Levensverhaal Sander Terphuis

Gevlucht naar de vrijheid, zo noemt Sander Terpstra het begin van zijn evensverhaal voor het oral history project Ongekend Bijzonder

[i] Hello, good morning. [name]
[r] Good.
[i] It’s an honor to be able to interview you. You gave me this permission to come to you. Would you tell me where we are and who you are?
[r] We’re here in my house in The Hague. I live near the sea. That is also my, like my great love: the beach, the sea and the dunes. And I am [name]. Originally from Iran, fled to Holland in 1990. And with that I fled to freedom.
[i] Would you tell me something about your life in Iran?
Yes, my life in Iran, um…
before you fled. And then we’ll talk about your story from the moment you fled. I’d like to know how was your life in Iran as a child?
Yes, I grew up in a relatively large family with eight children. I was born in southern Tehran. And by southern Tehran, I mean, um, more of, uh, poorer part of, of Tehran. A place where a lot of people live in rather small houses. And my parents, to start with, they initially lived in the, in the, in the country. My father had a farm life. He had some pieces of land, he had some cows and sheep. And that’s where our life started. He married my mother. And my mother is from a different kind of family. And her father was a village simam, so he was a holy man. Anyway, at one point, my mother was of the age that she could marry you. And then, that’s how it goes in Iran, huh? They find you a man. And that was my father. And they lived in a village for a couple of years. And there they first had four daughters. And my father didn’t like that very much, because he needed sons, sons who helped him, eh, in the country, of course, with farm life. That was not in it. And that, yes, as I heard it now from my father later, it was a hard, hard life, hard work. He didn’t have the money to hire people. In short, a hard life. And at one point my brother was born as the fifth child ‘Mohamad’. And then my father thought it was beautiful. Then he wanted to go to Tehran, to the big city, to let his son develop and have a bright future.
[i] Say hello to peasant life?
[r] Yes, yes, they did. And he sold the land and sold cows and sheep, everything, bought a piece of land in Tehran, put a house in it himself, and then the family moved to Tehran. And that’s where I was born. I’ve already told you that. That’s where my life started, in the south of Tehran. And in the beginning it turned out, at least that wasn’t very obvious, but later it turned out that I had a problem with my eyes. I see one percent with my left eye and six percent with my right eye. It is when you compare with someone who sees 100 percent, then I see minus, minus 94, a lot less. And now I immediately come across that limitation, as far as Naja, that means just surviving on the streets of South Tehran. And I, well, I have… But I did have a loving family, mom, dad, mom and sisters who took good care of me, and then you can go a long way with it.
[i] How come, how come you became visually impaired?
[i] Clarity, what I heard from doctors, has to do with the fact that during her pregnancy my mother had the so-called Red Dog disease. Among other things a shortage of vitamins and and that in combination with I think hard living. That entailed that I, well, that visual abnormality and that has actually, I emphasize, because it has also marked my life in Iran. Because every time it turned out that if I wanted to start something, whether it was sports or going to school and whatever, I would encounter my visual limitations. And in a, in a society like Tehran, that’s pretty intense. Because fortunately here in the Netherlands you have arranged everything nicely, huh. If you were born here as a blind or partially sighted person, then your life path is, as it were, completely mapped out. You come there for rehabilitation, and there you go to school, where you get the facilities. But it wasn’t in Iran, especially in my time. So that’s how I actually went through life. And fighting every time and picking things out and standing on your own two feet.
[i] What kind of schools did you attend in Iran?
[r] At first, when I was 6, well, I had to go to school, like any other kid. Then, my parents just enrolled me at the local school that other friends of mine attended. And, um, so I got there the first day of school. Everybody thought, “Well, he’s seeing a little bit, right? Well, then he can go to school. So I could go to school with just seeing seeing students. With a friend of mine named Abbas, we went together, too, for six years. And um… It started back then. I thought, oh God, it’s all big here. And I, and I see very, I’m nearsighted. Hey, I see a meter and a half to two meters and then it stops. But so I saw all kinds of things, images that came over me and I thought to God, how intense this is. And of course I also came from a protected environment, huh, with sisters and mother. So first day of school it was a big shock. And then I came into class and at some point we had to draw lines on paper, and first activities at school. And then it turned out that I couldn’t do that, because I couldn’t see those lines. Let alone how you could straighten them and the dots here and so on. So it all didn’t work out. And for the first few days, the missus, the teacher, the teacher, the Schoo, noticed that it didn’t work out. And I got extra lessons. I got guidance. And at one point it didn’t work out anyway. But then it was thought of oh he probably has something with his brain. He might be mentally handicapped. I got extra guidance then. But I tried to explain to them that I just didn’t… And I keep having a headache when I was a six-year-old boy. That, well, you had to stare like that on paper and in the end it didn’t work out. So I went home crying. And now at some point I had to get to the headmaster. Cause yeah me, or they thought, oh yeah, he’s kind of, like, making a game out of it. He just wants to make us, uh, hard or he’s stupid. One of two. And after some discussions with my parents and the school board, they decided to do a medical exam on me. And that showed that I really see very little and that was also confirmed by the ophthalmologist. That’s when the ophthalmologist really came into the picture, when I was six or seven years old. And then he said, ‘Yes, that man sees or that boy sees very little. I can’t!’. And then, of course, came the point of acceptance. Accepting that you, that your child is visually impaired. And it’s not nice either, because in general Iranians don’t want our child to have a handicap. We’re a little embarrassed. The family doesn’t like to tell you that your son is blind or partially sighted. So that was also a bit, well, certainly a shock for my parents, who wanted to see things differently. Well, it wasn’t then either. I sat at home for a few months. Cause, yeah, school wasn’t working out. Until at some point I found out that there were also schools where you could get an adapted lesson for the visually impaired. And that’s when my mother started researching and eventually it turned out to be possible. So a year later I ended up in a special school. And it was also very difficult, because that school was far away from our house. Well, that also meant that my mother had to take me away or my father. But he also worked hard. We have, we had a small shop in Iran where he sold all his stuff, so it couldn’t be closed either. In short, it involved a lot of complicated things. But I wanted to go to school so badly and my mother wanted me to go to school too. So eventually I was enrolled there. And that’s where I started taking classes. So that was my first days or my first step to a special school.
[i] Okay. And what was that school called? Do you remember?
[r] Yeah, that was, I went to multiple schools, but the first special school was Khazayly.
[i] Okay.
[r] According to my name, after the founder, a blind man. And that’s where I got real Braille writing. I could, that was a relief for me, I could finally calm my eyes, yeah.
[i] Then you could, too, the family could accept that you’re not the only one. And there are other children who are visually impaired?
[r] Yes, well, it’s true, when my mother came to that school with me, I indeed saw several visually impaired people and also with a stick. And then I really saw my mother watching “Oh! And with us at first of “Oh, how pathetic”. Of course we think that’s pathetic too, when you see such a blind man, blind boy walking around. But at the same time my mother also said “Yes, you have to study, you have to become someone. You have to have a future!’. So that introduction to that school was also an eye-opener for my parents, of course, to use the word.
[i] And would you tell me anything about the upbringing you got? And what kind of religion do you have, did you?
[r] My upbringing was, yeah, actually very loving, loving. What I’m saying, I had a very, very, very nice mother and sisters who were kind to me. So I was raised very protected and lovingly. In our home, too, Islam applied. Especially with my father, because he was raised strictly Muslim. He made me go to the mosque, for example. He really liked it when I went with him. A few times he more or less obliged me to go with him. But my father…, my mother on the other hand, who said, yes, she had less. She also said, “Oh, yeah, you know, you should know that. Um, and in time, yeah, but also the fact that Iranian life is just hard, you just have to see that you make enough money and that you can survive. And that was much more important for my mother, that her children had a good future, than that they weren’t going to read a Koran or that they were going to the mosque. So with, with, against that background I was raised. And until I was thirteen, fourteen or so. But from the age of fourteen, fifteen I actually started to discover for myself who I am, what I want and the fact that I wasn’t free. All those islamic rules that were imposed on me. That’s what made me the way I am now.
And which way did you take, chosen?
