Iran celebrates Nowruz, the festival marking the start of spring and the beginning of the Persian New Year, this week. Nowruz is one pre-Islamic Iranian tradition that survived the 1979 revolution; the “superstitious” festival preceding it, Chaharshambe Suri (“Wednesday Fire”) was not so lucky, being banned this year by the Tehran police.
Despite this small setback, Iranians proceeded to mark Nowruz with the usual celebrations – and, as tradition has dictated since 1979, a patriotic speech. It was Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who took to the stage on Saturday, possibly to flaunt his good health once more; in his anti-Western address, which was communicated mostly by Reuters, Khamenei demanded that the sanctions against Iran be lifted completely, while claiming in the same breath that they are “ineffective.” At some point, one member of the audience who cried “Death to America,” to which the leader replied, “Of course yes, death to America, because America is the original source of this pressure. They insist on putting pressure on our dear people’s economy.” Ineffective pressure, right?
US President Barack Obama’s holiday greeting to Iranians was, like Khamenei’s, straight and to the point – and much more widely reported than the ayatollah’s address, even making it to Mashable. Between quoting Persian poets and waxing poetic on spring, Obama urged Iranians to support the nuclear deal currently in the works, which presents “the best opportunity in decades” for a “brighter” and “different” future for Iran.
But one Nowruz greeting that went largely unreported was that of Iranian dissident leader Maryam Rajavi, who wished for “the spring of freedom, popular sovereignty, equality and justice” to “prevail” in Iran. Even less coverage was devoted to the message of a young Khorramshahr native who, in a symbolic gesture just days before Chaharshambe Suri, set himself on fire to protest the injustices of the Iranian regime. It was the young man’s act of protest that Rajavi took to symbolize Nowruz in post-1979 Iran, showing that the official greetings and celebrations of the festival are just one side of the story.