Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pass Our Message!

Maryam Kashani, Rooz Online:
In a telephone conversation with Rooz Online, Abdol-Malek Rigi, the commander of the notorious armed group Jondollah which has killed Iranian nationals, military personnel and even officials or taken them hostage, allowed us to speak with one of its current hostages Amir Harati. The interview was held in two sessions on the same day. Here are the excerpts.

Rooz ®: Could you please introduce yourself?
Abdol-Malek Rigi (AMR): I am Abdol-Malek Rigi, 23 years old and I am in charge of the Jondollah movement. READ MORE

R: You started rather soon.
AMR: [laughing] I had to. When I saw that they are not letting me grow up, I was forced to take up arms.

R: When did you take up arms?
AMR: It is four years now.

R: How did you come to the conclusion that you needed to take up arms? What were you trying to do that you couldn’t achieve, leading you to resort to arms?
AMR: In the past we resorted to many means to protect the national and religious rights of the Baluchis and Sunnis in Baluchistan province. As you know, everybody in Baluchistan is a Sunni and a Baluch. But since this revolution, some 27 years ago, till today the Sunnis have remained the most impoverished group in the country with lots of serious issues. They have suffered and been tortured. The Sunnis in general, and the ethnic minorities such as the Kurds and Baluchis in particular have always had major problems. But since the Kurds have been more active, and have been closer to other countries, have had more political activities, they have made their demands known to the world. It has been different for the Baluchis who have never made their voices heard. Whenever they engaged in religious activities, they were branded as foreign agents and hanged. Hundreds of Sunni clerics, activists and combatants have lost their lives. We now notice in Tehran that someone like Akbar Ganji has launched programs for democracy, which the world supports. Everybody talks about him, even the whole world, and journalists. Everybody heard his calls and spread them to the world. But in Baluchistan we have not had that. If anybody made a sensible criticism about something or some official, he would be immediately arrested or completely eliminated, or silenced. Many have been subjected to all kinds of torture. What I am saying is that before us, there were many who wanted to engage in political activities but the government denied this to them. That is when we started our activities with the aim of defending our rights. And then we realized that there is no other way than to take up arms and begin an armed struggle. This is our last means.

R: Where did you study? How did you learn about these things?
AMR: Right here. Through life. We realized that no one was defending our rights. Whenever a journalist is arrested, the whole world is mobilized against it. Whereas our problems are never pursued. There was a case when a man was arrested because he had a CD, and then his hand was cut off. Today I heard a man had been arrested because he had a Tasuki CD [Tasuk is a region in the south of Iran), and then his nails were pulled out of his fingers. How could we remain indifferent when things like this happen to our people. You tell me, do we have an option other than armed struggle? They have committed genocide in our province. They kill people simply because they are Baluchis or Sunnis. What other posture can we adopt against them? The have not left any democratic solution for us. They have crushed our national and religious identity, and then they call us secessionists! We are not secessionists. Had we been, we would not have accepted talks with them. Even though these people are not trustworthy. We want to hold talks with them in the presence of formal international organizations. Talks in the desert or in a house are useless. We do not trust them because they have revoked on their earlier promises they made to us.

R: How many hostages do you hold right now?
AMR: 6 are from the town of Tasuki, and we have Ahmad Sheiki who is a senior commander in the Baseej para-military force.

R: Who was the young man you recently killed?
AMR: His name was Hamid Reza Kaveh. He was a colonel in the police, a commander of Special Forces. You have no idea what he had done.

R: So you had planned these hostage events?
AMR: Yes, some of them. Our targets were the governor and governor general of the province, who escaped. Since then, they have been saying that we are simply smugglers and vagabonds. I do not refute that among our tribes smugglers exist as well. But we must look and understand why they have become smugglers. Why do they instill hatred against the Baluchis when the Baluchis are like any other Iranian. Nobody hears their calls.

R: Is it possible to talk to the hostages?
AMR: [silence] Yes, call back in 6 hours.

6 hours later

AMR: Come talk to him.

R: Hello. Who are you?
Amir Harati (AH): I am Amir, Amir Harati.

R: When did they capture you?
AH: About two months ago. I was in Tasuki on my way from Zabol to Zahedan when they captured me.

R: What do you do?
AH: I am a police officer.

R: An officer?
AH: Yes. I am serving in Zahedan. I was driving in my personal car. They thought that I am part of the military and so captured me [his voice begins to crack].

