In memory of Asghar Emadi, victim of the September 1 massacre in Camp Ashraf
By Saeed Ahmadian, Camp Liberty
I was seven or eight years old when my mother told me that I had an uncle in Iraq. I was overjoyed to hear this news and begged her to tell me more about him – it was as if I had requested for something forbidden. “Quiet!” she told me nervously. “Don’t speak about this to anyone, especially when you go to school. You tell no one that you have an uncle in Iraq.”
I was both surprised and saddened by her reaction. What’s wrong with having an uncle? I thought. Why is it forbidden to mention his name? What has he done?
As I grew up, I heard new things about Asghar Emadi, my uncle, and I learned that he is a political activist opposing the regime ruling my country, Iran. That was why he had gone to Iraq, to avoid being caught by the Iranian regime, which was notoriously known for its widespread persecution and murder of opposition members.
In the family, he was brought up in talks every once in a while, and was always remembered for his generous nature and how reliable he was in hard times. I was amazed at how respected he was among the youth and the elders, and I deduced that such a person would surely never chose an ill path and his actions are just and right.
At the same time, I was seeing the regime’s savagery and suppression on a daily basis: executions; repressive measures against women and girls for violation of ridiculous dress codes made up by the ruling mullahs; poverty; restrictions on the use of internet…
At length, I decided that I would follow in my uncle’s footsteps, leave Iran and come to Camp Ashraf, Iraq, where my uncle and thousands of Iranian men and women opposing the mullahs’ rule had gathered to struggle for freedom and peace in Iran.
When I first my uncle in Ashraf, he didn’t recognize me. Our last meeting dated to seventeen years before, when I was no older than three. But since I had seen his newer pictures, I recognized his face. He entered the room and asked for Saeed. Seeing the man who had become the hero of my childhood was very exciting, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Barely able to contain my excitement, I said, “Uncle, I am Saeed,” before embracing him. At that moment I was overcome by a feeling of comfort, as if I was suddenly confident that with such people, Iran was sure to see freedom and democracy in near-future.
In the years that followed I would frequently visit my uncle. He would talk about his hopes and dreams for the future of Iran, and I would tell him about the situation in our country. He featured clouded over whenever I spoke of the problems and miseries of the youth and the crimes of the regime, but his stare would never lose its determined glare.
After many years, under the pressure by the Iraqi government – at the behest of the Iranian regime – we were forced to leave Ashraf, which had been inhabited by the opposition for 25 years, and were transferred to Camp Liberty, an obsolete U.S. military base near the Baghdad International Airport.
When I last saw my uncle, he had his usual pleasant air. He told me that he would stay in Ashraf along with 100 other residents to protect and negotiate the sale of the belongings of the Ashrafis. I was rather disappointed to know that we would part, but was confident that sooner or later, we would be reunited in Camp Liberty.
My uncle and the other remaining residents had stayed in Ashraf based on a quadripartite agreement with the U.S., UN, and the government of Iraq, and were to stay in Ashraf for an unlimited duration, until the last of the camp’s property was sold. The signing parties had pledged to ensure the safety and security of the residents.
But on the dawn of September 1, 2013, the criminal special forces of the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, attacked Ashraf and staged a ruthless massacre, in which 52 of the hundred residents were murdered and seven others were abducted, including six women. When I initially heard the news of the attack the first thing that came to my mind was the caring face of Asghar, and I was worried about his fate.
Soon afterwards, I heard his name among the victims. I was shocked and hurt.
I had been longing for the moment he would come to Camp Liberty. I had been waiting to meet him again and talk to him.
That moment would never come.
The story didn’t’ end there. The Iraqi forces still hadn’t played out the last chapter of their heinous crime. In another criminal, the government of al-Maliki proceeded with the secret burial of the bodies of the victims in order to destroy the single piece of hard evidence to its crimes. I was even denied to bury the body of my uncle for the last time and bid him farewell.
Now more than a year has gone by. If there’s one thing that still remains fresh in my mind, it is the determined smile and stare of my uncle when I first saw him in Ashraf. And I’m sure that one day, that smile will settle on the faces of all the deprived children and people of Iran.
For that day, I have hope.