[i] I have the way, good question. I have, um, I have taken the path of, what I say, discovering myself, who I really am, not what authorities or what people say but who I am. What kind of life I want to live. I have sometimes written that since I was young I felt that I wanted to be an architect of my own life. So I was looking for a way to be an architect of my life in Iran alone. And of course that is very difficult in an Islamic country. Because there you have to listen to ayatollahs. And I want to be rebellious. I wanted to be free. I wanted my own voyage of discovery. And that brought me into conflict. I had, I often have problems with authorities. And I’ve been beaten up, I’ve been warned, too. So that tension, when you say how what, how did it go away. Well, that road was accompanied by a lot of tension and conflict until I was eighteen.
[i] Okay. And then you were, what was your hobby in Iran?
[r] I had several, but my biggest hobby, my biggest hobby, my passion and love was the sport of wrestling.
[i] Okay.
[r] I was a wrestler. And then, you’re really talking about classical wrestling. Hey, so Greek, Roman and freestyle. I’ve been practicing that since I was 11. The first time I was on the wrestling mat, I was eleven. And I also chose it because I wanted to be active. I do have a lot of energy and passion. I could use that in wrestling. And it is also, well, a well known sport in Iran. And the fact that I wanted to be strong and resilient. Um, because if you have to survive with low vision in the south of Tehran, it’s very handy if you’re a bit stronger, because they sometimes eat the cheese from your bread. That eh there you, you’re not always spared. It’s gonna be hard living. So also from that thought. And I just wanted to get along with my boyfriends. So yeah, I chose, for wrestling. And I’ve done it for a number of years. At one point, I got better and more professional. And then I joined the competitions in Iran and then later provincial and at some point nationwide. And at the age of eighteen I was land, national wrestling champion in my own weight class. Iranian champion.
[i] Okay. And I see you have a subject here related to your hobby. Would you show it to me?
[r] This one?
[i] Yeah, what’s that?
[r] This one is called – what we in Iran call – Miel. Miel, these are my two young friends. You can use this one to boost your strength.
[i] They’re heavy?
[r] They are, they’re pretty heavy, but mostly because of that movement you make. There you go. That requires a lot from your wrist, shoulder and arms.
Okay.
[r] And we have in Iran, we do, Zoerkhane. It’s kind of, what, say, a hole made in the ground, a round hole, big. There’s all these people standing next to each other. Strong men are. And they do, they take these, and they really, uh, well…
Would you show me how, how you can turn or that…
[r] Can you get it on film then?
Yeah.
Yeah, sure. Let’s see. Look, you have to, yeah, can you do that? Yeah, you have to…
Yeah.
Put it on your shoulder.
[i] Yeah.
[r] And what matters is that it makes a twist.
[i] Okay, yeah, like this.
[r] And that twist makes you need a lot of energy and power.
Yeah.
[r] But that’s also a really nice sport. And by the way, I’ll be able to make some noise from YouTube later on. How it goes.
Yeah.
[r] Maybe it’ll be fun for your movie. To complete the story. So those, they were my real friends, too. And I grew up with Miel, too. I’ve always had it in Iran. But it’s also classic Persian, huh. I think you only see that in Persia, a city also in Turkey. And that’s a primal sport. With it you can build up a lot of strength and energy. So I’ve had it for years during my wrestling career. And now, thanks to this and a lot of training, I became national champion when I was eighteen. But also, that gave me a lot of self-confidence, being self-assured, that you dare when you’re stronger. So they were all advantages of that sport.
Do you, do you still do that?
Well, I’m struggling with life now. It’s hard enough.
[i] Okay, yeah.
No, look, of course, I’m not doing it on a level. But once in a while I go, you have a wrestling club in Utrecht, then once in a while I go there, pick up my old hobby.
[i] Okay.
[r] A little bit, yeah.
[i] And would you tell me about wrestling in life? What do you mean?
[r] That was a tricky remark of mine. Well look, it’s in a broad sense. I think everyone struggles with life. You want a path in your life, you want to go up, as I call it, you want to climb the mountain. And to sketch that wrestling with life, maybe it’s good to name a moment that I experienced with my father. We lived in Tehran, like I said. And on the outskirts of Tehran you have a big, high mountain, eh, Alborz is his name.
[i] Yeah.
[r] On the outskirts of the, on the outskirts of the city of Tehran. My father used to take me to the edge of that mountain Alborz. And then we climbed that mountain together. And every time we went to climb the mountain, my father said, “This time we’re going a little higher! And he constantly made me look at the top of that mountain. For example, I was never allowed to look back.
[i] Okay.
And then my dad said, “Yeah, you got that behind you. Don’t look at that. That’s done, now go on! And, but that mountain is almost 6,000 feet high. Hey! And I was a boy of twelve, thirteen, fourteen then. Of course, I could never make it to the top. But my dad used to say, “Yeah, one day you’re gonna have to make it to the top! I say, “But why?” “Yes,” he said, “There’s a chest full of gold! I said, “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!” He said, “Really! And I read the story in the little book, the great book of our Shahnameh. The great one, the book of kings, written by Ferdowsi, a great Persian poet. And he said, “Yes, I really read it in the Shahnameh. There the first one, the first Persian emperor Kourosh, who put a chest full of gold there and he said: “He who gets to the top can have that chest, you’ll be rich!”. And I said, “Yes, you’re joking. He said ‘No, if you really make it to the top, there’s a chest full of gold waiting for you’, but he also said ‘Yes, it’s very heavy, because as you go higher it gets steeper, it gets colder, weather conditions become more difficult. So it’s not just a job, it’s not just a job!’. But I was, when he said that, and I was with my father, I believed everything he said. So I was always thinking, oh yeah, that top, and um, I have to reach it. And then that chest full of gold, and that’s my success. And he talked about a beautiful view, that I could see from, over the mountain all over the world. Then I could really see what’s beautiful to see. So my dream had become to reach that mountain, and also, sorry, to reach the top of that mountain. And also by doing sports, fitness and also by building up my strength I wanted to reach it. But at one point it was, I was eighteen years old. Because of all that misery, oppression and the loss of my freedom, I finally fled to the Netherlands. And one thing, in the Netherlands we have no mountains, everything flat. So I came here and first I had no idea what kind of country the Netherlands is. Just that I wanted to flee to freedom for a while. I came to Holland. I ended up in Friesland. I looked around me: everything flat. I didn’t see a mountain in the distance. But in Tehran you can see the mountain everywhere, huh! That city, all around a very high mountain, of course. So you can already see it, I’m sure, when I stood up on the roof of our house, I saw it. Actually, every day it was for me. And it was my big brother– I called him– I want to go there. But here everything was flat, just strong winds. I thought yes, instead of going to the top, I get blown away here. But I still had to think back to those words of my father of eh still that top, the top of that mountain, but where is that mountain? And at first I was very sad. I was very sad. I thought oh, there is no mountain at all, I have no purpose in my life. I can’t, I can never find that chest full of gold now and then I was really sad, sad. I can, I can, I suddenly started crying. I thought what is this, what will this be with my future here in the Netherlands. At a certain moment it took a couple of weeks, a couple of months, gradually you notice yes, you want to build a new life in freedom, um you wanted to be an architect of your own life and it’s possible in the Netherlands, because here you can be happy who you want to be as long as you obey the law of course. And then came the first outline of the mountain already in my life, learning the language, doing training, looking for work, eh where am I going to live, how am I going to live, with whom am I going to live, how am I going to arrange my life. So I saw all, as I once said, also thresholds, one was higher than the other. Had I overcome one threshold, that next threshold came. And then I kept thinking about my father’s words, I thought oh maybe this is what he meant. That if I keep conquering those thresholds, I’ll come to the top once and those thresholds came together. While I, Naja, fortunately first, had my residence permit. Yeah, that was a very high threshold. And what do you know, what I said then I had to do language, organize my life.
Would I first ask something back that how they, you from Iran to The Hague, came to the Netherlands? Would you tell me something about those and then the rest?
