A shocking story about Taghi Abassian who has lost his life due to a medical siege on camp Liberty imposed by Iraqi forces, This was posted on ASHCAM and i encourage you to read this story.
The following was written for ASHCAM by Habib Baradaran, a former Ashraf City resident who now lives in Camp Liberty.
I still hadn’t broken my fast when I heard the news of the death of my dear friend Taghi Abbasian in Camp Liberty. I’ll never forget that day. It was 18 September 2014, a grim day if ever there was one. I rushed to the camp’s clinic, my breakfast forgotten.
Camp Liberty, in the proximity of Baghdad’s International Airport, is where 2,800-odd Iranian refugees are living under prison-like conditions imposed by Iraqi forces loyal to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iranian regime.
It was in the clinic’s injection room that I found him, laid on a bed and shrouded with a light-blue bed sheet. I still couldn’t believe he had passed away. Gently, I pushed aside the cover and gazed upon his face.
Although I was sure it was Taghi’s body that lay before me, the face seemed unfamiliar to me; of late, every time I had seen him, his features were perpetually twisted in agony, evidence of the extreme pain he was enduring. After months of indescribable torment, it seemed as if it was the first time he was at peace.
Born in Iran’s north-eastern city of Mashhad in 1952, Taghi grew up in a middle-class family. His father was a bus driver, his mother a teacher. In 1974, Taghi went to Tehran’s Science and Industry University to study mechanical engineering. Simultaneously, he taught mathematics at a high school in Tehran’s 12th District. Taghi was known for having a gentle heart; he spent his holidays gathering alms for the homeless and the poor, and would devote much of his time tohelping the needy. He dreamed of living in a free and democratic nation, and had an active role in the popular protests that led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah’s regime.
After the revolution, Taghi’s dreams of freedom and democracy were stolen by Khomeini’s clerical regime. He was dismayed as he saw the ruling mullahs found a government based on Islamic fundamentalism, gradually depriving the Iranian people of all forms of freedom in the name of religion and god.
Taghi was especially appalled by the treatment of women and young girls under the repressive rule of the mullahs’ regime. As he once recounted to me, in early 1980, he had stumbled upon a group of young women in Tehran who were encircled by regime forces and were being threatened for violating the harsh dress codes that had been just established by the mullahs. He tried to intervene and help them, and was severely beaten by the girls’ tormentors.
Taghi experienced more of the same as the mullahs’ regime cracked down on minorities, studentsand the media, incrementally stripping the country of every bit of freedom.
He knew that, as an individual, there was only so much he could do, so he sought an alternative to the twisted, evil version of Islam that the mullahs were enforcing on the people. That was how he became familiar with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), a popular democratic movement that represented freedom, democracy and equal rights for all people.
Upon joining the PMOI, Taghi gained new momentum in his efforts to denounce the extremism and fundamentalism of the mullahs, and to defend the rights of the people. He was particularlyactive among students in the university where he studied, and at the school where he taught. He taught his young pupils that freedom is the inalienable right of every human being, and thatrepression must be answered with resistance and perseverance. He soon became popular among both his classmates and students as a devoted freedom-fighter.
Inevitably, his local fame came at a price. Time and again, regime forces tried to intimidate him into abandoning his ideals. Regime thugs would attack him, tearing apart the documents, posters and books that he carried and distributed to publicise and enlighten people about freedom and democracy. He was ambushed and beaten by regime loyalists on several occasions, and was even arrested and imprisoned on false charges.
But Taghi was not one to give up a just cause. After every trial and episode, he would continue his struggle with renewed fervour.
“They think they can destroy our dreams,” he once said to his university friends, as they stood over the ruins of their bookstand after a vicious attack by a score of regime thugs, “But I will prove them wrong.” And with those words, he meticulously started putting things back together and rebuilding from scratch.
