Friday, April 29, 2011

Death in the Streets of Utrecht

A letter to my beloved father, Siamak Pourzand, whose precious heart stopped beating in Tehran tonight in a torturous solitude imposed on him by the current rulers of Iran.

Your nightmare comes true when you are sitting at a café with your friend, enjoying your drink on a sunny day in Utrecht when your phone rings, you pick up, you hear your sister sobbing and screaming, “Dad is now finally free. He is not in their hands anymore. He died, my love.” You scream, cry, the world spins around your head. Your friend watches you in disbelief. All of a sudden a beautiful country like the Netherlands becomes hell. You die. You close your eyes, hold your head in your hands and wish to die. But you stay alive, because you turn into his "legacy". All of a sudden you gain strength, you open your eyes, look at the world with courage and decide to never let him die. You begin to shake and sob. Your mind begins to race. Years turn into seconds and your life with him begins to march in front of your eyes like a chaotic movie. And this is how it all ends: on a lazy sunny afternoon in Utrecht.

I am filled with hatred, with anger, with the exhausting desire to avenge. But, I know I will not avenge. It is not in our blood to do to them and their families what they do to us. Or, maybe I say that the desire to avenge is not in my blood to comfort my being helpless. I could only watch him suffer. In fact, I was not even granted the right to watch him suffer. I had to imagine him suffer. This was all I was permitted to do in the name of Allah. Oh, Allah, if only you are as cruel as they make you be…

I do not even know where his dead body is lying tonight. Sitting in a forest in the Netherlands, wanting to go to Iran to at least hold his fragile dead body and hearing my family and friends forbid me to go to Iran. They say that I will not get the chance to even hold his dead body. Apparently, holding your father's dead body is also against the Islamic revolutionary values.

And this is how Planet Earth proceeds.This will be the first night without me thinking of him before going to bed. I wish my insomnia could bring life back to his eyes. But he is gone. Forever and ever. I recorded his voice for 20 hours on the phone three years ago. He told me the story of his childhood and youth. I will push the play button, let his words and his voice comfort my disturbed soul and let him put me to bed like he did with his lullabies every single night for years.

I love you dad. You will never die. You are a part of me. They were able to finally kill you. But I will keep your legacy alive in this world. It is the most important promise I have ever made in my life. You will live. I promise. You will live more than ever.

I cannot stop my tears. But I know you will finally fly to me tonight and wipe off my tears with your invisible hands; just like 5 years ago when the Islamic Republic let me come and see you for 10 days. Remember how that first night I put my head on your lap and you patted me all night when I cried away all the years of having had you in their hands and secret prisons? You knew and I knew that this was the last time we were seeing each other. But, we pretended that things will change. They never did. But now things will change. Now you will finally fly to me.

I will never forget what they did to you. I will never forget how they tortured you with their disgusting hands. This is a promise! I will not let the world forget.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Discrete Acts of the Same Play

Thinking about the US and China, I imagine a strange digital future when the young generation has grown old in the midst of a lifetime of an invisible war. I envision our children hurriedly learning Mandarin and watching China and its emerging market allies becoming greater by the day. I see the term “human rights” losing its face; as, to an extent, it has today. I see “development” and “economic stability” replacing the vacant space of human rights debates. I see huge commercial buildings built on the wounds and dead bodies of thousands and millions of those whose lives were neglected by governments, militaries, tribes and others. I see many remaining silent while watching life growing out of the skeletons of the forgotten voices of the past who died in some war, revolution, battle, natural disaster or simply for the sake of having spoken out against the injustice of some hegemon.

As I see it, while the world of the future might appear radically different, the basic reality of that world will not even remotely differ from the reality we face today. The only distinctive factor of this new play will be a new orchestrator whose very preferences, culture and ambitions will consequently shift of the rules of the game.

