NEWS CENTER - I leave behind the road that winds through the mountains and go to the city of Xoy, where Azeris and Kurds live together, with a population of about 500 thousand people, among vineyards, gardens and fields covered with the colors of autumn on a wide plain, and from there to Urmia.
After passing through the Xoy-Razi Border Gate, I take a taxi to Xoy. An Azeri from Tabriz, who is sitting in the front seat of the taxi and has a business in Van, talks about the turmoil in the country and warns that I need to be careful in terms of security. When I say that I have visited Iran twice before, he says: "This time it is different. You must be very careful. I guess you haven't heard of the detention of tourists in the country in the past few days," and explains both the developments in Iran and what I should do to protect myself during the trip. "Stay away from crowded environments. Do not carry your camera around your neck. Especially stay away from the points where government offices are located and do not take photos or videos. There is a serious increase in the number of plainclothes police, so be careful not to talk to people too much, you cannot predict what will happen to you when they realize that you are a foreigner. Do not to go outside, especially at night" he says.
'PEOPLE ARE UNHAPPY'
While listening to his warnings, I was trying to learn why people have taken to streets and did not withdraw in the last two months from the first Iran citizen I met. He tells me about the economic crisis, the cost of living, the lost value of the Iranian currency, the increasing pressure, the worn-out Iranian image in the world and the insults of Gaşt-e İrshad (Morality Police) against women and adds that people are unhappy. People can put up with hunger and poverty to some extent, but when the dignity of the person in question is in question, they cannot give up, even at the cost of death. As a matter of fact, this was the point that united all Iran in this uprising. The fact that a woman (Jina Emini) was beaten for not covering up according to Islamic rules, and she lost her life as a result, was the last drop. The citizen of Tabriz, who gave me his phone number, says I can call him if I need it, and wishes me luck.
THE GRAFFITIS ON THE WALL ARE ERASED IMMEDIATELY!
I leave behind the road that winds through the mountains and enter the city of Xoy, which has a population of approximately 500 thousand people among vineyards, gardens and fields covered in the colors of autumn on a wide plain. I visit the ancient Xoy Bazaar next to Darvazeh Sangi, where the heart of this city, where Kurdish and Azeri peoples live together, beats. The market is crowded and life seems to be normal, but I witness that everyone is talking about the protests that spreads whole speed all over Iran. While walking around the city, it is noteworthy that a few Jin Jiyan Azadi, Zen, Zendegî, Azadî, Jîna Eminî, Merg ber Dictator (Death to the Dictator) graffitis were painted on the walls with black paint and then crossed out or not yet erased. Although the protests in Iran have left behind about two months, I learn that there is no action in the city of Xoy, except for a few small demonstrations.
When I come to the street where there are taxis going to Urmia, when I want to take a photo, a young man approaches me and says don't waste time taking pictures of these soulless people, as if talking about the silence in the city. When I say that I took pictures of the signs showing Urmia and Salmas and the airport and the university, he says it makes more sense than to take the photos of these people. I'm thinking about asking why but I remember what the man in the taxi told me and just smile.
HIGH COST OF LIVING ATTRACTS ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY
If you wish, you can hire a taxi alone for intercity trips in Iran, or if you have time, you can wait for four more passengers to jump in. I am the third passenger of a taxi waiting for two passengers, and we leave when the fourth passenger comes. During the approximately 130-kilometer journey, almost nothing else is discussed apart from the family matters of the other three passengers. The young driver drops us off in the city center of Urmia and I walk the busiest streets of the city.
When I arrived at the Velayeti Faqih Square, I see that it is very dynamic. Peddlers, tradesmen are trying to sell something in a hurry. However, due to the low purchasing power and cost of living, the people complain that they cannot spend any money unless they have compulsory needs. Uncovered students and women wandering the streets just don't get my attention. Some shopkeepers sitting in front of their shops or chatting while smiling are watching these brave students and women. Of course, there are those who turn their heads and look angry.
'THESE PEOPLES HAVE SUFFERED SO MUCH FROM THIS REGIME'
A civil servant I interviewed complained about the regime's practices and added that in Iran, which is among the richest countries in the world in terms of underground and aboveground resources, all the people are suffering from poverty. "In addition to the economic crisis, the society has been damaged because of the policies of the Mullah regime that make life unlivable. Look, there is Danişgede Street just ahead. The region where the rich people of Urmia live. Only one street of this city, with a population of about one million, consists of rich people. The remaining almost 95 percent of the city is poor. Imagine a city that has a wide plain, fertile lands, and is surrounded by grape and apple vineyards, where people find it difficult to bring bread to their homes. This public mind has suffered and still suffers from executives who can't work for anything other than designing their lives. And we want them gone as soon as possible" he says.
THERE ARE NOT AS MANY PROTESTS IN URMIA COMPARED TO THE REST OF IRAN
I am asking about the last two months' protests to the civil servant, who is also an Azeri, who says that Azeris and Kurds live together in Urmia, that both peoples know each other's language and live in peace. Pointing out that although West Azerbaijan Province is the administrative center and has many universities, active protests have not developed as much as in the Kurdistan province. However, since this is the administrative center, it is a city where armed and unarmed regime forces are concentrated. The pressure is too much and there are police and motorized teams patrolling the streets and squares all the time. Again, there are many people who are detained and arrested with raids on their homes. Despite this, we know and hear that there are people who take to the streets especially in the evenings lately."
I CAN'T EXCHANGE CURRENCY NOT CAN I BUY A PHONE LINE
As I wandered the streets, I noticed the presence of motorized crews and police with long-barreled weapons, as the civil servant said. I walked out empty handed from all four exchange offices I walked in. When I ask why, I learn that one dollar equals almost 35 thousand Tomans and that the exchange offices do not work due to the rapid change in the exchange rate. I wanted to use the Iran currency from my previous trips before I could exchange the dollar with me, and I walk to the Post Bank to buy a phone line. In Iran, it is sold at Post Banks with official telephone lines. I leave empty-handed at all four Post Banks, each on different streets. When I say I want to get a phone line, I hand my passport to the officials who ask for my ID. As they see the passport, I get the answer that there is nothing they can sell to me. When I ask why, I don't get any response.
On the third day of my trip, I'm pushing my luck to get a phone line one last time, accompanied by an employee from the lobby of the hotel I'm staying at. I did not receive a refusal because the hotel attendant was recognized at the Post Bank I went to. After the officer took my passport, after a warning on the computer screen said that he could not continue my transaction and could not connect, I completely lost my hope of getting a phone line.
PEOPLE DETAINED IN OTHER CITIES ARE BROUGHT TO URMIA
I leave there and wander the streets. Just like in Xoy, similar slogans were written on the walls here, and when I couldn't reach the sources I wanted to talk to, I ended up in the city's and even Iran's largest Natural History Museum, and then in the Urmia Museum.
After my tour in Urmia, where detainees were brought and questioned brought from cities such as Bokan, Mahabad, Salmas, Piranşehr and Serdeşt, as it is the administrative center of West Azerbaijan Province, I am leaving for Mahabad, one of the important centers of the protests in Rojhilat and where more than ten people have lost their lives so far.
Article series-1 I am in İran and Rojhilat...
Tomorrow : In Mahabad the people are not backing down
MA/ Abdurrahman Gök