Friday, December 28, 2007


The Story of That Bloodied Shirt

Nooshabeh Amiri
Ahmad Batebi is an Iranian student who became famous around the world for his ‎appearance on the cover of The Economist, holding up a bloodied shirt belonging to a ‎fellow student who was injured during the 1999 student uprising in Tehran. I entertained ‎the idea of interviewing Batebi after visiting a link, which I share with you below:

At 11:30 p.m., Paris Time – 2 a.m. Tehran time – I spoke with Ahmad Batebi. He did not ‎have any preconditions for the interview; but I had a precondition with myself: not to ask ‎him about prison and torture. “Those 9 years have ended,” he says, “but I have at least 4 ‎more 9-years to live.” ‎

Rooz (R): Where were you on 18 Tir, 1378 [July 8, 1999]?‎

Ahmad Batebi (AB): Home. At that time, I was a film student. I was preparing my final ‎project, which was on drug addiction and social epidemics in Iran. There was a drug ‎addict around the campus who was supposed to help me with the research for my project. ‎The day before, he had introduced me to some of his friends, who were also addicts. ‎Basically, I was preparing myself to shoot some footage, until those incidents took place ‎on 18 Tir. ‎

‎(R): Which you had not anticipated…‎

‎(AB): I wasn’t supposed to anticipate them. 18 Tir happened; it was not planned. ‎

‎(R): I saw you that day and your picture is stuck in my mind, but I didn’t think that that ‎picture would be viewed all over the world. When you held that shirt up, did you think ‎that this would happen?‎

‎(AB): No, I had no idea. But there was a build up to that incident which many don’t ‎know about. That’s why I want to tell you something now that I couldn’t tell in the ‎beginning. Prior to 18 Tir, I was arrested 3 times for participating in student protests. ‎My first arrest was because of my participation in a protest in support of political ‎prisoners on 15 Esfand, 1377 [March 6, 1998]. I was arrested for a second time during a ‎student demonstration on 15 Ordibehesht, 1378 [May 3, 1999]. The third time I was ‎arrested on 4 Khordad, 1378 [May 25, 1999] and released on 10 Tir, 1378 [July 1, 1999]. ‎Until 18 Tir [July 8]. Therefore, one of the reasons that that incident happened for me ‎like that, and that their confrontation was severe, was this build up. They knew me and ‎were ready to confront me. Logically too, a person should not be treated so harshly by ‎the police and the judiciary for one picture. My relationship with Daftar-e Tahkim-e ‎Vahdat [Office for Consolidating Student Unity], the late Forouhars, and the office of ‎Iran Farda also added to things. ‎

‎(R): What happened to you in prison? Does your description of Ahmad Batebi now ‎differ from your description of Ahmad Batebi before prison?‎

‎(AB): Gradually, I became two persons, with two identities; two different identities. ‎One identity belonged to a person who made movies, practiced music, listened to music, ‎enjoyed art, had artist friends, wrote… and then suddenly something out of his control ‎happened. Let me confess to something here. If at that time I knew that something like ‎this was going to happen to me, maybe I wouldn’t have done it, then. But if the same ‎thing happens now, I will do it again. ‎

‎(R): You mean after going through prison.‎

‎(AB): Yes; I will again do what I did, but maybe I wouldn’t have done it then. Well, the ‎incident happened and a new ability arouse in me – perhaps it existed before too but I ‎didn’t know – and another personality sprung in me. Another identity. With the situation ‎that I had in prison, it wasn’t possible for me to be the same Ahmad Batebi. I became ‎this Ahmad Batebi and then tried to stick to what I expect of myself. I formed two ‎personalities alongside one another. ‎

‎(R): Would you have preferred to stay the same Ahmad Batebi?‎

‎(AB): No, I prefer to be what I am now. It’s true that I couldn’t continue my studies, but ‎I learned to make movies; I learned to write; I learned to write songs. Back then too I ‎wrote what I write now. In us, there was always protest. There is protest now too. I ‎didn’t allow that incident to affect my entire being. It was an experience that is now ‎over. I didn’t let the experience of prison, which is ongoing, to darken my entire life. It ‎was a part of my life that happened and is now over. I closed that file. ‎

‎(R): Can you close that file? And forget about it?‎

‎(AB): I won’t forget about it. I gave up a lot for it, both physically and in terms of my ‎family. But I won’t allow it to undermine my life. I endured 9 years of prison, but I have ‎least 4 more 9-years to live. In addition, I like experiencing things. My identity forms ‎with new experiences. I will continue to experience new things, both good and bad. ‎Despite its hardshisp, this experience made me realize things that I would have perhaps ‎not realized for another 20 years. ‎

‎(R): How old are you now?‎

‎(AB): 29 years. ‎

‎(R): Only 29 years? ‎

‎(AB): Yes, though I spent a third of it with the gentlemen. ‎

‎(R): Are you planning on leaving Iran?‎

‎(AB): No; I prefer to stay here. I have a lot of things to do, I can’t just get up and leave. ‎I like to study, and I like to see the world and experience new things. But I have to take ‎care of some business here first. Also, I predict a good future. I see a bright future. ‎That’s why I won’t leave Iran. ‎

‎(R): Have you compared your latest photographs with that famous picture? ‎

‎(AB): Yes, I have. My face has more wrinkles now. I have more gray hair. I have ‎physical ailments, problems with my back, kidney, head. But these things would have ‎happened even if I were outside. ‎

‎(R): At 29 years of age?‎

‎(AB): Well, you can’t do anything about it. It was something that happened. Even God ‎couldn’t have done anything about it; he would’ve if he could. ‎

‎(R): Do you visit Rooz Online? ‎

‎(AB): Yes; I visit it every day. It is a prominent website with good analyses. It is like a ‎newspaper that is published in Tehran.

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