I am awaiting the arrival of Dr. Mohsen Sohrabi in Paris at the home of one of my friends.
Dr. Sohrabi, a remarkable physician, emerged from the heart of a "war-torn region."
He tirelessly cared for hundreds of wounded individuals in the Kurdish town of Sanandaj and carries with him the profound memories of those who lost their lives in that tumultuous period in September 2022.
Numerous Iranian doctors found themselves at the forefront of the protests. They not only participated as concerned citizens but also diligently fulfilled their medical responsibilities.
Consequently, the military forces, whose intentions were to inflict harm upon the citizens, targeted these valiant doctors. Many of these medical professionals were compelled to leave their homeland and seek refuge beyond the borders of Iran.
Throughout the days and nights of protests and repression, Dr. Sohrabi fearlessly stepped forward to save lives on the streets, in homes, and within hospitals.
He remained in Sanandaj during the months of protests, with the exception of November 21, 2022, a day forever etched in history as the "Javanrud massacre."
Now living in France, Dr. Sohrabi serves as a witness, shedding light on the ruthless actions of the security forces that mercilessly took the lives of protestors.
The first time I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Sohrabi on the phone, he appeared hesitant to share his experiences.
Recounting all that he had witnessed was a daunting task for him. However, he eventually overcame his doubts, understanding the importance of bearing witness to the repressions of the Islamic Republic.
Dr. Sohrabi began to utter the names of the deceased and wounded, vividly describing the horrors he had personally witnessed.
Sometimes, he would fix his gaze on a point in space, seemingly lost in a world where the images of bloody bodies, the agonized cries of the injured, and the souls cruelly severed from life played before his eyes.
Dr. Sohrabi had not been in France for long. Perhaps, like so many victims of the 44-year rule of the Islamic Republic who seek refuge in exile, he too felt as though he existed in a bubble.
It was as if, despite his physical presence in France, his very being remained intertwined with the streets of Sanandaj and Javanrud.
It all began there, in Javanrud, a place where no media portrayal could capture the stark reality of that fateful day. Dr. Sohrabi referred to it as a "war-like" situation.
On November 21, the Islamic Republic opened fire on protesters in Javanrud. According to Dr. Sohrabi's testimony, a wide array of weapons was deployed against the demonstrators, ranging from shotguns to military-grade firearms.
He explained how Javanrud quickly became a symbol of tragedy.
"On that day, I sought help both from the local community and from individuals involved in organizing relief efforts. I was on duty, and I even paid someone to take over my shift because I couldn't bear to remain idle," he recalled.
"I rushed to Javanrud. The protesters were unarmed as they chanted slogans, while security forces fired upon them at close range. The individuals I treated that day had suffered shotgun wounds, some of them critically. One patient, shot at point-blank range, was left permanently disabled. The entire city was under siege," he added.
He fell silent for a moment and then continued, "When two nations engage in conflict, they do not lay siege to cities to the point where they cannot even get blood for transfusions. But here, innocent lives were being taken, hospitals, cities, and regions were besieged. It transcends mere criminality; it is an atrocity of the highest order."
The hospital found itself encircled by forces, with the sinister specter of body theft looming over them.
Dr. Sohrabi's recollection takes us back to November 20, 2022, a night marred by the death of Mohsen Niazi.
In a sudden and alarming turn of events, a swarm of motorcycle-riding officers descended upon the hospital premises, effectively sealing off all entrances and exits.
The intent of these security forces was clear: they sought to confiscate the deceased's body. Dr. Sohrabi had a wounded patient in his care, but he faced a grim dilemma. It wasn't until midnight that he could bring the injured individual into the hospital.
"I wished to take full responsibility for the wounded person's care," Dr. Sohrabi recounted, "with the hope that if the damage to his leg veins from the shotgun was not severe, I could discreetly transport him out of the hospital."
"Conversely, if surgery was necessary, I could facilitate his transfer to the operating room. His foot was filled with pellets. I approached the security forces, identifying myself as a doctor, attempting to convey the urgency of the situation," he said.
"I mentioned that there might be other patients, like heart patients or ailing mothers, who required medical attention. However, they merely cast a dismissive glance my way, choosing to remain indifferent to the plight of those under their custody," he added.
One can only imagine the immense difficulty faced by the hospital staff, attempting to provide medical care amid the pervasive presence of heavily armed and plainclothes security forces.
The atmosphere created by such a menacing presence undoubtedly disrupted the concentration and focus of the medical professionals, impeding their ability to provide the care that their patients so desperately needed.
The Shooting of Fawad Ghadimi
Plainclothes forces occupied various crucial points within the hospital: the front entrance, the emergency department, and even the areas outside the operating room and ICU.
Dr. Sohrabi faced a daunting challenge but eventually managed to gain access to the ICU, navigating his way past the security personnel.
