Women and Camp Ashraf

Women and Camp AshrafIran’s Biggest Empowerment

Inner courtyards and roads are paved with gravel and mud, intolerable for the sick and the handicapped. Sky-high towers bestowed with cameras and armed forces with semi-heavy machine guns patrol regularly.

A malfunctioning sewage system runs down the streets, there is no serviceable water supply. Residential trailers are filthy, the beds are broken.

Accommodation that could not contrast more vividly to the spotless, orderly and hygienic photographs the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) decorated, misleading residents.

Welcome to Camp Liberty.

These people aren’t just living in poverty and squalor; these people are facing blatant human rights violations.

Since March this year Iranian exiles living in a refugee camp known as Camp Ashraf in north-western Iraq have been involved in moving to Camp Liberty, a former US military base outside Baghdad. The 3,400-strong community that has been living at Camp Ashraf since the 1980s are members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) group.

In 1997 the residents of Camp Ashraf were placed on the terrorist list. Two years later the US military took control of the Camp and after a detailed investigation of each of its residents, found no evidence of any terrorist activity or wrongdoing and the dissidents were voluntarily disarmed in exchange for U.S military protection. Since 2004, the UN has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf as “non-combatants” and “protected persons” under the Geneva Convention. A UN commission on refugees even described the exiles of Camp Ashraf as being “formal asylum seekers” against persecution by the Iranian regime.

Despite this so-called U.S protection and the UN considering Camp Ashraf residents as being “protected persons”, in both 2010 and 2011, Iraqi officials were allowed to storm Camp Ashraf and cold-bloodedly murder and injure many of its residents.

A glimmer of hope however flickers through what continues to a highly delicate humanitarian situation – The role that women have been playing in the quest to improve the lives of this destitute group of people.

One woman in particular has played a critical part in warding off threats posed by the Iranian regime and its Iraqi proxies’ conspiracies against Camp Ashraf residents – Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

In order to learn more about the courageous and vital role women are playing in the highly volatile situation in Camp Ashraf, I spoke to Shahriar Kia, spokesperson for the Camp Ashraf residents who was willing to shed some much needed light on this largely under-reported story.

Gabrielle Pickard– In what ways has Mrss Maryam Rajavi helped the Camp Ashraf residents?

Shahriar Kia: Mrs. Rajavi, the president elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is leading an organized democratic movement with a long history of resistance which spans four decades. Her tireless efforts and the global legal and political campaign she’s headed has, undoubtedly, played a central role in warding off threats – posed by the Iranian regime and it’s Iraqi proxies’ conspiracies – against camp Ashraf residents.

Were it not for Mrs. Rajavi’s tireless efforts, in introducing and drawing world-wide attention to the Iranian resistance and it’s plight, and her efforts in defense of the rights of camp Ashraf residents, the regimes in Tehran and Baghdad would have succeeded in implementing their plans to slaughter the residents – a massacre greater than what happened in the camp in 2009 and 2011 – and because of the prevalent policy of appeasement towards the mullahs; governments would have looked the other way and closed their eyes on this atrocity.

Prominent international jurists have testified to the fact that Maryam Rajavi’s efforts have given international laws and covenants – which until now were only left to dust on library shelves – new life by putting them to good use and at the service of the struggle for freedom, democracy and in defense of human rights.

Let me just underline a simple truth here. The reality is that for the people of Iran, in general, and for Camp Ashraf residents, in particular, Maryam Rajavi is a beacon of hope that motivates all to resist the religious dictatorship ruling Iran. She is widely recognized as the driving force behind the Iranian resistance against Mullahs. Maryam Rajavi has herself been a victim of the mullahs’ regimes. Her sister, who was a political opponent of Khomeini, was executed by the mullahs in Iran and at the time of her execution, she was pregnant.

Despite the tremendous amount of pressure exerted by the mullahs and their international partners against the MeK and Camp Ashraf residents and their many conspiracies, Mrs. Rajavi has devoted her life to the cause of bringing freedom to the Iranian people and to saving the lives of 3400 residents of Camp Ashraf who are members of the only democratic opposition struggling against the Iranian regime.

