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Honoring Iran’s Green Movement with the 2010 Democracy Award
I have come here tonight on behalf of President Obama to honor the remarkable recipients of this award and to convey his deep commitment to democracy and human rights in Iran.
Few events in any of our life-times have grabbed our imaginations or rivaled in importance the spontaneous, self-generated movement that began last summer in Iran.
For the rest of our lives, each and every one of us will remember where we were last June when the Iranian people demonstrated with dignity and staggering courage. Each and every one of us will remember the days when a people imbued with rich and proud traditions stood up to claim the rights they knew were theirs – the right to assemble peacefully, the right to speak and communicate, and the right to have their votes counted.
I had just given birth to my first child, Declan, six weeks before, and was on leave as I sat transfixed by the images out of Teheran. I felt something similar to what I felt in November 1989, watching Eastern Europeans climb a previously forbidding cement wall and shout out to the heavens their hard-won freedoms. Just as I now remind myself of my generation’s good fortune to live in a world without the Berlin wall, last summer I found it thrilling to imagine my young son inheriting a world in which the children of Iran would live with the freedoms that my little boy was blessed to be able to take for granted.
All across Iran, in urban hubs and rural outposts, students, construction workers, shopkeepers, lawyers, farmers, parents, teenagers, the old, the young, the men, the women, the political and the apolitical came together, jamming boulevards and country lanes, tweeting or penning old-fashioned hand-written letters to ask for what was rightfully theirs. The best signal of their discipline was their silence. As a journalist friend of mine in Tehran at the time put it: “Anger distilled to a wordless essence.” The best signal of their determination was their refusal to go away.
The Iranian people have been brutally suppressed. By teenagers bussed into cities with clubs and helmets. By tear gas and assassinations. Incarceration and rape. The techniques of the Savak recycled. And the lies. Of foreign involvement. Of Neda faking her death. Websites blocked. Truth – the enemy of the regime – negated.
And yet the protests continue, in large and small ways. Police with green armbands. Shops and bazaars closed down to protest the executions of Kurdish activists. Men dressing up in women’s head scarves to mimic and protest the antics of the regime. Iranians risking their lives to broadcast or text images of injustices to the rest of the world.
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran embraces the universal right of individuals to have a say in how they are governed. It mandates the direct election of the President by a vote of the people. These are universal rights. And they are Iranian rights.
We are delighted that the National Endowment for Democracy has chosen to honor those fighting for democracy and human rights in Iran with its annual Democracy Award this year.
Make no mistake: the spontaneous, indigenous movement for human rights and democracy in Iran is not a movement generated by the United States or anyone else outside of Iran. It is a movement created and fueled by Iranians inside Iran who are frustrated with the actions of their government and who are seeking to exercise their natural-born universal rights. Iranians will decide the future of their own country, and President Obama believes – as everybody here tonight believes – that the day in which they will do so will soon come.
I would like now to read a statement from the President that I am here tonight to deliver:
Saturday will mark one year from the day that an election captivated the attention of the world – an event that should have been remembered for how the Iranian people participated with remarkable enthusiasm in a democratic process, but will instead be remembered for how the Iranian government brutally suppressed dissent and murdered the innocent, including a young woman left to die in the street.
Over the course of this year, the people of Iran have sought to exercise their universal rights. They have been met with beatings in the street, imprisonment without cause, and false accusations that they served a foreign interest rather than their own interest in a better life. The courage of so many Iranians in the face of severe repression is inspiring. It reminds us of democratic movements that have brought greater freedom and respect for universal rights to every region of the world. It causes us to look forward to the day when Iranians will be able to speak freely, assemble without fear, and express their views without facing retribution – a day when the Iranian government will represent and foster not fear, but instead the aspirations of its own people.
It is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make it clear that we are on the side of those who seek freedom, justice and dignity, as surely as hope and history are on their side. The courage of the Iranian people stands as an example to us all, and it challenges us to continue our efforts to bend the arc of history in the direction of justice.