Noshin Bashiri was twelve years old when she learned that she had a mother in Iraq
She lives in the countryside outside Notodden center with her partner and cat. Noshin Bashiri (21) is free from the job that hjelpepleier the day Klassekampen will visit. She offers a treat of coffee and chocolate biscuits in the bright apartment, which is one of several in an old våningshus. We have a good time, for it is a long story she has to tell us. She has not told it to many, and never to journalists before. She seems a little surprised by our interest in it.
– Do you think that it will help? Do you think the mother will come back?
Noshin Bashiri’s mother is one of 3,400 members of the opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), or People’s Mujahedin, who live in Ashraf camp in Iraq. MEK operated under Saddam Hussein’s protection for many years. When his regime was toppled and Iraq was occupied by Americans, the camp was disarmed. MEK aims to overthrow the regime in Iran. But now maybe nearly 30 years of armed actions and terrorist are coming to the end. When Obama’s withdrawal plan from Iraq is set out in fact, the base will probably be left to the Iraqi authorities, who say they will shut down the base. Iranian Press TV reported on Tuesday of this week that Iraq had already taken over the responsibility. But what will happen to residents in the camp?
Bashiri hopes that her mother will come to Norway. But she has her doubts. She has been in Ashraf three times to try to get back her mother. Each time her mother remained in the base.
Bashiri thinks it is because she is brainwashed.
– First, you want her, but after talking with leaders in the camp, she ombestemmer him. They are in a way held there. If they had wanted to be there, it would be okay. But there are some who are forced to be there, and it is completely wrong”, said Bashiri and looks at the fresh snow that has fallen on the white fields outside
Three weeks earlier in an office in Teheran our curiosity was sparked when the name "Bashiri" was mentioned along with "Norway". Klassekampen was reporting from Tehran and the office of Islamic law, which follows the foreign journalists, said it would be happy that we met the Nejat non-governmental organization, composed of defectors from the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
Nejat means "salvation" and aims to help those who wish to get out of Ashraf-camp. In 2004, Iranian authorities gave amnesty to members of the organization who wanted to return to Iran. In cooperation with, among others, the Red Cross Nejat has now helped 800 to leave the camp and establish a new life. 500 have established themselves in Iran in spite of the many Iranians who regard them as traitors, because of cooperation with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and going on to attack Iran. They have also killed several civilians in acts of terrorism, including 26 pilgrims who were killed when MEK blew a bomb in the Imam Reza holy shrine of the 8th Imam in the holy city of Mashad.
Nejat is concerned with reconciliation and that those who come out of the camp get psychological follow-up. They also advise families in how they can be a support for ex-members. Since some have lived as long as 22 years in isolation, they have missed the important mental development and sense of community around them. According to the organization Human Rights Watch there has been serious human rights violations inside the Ashraf-camp. In a report from 2005, partly based on interviews with dissidents, HRW uncovered cases of total isolation, cruelty, verbal and psychological abuse, threats of execution and torture, which in two cases led to death. The report was met with sharp criticism of the Mujahedin when it was launched. Among other things because the interviews were conducted by telephone. As a result of the criticism Human Rights Watch carried out a further report, this time directly with the dissidents, and they came to the same conclusion.
Ebrahim Khodebandeh, spokesperson for Nejat, mentions Noshin Bashiri and her father as an example to illustrate that the MEK recently have been more reluctant when it comes to allowing their members to come in contact with the family. Nejat assisted the Bashiri-family and two other families from Iran and Canada in January 2007. They waited for several weeks in Baghdad before they had contact with the base, located near the town of al-Khalis, north of Baghdad. When they finally came into Ashraf, Noshin and Alireza Bashiri met members of the MEK, but they did not meet her mother and his former wife. Strains from the trip had been so tough that the young woman suffered a late miscarriage.
We are in Notodden to check the history of Nejat against Noshin Bashiris history, and the young woman confirming everything together. Also, about her miscarriage.
– I do not know if it was because of the strain, or whether it would have happened anyway. But to be taken care of by the Iraqi hospital was a terrible experience", said Bashiri.
An important additional piece of information she has, nevertheless, which Nejat did not have from her.
– I was talking to mom in five minutes. She saw me in the camp and pulled me into a tent where we were talking a little" said Bashiri.
Her mother had made it clear to Noshin that she would not join her in Norway. She had been agitated and had said that she did not have as much time to talk, because she had to work.
Repeatedly, there was a man who disturbed them and insisted they should take a picture together.
After this last trip to Ashraf was Noshin tired.
– I cannot be bothered to get there more. I get so tired. Also, it is not easy to take time off for five weeks as we had last time. It is not only just to travel in Iraq, "said Noshin.
She has much to tell, and wonder if we can take a break so she gathers herself together somewhat.
Noshin Bashiri was twelve years old when she learned that she had a mother in Iraq. It was his father’s new wife, who said that she was not her biological mother. She first came into the picture when Noshin was seven.
– Dad married again so that I would have a mother, "said Noshin.
But after Noshin was informed that she was not her biological mother, the relationship between them deteriorated. Today the father Alireza is divorced. It is only Noshin and her father Alireza Bashiri which represents the family in Norway, as it was when they were re-united when Noshin was four.
She remembers nothing from the first three years of life when she was with the mother. What she knows is primarily based on what her father told her.
– Mom and Dad were married when they lived in Iran, then they moved together to Germany where they had me. In Germany, they were familiar with some of the Mujahedin who advertised for the organization and urged them to travel to Iraq to join the resistance movement. They left when I was three months old. But after two years was dad regretted it. He knew that [the struggle] there was not serious. He insisted on leaving and came to Pakistan, and so my mum and I were left, "says Bashiri.
