In Defense of Your Smile - in Honor of Shirin Alam Houli
Sunday 16 May 2010
Change for Equality: Shirin Alam Houli was born in 1981 in a small village on the outskirts of the city of Makou in Kurdistan Province, Iran. After spending tow years in Evin prison she was sentenced to death on the charge of "moharebeh" or enmity with god. She was executed on Sunday May 9, 2010, without prior notice and while the Supreme Court was still in the process of ruling on her sentence. Neither, Shirin, her family or her lawyers were informed about the planned execution.
While the world may have not known her, Shirin was known and loved by those who spent time in Evin prison during the past two years. Shirin, who was executed along with four others as a terrorist, was known among her prison mates as a symbol of love and resistance—a young woman who faced the worst types of discrimination from birth, but who never succumbed to her circumstances and fought throughout her life for freedom and equality.
We write these notes to honor the memory of Shirin and the days we spent with her and in defense of the smile of which she was robbed.
My Guardian Angel -
Today my heart is as stormy as it was 11 years ago, when I held my father’s lifeless head in my arms and kissed his cold, bruised cheeks. However, today a dear one of mine is in a place where I can’t hold her broken neck, or kiss her eyes, which were once filled to the brim with hope.
She who was dear to me is gone, and with her departure I lost hope in divine justice once more. Who would allow someone so full of kindness, love, life and hope for future to be forever silent!
Today I mourn. My guardian angel during all these years of suffering and silence has opened her wings and flown away. This world and the dark hearts of cruel people, who belong to it, were not a suitable place for this angel.
Those who belong to this brutal world must await the wrath of these angels’ God.
Wake up Shirin! -
Wake up Shirin! You’re having a nightmare. Like that time, early in the morning, when I was dreaming that something keeps squeezing around my neck. Wake up Shirin! Touch your neck, breathe, and see that you’re alive. Then just like me that day, early in the morning, when I laid my head back on the pillow, rest your head back on the pillow and sleep.
Wake up! Aboulou is crying outside the room and won’t smile until she sees you. Wake up! You know that if she keeps crying people will complain. Wake up Shirin! Shaghayegh has tied her hair in a ponytail and is searching for your big footsteps in the little courtyard of the women’s ward. She is calling out with a childish voice: My darling! (That rascal knows that when she does this you smile and give her a hug, that’s why she keeps repeating it).
Wake up Shirin! It’s springtime and today’s sun is perfect for lounging around and taking walks in the tiny prison courtyard, which for now it is the whole world. Wake up Shirin! The rope was a nightmare, your arms and legs kept moving in your sleep for no reason and now you won’t wake up. Wake up Shirin! There is always time for sleeping later.
Do you remember asking about how Farzad was doing before you ever met him? When I told you his sentence was reduced, and your eyes welled up with joy? Now I keep calling Farzad and he won’t wake up either.
This night seems to last forever, this damned Sunday is filled with nightmares.
Shirin, wake up! This cursed Sunday needs to end and if you don’t wake up, Sunday will stretch forever; the memory of the rope will stay forever; and the nightmare will last forever. If you don’t wake up, the world will keep ending somewhere near Aras* forever, and the earth will stop moving.
*Aras is a river that flows in and along Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and passes near Makou, an area where Shirin grew up.
You must have been astonished when they called your name in that odd time -
You must have been astonished when they called your name in that odd time
I sing a song which someone has engraved on the metal heater in the cell
We are alive without a why; they are aware of the why of their death * -
How late I got to know you! And how soon you vanished! Or maybe we are the ones who vanished and your truth became visible; the truth of the inequality and injustice of a world that deprives the earth of its good people.
