By INU Staff

INU - The festival of Chahrshanbeh Suri, commonly known as the Fire Festival, began on Tuesday in Iran. Its roots lie in pre-Islamic ritual, and it precedes the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, which translates to “new day”.

Targeted by the clerical regime, Chahrshanbeh Suri has long been repressed due to its symbolic significance, which acknowledges a broader Iranian cultural identity that is a threat to the fundamentalist Shiite Islam embraced by the regime.

Although Chahrshanbeh Suri and Nowruz are not political, opponents of the regime see the celebrations as symbolic of the hope for a new day in the political future of the country. Chahrshanbeh Suri celebrations include the act of jumping over small fires as a means of demonstrating purification in preparation for the New Year. Such acts may be viewed as representative of the nation’s purification by fire, via regime change.

The regime worries that Chahrshanbeh Suri gatherings may spark an uprising like the one that began spontaneously in the holy city of Mashhad last December and quickly spread to every major city in Iran. Those protests were unprecedented in their defiance of the regime, with chants of “death to the dictator” being shouted, and calls for regime change. As more people come to the streets, the social support they feel may allow them to openly demonstrate their deep disapproval of the government.

Experts on the Middle East speculate that the uprising in December and January never truly ended, but merely paused in the wake of the regime’s repressive response. They predict that the political violence only redoubled the people’s outrage, and make another uprising all the more likely.

According to the democratic opposition coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), some 50 people were killed in clashes with security forces during the recent demonstrations and at least 14 people were subsequently tortured to death while in police custody.

In the run-up to Chahrshanbeh Suri, the NCRI’s main constituent group, the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), issued calls to action to demand justice for both old and new political killings.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has acknowledged the leading role that the PMOI had played in the turn of the year demonstrations, and the regime has made plans to prevent public gatherings in the week before the New Year celebration.

The intelligence network of the PMOI in Iran has uncovered the regime’s plan to redeploy the old 1979-type Basij militia to every major municipality, including rural towns.

If the New Year celebration becomes another push to oust the regime and to establish a democratic governance in line with the NCRI President-elect, Maryam Rajavi’s ten-point plan, that calls for safeguards on religious freedom, the rights of ethnic minorities, gender equality, rule of law and all the basic principles of free expression that define a civilized, modern and open society, it would certainly be cause for a celebration in Iran. Chahrshanbeh Suri would then be seen as an embrace of Iran’s cultural past, as well as its political future.

Iranians see the celebration as a way to reclaim their true identity — suppressed during Iran’s modern history. The fire festival is a release from the restraints of fundamentalist Islam, if only for a moment.

The media and the international community should attempt to prevent Tehran’s suppression of the new year gatherings, and facilitate communication among Iran’s activist communities, and assist the Iranian people as they embrace their true identity.