Safar Khan, a Man of Resistance and Extraordinary Endurance

In the midst of the freed political prisoners stood an old, dignified man called Safar Qahramani from Azerbaijan, who was regarded as the world's longest-serving political prisoner. He had been in prison for 30 years, 15 of which he had spent in the terrifying Burazjan prison. When he was freed in Tehran he did not know even one street. He had asked his fellow prisoners, "What does an 'apartment' look like?" He was interviewed by a newspaper reporter in his sister's house in Tabriz. Replying to questions, he said, "After 30 years of imprisonment, this freedom was unexpected. I owe my freedom to the people. If it were not for the right struggle of the people I would have stayed in prison until the end of my life. I regard this freedom dearly, because many faced bullets and lost their lives.

"Thirty years ago, after being active in the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan for five years, which had successes and failures, I was arrested and imprisoned. My activities were against the rule of the feudals but, knowing this, they still sentenced me to life imprisonment. Two years ago they took me and 60 other political prisoners to Evin prison and wanted me to write to the Shah and ask to be pardoned. I refused. For this reason they kept me in the worst conditions of Evin prison. The prison warden told me, 'You'll stay here until you disintegrate.' I laughed and said, 'I am imperishable. The people are behind the prison's walls'.

"Because of my continual protests against the prison authorities I was sent to the 'green cell' in Evin. This is a place where one cannot tell night from day. Air is pumped into the cell. Besides this more recent experience, the terrifying Burazjan prison has swallowed 15 years of my life. I had been without a visitor for years. Don't be surprised if I do not know the city and any street. Still, every second, I think with my whole being about those who remain political prisoners. All of my life is hidden in my past. I still live in prison because the rest of the children are in prison. I have seen young people, who had not yet grown hair on their faces, imprisoned for merely reading a book. All of my being is full of memories. I have left some prisoners behind with whom I have spent 25 years. What can I say about my own freedom?

"I cannot appreciate the beautiful word of freedom at the moment. . . I beg you to tell this to the people of Iran: We have been freed by the struggle of the people. Using the word 'amnesty' for our freedom is not fair. The people freed us and will free the rest of the political prisoners. We believed in this and still believe. Even when our friends were taken for torture and we could only hear their protesting agony, still we did not lose our hope of the people. My chest is a book, written in blood, 30 years of my memories. . .'

Many political prisoners had met Safar Qahramani and were inspired by his strong personality and dignity. He was a symbol of resistance against the Shah's dictatorship. The Shah's regime could not break him. He had created the legend of "No" against the regime.

Safar Khan in a poem called "The Man" - Ahmad Shamlu:

I am writing about the man,
The man who has stayed thirty
Springs of his life in a city
Without even seeing that city, even for a day.
He is a village man.
In the city of restless people
He is the bearer of troubles and patience. This man with broad shoulders,
With strong stature and broad chest,
With the strong arms of dignity,
He is an everlasting man.
In patience he is a very Job of the time,
His broad forehead is a mirror to all
The sufferings of the prison.
In frozen and hard days
Safar Khan is warm and resilient.
This man from Azerbaijan
With olive-coloured face,
And eyes like black-velveted angels,
He is a man without a mask.
He is equal to the sun
In this permanent winter.

Thirty springs have passed,
But he is still upright and content
Like a tall cypress standing in winter.
In the summer of love,
Safar Khan has the secret of understanding.
This sun which can move at night,
Without showing dismay on his face,
Stood on firm for thirty years of deprivation
Still hoping to see the rebirth of spring.

He has roots in the heart of earth,
He has opened his arms to the universe,
He has sheltered many imprisoned tigers.
A world of dignity resides in his heart,
In this dark house he is in love with light.
In front of Ahriman [Satanic power]
He is like fresh verses of Ahura [divine power].
Without fear from the horror of storm
Safar Khan is a man of eternity.

At the age of 81, Safar Khan is finally laid to rest. Safar Ghahremanian was a symbol of resistance and endurance. Because of his resistance and struggle against injustice, tyranny and colonialism, he spent 32 years of his life in the Shah’s prisons.

Safar Khan was born in 1921 in the village of Shishvan in West-Azerbaijan, north west of Iran. Early on from a young age he joined the Azerbaijan Democratic Front and actively participated in the struggle against large landowners and feudals. He achieved the rank of a Captain in the Azerbaijan Democratic Army.

Following the bloody attacks of the Iran’s Royal Army, suppressing the national movement of Azerbaijan (a province in Iran) and the brutal massacre of its people - Safar Khan along with other freedom fighters escaped across the border into Iraq but was soon arrested and imprisoned. Two years later he fled from Iraq and returned to Iran. In March 1948 he was rearrested and put into solitary confinement in the city of Urmia. He was court marshalled in 1950 and sentenced to death for participating in an armed revolt against the Shah’s regime.

When Dr. Mossadegh came into power, Safar Khan’s verdict came under review but after the coup of 1953 his sentence was only reduced to life imprisonment.

During the 32 years of his incarceration Safar Khan remained committed to his beliefs, resisted his torturers pressure and didn’t plead guilty or ask clemency from the Shah. He became a symbol of people’s resistance against Shah’s despotic rule.

In solidarity with the people’s uprising and protest against the shah regime in the summer of 1978, Safar Khan was one of the prisoners who went on hunger strike. Finally with the victory of 1979 revolution the people broke into the prisons and Safar Khan along with other political prisoners were freed.

Safar Khan’s name and his struggle will be forever recorded in the chronicles of Azerbaijan and Iran’s struggle for freedom.