A street show in Iran
Abbas F. Saffari
September 13, 2004
For the past two years, I've lived a pretty isolated life
in this once a privilege and upper class neighborhood of Mehr-Shahr
in Karaj, an hour west of Tehran. My time is divided between my
work, which I usually get to before everyone to avid the traffic
for the same reason, home and weekend in giant Tehran to visit
my siblings and hike the majestic mountains of Darakeh and play
tennis at the Azadi Stadium (previously Arya-Mehr).
I gave up the convenience and comfort of a once-cherished
life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I worked with a Nobel Prize
winner in the field of biopharmaceuticals, to return home to positively
impact the drug industry. The industry which has been dead for
a long time and badly in need of fresh blood.
I wrote "Making
a difference in Iran" on the occasion of my
departure for home followed by "For
better or worse" on the first anniversary
of my return to Iran.
Now, I find myself determined once again to write; this time
about a horrible incident that has shaken me to the very core of
my being. An event that has profoundly impacted my view of today's
Iran and my decision to return home. It started with routine traffic
jam but ended quite differently.
Last Wednesday, I left home for work around 8 a.m. After a short
drive, I was confronted with an unusually dense traffic where normally
there is no traffic at all. At first, I took the traffic as a sign
of deadly accident (something that is common in Iran).
Both sides of the street were covered with cars that were parked
in duplicate and triplicate. Everywhere people were parking their
cars and literally running. Cops were busy ticketing cars and that
didn't seem to matter to anyone. It was an unusual atmosphere;
one that I had not experienced before.
As I was zigzagging
through traffic (something that I'd to learn against my
wish to survive), I looked to my left and saw people, thousands
of them, men, women and youngsters of all ages gathered around
a large piece of empty land at busy intersection in an L-shaped
formation. It appeared that they were watching some special event,
At first, I thought, there must be some sort of lottery
or ruffle drawing where the vacant land is being given away
to some lucky person. No sooner that I thought that, I saw a tip
of a construction crane placed at the center of this unused land.
My thoughts changed immediately from a lottery to some form
excavation ceremony (not too uncommon in Iran).
I was almost home free and happy that I had left traffic
behind when I saw a large banner with the following words
on it: "Hanging ceremony of a member of Karkses Group will
take place here at 7:00 a.m." Shocked, dismayed and struck
with feelings of sadness and anger, I stepped on the gas
as hard as I could to leave the scene. So many feelings rushed
through my mind; my very pivotal decision to return to Iran
to help others went into question.
needed to speak
with someone, anyone who would just listen. I discussed the
matter with my colleagues at work, but that didn't shock any one
of them. One man even saw necessities in this shameful act
"the good of society" and defended the executions. I wanted
to scream and tell him that taking the life of a human should not
be turned into a street
where everyone is welcome to watch; this is against every principle
of humanity, crucial principles that do not recognize whether
you are Iranian or American. I am against all forms of capital
Imagine what this would do to youngsters who witness the spectacle.
Envision what effects this would have on a new generation of Iranians.
How thousands of people start their day by witnessing such
an horrible, archaic scene... I wonder how a person watches
another person's last breath and then sleeps
peacefully at night. How a person goes
to the scene at 7.00 a.m. and then looks for the
best spot to watch the
hanging ceremony and then this same person comes home and
utters kind and loving words to the family? It is
principle of humanity and mankind. It is a predicament
I have to live with for as long as I live.
It is Sunday, five days after the incident, and am bewildered
at what took place last Wednesday in Mehr-Shahr, which ironically
means the "City of Kindness". It's like a bad
dream turned into a nightmare. Regrettably, every day I have to
drive by the very same piece of empty land that was the theatrical
for the public hanging. Every day is a painful reminder
and savagery of mankind.
I've often found some bright spot, some positive aspect
to write about Iran. I've contemplated whether to write
this piece and share the not-so happy experience of my tumultuous
journey through the land of Cyrus, the Great. My dear compatriots,
this is what it is, the true and uncensored picture of once glorious
civilization envious of all mankind. This is our home!