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Tree Planting As Resistance; A Memorial For Pouya Bakhtiari, The Face Of Iran's Bloody November

By Ali Mostolizadeh

Translated by Abbas Alizadeh

Pouya Bakhtiari, a 27-year old graduate of electrical engineering, was never able to celebrate his 28th birthday. His family celebrated Pouya’s birthday in Behesht-e Sakineh Cemetery in Karaj. In his Instagram account, Pouya had introduced himself as a vegetarian person interested in arts. His dream was to live in peace, a dream that cost Pouya his life.

In Iran, Pouya’s name is associated with the 2019 Iranian protests also known as the ‘Bloody November’. Pouya was shot and killed on the second day of the protests, 16 November, before her mother’s eyes. The videos that Pouya had recorded, narrated and documented in the last hours of his life, and the brutal way he was killed, has made him the face of the nationwide protests of November 2019. In one of the videos he recorded, which was first broadcasted by BBC Persian, Pouya asks Iranian people not to miss this opportunity and asks all to join. In another clip which has been widely shared through social media, Pouya’s narration is heard amid the protests asking parents to allow their sons and daughters to participate in the protests saying, “I am also someone’s son, I've come here and put my life in danger”.

The protests which commenced as peaceful gatherings over a surprising sharp hike in petrol price escalated into widespread demonstrations in more than 100 cities across Iran and was met with security forces firing on protesters, apparently with intent to kill. The use of excessive and lethal force by Iranian security forces to repress protesters made the protests the deadliest political unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. According to Reuters news agency, based on sources from Interior Ministry, about 1,500 were killed during less than two weeks of protests. In addition, over 7,000 were arrested in Iran over the protests, and there were reports of widespread torture, according to Amnesty International. Notably, Iranian authorities decided to impose a total shutdown of the Internet amid nationwide protests. In their report, Amnesty International, has declared the week-long 2019 Internet blackout in Iran a deliberate action by the Iranian authorities to hide the true scale of their unlawful killings.

One year after the Bloody November in Iran, the immense pressure on families of murdered protesters along with Covid-19 outbreak, has limited opportunities for families and the public to commemorate Pouya and other martyrs. In this situation, some Iranian residents of Dunedin, New Zealand, have initiated a tree-planting campaign to pay tribute to Pouya Bakhtiari and other Iranian protesters who lost their lives. To this end, a fund-raising campaign was launched and within 48 hours covered the cost of planting a Kōwhai tree, in Dunedin Botanic Garden. An endemic tree to New Zealand, Kōwhai has a long lifespan and produces beautiful yellow flowers in the spring. Many Maori regard the trees as sacred and forbid cutting them down. The donations have currently covered the expenses for planting another tree and the organizers are finalizing the required paper works to plant a second tree in a city other than Dunedin in New Zealand. As the tree-planting campaign for Pouya Bakhtiari successfully accomplished in Dunedin, the organizers call for planting more memorial trees across the world to expand the message. To date, a community of Iranians in Waterloo, Canada, and another group in Italy have already responded to this call and announced their intention to join the campaign once the Covid-19 situation eases.

Mrs. Nahid Shirpisheh, Pouya’s mother, has supported this campaign through a short statement which was read during the event in Dunedin. Thanking the Iranian diaspora, Mrs. Shirpisheh wrote, “I would like to thank all those who have offered their sympathy in different ways with our family during the past year, particularly those who were not even witnessing the Bloody November in Iran”. With regards to the tree planting in memory of Pouya, Mrs. Shirpisheh added that the tree is meaningful for her as “Pouya loved nature and all plants, he even valued simple grass let alone trees''. Abbas Alizadeh, one of the organizers, said during the event that "this kind message from Mrs. Shirpisheh is highly valuable as we understand Pouya's and other families of the victims are under massive pressure by authorities". For Salman, attending this event was the least he could do for Pouya’s family and “specially for his mother.”

Photo: Ali Mostolizadeh

Since Pouya’s tree is located close to the south gate of the Botanic Garden, the Iranian community has named the gate, in an internal agreement, “Pouya’s Gate”. This will be a place for the community to gather around on different occasions and commemorate Pouya. Pooneh, one of the other organizers, believes that “planting a tree in memory of Pouya who loved nature is a meaningful way to pay tribute to him and celebrate his life”. Pouya now has a tree named after him in New Zealand, thousands of miles away from his motherland Iran. The tree keeps the memory of Pouya Bakhtiari alive and shines a ray of hope to the hearts of those who protest for their rights in Iran.

Photo: Ali Mostolizadeh

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