“I will eventually get out of here. The butterfly that flew away in the night told me my fortune,” Farzad Kamangar wrote in prison, shortly before the Iranian government made the decision to place a noose around his neck.
It was on May 10, 2010—Mother’s Day—that Farzad’s mother heard through the media that her son, who had been told he would be released, was killed.
“He had such a tender soul. He loved his students to pieces. Spring was his favorite season. He was born in spring,” his mother says in a video posted on YouTube. But tears stop her from continuing—from telling us that he was executed in his favorite season.
This man who loved spring and his students was charged with moharebeh (enmity with God and the state) and terrorism. It is true. Teaching young children their banned mother tongue terrorizes the Iranian oppressor.
Farzad Kamangar was tremendously popular, cherished by Kurds and non-Kurds, young and old, men and women. The love others had for him was, ironically, what convinced the authorities to execute him despite his obvious innocence. Popularity terrorizes dictators, who are nourished by hostility and antipathy in their nation.
How did Farzad move so many people? Was it something in his voice, spreading across the internet and making him one of the most influential Iranian figures of 2010? Did he hypnotize us with his poems? His letters?
Farzad Kamangar couldn’t stop his torturers from breaking his chin and teeth, but he was able to maintain the life within him through imagination and literature. “I won’t let them kill me inside,” was his goal—and he reached it.
In one of his letters—which are still available on the internet—he describes being transported to Sanandaj Prison, Kurdistan. He paints a vivid picture of Kurdistan in the autumn for us through his view—not only from the window of the plane, but also through the window of his imagination. He writes little about his anguish, but instead about his moments of falling in love while listening to the music of legendary singer Abbas Kamandy and of hiking the Awyar Mountain. He is distracted from these memories only when the bitterness of the blood he accidentally swallows threatens to suffocate him.
The prison guard who anxiously checks that Farzad has survived a severe beating doesn’t know, cannot know, that Farzad, in his mind, is dancing at his wedding, waving his chopi—his handkerchief—in the air and shouting, “Cheers! Cheers to all the prisoners’ mothers who are awaiting reunion with their children. Cheers to all the men and women who lost their lives for their ideals.”
That is what has made Farzad Kamangar a legend. He is one of the few people on the planet—like Nelson Mandela, like Leila Zana—who was not broken under torture.
Farzad Kamangar was a teacher devoted to improving the life of village children. He was all too familiar with suffering, both directly in his own life and indirectly through others’ experiences. Farzad knew the pain of Kurds, the pain of ethnocide and linguicide. He was familiar with the widespread poverty in Kurdistan resulting from politicization of the region, with the abuse and violence suffered by women because of the government’s gender policies. For Farzad, the hurt wasn’t just the physical torture he endured—it was the pain of his nation.
His voice, his imagination, his words, his ability to touch the agony of others made Farzad Kamangar an icon representing all political prisoners who have been executed at the hands of the Iranian government. He was and still is a strong inspiration. He continues to live in the heart of all those who admire him. His voice continues to be heard not only through his own writing, but also in the poems and stories he inspired.
Novel Rights has published a short story inspired by Farzad Kamangar’s letters from prison: “Lullaby” offers a glimpse of his powerful reality.