In the middle of the night on July 9, 1999, government-backed militia brutally attacked the student dormitories of Tehran University, forever changing not only the political landscape but also the control the Islamic Republic of Iran had over its youth. Live Generation shares the true story of the courageous students who participated in a movement that provided the foundation for a new generation of youth willing to risk everything for the freedom of their country. Reza Mohajerinejad, one of the student organizers who led the 1999 protests, offers a compelling insider’s perspective as he chronicles the days of protest, later known as 18 Tir on the Persian calendar. He details how students were pulled from their rooms and beaten, resulting in a six-day student uprising that brought some 50,000 students out into the streets of Tehran to protest a tyrannical government. While providing a fascinating look at the determination of Iran’s youth to ensure secular, democratic rule in their country, Mohajerinejad details his own journey to captivity and torture at the hands of the Islamic regime. Live Generation shares one man’s unforgettable insight into one of the most critical, life-changing events in the history of Iran.
July 9, 1999 Tehran, 2:00 a.m. The campus was quiet that Thursday night in early July. Summer in Tehran is hot, and we slept head to toe in a cramped dorm room. We were students, political friends, intellectuals in the making, and we were working for secular democracy in Iran. We woke to the fanatic cries of those who attacked the dorms. They shouted the name of God before landing blows that elicited screams from our fellow students. The sudden shocking sounds of gunshots rang out between the buildings, and the crashing of breaking glass and terror reverberated within the campus walls. Terrified, we scattered in the chaos. Mayhem followed, hours of violence that can only be likened to a battle scene from any war ever fought. From where I hid I watched as they tore apart one of the dorms. One man barked violent orders. I remember his bearded face and the un-tucked shirt he wore. From where I crouched behind a door I heard the others refer to him as “Haji.” He barked out commands that his underlings followed without hesitation. Later I would see a picture of this man and recognize him as Tehran’s former police chief, Farhad Nazari. The Islamic Republic of Iran would later acquit Nazari of any involvement in the attacks. However, too many of us saw him that night. Farhad Nazari was not only involved in the planning, but he was an active participant in the assault on students at Tehran University on July 8, 1999. As the attacks continued, they became more brutal. We knew they were likely looking for us, or those who sympathized with us. As in any group based on fundamentalist ideology, The Ansar-e Hezbollah feel justified in taking licenses that go far beyond the realm of social justice or human rights. We listened that night as they screamed curses at students in the name of God, crashing into rooms indiscriminately, terrorizing whomever they found behind the dormitory walls. They carried batons, swords, and guns, and there seemed to be anywhere from 300 to 400 of them. I made my way outside to the campus grounds where I saw students being thrown from buildings, three-stories high. With each body they flung from the windows I remember hearing “Ya Zahra” which literally translates as “Accept our sacrifice.” Later we heard that the Hezbollah had grabbed students and broken the bones of their arms like tree branches, screaming “Allahu Akbar,” God is Great, or “Khamenei Rahbar,” indicating support for and from the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. For whatever reason they were unable to get into Building 17, and the students who stayed there had climbed the stairs to the roof and were throwing objects down, aiming to hit members of the Hezbollah wherever possible. This would mark the beginning of our resistance and it would last for the next several days. From where I hid watching I could see that members of the Hezbollah attacked the students indiscriminately. It didn’t matter to them which students they injured or killed. The attacks were not personal per se, but the message they sent was very clear. Our political activities had brought out the wrath of the Islamic Republic authorities. They were declaring that they had control, and enough was enough. We had falsely believed that the dorms were our sanctuary. Not in our wildest dreams would we have thought that our government would have come into the dormitories to assault its youth. We were gravely mistaken. That night one graduate student, Ezzat Ibrahim Nejad, was shot and killed. Ezzat was the only casualty that was actually acknowledged by name by the government as having been lost. Why they chose him isn’t clear. What I can say about Ezzat, and I only knew him through other friends, was that he was strong and he believed in our movement. I don’t believe he was singled out from the rest of us, but I do think the Hezbollah may have seen him resist. I did see the Ansar-e Hezbollah shoot one student two or three times, and I’ve often wondered if it was Ezzat that I saw murdered. I was some 200 feet away, and in the confusion I couldn’t be sure of the student’s identity. Still, to see a human being murdered in cold blood was a first for me. I couldn’t believe what was happening. In my mind, the Islamic regime had sunk to a new low in what they were willing to do to control the people of Iran, and particularly the youth. The attack went on for somewhere around two hours. It seemed much longer, and I can only imagine how every battle in a war must seem like an eternity. When the Basiji had gone, students came out of the dorms and started picking up the pieces of their living quarters. Before long we realized that the number of wounded was very high, so we started making runs to Shariati Hospital. I found several of my friends, and we walked the short distance to the hospital. We arrived before members of Sepah, and hospital authorities told us that there were many more dead than was later reported by the government. We saw broken bones, lacerations, black eyes, and more blood than we could have imagined. We walked the hallways, gathering any information we could about the wounded and the dead. The hospital was like something out of a movie about a war torn country where the medical facilities can’t keep up with all the wounded coming in. There were more injured than there were people to care for them. What precipitated the attacks on the dorms the night of 18 Tir, or what had been the immediate cause, had to do with the closing of a Reformist newspaper called Salam, and the protests that took place in reaction to its closing. Earlier that evening we had continued the campaign with another protest inside the dormitories. To understand the political climate in Iran at that time, it is essential to weigh the costs. I was 27 years old in 1999. My first involvement in politics happened early on when I was a student at Noushahr College. I organized a student protest because of a ruling by the school administration that would invalidate the credits many students had earned over the course of a two-year program. What I learned from that first experience was the power we were capable of when enough of us banned together. We marched on the campus and the administration heard us. From that first demonstration I began formulating the cause that would be the foundation of the movement I helped form and have been part of since. I met Manouchehr Mohammadi in the early days of my academic career. The two of us shared our vision of a government in our country that was democratic and secular. We had grown up with an Islamic government, seen family members fight in the Iran-Iraq War, only to come back to our repressive government. We believed in secular democracy from the legacy left behind by our political history in Iran from the 1950s. Then Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeqh believed in a government for our country that didn’t allow foreign powers to benefit more from the natural resources in Iran than our own citizens. It was for this belief that Mossadeqh fell out of favor with Great Britain and later with the U.S. Both governments would later collude to overthrow Iran’s democratic prime minister. Many late night conversations gave birth to what initially was called Students and Freethinkers of Iran and later was renamed when we joined with two other student groups, the Students’ Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, and the Iranian Student Organization which consisted of high school students. We formed the National Union of Iranian Students and Graduates (NUISG). Ours was a friendship based on a belief in the legacy of our twentieth century political hero and Iran’s former prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeqh. In 1953, Iran had a democratic government and a prime minister who believed in freedom for the citizens of Iran. Mossadeqh was overthrown in a coup that was orchestrated by the CIA and Great Britain, but his legacy continues to live on in the hearts and minds of Iranian
Reza Mohajerinejad is a student activist and one of the organizers of the Iranian student uprisings in July of 1999. He is the ounder of the International Alliance of Iranian Students and the Global Student Alliance, and is currently a student at San Francisco State University.