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Reza Baraheni, Iran's most prominent modern poet and literary critic, spoke February 26 at a meeting in defense of Iranian political prisoners. The meeting, held at Columbia University in New York and attended by 300 persons, was sponsored by the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran [CAIFI].
Baraheni, who is currently living in exile, spent 102 days in the shah's prisons in 1973. He was released as a result of protests from groups such as Amnesty International, the international association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists [PEN] and CAIFI.
The following are major excerpts from Bahareni's speech.
The most vigorous and hopeful period of the life of my own generation was from 1941 to 1953. I took part in all sorts of associations created for teenagers, read all sorts of books in Persian and Turkish, and looked hopefully towards the future.
Having been born to a poor family, I didn't feel that I was poor. The whole wealth of the world could be mine if I wanted.
To write your first poem in your mother tongue, and to read it to a mother who understands no other language; to take that poem to school and read it to the kids and have it published in the school paper and hear your words being read by others in your own language; to recite it to the peasants in their huts, the workers in the factory, to the businessmen in the bazaars, and see they don't need translators to understand the meaning of your simple syllables! What richness! What riches!
And then someone puts a bayonet at your throat and tells you to forget about your mother tongue, tells a whole people to forget about their language and speak in the language ordained by the bayonet. Someone appoints himself the patron of your throat and tells you your language is filthy, it is no good, speak in mine. Someone forces you to change the form of your throat, jaws and lips, the rhythm of teeth and cheeks, and tells you to imitate his jaws and cheeks and lips and teeth. Oh! Oppressors and tyrants and shahs, my curse on you!
Oh! Racists! I spit on you!
The defeat of the Democratic party of Azerbaijan and also the Kurdish Republic of Kurdistan at the hands of the Iranian government in 1946 was a great setback for the national liberation movements in the area.
The reaction was checked during Dr. Mossadegh's premiership (1951-53), when the mass movement gained momentum once more around the issue of nationalizing the foreign oil monopolies. But the CIA moved in and mobilized all the reactionaries, the fascists of the Reza Shah era, and the coup of 1953 put an end to democracy.
Hundreds of people were arrested and shot right after the coup. Then there came months during which everyone in Tehran could actually hear in the morning the country's young men being shot. These were the country's most precious men. But even these shootings were not enough.
A system had to be created for the brutal suppression of dissent in the country. Suppression had to be systematic, otherwise it would not work. The CIA created Iran's secret police, the SAVAK, in 1956.
From 1958 to 1963, there were still demonstrations in the streets of Tehran reminiscent of the pre-coup period. Student strikes had to be crushed by commandos from the Iranian Army Special Forces, which were trained by American military men.
The year 1963 witnessed the mass murder of more than 6000 men and women in the streets of Tehran and other cities in a single day. From then on, the country was submerged in a total blackout.
No appointment can be made in the universities, in the ministries, or in the factories without the approval of SAVAK. Anyone who arrives in the country after finishing his studies abroad and applies for work in the universities is kept under complete surveillance for one year. He is considered an enemy of the shah until he proves through his actions that he is a nobody and that he doesn't really care what happens to the people of his country.
SAVAK trains its agents on the assumption that everyone in Iran is a potential or active member of the opposition. There is only one way for people to prove their innocence. They have to be tracked down, blindfolded, and taken to one of the hundreds of SAVAK stations scattered around the country, or to one of the dozens and dozens of prisons in the major cities, and interrogated under torture.
The Iranian political prisoner knows nothing about his future, and when the questions are put to him he will find that he hardly knows anything about his past either. He will feel suspicious of his closest friends and relatives. He will suddenly wake up in the middle of the night and say: "I know, it was my fiancee who told them that I read Maxim Gorky's Mother."
You may think I am joking, but be sure to check it with others who have been in an Iranian prison. They will tell you that you get at least one year in prison if you possess a copy of Gorky's Mother or any one of Jack London's novels. Since Lenin read Jack London novels, no one in Iran should read them. They may suddenly decide to become Lenin, and that on the basis of reading three novels.
The prisoner searches in vain for the reasons for his arrest and torture. The more he thinks, the more suspicious he becomes of his friends. When he comes out, he decides, he won't talk to anyone. He will live alone, speak about nothing. Later, he will even lose the habit of thinking. That is how you keep another nation an ally of the West.
The number of people killed under torture or by firing squads during the last six years in Iran--this so-called island of stability--is much higher than all the men and women killed in calamity-ridden Ireland. Where are the bodies of our young men and women?
You should ask the cannibal, the arch-cannibal, his imperial majesty, the shah of shahs, the Light of the Aryans. Or you should ask Kim Roosevelt, the former CIA agent who has now become a go-between in the sale of arms to the shah.
The CIA crowned a cannibal as the king of kings for our country. Ask the head hidden under the crown. That divine head is nothing but a cannibal's head. The cannibal with a machine gun, the cannibal with a whip, the cannibal with an iron mesh heating your bottom and spine until you vomit your brains out--yes, this cannibal is here.
If, as Nation magazine suggests, "A covert Iranian contribution to Nixon's election campaign" was made by the shah, then the cannibal was here four years ago.
We know that he has been here for some time now. The cannibal has bought courses on atomic reactors at MIT. Wayne O'Neil, the head of the English department there, has called him the shah of MIT.
The cannibal is also the shah of UCLA and Harvard. He has also passed through Columbia; and the Pahlavi Foundation, the center of Iranian espionage in this country, stands right here in New York. The cannibal tempts everybody in the name of free enterprise.
I cannot contribute to developing a guilty conscience in you, because the guilty conscience is already there. I can only say that your government created and supported the cannibal. Now, the cannibal thinks if he is good for the Iranians he must be good for the Americans too. In this bicentennial year, of all years in your history, you should be conscious of the existence of this U.S.-crowned cannibal.
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