I have been holding onto that hope for more than 20 years, since the last time I saw my mother. It is for her, in particular, that I hope for a new beginning, one that allows her to finally hold her grandchild, born more than five years ago, here in Nashville.
My mother is not the only Iranian exile being kept forever apart from loved ones. Like others who opposed the regime of the ayatollahs, my mother truly hoped Iran would soon be free. When it became clear that dream would be long deferred, she joined thousands of other Iranian resistance members in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. That was approximately 30 years ago, and in all that time, neither she nor any of the other long-suffering exiles have given up the fight for democracy in Iran.
The government of Iran wants the opposition movement to be snuffed out completely. For a while, there were limits to the regime’s ability to follow through on its threats of torture and execution, but the children of many dissidents have had to seek asylum abroad.
Because of the genuine potential for victory, many exiles, including my mother, spent decades building a tight-knit community in the desert of eastern Iraq. That community is gone, along with the tenuous security that its residents once enjoyed. With the Iranian government exerting more influence than ever in the region — supporting the Assad regime in Syria, pursuing a nuclear program despite the concerns of the West, allying with Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq — the situation is dire for resistance members. Now I fear for my mother’s life every single day. Dozens of her friends and neighbors have already died at the hands of the murderous regime.
Under Iraqi government pressure, my mother and 3,000 other residents of Camp Ashraf relocated to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base. Only 101 people remained to resolve property issues. On Sept. 1, 2013, Iraqi forces stormed Ashraf, murdering 52 people and taking seven hostage. Since then, my mother has witnessed several rocket attacks on Camp Liberty and many more deaths.
You would think it would be easy for my mother to leave, but sadly, these people have nowhere to go. They are political targets in Iran and now in Iraq, yet no nation has taken steps to give them refuge in significant numbers, with the U.S. conspicuously absent. The State Department gave these people protected-persons status during the war. But after pulling out of Iraq, the U.S. ignored this designation, as it has ignored the massacres and attacks that have been launched against them.
It is comforting to see that U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen and Marsha Blackburn have raised this issue and warned against any illusions in dealing with the tyrants who rule Iran. But I am angry that the U.S. has not allowed me to see my mother again, when it could so easily give refuge to her and to other resistance members.
It makes me sad to think that my mother may still not be able to see the spring blossoms in Tennessee. When I look at them in coming weeks, they will remind me of the new beginning that someday will come for Iran and for the Iranian people.
March 20, 2014 Nasrin Kafi is a resident nurse in Nashville.