Global and Iranian history are both closely intertwined with the lives and destinies of prominent figures. Every one of them has laid a brick on history’s wall, sometimes paying the price with their lives, men and women alike. Women have been especially influential in the past 200 years, writing much of contemporary Iranian history.
In Iran, women have increased public awareness about gender discrimination, raised the profile of and improved women’s rights, fought for literacy among women, and promoted the social status of women by counteracting religious pressures, participating in scientific projects, being involved in politics, influencing music, cinema... And so the list goes on.
This series aims to celebrate these renowned and respected Iranian women. They are women who represent the millions of women that influence their families and societies on a daily basis. Not all of the people profiled in the series are endorsed by IranWire, but their influence and impact cannot be overlooked. The articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
Holding on is a strange feeling. For one who keeps waiting and is holding on, there is always a spark of hope even in the heart of darkness, hope for showing up, for return, for being alive, present.
The story of Iranian mothers holding on is not a story for today or yesterday. The narratives of each one of those who have been lost, or forcibly disappeared, over the past 40 years is full of tears.
There are several generations of Iranian mothers holding on; thousands of mothers whose young sons were sacrificed in Iran-Iraq war, or were captured, killed, disappeared, or simply added to the ranks of the “missing."
The mothers whose children were sent to prison in the dark years of the 1980s – and who ended up receiving a bag, few handmade souvenirs, and several pages of handwritings – were left without a grave, without a body, without a trace of their children. And the opponents who were disappeared over the past 40 years in each corner of the world, without their mothers having any sign to believe in their disappearance.
In our days, the name of Akram Neqabi is interwoven with this waiting. She is the mother of Saeed Zinali, a student arrested by security forces in his home following a raid on university dormitories during student protests in July 1999; there has been no news of him since his arrest.
Born on March 24, 1958, Akram Neqabi married in 1975 and gave birth to Saeed when she was 18 years old. She tells IranWire: "I am a mother who, for 23 years, worked hard for my garden to give fruit [to raise Saeed], and then anxiously waited for another 20 years, enviously trying to get an answer to my question 'Where is my Saeed?' I have spent 43 years of my 61 years grieving. But without any result."
With her litigating voice remaining loud in all these years, she says: "Today, Saeed is a big question mark for me. I do not know whether he is alive or dead. If he is dead, where is his body? I do not even have a gravestone to soothe my wound. Nevertheless, relying on my motherly power, I have walked this path, despite all threats and arrests, and will not give up until I get my rights and the rights of all the other mourning mothers who unjustly lost their children."
In the years since Saeed's disappearance, Akram Naqabi, holds a picture of her son, with her question, which has never been answered by any security official or the judicial system. And she has participated in every rally with a simple purpose: holding accountable those responsible for her son's disappearance.
In January 2005, 16 years after Saeed’s arrest, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeei, a spokesperson for the judiciary, in reply to reporters, said: "It is not only me who should speak on the basis of evidence. You too should speak on the same basis. Tell me, where was he arrested and by which institution? There is no evidence to show Saeed Zinali was arrested."
In reply to this question, Akram Neqabi published a detailed note: "I am Akram Neqabi, Saeed Zinali's mother. I saw him arrested with my own eyes by three armed security agents. I do not know to which institution they belonged. My Saeed did not disappear but was arrested by security forces for a 10-minute interrogation. Do you want evidence? When have you ever presented documentation of arresting a political prisoner to his family, to have given me such evidence? Did you present any evidence when you arrested me? Or when you arrested my husband, and during the six days we did not know where he was, did you present us with any evidence?"
Neqabi, in her response, also referred to her husband's arrest on November 21, 2015. Hashem Zinali, Saeed's father, was arrested as he and his family gathered outside Evin Prison with other families of political prisoners, and Mohammad Ali Taheri's followers. Hashem Zinali was tried and sentenced to 91 days in prison and 74 lashes.
Akram Neqabi has three other children: Masud and Elnaz, now living abroad, and Behnaz, who still lives in Iran.
Behnaz describes her mother as a symbol of courage and resistance. Behnaz, who was 10 years old when Saeed was arrested, says: "Akram Neqabi is a symbol of resistance and patience for us. We appreciate her motherly love even for a child who is absent. My mother is a responsible, brave, patient, loving, and sympathetic woman, even for a child who is no longer among us. She truly deserves to be called influential."