Hiroshima Days: Iran uprisings in eight senryu, by Nassrine Azimi

Nassrine Azimi, born in Iran, serves as senior advisor to the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Her traditional Japanese senryu poem, speaking to the anguish she feels about the human-rights situation in Iran, as well as a portion of her personal journal are to be posted on the Chugoku Shimbun website. Ever since the sudden death of a woman detained by authorities for what they claimed was her failure to wear an appropriate scarf as a hair-covering, sporadic protests have erupted in Iran, despite the best efforts of that country’s security forces to suppress the movement.


Hiroshima — Over the last two months there has been little coverage in Japanese media of events unfolding in Iran, despite the protest movement’s empowering banner of ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ (in Japanese josei, inochi, jiyu). That a popular uprising, led primarily by youth and women fighting for their fundamental rights — and increasingly for their lives — is ignored, even in my adopted Hiroshima where peace activism is widespread weighs heavily on my heart. I read my diary notes of the last 60 days, and decide that poetry maybe a stronger calling for Japanese sensitivities.

September 18 — I first see images from her past, a young girl with a sweet smile, singing to the camera. She is from Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan Province, visiting Tehran with her brother for the holidays. On September 13 she is arrested by the morality police for her supposedly improper veil and taken to a ‘re-education’ center. A few hours later she is rushed to the hospital emergency room. On September 16, just four days short of her 23rd birthday, she is declared dead.

The sadness of it. The crushing injustice.

I keep thinking of my late father. In his youth he had served near Sanandaj, had loved the people and the spectacular nature there, had made enduring friendships. In his last years in exile he often spoke nostalgically about that part of Iran.

(Chichi omou, kokoro yasashiki, kurudojin)

Father’s memory
How kind of heart
The Kurds

September 27 — Something is unfolding. The murder of Mahsa (Jina) Amini — this is the young girl’s name — has broken too many hearts, in Iran and around the world. At first it is like a murmur, then a chorus, then a roar. Enough is enough, it seems to say, enough of these power-hungry men in turban and their brutal security forces. Enough of this corrupt and cruel reign.

How long will they continue to crush the dreams of Iran’s youth?

(Yume wo motsu, sekai no wakamono, iran demo)

They all have dreams
Young people around the world
In Iran too

October 8 — Enraged by Mahsa’s death, almost every day Iranians are descending onto the streets, to protest. In city after city they are attacked by the security forces, and barehanded face batons, bullets and arrests. The protestors’ courage is unbelievable. The regime (just cannot bring myself to call it a ‘government' anymore) keeps wanting to label the uprising ‘foreign’, led by ‘terrorists’ — anything that threatens their power and interests is foreign or terrorism.

No one is buying their lies anymore, this autumn in Iran.

(Yuki aru, sude de teikou, perushabito)

Full of courage
Resisting with bare hands
People of Persia

October 21 — I continue to scour the Japanese media — still almost no coverage on the uprisings. After decades in power the mollahs have so tainted Iran’s reputation that Japan has forgotten its ancient Silk Road friend, has forgotten the Achaemenid, Sassanid and Safavid empires, has forgotten the paradise gardens of Yazd and Shiraz, the magnificent mosques of Isfahan, the lands from which so many treasures came to lie here in keeping, at the Shosoin Repository in Nara.

I head to my haven, the Miho Museum in the forested mountains of Shiga Prefecture, with its collection of ancient art, especially from China and Iran. The season’s exhibit seems made for this moment: ‘Connecting Civilizations: From Ancient Central Asia to East Asia’.

Exquisite artwork, from the lands of my ancestors.

(MIHO de mita, shirukurodo no ato, senzo kana)

I saw at the MIHO
Traces of the Silk Road
Maybe an ancestor

October 22 — The unIslamic Republic has brought disrepute not just to Iran, but also to Islam: the lies they say, with complete impunity! I am so enraged I go to Tokyo for a protest walk in support of the uprising, only the second time in my life that I march. The first was in New York, in 2003, against that catastrophic war unleashed upon Iraq by George W. Bush and his coterie. How many misguided wars, how much unnecessary suffering must the venality and stupidity of a few men bring upon us?

I sympathize with Iraqis who remember afresh their own suffering, watching today the suffering of Ukrainians at the hands of Putin. Putin, the warlord to whom the mollahs in Iran have sold their country.

(Dokusai mo, donna ikusa mo, yurusarenu)

And all the wars

October 29 — In the early days of the uprising Shervin Hajipour, a young musician in Iran, puts together tweets ordinary people are sharing, in answer to the question ‘Why?’ Why are they risking life and limb every day, to demonstrate? He calls his song ‘Baraye’ — ‘for the sake of’ in Persian. He uploads it, and it goes viral. The musician is promptly harassed and reprimanded by the regime but it is too late, his song carries its own magic. People around the world chant it at demonstrations, artists translate it into English, French, German, Swedish…. Everyone weeps upon hearing it.

In late October, in a concert in Argentina, the band Coldplay sings Baraye. By now the song is a global phenomenon but still no Japanese artist has picked it up. How to sing Freedom in Japanese?

(Baraye wo, utattewakaru, Furidamu)

Singing Baraye
One understands

November 8 — I am hosting a group of plant experts from the US, visiting Hiroshima’s A-Bomb survivor trees. Every day we discuss the trees, their symbolism and significance. Every night I cry, reading news of arrests and killings in Iran. How many more families must suffer the brutality of this shameless regime?

Tonight the harvest moon is full. It coincides with a total eclipse, last seen 442 years ago. Uranus disappears behind the moon. Our American guests remind me how fortunate Japan is, with its safe streets, its gun-free daily life. I walk through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park tonight, it is so serene and still.

(Yoru meguri, hoshi ga kakurete, heiwa sae)

Night stroll
A star is concealed
Peace as well

November 14 — Soon it will be two months since Mahsa's death and the start of the Iranian uprising. More than 300 people have been killed and thousands arrested, many of them only teenagers. I think of the anguish of their parents, waiting outside the prison gates. Young people sacrificed in Ukraine, in Russia, in Afghanistan and Myanmar, in Nicaragua, Syria and Venezuela, in Yemen and the Mexican countryside, on the streets and in the schools of America. In Iran.

Everyday a picture-perfect autumn day in Hiroshima. The beauty of the fall foliage in the Peace Park feels almost painful, considering the state of the world. Still, it is where I head and, surrounded by majestic trees in red, green and golden leaves, pray for an Iran free from tyranny.

(Akibare ni, nihon no heiwa wo, iran e mo)

Sunny autumn
Sending the peace of Japan
To Iran


Nassrine Azimi
co-founded and currently coordinates the Green Legacy Hiroshima Initiative a global campaign to disseminate and plant worldwide seeds and saplings of trees that survived the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. She is a former director and current senior advisor at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in Hiroshima. Azimi has published extensively on UN peacekeeping and peace-building, post-conflict reconstruction, environmental and cultural governance, and Asia. She is the author of ‘Last Boat to Yokohama’ and ‘The United States and Cultural Heritage Protection in Japan, 1945-1952’ and teaches international peace and security at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts in Kyoto.