Witness Testimony of Azar Al-e-Kanaan



Age when Arrested: 21  

Date of Arrest: Beginning of fall of 1981

Verdict of the Revolutionary Court: Two and half years’ imprisonment

Date of Release: March 1986

Charge: Support of Rah-e Kargar

 When I was arrested my daughter was exactly eleven months old. I was supposed to go to Saqqez to see someone. I left early in the morning, so I would return by the evening, because back then after four pm the roads were closed. One of my sisters and my daughter Nina accompanied me. I had a carrier. Since my daughter had a heart problem, the valve of her aorta was not functioning, every once in a while I took her to Tehran or Tabriz for a checkup. That day my carrier was that I was going to Saqqez and from there to Tabriz.

They kept the car in Divandarreh. The guard that checked the car asked: Where are you going? I said, “I am going to Tabriz, I am taking my daughter to the doctor.” He said, “What is your name?” I gave him a fake name. He looked at me a bit and said, “Aren’t you Azar? And this is your daughter Nina? And this is Nastaran or Delbar”; my sisters’ who usually accompanied me. It was as if I had an electric shock. I was shocked. I couldn’t move my tongue. I was lucky I had pomegranates in my purse. I excused myself to peel it for my daughter, before they searched me. While they were searching my bag, along with the pomegranate that I supposedly peeled for my child, I swallowed the letters I had with me.

They moved us up in a building that was a military base. They brought a female guard. My eyes were blindfolded. She said to bring all of my clothes. When they arrested me, I was wearing manteau and pants. I used to go out chic and fashionable. The manteau and pants that I wore back then might seemed very flashy/trendy to some, but it showed my personality.

They searched through everything. Even in Nina’s diapers, and emptied the bottle. As I was naked, I realized they brought someone and asked, “Is this her?” that person said, “yes.” They asked me to wear my clothes quickly and to get my things together. They had separated my sister from me in Divandarreh, and took me and Nina with a car back to Sanandaj Sepah office.

The real interrogation began there. The interrogator introduced himself as Sadeghi. He was Fars; in fact, we didn’t even have any Kurdish interrogators. He had a perfect Tehrani accent. You couldn’t tell if he was Isfahani or Turk. Then they took my wedding ring and all the gold I was wearing, and said “we have our last words with you, are you going to talk or not?” I said “I have nothing to say. I was taking my daughter to the doctor in Tabriz. This is the name of her doctor. I have an appointment. You can call and check to make sure.” I was thinking to myself that if they call, I didn’t have an appointment or anything. But in the heat of the moment, you say whatever that comes to mind.

Sadeghi and the other ones insulted me a lot. Since I was caught, they kept cursing and saying words that meant I was a corrupt woman. They used a Persian word used for a prostitute; they said “lakkate.”  I told him “why are you insulting me? You don’t know me at all.”

For example they said “where is your dishonored husband? If you were important to him, he wouldn’t let you be here with us.” They said words with the intention of crushing you, or words that means cover yourself corrupt woman, whore. I screamed, “You have tied my hands, and my feet, my hijab fell, what can I do? Why do you look?”

As soon as we entered, they took my daughter away and took me to a room where Sadeghi interrogated me. But I could hear Nina moaning asking for her mom. When he said his last words to me, as he called it, he said “lie her down and beat her as much as you can.” I said “What have I done that you want to beat me for it?”

They took me from a room that was his office to a hallway where there was a toilet and a bed for torture. After that we entered a room that looked like L that was the interrogation room. There were three or four interrogation rooms that were separated from the torture rooms with curtains. They laid me down there and started lashing the soles of my feet and my back. There, they were also beating another young man. Someone was also sitting there, and they had covered him up. They laid me down and started beating. They wanted to know who I wanted to meet in Saqqez, and I denied everything. The one who became my main interrogator was called Hashemi. He approached me as he was holding my daughter. She was crying constantly, saying “No mommy! No mommy!” A while passed and I can’t forget her calling for her mom. Of course, she was only eleven months old, and didn’t understand that they were beating me and I was screaming. The interrogator said “See your daughter is crying, say it!” I said “I don’t have anything to say.” And Nina kept saying “No mommy! No mommy!” Then I think that they lashed me for too long and I felt sick and they moved me to a cell. When I woke up I was in a cell and my daughter was with me. I was bleeding heavily from the lashings.