I can’t believe that I will not hear your voice any more; a voice asking me with a delightful Kurdish accent: “Hi! What is happening outside?” and your concerns about those whom you had never met but had heard of: “How is Kaveh’s situation? Have they transferred him to Tehran yet? What is he being charged with?” and then adding, “he is Kurdish, his crime is being Kurdish.” Or asking about those who you knew and who used to be in your ward and were also worried about you: “Has Mahboubeh been released yet?” or telling me about those who were not doing well in prison, “Shabnam keeps getting her period every ten days here. Bahareh was in court today,…”
How similar were you and Farzad in all of your likable characteristics! You got worried if you called and our phones were off: “I was worried you might be here [in Evin]!” And Farzad, who called anxiously after they arrested Kaveh and apologized: “I’m sorry, I will try to give you some news of him as soon as I can,” and I was in awe because you were the ones with the death sentence, so what was this concern you had for us?
You’d joke with those detainees who were sent to your ward: “you are going to be our guest for a while. Consider our home as your own.” They would stand with you next to a window that faced the hills behind Evin, and you’d tell them one day you’ll meet on those hills and frown at Evin from far away.
So much life was flowing through you! Your death resembles the most beautiful life, whereas our lives are the horror of being left behind in a land that responded to Farzad’s and your righteousness with the rope; while both of you sowed nothing but love and your harvest was the love that grew in our hearts. Once again, our hands are so powerless and our minds are so tired, and our nerves ache from this atrocity. Once again, it is Evin that’s scowling at us. Once again we saw that this land, which you loved, rose to genocidal killing of your people, just like you had said, and once again through our silence we became part of this slaughter.
The last time you called, you were angry. You told me how they wanted you to go in front of cameras and confess to things you hadn’t done and to speak against Kurdish groups. You had shouted at the interrogator and said “hang me if you can.” You said that the worst they could do is to hang you, so why should you speak against the Kurds. You said that they had brought Zeynab’s mother to Tehran to speak to Zeynab for three hours and try to convince her to speak against herself and her friends, but they hadn’t succeeded. That moment made me feel anxious; I was always envious of you and your people’s courage but I was anxious about what sort of game they were playing this time. Did they want to sacrifice the Kurdish people again? How rightly you wrote that you are a hostage; that “if something happens outside they will execute one of us hostages” and execute they did!
The person, who smiles in the face of the last command, can only be a smile in the face of ‘fire!’ *
They wanted to put on a show for the public to reduce the consequences of this act of genocide. Just like the cases of Zamani and Rahmanipour** people would hear what you say against yourselves and believe that your deaths were just, even though no one believes anything they say any more. However, they couldn’t force you to take part in this show.
Did they not know that the result of such discrimination against your people will be your increased perseverance and determination? They still don’t understand that when they execute you, Farzad, Ali, Farhad and Mehdi, the next day there will be thousands of Shirins and Farzads.
These executioners, the same people who crushed you under their heavy boots for 22 days, have buried themselves in a grave; a dark and silent grave that bears no life.
You described what had happened to you in those 22 days and my panging nerves could not grasp your strength in those lonely moments. But you were not lonely; you had your unwavering faith in creating a better world. You recounted how they had brought a torturer who spoke to you in Kurdish. They wanted to break you by showing you that despite what they had done to your people; there were still Kurdish people who would join them. But you responded in Turkish when they asked you questions in Kurdish. You wrote that when they were tying you down to the bed to lash you, one of the torturers told you that this was the same bed where they had tied Farzad, and that they would torture you like they had tortured him.
How much you believed in Farzad and his work! You said he was one of the best people of this land. You spoke about what he had done for children in the villages. You said he was a teacher to all of you and you learned from him how to work with patience. Yet, you didn’t know that you became a teacher to us; that you drew the best analyses of women’s situation, the election, and of Iran. You said that we should participate in the elections because it’s the only remaining tool of democracy in Iran. You didn’t know that your own behavior was so inspiring for us when we were drowning in our daily lives.
How could they present you as terrorists when whoever that met you didn’t see anything but life and love! Terrorists are those who persecute humanity in the name of law.
