UPDATED: Dorothy Parvaz, Al Jazeera Reporter, Speaks After Release by Iran (VIDEO)

May 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Media, Newsmakers

(Photo: Al-Jazeera)

Dorothy Parvaz, the missing reporter for Al Jazeera English, was released by Iranian authorities, the Seattle Times reported early Wednesday morning.

Parvaz, who has worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was detained in Syria after she tried to enter the country on April 29. Syrian authorities said they had sent her to Iran because she carried an expired Iranian passport.

The Seattle Times said that Parvaz’s fiance, Todd Barker, received a telephone call from Parvaz about 9:30 p.m. Pacific Time and that she had told him she was in Doha, Qatar, after her release from Iran.

Parvaz was born in Iran and holds American, Canadian and Iranian citizenship.

Watch below as she describes her captivity: “I heard beatings every night.”

Iran News on Poetry Friday: Simin “Behbahani” Khalili’s Passport Confiscated

March 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Poetry

During last summer’s protests in Iran, while WVFC ran notes from NPR’s Jacki Lyden and honored the iconic  Forugh Farrokhzad on Poetry Friday, we never got to mention the country’s current, prized poet laureate Simin Khalili, also known by her pseudonym ‘Behbahani’ — who was hailed by the Washington Post’s Nora Boustany as “A poet who never lost her pen or soul.”

This week, Behbahani’s name and face streamed across the headlines yet again: After returning to Iran after years of exile and talking to the media about the protests, the 82-year-old poet has been barred from traveling outside the country. She told the BBC that “The moment I was due to get on the plane, a man came and took my passport away from me and said that I was banned from going abroad.” It’s not surprising, giving the international reputation enjoyed by the Nobel Prize-nominated poet.

According to the Persian Cultural Foundation, which held a symposium on her work last year in Toronto, Behbahani was born in 1927 in Tehran to  literary parents: noted feminist author Fakhr Ozma Arghoon was her mother and writer and newspaper editor Abbas Khalili was her father. She began writing poetry at fourteen. She’s now widely credited with reinventing the ancient Sufi verse form, the ghazal, making “a historic development in the form … as she added theatrical subjects and daily events.”

By the turn of the 20th century, Behbhani was Iran’s most famous living female poet, and inspired loyalty that reached far beyond her command of verse form.  In 2006, she told The Washington Post about being approached by police during International Women’s Day:

“Hey, don’t hurt this lady. She is Simin Behbahani,” a student in the crowd protested. “If you touch her, I will set myself on fire.”His outburst enraged the police. One of the officers lashed Behbahani’s right arm and back with a whip and then beat her with a club that emitted electric shocks, she recalled. A passing policeman recognized her, intervened and bundled her into a taxi.

Behbahani is close to Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian exile poet WVFC recently named as one of our Nine Women to Run the World. Like Ebadi, Behbahani  has been vocal in support of the “green movement” in Iran following the disputed 2009 elections. When stopped last week she was on her way to Paris, where she was scheduled to read one of her poems.

Below, we present video of Behbahani speaking at UCLA in 2004 (in Persian, but you can see the charisma Tehran may fear), and one of her classic poems.


Gracefully she approached,
in a dress of bright blue silk;
With an olive branch in her hand,
and many tales of sorrows in her eyes.
Running to her, I greeted her,
and took her hand in mine:
Pulses could still be felt in her veins;
warm was still her body with life.

“But you are dead, mother”, I said;
“Oh, many years ago you died!”
Neither of embalmment she smelled,
Nor in a shroud was she wrapped.

I gave a glance at the olive branch;
she held it out to me,
And said with a smile,
“It is the sign of peace; take it.”

I took it from her and said,
“Yes, it is the sign of…”, when
My voice and peace were broken
by the violent arrival of a horseman.
He carried a dagger under his tunic
with which he shaped the olive branch
Into a rod and looking at it
he said to himself:
“Not too bad a cane
for punishing the sinners!”
A real image of a hellish pain!
Then, to hide the rod,
He opened his saddlebag.
in there, O God!
I saw a dead dove, with a string tied
round its broken neck.

My mother walked away with anger and sorrow;
my eyes followed her;
Like the mourners she wore
a dress of black silk.

Poetry Friday, Iran Edition: Forugh Farrokhzad, “why should I stop, why?”

June 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Poetry, World

These past two weeks, we’ve been as spellbound and horrified by events in Iran as the rest of the nation, paying special attention to the women often at its center. Tragically, we can add to that list Neda Agha-Soltan, whose killing apparently by security forces was seen on video by millions. (To see it yourself, click this link from the New York Times.) And NPR’s  Jacki Lyden has provided essential insight for WVFC.

