01/05/2023, 14.38
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Mahsa Amini: Armenian Church scraps Christmas and New Year celebrations

There were no traditional lights or firework displays at Vank cathedral this year, officially for repairs in order to get the UNESCO heritage site designation, but many Christians, already targeted by police, believe it was a tacit show of support for protests. Supreme Leader Khamenei uses conciliatory words about women who do not cover their hair correctly.

Teheran (AsiaNews) – One of Iran’s most important Armenian churches, Vank Cathedral in Isfahan, has cancelled this year’s Christmas celebrations, which Armenians celebrate on 6 January. New Year celebrations were also scrapped.

For many, this as a show of solidarity with pro-democracy protests, which began in September after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was arrested by the morality police for not correctly wearing a headscarf. Since then the authorities have cracked down violently against protesters with major loss of life.

In an attempt to stem the wave of protests now sweeping the country, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is using conciliatory terms.

Christmas decorations and fireworks on New Year's Eve are a tradition at Vank Church in Isfahan, and attract crowds of worshippers and onlookers – not this year; instead, a banner was hung a few days before the New Year announcing the cancellation of celebrations.

The official version is that the church is being restored in order to get a UNESCO heritage designation, but many see it as tacit support for protesters.

Whatever the case, the decision by Church leaders, backed by a majority of the congregation, did not go unnoticed by local government and police.

On the first day of the year, police moved in and ordered worshippers trying to congregate at the place of worship to move on, placing guards at the site (pictured).

In the weeks before the holidays, the Assyrian-Chaldean and Armenian Churches were pressured to criticise the protests or not express support for them.

Scores of Christians did the opposite, posting and circulating messages of support and solidarity on social media; at least 50 young Assyrians received threats and were the object of intimidation for some of their social media posts.

In late November, 38-year-old Christian Bianka Zaia was arrested in connection with the protests and charged with "propaganda against the State".

Meanwhile, Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti, was released on bail (US$ 240,000). Her first picture after leaving the prison shows her without a headscarf.

She was arrested last month and held for weeks in Evin prison’s wing for political prisoners after she participated in anti-regime protests.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waded into the issue, stressing that even women who do not cover their hair correctly are our “daughters" and should not be marginalised.

In a meeting yesterday with pro-government women activists, he reiterated that "the hijab is a religious and inviolable necessity, but this inviolable necessity should not mean that someone without a full hijab (like Mahsa Amini) should be accused of being anti-religion or anti-revolutionary”.

Khamenei referred to headscarves that do not fully cover the hair as “weak hijab”, a term likely to be used by Iranian media.

While “A weak hijab is not a good thing,” he said, “it should not cause that individual to be seen as outside of religion and the revolution; all of us have faults that we should resolve.”

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