I used to sit through policy classes at the Kennedy School and listen carefully to professors, ambassadors and diplomats tell us about the difficult, yet possible, tango of US and China. However, after having watched the economy of the US literally decay in a matter of a few years, seeing the worried faces of many Americans, hearing the amenable words of American diplomats with respect to the rise of China and other emerging markets, reading about the failed circumstances in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, I have finally decided that there will be no tough tango to dance for the US for much longer. I have come to terms with the fact my dear second home, US, is indeed retiring from its supremacy.

American officials are simply scared of these new world developments and their way of coping with it is to, at least diplomatically, embrace the China that is rising and the rest of the emerging world that is gaining strength. The US is simply relying on the premise of interdependence of states and hopes to somehow save its supremacy in the lags forming in today’s global political and economic limbos. American officials are not the only ones who fear their gradual loss of supremacy. While many throughout the world are celebrating the decay of the glamour of the US, there remain a notable population of the world who do not see the world becoming a better place in the absence of the supremacy of the US.

At this point, only a few would defend the wrongdoings of the US in various parts of the world. The world is dancing with the fever of anti-American sentiments and awaiting the fall of the great empire. What the growing anti-American world seems to tragically forget is that, with a few exceptions, the US has proceeded in interventions and wars or has decidedly neglected the occurrence of mass violence and genocides with the support of other nations, governments, entities and prominent individuals throughout the world. What the dancing anti-Americans seem to forget is that for as long as this planet has been spinning around itself, there has been an unjust hegemon of sorts imposing its supremacy on the essentially ungovernable anarchy of the globe.

Thus, whether it is the Roman, Ottoman, Persian Empire, the US or China, the world will remain an unjust place in the hands of a few. Nevertheless, as existentialist of a claim as this may sound, we ought to work hard and speak out against injustice with anticipation for the day that world order could bring justice and peace to all. There cannot be any harm in dreaming and working for the sake of a collective dream—even if fictive— coming about in our world.

There is, however, harm in forgetting the perils of a rising power, such as today’s China, and simply glorifying its promising future against the current ostracized super power (US). Not too long ago when the US was on the rise, many neglected the possible threats of its supremacy for the world and excitedly lived through the booming days of the American fever. Now that, like any empire, the world has lost its fervor for the US, we are all busy trying to find another nation to carelessly glorify and praise. It would have been a dream come true if we could reflect on the beauties and perils of the old and rising empires rather than naively seeking a god in them to praise in the midst of their aspirations to reign.

If China rises to the top, its destiny will be strangely similar to that of the US. Then again, this seems to be the fate of all empires. We only like to deceive ourselves in thinking the world will be a dramatically better one in the absence of an old empire and with the rise of a new one. We simply enjoy discrete acts of the same play!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Shifting Reality of a Generation

Remember those tragic days when in the aftermath of the allegedly fraudulent presidential elections (June 2009) the streets of Tehran were filled with protestors, oppression and blood? Remember how proud—and yet sad—we all were as the world was watching Iranian youth making history? I remember how I was weeping for Neda, Sohrab and all those beautiful Iranians who lost their lives and freedom as the consequence of demanding rule of law and justice. Simultaneously, I was feeling extremely proud as the entire world was praising Iranians, their peaceful efforts for change and their vision for a better Iran.

Some time has passed, the oppression remained, the brave souls that are either sleeping underneath their gravestones or suffocating in the worsening claustrophobia of prisons in Iran all remain, the quest for change remains and so does the courage of a nation. What has not remained, however, is the world’s attention on Iranian youth and their peaceful street protests.

The world is now busy with the Arab world as a new era—with all its excitement and fragility—has, arguably, unfolded. History has happened in the Arab world; a region where a few ever thought could explode with the screaming voices of freedom. Those Arab dictators who seemed as permanent as the pyramids of ancient Egypt evaporated in a matter of days. And the world’s attention, rightfully, shifted to Tahrir Square instead of the 7-Tir Square or all those other squares in Iran where people had gathered in summer 2009 and beyond. All of a sudden the entire world was astonished by the magic of the Tunisian vendor whose act of suicide became the beginning of an era for not only his country but the entire region, the powerful battle and priceless tears of Wael Ghonim and his Revolution 2.0, the Yemeni, Syrian, Saudi protestors, the Libyan rebels and Gaddafi’s pathetic comments.

