For Esha: A Night of Music, Poetry and Reflection
Thursday 5 February 2009
The voice heard from the University of Southern California Church on Friday night was far from the usual. With its stage dressed in Persian rugs and its walls displaying her works, the church was the host of a night of music, poetry and speech dedicated to the Iranian-American student and women’s activist Esha Momeni. Momeni, a student at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), and a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign in California, was arrested in Iran three months ago while working on a short film she was making for her master’s thesis about the women’s movement in Iran. She has been released from prison on an excessive bail, but her passport has been confiscated and there is a judicial order that prevents her from coming back to the United States to continue her study.
The candle-lit event attracted an audience more than large enough to fill the church, eager to join together to show their solidarity with Esha and their support for the women’s rights movement in Iran.
This collaborative event between Esha’s friend and family, CSUN students and the Campaign members was sponsored and managed by one of Esha’s friends, herself a Campaign member. Thanks to two months of intense work, the group was able to put together an impressive and well-managed program and in so doing was able to pay a rich tribute to their friend Esha in the form of a peaceful night of art and music, highly appropriate since Esha herself is both an artist and a musician.
A harmonious blend of musical performances and speeches, the event informed attendees about Esha’s bright character and various activities, as well as the obstacles faced by the women’s rights movement in Iran, all the while relaxing and soothing the souls of those present.
Following a poetry recital by Fariborz Azizi, a musician and friend of Esha, Elahe Amani talked about her experiences with Esha and her feelings when she received news that Esha was arrested. "Once more I had to hold on fast to my dreams, because it was not the first time that my dream for academic freedom and intellectual curiosity in Iran was being broken", said Amani, a gender, peace and social justice activist from California State University Long Beach/Fullerton. "The Campaign for Equality is one of the most inspiring movements in today’s world", expressed Amani, pointing out the letters she had received from women activists from different countries who had offered to travel to Iran and continue Esha’s work. "For the first time a diverse and inclusive movement has been shaped to exercise their civil rights and responsibility and claim the space in public and private domain", said Amani, emphasizing the scope and dimension of the women’s movement in Iran.
It was then the warm-hearted voice of Ziba Shirazi that filled the church with the pieces "Return to my Homeland Iran" and "Lost Dreams". Immediately after the short interlude, where guests were able to take reflection and sign the Campaign’s petition while enjoying tea and sweets, the next speaker welcomed the guests back in to the main hall.
"The One Million Signatures Campaign is a peaceful, non-political, non-ideological grassroots movement aiming to advance women’s rights and gender equality in Iran", said Omid Koohi, another of the night’s speakers, a Campaign member and another close friend of Esha. "This is the experience of bringing the positive change through democratic, peaceful and legal movement within our society", said Koohi, explaining the origin and activities of the Campaign. Koohi encouraged the audience to contribute to this historic movement for peace and against gender discrimination in Iran.
"Improvisation in Nava" was then performed by acclaimed tar player, Sahba Motallebi, another friend of Esha, and was followed by the speech of Professor Melissa Wall, a professor of communications at CSUN and Esha’s adviser. Professor Wall talked about academic inquiry in the United States and how Esha’s thesis project fitted into this context. "Esha hoped to create an image of Iranian women that was closer to the truth...she sought to do what academic inquiry calls us to do...to illuminate the world rather than darken it", said Professor Wall. She explained the reasons behind her approval of Esha’s thesis project: "We advised her about the risks, the decisions was hers and we respected that. We believe that each student has the freedom to pursue their own individual research as long as it is academically rigorous." Professor Wall closed her speech by highlighting Esha’s bravery and her great determination to carry out what she believed in. "I am proud to have a student who is brave enough to take on these risks in an attempt to open our minds and illuminate a people and a place so that perhaps it will no longer seem so far away after all. "
The finale piece, a Persian classical music performance composed by Fariborz Azizi, was a fittingly moving conclusion to the event. Based around the words of H.E. Sayeh, the piece was beautifully performed by the Mehr Ensemble and vocalist Shahla Saroukhani.
Finally, the hostess of the event, Ms. Elahe Akhavan, thanked the audience for attending and urged their continued support for Esha as well as the entire women’s movement in Iran. She also noted that this event happened to take place at a time that the efforts and the achievements of the One Million Signatures Campaign in pursuit of freedom and equality for women have been internationally acknowledged, with the Campaign having just received the 2009 Simone De Beauvoir Prize.