[r] Yes, sure, I was already talking about how I had to flee when I was eighteen. And before that I also told you about my big hobby wrestling and those two are very close to each other. I was selected for the Iranian National wrestling team at the age of eighteen by my, by my performance I ended up in Iranian team. And to my luck, the so-called world games for the disabled were organized in 1990. A kind of variant of Paralympics and it was organized in the Netherlands in Assen. And because I was so successful until, in that period, I was asked to participate in that competition as well. Well, that was of course a gr…, big happening for me. So I immediately said ‘Of course I do!’. And well, all the selections preceded me, I went through them all and at a certain point it was time in my head to get my freedom back and this was the moment. So then in nine, in the summer of 1990, erm, we joined that complete Iranian team by plane via Geneva to Amsterdam to participate in that sport and the games and to Assen and we were in an olympic village. Um, that actually was the Johan [Willem] Friso Barracks in Assen. It was completely transformed into an olympic village. And once I went through with my plan, I found all kinds of roads how to get to the Olympic village, how to get away from there and a few days later I started to flee.
[i] Okay. That’s how you ended up in Holland as a refugee.
[r] Right.
[i] So I’m curious about the rest of the story.
Well, from, uh, from Assen… Because I also knew I had to be as far away from the Iranian team as possible, from the Iranian people. So I then, uh, look, I mean it, of course my visually impaired vision came into the picture, huh, I had to investigate everything, find out that nobody saw me and that I could secretly flee. We had a lot of supervisors or controllers around us, who kept an eye on us. That certainly doesn’t make it easy, but what I said I was so convinced that I had to leave Iran. That I accepted all those risks and still took the step with all the risks around me. I knew I could get caught and maybe cost my life. But I thought yes, now is the time. So I went from Assen to Amsterdam. There I reported to the aliens police and told the story, also there you saw the big risk I had taken, because then they said to me: ‘Well you have to go into hiding now. You have to go into hiding for a couple of days, until the Iranian team gets back. Because they will undoubtedly go looking for you and want to get back at you and take revenge on you. So I was, I left, put in a student dorm by the police themselves. It was then in the summer, so that guesthouse for foreign students was empty, gave me a flat, a room there. I sat there for six days and I wasn’t allowed phones… I didn’t have a phone, but I wasn’t allowed to have contact with anyone. I wasn’t allowed to know my place. I sat there for six days and when the team got back, they picked me up, the police picked me up again. That’s when my asylum procedure really started.
[i] And that was, what was your fantasy when you ended up in Holland? What did you want to build up?
[r] Well look I was eighteen at the time, and I didn’t have very far-fetched perspectives or visions. My point of view was that I could be myself. That I could be rebellious, nice and contrary and live my own life the way I wanted to. That was already a great victory for me. And at the same time I knew that I definitely wanted to do something for human rights, to do something for… Look, because I had fled, but of course I also knew that my friends and a lot of my friends were still oppressed in Iran. That they had no freedom. That yes, they were harassed by the authorities. So and I can beat up my best friends as well, they were also taken by the police. So I had that picture in front of me. Anyway, I thought I wanted to mean something for justice, for humanity and for human rights. But so that was, after yes, on my agenda at the time, but for the rest what I just said, I was talking about the thresholds. I also knew about well, of course it starts with fighting, overcoming thresholds. My own… Look you have to imagine being like an eighteen year old boy here, very visually impaired, language not speaking and I was sitting middle of nowhere, literally and figuratively and then you have to do it again. And then there was, my mother was not there, my sisters weren’t there and I was raised quite protected and spoiled, all of a sudden you have to arrange your own thing, your own life.
[i] Okay, and how did you get over these thresholds?
[r] Well look, what I’m saying: first believe in, in your own message, in your own life line, but also of course realize that you have to fight. That you have to do it again and persevere. I certainly have, had I also had from my wrestling. I have wrestled for a few years and in Iran and yes, you sometimes lost matches. But every time I got up and then I fought again and then I went on and on and on and then I fell, fell and then I got up three times, three times fell, four times got up. And at one point you were there, you got up, you won, you were the first. So I had that mentality in me too, huh. So of course that helps enormously, because otherwise you really can’t survive in Friesland in the cold air and wind. So I needed something to hold on to, to hold on to. That was the mentality of climbing mountains, fighting, wrestling and ehm, and the fact that I also wanted to mean something for humanity. Wanted to be something for society. So then for me it all meant very, very sad without family here and alone and lonely, but still starting something and that was, starting to learn language, very quickly, especially when I was told that I could stay. Because, because the first phase was characterized by fear and insecurity, because you don’t know if you are allowed to stay. That also makes me very scared The idea that I had to go back to Iran. But once the residence permit was in. I thought yes! Now it’s chakka! The moment of work. Learned the language and figured out where I could be better with my visual impairment. Then I ended up in Apeldoorn in an institute where I could follow adapted lessons. I was also very happy with that. Yeah, that’s where it all started. And no matter what I say, you just talked about overcoming the thresholds. Every time I came across something. For example, I had to apply for a job or I had to present myself thanks to, in spite of my poor eyesight, every time something, step by step with learning, but still up.
[i] In the meantime you told me that you ended up in Friesland. Would you tell something about it? the most beautiful memory of including a love I have left, huh. Yeah, I sat, look it works like that, in my time. When you register as an asylum seeker the police look into the system, which asylum seekers’ centre has a place. You are then sent there and in that case the gentleman in Amsterdam said that there was a place in Leeuwarden near the asylum seekers’ centre. So you end up there purely by chance and I sat there for a couple of days, actually three days in total, I believe, I was at the AZC there, but then all that building turned out to be completely inaccessible for my visual impairment. I couldn’t find my way around and the fact that there were Iranians there as well. And I was terrified. I thought maybe they’re going to betray me and who are these and maybe Ayatollah’s sent them here. So I asked the director of the AZC to talk to me and somebody said ‘It’s really irresponsible to leave you here’. He also found it incomprehensible that the police just walked out on the street. So then one, another place was searched and found for me. That was in a small village about 40 kilometres from Leeuwarden. That’s where I ended up, it was nice and safe. And but yes there it was, well there really were all Frisians. So I didn’t speak Dutch, let alone Frisian and that was also a shelter for all kinds of people. Runaway children, alcoholics, divorced women who came there, Stay off my body behind the […]. Sat between all kinds of variations. That was also very, very special in my life, because then I had suddenly got to know the Netherlands in a completely different way. Um but yes, but well also there was, whatever I said, with the feeling of having to move on with your life. But life becomes all the more beautiful the better I got to know the people, the better I got to know the language in the village as well.
[i] In Frisian too? You had to learn Frisian too?
[r] I learned Frisian too, yes.
[i] Okay.
[r] I learned Frisian and the next step was to learn better Frisian as well, was that at some point a girl came there, doing an internship for her school, taking care of her. She got there, did an internship, [name]. And I liked her very much, very sweet and also very handsome. And I started talking to her and she was curious about my life: who I am, where I come from and now she had heard all kinds of things about me. So we started talking to each other and one thing led to another and went on and on and on and on we have been together for over twenty years now and we are married.
[i] [name] hot?
[r] Yeah.
[i] Okay. So that’s the woman you married?
Yeah, yeah, I already have a picture of him, so I can, uh…
Yeah, please. I’ll go get it, I’ll go get it.
I’ve got some. Yeah, I… Can I help you for a second?
I’ll get it, I’ll get it. Merci!
Yeah!
That’s the picture?
[r] Is watching? Yes…
Yes?
[i] Yes this is funny, yes that’s nice.
Yeah, that’s a real love of [name]. Okay, thank you.
[i] Yeah, and do you, do you have the kids?
[r] No that we haven’t. That’s a real Dutch life, too. We were both, both making careers. No,but just busy life and we moved on a few times,too,because of all the new jobs I got. So not until now.
[i] Okay. And,um,so you said that you were at a,uh,some kind of shelter that just kind of people lived there. Why did you end up there? Was it because of security?
Yeah, of course, mostly for…
Until when did you stay?
Well, I’ve been there about eleven months. Of course, that was while I was waiting for my residence permit, yes.
[i] And what was your experience in that house?
[r] Very special. Especially at first, well, you don’t understand anything. And in my case, you don’t see very much either. So then your life is very, uh, isolated, because I was in my room a lot, often. But that also has to do with the fact that I was scared, I was only, um, unfamiliar with the language. So, in the beginning I slept through a lot of things, because I couldn’t, didn’t know what to do because of insecurity and the lack of my family ehm… But gradually, I got to know a little village, talk to people and the fact that at a certain moment people from VluchtelingenWerk came to me. There were two very sweet ladies. Thea, Thea Everaerts and Gerry Hoekstra who worked there as volunteers for VluchtelingenWerk, they came to see me and they were really going to help me. They went shopping with me, they were going to show me the way, they looked for me a fitness school in the village where I could train. Then life became more pleasant step by step.
