Victims and Witnesses
"The Kids of Familes of People Executed and Jailed are the Prisoners No One Counts": Witness Statement of Hamed Farmand
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
April 8, 2019
This testimony is the outcome of an interview conducted with Mr. Hamed Farmand regarding the effects of the imprisonment and execution of persons close to him on his life and the lives of the other members of his family.
My name is Hamed Farmand. I was born on March 8, 1976, in Tehran. I was born and raised in Gholhak neighborhood, and lived there for 30 years.
When my mother was pregnant with me, my aunt (my mother’s sister) was a fugitive from the authorities for being a member of the Mojahedeen Khalq Organization (MKO), and was in hiding. In February 1977, I was [barely] one year old when my mother read the news of her sister being killed in a skirmish in the newspaper and saw a picture of her dead body there. My mother is still traumatized after 40 years at the loss of her sister. My grandmother says my mother was depressed for over three months after my aunt’s death and cried non-stop at home. She had lost her best friend and her companion. I was not two years old yet when my mother left me and my brother and sister with my paternal grandparents and went on a trip to alleviate her depression. In that same period, two of my uncles (my mother’s brothers) were also arrested for being MKO supporters. By 1979, the glass divider of the prison visitation hall that separated the prisoner from the visitors and was covered with stains, and the high prison walls, had become part of the images engrained in my mind. In November 1979, a few months after the 1979 Revolution, one of my uncles was arrested. I didn’t remember much from that period except that my mother had become more seriously involved in politics. One of the images that keeps popping in my head is that of days where my mother would leave me and my sister at home with my paternal aunt or grandmother and would go to the Headquarters, a location the MKO kept. She took me along with her a few times too. The image of the Headquarters is that of a depressing and far-off place that had no attraction for me, a kid who wasn’t even going to school yet.
In 1981, a short while before the MKO decided to adopt a military stance and take up arms, [the authorities] stormed our home and searched it. I did not see it happen but afterward, there was always talk of the people who had ransacked our house, armed with weapons. I remember that from that point on, I was afraid of our neighbor who had two grown sons, each of whom had a six-cylinder motorcycle, and were said to belong to the “Komiteh” (“Committees of the Islamic Revolution” were neighborhood defense and law enforcement units formed shortly before the Revolution, and eventually became part of the official police force). My brother and my cousin who were adolescents in those days had told the story of the [Revolutionary] Guards coming to our home so many times that I began to believe that I had witnessed it myself.
In July 1981, news of my uncle’s execution was published in the newspaper. My father took down Mr. Taleqani’s big poster that was hanging in the living room. I knew my father liked Taleqani. He never talked about any of the clerics at home except Taleqani. Ever since he took down the poster, I started to think that there was something I should be scared about. Also, we had no news of my grandparents for a few months and that exacerbated my anxiety. And in October 1981, they stormed our house once again. After they searched the house for a few hours before our eyes, they left with my mother. The soldier who was taking my mother turned to me and said “don’t be afraid little one; we’ll take her, ask her a few questions, and we’ll bring her back soon”; I did not believe him. It was as if all the events of those few months had prepared me for that.
A few weeks later, we went to my grandparents’ home after about five months, and from then on, we would go there every Thursday evening during the three months of the fall season and a few weeks of winter. I later learned that during the months that we had had no news of my grandparents, their home had been taken over and occupied by forces attached to the Prosecutor’s Office. My grandfather’s home had a particular serenity to it even though my mother was in prison and we had not visited her yet, and even though one of my uncles had been executed and the other one was in hiding. We would go there on Thursday afternoons, have dinner on the floor, and before we were done with dinner, my grandfather, who had been sitting in a corner of the dinner spread, would disappear. He would then reappear a few minutes later with a plate full of saffron ice cream. What my grandfather did, never became repetitive [and boring] for me. I would be waiting for grandfather’s ice cream every week and for grandmother’s nagging that followed: “Let them finish their dinner first.”
