Towering over a triad of green, white and red tents, the Akademia of Athens looms large in the distance. Founded in 347 BCE, the initial sacred grounds of Platonic Academy were once dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The great Aristotle roamed its precincts in the grove of olive trees as he pondered Plato’s lecture “On the Good.”
Today, come rain or shine, the modern Akademia is the Persian battleground, housing the Campaign of seemingly destitute refugees in its bosom. The Persian battle cry reverberates across the Aegean Sea to awaken the Greek conscience once more, to question the foundation of their democracy, and to highlight the refugees’ human rights worldwide.
As autumn creeps in, rain lashes against the red canvas, soaking Neda’s picture. The poster depicting Sakina’s stoning verdict hasn’t been spared either. One by one, water seeps into the colored placards and distorts the images of Iranians imprisoned, tortured, and hanged by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The children of asylum seekers dash in the rain to seek refuge under the tents. Tomorrow, another family dresses up in their best Sunday school attire to head to the Greek Ministry of Interior. One more interview is scheduled to determine the destiny of an Iranian family in exile.
However, the next day brings no resolution to the plight of the asylum seekers. The interview to determine the eligibility of the applicants for political asylum is postponed until the following week. Time and again, every Tuesday, the same family is summoned to the Ministry of Interior for a chance to appear in front of the interviewing committee. Every Tuesday, they are turned away without an explanation. “The father’s file is misplaced,” a Greek official annoyed by the persistence of the translator grumbles under her breath. Another employee barks, “One of the interviewers couldn’t make it. Come back next week.”
Consequently, as a direct result of such delays and non responsiveness to the peaceful requests of the asylum seekers, the Central Committee representing the Campaign is forced to take drastic actions. On Monday, October 11, 2010, the asylum seekers together with their Greek attorney working pro bono will deliver a letter to the Greek officials demanding immediate review of thirty pending cases. If no action is taken within three days, the asylum seekers will go on hunger strike and sew their lips. Tents will be erected on the site of the Campaign to house those participating. “The time is up for the Greek government,” says Ribwar Ghobadi pounding his fist on the table. “The Campaign’s headquarters is here! If the Greek officials want to talk, they must come to us!”
For thirty one years since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, patriots in exile have asked a simple question from themselves and each other: “How can we fight IRI while living outside Iran?” From Los Angeles to New York, from North America to Europe, from Middle East to Australia, this blasted question has consumed brilliant minds while generating superficial answers devoid of substance.
Some Iranian patriots in exile are biding their time till military attacks are carried out against their homeland. Others have become poets, writers, and bloggers to either vent their frustrations or exercise freedom of speech and tolerance of opposing views. Nearly all of them have preserved Persian customs and traditions and have taught their offspring Iranian patriotism. Think-tanks have been formed, campaigns have been launched, and demonstrations have been organized. Although the seasoned patriots now buried in foreign soil have passed on the torch to the younger generations, for thirty one years, the same question remains unanswered.
In Athens, beneath the green rooftop, sit three Iranian college students who have escaped our homeland only one week ago. Around the same table under the asylum seekers’ tent, supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi are greeted by a veteran Kurd. A hot steaming cup of tea brewed Iranian style is placed in front of each guest. The Kurdish pishmarg of Democratic Party takes the seat next to the leftist Komala member while leaning to whisper an Iranian T’aarof in the ears of a newly arrived Pahlavi loyalist.
The college students are from the University of Shiraz and have stopped by the site of the refugees’ Campaign to seek advice. “We are just passing through,” they explain. “How do we get to Germany?”
And with this laden plea, there lies on the table the answer to the question asked for thirty one years: To fight Islamic Republic of Iran while living abroad, Iranian political activists must identify the frontlines in the war against the regime and join the on-going battle without delay.
Due to its close geographic proximity to Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon, Greece has become the Islamic Republic’s best ally in the European Union. In an attempt to export Islamic revolutionary frame of mind and to influence foreign and domestic policies abroad, the Islamic Republic of Iran has established deep roots on Greek soil and befriended Greek officials, politicians and police forces. The Islamic Republic’s embassy in Greece is run by a substantial number of employees estimated to be two hundred fifty members while spies and informants are recruited from the hefty population of hungry refugees in Athens.
Naturally, the geographical location of Greece has also drawn political activists escaping Iran through shared borders with Turkey to the Greek soil. In other words, by sheer luck, this ancient democracy has turned into the corridor through which Iranians seek refuge in the rest of Europe and possibly even North America.
Once they arrive in Greece, Iranian political refugees are finger printed and given a “Red Card” granting them no legal or human rights in Greece. As long as their applications are pending, asylum seekers are virtual prisoners on Greek soil. The European partner states deferring to the Conventions of Schengen and Dublin hold Greece responsible for the processing of asylum applications filed in the member states and deport the refugees back to Greece. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran rejoices at the plight of the political activists now neutralized in a state of limbo in Greece and entangled in the never ending web of bureaucracy and red tape.
Today, Athens is the frontlines in the war fought in exile against the Islamic Republic of Iran. But where are you?