[i] Okay. And how come you, when did you move to The eh? Or how come you decided to come to The Hague?
[r] Yes, well look what I said, I have moved several times and also because of the ambition I had and of course politics is my great passion, but I am for example, to start with I am… Maybe it’s a good thing that I mention in two sentences, to, after Friesland, Apeldoorn there I wanted to study, I did vwo in the Netherlands, because my diploma, Iranian diploma was not enough for admission to university. And at some point I completed upper secondary education vwo four, five and six in one year. And then, luckily, I was allowed to go to university, my dream had come true. Another beautiful, beautiful threshold or milestone better said. Then I went to law school first and in the third year of my law studies I also took philosophy as a second study. Because I thought it made a lot of sense. After completing my studies, I first went to live in Zutphen and worked as a trainee judge at the Zutphen District Court. I wanted to become a judge and I wanted to contribute to human rights and justice in the world. I was enormously idealistic and young. But then a few years later I got the opportunity to work at the Ministry of Justice and that was in The Hague. And I seized that opportunity with both hands and well that was in 2003. We made the switch, came to The Hague at, at the ministry, that’s why we also bought a house here with [name]. And that’s where all my new life started in The Hague, in the city of law and freedom. That’s where I’ve done my work, I’ve done it for a number of years. I was advisor to a number of ministers. Minister Hirsch Ballin, Minister Verdonk and later I got a chance to take up a nice new challenge, namely to help think about the revision of the Dutch Constitution. I was then appointed advisor for the State Committee on the Constitution with the Ministry of the Interior. I also found that a wonderful job. You could really think about fundamental rights and freedom of citizens, about the relationship between the judiciary and politics. All very nice things. I did that for a couple of years as a lawyer and late, after that I got another opportunity to work for the Dutch Association for the Judiciary, I was able to focus on the judiciary. Um, what an extraordinary subject, what touches me and later on, what I’m doing now, I’m now working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I’m in the department that deals with international law and especially human rights issues in an international context. And again of course in The Hague, but perhaps the most important reason is indeed what I mentioned before, my love and passion for politics to mean something within politics and from politics for people and society. Yes.
[i] I saw that you, you are also active in politics, would you tell something about when was that and when did you start and how did it go?
[r] Yes. Look I once described it as one of the most beautiful experiences in the Netherlands in freedom was that I could choose if I wanted to be a member, become a member of a political party and if so which one. I started investigating, was already in the early 90’s, a few years after I came to the Netherlands. And I still lived in Apeldoorn at that time. I talked to local politicians. I asked them what their ideals and visions were. And after, after some research work, I ended up at the Dutch Labour Party. And that was mainly from the social democratic ideals. The solidarity, justice and freedom for, for the individual. Well, that appealed to me enormously. And at that time, I believe it was 1994, I had already become a member of the Labour Party and I was also active in municipal politics. But at that time I was busy with so many other things, especially studying and building a future. I was away for a while. But when I was in The Hague, I started again, it started to tickle me, that politics. And I started to get active in it again. But especially the last few years, when I saw that the crazy things were going to happen in politics.
[i] Like?
[r] Like the, the cabinet we knew, Rutte I, with the VVD, CDA and the tolerant partner PVV. I really couldn’t, in terms of human rights, in terms of the rule of law. Hey, the rule of law is for everybody, everybody’s equal and everybody has liberties. But there was a real distinction between people, on the basis of origin, nationality, skin colour or religion. Yeah, look, I fled to a country where those things are just equal. All of a sudden crazy things started happening. I don’t think that’s possible, in my free Netherlands. So that’s when I started manifesting myself. That’s when I made myself heard. Through publications in all kinds of newspapers, in the media, in debates. And I also wrote, in 2010, an open letter to Prime Minister Rutte, explaining exactly what he was doing wrong in the light of human rights and international legal guarantees. And my letter also ended up in de Volkskrant. Well, then there was a huge discussion. The most important thing is that this discussion is always stirring people up, making people aware of what they have to do. I think that’s an important message and task for me, because I don’t have the illusion that I can change everything in a day and a half, but if you can make society more aware of the threats. Well that was first, huh that went on and on. At one point my own Labour Party joined the government, in 2012. And it also started doing crazy things, such as criminalizing illegal residence. And that was exactly something that was in the, in the agenda of the PVV, because Wilders had brought that in to Rutte I. So I think that’s not going well! Well, that’s when I started my petition and my action. But I also hear other things, for example that children are locked up in jail, children of asylum seekers at the border detention, when they arrive there. For example a family from Syria, father, mother and two children, who fled from Aleppo or another miserable part of Syria. They finally end up in the Netherlands, and then they are put directly in jail. I didn’t think I could do that either. So so fundamental, so essential. Luckily that too has been taken off the table by now, but there was a lot of fighting to do. Then I guess, guys, why this, huh? Anyway, so if it’s about this sort of thing, let me know.
[r] Yeah, right, about that illegal residence charge. Look, I’ve been calling here and there within the Labour Party from “Guys, this can’t be. We have to do something about that! But I saw, people woke up a bit, but in the end it went on anyway. I thought, before you know it, there’s going to be another congress, and then nothing’s going to happen. And it goes on and on. And before you know it, we have a law that says that people are only punishable because of their existence. So the fact that I’m here already makes me punishable. And I thought that’s something that really can’t be done if you want a little decent land. So I thought, well, I can shout, but maybe I should do something extra. And I thought in my innocence, you know what, I have a website, I put a petition on it, I’ll see if it attracts a little attention. I had no idea what it was… I just thought I’d try. And then I made a text for the petition. Not as a lawyer or as a philosopher, but really from the heart. I thought what’s gotten into me because of that measure? It was just that people get scared, that people go into hiding, that children don’t dare go to school, that women don’t dare go to the doctor because they’re afraid of being arrested by the police. Everything came to me and I was just going to write it down and how it came in. Well and I had put it on my site and I announced boys if you also think that this is not possible in our country, you have to sign that petition. Well really, in two, three days it went like a train. And at one point, the press and the media got wind of it, and they were gonna call me. Well, at one point, I was standing by television and radio all day telling them. Well, then it was really, uh, what do you call, uh, the fence of the dam. Um, well, then all the attention was on me. And then, it was beautiful, you saw something happening within the Labour Party. Then prominent people like Jan Pronk, Job Cohen, Hedy d’Ancona, all those former ministers of the Dutch Labour Party and prominent people, they also went to sign my petition. And all the major groups in Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht of the Labour Party, they all signed my petition en masse. At one point, the party leadership had a problem. Who thought of oh God, what now? And, and then, in the run-up to the congress last April, it was back on the agenda. And then I drew up a motion myself and said: ‘Guys, this is not possible, we have to do this, we have to get rid of this!’. And my motion was also supported by everyone at the congress. I think I then received a minute’s applause, a standing ovation. And eh, well, then party, then party leadership had a real problem, then he had to eh … But even then you see that the reality of politics is very different from idealism. It took another year before that terrible measure disappeared from the coalition agreement.
[i] They had a problem because you, you were also from the Dutch Labour Party?
[r] Yes, look, I was going to tell our party leader Diederik Samsom at one point that this was not right. And, and that I also told it in a way that touched people. Cause I was at the congress in Leeuwarden, PvdA congress. And as the petitioner of the motion, I was allowed to explain my motion, huh. I came on stage, but even there I thought, I’m not gonna keep an abstract story. I’m just telling you that I was so scared myself in Friesland when I, uh… My asylum application was rejected and I had an illegal stay. I was really scared then. I also went into hiding for a few days, lived with people at home. And I said ‘We shouldn’t want this, because it touches so much the deepest soul of the people’. I really saw everyone in the room, oh yes, that’s true, we shouldn’t want that. That eh was a huge, yeah, impulse. And I think it was a success certainly because I myself as a refugee told that story.
[i] Yeah. Okay. I, uh… Your name is [name]. And I wonder what was your name when you were in Iran? I don’t think that’s an Iranian name.
