TEHRAN, Iran — Tens of thousands of Iranians rallied Saturday in Tehran and other major cities to mark the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, as their president said months-long protests had been defeated.
For the past two years, the 1979 overthrow of the Western-backed shah was commemorated mainly by Iranians who drove around cities in their cars or on motorcycles due to COVID-19 restrictions.
But this year, waving flags, they took to the streets of Tehran on foot and converged on Azadi (Freedom) Square, one of the capital’s most prominent landmarks, despite chilly temperatures.
They chanted “Down with the US,” “Down with Israel,” “Down with the UK” and “Down with the traitor Al Saud,” in reference to Saudi Arabia.
People held up pictures of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, and revered general Qasem Soleimani, killed in a US air strike on Baghdad airport in January 2020.
They also held placards reading “We stand to the end,” “A united, strong and stable Iran” and “We obey the leader.”
Sejjil ballistic missiles and Shahed-136 drones were on display around the square where Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said people had gathered to renew their “allegiance” to the revolution.
“This pledge of allegiance is much greater than a vote” of confidence in the Islamic Republic, said the ultra-conservative president.
Raisi also declared victory over the nationwide protest movement triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women.
‘Woman, life, freedom’
Authorities say hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, have been killed and thousands arrested during the protests which they generally label as “riots.”
The judiciary has sentenced 18 people to death in connection with the protests, according to an AFP tally based on official announcements.
Four people have been executed, triggering international outrage.
In his speech on Saturday, Raisi repeated the accusation that the protests were provoked and fuelled by the West.
“See what the enemies did in this one year and what conspiracies they organized? But the history-making nation of Iran recognized the evil hand of the enemy and shone brightly on the stage and defeated the enemy,” he said.
“The issue of the enemy is neither women, nor life, freedom, human rights and nuclear [program] but rather they want to take away the independence, freedom and peaceful life of the Iranian nation,” Raisi said.
“Woman, life, freedom” has been the main slogan of the protests triggered by the September 16 death of Amini, an Iranian woman of Kurdish origin.
State television said celebrations for the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution were held in 1,400 cities and towns across the country, and aired footage of large rallies in Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, and Tabriz.
The celebrations mark the day that the shah’s government fell 10 days after Shiite cleric Khomeini returned from exile.
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had already fled Iran in January 1979, after months of protests against his rule.