In the winter of 1982, when I had gotten ready to go to my grandfather’s house like every other weekend, I realized that my father had no intention of taking us there. I cried all day and wouldn’t talk to him until the next day. I didn’t know for several weeks why my father had taken that weekly pleasure away from us. Those days, no one told me anything directly; I learned everything from the adults talking amongst themselves and from the discussions that kept being repeated constantly in the house. I finally learned that my grandmother had also been arrested and that was why we weren’t going to their place anymore. Grandmother was released a few months later. The following year, weekly visitations with my mother were instituted. During that period, they had stormed our home two more times and searched it again even though my mother was in prison, and even though some time had passed since my uncle’s execution, since my other uncle had been arrested, and since my uncle’s wife had been executed. But my grandparents’ home continued to be the place where I felt safe and serene. We would watch movies on TV on Thursday nights, and we would spend Fridays all day doing our homework and playing with Grandfather.
In early 1984, my grandmother was arrested for the second time. My grandfather had been traumatized after he had read the news of my uncle’s execution in the newspaper. During that period, where I have some of my best memories, my grandmother recounted that he sometimes made mistakes in reciting his prayers. My grandfather’ mistakes, who knew the Koran and the Nahjul Balagha (a book ascribed to Imam Ali, the first Shiite Imam) by heart, worried my grandmother. But I don’t remember any other signs of my grandfather becoming absent-minded from those years. However, when we went to their house a little while after my grandmother’s second arrest, it seemed that he had become a completely different person. From that point on, he started to lose his memory. Gradually, he didn’t recognize the people around him. After a few months, I would be afraid of my grandfather every time we went to their home. He would neither smile at me nor show me kindness. Once when my sister, the neighbor’s boy, and I were playing in the house, he tripped me on purpose. After that, he tried many times to beat me. The most important thing my uncle’s execution and my mother and grandmother’s arrests took from me was my grandfather.
We had no news of my grandmother for a year after her arrest. In the summer of 1984, I went to Evin Prison along with my youngest uncle, my mother’s aunt, my brother, and my sister. Even though the image of the prison and scenes of visitation with my uncle had stuck in my mind from previous years, and I had visited my mother at Qezelhessar Prison numerous times, going to Evin Prison that day not knowing who I was going to meet was scary. We visited with my oldest uncle who had been arrested two years earlier. He whispered something in my aunt and my uncle’s (his brother’s) ears, and then visitation was over. I did not know and no one told me that that was the last visitation before my uncle’s execution. But after the visitation, everybody behaved differently; they were quiet but I could tell their anger from looking at their faces, especially my mother’s aunt and my youngest uncle. I definitely didn’t have a good feeling and I was sure something awful had happened. My mother’s aunt was our guardian and I knew the different looks of her face; I knew that that wasn’t the time to even ask her a simple question. Some time had passed before I became certain from what others were saying that my uncle had been executed. Not long after his execution, weekly visitations with my mother stopped, and we still had no news of my grandmother.
I would get sick very often in the five years my mother was in prison, so much so that my insurance booklet would run out of pages and we had to change it at least once a year. But that year, my illnesses were harsher and lasted longer. That same year, I ran after a lady in the street thinking I had seen my mother and I lost her in the crowd. Another time, a children’s joke kept me busy for months: One day one of my friends at school told me: “Someone is asking for you at the door.” “Who?” I asked. “A fat man, that’s who,” he responded. I was waiting those days for my father to come to school at lunch time some day and take me to see my mother. The fact that someone was asking for me meant a lot to me. The entire afternoon of that day and for several days after that, I thought someone had asked for me and I had been too late to get to the [school] entrance. I could not believe for a long time that no one had asked for me and that my classmate had just pulled my leg, even though there were no indications [from anyone] that visitation with my mother [was imminent].
It was during those years that the bombing of Tehran had begun, or had gotten more serious. One of the awful images that I had come up with in my head when I closed my eyes and thought about my mother, was that of the ruins of Qeselhessar Prison where my mother was incarcerated. This [frightening] image popped into my head after a rocket landed near our home but did not go off, and it became even more frightening when one of our relatives had been stuck under the rubble of a house that had collapsed in a bombing and died. My mother’s aunt had told that story to her guests in front of me on numerous occasions.