We, Iranians, too, watched the Arab world standup for a better future with admiration and hope for their victory. We felt united with them in their battle. They, sometimes, told the media that they look up to Iranian youth who, in some ways, started such a peaceful movement in the region. We took their compliments with pride and celebrated their victory like it was ours.

As such, the story of Arab revolutions hurriedly went from one chapter to another. Now, we are at a chapter where the world is perhaps over the initial shock and awe. Now, western countries and others are contemplating over the future of the Arab world and discuss the prospects of religious—but not theocratic—democratic Arab governments. Some mention Turkey and Indonesia as examples for future Arab democracies where religion is arguably respected but not the main ruler of the country. Many critics say that, thankfully, the Iranian model of the Islamic Republic is not popular among those Arabs whose protests and activism brought this new era into existence. Others worry that, in practice, hardliner Islamic governments might be the eventual result of the new Arab governments. In the meantime, the Iranian government has taken the opportunity to congratulate the Arab world for having overthrown secular tyrannies and has welcomed them to the new stage where Islamic principles are going to rule over the affairs of the region.

And we, those Iranians who wish to see a better future for our beloved country, have been watching the world turn to the Arab world with bittersweet feelings. We understand that given the historic events that have happened in that part of the world, it is only natural for the world to shift its attention to the Arab world. Nevertheless, we cannot help but to worry about our own country and its future. Even though the Arab world might be singing happy songs in celebrating its victory, not much has changed in Iran neither does it seem to change any time soon. We worry that, yet again, Iran has become the means to an end in the midst of geopolitical affairs. We worry that our Neda, Sohrab and all those who suffered/are suffering in the prisons of Iran because of their public quest for change are going to be erased from the pages of western newspapers and magazines. We worry that the world is going to forget about our quest for freedom. We worry that we are left behind in this wave of Revolution 2.0; the very Revolution 2.0 that we ignited in summer 2009.

As an Iranian youth living abroad, I find myself preoccupied with many questions everyday: What should we do to at least keep the discussions and concerns about Iran’s future alive in the international community? What should we, as Iranians abroad, do to demonstrate our support for those in Iran while respecting their strategies and decisions as to how the movement is going to evolve? What should we learn from the Arab world and their strategies? Should we compare ourselves with them or should we continue with our historic “Persians are different” slogans? Should we frown upon the world for gradually disregarding Iran’s democratic movement or should we remain patient and help the world understand our quests?

Last week, I had the chance to have coffee in downtown Amsterdam with an amazing older lady who used to be in a high position at the UN for over two decades. I asked her, “What do you think we should do as Iranians? You know, it has been so bittersweet to watch the Arabs succeed in the past few months. What would you do if you were, say, me?” She smiled calmly and said, “My daughter, you have to remain patient and not lose hope. More importantly, realize that this is not your battle. This is the battle of all your friends who are still in Iran. You are only here to support them. And as for the Arab world, follow the events in those countries as if they are happening in your country. Read, listen, analyze and learn. They learned from Iranians. Now, it’s Iranians' turn to let the Arab world inspire them.”

I think, I agree with her. Let us not be angry with the world. Let us also leave aside our historic bitter feelings about the Arab world and let us feel united with all those Arab youth who were staring at their TV screens and watching our beautiful Neda die so tragically for the sake of a better Iran. They cried with us when her face was covered with blood and death took over her youthful body. They were inspired by Neda’s courage, beauty, innocence, persistence and vision for the future of Iran. Let us be inspired by them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Another Time Another Life

It has been quite some time that I have not written here. Unlike other times, this time my absence here was quite intentional. Even though I have been busy with studies and my research projects that help me to financially survive, I still did have the time to write. I just did not want to write publicly for some time. I needed time to talk and write to myself. I know maybe that is what lunatics do. But, lunatics also know the taste of life more than all of us so-called “sane” people!