Lyden pointed out, as have many others, that women have long been at the forefront of movement for change. Farzaneh Milani, Director of Studies in Women and Gender and Professor of Persian and Women Studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, wrote in her 1992 Veils and Words (The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers):

Forugh 01

A real revolution is, in fact, shaking the foundations of Iranian society, a revolution with women at its very center. Veiled or unveiled, Iranian women are reappraising traditional spaces, boundaries, and limits. They are renegotiating old sanctions and sanctuaries. They are challenging male allocations of power, space, and resources. Exercising increasing control over how reality is defined, they are redefining their own status.

It is in this context of the negotiation of boundaries that the veil is now worn by some women, not to segregate, but to desegregate. The genealogy of this revolution can be traced back more than a century. Women writers, at the forefront of this movement, have consistently spoken the previously unspoken, articulated the once unarticulated.

As an example, Milani points to Forugh Farrokhzad, who we’d already chosen for  our Poetry Friday.

Taken at Farrokzhad's gravesite by Bita Vakili: Zahir-al-Doleh, Winter 2002.

Taken at Farrokzhad's gravesite by Bita Vakili: Zahir-al-Doleh, Winter 2002.

Poet, filmmaker and a national iconoclast until her death in 1967, Forugh Farrokhzād (Persian: فروغ فرخزاد)(also spelled as Forough) was arguably Iran’s most  significant female poet of the twentieth century. Born in Tehran to career military officer Colonel Mohammad Bagher Farrokhzad and his wife Touran Vaziri-Tabar, Farrokhzād attended school until the ninth grade, then learned painting and sewing at a girl’s school for the manual arts. At age sixteen or seventeen she was married to Parviz Shapour, an acclaimed satirist. Forugh continued her education with classes in painting and sewing and moved with her husband to  Ahvaz. A year later, she had her only child, a son named Kāmyār (subject of her A Poem for You).

That marriage lasted two years; Forugh then moved back to Tehran to write poetry, and published her first volume,  The Captive, in 1955. She published two more volumes, The Wall and The Rebellion, before going to Tabriz to make  The House is Black, an award-winning film about Iranians affected by leprosy.By 1963, when she published Another Birth, Farogh’s poetry was hailed as “mature and sophisticated” and as “a profound change from previous modern Iranian poetic conventions.” Her poem “Let us believe in the beginning of the cold season,” published posthumously after her 1967 death in a car accident,  and is considered by some the best-structured modern poem in Persian. (The video at the end of this post gives you an idea of her voice, and how some poems sound in Farsi.)

We offer the following with deep thanks  to Farrokzhed, and as a salute to  Zahra, Neda and Iranian women everywhere.

On Earth

I never wanted to be a star
in the sky’s mirage,
a select soul
or an unspeaking friend of angels.
I never left the earth
or took up with stars.

I stand on the earth
and my body like a plant
absorbs wind, sun and water
to stay alive.

I’m looking out the window.
I’m an echo,
not eternal,
and look for nothing but a song’s echo.
In the wailing chant is joy
and better than the plain silence of pain.
I look for no refuge
in the dew on the lily of my body.

People walking by have written memories
with a black line of love
on the walls of my life’s cottage.
Arrrows are in my heart,
the candle is upside down.
What are left are quiet dots of faded colors
in puzzling words of madness.

Every lip against my lips
conceived a star
and floated on the night river of my memories.
What good is a star?

translated by Girdhard Tikku (From: Women Poets From Antiquity to Now, ed. Aliki Barnstone (Schocken, 1992).

I’m Sad

I’m sad
I’m sad

I go to the veranda and feel with my fingers
The taut skin of the night

No one will introduce me
To the sun
No one will take me to the feast of the sparrows

Keep in mind the flight
The bird is to die

translated by Reza Baraheni

Why should I stop, why?
The birds have gone off to find water ways,
the horizon is vertical and moving is rocketing.
shining planets spin
at the edge of sight
why should I stop, why?

Translated by Farzanah Milani


Jacki Lyden: Iran at Another Crossroad

June 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Politics, World

lydenIt seems like only yesterday I was driving, through the middle of the night, down Vali-Asr street in downtown Iran, behind the wheel of a blue truck we called the Bas-Mobile. The flames of workers’ fires lit the streets. The gurgling of small streams beside the long avenues could be heard. The scene was romantic and exhilarating, because so much of what I was finding contradicted Iran’s stern image. And I had encountered someone . My new boyfriend was a young Iranian chemical engineer, and we had fallen in love while I was on assignment for NPR to cover the 16th anniversary of the revolution. That was in 1996—a long time ago.