In 1981, Khomeini finally unveiled his true colours and issued a fatwa (a religious edict) for the annihilation and murder of all freedom-fighter movements and organizations, and for the execution of political prisoners. Taghi, who was a known PMOI supporter among locals and the student community and a vocal critic of the regime’s repressive policies, became one of the prime targets of security forces in his neighbourhood, and was forced to go underground.
For five years, Taghi evaded security forces and the Iranian regime’s repressive Revolutionary Guards. Many of his friends were not so lucky. During that period, the regime carried out a massive purge of freedom activists in Iran, arresting, torturing and executing thousands of PMOI members.
Despite the threats he was facing, Taghi was very active during this period, becoming a prominent member of a network of PMOI activists who documented and gathered evidence
of the crimes committed by the Iranian regime and smuggled them out of the country to let the world know about the tragedy that was coming to pass in Iran.
He was always on the run, but always one step ahead of the security forces, who soughtdesperately to catch him and exact revenge for his exposure of their crimes. He spent his nights sleeping rough on park benches, under bridges and in dark alleyways, or would pay an unannounced visit to a distant relative’s house late at night to catch a few hours’ sleep and head out before dawn.
“Freedom comes at a heavy price,” he would say to his friends when the things became hard, “And we must pay it in full if we want to see an end to the suppression of the women, youth and everyone else in our country. We must stand strong.”
Even as a fugitive, with more than enough miseries and troubles to deal with, he never once gave up helping the poor, and continued regularly to donate whatever he could gather to the needy people in Tehran’s impoverished southern districts.
It was with a heavy heart that Taghi eventually bid his beloved homeland farewell and fled into exile. In 1986, he left Iran and came to Ashraf City, Iraq, where PMOI members had set up asanctuary for dissidents like himself. At that time, not much could be said about Ashraf; it was a barren piece of land with a few scattered buildings and barely any vegetation.
Having experienced first-hand the harsh repression of the mullahs’ regime, however, Taghi did not take for granted the value of a place where like-minded activists could live in freedom. Like many other PMOI members who had reached Ashraf after undergoing many trials and hardships, Taghi was determined to transform this dry patch of desert into the embodiment of the dreams and aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy.
And it was through hard toil that Taghi and thousands of other devoted PMOI freedom-fighters built a full-featured, self-sufficient city that became a symbol of hope for the people of Iran, and a base of operations for the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA), a revolutionary volunteer force dedicated to toppling the religious dictatorship in Iran and replacing it with a secular and democratic government.
Taghi joined the ranks, starting out in the transportation section, carrying logistical supplies to the frontlines and bringing back injured combatants from the NLA’s many cross-borderskirmishes. He was known for being courageous to a fault, never willing to leave anyone behind, even when it put his own life in danger.
He later became a medic, winning the respect and admiration of his comrades for his caring and generous nature, and for the lengths to which he would go to ease the pain and suffering of others.
In 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq. The NLA remained neutral throughout the conflict, even though its bases were attacked by US fighter jets and bombers, killing dozens. After theinvasion, Ashraf City came under the control of the US military. NLA members turned over their arms in exchange for the promise of protection under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In 2009, the US government decided to hand over the security of the city to the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a staunch and self-proclaimed ally of the Iranian regime. This was a breach of agreements and promises made by the US, and put the lives of the now-unarmed Ashrafis in danger. Despite the many protests made by the residents and their representatives and lawyers abroad, the US government decided to proceed with the plan,replacing the US forces in charge of the city’s protection with thousands of Iraqi troops.
I chanced upon Taghi at the time as I was visiting the city’s mosque. He was staring pensively at the towering minarets, his features clouded over. “Handing over our security to Iraqi forces will have dire consequences,” he answered when I asked why he looked so worried. And then he turned his gaze on me and said, “The Iranian regime will surely try to take advantage of this situation. There are hard times ahead of us. But we will overcome, and the hardships will only make the victory sweeter. Think of the suffering of our people in Iran. They deserve every bit of our effort.”
