Ahmad Raouf Bacharidoust was born on 23 August 1964 in Astara, a small town on the Caspian Sea. Living conditions were ideal in the region, with its rolling green hills. With his older sister Massoumeh and his family, Ahmad had every reason to feel happy. And yet…
There would be many surprises in the life of Ahmad Raouf Bacharidoust, nicknamed the “little prince” by his families, first his natural family, then that of his brothers-in-arms and companions in prison. The young man soon understood that he would have to fight in order to survive. And yet he had the good fortune to be born into a close-knit family. The young man in a hurry could not stand injustice. His freshness, his youth, his unconcern, and his insolence made him a prominent figure in the fight against the mullahs. A Little Prince in the Land of the Mullahs tells his story. The story of one young man among so many others who, risking his life, driven by a deep sense of purpose, would fight to his last breath against all tyrannies.
From the Shah to the mullahs, from one tyranny to another
From an early age, he already resisted the Shah’s men in his own way. He was 15 when the Shah abdicated, making way for the revolutionaries. But then, as so often, wheeling and dealing between the powerful violently frustrated the plans harbored by the people. Certain of their release from the Shah’s yoke, the Iranian people danced and sang. But the celebrations would not last long. On 8 January 1979, the American president, Jimmy Carter, sent a secret message to Ruhollah Khomeini, in exile at Neauphle-le-Château at the Shah’s request a few months earlier, via the French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Fearing a revolution, the Americans asked Khomeini to take control of the country.
The Iranians quickly realized they had been tricked. The country was divided. On one side the just, calling for freedom and democracy. On the other the horde of those faithful to the man who would soon become the first supreme leader. Within a few months, the tyranny of the Shah had been replaced by the tyranny of the mullahs. The people had been robbed. The mullahs and behind-the-scenes agreements had stolen the revolution. For freedom fighters, the struggle went on whatever the price. For Ahmad’s family, and for all resistance fighters, it was the beginning of a long hell. Individual freedoms were curtailed day after day. Books were banned. The Pasdaran did not hesitate to open fire on the crowds of angry demonstrators. All over the country, the new tyrant’s Basij militia wielded their power over the weak.
In the Bacharidoust household, first Massoumeh was sentenced to 20 years in prison. She managed to escape after eight months and get out of the country to join the resistance then organizing in exile. Then it was the turn of Ahmad and his brothers-in-arms. All were tortured several times, 12 of them crowded into a cell of six square meters. They were refused medical treatment, even after 400 lashes of the whip. And yet young Ahmad never lost his sense of humor and refused to kneel before his torturers. More than a revolutionary, he was a symbol of the struggle, a source of inspiration for those alongside him.
Beatings, imprisonment, torture: the whole family gets it
Ahmad’s mother was tortured in turn, despite suffering from cancer, simply because her two children were officially part of the resistance. She died while Ahmad was still in prison, serving a 5‑year sentence punctuated by torture sessions and constant changes of prison and location. Each time the pressure and pain increased. But Ahmad never said a word. Weakness was out of the question. There are three types of a prisoner: those who give up the fight and become trustees or informers for their gaolers, those who seek to stay under the radar, and those who continue the struggle, supporting each other and motivated by a true ideal. An ideal does not suffer. An idea does not die. It germinates, and in the end, it always flowers…
That is why Ahmad and his companions fought. All of them lost family members. All were tortured, sometimes every day. All suffered terribly from their wounds, from lack of care, from lack of everything… Ahmad was finally released in late 1987, having served his five years. But even though his friends begged him to drop his resistance activities, he was unable to embrace the idea of a “normal” life. It would be a denial of everything he had fought for. He considered leaving the country and joining his sister to continue the fight against the mullahs. But Ahmad would never see her again. Halfway to his goal he was arrested by collaborators and sent back to prison.
The massacre of summer 1988
This time things were different. It was the spring of 1988 and the supreme leader had issued a fatwa, one of those utterly abject orders that will go down in history: kill all opponents of the regime. In every gaol, lines of political prisoners were formed in front of courts specially created for the purpose. The same three questions were asked each time: are you a hypocrite (monafeghine, the name given to opponents by the mullahs)? Are you willing to deny and condemn the hypocrites? Are you willing to repent publicly? The trials lasted no more than five minutes from start to finish. Each negative answer entailed the death penalty for treason before God. Ahmad was condemned and executed, in the green hills by Lake Urmia, by the guardians of the revolution, with a knife. Barbarity plumbed new depths.
More than just a comic strip, this book recounts a young man’s life devoted to the defense of freedom. His story highlights the tyranny and impunity of the clerical regime. For the leading players in the 1988 massacre are still in power, at the head of the state even today, Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rohani prime among them. Those whom Europe calls moderates to have blood on their hands and do not even bother to deny it. The hell and the horror that Iranians have had to live through since the advent of the Islamic Republic continues to this day. Many families still do not know when their relatives died or where they are buried. Ahmad was born on 23 August 1964 and executed in August 1988, perhaps on his 24th birthday.
We expect to find this kind of story in old tales from the Middle Ages, not in the late 20th century. And yet… This is essential reading for all those who want to know about the ordeal experienced by resistance members in Iran – and for all those who would turn a blind eye too. It reveals much about Iran under the mullahs, a regime that European technocrats still regard as one it is possible to do business with. It would be instructive to ask Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, what she thinks about the story of Ahmad Raouf Bacharidoust and his 30,000 companions of misfortune…