IranArdalan4Yet several trips to Iran thereafter worked the country into my system in a way that few other places have. Ramin and I remain on good terms, and the friends I made then are friends today. With Iranian colleague Davar Ardalan, now author of My Name is Iran,  I produced an eight-part series called “Iran at the Crossroads.” Underneath all those black veils and raised fists, it was easy to perceive all the leanings towards self-expression and open dialogue, toward art and thought, that is being expressed by many of today’s protestors. Indeed, repression seems to breed the best in a number of people.

A year later, in 1997, I was back, to cover the election of the then “reformist” candidate Mohammed Khatami. Then again in 1998, and in 2000.

tehranbureauphotoWhat has changed? Technology is one of the things that has changed. People who are dissenters can be clearly seen and heard now by millions. You do not need “old media,” to see that, not with a kazillion Twitter messages posted on the Atlantic.com allowing you to meet the protesters today at 1400 hours at Vanak Street. While it is important—even essential—for today’s electronic ‘pamphleteers’ to Twitter, frankly, it’s GREAT to get all these people in dialogue (in Farsi, that word is goftegu) the story in Iran is that it is always the people you can’t see that you need to worry about. That is as true today as it was thirteen years ago, before anyone thought of a digital tweet. I will never forget how I felt when my boyfriend arrived to join me in Canada with documentation, in Farsi of course, of our every move over a fourteen-day period. He’d been interrogated twice before being allowed to leave the country. Good thing he was a man—he would have been imprisoned if our roles had been reversed.

Now, over a decade later, I find myself emailing with friends in Iran who are covering this election. My friends are in their early 40’s. That is old enough to have been a child in 1979, been through the ‘Khatami revolution’ of 1997, and be a bit tempered about today. An Iranian friend working for Newsweek – Tehran is their home address—feels privileged to be covering something this monumental. But that does not mean he thinks it is all going to turn well for the forces of ‘change.’ And I am not going to tell him, in the middle of all this, that I feel this is only a penultimate act. Power gives up nothing without a fight— in this case, a bloody fight. Iranians learned that hugely in 1979. Iran’s 1979 revolution never really “took” with all of its people, and was in any case, quickly held hostage by the clerical elites, led of course, by the Ayatollah Khomeni, who banded with elements of the military to oust true pro-Democracy forces. Those forces were even pursued beyond Iran’s borders—another friend’s father was assassinated in Paris, long after the revolution.

That does not mean I’m cynical about what’s happening—not at all. But I keep remembering what was told to me by an Iranian philosopher named Daroush Shaygan. “We didn’t know these people,” he said. Meaning, the intellectuals did not know the masses. And the masses aren’t tweeting to us in English. (That doesn’t mean they aren’t to each other, or won’t be in a few weeks.) But the masses may be the protesters’ biggest problem, even beyond the power split at the very very top. If you care to follow Iranian power politics that closely, know that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was always suspected by other clerics as being a bit fraudulent. Now, he is allied with Ahmadenijad and the military. He needs to consolidate his power—you saw that when he quickly blessed the ridiculous vote outcome. Ousting him, though, may put even harder-line people in power.

I am simply tempered in my hopes, and waiting. I believe the Obama administration is doing what it can. And even if the Iranian Guardian Council succeeds in cementing this false election through violence, which is what I fear is coming, it will not be able to hold back Iran young people who want change forever. In the end, this may be Iran’s Tiananmen Square. We had brave pictures from demonstrators there, too, –100,00 or more of them — but they were crushed. China was forced to moderate, however – but 20 years later, it is still an authoritarian state. And by the way, a close ally of Iran’s.

Still, we have to give our hearts and souls to the people on the street who are bravely showing the rest of us that they will not be bullied, they will not be silent, they will not be annihilated. Technology may not trump bullets, but unless Iran is prepared to massacre and jail every dissenter with a cell phone, this is not going to go away. The genie is out of the bottle, and you can see it on the face of all those supporters of Mir Hussein Moussavi, who is himself, fearlessly defiant.

They’re not going to take it any more – but brace yourself for what’s next. As to all those wonderful pro-democracy people I met in the ‘90s—one is a famous author, now living in Washington, DC, newly an American citizen: Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Lawyer Shirin Ebadi went on to win a Nobel Prize – her office was ransacked for the umpteenth time and her assistant arrested Tuesday. Other women leaders I met then have fled into exile, fearing for their lives. One male philosopher I met, who established a magazine called Dialogue, has spent time in prison and exile. Not a great record.

