This Lady Called the "Captive", "Freedman"

Mohammadali Fatemi
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


As reported by Oral History Website of Iran Behjat Afraz died on January 12, 2019. According to notification provided by the organization in which he worked, "The late was invited by Dr. Seifollah Vahid Dastjerdi, the current head of Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to work as the officer in charge of the bureau for captives and missing of the imposed war. She worked from the beginning of 1363 SH (1984) to the end 1380 (2002) for the freedmen and their families and families of the missing of the holy defense years."

In 2017, when Goharshad World Award was given to Behjat Afraz, the prize program organizers introduced him, "Born in 1933; holder of B.A. in Arabic Language and Literature from College of Translation ( Allameh Tabataba’i University); for 18 years serving as the Director of Administration of Prisoners of Wars and Missing People of the Red Crescent; She was given the title of Om ol-Osara (mother of prisoners of war) by martyr Abutorabi; A combatant of Movement for Nationalization of Oil Industry and Islamic Revolution; School-construction benefactor; instructor at Refah School; It is worth noting that two of her sisters (including martyr Rafa'at Afraz and martyr Dr. Mahboubeh Afraz) had been assassinated by Monafeqin (MKO); translation of the book entitled, “Position of Women in Islam”; narrator of books entitled, “The Wet Eyes” and “Om-ol Osara”, author of description of the duties for Office of the Prisoners of War and Missing People at Red Crescent Society; being a retired staff of Ministry of Education; an exemplary entrepreneur and  holder of title of exemplary protagonist from Minister of Labor, Welfare and Social Affairs; receiving Plaque of Appreciation from Iran's State Endowment and Charity Affairs Organization; selling her personal residential unit and having endowed it for school; director of Hazrat Zeinab (s) Educational Complex; a cultural activist, an activist in developmental affairs and basic repair of Seyyed Abdulatif and Seyyed Mohammad Mausoleums in Jahrom city since."

At the beginning of one of her memoirs (the wet eyes), Behjat Afraz reminded that this is a small part of her 18-year memories in administration of the captives and missing of Iraqi imposed war on Iran.
Her memories begin on the first day of the war (September 20, 1980) and from Karaj Education Department, and thereafter, there will be special moments of meeting with families of the captives and the missing of the war.

They came to get some news of their captives or lost people, and Afraz was obliged to do whatever he could by hand and words; from sympathy to a contract with optometrist in which it is intended to make needed glasses by Iranian captives in Iraq to be send for them by the Red Cross. But the hardest moments were encountering family of the missing of warfare who had come before him for getting news of their warrior.

These moments and scenes lead Behjat to some creativities: "Through the letters we received, as well as various reports we heard from the freed prisoners and the Red Cross representatives, we realized that our dear prisoners in various camps of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq did not submit their wishes anyway, had always kept their self-esteem and had proved to the world in various instances that their bodies might have been captured by the executioner, but their high souls had never dominated by them and they were trying in the way of approaching Human growth and excellence with utmost proud and honor. According to these interpretations, I did not feel well at every time I used "captive" word for my correspondence with families, offices or other government agencies. I felt that "captive" had an unintended negative impact that, at least, did not apply to spirit of our captured warriors. It was that I decided to use phrase of "prisoner freedman" instead of the word "captive". Many had their heart in this term later. To the extent that in 1990 and before great release of the captives, when it was decided at the Commission for Protection of Captives and Missing to set up a headquarters to address affairs of these loved ones, my proposed name, "Headquarters for Addressing Affairs of Freedmen" was agreed."[i]

In his memories, there are such reports too, "Before the great liberation of the captives on August 17, 1990, we had 19 small liberation series. In these releases, Iraqi government handed over the disabled, refractory patients and very elderly people to Islamic Republic of Iran. Number of people who were released was different, from a group of 18 to a group of 100 people. In total, about more than nine hundred prisoners were liberated in the 19 series of releasing.

Of course, Saddam had many breaches in these cases too, suffering both for the prisoners and families who were waiting for their children to arrive. For example, it gave 50 names, we announced their families and prepared, and when we went to welcome them, we saw they had released 30 people and returned other 20 people from Baghdad airport. It was really the worst kind of spiritual torture that gave our captives and families who waited for their children. Or, worse than it, Iraq set a date for releasing a number of the prisoners, but when we went to getting them, they came on the part of Red Cross and said that Saddam opposed to release them. This was one of the most difficult conditions which was happened for us. On the other hand, families of those prisoners had come with a lot of hopes and wishes to hug their loved ones, and now they had to return empty-handed, and on the other hand, we prepared many things for their coming and coordinated all the associated organizations and organs... so due to this Saddam's action, everybody, especially the families, returned to our daily lives nervously and upset, and for a long time we suffered a bad spiritual pressure."[ii]


[i] Dostkami, Fatemeh, the Wet Eyes: Memories of Behjat Afraz, Payam-e Azadegan, 2011, pp. 93-94

[ii] ibid, pp. 107-108

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