Those days of non-visitation coincided with a time that later came to be known as “judgment day”, a type of torture invented by Haj Davud Soleimani, the Qezelhessar Prison warden, which lasted nine months, as far as I know. When visitations were reinstituted, my grandmother had been transferred to Qezelhessar prison too and we would visit them both on the same day until 1986 when my mother and then my grandmother were released from prison.
Talking about my uncles with other people was prohibited during the time my mother was in jail, and even after she was released. My brother, sister, and I, learned that that was [to remain] a secret among ourselves. I don’t even remember having mourned them. The only person in the family that talked about them was my grandmother. She even went to their graves when she was released from prison and would take me along sometimes. My middle uncle who was executed first does not have a specific grave but my grandmother showed me a place that she said was where he was buried. No one else talked about them other than my grandmother.
We had to lie about where my mother was when the subject came up during the time she was incarcerated. We either had to say she had gone on a trip or that she was at the hospital.
I had a few close friends in elementary school but I never invited them to my house, and I never talked about how much I missed my mother or about the killing of my uncles. None of my teachers or principals ever asked me how I felt before visitations. And when I went back to school after being absent for days after visitations, no one bothered to ask me about the reason for my absence and about how I was doing and how I was feeling. I only guessed that our school’s ill-tempered vice-principal knew why I was absent, but at least he never scolded or questioned me about my absences. Of course, there were no visitations when I was sick or when exam time rolled around. When I was in fourth grade, on one occasion after I had been to visitation, my teacher, who, incidentally, was the best teacher I had in elementary school, pulled me aside and said: “Why didn’t you tell me anything about your mother? Wasn’t I supposed to know?” The tone I remember was one with shades of scolding but for me, she was the only person during elementary school, that is, the entire time my mother was in jail, who cared. From among all the teachers I had at the school, she was the only one for whom I bought a headscarf as a gift after my mother was released, and gave it to her along with the news of her freedom.
I was always shy and quiet at school. Not only would I not get into fights, I wasn’t even into playing and running around in that huge school yard and the extensive grass. I thought I was a good kid during the five years of elementary school and the others also confirmed that I was indeed a good kid, and that those who were naughty and ran around in the yard and played in the grass were bad kids, even abnormal! On the day we took our fifth grade final exams, I came back to school with several of my school mates. They threw their bags down and jumped in the middle of the grass. A few minutes later, I found myself in the middle of the grass as well. I was surprised at myself for a long time for doing that! What was hard on me during the days I went to school, however, was hearing the phrase “come to school with your mother”. The two times that that happened was more than enough! I took my mother’s aunt both times: Once for registration, and another time to get my report card. But that day, I knew nobody was going to bother us. Our school did not have a middle school, and my mother had also been released and so my mind was at ease in that regard. Well, I was not a bad kid in elementary school and I was not a bad kid in later years either; of course, people around me encouraged me to be quiet and mind my own business as well.
But school was not just teachers and encouragements and punishments. Just like all the other kids of the 1980’s, we stood in line every morning and chanted slogans. I had grown up in a family where Khomeini was the cause of all the grief, all the separations, and all the deaths; yet I had to pray to God every morning to shorten my life in order to lengthen his. The first years, I chanted the opposite, but I got tired after a while! I felt that my voice would not be heard. So, in utter helplessness and hopelessness, I remained silent during the chanting of slogans. But the worst part of the slogans was the end: “Death to Monafeqin (derogatory term used to refer to members of the Mojahedeen Khalq Organization (MKO), roughly meaning “two-faced hypocrites who sew division and discord”)…” I understood the meanings of both death and Monafeq. Therefore, the start of the school day was, in effect, me asking death for my own family.