Their descendants will remain on the front lines—but this is a long, long battle. And the street protests presage that. I’m holding my breath, and applauding their bravery and determination.

Jacki Lyden has been a regular substitute host on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Weekend All Things Considered. Part of the award-winning NPR team that covered the Persian Gulf War, Lyden lives in Washington, D.C. Her 1997 memoir Daughter of the Queen of Sheba is scheduled to become the basis for a feature film starring Amy Adams.

In Iran’s Election Turmoil, it’s Zahra’s Time (Updated)

June 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Politics, World

Arahvanards the votes in Iran’s presidential election are counted, many have been mesmerized by this week’s vivid campaign rallies, full boisterousness and youthful energy. But it hasn’t all been about former prime minister Mira Mousavi, who hopes to unseat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many of those dancing in the street were there as much to see Mousavi’s wife, 62-year old Zahra Rahvanard.Today’s Los Angeles Times notes:

Some in the Iranian and Western news media have likened Rahnavard to Michelle Obama, but she more closely resembles Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady and New York senator whom many considered a driving force behind her husband’s political career and presidency.

In addition to helping raise three children, Rahnavard once served as an advisor to former President Mohammad Khatami, has written at least 15 books and is an accomplished sculptor whose works appear throughout the capital. For years, Mousavi, who served in the now-defunct post of prime minister during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, was described as “the husband of Rahnavard.”

On the campaign trail, she makes up for her 67-year-old husband’s lack of charisma.

“Today we can close our eyes and see ourselves,” she tells the Tehran audience, wearing a black cloak over a pink traditional gown, her voice rising. “Never have women had so much self-awareness. Women have always been just under the skin of history. Today, we assert ourselves.”

Rahvanard waa speaking, reports Tehran Bureau, to a deep hunger — and to the growing quiet prominence of Iran’s women:

Women’s issues continue to be the most controversial and the most paradoxical aspect of Iranian social life. On one hand, the Islamic dress code, or hijab, is compulsory for women and young girls; on the other hand, women constitute the majority of the college student population in Iran. On one hand, the conservative version of Islamic family values emphasizes their role as mothers; on the other hand, the government of the Islamic Republic has pursued family planning programs vigorously and with resounding success—Iran has seen the sharpest decline in the fertility rate in the region. Women own their own businesses and work as pilots, engineers, farmers, workers, teachers and researchers; and yet, they face numerous challenges every day.

Few women capture and represent this paradox as vividly as Dr. Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife. Fiercely independent, Rahnavard met Mousavi while both were students at the faculty of arts at the University of Tehran. Her future husband was a promising architect, a shy member of the Islamic Association of Students, or Anjoman Islami, and a budding painter. In fact intellectual pursuits and artistic endeavors have played a prominent role in both of their lives.

Update: In the growing turmoil that has followed the vote, with Ahmadinejad’s camp declaring immediate victory, continued demonstrations (video here), and the BBC ordered out of the country,  Tehranbureau.com reports: “Zahra Rahnavard gave a speech at Tehran University today, Sunday, June 14. To a large audience of students, Ms. Rahnavard announced the latest official statement issued by Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has pledged he will not back down from contesting the fraudulent 22 Khordad election results. Mousavi calls on all Reformist supporters to take part in a PEACEFUL MARCH & MASS DEMONSTRATION in 20 cities across Iran on Monday, June 15.” Andrew Sullivan adds this from an Iranian reader:

Zahra Rahnavard gave a speech at Tehran University today, Sunday, June 14. To a large audience of students, Ms. Rahnavard announced the latest official statement issued by Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has pledged he will not back down from contesting the fraudulent 22 Khordad election results. Mousavi calls on all Reformist supporters to take part in a PEACEFUL MARCH & MASS DEMONSTRATION in 20 cities across Iran on Monday, June 15 (doshanbeh, 25 Khordad) at 17:00 to denounce the election results as fraud. He has applied for a license to protect the safety of protestors. The Tehran location is Valiasr Avenue, from Valiasr Square to Tajrish Square. The locations in other cities are listed below. Mousavi has also called for a NATIONAL STRIKE on Tuesday, June 16 (Khordad 26) and asked all those who contest the results to close their shops, businesses, etc. and for employees to not go to work that day. Communication is critical to success for a large turnout, so please forward this to every Iranian you know. The statement is verified on Ghalam News (ghalamnews.ir), the official site of the Mousavi campaign (site rasmi setad).


U.S. newspapers are already speculating about a possible “Obama Effect” if Mousavi wins, given Ahmadinejad’s well-known hostility toward the U.S. and Obama’s speech in Cairo last week. But here at WVFC, we’ll keep thinking about the Zahra Effect.