The end of last summer I decided to take on a unique opportunity that accidently came my way through an inspiring and kind professor and to move to the Netherlands for one year to pursue a degree in MBA at a rather remote business university; Nyenrode Business University. The first time I was ever introduced to this university was when I was working on a project for the World Bank through which I, along with a team, organized a roundtable here at this university. I remember that every first time when I went through the gate of this university that looks more like a park than a university, and saw an old cute castle on my way to the main building. I felt I was in a place far away from everything that was bringing me down in the US. And somehow I felt I will come back to this place. And I did!

Like all dreams that when come true lose some of their original power, this school, too, became real and less dream-like when I began this MBA program here last September. I did not like the classes, did not understand anything of courses like Accounting and Finance. I began to miss my life at Harvard and my dear life in the US. Also, being in Europe somehow made me even more nostalgic for Iran. Since growing up in Iran in a modern secular family, you are exposed to the European life style and cultures more than anything. I began to really feel closer to home here in the Netherlands. Things here seemed closer to the life of my parents in Iran and the life that they always wanted us to have. I know this sounds strange for a lot of you, because you might be thinking it is rather irrelevant for somebody to make a connection between their life in Iran and the Netherlands. But, well, all I could tell you is that in some peculiar way there are some cultural connections between the social and cultural class that I come from in Iran and this place!

After a few months, I began to rediscover myself here in the Netherlands and at Nyenrode. I made a few exceptionally amazing friends and I remembered my purpose of being here: It was not to really become a businesswoman all of a sudden. It was more to escape from my North American life for a while, to reflect on the past ten years of immigration that were rather hectic, unexpected and emotionally filled with ups and downs. And, of course, I was excited to be exposed to something absolutely new which was the world of business.

Once I was able to really think through my original purpose of flying to Nyenrode like a bird escaping from the cold of the East Coast of the US, I felt more at peace with myself and my life here. I began to really take joy in every moment of it as I realize this might have been the first time in my life I decided to have one year only to myself! I do not know how I gathered the courage to take off like this. But, I did! And, despite the emotional merry-go-round on which I sometimes find myself here, it is a truly joyous feeling to look around you and realize that things have happened this way because you wanted them to happen this way. This experience has, in many ways, empowered me and made me realize the beauty of making my own decisions rather than always cautiously and conservatively doing what everybody thinks I should I be doing or always trying to find the logic in my next steps. Sometimes, it is nice to let logic adapt itself and rigid rules to your needs and wishes!

Anyways, to make the long story short, here I am still at Nyenrode living next to a castle filled with pretty plants and animals in the middle of nowhere in the Netherlands. To my disbelief, it has already been six months that I have been here and I will be here for another six months before moving on to the full-time working life. Even though this place has lost its dream effects, it has turned into one of the most real experiences of my life. It is the time that, for once, Azadeh is being herself every hour of everyday.

I still have so many fears of letting go of the past, of my beautiful memories of Iran, my wounds of the very bitter destiny of my father and mother imposed on them by the Islamic Republic of Iran, my adventurous memories of the US. But, I believe I will somehow manage to make something out of those rich past experiences in the near future. Being away for some time has helped me see things from a different perspective. And this altered perspective—whatever it may be—has made me feel more alive and powerful. It has awakened the Azadeh in me that I had put to sleep during the tough years of exile in the US in order to feel numb and to survive. But, now, I feel ready to live beyond just the principle of survival. Now, I am ready to feel life and not just to go through it like a train that is rushing to be on time at the next stop. Now, I feel I am a scatterbrained and careless person who is not in a rush to get anywhere very fast and who could easily get distracted by the people and the little ladybugs on her way to wherever it may be; the Azadeh that I used to be…the old Azadeh that used to be passionate about the journeys brought to her by life and not so focused on the destination.

Now, I feel I want to sometimes write here again and to share arbitrary pieces of my life as it unfolds!

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