Monday, August 22, 2005

Remembering the "Arashes" of the 1988 Massacre of Iranian Political Prisoners

We were in the fourth or fifth grade in the primary school in Iran at the time. It was the Persian literature class. Not a subject that I particularly looked forward to as a child, however that day when the teacher started reading out the poem on the Iranian mythical hero, Arash, by Siavash Kasraii, suddenly I was mesmerized. Contrary to my usual quest for mischief and laughter, this time I was all-ears. A painting of a heroic type figure stretching his bow and arrow to the full, accompanied the text of the poem.

Iran had been at war with our mythical enemy, the Turanians. The war had gone on for years and although Turan had the upper hand we were not completely defeated yet. The poem started by describing how beautiful life during peace is; the daily toil, the dining together, the celebrations, the growing up of children.

“Life is like the eternal flames of an ancient fire temple
If we light it up, the dancing of the flames will be seen in distances afar
If we don’t, then the flames will go out
And that will be our sin…”

Then the poem described the sadness of those days we were at war with Turan.

“The dark nights were cold and seemed endless
The stars no longer shined in the sky
Fear was everywhere and the wings of death above everyone
People were motionless without hope
Silence reigned behind our barricades
Yet the encampments of the enemies were buzzing with hilarity
No one smiled at each other
Tears instead of rain poured from the sky “

Then the Turanians decided to finish us off in a final act of humiliation. They decided that we should choose one archer from our midst. He should climb up the Alborz mountain and throw his arrow. Wherever the arrow landed would be the border between the two countries. The Turanians were certain that even the best Iranian archer would not reach very far. Their intention was to humiliate our people.

Iranians were in a state of despair; they imagined the outcome to be a small land contained within tight borders. The people had resigned to a terrible destiny ahead.

Suddenly amongst an uproar, a hero emerged who volunteered for the task.

“I am Arash
A freedom loving warrior
An archer of reputation
Fire burns from the feathers of my Arrow
And the wind obeys my orders
I am the son of toil
And I carry the hopes of my people
On my shoulders…”

People watched Arash anxiously. Mothers prayed for him, the children called out his name on roof tops, the girls threw their necklaces in his path and the men silently admired their hero walk past them.

Arash then said his last goodbye to his people.
“Farewell to you my last dawn
for this will be the last Arash will see of you”

Arash climbed up the Alborz and put all his strength and might into the arrow. His arrow went on and on for miles and miles and the riders who followed his arrow finally saw it land on a huge walnut tree, and that became the new frontier with Turan.

The poem then continued:

“Years passed by,
Amongst the silent snow ridden valleys of Alborz,
Climbers who are struggling to ascend the peaks,
Call out for Arash,
They seek his strength and they seek his guidance,
And the rocks and cliffs reply with Arash’s voice,
Arash guides them and heartens them
Gives them hope and shows them the way…”

When reading the poem stopped, the class fell unusually silent. We looked at each other, and I sensed that everyone wanted to ask the same question. We weren’t actually sure if Arash died, we hoped that he were still alive. I stood up and anxiously asked the teacher,
“Miss! did Arash die?”
The teacher looked at me and smiled, walked towards me and put her hand on my shoulder, “Arash died Potkin, but his spirit lives on, one day you could all be an Arash for your country in different ways.”

I probably didn’t understand the full extent of what the teacher said at the time, all I know is that I read the poem over and over again and how to the delight of everyone at home, I used to recite it from memory:

“Life is like the eternal flames of an ancient fire temple
If we light it up, the dancing of the flames will be seen in distances afar
If we don’t, then the flames will go out
And that will be our sin…”

Of course Arash was part of our mythology, but in later years as we studied the history of Iran, we learned how Arash manifested himself into so many real life characters in our history whose sacrifices ensured the identity of our people lived on.

There is Babak, who resisted the Arab invasion from his mountain stronghold of Baz for 22 years. He was betrayed by another Iranian commander, Afshin, who had believed in the false promises of the Arab Khalif. So enraged was the Arab Khalif with Babak that he ordered the executioner to cut off Babak’s right arm first followed by his left leg and then his left arm followed by his right leg before slowly putting him to death. As soon as the executioner cut Babak’s arm off, Babak dabbed his other hand in his blood and wiped the blood on his face. The Khalif baffled by this act, halted the execution for a moment and asked Babak,
“Cursed unbeliever, what was all that about?”

Babak replied, “I thought by losing all that blood, I may have looked pale in front of the people and give the impression that I was fearful. I wanted to make sure that no one thought Babak feared you.”

The account of Babak’s heroic death is not an exaggeration by biased Iranian historians, it is in fact written by the Arab historians at the time, who loathed Babak, and his resistance to their occupation.

