Years ago, I wrote somewhere that "journalism is not poetry." Yet over time, covering news and human rights violations in Iran, my writing has been saturated with darkness and anguish. And my conversation with Mahmonir Molaei-Rad, the mother of Kian Pirfalak, proved to be an exceptionally challenging and profound journalistic experience.
Though I had prepared numerous questions, as soon as the interview began and Mahmonir's face appeared before me, I instinctively set aside the prepared notes. I quickly realized this was not just an interview; it was a heartfelt conversation between two mothers, whose children shared the same age, but diverged in their fates.
Mahmonir had asked us not to publish any articles quoting her before June 11, which would have been Kian’s 10th birthday, to alleviate the relentless pressure imposed by security agents on her and her family.
In recent days, this pressure has intensified, and up until the moment this interview was arranged we remained unaware of Mahmonir's situation. By sharing the words of Kian's mother, we hope that the dormant consciences of some Iranian officials may be stirred, leading to an end to the harassment faced by this family.
I told her:
"Meeting you was very unexpected for me. I really need extra strength to beable to interview you. And it is very hard for me to see a strong woman and mother like you. Our dear Kian [Pirfalak] has become internationally known, but Iunderstand how painful it must be for you. As I send you my condolences, I also congratulate you for having such a genius son. Kian is still alive and is in the heart of every single Iranian as well as people around the world. I also am very proud of Kian, you, his father and his brother. Mrs Molaei, I wanted to have a video interview with you and it will be recorded if you do not mind."
On the night of November 15, as protests reverberated across Iran with chants of "Khamenei the Zahak," alluding to a mythical king who fed serpents that sprouted from his shoulders on the brains of the young, Mahmonir Molaei-Rad was reading that same story to her nine-year-old son Kian. He fell asleep halfway through the tale – taken from the ancient “Shahnameh” or Book of Kings.
The following day, Kian became yet another victim, and one of the youngest, of the relentless crackdown by Zahak’s security forces.
A heart-wrenching image captured the devastating reality. The image, which circulated on social media, showed a young boy lying on ice at home instead of in a morgue, out of fear that his remains could be taken by the very security forces meant to protect him, to pre-empt mass protests at his funeral.
“The last story we read together, the night before he died, was about the serpent king Zahak, which we didn’t finish. He fell asleep in the middle of the story,” Mahmonir has told IranWire in an exclusive interview.
“When he woke up in the morning, he asked me what happened and if Zahak became the oppressor. I promised to read him the rest of the story that night. But it never happened,” she said.
Mahmonir had asked IranWire to not publish any articles quoting her before June 11, which would have been Kian’s 10th birthday.
Her intention was to alleviate the relentless pressure imposed by security agents on her and her family.
Access to her and the family has been impossible for over a week now, raising concerned about the family’s safety.
“We’ve been under intense pressure over the past few days,” she said. “They’ve been constantly taking my brothers, brothers-in-law, and my father to the intelligence office.”
Reflecting on Kian's life, Mahmonir shared poignant aspects that touched on the young boy’s diverse interests and the special bond she shared with her son.
Kian possessed a profound love for animals, Mahmonir said, and she would often give him baby ducks or other pets. He would later feel deeply saddened by their eventual passing. Kian “treated both people and animals in a very sensitive way.”
Kian harbored strong ambitions and had an inclination for engineering, the arts and reading. Instead of sharing the usual bedtime stories, Mahmonir would captivate him with tales of galaxies, aliens, and other fascinating narratives.
Curiosity defined Kian's nature. “He was creative and wouldn’t let anything pass him by without knowing what that thing exactly was. He was full of questions,” Mahmonir said in the exclusive interview.
Kian possessed an immense love for storytelling. He listened with great interest to all the stories his mother would read to him. On occasion, when Mahmonir unintentionally dozed off while reading, he would gently wake her, urging her to continue where she left off and even reminding her of forgotten plot points.
“My greatest regret is about the final two months. I was in pain over what had happened to Mahsa [Amini] and for others who were getting killed on the streets. I was in a state of shock and numbness, as if something was meant to happen to me,” Mahmonir said. “I was stressed and worried about the future of my kids.”
“And then it happened to us without us even joining the protests. It happened to me. Kian was my red line in life.”
Kian’s personal library stood as a testament to his thirst for knowledge. Filled with books about aliens, stars, galaxies, and notable scientists, it was a treasure trove of imagination. “Whatever story you can name, Kian had it,” Mahmonir said.
