These are the words of Ghazi Heidari, an Ahwazi former prisoner of Iran’s regime, whose ‘crime’, like thousands of others, was to advocate for freedom and human rights for the Ahwazi people:
I will never forget witnessing the execution of dozens of Ahwazi freedom fighters at Karun Prison in Ahwaz. I also witnessed executions of prisoners like drug dealers and murderers as well as political prisoners, at the same prison, as well as at Adel Abad Prison in the city of Shiraz.
Several of those I’d met there died by execution – they ‘disappeared’ as though they’d never existed. Before my own experience, I couldn’t have described their feelings when they were informed of their unjust court ruling or their emotions and lives during their time in prison. My own narrow escape with the death penalty changed that.
During my first time in prison, when the regime moved me to the Ministry of Intelligence’s prison in 2009, the executioners were always threatening me with execution while torturing me. Both the torture and the threats of execution continued for several months.
On one of those occasions, after hours of torture, I’d denied some of the false accusations brought against me, and they said, ‘Today we’ll execute you to get rid of you.’
I considered it an empty threat and defied them. My hands were already cuffed behind me. Due to the severe torture, every part of my body was bleeding. I didn’t know to which wound I should respond first or which one I should complain about.
After this, they put a noose around my neck and told me that I would be executed. My eyes were blindfolded, but I was able to see through the slight gap at the side of my eyes. I felt that there were four or five people in the room. They started to pull the rope upwards gradually and tighten it until it became hard for me to breathe. I felt that the bones of my neck were about to fracture and break. My biggest hope at that time to get a lungful of air to breathe. While I was going through those terrible moments, they raised me from the ground, with all the weight of my body concentrated in my neck. I felt that my eyes were about to pop out.
Then, suddenly, all the pressure and pain stopped. I no longer felt anything. I felt that I didn’t need to listen to anything or even to breathe air. I also felt that my body no longer existed, as though I’d lost all sense of it.
I thought, ‘Where am I? Has my soul separated from my body? Have I lost consciousness? Is this death? Have I lost all connection with time and place?
All I could feel was a warm heat deep in my brain. Maybe this is life. Where had all this pain has gone? I don’t know.
I don’t know how much time this process took. Was it seconds or minutes? But the first thing that I knew when I came around was that they were providing me with artificial respiration. Then my hearing returned. I heard the whispers of the executioners who gathered around me. Maybe the entire period of mock-execution didn’t last any longer than a minute or even several second. But it still managed to separate me from the ordinary life.
I’ll try to explain here how I felt when they threatened me with execution on several occasions, especially when I was alone in the prison cell. The biggest gift that God bestowed on man is life. This is accompanied by a deep survival instinct that keeps us going consciously or unconsciously from the moment we are born until the last moment of our life.
This begins with maintaining the body and soul and ends with maintaining the individual and social ego.
Death usually comes all of a sudden, but when you are locked up in a detention facility, special questions pop up on your mind and the answers you get are different from each other. This is shaped by your ideology and your view of life, and by the circumstances of facing death.
Even the Communists, liberals, seculars, atheists and believers differ in their answers – some want Paradise, and others fear Hellfire.
Man asks himself, ‘Why have I come close to this phase where the gallows are so near? Does the cause which I chose to fight for deserve such suffering and the sacrifice of the most precious thing, which is life? Why shall I be executed? For which crime?
In brief, in situations like this, where death is an everyday event, man looks for the meaning, the meaning of life or death. He searches for meaning in what happens to him and attempts to explain it.
In times like these, there is no longer any pretence, this is the moment of truth.
I told myself that I fought for Ahwaz. So, what is the meaning of Ahwaz? Is it the geographic region which has a certain area? What could distinguish it from the more fertile regions that have a more moderate climate… or does Ahwaz means the Ahwazi people, and if so what distinguishes them from the rest of mankind in terms of the traits of good and evil? Or does Ahwaz mean the Ahwazi culture and civilisation, though all societies that have traditions and positive or negative customs and we’ve never claimed that the Ahwazi people possess an ideal culture?
Where is the answer? As I mentioned above, that depends on one’s view on life as well as one’s ideology.
While writing these lines, I must also bear witness that most of the Ahwazi martyrs sent to the gallows died with their hearts assured of the justice of their cause. They had sought to restore their stolen rights, using the only means they possessed, though some admitted some of the mistakes they had made in terms of the methods and strategies they used.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.