Soon afterwards, at the behest of the Iranian regime, Iraqi forces attacked the defenceless residents of the city and carried out several massacres while the US government stood by and refrained from honouring its commitments. Many residents of Ashraf lost their lives in those attacks. It was just as Taghi had predicted.
The crackdown of several hundred armed men on the unarmed, besieged residents of Ashraf was harsh. During one raid, Taghi, who at the time was a medic and ambulance driver, yet again set an example of bravery. As Iraqi forces and armoured vehicles encircled a number of residents who were brutally injured and unable to move, Taghi courageously drove his vehicle into their midst and rescued the battered men and women. He himself was injured in that venture, but as soon as he had driven the wounded to the city’s hospital, he was back on the road to find stragglers and others in danger who needed help.
The Iraqi government gradually tightened the noose around the Ashrafis’ necks, placing severerestrictions on the residents’ logistical and medical necessities. Taghi, who by then was suffering from heart problems, was hit especially hard by the medical siege. His health condition began a rapid deterioration.
In 2012, Taghi and other Ashrafis complied with a UN/US-led initiative to have the residents relocated to Camp Liberty, where they would be spared further persecution and massacres, and would be granted their basic human rights, otherwise denied by the Iraqi government.
But none of those promises materialized, and Taghi’s health continued to get worse.
Taghi did not know that he was suffering from MND, a disease that targets the neuro-system and prevents the muscles from functioning normally. In his case, it had disrupted his respiratory system, leaving him in a painful state of constant near-suffocation, which continued until it finally culminated in total respiratory arrest. It was only after months of intentional delay that Iraqi forces allowed him to be diagnosed in Iraqi hospitals, and as a result, his disease was onlydiscovered when it was in its final stages.
Afterwards, Iraqi forces deliberately continued to deny him proper treatment to increase his torment, a process that continued until his death.
And yet, even during the final months of his life, while he was losing his battle against the terminal illness, he would forget his own pain as soon as he heard that a friend or colleague was in need of help, and would do his best to be of assistance.
As I stood over his body on that September morning, I tearfully contemplated the cruel irony of Taghi’s fate; this man, my dear friend, who had strived tirelessly throughout his life to alleviate the suffering of others and to save lives, had suffered so much and had his own life snatched from him.
I remembered the last time I had seen him, a few days back. Between short, shallow, difficult breaths, he described to me how the Iraqi security forces in control of Camp Liberty had treated him and other patients worse than prisoners. For him, he said, going to the hospital to visit thedoctor had become torture.
As I was rerunning his words in my mind, I remembered that six months earlier, as Taghi’s health condition was in fast decline, the doctors in the camp had insisted that enter an urgent treatment process. But when he was due to get an MRI scan in a Baghdad hospital, Iraqi forces intentionally delayed him at the camp’s exit. When he finally arrived at the hospital, hours late, all the offices and surgeries were closed.
In another instance, on an especially hot summer day, Iraqi forces deliberately kept Taghi in the open for several hours before allowing him to go to the hospital. When he finally got there, he was exhausted and breathless from being exposed to the extreme heat. When the doctor saw him,he said that Taghi was in no shape to undergo the scheduled examination, and sent him back to the camp after a tiring and fruitless trip.
On another day, he needed urgently to be transferred to a hospital in Baghdad, but security
forces prevented him from leaving the camp under absurd pretexts. “The Iraqi forces want to torture me to death,” he told me that day.
It was on one of these very days that, after returning from Baghdad, his nurse told me, “These security forces are making sure that the medical treatment and referral to hospital becomes more tormenting than the illness itself.”
The last months were especially hard on Taghi, as Iraqi forces – at the behest of the Iranian regime – ratcheted up the pressure against the residents of Camp Liberty, cutting off fuel, food and medicine supplies. Without fuel, we had no means to operate the power generators that were the camp’s sole source of electricity, and therefore there was no way to counter the searing heat of the Iraqi summer. While temperatures soared above 50°C, there was only enough electricity to provide his living container with a few hours of air-conditioning.