During the constitutional revolution of hundred years ago, after the new Qajar king nullified his father’s approval of having a parliament and used his Russian Cossack allies to bomb the parliament building with cannons, all of Iran seemed resigned to the nullification of the constitutional decree. Only one district in one city in the whole of Iran led by Sattar resisted the new dictatorship. All other houses were forced to put up white flags. The Russian consulate invited Sattar to a meeting. He tried to buy off Sattar by promising him the lucrative control of the taxes on the Iran-Russia trade route, if Sattar also displayed the white flag on his house. This was Sattar’s reply before he stormed out of the room:
“My wish is to see seven nations under the sun and lion flag of Iran, how dare you ask me to display an un-Iranian banner?”

Sattar, having left the meeting abruptly, mounted his horse and the brilliant marksman that he was, started shooting down all the white flags. As the flags fell and Sattar and his men rode over them with their horses, the people of Tabriz rejoiced and came out of their houses and once again put up the Iranian flags. The resistance which was restricted to one district in one city spread across the whole town. Tabriz became the sole defender of the constitutional revolution and the rest of Iran joined too and the despot Qajar king was finally overthrown.

Before the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hossein, some of Iran's finest, most patriotic and most capable members of its armed forces, planned an uprising against the mullahs from the Shahrokhi airbase. Their plans were betrayed by agents of Iran's Communist Party, who at the time following their mentors in the Soviet politbureau, were desperately trying to endear themselevs to the "anti-imperialist" mullahs. All those involved in planning the uprising were arrested. Some were paraded on state TV before their execution, but at the time the mullahs were too inexperienced to realise such programs should not be shown on live TV. Watching the physical appearance of the men on TV, it was obvious the harrowing experience they had suffered at the hands of the Islamic henchmen. Yet they showed no fear, they showed no remorse. One by the name of Lt. Captain Farokhzad Jahangiri even snapped at his cleric interrogator:
"Mr. Akhoond - derogatory term for a mullah - we did not take part in this for money or position, we did it to save our country.." and the program suddenly went off air.
More than two hundred who were involved in the uprising were executed. Iran lost some of its finest military personnel who would have been invaluable in defence of the country against the coming invasion by Saddam. For time and time before these very men who were executed by the mullahs, had firmly pushed back Saddam's invading troops in the past.
Some years later, leaders of Iran's Communist Party also suffered a similar fate to that of Afshin at the hands of the Khalif.

During the war with Iraq, again Iran produced many more manifestations of Arash who defended the motherland even with their bare hands despite the overwhelming firepower of the enemy; but the war which was unnecessarily dragged on for too long, to line up the pockets of the likes of Rafsanjani and Co. also produced much dissent amongst the population.

Ayatollah Khomeini sensed the growing dissent amongst the masses. He feared that when the political prisoners are released they will organise the mass dissent into a revolt. Between the end of August until the end of September,1988, thousands of political prisoners were summarily executed.

Prisoners were brought before an Islamic panel of clerics and were asked two questions:
“Do you believe in Allah?
Are you prepared to publicly denounce your activities and your political organization?”

If they replied “NO” to any of the two questions, they were sent for execution there and then. Thousands were executed and dumped in unknown graves. Many had even finished the sentences passed by the very Islamic courts and many who were already freed were brought back and executed.

The massacre of Iran’s political prisoners did not even spare children, the old and even the pregnant women. Some whole families, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers were put to death and wiped out forever. Iran lost many of its best sons and daughters. Yet the whole event went almost unnoticed around the world. No Left, Right, Liberal , Human Rights groups, feminists, intellectuals etc. around the world went on a protest march and no Western mass media fully reported the genocide
The mullahs were basking in the comfortable thoughts of “We got away with it again”. What they did not realize was that these brave men and women were the Arashes of our time, they stood tall and said NO to Islamic fascism and the new occupiers of our country.

Our motherland will produce more and more Arashes, and they will live in our hearts from generation to generation, so that once again we can light up our fires and the dancing of our flames will be seen in distances afar.


Anonymous said...

I read with interest all of your commentaries and articles. You have a knack for drawing parallels with relevant events in the past, when analyzing current political issues. Thank you for sharing your time, and your insight.

Azarmehr said...

Thanks for all your encouragement Simin.

Anonymous said...

Your name will also come to signify a fiery, energetic and relentess spirit who never gave up fighting for Iran not with a sword but with his intellect.

Michael Caddell said...

I have found your site through a lot of struggle. I am trying to find someone who will try to translate and tell me what happened to a school friend of mine who I was informed was executed in 1988 in Evin. This is very important to me, if you can't do this please tell me someone who will help.