Paying a high price for returning to live in Iran


ON THE night of July 9th, Iranian security forces entered the Tehran home of our friend Dr Kian Tajbakhsh, a highly regarded social scientist, and took him away. His wife Bahar and baby daughter Hasti have not seen him since then, and they have not yet been told where he is being held. Nor has he had any access to legal counsel, writes CHANDANA MATHURand DERMOT DIX

On August 1st, he was among the numerous political prisoners dragged out for a staged mass trial, where he was accused of collaborating with outside governments to orchestrate the post-election protests that have rocked Iran.

Kian’s real “crime” is his love for Iran, and his principled decision to return to make his life in the country that he left as a four-year-old boy.

We first came to know Kian Tajbakhsh nearly 15 years ago, when he was a bright young assistant professor teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York.

He had just finished his doctorate in urban planning and policy at Columbia University, and was putting the finishing touches to his first book. Titled The Promise of the City: Space, Identity, and Politics in Contemporary Social Thought, and eventually published in 2001 by the University of California Press, it was to be hailed as a landmark contribution to urban social theory.

His new project in those years concerned local government elections in Tehran, and we remember well his excitement at returning to Iran. We watched him fall in love with his country.

His descriptions were electric – of the beauty of the place, and of the sincerity and delicacy of the human relationships he encountered.

At the end of one long cab ride, for example, after an intense and heartfelt conversation with Kian, the taxi driver refused to contaminate the experience with talk of money.

Kian chortled as he described to us the tonnage of tact it took to ascertain and pay for the cost of the journey.

Kian made several trips back to Iran, staying longer and longer each time. Then he met and married Bahar, and finally decided to move to Iran permanently.

Kian has previously been targeted by the current Iranian government. Between May and October 2007, he was held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison for four months.

He was then baselessly accused of working with a US research organisation to foment a “velvet revolution” to overthrow the Iranian government.

Released from prison just a few days before the birth of his daughter, he resigned from this supposedly seditious research project and began to focus on his own academic writing and the contentments of fatherhood. He decided to continue living in Iran, avoiding any activity that might be frowned upon by the Ahmadinejad regime.

Kian, Bahar and Hasti spent some beautiful days in May 2008 with us here in Kells, and we all began to feel that the nightmare was finally over.

Then last month, despite the fact that he had chosen not to be involved in the post-election protests, Kian was arrested in his home.

Incontrovertibly connected to the outside world by virtue of his American passport, he has been coerced into confessing to a role in an external conspiracy to instigate the current street protests in Iran.

It is true that Kian has many friends and associates around the world, including in Ireland. But they are scholars and educators like ourselves, not military strategists seeking to topple distant governments. Kian is being forced to pay a heavy price for a lifetime of simultaneous translation, for the years spent teaching polarised peoples to understand and respect each other.

We would like to see Iran as Kian has taught us to see her, as a nation that values her intellectuals and protects the rights of her people. We hope that the coming days will prove him right.

Chandana Mathur is a lecturer in anthropology in NUI Maynooth. Her husband, Dermot Dix, is headmaster of Headfort School, Kells