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Arash Forouhar holding his sister Parastou during a
procession in Tehran follwoing the murder of their parents.

Truth & justice
Interview with Arash Forouhar

By Haleh Vaziri
November 23, 1999
The Iranian

How can I interview a man who is grieving the loss of his parents without violating his privacy? What questions can I ask to put him at ease? Will I be able to look him straight in the eye? What will I see if I look -- bitterness, resignation, sadness?

These questions raced through my mind as I waited to meet Arash Forouhar -- the son of long-time dissidents, Daryoush and Parvaneh, stabbed to death on 22 November 1998 by rogue agents from the Islamic Republic's Ministry of Intelligence.

Greeting Arash Forouhar was easier than I had anticipated. Looking into his eyes, I saw warmth and determination. The warmth of a new friend, and the determination of a man who would ensure that his parents were not martyred in vein. In fact, the Forouhars' murders provoked a public outcry, as the funeral procession attracted 7,000 people who marched in solidarity with Arash and his sister, Parastou.

The Iranian press, testing President Khatami's commitment to freer expression, advocated an inquiry into the murders. As popular pressure mounted, Khatami ordered an investigation of the MoIS's conduct. In a rare moment of public accountability, the president accepted the resignation of Intelligence chief Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi on 8 February 1999.

The assassinations of Daryoush and Parvaneh Forouhar, essayist-poet Mohammad Mokhtari, and translator-writer Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh happened on Dori-Najafabadi's watch, yet his replacement has not necessarily assuaged the fears of Iran's intellectuals. Even the Islamic Republic's critics doubt that Dori-Najafabadi ordered these murders, suspecting instead that he lost control over agents within the intelligence apparatus while supporting the president's reforms.

The fall-out from the Forouhars' murders has gone beyond the February shake-up of one ministry. These assassinations and continued harassment of intellectuals have strained the president's credibility with his constituents. As Arash Forouhar remarks, the president confronts a choice between his clerical colleagues and the people who elected him.

Inheriting his parents' status as a dissident leader, Forouhar has not shirked his responsibilities. Expressing neither bitterness nor resignation about the Islamic Republic's human rights record, Forouhar has transformed private grief and sadness into a public mission -- to remind Iran's ruling clerics and the international community that the Iranian people will not be silenced.

HV: Where were you born? And where are you currently based?

AF: I was born in Tehran, Iran, but I currently live in Frankfurt, Germany. I had to leave Iran in 1995, because my father believed that my life was in danger. The Islamic Republic's intelligence officers used to bring me in for interviews to build a file on my family. The revolutionary courts could then use this file if the government chose to bring charges against us. The government wanted to scare my parents -- to hurt their souls so they would stop speaking. So now I am a political refugee.

HV: What brings you to Washington, D.C.? And why have you agreed to do this and other interviews while in the US?

AF: After the assassination of my parents, the Islamic Republic did not want anybody to know what happened. My sister Parastou and I, we need to let everyone know what the Iranian government did to our parents. I want to reach a broad audience that includes the US press. There has been little international coverage of my parents' murders, even though their funeral and their chehl-hom(2) aroused the public's anger and led to mass demonstrations -- almost like another revolution.

During the funeral, people carried pictures of my father and [Mohammad] Mossadegh as well as Iranian flags but without the religious insignia. They carried no pictures of any mullahs. They shouted, "Freedom, Security, Forouhars, Mossadegh!"

Due to this public pressure, the Ministry of Intelligence had to investigate the murders. But the government still wants to diminish the crime. We need to increase international pressure on the Islamic Republic; we want to have international non-governmental jurists sent to Iran to determine what happened.

HV: You mentioned "another revolution." Can you remember the events surrounding the revolution of 1978-79? After all, you are so young -- only 30 years old. How do you recall those events? Would you characterize that upheaval as an "Islamic" revolution"?

AF: Religious figures did not participate in the anti-Shah opposition at first; they were afraid. My father was one of the few people who resisted the Shah consistently. He gave speeches and, with my mother, put out a daily newsletter. My father became politically active during the Mossadegh era; he was a foot soldier of Mossadegh's nationalist movement. My parents belonged to the Iran Nation Party [Hezb-e mellat-e Iran],(3) which is now about fifty years old. By the time of the revolution, my parents were well known. Religious figures became involved only toward the end of the revolution. They stole our revolution.

HV: So Daryoush and Parvaneh Forouhar's popularity did not stem from the unrest of 1978-79. Nor did they subscribe to a religiously motivated conception of revolution. What was your parents' vision for Iran? What motivated their participation in politics?

AF: As I said, my father was a follower of [Prime Minister] Mossadegh. And he remained politically active after Mossadegh's fall, even though he was jailed by the Shah. After the revolution [of 1978-79, Prime Minister Mehdi] Bazargan [of the Provisional Revolutionary Government] appointed my father as the Minister of Labor. During my father's tenure, the minimum wage was raised over objections from merchants in the bazaars. My father also worried about Iran's security and was asked to undertake a special mission to Kurdistan to quiet the rebels there.

My father was jailed for fifteen years after Mossadegh fell. In fact, I was born while he was in jail. Yet my parents never changed their ideas; they always fought for freedom, Iran's independence, and public justice. They believed in what they did and never sought anything for themselves.

