The exhibition ‘Women, Life, Freedom in Iran’ and Holocaust Memorial event by ‘A Living Tradition’ in Newcastle City Library on 23 January gave the audience insights to life for many in both Iran and previously in Bosnia. The persecution and loss of freedoms in these two countries testifying to the ease with which rights can be summarily removed.
Parisa Panahi, campaigner for women in Iran
Parisa Panahi is a campaigner for Women, Life, Freedom, who was born in Tehran and came to the UK as a young teenager. She talked of atrocities perpetrated on Iranian citizens in Iran with a quiet calmness which served to underline the horror of their treatment by the state. She spoke about executions in the early morning at call to prayer; about five hundred and eighty-two lives lost in 2023, and one hundred made blind for the crime of ‘protesting.’ Then she reminded us of the death in 2022 of a 22-year-old Kurdish girl, beaten by Iran’s ‘morality’ police for infringement of hijab laws. Despite intimidation, civil protests by women in Iran continue, with the support of their men. In artwork from her previous exhibitions we observe the vivacity of young victims of state aggression.
Poetic interlude from Bosnia
Two readers, one in Bosnian and one in English took a chosen text from Mehmedalija Dizdar’s famous poem A Word about Man, from The Stone Sleeper. Spoken in English then Bosnian, the language of both original and translation echoed with rhymes and told of earthly existence. Dizdar, who died in 1971, had been part of a partizan resistance movement in Bosnia during World War II.
Aida Haughton MBE, Bosnian former United Nations translator
In his introduction to a specially recorded video-message from Aida Haughton Peter Sagar reminded the audience that Bosnia was peaceful until 1990, a mere 24 years ago.
Aida grew up in a safe, peaceful neighbourhood in Bosnia-Herzegovina; she was eighteen at the start of the war which had been in planning for the previous four years. When shots started firing above their heads and exploding close-by, she and her family moved to temporary shelters, and spent the following three years in perilous conditions. Formerly good neighbours and friends fought against each other, amid black market profiteering and insecurity. Many Muslims ended up in mass graves, were buried and re-buried two or three times to obscure their identities.
In conclusion, and with quiet emphasis Aida said that genocide is not accidental. We must protect our Freedoms for once lost they are difficult to retrieve.
Julie Ward, of the Elie Wiesel network
When elected to the European Parliament in 2014, Julie Ward became involved in civil society organisations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She was one of the founding members of the Elie Wiesel Network, a group of MEPs united in determination to prevent genocide, and having the means as elected representatives to take responsibility for protecting citizens from mass atrocities perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. In her work she used visual and dramatic art to explore democracy with youth groups; occasionally meeting with disruption from aggressors intent on derailing these peaceful interventions. She made the point that genocide denial is a form of genocide.
“The executioner always kills twice, the second time through silence.” Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
History of the campaign for Human Rights in the North East
Peter Sagar spoke of both the Bosnians and Iranians on Tyneside who have been welcomed into our midst, drawing together the experiences of both communities and the discussions of the evening.
His song The Long Walk has an engaging narrative which describes a stroll round Newcastle, a walk-through history to a better world. The verses weave in characters from the city and environs of those whose struggles for human rights have benefitted later generations. In 1791 Newcastle was among the first cities outside London to establish an anti-slavery society. Abolition supporters were involved in North East mining, manufacturing, printing, ship building, and whaling industries. Then in the nineteenth century Earl Charles Grey as Prime Minister oversaw the passing of both the Reform Act 1832, followed by the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833. Famous among campaigners for enfranchisement in the twentieth century, is Suffragette Kathleen Brown whose imprisonment in Holloway is commemorated by a blue plaque on Grey Street.
‘Wherever I am, … the sky is mine’ Music and song from Iran
The quote is a translation from a poem by Sohrab Sepehri:
‘Wherever I am, let me be, the sky is mine.’
To end, four Iranian musicians with Santoor, Tar, and Daf (Persian percussion) gave a performance of exquisite intricate music, their instruments resounding with complex rhythms; a concert which made a memorable finale to a memorable evening.