At that moment I kept thinking to myself “What happened to us? Why did I get pregnant when my situation was like this? Why did I put my baby in this condition?” As I was thinking these thought, I dragged myself to the toilet. The toilet was inside the cell. I felt sick. I think I passed out again. When I regained consciousness, I saw the interrogators were talking, but they had taken Nina. Later when I was released, my sister said when I had passed out, they took Nina to her, but she didn’t know that I was there. Later, every time I was interrogated, they took the child out to my sister, but I didn’t know this and was so worried about where she was taken.

From that moment on, I developed a uterine bleeding problem, and even later when they took me from Sanandaj Prison to Tehran’s Joint Committee, and then Ward 209 of Evin Prison, I was still bleeding. When I was tortured in Joint Committee my bleeding got worse. I couldn’t even walk. They didn’t give me sanitary pads, so I was bleeding [all over my clothes]. After a while of being in the hallways of 209, I spent some time in the clinic. Nina was with me all along, for the 3 years and 3 or 4 months after the arrest. I was in Ward 209 when they finally agreed to let Nina go. When I requested for baby formula for my kid, because the food available had camphor and I couldn’t give it to a child, they interrogators said that tomorrow your daughter will turn out like you, and we have to deal with your daughter also. About diaper, I had trained her. I remember we went for interrogations, and she wasn’t wearing diaper. The clothes I had in my bag for her when they arrested me were two Kurdish pants and two T-shirts. She looked so pretty, like Vietnamese kids. She was round and white with bangs. I had to make her wear those clothes, because we didn’t have anything else. When we went for interrogation, many of the guards that worked there called her to take her and buy her cheese puffs and candy. I wanted them to take her to give her something to eat, but in the back of my head I was worried, wishing they weren’t doing something to her. But she was very smart, you’d see her run back, and the guard would said “Ma’am, she has to go potty. Take her to the bathroom.” I would take her to the bathroom, and say “go potty” and she would say “I don’t have to go potty.” I felt that she lied to them. She would get the snack and say I have to pee to return to me quickly. She wouldn’t eat the thing they bought either. A couple of people where hanging in the corridor, with tied hands. She opened her bag of cheese puffs and said to them, “Have some cheese puff uncle.” She talked with a sweet Kurdish accent.

After a few months, I agreed to let my daughter go out. She had a heart condition. Sometimes when we were in the cell she had shortness of breath. There was not enough air. Her lips got blue. She felt sick twice, and they took her to the clinic. The doctor had ordered that the child should leave the prison. They had contacted my parents and my brothers and gave them the kid without allowing me visitation to see them. They thought I was executed, and that is why they gave them the child. Rumor spread in Sanandaj that I was executed, and my husband [who was a runaway] heard the news of my execution. They prepared a biography of my activities in a [party affiliated] magazine, [and were about to publish it] when one the girls was released and told them that I was alive and they shouldn’t publish anything.

In the spring of 1981, they returned me to Sanandaj. I spent some time in the Sepah Prison of Sanandaj, and some time in Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj at a general ward.

At 12 midnight they came for me. I was in the cell. They said: “Come with all your things and your kid.” I said, “I don’t have a kid.” They said, “Where is your kid?” I said, “I let her go out. Didn’t you let her go out?” They said, “In the letter we have, you should come with your child.” I said, “It has been a while that they returned my daughter to my family.” I was worried from what they said that they hadn’t returned my child to my family. In the car, the guard kept asking questions, “Where is your kid?” and I kept asking, “What did you do to my kid?” He said, “We came from Sanandaj; we don’t know anything. They had ordered us to go bring the mother and daughter.” I was terrified not knowing where they had given my daughter. As soon as we got to Sanandaj they took me for interrogation. I said, “What did you do to my child? My daughter has a heart condition; the doctor ordered that she be removed [from prison]. They said they gave her to my family. Who did you give my kid to?” I said “It’s about 2 years that I have been arrested, why don’t you give me visitation?” I was worried [and wanted to know] if they had given my daughter to my family at all or not. Finally they gave me visitation and my parents came. My first question was about my daughter, and I was relieved.

