Mahsa Amini's protests bring both hope and pain to Iranians who have left their country.
Salim Haqiqi could not think of anything else last week as protests spread across Iran. He watched every video he could find on social media. He was horrified to see police shoot and use tear gas on protesters. And he was always worried about his son.
Haqiqi, who is 46 years old, is a Kurd from the western part of Iran, just like Mahsa Amini, whose death on September 16 in the custody of Tehran's "morality police" shocked the whole country. Demonstrators, most of whom are women, have taken to the streets in dozens of cities, burning headscarves and calling for the end of the Iranian government.
Haqiqi left Iran when he was a teenager and now lives as a political refugee in Norway. But his grandparents raised his 21-year-old son Milan in Iran. They would see each other several times a year in places like Armenia and Turkey, which are close by.
Milan joined the protests in Oshnavieh, which is one of the Kurdish cities in the west where the protests and police crackdowns have been the worst.
Haqiqi felt that something was wrong last Wednesday. He called Iran for hours, but neither his son nor any of his other family members could be reached. At 4 a.m. on Thursday, he finally got through and heard the news: Milan and two other protesters had been killed by the police.
"A bunch of Kalashnikov bullets hit him and killed him," Haqiqi said. "It's really hard. Iran won't let me go back there. I have no sleep, no life. I think about him all day and night. He died so that his country could be free."
The latest protests have given the millions of Iranians who live abroad a chance to connect with their home country and dream of a different future. But they have also made the pain of being apart worse and shown again how cruel a government can be when it is willing to use deadly force to stay in power. Amnesty International says that during the protests, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds have been hurt.
After Milan died, Haqiqi got tens of thousands of condolence messages on social media from other Kurds and, to his surprise, people from almost all of Iran's different ethnic groups who live inside and outside the country.
Persis Karim, chair and director of the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University, said, "If you think of the diaspora as a spectrum of different immigrant waves and moments, this is a very unifying moment where people see this woman's death as a symbol of a lot of frustration and anger." "It shows how angry and frustrated I am with the Iranian government, but it also sheds light on all these other things that have happened in the last 43 years."
Most of the time, waves of Iranians leaving the country have happened after big changes, like the 1979 revolution or the mass protests in 2009 and 2019. Iran is thought to have one of the largest diasporas in the world. About 1 million Iranians live in the United States, and several million more live in Canada, Europe, Turkey, Australia, and the Persian Gulf.
Over the weekend, thousands of Iranians in Los Angeles, which has the largest Iranian diaspora community in the world, as well as in Toronto, Washington, and several European capitals, protested in solidarity, chanting the same slogans that have been heard from the capital, Tehran, to the holy city of Qom: "We'll fight, we'll die, we'll take Iran back!" "Woman, live, and be free!"
Even though most of the protests were peaceful, French police used tear gas to stop protesters from marching on the Iranian Embassy in Paris on Sunday. "They wanted to go toward the embassy to show their anger and protest so that the people who work at the embassy and the ambassador hear it," said Ehsan Hosseinzadeh, a 35-year-old lawyer who got political asylum in France in 2018 and was at the protest.
On the same day, protests outside the Iranian Embassy in London turned violent when protesters started fighting with police and each other. One video that was shared on social media showed people beating a man, who some protesters said was a supporter of the Iranian government, while police pulled him away. The Metropolitan Police in London said that at least five officers were seriously hurt and that 12 people were taken into custody.
Observers say that the fights between Iranians living abroad are not surprising given the number of groups with different goals. Monarchists, who usually carry the "Shir va Khorshid" or "Lion and Sun" flag from before the revolution, and supporters of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a once-militant group that was taken off the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations in 2012.
But protesters in London, Paris, and California said that most of them did not see themselves as part of any political group other than being against the Islamic republic and its strict rules.
Azadeh Pourzand, who studies human rights in Iran at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and went to a peaceful rally in London last weekend, said, "You see the different groups there because of what Mahsa Amini's murder started." "It's a time for everyone to come together, but you have to be ready for things we haven't seen before."
Tehran has tried to blame outsiders for the protests inside the country by lashing out at Western countries and firing missiles at Kurdish groups across the border in Iraq. However, young Iranians are leading the protests and putting their lives at risk.
Karim from San Francisco State University said, "If this is a movement happening in Iran, then people in the diaspora don't have much to say about where it's going." "All we can do is make sure people in the streets can be heard."
Members of the diaspora say they will keep lobbying the UN and elected officials around the world to bring attention to human rights problems in Iran. They will continue to protest and talk about the protesters who have died.
When Haqiqi's mother went to the hospital in Oshnavieh to get Milan's body, she was at first turned away. When she insisted, security forces beat her until she passed out. When the body was finally given to the family, the security forces told them exactly what to do: bury him within an hour and don't have a funeral.
But Haqiqi is determined to always remember his son. Even when his pain is at its worst, he knows he is not alone.
"Taking part in protests is the best way to help the people of the country," he said. "These kinds of protests against the government should happen every day in all of the world's countries."