Another thing that happened after of my uncles’ executions and my mother’s arrest, was that family relations and relations with friends changed. We lived in a building where my father’s mother and my mother’s aunt, both of whom raised us during those years, also lived. We had good relations with them and with a number of other relatives who associated with them and, incidentally, had children our age. But my mother’s aunt sympathized with the regime, and that part of our relatives were Revolutionary Guards in the early days of the Revolution and got jobs later on in the government. Even though we had good relations with them and we played with their children, at the same time I considered their kids to be spies. We were always told to be careful. [For instance,] in our home, my sister listened to tapes of [Iranian] pop music made in Los Angeles, which had come to be known as “Los Angelesi” music. Not only would the music go silent when those relatives came over, we even had to hide the tapes themselves. I never trusted them with any secrets, or for that matter, any of my closest friends. It wasn’t just lack of trust though. My mother’s aunt said something behind my mother’s back once in front of me. I loved them both and to think that I had to not love one of them was very difficult for me. That day, when my mother’s aunt talked about my mother in anger, I didn’t say anything so as not upset her. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say anyway. But I had one bright spot in my life, the one thing that was my confidant in those days, and that was my star, a star that shined brighter than the others in the night sky. That night, I looked at my star from my window as I always did, and thought about my mother.
These conflicts existed with our other relatives as well. One of my mother’s grandmother’s grand children had been killed in the [Iran-Iraq] war. They had hung a picture of him in their home and, underneath the picture, they had written his name with the word “Martyr” in front of it. It was always a puzzle to me that my uncle, whom my mother refers to as “Martyr”, was another grandchild of that person, but there wasn’t even a small picture of him anywhere in her house.
We were not the only ones who could not trust others and had to be afraid of everyone. In those five years, there were many a friend and relative with whom our contact and relations were cut off. What I noticed was that after a while, some people were no longer in our lives, that we did not have certain associations with some people, and that we were not going to certain peoples’ homes anymore. It wasn’t actually a puzzle to me back then, I was just sad that we did not have the good relations we once had. But when my mother was released after five years, and I saw a lot of those people at a party we had thrown in celebration of her freedom, I was angry instead of being happy. The only thing I remember from that party is that I counted the minutes for those people to leave. The question that kept popping into my head was “where have you been all this time? Where did you disappear to?”
One of the relations the cutting off of which I was not able to comprehend, and it bothered me for a long time, was our relations with one of our neighbors. Videotapes had just been banned at the time, and going to a kind and affable person’s home where we could watch movies and spend time was extremely valuable to us. That kind lady was one of our neighbors and I would always warmly say hello to her whenever I crossed her in the street and she would respond in her sweet Azeri accent. I believe it was at some point in 1984-85, that I passed her in the street as usual and said hello in a loud voice, but she didn’t even turn to look at me. I thought long and hard until nighttime and thought that something must have happened, that is, I must surely have done something to upset her, so much so that she doesn’t even say hello back to me. That night I reached the conclusion that I hadn’t said hello loud enough. The same thing happened two or three days later and again the following week, and I was certain that she was mad at me for something. It took a few months until I learned that her son had been arrested while preparing the video as we were about to go their house, and that the lady was scared of talking to us, much like the others.
Like so many other people, we also experienced friends and relatives leaving the country, and for me, that constituted the departure of people that I loved and were irreplaceable.
When I became an adolescent, in middle school and high school, I became curious to know more about the execution of my uncles as well as that of my aunt who had been killed before the Revolution, and my grandmother would talk about them every chance she got. My aunt and my uncles were heroes in our house, heroes that I gradually learned I could never catch up to: I was a good student, but [it was said that] they were better students than me in high school, even my middle uncle who had been in prison since the age of 16 and never had a chance to finish high school! I did sports, but they were sports champions! I was an early riser, but they never slept! In short, they were always several steps ahead of me. That might have been interesting at first, but then it gradually became very hard on me. This unequal competition had worn me out and shattered my self-confidence.
My mother’s incarceration did not affect us much financially, or at least I didn’t feel anything. Maybe for my father to take a day off every week to make the short trip from Gholhak to Qezelhessar Prison was financially burdensome, but as a child growing up in the family of a salaried employee with an average income, I did not feel the financial burden. But [finances did have an effect my youngest uncle]: My uncles’ executions, my grandmother’s arrest, and subsequently my grandfather’s illness, completely changed his life. Between the several-month occupation of their house and my youngest uncle going into hiding (because he was at risk of being arrested), as well as the expropriation of my executed uncles’ motorcycles, my youngest uncle practically quit school to work and make a living. My grandfather’s pension was there but he had his own expenses. The story of his life is a whole different saga.