R: What is your condition now?
AH: I am in good spirits. They treat us well and we have no problems in this regard.

R: What are you concerned about?
AH: We want to return to our families [he says with a cracked voice]. If they meet the requests of these brothers, then I will be returned to my wife and children.

R: If officials could hear you now, what would you tell them?
AH: [he begins to plea] I urgently request that they solve the Jondollah issues. They too have prisoners. Their prisoners have been in limbo for years now. Free them so they too can return to their families. Then we too shall be able to return to ours. I have personally talked to Mr. Shahriari who is a Majlis (Iran's Parliament) MP. I asked him what he had done for us. He said we pray for you. What kind of an answer is this? We can do that ourselves here, day in, day out.

R: Are you Shiite?
AH: Yes.

R: What is your request and message?
AH: I request in the name of the same God that you and we believe in, to do what these brethren want so I can return to my life. I am innocent. Why do they call and say “kill them, make them martyrs”? Is this the God’s way?

R: Do you mean some officials tell Jondollah to kill you?
AH: Yes. They tell them to kill us. They way we have plenty of martyrs. Is this a human thing to say?

R: Where are you being kept? In which country?
AH: It is not clear to me. I think we are in the mountains of Baluchistan. Our eyes were blindfolded when we were brought here.

R: Do you believe that if the wishes of these people are not fulfilled, they will kill you?
AH: Yes. Absolutely.

R: How do they kill?
AH: [silence] I do not know. I know that if their requests are not met, they will definitely kill us. Please convey our message to the authorities. We have not committed any crime. Please do something so that our request and those of the Jondollah are met.

The phone goes dead, as if Mr. Amir Harati was taken away.

R: Are you there, Mr. Rigi?
AMR: [heavy voice] Yes

R: Difficult situation, isn’t it?
AMR: Yes

R: Both sides are in a difficult situation.
AMR: Yes. We too are suffering because these people are here. Just as we suffer about the conditions of our people who are under torture and pain over there. I was told today that they had attacked people and their houses. They took away innocent people. We even told the government to leave innocent people aside and deal with us. We are soldiers, as are you. We can tolerate each other. But these Shiites and Farsis on one side and Sunnis and Baluchis on the other are innocent people and unarmed. But since they cannot fight us, they attack the innocent and the unarmed. They view us not only as not Islamic, but also sub-human. Honestly I think the problems that we have in our region are non existent any where else in the world. The government itself wants this. It wants to crush the Sunnis and eliminate them.

R: These problems are very fundamental. You wish to resolve them with 4 hostages?
AMR: No. We have done it so the government comes forward to fundamentally solve the problems. They however respond with force. They have sent 22,000 forces to the region to fight us, crush us. And no one in the world hears us. Where are these human rights organizations? Why is it that they can’t hear our voices and calls?

R: Are you sure they can’t reach you?
AMR: Yes

R: How?
AMR: We have experienced their fights. They make big claims. The reality is different. In one battle with us, they brought in some 200 vehicles and 1,700 soldiers. They attacked us from the air and the ground. They attacked at 7am and then they requested a cease fire at 4:30pm to pick up their dead. We know them and their strength very well. They can’t reach us, so they attack the innocent.

R: So you are in Iran now?
AMR: I am on Iranian soil.

R: What is your relationship with Iran? Are you after separation?
AMR: If they do not listen to our requests and continue their evil plans in the region, things between us shall be the same. The Shiite can freely practice their views here now, but if a Sunni says something different, he will end up in prison. You have seen our livelihood. We cannot continue living like this. We have come to the conclusion that death is better than this life.

R: I asked about your relationship with Iran. Do you see yourself as an Iranian?
AMR: Yes. We are Iranians. Iran is my motherland. This land and its waters belong to all Iranians. We do not want to destroy the national unity and the territorial integrity of the country. I openly and without fear talk to all government officials and tell them our views. I have told them that I do not wish to destroy the regional situation, especially under the current conditions that Iran is under. But if they continue, we will have to opt for a policy that brings us closer to victory. If you respond to us with force, then there is no difference between you and a foreigner. I have made this very clear to officials, who unfortunately think that just we are talking with them, we are in a weak position.

R: Do you think they will release your prisoners? Doesn’t look like it.
AMR: Our deadline has passed. We shall wait a few more days. If nothing happens, then we shall act and capture even more important people. We will then capture their most senior people. Then they will come forward to make a deal with us.
An interesting read.