Neda Toloui-Semnani has had anything but a normal life
Neda’s parents, Farahnaz Ebrahimi and Faramarz Toloui-Semnani, were vocal and enraged activists fighting to instill a revolution in Iran and shift the power back to the people rather than a monarchy under the Shah. Their work was primarily done in the United States, but they made sure that Iranian officials heard their voices. Both of her parents, especially her father Faramarz, recruited Iranian students living in the states to join their movement. Their movement included radical protests, such as chaining themselves to the Statue of Liberty in 1979 to increase visibility of the atrocities occurring in Iran.
Her parents were true revolutionaries pleading to overthrow the Shah in order to achieve a democratic government in Iran — little did they know what would occur after they got what they wanted.
Once the Shah was dethroned, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became the “Supreme Leader” of the Revolution and declared Iran an Islamic Republic. What happened next was a shock to the Iranian people. Families were displaced, government officials were executed, and political activists were arrested for their “crimes” against the newly instated Islamic regime. The promise of democracy and equal rights was proven to be a farce, and the Iranian people felt the consequences.
After the revolution, Neda’s family was never the same. Faramarz was arrested and executed for his “crimes” and activism while a pregnant Farahnaz frantically fled the country with Neda, a toddler at the time. She spent weeks traveling through Iran and Turkey to try and escape back to the United States. The harrowing journey to lead her family to safety will break your heart while showing the strength of human nature during times of duress.
They Said They Wanted Revolution breaks down Neda’s journey as she retraces her parent’s steps as an adult, all the way back to where her mother fled Iran, to see what led them to the heartbreaking tragedies in their family. In doing so, she also searches for a way to find closure and clarity in the midst of her pain.
Neda’s story is similar to that of many Iranian Americans: parents fleeing Iran with their young children, family members stuck in Iran, loved ones executed as a result of the unjust system. I have many family members and friends from Iran who left around the time of the revolution and spent years trying to flee after. It’s a common narrative throughout Iranian culture. The oppressive government forced many of its loyal citizens out of their country. It wasn’t a choice. It was necessary for survival.
What struck me about Neda’s journey was her determination to trace her parents’ steps to understand why they made the choices that ultimately led to Faramarz’s execution and Farahnaz’s exile. Why would anyone sacrifice their lives, families, and futures for democracy in Iran?
It’s because Iranians love Iran.
I’ve seen it from my parents and family. I’ve felt it in the stories my grandparents recount about their time in Iran before the Islamic regime. I’ve envied it in the nostalgic glow of my mother and father’s memories of their childhood. Despite the lack of democracy prior to the Islamic regime, Iranians still had something worth fighting for. They saw the potential of Iran and what it could have been with a fair and just government.
I read Neda’s memoir book during the Iranian protests after Mahsa Amini’s murder. I wanted to learn as many stories of Iranian revolutionaries as I could so I could better understand the pain that Iranian people have felt for over 40 years under the Islamic regime. However, I will never truly understand the turmoil that Iranian women and people feel under this oppressive rule. I was born and raised in the States and had the privilege of visiting Iran on my own time. I’ve felt emboldened to use my privilege as an American to raise awareness about the horrors that occur in Iran.
The people of Iran are exhausted from arrest, torture, and murder. All they want is Iran. There is one thing I can say with confidence: Neda’s parents, Neda, and all the generations to come have something worth fighting for. A democratized Iran will happen one day. Neda’s powerful memoir reminds us that we are one step closer to that.
Action Items to Support Iran
General Resource: Middle East Matters Page
Action Item: Help Bypass Internet Censorship in Iran
Action Item: Sign Petition to Stop Execution of LGBTQ+ Activists
Further Reading and Listening:
Article: Iranian Revolution
Podcast: An Iranian Uprising Led By Women