What Will Happen to Our Loved Ones in Camp Ashraf?

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The New York Times article Iranian Exile Group Poses Vexing Issue for US in Iraq by Tim Arrango on July 22, 2011, on the fate of Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, has left many like me puzzled.

As someone who has all my family in Camp Asharf, it strikes me that the whole article only reports the views of Mr Butler, whereas the issue is the fate of 3,400 unarmed men, women and children surrounded in a camp by the Iraqi army, likely to be massacred in a near future. Nothing has been mentioned on their behalf.

Like many others in my generation, born after the 1979 revolution, I have not experienced anything but the mullahs’ cruel dictatorship in Iran. I had to learn life’s difficulties from a very early age. As a child, I had to be accustomed to see 3-4-year-old kids my age selling chewing gum and flowers in the streets to make a living. I saw women hugging their children in their arms throughout the cold winter nights on a bridge near our home hoping to gain a coin for their living. The kids who were a bit older than me had been sent to become human mine sweepers in the Iran/Iraq war, many to never come back and others with permanent disabilities as a result of mine explosions. From the first grade we had to chant “Long live Khomeini and Death to the PMOI” before going to the classrooms after every break.

34 residents of camp ashraf killed
34 Residents of Camp Ashraf Killed April 8 by Iraqi Forces

One day when I was 9, playing with my TV-Game at home, my mother took my older brother for shopping, I didn’t even bother to turn my eyes from the screen to say goodbye. For reasons that I did not learn until I grew older, they never came back. They had decided to go to join the Iranian dissidents at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.

My first conversation with my mother after that was 4 years later when my grandmother had sent me to live with my uncle in the Netherlands. “Why did you leave me?” I asked her on the phone after minutes of silence… “Was it because you didn’t love me?”

“Because I love you much more than you can imagine,” she replied. “Because I want all children in Iran to have the same freedoms as you now have in Europe, and because it was so hard for me to leave you, I couldn’t bear to say goodbye.”

I was most of all dazed and happy to hear her voice again. I later thought of what she had said and how hard it must have been for her to leave her child for a cause she believed in. That conversation stayed in my mind until today. I am now 22 and have not seen my family for 13 years.

In early April, Camp Ashraf was attacked by heavily armed Iraqi military and tanks, leaving 36 residents dead and hundreds wounded. The mullahs’ in Iran were the only party who applauded and welcomed this massacre and called on the Iraqi army to “finish the job!”

They are 3400 unarmed men and women, surrounded by the Iraqi military in the middle of the desert in a foreign country. They are under siege since two years, with limited access to food, fuel and medicines, leading to many deaths. They are being psychologically tortured by over 300 hundred loudspeakers day and night. Parliamentarians, NGOs and even family and relatives have been barred from entering the Camp for the past two years…

So what more could they tolerate? And why should the Iranian government be so desperate to make Ashraf’s elimination its number one of foreign policy priority?

The answer is simple, because like my family, the people of Ashraf have left everything they had behind so that one day people of Iran could gain all the freedoms they have been dying for over a century.

This is also the key to their massive successes to become the core of the largest, most popular, and best organized opposition against the mullahs’ dictatorship which has survived the most unbearable pressures and ups and downs in the past 30 years against all odds,

Their ideals for freedom and democracy are shared by the vast population in Iran. This is why they rely entirely on supporters all across the world with more than a hundred thousand people who have sacrificed their lives for the cause.

This is also why unlike the governments in power, who are keen on doing business with Iran, the majority of the Western parliaments including the European Parliament and the US Congress have always endorsed their cause and called for their protection.

The New York times article fails in objectivity when it doesn’t recognize the US House Resolution with a majority’s support if favor of Ashraf and also to fact that a day before the article was published, US Congress Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a bill which fully opposes Mr Butler’s proposals for the forcible displacement of Ashraf residents within Iraq.

The idea of displacing the residents to another location away from the world’s watchful eyes was first suggested by the dictators in Iran to pave the way for another bloody slaughter. If the US wants to play in their hands, then they would be complicit in the certain death of the residents.

The lessons from the International Court in the Hague of the Dutch army’s ignorance of the Srebrenica massacre should have been enough for the US not to repeat that mistake.

Like thousands of others who have loved ones in Camp Ashraf, it’s hard for me to sleep at night not knowing what could happen tomorrow. I just put my trust in the world conscious that it will not allow a new massacre to recur. The UN must be backed to station a monitoring team in Ashraf until a long-term solution is found.

Siavosh Rajizadeh is a law student and human rights activist with roots in Iran, who now lives in the Netherlands. Siavosh regularly writes about Iran’s politics and human rights issues.