You’d tell me that one shouldn’t give up hope. You’d say, “one must walk across the river, no matter how muddy the water” ***
You taught me to say that we’re not sorrowful for our empty, powerless hands, because our eyes are filled with freedom.
This is Dim-Gheshlagh, where you come from. You repeatedly spoke of the discrimination women face in this area; a region that is a victim of inequality in Iran; an impoverished village, without a school for its children.
On school days, you and other girls would stay home. Makou, the closest town that had a school, was three hours away and because of this distance, children could only go to night classes. But Makou didn’t have a night school for girls so you, the girls of Dim-Gheshlagh, were easily robbed of one of the most basic rights that were granted to you in the constitution. Yet the thirst for knowledge made you learn some reading and writing from your brother.
I’ve heard that in your beautiful village, most of the residents are nomads and cattle farmers and only around 20% can read and write. In that region, Turkish and Kurdish people live together; two ethnic groups who have been discriminated against. In that area, women face tremendous suffering. You had said that patriarchy is the rule and has taken root in all of the homes, and its worst product is forced marriages of young girls. You had said that some of these girls choose to burn themselves in order to flee these marriages. But in this land where people were suffering, you taught how to be free instead of choice of burning.
* Poems are by Ahmad Shamlou /
In Memory of Silva Hartounian and Shirin Alam-Houli -
During my prison time in the 209 section of the Evin prison, I was moved to a 2-person cell after a while. A young girl who has covered half of her gray hair welcomed me with a happy face and a smile on her lips. It had been a while that I had not seen such a sincere face and smile.
Hello. My name is Silva. What is your name?
My name is Negin.
Welcome to my cell. (She replied with smile.)
We were so worried on the night that they brought you. We knocked on the wall so you don’t get too afraid, but when you responded, we all laughed and said, “She’s experienced.”
You were the one who knocked? But my cell is so far from here! (I laughed and replied)
I was in the cell right beside you, with Fariba and Mahvash.
Where are you from? (She asked after a pause)
I am a Kurd.
Oh, there were two Kurdish girls here before you. The name of one of them was Shirin. Shirin and I were cellmates for a few months. She was a very sweet girl; we became as close as sisters and we used to talk every night for hours. We didn’t hear about her for months, we even did not know if she was alive or dead. And we didn’t know her exact name.
Yes, I am saying we were in the same cell for a few months.
Tell me more about Shirin.
Oooh, I see you want to know everything right after you arrive?!!! Come sit for now, I have got a lot to say, enough to fill up 2 or 3 days. I am the most experienced here.
How long is it you are here?
From July. It was only a month after my arrest that they brought Shirin to my cell. She was all skin and bone. She didn’t have the strength to talk because of too much torture. Her lungs were bleeding. She would frequently get anxiety attack. She was very quiet. It seemed like she could not trust anybody. I gave her a book; she didn’t accept it and said she was illiterate. This was until Bahar joined us and then it was the three of us. One day we were talking about women and their status that Shirin started to talk. Her talking was interesting and beautiful. She knew a lot about the history and status of women. Bahar and I asked her with laughter, “you are so clever! You said you are illiterate, how come you know this stuff? Come on, tell us now! Which university did you go to?” “You don’t know that university…” she replied with serenity and grace.
All the prisoners who were cellmate with Shirin used to talk about their sweet memories with her, her positive manner and uniqueness. There was no person that would recall her without gentleness and beauty. In another time that they brought her back to section 209, although Silva and I did not see her, we could feel her presence. Silva begged the prison guards to see her just for one second but they did not allow her.
But before her moving back to the women section of the prison, Shirin left a cross she had made in between Silva’s washed clothes in the prison’s yard as a memory. She showed Silva that in a country that minorities were neglected and in a prison where guards considered Silva, Mahvash, and Fariba unclean and insult their beliefs, Shirin gave her a cross as a gift from in between the iron prison cells and gray walls.
To the angles of mountains, may your path have many followers.