I was walking slowly through a land where I had never been, nor ever heard of… But here I am.
Amazed by my surroundings, a history unknown to me, my pace slowed even more. This place may have been even more ancient than Egypt! I did not know why my feet had carried me here, but I felt deep inside that I must discover the secrets of this land.
The sun shone with blinding intensity, making it uncomfortable for me to even open my eyes. This land was perhaps the hottest on Earth! Despite a growing thirst for water, and driven by a deepening thirst to know the history of this land, I continued my journey.
The green fronds of many palm trees invited me to come closer, to enjoy their shade, but the wilting brown leaves of others warned me of hidden sickness. Like me, the palms yearned, thirsted, for water. At first glance, their leaves looked green, but they seemed to be drained, drying. I wondered who could fail to care for them?! Yes, I was convinced this land held many secrets…These beautiful palms were thirsty for life! I headed onward, but I chanced a look behind, and it seemed as if the palms waved me forward… I was overwhelmed by a sense of melancholy!
I was surprised to find myself at the bank of a river, whose waters had greatly receded. It struck me that the water was not clean, that the water was also thirsty. I yearned for crystal clear water, and I could feel the betrayal of the river’s promise. The river’s waters whispered of secrets! I was mesmerized. I felt forlorn and saddened to feel the beauty betrayed.
I was not alone. I could see a man with his face towards the river. My curiosity drove me to ask this man what he was doing, alone by the river. A short distance away there was a motorcycle, which probably belonged to the lone man by the river. I walked quickly until I was almost upon him, but I wanted to observe him first, to wait until he noticed my presence. He did not yield so easily. He continued to be concentrated in his own world, by the river. He seemed to be praying, and I did not wish to interrupt him, but I felt I needed to come closer, to greet him. Interrupted, he turned to stare at me as if I had stolen his peace, greeting me with a reserved, “salam”. I noticed that his face was pale like the autumn leaves, and his eyes were green like the color of palm fronds. Gentle tears fell from his deep eyes, caressing his cheeks. I explained that I was a visitor. Unabashedly, he wiped his tears, and began to explain that once a upon time this land was a home called Al Ahwaz, and that he came from the city of Khalafiya. Pointing his finger to the river, he declared that his tears were the water for this thirsty river, the Jarrahi River.
I was confused. I could not comprehend his meaning, but I kept my silence. Hashem Shabani was his full name. His blond hair curled like the ripples of the Jarrahi River, and his eyes were deep, as if they measured the depth the river once boasted.
He took a cigarette from his pocket and continued to talk. The burning cigarette seemed to mirror his soul, which burned with a desire to express his deep feelings. He coughed, and continued: I am a poet and I write poems that no one can read. No one even knows my poems exist, not because I do not want them to, but because I’m not allowed to share my poetry. I write my poems for this thirsty river, which has been poisoned by a greedy people who have no God. They have imprisoned the souls of everybody, of all the Ahwazis. As I listened to his words, tears welled into my eyes. It seemed to me that with each syllable, his soul screamed for freedom, even though he explained that he had never experienced the meaning of “Freedom”. “My land has been taken and stolen by cowards and greedy people who have no mercy. My people are hungry and thirsty, my homeland is one of the richest in the world, but now our hope is only this river. We have nothing more. Do you know how much it hurts to be unable to speak my mother tongue, to be forced to learn a strange language? For almost a century we have been unable to speak our language. I am fighting everyday alone, fighting only with my dreams. I am fighting every day to be myself, to be free. Freedom! Ah, my freedom!”
I as a Canadian citizen who just recently started learning about the plight of the Ahwazi would like to dedicate this humble story to the memory of the great teacher, Hashem Shabani, Professor of the Arabic language and literature. On 27 January 2014, Shabani was wrongfully executed along with fellow Ahwazi Arab, Hadi Rashedi.
The following are selections of his last letter from prison, published before his execution, and translated here into English:
To whoever is concerned about Humanity,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued humanitarian support and efforts to speak up for the suffocated voices of my people, and for seeking righteousness, for confronting the wickedness that is dressed up in fascinating images to hide its intentions, and which serves as nothing but a diversion, far from reality and blurring the truth.”
“I must thank you again for exposing the evil hands that have for years endeavored to erase beautiful words, turning them into a fateful poison for us.”
“I started my journey wielding my pen against the tyranny that is trying to enslave and imprison minds and thoughts, colonizing peoples’ minds before colonizing their lands, and destroying peoples’ thoughts before destroying their region.”
“I have tried to remove the obstacles that divided the street (the public eye) from the truth, forcing upon people illusions crafted by tyrants to design a life according to their will. When the tyrants’ hands spilled my ink, a single word came to light in my texts, provoking rage and hatred in the hearts of those men who thrive through spreading darkness. The word is “awareness”. I have been defending and supporting the legitimate rights of all peoples in the world, the right to live and enjoy freedom and civil rights. Despite so much suffering and misery, I have not raised a weapon to fight against the oppression that my Ahwazi people are going through. I have not spilled the blood of any human being. I have only spilled the ink of my humble pen to fight against injustice and oppression.”
I would like to share this short story with everyone who stands up for freedom, for the freedom of every oppressed nation, particularly those in the Middle East, because the new Middle East must be peaceful, there must be friendship and recognition of the national rights of the oppressed nations who have lived under racial subjugation for years, and the world must open its eyes and support the suffocated voices of these occupied nations, among them the Ahwazi Arab people.
Written by Teuta Orgocka