LOS ANGELES, United States (Kurdistan24) – Today marks the sixth anniversary of the execution of four Kurdish activists who are still remembered by the Kurdish population every year.
Four Kurds, Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam-Holi, along with Mehdi Eslamian, were hanged on Sunday, May 9, 2010, at Evin prison in Tehran, Iran.
The body of none of the Kurds have been returned to their families. Instead, the families gather around a ceremonial graveyard every year.
Alam-Holi was a politically active rural woman sentenced to death in a language she could not speak. Born into a poor family in a Kurdish village, she never went to school and therefore never learned Farsi, the language of her prison guards and judge.
In prison, she was beaten, including on the soles of her feet, and kicked in the stomach, causing internal bleeding, according to Amnesty International. When she went on a hunger strike, she was force-fed through nasal tubes, which she ripped out in protest, damaging her nose.
“You interrogated me, tried me, and sentenced me in your own language, even though I couldn’t understand it and couldn’t defend myself,” she wrote from prison before she was hanged for “enmity against God.”
Farzad Kamangar, who has touched numerous lives through the letters he sent out from prison, was a 32-year-old Iranian Kurdish teacher, poet, journalist and human rights activist from the city of Kamyaran, in Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhalat). He was sentenced to death for Moharebeh, enmity against God.
Kamangar was repeatedly tortured, beaten and flogged. Despite his injuries, he went on strike to protest the execution of another Kurdish activist, Ehsan Fatahian, in November 2009.
According to Arash Alaei, his cellmate, Kamangar was electrocuted to the point where if you pat his back, he jumps in uncontrollable reaction. Yet, he had hope that he would be free and had started learning English, asking Alaei to help him.
“I will eventually get out of here. The butterfly that flew away in the night told me my fortune,” Kamangar wrote in prison, shortly before the Iranian government made the decision to place a noose around his neck.
It was on Mother’s Day that Kamangar’s mother heard through the media that her son, who had been told he would be released, was killed.
She stopped celebrating Mother’s Day six years ago.
“He had such a tender soul. He loved his students to pieces. Spring was his favorite season. He was born in Spring,” his mother says in a video posted on YouTube. But tears stop her from continuing and revealing that he was executed in his favorite season.
Kamangar was tremendously popular, cherished by Kurds and non-Kurds, young and old, men and women. The love others had for him was, ironically, what convinced the authorities to execute him despite his obvious innocence. Popularity terrorizes dictators, who are nourished by hostility and antipathy in their nation.
How did Kamangar move so many people?
He could not stop his torturers from breaking his chin and teeth, but he was able to maintain the life within him through imagination and literature. “I won’t let them kill me inside,” was his goal—and he fulfilled it.
In one of his letters, he describes being transported to Sanandaj Prison, Kurdistan Province. He paints a vivid picture of the city in the autumn through his view—not only from the window of the plane, but through the window of his imagination.
He writes little about his anguish, but instead about his moments of falling in love while listening to the music of legendary singer Abbas Kamandy and of hiking the Awyar Mountain. He is distracted from these memories only when the bitterness of the blood he accidentally swallows threatens to suffocate him.
The prison guard who anxiously checks that Kamangar has survived a severe beating does not know, cannot know, that Kamangar, in his mind, is dancing at his wedding, waving his chopi—his handkerchief—in the air and shouting, “Cheers! Cheers to all the prisoners’ mothers who are awaiting reunion with their children. Cheers to all the men and women who lost their lives for their ideals.”
That is what has made Kamangar a legend. He is one of the few people on the planet—like Nelson Mandela, like Leila Zana—who was not broken under torture.
Kamangar was devoted to improving the life of village children. He was charged with terrorism for teaching young Kurdish children their banned mother tongue. He was all too familiar with suffering, both directly in his life and indirectly through others’ experiences.
He knew the pain of Kurds, the pain of ethnocide and linguicide. He was familiar with the widespread poverty in Kurdistan resulting from the politicization of the region, with the abuse and violence suffered by women because of the government’s gender policies. For Kamangar, the hurt wasn’t just the physical torture he endured—it was the pain of his nation.
His voice, his imagination, his words, his ability to touch the agony of others made him an icon representing all political prisoners who have been executed at the hands of the Iranian government.
He continues to live in the hearts of all those who remember him every year. His voice continues to be heard not only through his writing but also in the poems and stories he has inspired, including poems written by Ata Jamali.