Broken camera

Way before the revolution started, I was already hiding in my room


Broken camera
by Azarin Sadegh

Spring of 79. I hadn’t yet turned twenty.

It was the day of the demonstration against the banning of the last liberal newspaper, Ayandegan, only a few months after the revolution.

Before we left home, Arash - my cousin and Kian’s brother - promised my parents he would protect me by swearing on the Koran to impress them, even though my parents never cared about religion, even though they knew Arash was a converted Communist.

It was a warm day.

“Wear comfortable shoes and don’t carry anything heavy,” Arash said.

Once we joined the line of protesters, Arash grabbed my hand and didn’t let it go. We walked and sang revolutionary songs. As soon as we reached the closed gate of Tehran  University, Pasdars blocked our way, and the crowd stopped moving. We sat on the ground. Shoulder to shoulder. Legs over legs. Hands on hands. My foot touched strangers’ backs, and strangers’ breath plugged my lungs. My voice got lost in theirs, and the heat of their bodies consolidated in mine. The sun hid behind a white cloud, and the ground felt harsh, but warm. As we were singing slogans against one or in favor of another, a green truck approached, and an old woman, in black chador, descended from the driver’s seat. She talked with the Pasdars before climbing up the back of her camion.

It was the last blissful minute of my life.

A few Pasdars followed the old woman. Seconds later, the rocks started to fall like an imprecating deluge, and anonymous men with beards emerged among us, carrying chains and knives. They attacked whoever had the misfortune of being near. The crowd, swept up by uncertainty, lost its keenness and panic imposed its silence and burst wide open.

“Run,” Arash screamed. “Run,” he repeated. He pulled my arm, but I couldn’t move, fascinated by the chaos, by the color of the fresh blood running down the face of the man who moments before could smile or sing, by the view of the ripped flesh and the sound of breaking bones. Everyone pushed me, and the sum of their fear carried me toward the sky. The women in black chador bossed around the men in beards, urging them to randomly throw stones. My feet lost contact with the ground, and I moved higher and higher, almost as if I had become an angel, flying. Arash begged me to lower my head, but I had lost control over my body. I ignored the pain penetrating my shoulders, piercing my hands. I acted as if I were sleepwalking, enchanted by my own hoist to heaven, bewitched by the apparition of hatred, ravaged by the revelation of my own antagonism.

This was how I missed the main point: Being salvaged.

Arash grabbed my waist and dragged me over the bodies, feeling no guilt. We ran in the streets and met people we didn’t know. We crossed a young reporter’s path; he was desperate to hide his equipment.

“I taped everything,” he said.

We tried to hide the camera in my purse, but it didn’t fit.

“Throw it away,” Arash suggested.

“How could I?” he asked, hopelessly smiling. “It holds our history.”

I will never forget his bleak eyes and the way he held his camera. Did the choice I had made on that day-- by taking that particular purse instead of another, bigger one—have any impact on my life? Should I wonder still about all the possibilities, about not being a savior?

In those frightening times I ran with my small purse, empty of remorse, searching for a place where I could bury myself. And that young man did the same. I guess we both succeeded in different ways.

Arash drove me to the second floor of a packed printing shop, which faced the university. We sneaked through the shutters, and I let go of Arash’s sweaty hand, startled by the image of an old woman standing on top of a pile of stones, throwing sharp rocks at the still body of a man with his bloody, broken camera – holding our history -- in hand. But did I feel any sadness or regret? I couldn’t tell.

When we finally got home, Kian was waiting, worried sick, like Father, like Mother, and yet, he looked like a stranger. Arash swore he would take me to no more demonstrations, and Mother grounded me for the rest of my life, and Father lost all his hope for my future and threatened to hide me in my room as long as Khomeini was alive.

I didn’t mind. Way before the revolution started, I was already hiding in my room.

Kian, who was like a brother to me, who later turned Islamist, who hadn’t joined the parade and hadn’t shared our fear, remained quiet, expressing something that I later understood to be his animosity towards my utopian idea of individualism. He had decided that through his silence, he would tell me how wrong I was, and how much that young reporter had deserved to die.


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more from Azarin Sadegh
Azarin Sadegh

like you, I ran too!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear JJ,

Thanks for your nice comment!

But i am not a very brave person! Like you I ran too (as fast as I could). But I was just lucky that my cousin was there to pull me out of that chaos, otherwise I wouldn’t have been writing this piece...

But I like your story too. It gives such a real image of the anarchistic atmosphere of those days.


Jahanshah Javid

Great snapshot

by Jahanshah Javid on

Excellent piece. This is only a fictional snapshot - bunch of words that create a visual image in our mind and push our emotions. But Azarin has captured so much, so well, with so few words.

In the summer of 1980 I, and maybe a couple of other guys, complete strangers, sat in the middle of a street in Tehran to prevent fighting between Mojahedin supporters and hardcore hezbollahis. Rocks and bottles began to fly and I thought... screw this... and I ran as fast I could!