I was released in March of 1986, and was arrested again on September 20, 1986.

The second time I was arrested was because I helped a lady leave Iran with the provisions that I had. My phone conversations with my husband were being tapped. The last time I talked to him over the phone was September 20 which was our wedding anniversary. I told my husband, “Telephone three.” I meant that the phone was being tapped, but I was not sure to what extent it was being tapped. My father’s house didn’t have a phone and I was staying at my uncle’s house and living there. I was supposed to return on September 20. I was going to my dad’s house to go shopping, buying shoes and stuff and come out, get out of Kurdistan. I had just returned from my uncle’s house to our house that they knocked on the door. I was wearing a skirt and a shirt, with no hijab. They came in our house, carrying weapons and klashnikovs. I was knitting. Nina started crying. I was consoling her, so that she would stop crying. One of them said, “Yes, she is a guerilla baby! Don’t cry guerilla baby!” I said, “Do you have an arrest warrant for me?” He said, “This is from the Revolutionary Court, the Revolutionary Guards” and hit the magazine of his gun. So the second time I was arrested, it was related to a phone call, and helping some people leave Sanandaj. They also arrested my nephew. This time Nina stayed with my mom and sister.

They took me in the same building they had taken me the first time. This time my interrogator was Behrouz. He was a Turkish boy, I mean when he spoke Persian and got angry, it was obvious he was not Fars. His Persian was mixed with Turkish. When they came to arrest me, he was the one who touched the magazine of the gun when I asked if they had a warrant for my arrest. He was also the one who told my daughter that she was a guerilla girl so she shouldn’t cry! He was wearing a neck scarf, like the thugs from mechanic shops.

The day of my arrest, I spent all of it behind a curtain on the other side of which they were torturing people. I was sitting on a chair, and the interrogator was sitting with legs parallel touching mine. I kept pulling my leg back, and he kept coming forward, and asking nonsensical questions. Like he asked if I was a smoker and if I wanted a smoke. “ Do you want me to give you a cigarette?” I said that I didn’t and don’t like smoking. On the one hand they beat someone, on the other hand they treat them this way. Imagine, you are somewhere with your eyes blindfolded and have no control over anything. A man in sitting in front of you and his breathing, his jests, his getting too close to you, his talking, were not normal. It was disgusting. On the other side, in the hallway, they were lashing someone and this guy was pretty much flirting with me. I felt him touching me, touching my legs. I was disgusted by his hands. I knew these weren’t normal touches like when I touch your legs. His breathing, his tone of voice, I felt there was something strange about it…

The day after the arrest, I mean September 21, they put me in a car and took me from Sanandaj to Orumiyeh to meet with religious magistrate so he would order me to be lashed. I don’t know his name because they took me without a word, without either of us talking. They took me in a room and returned me the next day. When they returned me to Sanandaj, I asked the interrogator, “How many lashes did he write?” He had written 75 lashes. I said, “Your magistrate either doesn’t know how to count, or has never been hit with a cable! Otherwise, your religious magistrate knows that if I am whipped five times you would have to keep taking me to the doctor for ten years! Did he write this for a donkey, or a human being? A human should not be lashed with a cable!” He said, “I know neither lashing nor words affect you, but I’ll do something that you can’t keep your neck up when walking in the streets.” I said, “Like what would you do?”

I was under a lot more pressure in the interrogations during my second arrest, much more than the first time. Even though I was familiar with prisons, the way he treated me was breaking me down. He said, “You were walking in the streets with your head held high; I will break your neck and bring you down.” I was not even thinking he was going to rape me. I said, “Like you want to bring the neighbor, saying I told on him? The neighbors know I was not involved in any activity with them.”