No, um, that’s right. I’ve, I’ve adopted a new name. My parents gave me the first name. [name] And, um, my last name that’s [name]. And [name] is, if I explain it briefly, um, is also a Turkish name. I already told you, my parents are from the countryside. But the story goes that my surname, its meaning goes back to the time when Mongol empire waged war against Persian empire and that the army came to the north of Iran where my parents, grandparents lived. And they settled there for a while and that man, that army command was called Queleich Khan. And he had a lot of children. Because, yes, he suddenly had 60 wives, I think. And all those children come, got that name from, from that man. And that literally means: the sword of the Khan.
Okay.
Um, so the story goes that that is indeed the background of that name. And of course I had that name until I came to Holland. But when I got the Dutch nationality I also thought I wanted to hear a little more at home in the Netherlands. And also very pragmatic, my Iranian name is complicated to pronounce. So then I got the… Also very fundamentally I made the choice of going into a new life, so that includes a new name. And the procedure started, both first name and last name changed. I started this in 1995. It took a couple of months, but I think in early ’96 I officially had, also really I have a note from, from the king, from Queen Beatrix at that time, on which is written that my name is now officially changed. And afterwards I went through life as [name].
[i] Okay. How did your family members react?
[r] Well, they still don’t know. I also didn’t… No, but I mean look, I’m in Holland. I have two lives, I always say. For example, when I talk to my family on the phone, they call me and I’m just Ahmad. Then I talk to them, in Farsi. And when I hang up the phone, then I’m [name] again. Well, why would I be so hard? Look, they’re traditional too, and they might not understand it at all. Why does he do that? And maybe I’m hurting them. Yeah, well.
[i] Okay. So that, uh, that wasn’t discrimination or that was just the beginning of a life?
[r] Beginning of life. Yeah, nicely put, yeah. I’ve, I’ve actually had, I’ve really had nothing to do with discrimination.
[i] Okay.
[r] Of course, we can pay attention to that, but no, there was no reason for me to be related to it. But it is, yeah. [name] sounds like fun.
[i] Um, what’s your social life here? And who are you, your circle of friends?
[r] Well, I have a relatively diverse and broad social life. Precisely because I’ve, um, been very active in society. That is to say, I have been on the boards of a number of associations and foundations, mainly aimed at representing the interests of visually impaired people. I have experienced one, a lot of that. And of course also for refugee and human rights organisations. I have also been on the boards of many different bodies. Um, that’s why I’ve already built up a wide circle of friends. And, of course, along the road of sport, where I have also been involved and studied. And of course also the fact that I am very fond of Dutch sociability. I really like it a lot. So you make a lot of friends here and there. Al, at all the work I’ve done, at various ministries and so on, I’ve made all kinds of friends. In short, a very wide range of social networks.
[i] With so much ambition that you have and so many activities that you do, how is it going in your private life?
[r] Well, I may be lucky to have an eh, that I’m married to [name]. [Name] is a down-to-earth Frisian, is very relaxed. And we’re lucky we made an appointment with each other. We have two pillars in our relationship, may I say. That’s, um, respect and space. So we respect each other and we give each other room for development. Um, and that’s going very well, actually. And,uh,yeah,sometimes,sometimes I laugh a little bit,because a while ago I came home around 6:30,7:00. And then all of a sudden she’s like, “Hey, are you home? I haven’t cooked anything! “I didn’t know you were coming! I say, “Well, that’s okay, we’ll order Chinese.
[r] So sometimes she doesn’t quite follow my schedule, but well, we know that by now. And look, yeah, at some point you want to… Look, for example, in my studies was much worse, I guess. We then lived in Apeldoorn and I studied in Utrecht. I had two studies and I had two side jobs. And I was still active in all kinds of boards. Sometimes yes, it was real, I came home very late. And then in the morning, early in the morning, I went back to Utrecht by train. So she has gotten used to something in our relationship by now. But it’s very nice to have a woman like [name], who understands it, who respects it and gives it space, yes.
[i] So you got a present from, from the Netherlands?
[r] Yes, [name] is a very nice gift, absolutely.
[i] What are your main values?
[r] Eh, well, those values I already mentioned in relation to social democratic thinking, to social democratic being. I think, look, I think that as a human being you have a responsibility, as a human being you have a duty in life. You’re not just here. You have to have a purpose. You have to do a service to people, to society, to your environment. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is in relation to values like solidarity. That’s where it starts with being in solidarity with people around you. Certainly also international solidarity, with poverty, with misery in countries like Syria, Iraq. I think solidarity is an incredibly important pillar as far as my values are concerned. And second pillar, which is also beautiful in social democracy, is justice. That, I once read a very nice quote from Mahatma Gandhi, who said ‘A righteous man is righteous, even in politics’, I liked so much. I thought I’d take that quote with me. Because if you have that translation of justice, it means that you are honest, but also that you really consider your fellow man. So you’re not alone on this earth. I would incredibly like to translate that translation of justice into my actions. So solidarity, justice and of course, yes, individual freedom. That people should be free to plan their lives.
Yes, and what, what are your future dreams?
Yeah, you know, I’m still working on Alborz, uh…
Yeah, well, I know a lot about, what’s the difference… uh, new step?
[r] I’ve, I’ve ever dreamed that I’d reached the top. Actually, I thought that was very, uh… On the one hand, I really liked it. On the other hand, I also found it quite shocking. I thought oh God, I’m already there. And now what? What’s the next step in my life? But the beautiful thing was, when I, in my dream, when I saw that I was at the top of the Alborz, and then, my father was right, because I looked around me, and I really saw the world around Hey, at my feet. Was very beautiful. But I found, perhaps, a beautiful ending to the story. I saw that chest of gold I did not find there. I searched everywhere, I searched a long time. And then I asked in my dream. Because it went already, still very far. I also asked my father. I say, “Yes, Father, what about it? I’m finally here. But he said, “Look around you! And I looked, and I looked, and I looked again. And at one point I saw… Now I could too, in a certain place I couldn’t look any further. That’s where it stopped. And then he said, “What’s the matter?”. And said, “Well, there’s something up there, a little higher! And he said, “There’s another mountain, higher than the Alborz.” He said, “That chest full of gold is actually there, on that mountain! I said, “Do I have to go again? He said, “Yeah, as your highest place, it’s in there. And that’s what Persian Emperor Kourosh [Cyrus] meant, he said, “In the highest place, in the highest place, there it is! And, um, so when I had my dream, I had another message, another assignment. So the one that, um, that chest full of gold, yeah, is still waiting for me somewhere. And, uh… But what I said, my dad was definitely right. Because once you’re there, at the top, that’s what I experienced when I finished my studies or when I came to The Hague or with politics, you have a moment of enjoyment. You’re on, at the top of the mountain and then you look around… Your view is beautiful. And then you can relax and drink some water there and fine and then you rest a bit and then you’ve enjoyed it. And then the next challenge is. So I’m the next mountain I started. And yes, where I end I don’t really know, because I didn’t want to mark where it ends. But one, an ambition that I, in a way, have already formulated is that I would like so badly to become Minister of Justice in this country. And in particular I really want to become Minister of Justice with a view to, um, giving human rights the right place. Because I sometimes think, now also, we have a Minister of Security and Justice since 2010. I think that’s already wrong. Because Justice, hey, the law is paramount in our country. You can’t say security first and then justice. Law is at the top of everything. So I thought that was weird. And then my own party started calling the ministry that again. I thought yes, guys! In short, I said if you ever get the chance, as a lawyer, as a human rights lawyer, I would like to be Minister of Justice in this country, from the awareness, the importance of human rights and the importance of freedom I would like to try to give a nice interpretation to the eh, to the important office as Minister of Justice.
[i] Okay, nice. I’d like to know how much, how much do you think is fortunate right now.
[r] Um, how, how? How much do I feel happy?
[i] Yes.
[r] Yeah, actually happy. Um, look, I do what I want to do. I accomplish, or yes I accomplish, at least I go through life, I can be an architect of my own life, I can give my own life meaning and form and content. And that’s very important to me, that I can eh, well, autonomously, independently live my own life. I think that’s very crucial.
[i] Have you waited a very long time to feel this happiness, to feel happy?
[r] No, actually, I haven’t. Look, um, in Iran I was a little unhappier because I just, uh, couldn’t be myself. But in Holland I discovered pretty quickly that that space was there. And that was already an extremely important condition for me to feel happy. So no, with me, it didn’t take long. Happy, I must say.
[i] You have two countries and two different cultures. How do you deal with that? With Iranian tradition and Dutch tradition or culture?
