Although they do occupy a portion of your imagination in the days before a rally, death, being beaten or getting arrested, are not the most frightening thoughts. The worst thought, always, without exception, is whether people are going to show.
On 25 Bahman, we – a group of eight – took off toward Enghelab Square at around two o’clock in the afternoon. I kept telling everyone that it was too early for leaving; that the rally was at three o’clock and that Iranians are always fashionably late. Nevertheless, the others were too anxious to sit still and so we left.
At about 2:30 PM we got to Enghelab Square. There were hardly any people on the streets and we saw few security men standing at intersections here and there. The only thing to note was a sharpshooter on top of one of the buildings just west of the square, with his rifle exposed.
We killed time until about 3:30 PM. That’s when the sidewalks started to show abnormal pedestrian traffic, walking west and Enghelab Square was flooded with Basij and plainclothes thugs walking or riding their bikes about.
We walked in silence toward Azadi for a while but the atmosphere wasn’t exactly peaceful. Basij, plainclothes and IRGC forces were circling around on their bikes, making a lot of noise and threatening people. Occasionally a group of twenty would drive by carrying flags, brandishing their sticks and clubs yelling “Hezbollah! Hezbollah!”
We kept walking. By Four o’clock the sidewalks were very packed, and the government thugs were getting nervous.
Regular police forces were also deployed, and standing in groups of ten or twelve at every corner of every intersection along the way. We heard, saw and smelled tear gas from afar but things weren’t too violent at the time. The IRGC, Basij and plainclothes mercenaries would rush the crowds on the sidewalks every once in a while, diverting us into the street traffic, from which we’d return to the sidewalks a few minutes after they were gone.
The action started a little past four o’clock when we got to Eskandari. We were hit by tear gas and attacked from the front by anti-riot guards. The crowd pulled back. One of the policemen at the corner of Eskandari told us not to run.
“They’ll beat you if you run. Just walk,” he said.
“What do you mean they’ll beat us? Aren’t you here to protect people?” I asked him half-jokingly, which is what some other people were asking also.
His superior standing next to him answered: “Okay, no more discussion. Keep walking. Just don’t run.”
All this was pretty friendly. In fact I did not see the regular police do anything but stand at the corners. They’d weather all the commotion plus the tear gas but didn’t budge. Most of the time they were telling people to walk in this or that direction and their behavior was relatively civil.
One of the officers standing there said to us: “You want protection? Just stand behind us and they won’t beat you.”
That’s what we did, and when the animals passed us by, the policemen told us it was now time to go up Eskandari and get out of the area.
Clashes had started up on Eskandari and tear gas was being fired so a couple of people in my group said we should walk back toward Enghelab Square which is what I did. When I got back to the corner of Eskandari and Azadi, the crowd had become pretty packed and I lost the others. A few minutes later a battle broke out.
From here on, everything is blurry. I spent some time around Eskandari, Dr. Gharib, Jamalzadeh and later on up on Forsat. Battlefronts were formed with people throwing stones at the IRGC and mercenaries, and then running into the side streets while chanting when the forces attacked. Plenty of tear gas was fired in the area, and in response, as usual we lit cigarettes or burned newspapers and posters.
At the corner of Gharib and Azadi Avenue, just before another round of attacks by bikers, two covert Basij idiots who were among the crowd suddenly pulled out their electric batons and started to beat people. The imbeciles didn’t realize it was too early and they were still surrounded by the crowd. In a matter of seconds they were pulled down, and a wave of people just drowned them under their fists and kicks. This time no one was saving them. Instead, everyone was screaming “kill them!”
When the other group of mercs reached the front, people ran inside Gharib Street running over these two Basijis. I don’t know what was left of them. The militiamen followed us inside Gharib until a few stones thrown from the apartments stopped them. They took cover and turned back and were then rushed by the people on Gharib. These cat-and-mouse games were happening all over.
I saw burning trash bins all over the neighborhoods around this area. I saw a man, probably in his Fifties, with a bullet wound around his knee. I believe it was at the corner of Dr. Gharib and a small alley called Sousan. People were carrying him out of the area.
At about 6:30, when things started to settle a bit, more pigs on bikes appeared in groups of fifteen to twenty, roaming in the main streets in the neighborhoods, and yelling “Hezbollah Hezbollah!” or “Heydar! Heydar!” endearing themselves to the people even more.
How many people came? That was the question we kept asking ourselves that night. As always, I don’t really know. Judging from the crowds moving on the sidewalks and the size and spread of the clashes, I would say more people than last year’s Ashura.
I was out by Seven o’clock, and found the rest of the gang at a friend’s place.
I’ll proof and add anything else I remember later. Just used this chance to quickly post. I have somewhere to be in about an hour ;)