Measured by this standard, the National Council of Resistance of Iran appears to be a healthy political movement. It is not just a movement for aged dissidents, nor is it dominated by young people. Yet both of these were well represented at Iran Liberation rally on June 27, an event that is organized annually by the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Many of the participants in the rally against the theocratic leadership of Iran were directly affected by the Islamic revolution and its aftermath, when moderate and liberal organizations such as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) became targets of the increasingly repressive Khomeini government. An American observer at today’s event remarked that nearly everyone in attendance had lost a family member to that crackdown and subsequent attacks on dissidents and resistance organizations.
Many of the victims and relatives of victims gave up burgeoning careers in order to flee the country, becoming resistance activists in exile. In that capacity, they come together each year in an event that commemorates their dead and outlines the future of Iran as envisioned by Maryam Rajavi, and associate organizations. One organizer of today’s event estimated that 120,000 people have been killed by the regime over the course of 30 years, as a result of their membership of, or support for those groups.
The effect of those events is obvious on persons who experienced them as adults. But if one speaks to the youth at the Iran Liberation rally, it becomes clear that the memory of murdered resistance members is a great motivating force even for people who were too young to remember the deaths of their loved ones.
Reza, a college-aged Iranian-Canadian in attendance at the rally commented on his history with the NCRI and the Iranian resistance movement. Though he came from a political family that was engaged with then-current events in his parents native Iran, Reza acknowledged that, “at a young age you don’t understand these things or their significance.” But when he was about 13 years old he began to become more closely connected to the movement.
“I got involved to try to understand why my uncle was executed,” he said, adding that an understanding of the NCRI platform provided him with “insight and connection” to his family history. He has now been to five of the annual NCRI rallies, which he regards as demonstrating such effective grassroots organization that they represent “the last remaining real democracy.”
Seen in this way, the Iran Liberation rally seems to serve as both an expression and a source of political efficacy among Iranian expatriate youth. Seventeen year old Payvand, an attendee from Norway, indicated that for him and for other young members of the NCRI, the organization helps to shape their future ambitions. Payvand envisions his university education as leading to a career in politics and foreign policy.
Such reactions from the youth suggest that while people from old and new generations are similarly affected by the movement, they are able to engage with it in a different way. While older Iranians gave up careers and fled the country, only to end up working as political activists, many young people who were born in exile seem poised to enter politics as a matter of personal ambition. But perhaps, if the NCRI achieves its objectives, they will be able to return to their homeland and take up the sorts of careers that were denied to their parents and grandparents.