[r] Yes. Well, I never really made a problem of that. And I don’t have any problems now. Neither does my, my, my wife. I mean we have Persian carpets here, but we also have Dutch things lying around. Yeah, well, I always take nice things from any culture, be it Iranian, Dutch, Frisian or whatever. And of course I want to enjoy life to the fullest. So if I think about it, Iranian food is tastier than Dutch food, so it’s also true! Then I eat more Iranian, nice rice with sauce. But also, in time, for example, especially in winter, delicious pea soup or stew, also very tasty. So eh, we’re going… As far as I’m concerned, really no problem with that. I also think it’s a shame that people make a problem of that. I think you could also just look at which culture has the most fun and beautiful, and put it together, that you then enrich your life and enjoy it extra.
[i] So you’re combining both?
[r] Yeah yeah yeah. If you also… What I’m saying, um, for example, we think Persian carpets are beautiful and warm. Well, that’s why we put Persian carpets at home. So that’s how you pick up all kinds of, like, beautiful things.
[i] And of the traditions that are Dutch or Iranian, do you have something to say?
Uh, yeah, well, for example, an important one is, uh… For example, taking off shoes, we thought, in Iran was always like that. I also like plain, nice, clean. But also with Iranian New Year’s Eve I always try to be somewhere every year, just to enjoy. Look, I mean, it doesn’t have to be mine. But because it adds something to your life, to your enjoyment of life, um, then I join in. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
[i] And are you gonna celebrate St. Nicholas, too?
Yeah. At least we’re gonna, um, join my brother-in-law’s kids. Yeah, in Friesland.
Are you homesick?
Well, not really homesick. Yeah, look, what I’m saying is, I feel so at home in Holland right now that… Yeah, I do feel homesick when I’m abroad. Then I long for Holland again.
[i] Okay.
[r] Um, no, I’m not playing. I’d really like to go back to Tehran sometime, walk with [name] there.
[i] Have you never been back?
[r] No. That would be a nice moment. But for the rest, um, I feel very comfortable and at home in Holland.
[i] Okay. Would you tell me a key moment of your life? That would be in Iran or in Holland.
[r] Um, I think a key moment might be, uh, a painful moment at the same time, but a very crucial moment. Was the last day I was in Iran, before my flight. Then, I already told how I was doing a sport, and we were brought together as a team to train. So we also stayed together for a few days to train intensively. And the last night before we left, the Iranian authorities allowed us to invite our family to a hotel and dinner together. And then the day after, we flew to the Netherlands. And that was actually the night of our farewell for me as well. But I could, could it, could not tell anyone that I was planning to flee. So I could not tell what my agenda was. Only, I said goodbye to them, and they all said ‘Hey, see you in two weeks, huh!’, and this and that, and kisses and pictures. I took a lot of pictures. I thought I’d at least take them with me. But my brother and mother and sisters who were there, they all said, they kissed me. They said, “Come back soon, and take care of yourself! And I thought yes, I’ll never come back. So it was a bit of a nasty, but at the same time confronting evening. Yeah.
[i] Okay.
After the moment you stayed here, how did your family react? Cause they thought you were gonna go back, go.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, their reaction was one of incomprehension. Um, especially my mom who cried a lot. Um, from how come? Anyway, I explained it to them along the way. But it was a shock, yeah.
[i] So that was a key moment for your family, too?
[r] Sure! Yeah, when they really found out. Look, it even went so far, it was painful, because when the Iranian team went back, my parents thought I’d just gone, too. So they’d come to the airport, they’d even brought presents. Everybody was waiting there. And the plane… Everyone ran away, and no Ahmad came along. So they also got the blame from the authorities, because they also got, get scolded, from what kind of nasty boy did you raise. He ran away. They got, well, they got trouble.
[i] Do your family come here too? Or do you have relatives in Holland?
[r] No, I don’t have any relatives in Holland. Only a few years ago my mother went once. Because she was so worried, worried about me every time. Van ‘Gee, do you eat well? And are you okay? So, well, come and see how I live.” And she’s been here and she’s seen [name] and she’s seen our life. Then she went back happy, reassured. Yeah.
[i] That was just as a vacation?
[r] Yes.
[i] And what was it like for you to see her again?
[r] Special, special, yes, of course. But it’s also special on someone else, yeah, just special. Because you’re just really trying to explain things, show her things, where I work, where I sit, where I live, especially was just really nice. Yeah.
[i] Is there something in your life that you’re proud of? You’ve mentioned a few of them.
Yeah, yeah, sure, yeah, I, look, I can say “I’m proud because… Look, I can say I’m proud to have my job or I know what. But I think I’m more proud because that’s what being an architect is all about. That’s what makes me proud the most. Every time I can make a decision for myself as an autonomous person in my life. Of course, I’m bound by the rules. I’m bound by the law. But that I don’t have to be afraid, that I don’t have to feel it. And that I go through life cheerfully. I guess that makes me… Look, if you’re talking about the essentials, and you, you talked about being happy, about being happy. I also put that great sense of pride into the perspective of feeling happy. And that’s living in freedom again.
[i] And then you always compare with the system that exists in Iran, or?
[r] Yes, look what I have experienced myself in Iran, that I had to watch my back at the age of eighteen and that I was, well, not allowed to do everything and very basic things, eh from listening to music to choosing your clothes until now, many things that were not allowed. That actually makes you unhappy.
[i] What are your hobbies now?
[r] Um, I’m now much more focused on reading, writing and nature walks, yes.
[i] Every now and then I get very nice pictures via the web, via Facebook. And you take that too?
[r] No, no, no. I steal them, I steal them from other websites. But I think, I also like them because some pictures can say so much, or quotes. So I’m really a man of getting things that inspire you, or do something to you. For example, last night I posted another quote from Mahatma Gandhi in which he says that that most important court in the world is the court of conscience. That your conscience can be your compass in your life to do good things and leave bad things behind. I found it so fascinating. That’s, that’s also true of images. Yeah, if something like that does something to me or arouses something in me, I share it, yeah.
[i] Is there something that frightens you?
[r] Well, I don’t get scared that easily. Also because of the wrestling mentality. Um, and, of course, I’ve been through something in my life. I’ve, well, lost family, at least remotely. I’ve had to leave a lot behind. So that’s not… I don’t get scared that easily. And the fact that I’m also bold and curious. I go everywhere. For example, because of my visual impairment, I see very little in the dark. But sometimes it triggers moments of fear, because you really don’t know where you are or where to go, but I never let that stop me. I go anywhere, anywhere in the world where I want to go. So, um, fear, actually, no.
[i] You had an accident last night, too, but the interview today went through.
[r] Yeah, well yesterday I felt a little rotten. Cause there was a sidewalk and I, what I’m saying, I see very short, one and a half meters, two meters, but in the dark it gets even less. And I can’t see any depth. And I’ve fallen a few times more often, but this was another kerb where I didn’t see. And suddenly my foot clapped twice, and then I fell very ugly. And then I had a lot of pain here on the right side. And at that moment you feel rotten, but yes, do you think, then I come home again and take a glass of cognac and I think yes, hello, I have to, I have to go on in my life now. So that was a rotten moment, yeah.
[i] And then you said that many, many moments of your life that mentality of wrestler comes back.
Yeah.
[i] And what did you learn from Holland?
[r] Good one! Um…
What always comes back from your childhood?
[r] Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it. What I do like about the Netherlands, what I also got, because I said it already, eh, every culture has some beautiful things in it, try to take advantage of it and take advantage of it. From the Netherlands I find sobriety, to start with, that people just do ‘Just do, do Norma… are you crazy enough!’. Um, I don’t know if you know it, but in the 90’s there were two singers, I can look them up on YouTube, is very beautiful, that was by Tijn and Fluitsma, they made a song, that’s called ‘Fifteen million people’.
[i] Okay.
[r] It was like, it was about 15 million people on a small piece of earth, you let each other in the value and that’s maybe pretty typical, huh people are sober, people now we just let each other in the value if you don’t make it too difficult. Um, somewhere nice to go your own way, you can be, well … I still think that… Look, we Iranians are different huh, we’re gonna um…
Yeah…
[r] Of course, we Iranians, we’re different, we go around a lot more. If somebody comes to visit us, for example at our house, then we’re going to have a big party and so on and so forth, or we’re going to have to do all kinds of things. But in Iran it’s also very normal… Or the Dutch are much more relaxed, they go… I think that yes, if I have a summary there, that sobriety, relaxation and being yourself are the way to go.