But even though the intense heat made an unbearable situation even harder for him, Taghi was not one to complain to his friends and colleagues, and he stoically endured the hardship.
In one of my last visits, he beckoned me close when I entered his room. He was sweating profusely. “I want you to know something,” he said through shallow breaths. And then he told me the story of a friend who been executed by the Iranian regime.
“He had two sons. I visited them every week, until the day I left Iran,” he explained. “When I wanted to come to Ashraf, I told those two little kids I’m going on a long trip, and I will bring the murderers of their father to justice. ‘Iran will be free,’ I told them.”
Tears welled in his eyes. He chuckled and said, “They must have grown up now.” And then his mood turned sombre. “Look,” he said, “I know I’m not going to make it. I want you to continue to fight for them in my stead, for them and all the little children in Iran who have suffered at the hands of this savage regime.”
According to his doctors, had Taghi been allowed proper treatment, he would certainly have been spared the excruciating pain, and would probably have lived for several more years.
As I stood in silence, brooding over Taghi’s lifeless body, I dwelt on fond memories of my beloved friend, savouring each one and obsessing over details that once seemed insignificant but had suddenly become precious relics to be restored and cherished, maintained for posterity. This should not have happened, I thought. If they had allowed you to receive medical treatment like every other free citizen, you would still be among us today.
What made Taghi’s death even more painful to me was that it could so easily have been prevented, had the UN and US lived up to even a fraction of their obligations to us.
On the day we were forcibly displaced from our 25-year-old home, Ashraf City, to Camp Liberty, I had a feeling of relief that even though the conditions in the camp were similar to those of adetention centre, there was no reason to worry that the sick would be tortured to death. The USand UNAMI – the UN body in Iraq – had taken matters into their hands. UNAMI officials had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Iraqi government, in which it was stipulated that we would have free access to medical services. UN and US monitors, we were told, would be constantly present in the camp to ensure that the rights of the residents would be respected. I was sure they would prevent the Iraqi government from continuing the repressive medical siege against us in Camp Liberty.
But now, nigh on three years have passed, and many patients have lost their lives due to the inhumane medical siege. Taghi Abbasian was the 21st such person, the victim of an act that can only be described as a crime against humanity committed by Iraqi forces loyal to the Iranian regime.
And the promises of the US and UN have yet to be fulfilled.
The US Embassy in Baghdad and UNAMI were fully aware of the conditions of Taghi and other patients with terminal and acute illnesses. In his letters to US and UN officials and bodies, Taghi had described in great detail the intolerable severity of his health condition, and the harsh treatment and restrictions implemented by Iraqi forces. “I am asking you to not remain silent any further and not allow [Iraqi forces] to play with our lives,” he had written in one such letter,addressed to the UNAMI Human Rights Office. “I am warning that I am in dangerous and irreversible conditions and must go through my medical treatment process.”
But his warnings were not heeded, I thought as I watched his body being placed on a gurney to be transferred to the morgue. I bid my dear friend a silent farewell as tears trickled slowly down my face. The faces of dozens of other patients in Camp Liberty flashed through my mind. Which one of them will be next? I thought. Who will be the 22nd victim?
The continuation of this dire situation will undoubtedly cost other residents their lives, unless the US and UN wake up and honour their commitments, and do not let these repressive forces dictate how we live and when we die.
Sadly, the US and the UN have so far refrained from upholding their pledges, and we continue to suffer as a consequence.
The US and UN are legally and morally obliged to take concrete actions to end the blockade ofCamp Liberty, lest more lives be lost. Whether they will step forward and prevent another disaster from taking place is for them to decide. Nevertheless, a large part of the blame for this ongoing tragedy is theirs to bear.
But whatever happens, we will not be demoralised, and we will never give up the struggle for which Taghi Abbasian gave his life. My friend is dead. But his dream – that the wellspring of freedom and democracy may burst forth in beautiful Iran – lives on.