Escaping Persecution

Updated: Feb 12

By Anonymous

Perseverance, determination, and dedication are only a few of the traits that describe my grandfather. At a young age, his father put him in military school, in turn kick-starting his military career. During the late 1970s, my grandfather was a Colonel in the Iranian military, while his brother was an Iranian Military General. Both were seen as heavy supporters of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the king of Iran at the time.

Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, was overthrown in 1979 by the Iranian Revolution. After the monarchy’s fall, an Islamic government was established. Anyone who was involved with Pahlavi’s regime — military personnel included — were arrested and had very uncertain futures. All of a sudden, my grandfather, and his family, were no longer welcomed in the country they called home. They decided it was best to find a way out of the country.

Troubles first began for my grandfather after his first arrest with the beginning of the establishment of the Islamic Republic. One day, he was simply picking up a package at the request of his brother, and he was halted, arrested, and swept away without a word. My grandmother became increasingly worried when she didn't hear anything from her husband over the following 24 hours, so she decided to find him herself. She spent days going around to every jail in the area until she ultimately found him. She was shocked to see my grandfather in the distraught state that he was in. Not only was he taken to jail under unclarified charges but he had also learned that his brother was executed by prison guards after being detained by the Islamic armed forces. Unofficially, my grandfather and his brother’s arrests were for the charges of the torture of people along with being considered “traitors to the country.”

Drawing of the student's grandfather by another prisoner while he was in jail.

Over the next year, my grandfather was both mentally and physically tormented by the guards in the prison. The most common tactic they used to get information from prisoners was a method called “false executions.” This strategy came in two forms. The first consisted of the guards of the prison notifying the prisoners that they were free to leave, however, when the inmates attempted to leave, the guards would claim that they were trying to escape and then execute them. The other way of accomplishing these false executions would occur when the guards would tell the prisoners that they were going to be executed, but would instead beat them close to death and leave the prisoner barely alive in the end. While my grandfather was forced to face these false executions among other torture methods, my grandmother, along with my uncle and father, listened to the radio every day hoping that they wouldn’t hear my grandfather’s name on the list of people who had been recently executed.

As the year came to a close, the Iranian government ultimately came to the decision to release my grandfather. However, this release wasn't an act of kindness, but instead a method of gathering information. They believed that if they released my grandfather, they would be able to monitor him and, in turn, monitor the people around him that were suspected of attempting to overthrow the new government.

It was 1982 when my grandfather forced my grandmother to leave the country with my father at the age of 14 and my uncle at the age of 16, fearing that they were all in danger. Not long after, the three packed up their belongings and my grandfather took them to the airport. As they were saying goodbye, my grandfather was arrested once again, as the government believed that he was attempting to flee.

This time, his incarceration lasted almost two years. Over this period of time, my grandmother built a life with my uncle and my father thousands of miles away in Italy. When my grandfather was finally released, they were more determined than ever to make it to the United States. They thought that the United States would provide everything that their current living situations couldn’t. More importantly, the United States would be able to provide some sense of safety, opportunity, and security. My grandmother took steps towards this goal when she first visited the Australian and American Embassies in Rome. However, as she was visiting these embassies, the Iran Hostage Crisis was also occurring. During this time, 60 American hostages were taken in the U.S. embassy in Tehran. At the embassies, my grandmother was treated with great disrespect. “The man at the embassy took me by my shirt and dragged me out of the building. He then threw me on the ground, emptied my purse all over the street and started to call me names,” she said. “I got up and looked him in the eye. I asked for his name. He asked why. I responded by saying that I wanted to know his name so when I made it to the United States I could call him and tell him that I made it without his help. He laughed in my face and said that’s never going to happen. I said ‘watch me,’ and politely said goodbye with a ‘go to hell.’ I wish he could see me now.”

With a hard-headed attitude and still a clear goal in mind, my grandmother went to the Canadian Embassy next. That very day, she received a phone call from the Canadian Embassy offering to help her, along with my uncle, father, and grandfather escape.

This was the plan: In Italy, my grandmother found a doctor to forge documents saying that she was ill and had to get surgery. Using this information, the Canadian Embassy argued that my grandfather should be able to visit his wife and kids in Italy for at least a short time in order to care for his children. Upon his arrival to Italy, my grandfather gathered the family, and they fled to Canada.

As they adjusted to their new life in a country with traditions and a lifestyle previously unknown to them, it became evident that everyone in the family was unhappy, despite their accomplished escape from their old lives. “All of the emotional tolls and mental games that [my grandfather] was forced to go through broke him,” my grandmother explained. “He was the strongest man I knew, but now, he was a broken man too.”

Concerned friends and family would call to check in with my grandfather, and with each call, all he could do was sit there and cry for hours. When one of his friends called, he saw how destroyed my grandfather was, and invited my grandfather and his family to visit him in California. So they went. During the visit, a friend of my grandfather’s offered his apartment in Bethesda, Maryland as a home for my grandfather’s family. With the hope of a better life for his family and relief from the sadness he was feeling, he took up the offer and moved to Maryland.

My father and uncle grew to like their new lives in the U.S. My grandparents, however, were forced to work jobs that they never expected to be doing. My grandfather was used to being someone of power; a person who is well known, admired. The [family] name held immense value in Iran, but in the United States, all it could get him was a job as a shoe salesman. Even though he didn't like it, he swallowed his pride and did what was best for his family. “He didn't like bending down to put a shoe on a person's foot,” my grandmother said, talking about her husband’s new life in America. “He was a [family name]. Respected in Iran. In Iran that meant something, but in the United States not so much, and that was a fact that he refused to understand.”

Now, because of my grandfather and his actions, my grandmother is able to call that man from the embassy and tell him that she made it to the U.S. without his help and despite his hurtful words. My grandfather passed away in 2003 knowing that he gave his family and future generations of his family a new start and a chance to have opportunities. Ever since I was little, I have heard the stories of my grandfather and the great, brave, and strong man that he was. From the tall tales that portrayed him as being able to withhold all of the pain that he had over his lifetime, to the laugh out loud hilarious stories that had him playing practical jokes with my uncle and father, I am sure he would be proud of his family today.

The family name has been taken out as a safety precaution.

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