The effect that years of being away from my mother and the executions of my uncles have had on me is the belief that there is no such thing as a lasting relationship. I’m in my forties, yet I still have problems establishing deep, meaningful relations with other people; up until ten years ago, I was harmful to myself and to the other person in the serious relationships I had.
One of the other problems I had to deal with was something I later learned is called “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”. I learned from the time I was twenty four or twenty five years old that I get so severely anxious at times, without any reason, that it becomes hard for me to even breathe. I was gradually able to identify the signs; one sign was the smell of the fall season which was when my mother was arrested. What made things more difficult was the lack of empathy from others. When I would occasionally complain about it, I would hear things like “we’re all like that and that’s because of our system of education which makes the fall, that is the time when school starts, become a source of anxiety for all of us”. For a long time, I was under the impression that what I felt was normal, until I learned from the symptoms that the level of anxiety that I felt, that sometimes leads to uncontrollable crying when it becomes severe, was not normal and other people do not necessarily experience the same thing. My brother and sister had the same experience but to a lesser degree, partly because they were older than me when the events occurred, and partly because I was the only one who kept going over my memories every day, memories which have now become part of my daily life. Nevertheless, even after a comprehensive period of psychotherapy and after the passage of a significant amount of time from those events, I still have difficulty dealing with those times. For instance, to me, this interview is not just the several hours we spent talking; my mind is occupied for hours before the interview, and I have to wrestle with my thoughts and my feelings for hours after it’s over.
For a short time after my mother and grandmother were released, my grandfather continued to have violent behavior. For instance, on one occasion when he and my grandmother had come to our home and I had opened the door, he punched me in the stomach without warning. It broke my heart every time he hit me during those years; the emotional pain was much more than the physical pain. I loved my grandfather; he is still the person I hold most dear to my heart. The fact that he would hit me without any reason pained me.
After a few months, however, I felt my grandfather was gradually becoming calmer. He hardly even recognized anybody anymore but he felt calm and serene with my grandmother, and his eyes would light up when he saw my mother. My mother loved her father very much too, and that was why she suffered a lot seeing him in that state and just didn’t want to be with him. This feeling of renewed security at being with grandfather, even though he did not recognize me and there was no two-way contact, did not last long. Grandfather died in July 1988, at the age of 67. The following year when Khomeini died, I sat in my room half the day and angrily drew drawings. I felt helpless because I felt like I had no means of getting rid of that much anger, anger at the fact that Khomeini died without being held accountable for all the suffering he had imposed on me and my family. Thereafter, writing became the outlet for the expression of my feelings. From papers I wrote for school to voided invoices my father would bring home where I would put down my writings, they were all an opportunity for me to express my feelings. Perhaps it was the experience of those writings that later resulted in my starting a weblog called “Prisoner Number Nothing” where I would recount my mother’s incarceration and my uncles’ deaths, which I eventually ended up writing in the form of a book called “Mother’s Empty Place”, the story of the five years when my mother was absent. I must admit that “Prisoner Number Nothing” came from a deeper place and expressed more profound feelings; feelings that these children, the children of imprisoned people, don’t count for anything anywhere; they are not part of any statistics; and society, even the people around them, don’t understand them, while they constantly talk on their behalf. “Prisoner Number Nothing” was my effort in recounting the experiences of one of these children, a child who went unseen by everyone when it was actually time to see and care for him. For me, the experience of the time my mother and grandmother were in prison and my uncles were executed, resulted in a lifelong crusade that started when I started writing about them in general and under an assumed name when I was 24 or 25 years old. I established an organization in 2014 in order to support these children, and I believe that if I succeed in helping even one child not to go through what I went through and dealt with well into adulthood, or at least not go through it as harshly as I did, then I will have reached my objective.