When I was threatened, we were in the hallway. Of course, we were always alone. Where we were was quiet. He had the same disgusting gestures again. I could not do anything but I tried to pull away. For example, I wrapped myself in my chador. He said, “Why do you cover yourself so much?” In those conditions, you subconsciously cover yourself. It’s not in your control. I was never religious, and never will be. But the other person who was supposedly my interrogator, had gestures and actions that made me constantly pull my leg back, but there was no space. There was a wall and the chair. I kept pulling myself back and he kept coming closer. I could hear him breathing. In fact, it was in my face:

– So, what did you do to so and so?

– I have no idea. I have no clue what you are talking about!

He wanted to know through whom I had helped that lady leave [the country]. I said, “I don’t know. I have no idea.” I admitted to talking to my husband over the phone. I said, “He is my husband. I talk to him. I don’t deny it.” He had listened to my private conversations with my husband and said these things.

They knew I didn’t give in under lashes. It had become certain to them that they can’t make me talk. He kept saying, “I will do something to you that out of shame you will not keep your head up in front of others.”

This type of investigation had crushed me emotionally. Truly, it was much harder than the first time. During torture, they pull your hands, and your legs, they would move them here and there. They sat on my back. Their gestures were disgusting but this second time it was completely different. He kept saying, “We will do something to break your neck.” I kept thinking to myself, “What are they going to do? Who are they going to arrest? What will they do to make me keep my head down from shame?” I was wondering what it could be.

Until, the last night he talked to me, he said, “I’ll give you 24 hours to think. If you talk, then good. If not, it is up to you, so to speak. Whatever happens is your fault.” I remember we were in the hallway that night. It was the hallway for men’s cell. I mean, when you exited the interrogation section, first there was their offices, then there was the men’s ward. There were hallways with men’s cells on the right, and a wall on the left. There was a radiator that they tied my hands to, and I laid there.

Many times it happened that Behrouz would come for interrogation at nights when other interrogators were not there. That night I thought that it was interrogations like always. He said, “I can’t stand it. Either you speak or whatever happens, you are at fault.” I really thought as he had done before, that he was approaching me and getting close to me to scare me. I really didn’t think that he is going to do anything. When he pushed my chador to the side … my hands were tied and I kept pulling myself towards the radiator. My hands were tied, I could not do anything. He started unbuttoning; I thought he was trying to scare me. I could not believe that he is going to do something. When he was done with the buttons, I kept saying “what are you doing?” I could tell from his every movement that he wanted to do something. He touched my body. I raised my voice. He took off the kerchief he had around his neck and stuffed it in my mouth… the struggles, they are futile, but one has to struggle. I am sure people in the cells there could head the sounds of my struggle and my handcuffs hitting the radiator. I am sure they knew what was happening. He undid the buttons and took off my Kurdish pants. I really struggled as much as I could but my hands were short and the fruit hanging high. He was stronger than I was. When there was no turning back, what could I have done? He put my pants back on and buttoned me up.

Maybe some people see this as torture. But I consider this to be beyond torture. After a while I could no longer feel the pain of lashing. But this will forever be with me. Its pain lingers. No matter what I do, I can’t forget it. What kind of torture is this that I can’t forget? It has been years and I have not been able to solve this problem. When I was being raped, the problem was not that he was enjoying my body; it was that he was demeaning me. The other problem was that my hands and feet were tied and I could not do anything. When he lashed me, he threw me from one side to another, whatever he did, I felt good. When I said “no” under the lashing it made me feel powerful, but here the fact that I could not defend myself, made me not be able to digest it, and resolve this for myself. Under the lashes it is so easy, with pulling away and screaming, you could, but in this situation. You could not scream. You could not move your hands. The guy was holding your legs. Your body was in his hands. He was humiliating me with his gestures and his everything. But under the lashes you feel powerful. There, I was completely crushed. I was not myself for a while. That was when I felt that the only thing that could save me from this issue was suicide. After the rape, I attempted suicide twice in prison.