HV: I see. Your parents were dedicated to the cause of freedom for the Iranian people. Did they ever become discouraged? For example, during the Islamic Republic's bleakest days such as the Iran-Iraq war or the repeated waves of terror against the country's leading artists and intellectuals, did your parents ever lose hope?

AF: My parents were never disappointed. The Iranian people perceived them as family. They were always hopeful. If one seeks [personal] advantage, one may become disappointed. But they did what they believed in for the country and stuck with it.

HV: The Iran-Iraq war must have been an especially difficult period for your family, because your parents opposed the Islamic Republic, and yet I understand that you served during the war. In what capacity?

AF: I was an ambulance driver for the military in 1988. I worked at a helicopter base where I saw so much blood, so many men crying, but they wanted to fight on. And then, Khomeini gave his speech, comparing the ceasefire to poison.(4)

During the war, my parents did not say a word against the Islamic Republic, because we were at war with a foreign power. They did not want to weaken the government, when the world was giving Iraq the green light. My father stressed the need for national unity. Iran lost so many of its young to this war -- so many, you cannot imagine.

HV: Well, political life in Iran seems much improved since the dark days of the war. As you know, in the United States and elsewhere, observers consider Mohammad Khatami's election to the Islamic Republic's presidency in May 1997, a positive development. They hope that he will move Iran toward domestic pluralism and international openness. How do you perceive Khatami's election?

AF: After the Mykonos process,(5) Iranians must have looked at their economic situation and decided that change [in leadership] was inevitable, otherwise the Islamic Republic would not survive.

HV: So you think that Khatami's landslide victory in 1997 reflected popular frustration with Iran's economic distress and international isolation. What do you think about president's agenda for political reforms?

AF: Khatami has said a lot of nice words [about political reforms]. This brings me happiness, because any time that someone speaks about freedom in a land of fear and bloody happenings, people are hopeful that he will also do something. Khatami hasn't done the job yet. But I do respect Khatami, because he has the vote of the people. So I won't speak for or against him. And I did accept the president's condolences for my parents' deaths.

HV: Did you find accepting the president's condolences difficult? After all, some elements within the government over which Khatami presides, murdered your parents. You are remarkably calm and composed when you say that you respect Khatami because he has the people's vote.

AF: That's what any democrat thinks. If you respect the people's choice, then you can call yourself a democrat. These are my father's words. Yet I hold Khatami responsible for anything that happens to any citizen of Iran, and he has to investigate my parents' murders until the end. Khatami would do this if only he is willing to put his own life in danger. He doesn't have enough power.

HV: Are you saying that Khatami lacks the power to pursue a thorough investigation of your parents' murders? Indeed, observers -- particularly in the West -- contend that the elements responsible for your parents' murders seek to weaken Khatami with this and other brutal acts. Do you suspect that conservative factions within the Islamic Republic's leadership are responsible for your parents' assassination as well as the disappearance of other leading intellectuals? Are the conservatives trying to undermine the president's credibility and power?

AF: My parents' murders, the disappearance of other intellectuals -- these are acts against us, against the movement that opposes the Islamic Republic. These acts are not against President Khatami. Whoever did this had my parents' under 24-hour surveillance, because they worried that my father was leading the students and serving as a source of inspiration or as an alternative to the government.

In September [1998], my parents held a gathering against the Islamic Republic and marked the fifty-first anniversary of the Iran Nation Party. This gathering was open to the public, and people came to fight for freedom, democracy, and the separation of church and state. My parents then held meetings two times a week with the members of the United Student Movement led by [Manuchehr] Mohammadi.

Whoever killed my parents had planned it for months. They tried to pressure my parents -- to break their souls. But my mother and father believed in what they were doing and would not stop just because of this pressure. These people watched my parents and waited until they were alone to attack them. These people were afraid of my parents.

HV: Do you reject the theory of factionalism whose proponents insist that your parents' assassins were -- and still are -- trying to damage Khatami's credibility? Of course, we still do not know who "these people" are -- ostensibly, conservative and/or rogue elements within the Islamic Republic's bureaucracy. The conservative elements within the Islamic Republic have a much easier task than the president has. They only have to destroy Khatami's chances to implement reforms, whereas the president must create a new form of politics.

AF: Khatami leads a government that was created by Khomeini, whether he wants [this form of government] or not. So this president must choose between the people and velayat-e faqih [guardianship of the jurisconsult].

HV: As you articulate the stark choice that President Khatami confronts, you are firm in your stance as an advocate of human rights for the Iranian people -- just as your parents were. Do you wish to share any final thoughts with Americans and others -- be they academics, activists, decision-makers, or laypeople -- as we close our conversation?

AF: Yes, I would like to send a clear message. First, we must all pressure the Islamic Republic to allow international non-governmental jurists to enter Iran in order to investigate my parents' murders.(6) And I think that the Iranian people do not want the US to help the Islamic Republic [by resuming diplomatic relations] until this government respects human rights completely. My personal view is that Western thinkers and policy makers must not look at what the Iranian government needs and wants, but rather should gain more knowledge of the Iranian people -- what they need and want. This way, the West will not make the same mistake it made almost forty-six years ago.(7) Click here for notes.

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