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Women, life and freedom: WNY Iranian Americans on their fight for gender equality in Iran

Ali Hasanzadeh and Sara Sadri
Ali Hasanzadeh
Ali Hasanzadeh and Sara Sadri

When Salman Rushdie was attacked at the Chautauqua Institution earlier this year, his attacker, Hadi Matar, professed an edict from Iran’s then-leader Ayatollah Khomenei as the reason for the attack.

Nadia Shahram, a local attorney, activist and Iranian American, says more attacks on Iranian Americans could happen if there is no public support from elected officials on the local and federal level.

“What we are asking my American brothers and sisters here to do is to say openly we support Iranians revolution against tyranny against dictatorship,” Shahram said.

Nadia Shahram reads a proclamation from New York State Representative Monica Wallace in December 2022 at a Persian celebration marking winter solstice.
Emyle Watkins
Nadia Shahram reads a proclamation from New York State Representative Monica Wallace in December 2022 at a Persian celebration marking winter solstice.

In late December, several elected officials did just that. Representatives from the offices of the Erie County executive and the New York State Assembly read proclamations voicing support for the people of Iran at an event in Williamsville called Yalda night in Williamsville.

“This is something that helps bring down the government and gives people the hope that we need to be able to succeed in the revolution," said Ali Hasanzadeh.

The Yalda night celebration marked the first night of winter, but people were also there to show solidarity for the people of Iran, including a silent vigil to remember those who have been killed so far and to learn what ways Western New Yorkers can help those who are protesting against the Islamic Republic — the group that has ruled Iran since 1979.

“We thought that perhaps a few minutes of our time, we are honoring the beautiful heroism and their memory," Shahram said.

Emyle Watkins

Hasanzadeh, a graduate student at the University at Buffalo, left Iran at 17 and is one of the local Iranian Americans actively working to bring down a regime that oppresses women and silences those who oppose its policies.

“I would say from my own experience that the Islamic Republic regime is the true definition of a dictatorship and terrorist government,” Hasanzadeh said.

Iranians have been protesting the government in Iran since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She was
arrested for what Iran’s morality police said was the improper wearing of her hijab and died three days later while still in police custody. Amini had reportedly been severely beaten.

“Five hundred twenty three children and teenagers have been killed since Sept. 16, 2022,” Shahram said.

Shahram says the morality police often use tactics to harass women, and she too experienced her own situation with the morality police when she last went to visit Iran in 2005.

“I was fully covered, but I had colored lip gloss on. She came and she gave me a Kleenex and she said wipe that from your mouth. My sisters had told me that this is a ploy that they use. They have razors in those napkins. When they offer, you don't take it," Shahram said.

Hasanzadeh and Shahram are grateful for the support of local officials, but they are calling on the federal government to take action as well.

“All we want is for them to recognize Islamic Republic regime and every single organization connected to that government as terrorists. Recognize the people and the families that are connected to them, that are they that live in your country," Hasanzadeh said. "It's not hard to do confiscate their assets and kick them out."