“Jin, Jiyan, Azadî” is a Kurdish political slogan that turned into a scream for freedom with the uprising of the courageous women from all around Iran following the death of Jina (Mahsa) Amini. In September 2022, Jina, who according to eyewitnesses was brutally beaten to death by the Iranian Morality police for the “crime” of not wearing a proper hijab, became the face of both the brutality of the Iranian regime and of the strength and courage of the resistance against it. The oppressed people of Iran led by courageous Iranian women took to the streets and other public venues to protest their subjugation by the regime, despite the horrendous violence they faced by those in power and their henchmen. During one hot July day in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) the Iranian women’s scream for freedom could be heard from the mouths of Bosnian and Herzegovinian activists who for a brief second borrowed their voices so that the heroic struggle for freedom, equality, and ending of the patriarchal tyranny and oppression of the Iranian women could clearly be heard in BiH.
Every July, WARM, an international foundation dedicated to war reporting, war art, and war memory organises a festival in Sarajevo, BiH. This year as part of the festival programme Ajla Bešič a Bosnian theatre director and Damir Šagolj, a renowned Bosnian photographer, were collaborating with Maryam, an Iranian woman in diaspora, on a project called “Be Our Voice” through which a photo exhibition was combined with a performance during which testimonies of resistance, written by Iranian women, would be read out by other activists outside of Iran.
That is why twelve of us gathered in a theatre called Sarajevo War Theater (SARTR), founded in May 1992. SARTR was during the war in BiH one of the key cultural symbols of resistance against the siege of the city. So the location of our performance was symbolic and carefully picked. We who participated in the performance were asked to participate and lend our voices because we all had activist backgrounds, resisting the Bosnian far less violent but nonetheless present patriarchal oppression.
Reading the stories from our Iranian sisters out loud to each other sparked many conversations amongst us about our own struggles, the freedom we had in BiH and the freedoms we lost as a result of our post-war, post-socialist transition.
But more significantly, from the testimonies we learnt about the struggles our Iranian sisters are facing every day and the extraordinary courage they demonstrate in their struggles against their oppressors. The hijab for them has been just a symbol for a struggle that concerned so much more than the freedom to choose whether to wear hijab or not. In one of their testimonies, we could read that “the problem is that the economy is in ruin, and keeps getting worse. The problem is the ever-increasing poverty and the ever-intensifying injustice under which our backs are bent. But enough is enough”.
Our Iranian sister told us that they did not decide to be politically active; they were forced to do so by every segment of their lives, and in every part of their lives the consequences of that politicisation were reflected. “Our rights and freedoms as women have regressed at such a speed that even some basic things have become our ideals”.
Through their testimonies, they told us about arrests, killings, intentional shooting of protesters in their eyes, beatings, and torture but also of their fierce and unrelentless struggles and resistance. They told us about the songs they sang while in prison, the dreams they shared, and how holding hands with strangers with whom you share dreams of freedom while facing the brutality of the Iranian regime can be the most empowering thing. They also told us about the men who supported their struggle and learnt about the importance of showing solidarity with the Iranian women as women’s demands for freedom meant freedom for them all.
Reading these testimonies and speaking out loud the slogan Jin, Jiyan, Azadî – Women, Life, Freedom – Žena, Život, Sloboda was an incredibly powerful experience for us, collectively and individually. For me, participating in this performance was as much about finding space for our own political and personal reflections as it was about lending our voices to Iranian women.
Lejla, one of the activists who participated in the performance tells me “It was a privilege to lend my voice to these brave women. Preparing for this was very emotional to me, it was impossible to remain indifferent in the face of such systematic repression and their painful experiences. Participating in this opened my eyes to the importance of their incredible resistance for all of us!”
Another Bosnian feminist, Gorana, says ”As feminists, we have an obligation to support women’s struggles around the world. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we are a small and not-so-visible group, but I felt that even the small contribution we can make is an important element in our joint struggles. Women of Iran have been struggling for freedom from their oppressors for a long time, and at the moment they are exposed to the indescribable brutality of the regime. Their acts of courage are obligations for many of us, living to some extent privileged lives, to raise our voices more, and to support them in any way possible. None of us is free until all of us are free! We must not allow the struggles of our Iranian sisters to remain invisible and without support. Solidarity is our strength!”
For Adisa, who travelled from outside Sarajevo to participate in the performance, reading the story she was assigned led to a connection she did not expect. The arrest date of the Iranian activist whose story she read coincided with the date she herself was captured and assaulted during the war in BiH. She says “For me this was a completely new experience, a very personal one. My emotions were running high”.
As we made final preparations for the performance we felt that from our side, it was not enough to lend our voices to their stories. We wanted to send the courageous Iranian activists a message that their resistance has been heard and that their revolution is ours as well.
The message Bosnian activists sent to the Iranian women
“To brave women of Iran
We, women activists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who have for a split second lent our voices to your stories, to bring them to the people in Bosnia and hopefully wider, want to express our solidarity with you and deepest respect and admiration for your courage.
Your words have deeply shaken us. Your heroic struggle for freedom, equality, and ending of patriarchal tyranny and oppression inspires and teaches relentless resistance and resilience. Your words and deeds breathe hope into each and every one of us, the hope for a better, equal and free future we want to share with you and all the women of the world.
We have not suffered the same degree of danger, repression and terror but we also dream and we also struggle for a world without oppression, poverty and violence. And, with you, we feel not alone in our struggle as we want you not to feel alone, ever again.
We are honoured to speak your words and sing your struggle in our language. Proudly we stand with you and salute you, our brave comrades and sisters, with the words that celebrate your revolution that is ours as well: ŽENA-ŽIVOT-SLOBODA, WOMEN-LIFE-FREEDOM.“