Mahmonir’s cherished memories of Kian's love for animals, his curiosity, and his passion for storytelling and knowledge, were a testament to his vibrant spirit. But for her they are more than memories.
“You can talk about memories when you don’t have a person with you anymore and you think of him every now and then. But I still live with Kian. Even when I wake up in the morning, I feel like he was in my dreams all night. I may not remember those dreams, but I feel that he’s been with me all night. So, I can’t mention one memory. He’s always with me,” she said.
From a young age Kian had wanted to become a robotics engineer – and he wanted to “experience everything.”. He learned gymnastics, wrestling, and had started taekwondo, and was the go-to goalkeeper for football matches at school, though he wanted to play in the forward positions.
“On one particular Monday, he returned home and sat in a corner,” Mahmonir said. “When I asked him why he was upset, he said nothing. I asked him again, and he said he wanted to play as a striker but that his teacher asked him to be goalkeeper. I asked who else in his class had goalies’ gloves and he said no one. So, that’s why they chose him.”
Kian enjoyed watching Messi and Ronaldo play football, like all children, and in Iran he was a fan of Persepolis FC. He also followed the German club Dortmund FC. “I really wanted Dortmund to win this year, but it didn’t happen,” Mahmonir said.
Kian also enjoyed playing darts – a game his mother warned him about, to be careful – and he won first place at school.
He was also a keen chess player and, after taking just a two-day course, his mother could never beat him. “You should think [ahead],” Kian would tell her. “You can’t just move your pieces [like this or that].”
But while Kian was known for his joyful and energetic nature, he also found solace in his room, where he would immerse himself in drawing and painting.
Mahmonir was deeply moved when, on the day of his burial, she discovered his collection of drawings in his backpack. His artworks were remarkably sophisticated, she said, speaking as a teacher of graphics and painting, and she was surprised to realize that she had never taught him how to draw. Most significant of all, perhaps, was his last drawing, portraying the angel of death.
“I wish he’d shown me his drawings earlier,” Mahmonir said. “I wish I didn’t see them only after he’s gone.”
“Kian was my best friend,” she added. “Kian and I always had something to talk about. He’d ask his father to take his younger brother out so we could have time to watch tv and talk, eat something, be together. … I regret some things now. There were things that we wanted to do, places to visit together, but we didn’t have time. I would either be at work, or he at school. But we spent lots of time with each other. I think we could have done that for a hundred years. I lost my best friend.”
He was a genius and his mother’s best friend – but also still a child who loved childhood things.
“He watched every Harry Potter film at least 10 times,” Mahmonir said. “One day we went to a film club. He gave them his memory stick and asked them for several films … I’ve misplaced the memory stick. I took it somewhere to print some of his photos, but then I lost the stick. I don’t know what I did with it.”
Kian was a reluctant eater when young, though as he got older his appetite grew, and he loved tropical fruits such as pineapple, strawberry, coconut and banana, and had long wanted to try dragon fruit. His favorite foods were zereshk (barberry) rice, fried chicken, and koobideh (minced lamb) kebab.
In the family’s small city of Izeh, one of Kian’s former teachers has said that they plan to open a robotics training center for children, named after Kian Pirfalak, because of his enthusiasm for robotics. Mahmonir said “there are many intelligent children in Izeh, but there’s no opportunity for them to grow.”
Kian’s brother, Radin, is also suffering from the trauma of losing his sibling.
Radin “has become very dependant on me,” Mahmonir said. “He keeps kissing me and hugging me. I’m very worried about him. He tells me ‘You’re beautiful’ whenever he sees me. I’m very worried. Why should a kid his age try so hard to make me happy? You can’t believe it. He keeps coming to me and says ‘I’m with you. I’m your son.’ He recently said to me, ‘Mum, I do not want to lose you.’ He’s very afraid that he will lose me.”
Kian’s birth was difficult, she added, and she was heavily medicated when she was in labor.
“I wish I had died during that time, so that I wouldn’t have to live through this now,”Mahmonir said. “Nothing is worse than a child becoming your life, you wish the bestfor him, and then to witness his death. … When I talk about Kian, I see grief inpeople’s eyes. When I bring up Kian’s name, I see people become sad. It reminds methat Kian is gone. I can’t believe he’s dead and I don’t want to believe it. I’m still living with him. Kian is everywhere.”