Friday, December 28, 2007
The Story of That Bloodied Shirthttp://www.roozonline.com/english/archives/2007/12/the_story_of_that_bloodied_shi.html
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.