Thirty years look back on the children of the Iranian resistance

In the early 1990s, they were separated from their parents and fled to Western countries. Now children of the Iranian resistance movement Mujahedin Khalq are following the demonstrations in the country with mixed feelings.

Somajeh Ghaeminia

Nabi Abudaldah (38) came to the Netherlands as a seven-year-old with his brother. He studied economics at Wageningen University and works as a consultant and manager at Alliander.

“Someone must dare to take power for once. In Iran, that power rests with a small group of men who kill any dissenting voice. Our parents tried to overthrow that regime. They jumped into the deep end, already organized underground soon after the Islamic revolution. That’s what I’ve read about it. They were students who, risking their own lives, decided to stand up for others. They failed. But if no one ever tries, who will take it?”

“In my earliest memory we are in Iraq. The country where our parents’ resistance group had a camp. From there they fought for democracy and equal rights in Iran. I always knew that. I see myself playing between the tight, square blocks of houses. I was about six years old. I have beautiful memories of my father, he was my support. I can picture him in his army uniforms, in some kind of jeep with red letters on the back.

I don’t remember my mother. I got a box on her behalf somewhere when I was a teenager. With a handwritten letter inside, and a photo. Many years later I heard that she was killed in an attack on the camp. I don’t even know her name. I realize how silly it must sound that I don’t feel the need to find out what her name is.”

“In the middle of the Gulf War in 1991, now more than 30 years ago, we were put on the bus, my brother, sister and I. Like many other children. It was too unsafe for the children and in the middle of the night we went to another country . My brother and I ended up in Holland, my sister in Belgium. I didn’t meet her again until I went to college.”

“As safe as it seems, you can never fully trust anyone”

“In Holland, my brother and I were taken in by a woman with four daughters. She has neglected us greatly. As a boy I had toilet problems, probably due to stress and anxiety. They just left me in pee pants. I went into survival mode. It was very drastic: because I was always hungry, I started stealing food. Or looking for food scraps on the street.

It was all bad, but what I still find difficult is that I didn’t pay attention to my brother at the time. I still think that fact is terrible. Who stood up for the little man?”

“From the age of ten we were taken in by a loving Dutch foster family with three children of our own. It was a large, cozy family in a small village in Twente. Yet we weren’t really a part of it. For example, sometimes they went on vacation as a family and we weren’t allowed to go with them. During an argument with my foster brother, whom I love very much, he once shouted: ‘My parents say we will always be better than you!’ It fueled my belief: no matter how safe it may seem, you can never fully trust anyone.”

“While my father fought for freedom, I had to stand up against racism in our white village. There was little exposure to the outside world there, other than filtered ideas of colonialism: that black people are stupid and lazy. I was called ‘nigger’ and ‘stinking Turk’. That racism has had a profound impact on my life. For a long time I denied my background. I did not want to be associated with terrorism, Islam or the resistance.”

“My parents weren’t allowed to talk about. I had no contact with my father and no access to my family history. My foster parents had heard stories of alleged child abductions by the Mujahedin and wanted to protect their own children as well. There was a time when I carried a knife with me every day for that reason.”

‘I don’t feel the need to get to know my father’

“It is very difficult for me to reconcile when people at a party bring up a holiday or other luxury dilemmas, when in the same world there are people who give their lives for freedom and are exploited. Why don’t we talk about that injustice? Maybe I got that approach from my parents.”

“No matter how much pain and sorrow I bear, I believe it is inevitable to sacrifice oneself for freedom. It is now also happening in Iran. Hopefully people there have the stamina to make a change. At the same time, history shows: a democratization process takes hundreds of years. Although I admire my parents’ choices now, I feel no connection to their struggle. I don’t feel much at all about the protests going on in Iran itself, while I was in tears when Ukraine was invaded. Maybe it went too fast, maybe I’m boring or too busy with other things’.

“My father has since left the Mujahedin and fled to Britain. My feelings towards him are conflicting. I think it’s cool that he stood up to injustice, but I don’t feel the need to get to know him. During my studies in the USA, I visited an uncle who lives there. Also from him I could get much more information about my history. I think it’s rather strange myself, but I’m not curious about it.’

“A year and a half ago I sailed to Norway on my own and wrote a book about my past along the way. Now that I’ve taken that boat ride and really stepped back, I know that two worlds can coexist. A bright, happy world and the brutal, unjust world that brave people resist. I think the price I paid for this is logical.”