She says that the main reason why her father was upset was that he could not be with his family.
– When we got there, there were many who were married and had kids. But then all had to distinguish themselves, because they should be soldiers. That was when Dad did not accept anymore. He did not see me more than once a week. It seemed he was difficult. It was not why he had gone to Iraq. He quarrelled with the leaders of the camp to come home every night to where mom and I were so he could see me. Finally he accepted no more. He also hoped that I could come to a country where I could have a better life. Dad thought so, but not my mom. She thought that I could be OK there" said Noshin.
How was it not? When Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait in 1990, it was decided that there would be no young children in Ashraf-camp.
– They sent out all the young kids because there was a war. Those who did not have family abroad, were sent to foster families. I came to a foster family in Syria first. When dad found me there, he contacted the Mujahedin in Oslo, and so I was sent to Norway" she says.
Thirteen years later, when the United States had occupied Iraq and taken control of the Ashraf base, Noshin’s father Alireza Bashiri travelled to Iraq to meet the woman he is still married to under Iranian law, but the MEK would not let him meet her. The year after, father and daughter travelled together. Alireza still cannot meet her, but Noshin got a foot in the camp. After fifteen years of separation the mother and daughter were together for five days.
– We got a room where we would share a double bed. We were almost never alone. The people came to us the whole time. We could not be alone much and talk together. Mom awoke early every day and went out and worked. They made food, arranged the garden, washed clothes. It was work from morning to evening, and at night they switched over to guard duty. For me, it seemed as if they had so much work so that they should not be alone much and think. If you think too much you’ll see that they have no life. There are so many who have been there for too long, so they almost do not know how it is to live outside of Ashraf" said Noshin.
Noshin tried from the beginning to get her mother to consider a life outside the camp.
– She said only that she could not go because she could not abandon the work for their country. She said she did it for me, and that Iran would become a free country and throughout the regulations where, say Noshin.
After two days of persuasion from her daughter, the mother began to slide.
– She began to say that maybe she should come to Norway and have contact with the Mujahedin from there, for she would not break with them. She would not have the reputation for that.
The third day the mother said that she would ask the leaders if she could go.
– She came back to let me know that it was okay. She would get the trip. She only had to complete some things first.
The agreement was that she would come after six months. But she didn’t turn up. When a year had passed Alireza Bashiri went there alone. He did meet her for ten tough minutes.
– She had surrendered herself to them completely. Now she would not travel at all. She stood and cursed at Dad and said he cooperated with Iran and that he was a shame for their country. After a long outpouring she just left without saying goodbye to him, said Noshin.
The following year they travelled down again. It was on this last trip they had assistance from the organization Nejat. After several weeks of waiting Noshin and her father and the other families as well as representative from Nejat managed to get into the camp. They sat in a small room for three hours and waiting for clearance from the leaders to meet their family members. Noshin felt sick with the heat in the room and went out to get fresh air. It was then that she saw her mother.
– She saw me and dragged me into a tent only a few meters away.
Noshin recounts the conversation with her mother for us. They could only speak for five minutes. The whole time the mother couldn’t concentrate and broke her thread of thought and was concerned about a man who repeatedly came in and nagged them to take pictures.
– Come here, so we take pictures together" she said.
– Can we not sit and talk a little, I have not seen you for so long. Why have you not come? You promised that the last time.
– No, I changed my mind. There is nothing for me to do in Norway.
– But I need my mother.
– No, you do not. You are an adult. You are 20 years old, so you do not need a mom" she says and starts to laugh.
– What are you doing here? Asked Noshin.
– Do you think you are the only kid without a mother? There are hundreds of thousands who have no mamma. You are not the only one here.
Noshin shakes his head.
– She was like so rude too.
– Are you mad at your mother?
– In a way I am. Nothing is more important than your kid, I think. But Mom said that her country was more important than me. She said that there were many kids who had it as hard as me. I was not the only one. So it was cool really. I should just be glad that I do not still live with a foster family, but that I lived with Dad" she said.
It has been impossible to determine how many children of Mujahedin members have grown up without their parents, but it is a known issue that women in Ashraf-camp sent their children away.
In 1999, a women’s magazine printed a report on Ashraf-camp by the British journalist Christine Aziz. Her approach was feminist and in the report, we meet the tough female soldiers who operate weapons training. The women also speak as victims of what they have done, that they have to live in seclusion, and that they have to give up children so that they don’t get hurt.
– I had to give up my kids, and they now live in the Netherlands, says Zahra in the report: "Her face is black with oil and sand, and her hands are red and sore after the effort to maneuver the heavy vehicle. She looks up at the gun during speaking:
– I love my tank, "she says, smiling and slapping it.
After Noshin and father had come back to Norway after this last visit to Ashraf base, the mother was put on a programme on the Mujahedin’s TV,(they also have a satellite channel).
– She said that Dad had fooled me so that I had been a shame, because I worked with Iran. She claimed that I had been deceived by my father and that it was unfortunate that some had a child like me.
Noshin shakes his head.
– I have also seen the film of members of the Mujahedin who set fire to themselves in response to the arrest of their leader. They are quite brainwashed" she says.
Noshin’s father should have told the mother that she has been subjected to threats.
– They have said that if she travels with me, they will get their people in Oslo to send someone to kill me. I do not think anything of it, but she is terrified, and dare not say anything against them" said Noshin.
She thinks it’s strange to think that she is now as old as the mother was when she went to Ashraf-camp. We’re shown a picture of her just before she left Iran.
The photographers want us to go outside to take their pictures of Noshin. After the photographer has finished, we ask:
– What do you think when you see the pictures?
– I think that it is my mother.
Åse brand vold, Klasse kampen, January 20, 2009