Iranian singer and author of several books and articles in Farsi and Swedish, Gissoo Shakeri, was the key performer of the day. She has dedicated her life and art to promoting the cause of freedom of the oppressed people, in particular women, of Iran. Her heartfelt performance and spirited songs enhanced the evening in Hammersmith Town Hall packed with supporters from as far as Ilkley and York.
Peter Watsham did an excellent job as MC. Excerpts of speeches appear on the following pages.
Here are extracts from some of the dozens of comments we received after the event:
JANET: Oh what a fabulous evening. Thank you.
PAT: It was a wonderful NoRuz celebration. Very good to hear the inspiring speakers – and to have them present. Fantastic Iranian music – and, as always, lovely Iranian food! an amazing film from Camp Liberty – how do they do it ? and lots of greenery now! I did enjoy the evening.
MICHAEL: The speakers were excellent – And the music lent harmony to a balanced programme.
KEVIN: Just a brief note to thank you for your kindness, hospitality and an inspiring evening at Hammersmith Town Hall yesterday. It was great to see the range of talent committed to the cause and it left me feeling even more positive that the struggle will be won!
JESSICA: Ben and I were so happy to be there in such a large gathering. We think about everyone at Liberty very much.
INGRID: We both wish to thank you and your colleagues in the ILA for a very pleasant and informative event on Saturday, and for your generous hospitality.
RICHARD: And once again Happy NoRuz to all! Thanks also for an excellent and inspiring evening on Saturday. I enjoyed myself enormously.
MICHAEL: I appreciated the warm welcome on arrival, the excellently cooked food, served with efficiency and kindness, the attention to detail including the informative menu and the helpful programme of events provided on each table, the sequence of well-introduced events including the beautiful singing of Gissoo Shakeri.
ROSALIND: The event was truly remarkable and memorable for many reasons. The arrangements were impeccable and showed just how much thought and dedication had gone into the planning beforehand and organisation on the day. As I was present during the early part of the day at Hammersmith Town Hall on Saturday, I was able to get a closer view of the splendid team at work. Everybody pulled together and in an atmosphere of calm and good cheer. Very impressive. The scene of Persian culture set up in the entrance lobby was an inspiration. It gave guests a wonderful introduction to the delights of the evening and a beautiful glimpse of the richness of history, geography and literature of Iran. The ‘tea shop’ was such a pleasure too. The speakers, singer and music were excellent, each one inspirational in its own way. Most importantly of all was the strength and warmth of the volunteers who made all of the guests royally welcome and at home. Truly wonderful.
RUTH: Many thanks for a colourful and joyful evening. I loved all the Spring decorations which brightened up the Town Hall and it was good to feel that we were celebrating with the Ashrafis in Camp Liberty. I hope that one day soon they will be celebrating in person.
DIANA: Even by your high standards of hospitality, you really surpassed yourselves. It was all superb. I thought the programme was very well balanced – Ingrid Betancourt’s address was really powerful and the music and singing very enjoyable.
INGRID BETANCOURT: It’s a pleasure to be amongst friends in this special occasion. We are celebrating New Year in the Iranian calendar, and it’s a day that has a heavy weight on our shoulders. As you know, the heroic people of Iran have had a very tough year. This year was the year where the regime of the ayatollahs executed more prisoners in a year than in all its recent history, more than 2,000 people, including children like the ones we see here, innocent children, women, pregnant women and of course men, elderly, young, all ages, have been the victims of the fanaticism of the ayatollahs. We know also that this year has been cruel, especially for women. Hundreds of them have been attacked, their faces have been deformed with acid, just because they didn’t put the veil, the mandatory veil, in the way the Guards of the Revolution expect them to wear it.
So why are we here today, and we are cheerful and we are celebrating, and we have flowers, and we have music? Well, we are celebrating because we have things to celebrate. The first thing we have to celebrate is that the only voice remaining in Iran against the ayatollahs, the voice of the MEK, is still here. We still hear it. This is a voice that has cost more than 150,000 lives. All the people, all the Iranians that are here with us today, have a history to tell. They have been in prison, for five, ten, fifteen years, they have had people in their families executed, murdered, tortured; they have been themselves tortured, but they are still here, and they are still with us to give testimony of what is happening in Iran. So we have to celebrate, first and foremost, their courage, their persistence, their force and their endurance, to confront a regime that for so many years has done everything to annihilate them.
We have also to celebrate that this year we are going to be able to save many, many, many lives, and the lives that we are beginning to save are the lives of the refugees of Camp Ashraf, that then became Camp Liberty, which of course is not Camp Liberty but is a prison; but now, because of the engagement, the force, the support of all of you, all over the world, now it is possible to say that 2,000 people will be saved, they will be flying from Iraq to Albania, to Tirana. And this voice will be stronger than ever. And we need that voice.
And we are also celebrating here, not only their courage, their stamina, their force; we are celebrating their choices, that are fundamental for each one of us here.
