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Delft is NOT the center of New Iranian Activism

By Pejman Akbarzadeh

A Response to Washington Post's "Dutch town of Delft is center of a new Iranian activism" (Sep.6, 2010)

Note: This response was originally submitted to Washington Post but the paper refused to publish it

A recent article in the Washington Post focuses on Iranians' political activities in the Dutch city of Delft.  Thomas Erdbrink the author of the article conveys the impression that Deft, a "dreamly university town" is a "major center" of current Iranian activists. The main point of the article is that young intellectuals who have recently come from Iran believe in gradual reforms, and not a regime change in their homeland. Perhaps for those who live outside Holland the article may succeed giving the above- mentioned impression but for Persian community in this country, Washington Post's piece is quite shocking and disappointing.

Thomas Erdbrink, is a prominent Dutch journalist. He follows Iran issues closely, is well versed in Persian language and now lives in Tehran. The fact that there has been an international media blackout since June 2009 elections means that he is not completely free to write what he wants about Iranian opposition.  Western journalists have already been banned from reporting from Tehran and all journalistic activity is monitored closely. Also many scholars and researchers have been warned about giving interviews to foreign-based media.

But background information about Persian (Iranian) community in The Netherlands is revealing as well. This community is new but big. According to Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics, currently more than 31000 Persians live in Holland. Mostly came from late 1980s to mid-1990s, when The Netherlands' doors were open to asylum seekers. At that time, thousands of Iranians, tired of various political and social restrictions in the post-war Iran, made Holland their second home. They quickly integrated into the Dutch secular system and based on the Ministry of Immigration (IND) reports are among the most successful immigrants to The Netherlands.

Since 2009 disputed election and harsh reaction of security forces to peaceful demonstrations, the Persian community in The Netherlands organized many solidarity events for their fellows inside the homeland. In the beginning a group of Delft Iranian students organized a few gatherings in front of Iran's embassy in The Hague but the organizers behavior bitterness amongst the community. An eyewitness in one of the demonstrations told Amsterdam-based Radio Zamaneh: "One of the organizers told me if you have not voted in the election do not stand here!" The situation gradually became even worse. In one of the demonstrations in front of Dutch Parliament in The Hague, the Deft-based organizer asked police to kick out an old couple because of carrying Persian flag with "lion and sun" in its middle, considered to be a monarchist symbol by some. At the same time, many people complained that organizers dictated to them what kind of slogans they should use and that they were warned that not to say anything against the Islamic Republic!

When in Iran many are risking life and limb fighting for freedom of speech, freedom of opinion and expression, some of the Iranian students of  Delft seem blind to these basic tenants of democracy. They idolize and deify Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the man whose loss in last year elections in Iran triggered allegations of vote-rigging and widespread protests. They invited people to show their solidarity with Iranian "people" but in reality their events were a pro Mousavi rally!   Many amongst the opposition groups hold Mousavi accountable for the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988 when he was prime-minister of Iran. He has been steadfast in his defense and veneration of the Islamic Revolution and Khomeini alienating himself from those amongst the opposition who regret both.

After a while the Delft-based groups disappeared and serious demonstrations were held by Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague-based activists. In July 2009, the biggest demonstration was attended by more than 2000 people in Amsterdam. It was a part of the "International Day of Solidarity with Iran" campaign which was an historical event for the community. Organized by "United 4 Iran" (NL. Chapter), the peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi gave a lecture and adamantly asked for the release of political prisoners in Iran. The demonstration was covered by all mainstream media inside and outside The Netherlands. The Delft students were not the organizers.

Holland's Persian Community Demonstration, organized by
United4IRAN (NL), Amsterdam, 25 July 2009
Photo by Pejman Akbarzadeh

Later a big conference was organized at Delft University by The Hague-based Iranian Progressive Youth. Many young political and human rights activists, both Persian and European, participated and even students activists from Tehran sent a video message. Delft students were not the organizers again and did not even attend the conference. Some said because they want to return to Iran and do not want to compromise themselves by being seen opposing the regime.

After the brutal crackdown of opposition by the Islamic Republic, in January 2010, when Iran's Embassy in The Hague organized a "Peace Concert" in Rotterdam, a wave of anger spread in the Persian-Dutch community. The event had to be stopped in the middle, because of physical confrontations between angry protesters and the embassy agents who attacked them. The Dutch MP Harry van Bommel described the Islamic Republic concert as a "disgrace for the city of Rotterdam".

In April 2010 a group of Persian and Dutch protesters occupied parts of Islamic Republic Embassy in The Hague in protest to Iran's oppressive and violent policies. During this act of protest, the flag of the Islamic Republic was lowered and replaced with a banner bearing an image of Neda, the woman who was shot to death in Tehran's street protests after the disputed June presidential elections. Later on, presence of Islamic Republic figures in the Netherlands was heavily protested by the Persian-Dutch community. Most recently, head of Iran's national broadcasting, Ezzatollah Zarghami, cancelled his trip to visit a Dutch television network due to these protests.

All of those who were involved in such movements are young educated people many of whom have come from Iran in the recent years. They still have close contacts with Iran and try to express what their compatriots want inside Iran.  Almost all of these young Iranians were born after 1979 revolution in Iran and have the bitter experience of trusting to so-called "reformists" candidates in Iran.

In this situation and contrary to such blatant evidence of the desires of the opposition movements, Thomas Erdbrink considers Delft, that "dreamly university town" as a center of Iranian activism. Where in fact the Delft active group is small, passive and mistrusted by many of the opposition here.  Radio Free Europe Persian Service has published the Persian translation of Mr. Erdbrink article on its website. A quick look at the comments from people will show how much the article's content is far from reality. It seems the author has had a pre-written screenplay in his mind and did not bother to take a look at what has actually happened in Persian-Dutch community in 2009-10.

In Thomas Erdbrink piece, a student beautifully states, "We cannot change Iran overnight, there is no magic solution." Yes, we cannot but of course the solution is not stifling others' opinions either, especially in Holland which is famous, even in Europe, for freedom of speech and social tolerance.

* Pejman Akbarzadeh, is an Amsterdam-based pianist, journalist and documentary maker. He is also the president of Persian Dutch Network. He can be reached through the e-mail address:

... Payvand News - 09/23/10 ... --

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