“Do not abandon the love, because you are alone in Iran.
I am by your side and you are in our thoughts.” — Fereydoun Farrokhzad
This article contains discussion of murder.
The relationship between a citizen and their country can be a complicated one. There are so many aspects of a country that one can have mixed feelings about that it is hard to find a person who is purely one way or the other. There is history, culture, government, and imagined or real enemies that all come into play when a person considers how they feel about the place in which they live. Conflicting emotions are natural; Iranian activist Fereydoun Farrokhzad is a good example of that.
Born in a small town called Gomrok outside of Tehran, the town he grew up in was well known throughout Iran as a gateway to Shahr-e No, a so-called “red light district." From a young age, he was interested in music and poetry. He looked to his older sister Forough, who would grow up to become a feminist poet. It was after he graduated from high school and traveled to Germany to study political science that was able to pursue this passion. In 1964, he got his first book of poetry, Another Season, published. It would go on to receive critical acclaim and awards throughout Germany.
He used this newly garnered notoriety to step into television and radio in Germany, mixing comedy with Iranian music. In 1967, he was able to return to Iran with these skills and start what would become his most well-known project.
The television show Mikhakeh Noghrei, which translates to Silver Carnation, ran from 1976 to 1978. Through it he was able to make connections and meet many other Iranian artists, giving them a platform and launching them into the spotlight. Some of the most famous among his guests were Sattar, Shohreh, Shahram Solati, Ebi, Morteza, Rouhi Savoji, Hamid Shabkhiz, Leila Forouhar, and Saeed Mohammadi.
Through all of these public successes, Farrokhzad had many things going on in his personal life. He married and divorced and married again. He lost his sister Forough. Through the devastation, he still found joy. From his first marriage, he had a son, Rostam.
The life he created was rocked to its core in 1979 by the start of the Iranian Revolution. He was already known for his vocal political opinions, and the revolution changed much of the country he loved.
Even his hometown of Gomrok was fundamentally changed. Shahr-e No was demolished by the new government for religious reasons, displacing many of the women who worked there. Because of his political attitude, Fereydoun was personally targeted by the new government. He was imprisoned, and upon his release resettled in Germany.
Still, he never completely abandoned Iran. He continued to discuss his home country, appearing in a film that was interpreted as anti-Islamic by Iranian officials. He was a part of a weekly radio show for the Voice of the Flag of Freedom Organization of Iran radio station.
Because of his work, Farrokhzad reportedly received death threats, and in 1992 he was murdered. His death has been consistently attributed to the Iranian government due to the recognizable mode of operation.
It was after his death that the quote addressing his queer identity came out. Esfandiar Monfaredzadeh, a fellow artist and critic of the Iranian government, said about Farrokhzad:
“His main obstacle was the homosexuality that he was not ashamed of; he knew it and he wanted people to understand it."
This quote has been challenged by people suggesting that any queerness assigned to Farrokhzad was from the Iranian government intended to discredit him or tarnish his image. But because of Monfaredzadeh’s relationship with the government, that does seem suspect.
It is sure that his queerness affected the Iranian government’s relationship with him, and probably his relationship with Iran, which was already very complicated.
Though he clearly had so much love for his country, Farrokhzad was relentlessly critical of its government. Known as the “educated patriot” with a Ph.D. in political science, he showed up at demonstrations, openly talked about his disapproval, and rallied other people to do the same. At the same time, he uplifted other Iranian artists constantly, sung in traditional Iranian styles, and even though he found success in Germany, he returned to Iran for as long as he was able.
His legacy is one we can all learn from. Patriotism does not equal complacency, and criticism doesn’t detract from the love you may have for your home. Though loving your country can be hard for many queer people, it can inspire us to do some incredible things. Love, in its truest form, challenges and fosters growth. No matter what country you come from, there will be things to love and things to hate, and those two facts don’t have to cancel each other out. Having that complexity and nuance in our hearts makes us more capable of changing what exists. But that road is a dangerous one, as we see from the end of Farrokhzad’s path, and it isn’t for everyone. Those who can should embrace their complex, and often confusing relationship and push their home to always be better.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
Gay Breyley (2010) Hope, Fear and Dance Dance Dance: Popular Music in 1960s Iran, Musicology Australia, 32:2, 203-226. www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08145857.2010.518354
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Iran: Chronology of Events: June 1989 - July 1994, 1 Jan 1995. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6a8170.html
It Was Night: Fereydoun Farrokhzad. Manoto. 2011. www.manototv.com/videos/10135/vid749
Petré, Christine. “In memory of Fereydoun Farrokhzad.” Your Middle East. 7 Oct 2012. https://yourmiddleeast.com/2012/10/07/in-memory-of-fereydoun-farrokhzad-video/
Seikaly, Roula. “'The Third Muslim' Builds an Archive of Resistance to Stereotypes.” KQED. 2018 Jan 30.