Maryam Rajavi deeply believes in freedom, democracy and gender equality. She’s never relented in her struggle for freedom. She deeply believes that for women to achieve equality they must play an active role in all facets of life; politics, the economy and the social fabric of their community. In camp Ashraf, she has succeeded in achieving these ideals and in setting an example for the future of Iran.

Gabrielle Pickard- Would the move to Camp Liberty have taken place without Mrs. Rajavi’s support?

Shahriar Kia: I should emphasize that were it not for Mrs. Rajavi’s instructions, residents of Camp Ashraf would have never accepted the assurances and pledges presented by Secretary Clinton and the UN Secretary-General as a necessary requirement for their relocation to camp Liberty. Far from being a refugee camp, Liberty has proven to be a maximum security prison which, oddly enough, is being operated by the very people who took part in massacres perpetrated against the residents in 2009 and 2011 and are on wanted list by Spanish National Court for investigation of two massacres took place by Iraqi forces in camp Ashraf.

Despite the US government’s repeated breaches of its obligations, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to protect the residents of Ashraf until the final disposition and its written assurances, Maryam Rajavi has used the trust and faith vested in her by the residents to convince them to accept the assurances and obligations presented by Secretary Clinton and UN Secretary General representatives in reaching a peaceful solution and their eventual resettlement in other countries.

Many renowned international jurists and distinguished political figures and human rights activists have underlined this reality. Mrs. Rajavi has played an unparalleled role in efforts to push the peaceful solution forward and in relocation of Ashraf residents to camp Liberty despite the Iraqi government’s continuous breaches and countless inhumane limitations it imposes on the residents.

While camp Liberty lacks basic infrastructural requirements and on the verge of Iraq’s hot summer season, there are severe shortages of water and electricity. At a time when the Iraqi government has turned camp Liberty into a concentration camp and Iraqi forces are now stationed throughout the camp with armored vehicles and heavy guns and an assortment of eavesdropping and surveillance equipment have been erected throughout the camp and at a time when the injured and handicapped have even been deprived of the most basic necessities of life – such as the ability to move around the camp on concrete pavements and have access to specially prepared lavatories – in camp Liberty.

To prevent another human tragedy by the Iraqi government, Mrs. Rajavi has convinced four groups of camp Ashraf residents to accept, as a goodwill gesture to Secretary Clinton’s assurances, to be relocated – although it was extremely hard for them to leave their homes.

Gabrielle Pickard– Is Mrs. Rajavi seen as a hero amongst the Iranian dissidents?

Shahriar Kia: Maryam Rajavi personifies human values and principles; virtues such as compassion for others as appose to animosity, belief in freedom, democracy and human rights. Rajavi is renowned for a slogan she often repeats: “we can and we must” achieve freedom. This is probably what motivates her in knowing no boundaries and obstacles in her struggle for freedom and democracy. She believes that if we are prepared to pay the price for freedom, then there is no doubt that we “can and will” succeed.

The atrocities committed by the mullahs during the past three decades have dealt a crushing blow to the Iranian people’s ability to trust. As such, it is quite difficult to earn the trust of such a society. The Iranian people, however, trust Maryam Rajavi because she has always followed her words with actions. She has paid the ultimate price in her struggle for equality of men and women. She believes that women have the highest capacity in the struggle for freedom.

Camp Ashraf is a small community that symbolizes Rajavi’s ideals; where human principles have replaced gender and racial discrimination, prejudices and as a result women play a special role in leading this resistance movement alongside the men. The most evident indication of a democratic society in our time is its respect for women’s rights and the role women play in that society.

Mrs. Rajavi and her ideals represent the only possible solution and hope for democracy in a society which, for so many years, has been suppressed by a religious dictatorship. This is what has turned Mrs. Rajavi into a symbol of democracy and freedom in the hearts and minds of the people of Iran.

Gabrielle Pickard– Within Camp Ashraf are there any other women who have been particularly strong or played an important role in fighting for the group’s rights?

Shahriar Kia: You’re probably aware of the fact that in camp Ashraf, women constitute one third of the population. A great number of these women have fled years of suppression and torture in Iran’s notorious prisons and have managed to come to Ashraf. A number of these women have published books in which they have recounted their experiences in the mullahs’ prisons. Many Ashraf women are graduates from Iranian universities and universities in European countries, as well as the US and Canada. They’ve decided to leave a comfortable life in Europe and the US to come to Iraq to join a movement which is struggling for freedom and democracy in Iran.