The first time I cut my wrist. I saw it bleeding. It got infected and that was it. They sent me to my cell after the rape. The second time I attempted suicide with sleeping pills, the same pills they gave us and left them at the cell door. I got a few form someone else and I picked some in the hallway. Either way, I was seriously determined to kill myself. I don’t know how many pills I took. I took them around 6 or 7pm. The next day when they brought breakfast at six in the morning, they had realized that I had taken pills and took me to the hospital.

After the rape, I never saw Behrouz again. My second interrogator was called Qasem. He didn’t know why I had attempted suicide. After I came back from the hospital, I told him, “If I have the chance, I will kill myself again. This time you saved me, what are you going to do next time? The interrogator gave my dad visitation and said that I should talk to my dad. “Tell him what you don’t tell us.” Everyone knew me in the hospital. They contacted our house quickly and reported that I had attempted suicide. My parents knew. My dad came and asked, “Why has my daughter attempted suicide. Tell me the reason.” He had said, “We don’t know why she has attempted suicide. Ask her yourself.” To be honest, I still don’t know if Qasem knew that Behrouz had raped me or not. Or if he knew, he had imagined that I would tell my dad or not. Because when I went to meet with my dad, I looked like a crazy person. I mean when my dad described it to me later, he said, “When I came to see you, I thought you had gone insane. Puffy eyes, bloated face.” In the span of a week, I had cut my veins and took pills. It was 2 or 3 weeks after my arrest.

My dad asked, “Why did you attempt suicide?” I told Qasem, “You really want me to tell my dad why I attempted suicide?” He said, “Yes.” I told my dad. My dad was crying and saying, “You have a child, why did you do it?” I said, “Dad, you want to know why I attempted suicide? It was because they raped me. My dad only said, “I don’t have anything else to say. I will go and raise your daughter, and will wait for you until you get out. Until then…” He then got up and left. When I was released he never asked me about it. Never. Every time he came to visit me, he cried. I will never forget my dad’s tears. Every time he came, I felt he is a dad and he tells himself, “This is my daughter and I could not do anything to help her.”

My dad left and Qasem was shocked. When he took me back to the cell, he talked to me. He said, “Are you sure?” I said, “Yes I am sure. How can a person not be sure? Go ask Behrouz! Why don’t you ask Behrouz?” He talked to me, but didn’t go in details, and didn’t follow up with it either.

But I am sure that the interrogators were there that night. Other people were there too. Behrouz could not do anything alone. Other people had to know. But Qasem was acting that way as if he didn’t know. But I am sure Behrouz wouldn’t do this on his own. Since he repeated that he would break my neck and not let me walk in the streets like this.

My dad had not told my family. My mom never talked to me about this. Later when I interviewed and talked about this, my younger sister said, “Now I know why after the visit, dad was a different person. He didn’t talk to anyone, and only said, “Raise her kid until she comes out of prison. After that dad was not the same dad.” She was right. Anytime he came to visit me, he came in crying and left crying. Every time he came, I thought he thinks this is the last time he sees me. Maybe the reason was that they thought since I was raped they will execute me. When they released me I could not believe they were letting me go. Especially since I was in the discipline ward in the basement of Sanandaj Court’s prison.

They took me to court. They had called my dad and asked for a house deed. He brought a deed. They said, “We don’t accept this deed. Bring two other deeds.” My brother-in-law brought a deed, and my brother brought his house deed. Then the assistant prosecutor gave me a list to sign. I said, “I am not signing this.” He said, “Your dad is waiting.” My dad also said to sign. I said, “Dad, do you know what they want me to sign? It says if the neighbor’s son does something I have to report. If anyone does something I have to report. If you accept, I’ll sign it.” I said, “I’m not signing this, if you want to you can let me go, if not then don’t let me go. In fact, I don’t want you to release me.” I told my dad, “I am fine here. I am comfortable. What is the problem? Go home and take your deeds with you.” When they released me, he said, “I could not believe you would say those things to the assistant prosecutor.” I said, “Of course I would say those things.”

I never mentioned it to the folks in prison, because I understand their psyche. To be honest, I did not dare. I felt if I say that, they will think I wanted it too. Actually the atmosphere among the political folks was not healthy enough to mention this issue.