[i] And you learned that from the Netherlands?
[r] Eh yeah. I actually think so too, look, look if with all the appreciation, but if Iranians would come to me, especially if they are still traditional and then all those pleasantries come into the picture. Of course also very good, with all the appreciation for those people and their habits, but I would say ‘Yo, grab a cup of tea or coffee and just go, you know, relax’. So and all you want tea or coffee or if I would just say, just tell me directly. Makes life a lot less complicated. Sorry about that sort of thing.
[i] Okay.
[i] Would you tell me an anecdote about the interview you told me in the pre-interview?
With that name? Yeah, it was a very special one. We were just talking about my change of name and the discriminating feeling or something, but for a moment what happened, um… That’s a good thing indeed that I, I had my new name and I had applied for a job at a ministry and I was invited for an interview, but on my curriculum vitae it says my name, [name] and then it says as birthplace Tehran and those people from the application committee who had picked that up, who think of oh, what a special combination, man from Tehran who then is so called. And they were philosophising with each other about why? How is that possible? And then one of them would have said ‘Yes, I think his father was ambassador from the Netherlands and he was in Tehran and he certainly married an Iranian woman there or he had a child. So there just got that name and place of birth Tehran and that name of [name]!’. That was their idea in their eyes I was also a Frisian boy, blond, blue eyes. So I came in with dark hair and everything else they had thought. And we started talking to each other and one of the questions was ‘Gee, tell something about yourself!’. And I said, “Yeah gosh, I’m from Iran, I fled, that’s that…” and I said, “Gee, we really thought your dad was an ambassador!”. So I’ll tell you about my name change. Well, they thought that was very special.
[i] That didn’t, what was the result of your job interview? How did it go?
[r] Well they finally had a suitable candidate, in terms of knowledge and skills and paper and file. I’m there, I wasn’t hired.
[i] Okay.
[r] So look again this had nothing to do with my name, but I thought this moment was very special, because they had made a whole picture of, here comes [name].
[i] Blonde, frieze!
[r] Yeah, yeah, yeah, I say, “Well, I just dyed my hair before I got here! So yeah.
[i] Okay. I want you to tell me something about The Hague? What you, what you think is special about The Hague? What you do in The Hague?
[r] Well, The Hague is, I think, maybe one of the most beautiful cities in all of the Netherlands and maybe the whole world.
[i] Oh why?
[r] Yes, because look I told you about my hobby with walks and booth, sea. In The Hague you have the most beautiful of, where I now live, near the sea here at dunes and beach and the beautiful nature and go to the city more that political heart there you have a completely different world. And of course also here ‘t, the city of justice and freedom, justice and peace, sorry. So you’ve got a Palace of Justice here. You’ve got the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice. So all of it, we call it the ‘legal capital of the world’. So everything in the field of law and peace takes place here, starts with a special character. But especially what I’m on the beach, the feeling of freedom, I like enormously. You can find it all together here in one city.
Would you tell me in a day what you’re doing in The Hague?
[r] Well, if it’s a working day, it’s pretty boring.
No, in general. You can choose a day off.
[r] Well most of all, look like today. Saturday, at least if I didn’t have that accident yesterday, I was definitely going to, let’s say I was going to go to the beach for a walk and get some fresh air. And then I also had an appointment with a friend who I hope I still will, later on went to shake hands and then it’s, well, the usual things. Look, a city doesn’t make me do very different things, doing groceries like that is just part of it. But I wanted, planning to see if at the end of the evening, because I’m, well [name] is in Friesland now, I had thought to maybe cook something with something tasty Iranian rice. During the week it is usually, then it does not come from and then I eat fast food or I know what. And in the weekend often a moment to cook something good.
[i] Okay. And then um you say that The Hague is a beautiful city of the Netherlands or maybe the world, world. Would you tell me about an event in The Hague.
[r] Well there are several of them, of course, but what appeals to me is; you have a number of places, centers or venues here where debates are held. You have the house of rule of law and also, um, Pre, ProDemos. It’s the house of democracy and the rule of law. But you have the Nieuwspoort and that’s also an interesting press centre where journalists, civil servants and police go to debate with each other. Those are the places that like to look. Yes.
[i] And you’re active in that, too?
[r] Yes, I am also an active member of Nieuwspoort and also a card of where I, a kind of press card it is, with which I can indeed just go inside. But you also have something else, I, I know Hofvijver also has a very nice fish tent where I like to eat herring. Really the most delicious thing in the whole of the Netherlands. So as far as that’s concerned, The Hague just has hope to offer. Yeah.
[i] Okay.
[r] From all sides.
[i] I want, like, I know you have an appointment at one o’clock and you want to go on the beach and you want this appointment to go on?
[r] Yeah, I said I’ll be a little late, but I left it on the agenda, because that friend of mine is from Brussels. At least he is, he’s in The Hague now. But he normally works in Brussels and we said that might be a good time to finally see each other now.
[i] I think at this time we just finished the interview, but still I’d like to know which religion you respect now in the Netherlands? You were raised with a moss, islamic religion?
[r] That’s right.
[i] And now?
[r] Well, it’s a good question. Look, me, I’ve had it struggling with religion too, huh. I didn’t run away for nothing. I didn’t think, I don’t think you should tell people what they should believe, what they should or shouldn’t believe, at all. And I already told you that I’d studied philosophy as a second degree. I was up, really searching, discovering what only comes to me, leading my own life. And in my philosophy studies I was confronted with the works of the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. And Immanuel Kant is a great philosopher who pays special attention to individual freedom, people central and so on. And he has developed a vision called ‘natural law thinking’. Natural law thinking is a very neutral way of ideology. It is not left or right oriented or Islamic, whatever. It has a very simple formula: He says, Lace says, “You have to do the good and leave the evil behind!” And how you interpret it is of course up to you as an autonomous human being, as an adult human being. You know you shouldn’t steal, you know you should help people. Well so the basic notions give Immanuel Kant and I liked that. I thought if I just kept that formula. So I’m now, well, whatever you might call natural law thinker.
[i] Okay.
[r] Yeah, and again, look, I’m good with Catholics, I’m good with Muslims, I’m good with autistic people [atheists], um sorry um, even if you don’t have a faith or you have a faith or you go to church three times that, in my perspective that doesn’t matter. I also have friends from all walks of life. But if people do at least take what I say; values like solidarity, justice in their actions.
[i] Yes, would you like to tell me an anecdote about what I didn’t ask a question about?
[r] Um, an anecdote, an anecdote. Yes, of course, I have a lot of them. I might be able to tell you one. It has to do with my visual impairment.
If you want to tell me more, I’m fine with it, too.
[r] Well this this is nice, because because because of my visual impairment I have also experienced another world. Normally with colleagues, with friends in society is just normal life, but I also have friends what it is all people who can see very little or nothing at all and the beautiful thing is with them the world is also different. Is funnier, but also more invisible huh. I mean if you can see you from a distance, I can see you from this distance, but I also have friends who are completely blind and have no idea what you look like. And you really have to give them a hand and sometimes they just literally feel your hair and they say ‘Oh you have long hair!’ or ‘You have short hair!’. It’s for them, you know, your world is getting very small. And once I went through it, I came, came to sit with some people and there was a new guy and I didn’t know him before. So we got to talking to each other, to each other and one of the standard questions, when you ask someone with a visual impairment, is, “Gee, what do you see?” huh. “What can you see and what can’t you see? Now she says, “I don’t really see anything.” And then I’m like, “Yes and light and dark, can you see that?”. And then he said, “Well, not the light, but the dark! I found such a beautiful anecdote, I thought yes this has always stayed with me. I thought next time I should be careful not to ask that question, because everything around me is dark.
[i] Yeah.
[r] Yeah that, yeah, but that’s also very beautiful, because they can also be very funny with their, with their handicap. Yeah.
[i] And you’re the president of a foundation that promotes the interests of the visually impaired.
Yeah, I’m a number…
[i] What are you doing there?
