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EMINE AKBABA
 and I SOMETIMES MISS MY CAGE
 The economy is weakening in Iran, life is guarded. Norms are controlled by the Iranian guardians of public morals and bolstered by the importance of family structure. Obeying Islamic rules and adhering to the family structure is necessary. The steadily increasing unemployment contributes to the growing unrest. A university degree no longer automatically ensures a job these days in Iran. The younger generations are disappointed with president Hassan Rouhani; they expected life to get better when sanctions were lifted after a deal was reached in 2015. And during all this, a whole generation is on the run from political and religious persecution; They glance towards the promise of freedom offered them in Europe, Australia, and Canada and yet, are hesitant to leave their country; knowing they will sometimes miss their cage.
 On December 28th, 2017 nearly eight years after the movement’s inception, demonstrations began in the northeastern city of Mashhad and quickly spread across the entire country. Protesters initially gathered to voice their displeasure after the country dramatically cut subsidies for its citizens designed to bolster the nation’s sagging economy. As the movement continued it snowballed into a more general anti-government movement as the slogans quickly changed from the addressing the rising food and gasoline prices to targeting the country’s president, Hassan Rohani. Iranians had hoped that the economy would spring back after the singing of a the 2015 nuclear deal relieved the country of sanctions from six world powers, including the United States. They expected life to get better now that their trade was open to international markets. Instead, the continued increase in unemployment worsened the people’s dissatisfaction. The younger generation remain disappointed with president Hassan Rohani.

Perfect shaped eyebrows, a touch of foundation, light and shiny lipstick with her hair held back in a black headscarf; the young woman covers her anxiety and feelings of insecurity through her outer beauty. This is a common way of alleviating the lack of freedom felt by women who live under the restrictive dress code in Iran. With a melancholy gleam in her eyes Shirin - not her real name - remembers the Green Movement in 2009 when there was a feeling of anger and the desire for justice was so tangible in the air that it was as heavy and thick as the smoky roads of Tehran. “The streets smelled of the nauseating stench of blood” includes Shirin with a strong voice, as she her face subconsciously scrunches up in disgust. The experiences of the brutality experienced during the Green Movement 2009 are still a strong memory. “It is cruel that the Iranian Government forces us to escape,” says Shirin. They are on the run, not in the classical sense, but migration through education. She also wants to emigrate, preferably to Germany and hopes to do her doctorate at the Max Planck Institute. If not Germany it will be Australia, where her boyfriend’s family settled down some years ago. One thing is certain; at any price Shirin wants to leave Iran for a better life abroad.

Mahta whispers the sentences again and again while her fragile forefingers follow to keep the track. She underlines between some of the words; each one a different color. Her english exercise book is strewn with these mint green, pale apricot, and baby blue rectangles; soft colors are reminiscent of spring. She hopes to burn the words indelibly into her memory. Every morning, before her roommates wake up, Mahta leaves her room and assumes her place at her usual table in the cafeteria downstairs; close to the window facing the door. The 32 year-old woman decided to move out of her parents home to focus on her studies without any disruption. Since than, she lives in a local dormitory in Tehran’s city center where every young women either came to study in the capitol or want to apply at the German Embassy for a Visa. If she passes her IELTS in June there will be nothing stopping her journey to Australia. “No, I don’t want to marry,” says Mahta with a clear voice. In her eyes being married means to be dependent to a man and needing her husband’s authorization for almost everything.
Among the youth, social media platforms like Instagram and Telegram are very popular as they are easily accessible and not yet been blocked by the regime. They are able to observe how people outside of Iran enjoy their rights and freedom. Social media platforms have become crucial to antigovernment demonstrators when organizing and delivering messages and videos to other citizens in Iran. One million Iranians had smartphones when they took to the streets in 2009 in protest. Today more than half of the country’s population owns a smartphone, which is why the government sporadically cut off internet access to several cities since Dec. 31 2017 when protest erupted throughout the entire country.



 

Thousands of Iranian emigrate every year to attend university abroad because most of them are afraid of what Iran’s future may hold. Parents want their children to study in a country with less conflict and a chance of a better life, away from Iran’s high unemployment.

Many graduates take up unfulfilling careers as “pseudo taxi-drivers”.

Both men and women are increasingly educated in Iran, while according to the Statistical Center of Iran, more than half of university students have been women since 2000, and the number reached in the next years.

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) reports that more than 48,000 Iranian students were studying abroad in 2014 compared to 2008 when fewer than 27,000 Iranians were at foreign institutions.

 Men stand in long white clothes, topped with turban on their head and a long, light weight black coat. Akhoonds, common know as Mullah are Islamic priests who are responsible for leading religious services in a community. They conduct prayer in the mosques, deliver religious sermons and perform religious ceremonies, such as birth rites and funeral services.

A tank is an eye-catcher for the countless visitors of the giant Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, which is not far from the holy shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which is an important symbol of Iran’s power.

A young women is surrounded by students celebrating birthdays and playing backgammon in a cafe in the backyard of a bookshop; separated from the noises of this city with the hum of cars and horns. Her bleached blonde hair is covered by a loosely fitting black headscarf, like many other Iranian women. A thick strand of hair covers her right eye and as she places it behind her ear, she speaks clearly and quietly, indicating her shyness and young age. In those days of the protests, Samira was too young to witness the Green Movement firsthand. Even after struggling with Iran’s restrictive rules for women, the young music student is convinced that there is a slow improvement in the past thirty years. She does not see the point in fighting against the government and speaks of the liberalization she has seen in the last two years, little by little, as Iranian women cover their hair just at the back of the head. Sliding forward in her chair “We’ve tasted the freedom and do not want to give it back” says the women while declaring simultaneously, almost ignorantly, that she is not interested in politics because nothing is going to change anyway, regardless of who may be in power.

Iranian culture is adult-oriented with parents being involved in making major decisions for their children, such what profession they should have; to make sure their children will have the best possible education. Therefore plays education a large part in their life.

The Holy Shrine of Ayatollah Chomein contains his tomb enclosed in a stainless steel zarih, a cage-like casing through which pilgrims pay their respects. Men and women approach respectfully from different sides while guardians ensuring that both sexes do not cross the invisible line which begins at the chair. The complex covers 20 sq km, construction began 1989, but parts of it are yet to be completed. The plan is for the ceiling of the interior to be covered with tiny mirrors.

“I fled to a mosque, to the women’s part where older, traditional women wore black chadors and the full hijab. They allowed me to stay next to them, we hoped they would think she was my mother, but the police came on their motorcycles and beat the women there with sticks. I started to run again after the women next to me was hit in her face.” He was 19 years young then, and had just started to study in Tehran when he participated in the protest during the Green Movement. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw as a pregnant woman was beat on her stomach on the street. In order to escape the crowded streets, Masoud jumped over the wall into a empty house where he hid for five hours. The experiences of those days still wanders like a ghost in his memories. “I cannot describe it, you need to feel it. It was a ware zone like in the movies.” says the 27 year old with a deep voice. He includes how frustrating it is to be born in a country where you can not live freely and must face this brand of brutality so often. Following the current demonstration in Iran, and his hesitant participation has strengthened his decision to study in Germany; convinced when the Arab Spring erupts in Iran as well, then it may be just a small step to civil war which will cause brutal conflicts in the Middle East.