U.S. Slams Iran’s Human Rights Record on Winter Solstice Holiday

It “should be a joyful time,” Miller continued, but “the Iranian regime seek to erase the Iranian people’s vibrant history by renaming Yalda and other ancient traditions.”
State Dept officials celebrating Yalda (Photo: Screengrab/U.S. State Department)
State Dept officials celebrating Yalda (Photo: Screengrab/U.S. State Department)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – On Thursday, as many peoples, including Iranians, marked the winter solstice, State Department Spokesperson, Matthew Miller, issued a statement strongly criticizing Iran’s human rights record.

“The Winter Solstice, or Shab-e Yalda as it is known to millions of people in Iran and the wider region, is an important night of celebration with friends and family on the longest day of the year,” Miller’s statement began, as he affirmed, “Tonight, the United States recognizes this rich and festive tradition, which dates back millennia.”

It “should be a joyful time,” he continued, but “the Iranian regime seeks to erase the Iranian people’s vibrant history by renaming Yalda and other ancient traditions.”

“Meanwhile, the people of Iran continue to persevere in the face of human rights abuses and economic hardship brought on by the regime’s failed leadership.”

Biden Administration Toughens Stance on Human Rights Abuses

Just two days before, on Tuesday, during the last press briefing of the year, as Washington shifts into the Christmas holiday season, Miller seemed to go out of his way to avoid making just such a critique.

Asked by a journalist to explain the State Department’s view on “a wave” of recent executions in Iran, Miller suggested it was nothing new.

“We have raised questions about Iran’s judicial system a number of times,” he said. “I don’t know that I would characterize anything as different.”

Very slowly, the administration has been revising the optimistic attitude toward Iran that it had, when it first took office. Then it believed Iran would welcome a restoration of the Obama-era nuclear deal that Donald Trump left in 2018, and with the restoration of that accord, a normalization of relations between the U.S. and Iran would follow.

That did not happen, however. By the summer of 2022, after some 18 months in office, the administration came to recognize that Tehran was playing a game. When an agreement on the nuclear accord appeared near, Tehran would raise new demands. The negotiations quietly ended.

Read More: Iran nuclear talks end after just two days, as doubts grow about effort

But even after abandoning those negotiations, the Biden administration was slow to acknowledge the full extent of Iran’s hostile activities—including its support for militias attacking U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, where they are deployed to aid local forces in the fight against ISIS. 

However, the Biden administration eventually did just that earlier this month, as it began to speak about “Iranian-backed militias.”

Read More: U.S. Cites Iran, as Militias Attack Numerous Sites in the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and Syria

Just as it came around to acknowledging Iran’s support for the militia attacks, the Biden administration may also be prepared now to acknowledge the regime’s human rights abuses.

Shab-e Yalda and Tehran’s Efforts to Suppress It

“Shab” means “night” in Persian, and “Yalda” means birth in several Semitic languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac: hence, “night of birth.” Thus, Shab-e Yalda resembles Christmas, and it occurs at roughly the same time: the winter solstice. 

But Shab-e Yalda is believed to be much older than Christmas, dating back to the Zoroastrianism of pre-Islamic Persia. It also resembles the holiday of the “renewal of the Sun,” which was celebrated by ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. The longest night also marks renewal: the days will be getting longer and longer—slowly, but surely. 

Last month, Iranian media reported that the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution (SSCR) had decided to rename Shab-e Yalda, or “Yalda,” as it is commonly referred to, along with another pre-Islamic holiday. 

Yalda is marked by people spending the night, enjoying holiday foods, listening to music and poetry, and generally enjoying the company of family and friends.

The SSCR proposed renaming it as the “Day of Promotion of the Culture of Hosting and Connecting with Relatives,” as Iran International, a satellite television channel which initially broadcast out of London, reported (faced with repeated threats from the Iranian regime, Iran International moved its operations to Washington D.C, earlier this year.)

There was strong public resistance to renaming the much beloved holiday, Iran International reported, and the SSCR’s decision to change the official name of the holiday has yet to be implemented.