Supporters of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi run in the streets during protests Tuesday in Tehran. (Getty Images)
(A Tehran resident and journalist has been providing on-the-ground updates to the Globe's Washington Bureau since Iran's disputed presidential election last week. He filed this report after covering a mass protest on one of the Iranian capital's main thoroughfares. His name has been ommitted for his sagety.)
TEHRAN _ The noise of the crowd was the first thing to hit me. I had been among demonstrators before, but I had never actually heard an angry crowd before.
The noise was powerful and full of fury. As I approached the street, I distinguished what they were chanting: "mikosham, mikosham, aanke baradaram kosht: I shall kill, I shall kill, he who killed my brother."
My wife, who was among the crowd, had told me that several people had been killed by riot police. I quickened my pace and approached the street. As if in sync, hands bearing stones and bricks were pumping into the air. "I shall kill, I shall kill..." I burst into tears.
The next thing I noticed surprised me: the crowd did not consist of young men, but housewives, seniors, businessmen wearing suits, even children. There was blood on many of them. They were walking downhill towards the Interior Ministry, determined and in force. The wave that had taken over Iran and partied in the streets into the morning for the last few weeks was now an army on the move. As I stood in place trying to figure out what I was seeing, I noticed shopkeepers shutting down and joining the flock. People were also chanting on the sidelines, "down with the dictator," referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, while the crowd chanted "join us proud Iranians, join us, join us." The crowd was growing by the moment.
I had walked with them for a few minutes when I saw the riot police in the distance. The crowd had managed to catch one of them and stones were raining down on him, and his head was beaten out of shape. His motorcycle was in flames in the middle of the road. As I passed the burning motorcycle, I noticed two more stacked on one another approximately 100 meters away, also burning. Bloodstains on the asphalt were abundant. I turned around and ran to my car to catch up at the Interior Ministry.
All of the routes to the ministry had been blockaded. Riot police were pouring in, armed with batons, rubber bullets, and tear gas canisters. I couldn’t drive any closer than half a mile from the Interior Ministry. Black smoke was rising from the approximate location of the Ministry. I had picked up my wife and a few friends we had by then, and we parked in an alley and set off towards the Ministry. Walking among the flocks of people, I noticed how quiet they were, and the fear that had covered everyone like a blanket. We walked past a police blockade; apparently pedestrians were free to move but cars were being kept out of the square.
We had been walking for approximately twenty minutes when we saw a flock of people running towards us. The noise of the revving motors of the riot police filled the street, and a group of maybe twenty of them could be seen in the distance approaching quickly. Batons raised and dropped, raised and dropped. We turned around and ran with the crowd. My wife turned into an alley, to distance herself from the incoming motorcycles. I screamed don’t go that way, as I assumed that we’d be safer if we didn’t break off from the flock. She kept running, and I ran after her.
A group of motorcycles turned into the street, beating the people left and right. I picked up my pace and ducked under a banner remaining from the elections. I turned and saw that my wife had fallen behind. A riot police motorcycle reached me and aimed for my legs with his baton. I jumped out of his path and sprinted down the street. Running with all my might, I reached the end of the alley and turned into the sidewalk on the main street; and found myself in the middle of a group of both riot police and so-called "Basijis" who were lashing out at whomever they could reach.
The Basij are the remnants of the voluntary forces that assisted the army during the Iran – Iraq war. Following the war, they maintained their organization and are known by all Iranians by their attire of white untucked shirt, long beard, and gray pants. Their unofficial role allows them to skirt the limits of the law, and they are usually responsible for the dirty work that officials prefer to avoid.
By means of luck or agility, I was able to avoid most of their blows, but was hit in the face by a chain-wielding Basiji. I realized that if I continued running in the same direction, I’ll be beaten by every single weapon being swung on the sidewalk, so I changed course and sprinted towards the street.
Once in the street, I was one of the many others fleeing the officers, and relatively safe. A truck passed filled with young men waving a green flag. I turned back into the alley, now relatively calm, looking for my wife. A boy in the street said that she got away without being harmed, as the men had shielded the women and the weaker ones with their bodies. I found her amongst a crowd shortly later and we managed to get back to our car without other incidents.
The city had been laid to ruin. Motorcycles and garbage dumpsters were burning at every corner. In Kuye Daneshgah Avenue, where the main dormitory of Tehran University is located, a bank had been set on fire. Most of the windows of the cars that passed us had been shattered.
At Parkway, which is a main intersection in Tehran, people had blocked the main routes to the intersection and were tearing down everything they could, from guardrails to billboards. The people lit fires on both sides of a pedestrian bridge over the highway and were flinging stones at a group of riot police that were stuck on the bridge. Tear gas was everywhere, and battles were going on between police and civilians at every corner.
In the early hours of the next morning we were on our way home when we saw that the road was blocked by a group of demonstrators -- women and men and children you’d see everyday walking down the street -- chanting “down with the dictator."
We stepped out of the car and joined them. A dumpster burst into flames next to me. The revolution had begun.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.