Students and community members gathered on Sproul Plaza Monday in a joint march of solidarity for the Afghan and Iranian communities at UC Berkeley, following weeks of demonstrations on campus and in the city of Berkeley.
The march was organized by campus’s Afghan Student Association, or ASA, and Iranian Students Cultural Organization, or ISCO. Both groups gathered at approximately 3 p.m. on the plaza steps with posters and informational flyers pertaining to issues in Afghanistan and Iran.
“Afghan students and Iranians don’t make up a majority of the campus but we are a notable community within the Bay Area,” said Mohammed Ali Abed, a campus senior. “We just want recognition. We want to be heard. We are students. We don’t live in America because we want to, we live here because we can’t go home.”
Abed noted that students were protesting both the Hazara genocide and the denial of education to women in Afghanistan, which, according to Abed, have persisted since the Taliban’s takeover. The protest was also part of the continued Iranian uprise following the death of Mahsa Amini.
Demonstrators wore a combination of red, black, green and white and painted their hands red to symbolize blood. At approximately 3:30 p.m. they began marching around campus, carrying signs reading “women, life, freedom” and “stop Hazara genocide.”
Yaas Farzanefar, senior advisor of ISCO, pointed out the similarities between both the chants and the underlying human rights violations ailing both the Afghan and Iranian communities.
“We are neighboring countries, we have similar cultures and we are so similar in so many different ways,” Farzanefar said. “We have the same fight for freedom, and so we wanted to join forces as an act of solidarity because if everyone is not free, then no one is free.”
In addition to raising awareness about these issues, both communities expressed their disappointment at the alleged lack of action taken by campus.
“This campus is supposed to be a pivotal center for societal change, and them being (allegedly) silent about what’s happening in Afghanistan and Iran is disgusting to me,” said ASA president Sama Zazai in a speech during the demonstration. “How dare they use our diversity and not actually care about us.”
Campus released a Berkeley News statement on Sept. 23 after the Iranian students organized a vigil for Amini. They also posted information on Iran and mental health resources available to students to their official social media.
Farzanefar said they are looking for more; almost a month after the first Iranian student vigil late September, calls continue for a campus-wide email from Chancellor Carol Christ.
However, student demonstrations have increased and, according to Farzanefar, will continue to in the next few months. The protest itself was a part of the Global Student Day of Action, which was organized by a Los Angeles-based youth-run nonprofit, Middle East Matters, with the aim to spur student action and attention to these issues.
“Our first purpose was to bring awareness to the fact that students are fighting, to bring solidarity to students on the ground,” Farzanefar, who is also the director of partnerships for Middle East Matters, said. “We march, we walk out of our classrooms, take this time out of our day and in any way we can be their voice.”