of the room. Tweets popped up on the screen with their English translations, then faded away, as Shervin Hajipour, an Iranian musician, sang them as lyrics.

“For my sister, your sister, our sisters…”

“For non-stop weeping…”

“For the students and their futures…”

“For the girl who wished to be a boy…”

“For Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer of YSM, began the event with opening remarks.

“Thank you for epitomizing what community is,” Latimore said. “There’s going to be tears, there’s going to be anger. We are here to support each other.”

This is about fundamental human rights

Susan Kashaf, MD, MPH, academic advisor in the Office of Student Affairs, was an organizer and speaker at the event. “We are here with you to raise awareness, build community, and stand in solidarity with each other and the people risking their lives fighting for fundamental human rights,” she said.

Kashaf was joined by several other speakers, including Iranian-American women in the YSM community who have connected in the past month to support each other. Some came from Iran decades ago, while others have been here just a few months. Each woman shared stories, both from personal experience and from family and friends currently in Iran.

Anahita Rabiee, MD, a transplant hepatology fellow who left Iran nine years ago, began with a reminder that the current protests were sparked by the killing of Jina-Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was arrested and beaten to death by the guidance patrol, Islamic religious police.

“This could have happened to any one of us girls who are here today, many arrested or cited multiple times by morality police for the crime of improper hijab,” said Rabiee. “The death of this innocent soul was the birth of the current revolution. It did not happen overnight, it came after a century of oppression, 100 years of struggle for freedom. Many lives sacrificed, many dreams crushed, many families separated, and many voices silenced. The fight is not about hijab, nor about religion: it is about women, life, freedom."

Universities and children are under attack

Laya Jalilian-Khave, MD, a psychiatric postdoctoral associate, was a physician in Iran. She left the country just two months ago. “Universities are under attack. With real bullets. We could have been those students with a few months' timing difference. We have friends in those universities. We are those students,” she said. She then described the frustration of Iranians having to explain the horror of the ongoing events and asked the audience to imagine if their own university was under attack by police or military.

Jalilian-Khave proceeded to share the story of Asraa, a 15-year-old girl in Iran, who was forced to engage in an anti-movement protest against her will alongside her classmates. She resisted and was beaten brutally, later dying due to internal bleeding.

“This is neither about politics nor about opposing opinions. It is about the crime of child murder,” Jalilian-Khave said. “It’s about the one non-negotiable: The child’s right to live. Today as I’m standing here, humanitarian groups have reported the murder of 37 children, and it’s expected to be[come] higher.”

A physician’s fight

Mina Ansari, MD, MPH, a psychiatric postdoctoral associate and a former physician in Iran, left Iran five months ago. She shared a story from a close friend still there, who is also a physician.

“We were not supposed to even treat injured people during protests without consequences and direct interference in our responsibilities as a physician. The police would check every X-ray in Tehran's main hospitals and gather the information of those who were shot. Some were even arrested before they were discharged from the hospital,” Ansari read.

She went on to tell how friends and colleagues decided to express their disagreement with the police tactics in front of their medical office, thinking they would be safe. Police guards blocked their way and when the physicians attempted to go a different route, the police guards chased them and shot at them.

“I thought to myself, this is the end and we’re going to die here or be arrested. At this time, we heard an old lady shouting ‘Come here! And take shelter in my apartment!’ so we threw ourselves inside the apartment without a second thought. A minute later, all we could hear was them kicking the door forcefully. We ran into the garage and tried to hide behind the cars. As I was panting, I couldn’t stop my tears from falling. Tears of anger and hatred. All that I could feel, in that cold and gloomy garage, was anger. Anger that had grown with every second and was a lot stronger than when I started.”

Making dreams into reality

Speakers also shared stories of hope, bravery, and pride. Images of women leading, men fighting alongside them, pictures of people in countries around the world coming to the streets to demonstrate their support. A video by Cee Roo, a young Swiss artist, demonstrated how the current events in Iran are a universal struggle for many women around the world.

Narges Akhlaghi, MD, MPH, an internal medicine resident, left Iran four years ago. She spoke about her hopes and dreams for her home country’s future.

“I dream that my people can live and die with dignity. They are loud and clear calling for a government that nobody dares to imprison, torture, and murder journalists, academics, students […] basically anyone for crime of speaking and writing about human rights,” she said. “I am amazed by the brave women and men shouting their dreams, my dreams. I hope that the world hears and honors their dreams.”

Submitted by Jasree Peralta on November 09, 2022