[r] Well, I’ve been a few years, haven’t I? I was, that’s what’s called the Dutch Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired. I was the chairman of that association and what we do is an interest group. Very simple, if you want to travel as a blind person with a public transport chip card. You don’t see how that works or you want to, you have a guide dog, guide dogs for the blind and taxis refuse to take you because you just have a dog, or you want to find a job in spite of your visual handicap. All this kind of stuff, then we’d talk to politics. Then we’d take action to raise awareness. In short, stand up for your own interests.
[i] Yeah, okay. You, you told me last month that you’re working on a book.
[r] Yeah.
Your life story book. How’d it go?
Yeah, good. I finally wrote it. It’s called “The Wrestler. Somewhat, somewhat predictable ‘The Wrestler’ and that indeed tells my life in Persia, my flight to freedom, my life in my new homeland, the Netherlands, about all the thresholds I just told and also about Alborz comes extensively into the picture and my search for that chest full of gold, which I describe and of course also my commitment to human rights, my vision about society and the rule of law, all that kind of beautiful things.
[i] So that now lies with the…
[r] At the publishing house. Yes, I have a publisher Prometheus in Amsterdam who wants to publish it. And now that’s going to be, is now busy with design and correcting and so on. So with a bit of luck it will be published in February next year and then I will offer the first copy as it looks now to my great inspirational Minister of Justice at the time Ernst Hirsch Ballin. I may offer it to Hirsch Ballin. I found him completely, truly the man of Minister of Justice. So I’d like to succeed him, be his successor someday. Yeah.
And you said your ambition is, one of your ambitions is to become Minister of Justice. If you get this position and then with politics you can’t live up to your idealist, ideals? Are you thinking about it?
Look, it’s gonna be tricky. Of course you can’t live up to everything, but look to say I can’t live up to it, so I won’t do it. So that’s not a good mentality either. But that’s definitely gonna be hard. But I think, I think, look what I sometimes miss with politicians, is that something really comes out of the heart. That you’ve experienced something yourself or I sometimes see politicians talking about poverty or do they say yes ‘That’s difficult, with children, and this and that, they don’t have any money at home’ and that comes across as such that I think of yes, you’ve also had to read it from paper, you know. But that you yourself are aware of the fact that I, for example, fled when I was eighteen. Why did you run away? What does that do to you? What’s the lack, what’s the lack of human rights in the area of freedom. And that gives another dimension to your office as a minister, than that you’ve just been asked by a cabinet ‘Gee, you should do public health!’ or ‘You should do housing!’. I think that’s a different, different approach.
Yeah, okay. In conclusion, would you like to tell me something yourself?
Well, I, um…
[i] Because I, I want to ask a lot of questions and like you said I’ve been interviewed so much, I can tell you everything. And I know what I want to tell, but I’d like to tell you an anecdote of your life story or that could be in Iran or the Netherlands or in connection with your work.
[r] Well look I will, I’ll put it in this perspective. I told you, I’m a man of quotes. Cause I, I get very fascinated and inspired when I read something that touches me. That I think of oh this is so beautiful. I can do something with that or that motivates me. And one of my great inspirators of all time is Mahatma Gandhi. The man who stood up in India on his own and also by his strength gained mass and achieved something. That’s a bit my, my ideal. Even with the petition I had succeeded a little bit. At least I got a mass about it as well. I like that and the same Gandhi who once wrote a beautiful, very nice quote. He said in English ‘My life is my message’. When I read that, I thought yes, that’s actually it. Because what I want and I really hope with this, with this wonderful project what you are doing now is that this story of mine will be heard, read and told. And the telling that entails that others think of oh yes, that mountain, that Alborz also beautiful. Out, huh, because you know, you know, you know, we know, for us refugee is difficult, different country you know, different weather, different food, different environment, lack of your family, everything works on your brain everything works on your peace of mind, your body, your body. Then you have to be very strong on your legs, if you don’t want to fall over, if you want to continue and that’s where I try, I also give speeches or interviews on a regular basis and then I tell ‘My life is my message!’. And then I always say ‘Please take that message with you, that message of life and tell it through and then from the thought inspire others and also give them motivation and impulse to say, if he does that is so beautiful, that is also so positive and enthusiastic, that we also want to make something of our life and want to make it even more beautiful and that is that you stand up, continue, fight or how you want to do that whether you struggle or fight or box that is up to you. But that you put down something of your life and don’t let it make you small!’. That’s especially true, I’ve also spoken to a foreign, friends of mine from Iran or other countries who say ‘Yes, but [name] I’ve tried it like that and I’m discriminated against or I just don’t have the energy to do it anymore’. I really hope to reach those people with my story through you. That they feel that spirit and that they get up again. Because that’s it, you have to get up. Maybe I should end with another quote from Ghandi, because that is what I did with my petition. He said ‘Even if you have to get up on your own, get up anyway’, because what happens is that others see that you are really just or that you are fighting for good… eh important values. Then you get people with you. Sometimes it may take time, you certainly make enemies, because I’ve made enemies at PvdA, for example, but those are people who have a certain position or function or power. They see his [name] through, this makes him a lot of misery for us. Yes, then they don’t like you, but then I still have to fight for our values like solidarity and justice.
[i] But at the same time you’re not afraid of making enemies?
[r] I make enemies, of course. Look you have to know in those days of the petition, I really got my mailbox was full so many times, especially when I came on TV a few times, a lot of people got really angry with me, who said of ‘Yes…’, they also wrote of ‘If I knew where you live huh, I would have come by!’. And one time I also got a very big threat which I reported to the police from someone who was planning really bad things with me. So yeah, of course you make enemies. And [name] got a bit scared too, who said ‘[name] please come, don’t go out at night. ‘Cause you never know what kind of crazy things they’re gonna do to you!’. But you have to shut up and be scared, right? I don’t think so.
[i] Okay. So you’re someone who really goes for the idea, who tries to live up to what’s in, what you think is right?
[r] Well, at least in my eyes. That’s what you asked for, and quite rightly so, what are my values. I think that, of course who can, I would almost say who can be against a just society. But there are some people who are at their best, better off. For example, a party like the PVV has an agenda that you think is true, but they really make a distinction between people and people. And that’s wrong by definition, and if you fight against that. Yes, then you have to go for it.
[i] Yeah okay. Thank you very much.
[r] You’re welcome.
[i] I’m very happy to interview you and I wish you all the best in your life.
[r] Thank you.
[i] And I hope that your dreams will come true and I think they will. Because you’re not someone who lets go.
No, I’m not, because I found, I found… I have to say, whatever I said I have given several interviews, but I found this a very pleasant relaxing way. You also decorated so beautifully that I felt completely at home, literally and figuratively.
[i] Happy.
[r] That certainly helped to tell the story, again by indeed spreading the word, because people really need a big brother, an inspirer. It often helps, for example, when I talk to friends who have run out of energy or energy and I talk to them and then you see, I want it anyway. Because everyone has that fighting feeling, that wrestling mentality, that’s actually in everyone. That you want to make something of your life, that you want to be successful and be happy of course, but sometimes people just need some support. That’s what I mean by ‘My life is my message’.
Yeah, I’m, um, I’m curious why did you accept this, go along with this interview. Because you’ve, you’ve been interviewed quite a bit by everyone in recent years, I think. And what has this contact or the project done to you?
[r] Well first of all the way you talked about it, with your passion and and and enthusiasm and we spoke to each other last summer in The Hague. I liked that and you described it full, well that it’s real, for me to give you an idea of how it will be in 20 years time and what the refugee issue was like. So to leave something behind, to leave something behind like [name], but also to give something, hopefully inspire others. And that, well I think of course it’s about refugees and of course we are a bit more special than the average Dutchman. I mean our life luggage is just different, huh you fled, I fled. We left a lot behind, lost a lot in our lives and then got a lot in return and that’s how you are formed, your life becomes different. So those, these stories are also very special that’s why I am very happy that you do this. Because ehm look you will never hear such stories from a Dutchman, where people who had to run over the mountains or that you feel… I have a friend of mine who had been lying at the bottom of a truck’s luggage for 24 hours. Those are stories that have to be told to you of course. Yeah.
[i] Okay, so thank you again on behalf of BMP.
[r] You’re welcome.
[i] And I wish you the best of luck and happiness in your life.
[r] Thank you and you with the project. Make something beautiful out of it.
[i] Yeah, sure.
[r] Good.
[i] Thank you!