Because of the many abilities they’ve obtained during their years of participation in this struggle, they play a crucial role in leading the Iranian resistance, within the MeK and in camp Ashraf. In addition, they have set a standard for Iranian women in their struggle and resistance against the dictatorship ruling Iran.

To better answer your question, I have to go back and make a quick reference to the history of the Iranian women’s struggle against the ominous plaque of fundamentalism during the past three decades. Islamic fundamentalism, represented by Khomeini and now by Khamenei, is essentially based on misogyny as the pillar of suppression in the society. Atrocities committed during the past three decades by the religious dictatorship against Iranian women, are the most brutal form of suppression against women.

Because of the existing atmosphere of suppression in Iran, however, no one has yet been able to investigate these atrocities. Many of the 120 thousand people of Iran executed by Iranian regime, particularly the massacre of 30 thousands of MeK members and sympathizers in 1988 were women. But despite the horrendous level of suppression and barbarity, specially exhibited against female members and sympathizers of the MeK, the mullahs never succeeded in breaking the resolve of these women.

The courageous resilience of women in the face of genocide revealed their true capacity and resulted in participation of women in leadership roles in this resistance and they now represent the driving force in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism.

Despite the many historic prejudices against women, in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, women in the Iranian resistance proved their capabilities on the field and in action and for this very reason their role in leading this resistance is a source of great anxiety for the mullahs.

The role of Iranian women was especially evident during the 2009 and after popular uprisings in Iran. Neda Aqa-Soltan, who was shot and killed after attending a street protest and who’s death drew a great deal of world attention to the regime’s atrocities, was one such women.

And finally in response to your question I’d like to note that indeed there are many women in Ashraf who are playing an important role in the struggle for freedom and for the rights of camp Ashraf residents. Ms. Mojgan Parsaei is the highest ranking MeK official in Ashraf who during the past decade has led the residents of Ashraf against the many plots and conspiracies of the regimes of Baghdad and Tehran with great patience and aptitude.

I should  also note that Ms. Mojgan Parsaei is not alone and there are many other women in camp Ashraf who accompany her in the MeK leadership and add to her capabilities in her struggle for the rights of camp Ashraf residents and their resistance against the mullahs and their Iraqi proxies.

Gabrielle Pickard– Women are said to account for one-third of MKO fighters in Iraq, and some experts view this as a ‘propaganda ploy to challenge Tehran’s restrictions on women. What do you think about this view?

Shahriar Kia: As I mentioned previously, women in the Iranian resistance have proven their capabilities in the course of a struggle against a brutal dictatorship ruling Iran. They have paid a high price and have succeeded in surmounting all obstacles facing Iranian women, specially, in a society ruled by a religious dictatorship.

In my opinion, the best reason which proves the role and capability of women in the Iranian resistance, is the fact that men in the MeK and Ashraf have accepted their leadership, and many of these men have an outstanding record of active participation in the struggle against the two dictatorships of the Shah and the mullahs which, at times, spans four decades.

As a male member of the MeK, I too take great pride in the fact that women play a crucial role in the leadership of our organization and the Iranian resistance which in itself is the greatest sign of MeK deep belief and commitment to democratic ideals and I see this role as an absolute necessity in the struggle against the mullahs and their eventual downfall and establishment of a truly democratic society in Iran in which gender equality is a given.

I should also note that those who claim that the role of women in Ashraf and the Iranian resistance is merely a publicity ploy do not believe in gender equality and the ability of women to lead and they have a superficial understanding of Mrs. Rajavi’s ideas, who deeply believes in democratic and tolerant Islam.

These are the very people who at a time when the 3400 residents of camp Ashraf, including 1000 women, are faced with countless conspiracies and inhumane psychological torture and restrictions by the Iraqi government at the behest of Iranian regime; choose to remain silent and are not even willing to end the illegal and shameful terrorist designation of these defenseless refugees – a listing which continues to provide the best justification for the Iranian regime and the Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki to slaughter them.

Gabrielle Pickard

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