Ida (40) came to the Netherlands in 1991 when she was eight. She studied psychology and pursued a career in the natural sciences. She is married to a Dutch man and has two children. For security reasons, she shares her story anonymously.

“Two weeks ago, during a declaration of support for the demonstrations in Iran, I was at Dam Square with my son. I took him so he could get a glimpse of what is happening in Iran right now. Large-scale demonstrations where people, women and young people first, put their lives on the line again and again for freedom and equality between women and men. We didn’t stay long. Because demonstrations are ambivalent to me. 40 years ago they were the powder of revolution that became everything in my life.

“I am now proud to be Iranian and I sympathize with the people there. But it has nothing to do with my parents. I never really talk about them. I don’t understand their struggle. How can you accidentally put your own child on a plane? How can you as an intellectual put your ideal above your child’s safety and care? As a result of that choice, I was not raised by anyone. Without parental figures in my life, without knowing where I came from and why it turned out this way.”

Nine foster families and four shelters

“I grew up with a strong belief that I don’t belong anywhere. The first three years of my life I lived with my family in Iran. My parents left me and my family as a baby to join the resistance. I saw them again when I was three, but I mostly stayed with other families. I have few memories of my parents, they were always at work. We were never a family.”

“Once in the Netherlands I lived in nine foster families and four youth institutions. The years in foster care were lonely and full of rejection. I kept hoping I could stay, and sometimes I was promised, but I kept having to go. It was very sad. I cut myself off from everything Iranian and from the idea that I had parents in the first place. I did it to survive. I didn’t get anything from my culture, I couldn’t speak my native language anymore. I also learned to follow my own path, and will prove to be fruitless after all.

“I found the years in youth and crisis centers liberating, although of course they were complicated places with many problems. There were also people who had difficulty functioning in society. The rules of stay were clear and not about love. I was no longer disappointed. And I first got to know people with similar stories. I made my first friendships there. It was the beginning of a new life.”

“I wanted nothing to do with the resistance movement, even if they tried to get in touch in every possible way. That’s why I’ve always lived at secret addresses, and that’s why I don’t want to be associated with them. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t want my name in the paper. As a child, I found the organization terrifying.”

‘I have two pictures of myself as a child’

“I am Dutch with Iranian blood. This is the country and the culture I know. I am now very happy and have a stable and lovely family life. When I became a mother myself, I suddenly felt the need to know more about Iran and my family there. I only have two pictures of myself as a small child. I don’t know if I looked like my kids as a little girl. I don’t know anything about my families, their names, where they live. I think I owe the first years of my life with them that I am now settled in life. It makes me curious about them and about the country I come from with its ancient culture, love of poetry and delicious dishes.”

“Resistance children had no choice. I am a child of a controversial organization that many Iranians distrust. But that doesn’t mean I’m not moved by what’s happening in Iran right now. It is also my country.

What is happening now motivates me to learn Farsi so that I can follow the news and messages from Iran myself. I think the most beautiful word Omidwaraam: I am hopeful. At the same time as my children, a big dream was born that I would go to Iran with them. In recent years I have often thought: it will never happen. With the current uprisings, sad as they are, a little lantern of hope has been lit in me. There is a light that says: maybe this time it will work and we can get back together.”

Ida’s identity is known to the editors.

Mujahideen Khalqi

The Marxist-Islamic Mujahedin Khalq, also known as the Iranian People’s Mujahideen (MEK), was founded in 1965 by a group of intellectuals opposed to the rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the group turned against the fundamentalist regime of Ayatollah Khomeini. As a result of the brutal repression that followed (including a fatwa by Supreme Leader Khomeini encouraging the killing of sympathizers), thousands of followers fled with their families to Iraq. Supported by Saddam Hussein, the leaders of ‘Camp Ashraf’ waged an armed struggle to enforce democracy in Iran. Due to the radical activities and the cult surrounding the MEK leaders, the resistance group ended up on the list of terrorist organizations.

During the Gulf War in the early 1990s, MEK members’ marriages were dissolved, children separated from their parents and placed in foster care in Europe, the United States and Canada. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the group was disarmed and put under surveillance. In 2009 and 2012 respectively, the EU and the US removed the group from the list of terrorist organisations. Since 2013, the group has been based in Albania.

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