A few months later I was taking pictures of a girl, a Mojahedin supporter, holding a banner in a busy corner of Tehran where there's always heavy traffic. The banner said something against the regime. I was fascinated by her guts in so openly and fearlessly opposing those in power.

Two guys took me by the arm, pushed me inside a walled parking lot and started asking why I was taking pictures. They looked like Komite members, thick beard, military jacket, thuggish... They thought I was a Mojahedin supporter or something. I had no job, no ID. They confiscated my films, took my Pentax, and told me to pick it up a few hours from a Komite station not far away. When I went there, nobody knew anything. I was robbed... :o)

Azarin Sadegh

Great info!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Thanks a lot for this very useful info!

I am going to change the season mentionned in the first sentence! I really appreciate your help with historical facts.



A little bit of historical

by Anonymous23233 (not verified) on

A little bit of historical context to this moving story. The rally was organised by the National Democratic Front (Jebheye Demokratik Melli) of Hedayat Matin Daftari. Ayandegan was banned on 9 August 1979 after the Revolutionary prosecutor of Tehran found "proof" of its links with Israel. The rally marked the demise of the NDF and the confiscation of Matin Daftari's assets. Ayandegan was by far the best publication of the post revolutionary era and its banning marked the end of Bahar-e Azadi.

Azarin Sadegh

Thanks to all!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Thanks to all of you for your kind words of support!

These last days I have been having a kind of "bad" days. It means that I keep falling in self-doubt about anything, but especially about my own writing.

Sometimes I feel that my writing gets out of hand, that I keep writing without exactly knowing where I am going. Sometimes I regret to say what I've already said and sometimes I realize that I’ve missed the opportunity of telling what I should have said. And sometimes I wonder about the real impact of going back to those old times (that took me years to forget !)

But now (after reading so many nice comments!) I feel a bit better...until my next fall!

Cheers, Azarin



by Mehman on

Again,  a great piece of narration. This writing is vivid, colorful, dramatic and political. It is a piece from a memoir,  yet  it depicts well, in a nutshell  the socio-political relations prevalent in a typical ‘developing’ society. 

 The brutality is dazzling and extreme, yet the humanity existent in the reporter  who is ready to sacrifice his life for the sake of preserving the records of his country’s history is  stunning.

 On the other side of the story,  we can feel in the narrator’s account of the events  her praise for freedom and individualism as opposed to the paths taken by  her two cousins:  one adhering to the ideology of communism and the other  to the creed of Islamism,  the 3 paths which  have caused division and antagonism among  our intelligentsia in the last  100 years.


Azarin, This is very good.

by skatermom (not verified) on

This is very good. How many more chapters do you have before we can read its entirety? No pressure. It's just really good.

Nazy Kaviani

History etched on a mind

by Nazy Kaviani on

Dear Azarin:

Your starting point took my breath away! Can't wait to read the rest.

I think it's important to write about the social climate of Iran as changes were descending upon it after the revolution. There really was widespread resistance to Hejab, to changes in Iran's educational programs, to changes to the Constitution, and to passage of laws diminishing Iranian women's rights.

There is very little video footage about those movements. I'm glad your mind recorded it for us, and that you retell it fluently and convincingly. Thank you.


Being separated from others for having lived history personally

by Zion on

It is amazing to have been a direct witness to history being shaped. Reading your piece I couldn`t help think of how similar this must have been to what a different group of people must have experienced in central Europe, near half a century before this.
I think you do realize how special this is, how different from what a typical youth sees of life in an affluent Western society. Such an experience separates one from the rest of happy shallow humanity, doesn`t it? Reminds me of the Bible, the mixture of historical, natural and mythological devastating experiences that have left such a deep mark on the soul of a people through ages. Maybe something like this is behind the need for ritualistic separation that has shaped Judaism ever since. I don`t know, but I think this is what Jews and Persians share with each other without realizing it.
Thanks for opening all these trains of thought.


I remember

by IRANdokht on

Wow Azarin jan

What a way to tell the story. That was the day hope and freedom died forever.

You captured the essence of the bitterness and the hopelessness that has stayed with me since.

I am definitely going to read your book! keep writing my dear.



Dear Azarin

by jamshid on

Your novel will be a good read. You write smoothly moving from one scene to another, and you describe the scenes and your feelings so well. This is one of your strengths, among others, and one of the reasons why I enjoy reading your work.



by Anonymous2 (not verified) on

This sounds a lot like RNC demonstrations in Minneapolis/St. Paul, but without the stone throwing and knife/chain wielding Hezbollah. Instead, there were multi-jurisdiction police and security forces on hand tasering, pepper spraying, gassing and arresting everybody including peaceful demonstrators and journalists!

Azarin Sadegh

It's a page of the novel

by Azarin Sadegh on

The first draft of this page was the starting point for my novel.

I wrote it as a short story, but then I couldn't stop thinking about it. I guess it's how I decided to sign up for a novel writing class in UCLA Extension.

This is a mix of fiction and reality.

So the names and characters are fictional, but I really was in that protest and that woman was really throwing rocks at the crowd and there was a camera man who asked me to hide his camera in my purse.

But whatever that camera held is just my own imagination.