GISSOO SHAKERI: I am delighted to sing for you tonight for the occasion of Iranian New Year which coincides with the beginning of Spring. I hope it would be an unforgettable night for all of us. You are all part of the big family of Iranian people’s struggle for freedom and democracy, the big family that extends from Camp Liberty to Iran and all over the world.
As a member of this family, I too, endeavour along the same path for the same cause, using my art to add voice to the variety of voices that are raised with the same aim and in the same direction.
We are living in an era that blind bigotry and religious fundamentalism is emerging and many people around the world are suffering because of it. We know well that it all started in Iran with the rule of religious fanatics and then spread to the rest of the world. This was of course the main aim of this regime from the onset. This expansion was pursued by this regime in covert and overt forms and still is going on. Your presence, the presence of each and every one of you here is a priceless testimony to the fact that humanitarian values, democratic principles and freedom are so deep and irrefutable in the history of civilisation that anyone from whatever culture and race and political conviction will rise to defend them with valour and bravery. I too, in my own capacity, welcome you to this great family.
TAHAR BOUMEDRA: I spent months and years and gradually I came to find out for myself that the briefing I received from my colleagues on my arrival to Baghdad in 2008 was completely false.
I came to discover a community, highly educated, probably the rate of per square kilometre of PhDs in that place was higher than a lot of universities in Europe.
I was the only person entitled to go to Ashraf because there was an obligation on the Iraqi Government to let me in. This is how I came to get to know the Ashrafis in a closer way, and I followed their lives on a daily basis. So there was a time when the Iraqi Government was imposing an embargo on Camp Ashraf, and I was the only person who would follow the situation inside the camp. The Ashrafis needed food. They would call me for that, and they would hold me accountable because I was the Human Rights Officer of the United Nations, and I should provide for them. They needed medicine. The Ashrafis would call me and not only that, they will hold me accountable for whatever embargo imposed on them by the Iraqis. And again I was doing my job. And I was doing it to the best of my capabilities, sometimes I failed and sometimes I did it to the level expected from me. And then what really was so touching is that Ashrafis have this tradition of hospi ta l i t y. They’re very loving people, caring people, to the extent my first NoRuz with them, in 2010, we were there in a delegation of the United Nations on a mission to actually inspect the warehouses, because the Ashrafis complained they don’t receive food and the Iraqis are restricting their supplies. So we went to the warehouses, we found a few kilos of dried vegetables, most of them rotten vegetables (in the weather and the heat of Iraq, when you bring fresh vegetables they don’t last that long), and some chickens, again, frozen chickens, and some red meat, and that’s all the warehouses contained. Finished the inspection, we went to the meeting place with the Ashrafis, and because of NoRuz they prepared for us a delicious meal, and we enjoyed it, really, really enjoyed it; and we returned to Baghdad. My colleagues reported, every one in his direction. Some of them reported to their own governments, others reported to the UN and other agencies. And everybody said that the Ashrafis were lying. They had all the food, the Iraqi Government is so generous, they let them get access to all the food they needed, to the extent that we had a meal in Ashraf much better than what we get at the United Nations. I was really hurt by that because I know the Ashrafis made it a huge sacrifice. They gave us the best, and they did everything they could to show us, to give us their generosity, their care and their love. And yet we let them down by reporting that the Government of Iraq is not imposing the embargo on them. Such a lie of the United Nations was unacceptable to me, and I did report about it and said this is not true.
My commitments to Ashrafis remain the same and I wish them a very happy NoRuz. Thank you very much.
MALCOLM FOWLER: Happy NoRuz. I am actually, wearing, some of you will realise, my Camp Ashraf tie (applause). I lose no opportunity, legitimate or otherwise, to do so, because one of my proudest boasts is that I have been described as an honorary Ashrafi (applause). As ever I feel very humble to be addressing you here on such a desperately important subject.
The affable people on my table wanted to know how I became involved in all of this. Well, this one was wished upon me by my dear friend, now departed, sad to relate, Lord Corbett, Robin Corbett, who was an MP in Birmingham before being made a peer, and if they thought they were putting him out to grass they were in for a sad awakening. He was a tower of strength. There have been many such, and I am a pygmy in their shadow. Not so long ago, I participated in a celebration of the life of Lord Avebury. He espoused this cause when I was in short trousers. He espoused many causes, but this one was so close to his heart.
I can tell you this, and with enormous pride, that my own professional body, the Law Society of England and Wales, all 160,000 of us it represents, has been to the forefront in condemning what happened at Camp Ashraf and what has happened at Camp Liberty and indeed the refusal on the part of authorities with responsibility, direct responsibility to do anything and certainly not enough about it.
I thank you also for what individually you do. I shall continue to do my poor best, but I shan’t rest, I shan’t leave the authorities here, my own professional body or the government, alone until they take us even more seriously than they do now…