Fawad Ghadimi, one of the protesters, had already undergone surgery once in Sanandaj. However, he remained unconscious, suffering from internal bleeding, with a rapidly dropping hemoglobin level, and was in a state of shock.
Medical efforts were focused on administering blood transfusions in preparation for another surgery. Fawad's treating physician delivered a grim prognosis, stating, "There is little hope."
The burden proved too much for the ailing Fawad, and he succumbed to his injuries.
Two days later, when Dr. Sohrabi returned to the hospital, he discovered that security forces had assembled Fawad's grieving family in the prayer hall.
They pressured them to make a false statement, insisting that they should claim Fawad had been killed by "Kurdish parties," "counter-revolutionaries," and "hypocrites."
This intimidation came with a chilling ultimatum: if the family refused to comply, the authorities would withhold Fawad's body from them.
Maiming and Disabling Protesters
Dr. Sohrabi's conversations with injured protesters revealed the extent of their injuries and resulting disabilities – with particular emphasis on eye injuries and damage to limbs or vital organs.
He recounted an encounter with a young man who had suffered a wound to his forearm, inflicted by the stock of a gun.
Dr. Sohrabi, feeling helpless in this situation, directed the injured man to a hospital. The young man's arm was in a dire state; fractured, swollen, and bleeding profusely. The extent of the swelling was so severe that it impeded the detection of his pulse.
Dr. Sohrabi also attended to individuals with eye injuries, and victims of shotgun wounds. He observed that some had not only suffered some surface trauma and bleeding of the retina from plastic bullets but also the penetration of their eyeballs by metal pellets.
One particularly haunting memory involved a 13- or 14-year-old child who had been struck by three pellets within half a centimeter of his eye.
Shooting Captured Protesters: Even Their Testicles
Dr. Sohrabi's testimony reveals a horrifying aspect of the violence inflicted upon protesters – shooting them even after they had surrendered, some suffering unimaginable injuries.
There was no regard for the conventional understanding that a prisoner of war should be spared from harm. Instead, agents of the Islamic Republic callously inflicted further damage on those who had already succumbed to injuries.
"I was taking an injured individual to the hospital, and he had clearly surrendered, yet he was brutally beaten. His fingers bore the telltale signs of broken bones, and despite this, he had been shot in the back of his leg," Dr. Sohrabi said.
"Another patient had been a worker returning from his job. On the same night that they killed Momin Zandkarimi, they forced him to the ground and targeted a direct shotgun at his testicles, a 21- or 22-year-old young man. Another victim arrived at the hospital, where the assailants placed a firearm against his hip joint and fired," he explained.
The pattern was evident: protesters who posed no immediate threat were subjected to extreme violence, often resulting in permanent physical damage.
Dr. Sohrabi emphasized that the intent was not to disperse the protesters but rather to deliberately harm and even kill them. The principle of sparing those who surrendered was blatantly disregarded.
Dr. Sohrabi also recalled the fate of Arian Khushgovar, who had been returning home in November.
He was brutally attacked by an unknown number of assailants who descended upon him. Helpless and defenseless, the 16- or 17-year-old Arian was subjected to a merciless beating, with machetes and whatever other weapons the attackers had at hand.
Arian was eventually brought to Kowsar Hospital in Sanandaj after two hours, but his injuries were so severe that he bled profusely, suffered convulsions, and vomited.
Medical interventions, including blood transfusions, could not prevent him from falling into a coma.
Remarkably, he regained consciousness after four months but died in March of this year. His story serves as a poignant testament to the brutality endured by these protesters.
A Doctor's Conscience: Momin Zandkrimi
You may have encountered individuals who have survived wars or narrowly escaped executions. These resilient souls, no matter where they travel in the world, often carry a heavy burden of guilt within them, finding little solace for their troubled conscience.
Consider the physicians who bravely step into the midst of chaos, amidst repression, smoke, fire, and bloodshed, striving to save lives.
They too bear the weight of a guilty conscience if a patient is lost under their care. Now, envision a scenario where one side represents the government, and the other side comprises individuals fighting for freedom.
Dr. Sohrabi feels this guilt for Momin Zandkarimi, a patient whose fate haunts him, even though he was not responsible for her death.
"I carry a heavy conscience for Momin Zandkarimi. It was my shift that fateful night. I often think that had I not been on duty, I might have been able to save his life. I vividly recall advising my colleague that medical situation strongly indicated the need to rush him to the hospital," Dr. Sohrabi recounted.
However, Momin's parents, gripped by fear that their child might be apprehended, hesitated to seek immediate medical attention.
"Time slipped away, and I found myself listening to his medical history once more. He had been shot from behind, perilously close to his chest. Blood and air accumulated between his lungs and chest, exerting dangerous pressure on his heart, drastically increasing the risk of a fatal outcome," he said.
"It was a shotgun blast, and as precious minutes passed, Momin's condition deteriorated further. Eventually, they relented, and Momin was rushed to the hospital, but tragically, he didn't make it," he added.
"Yet, I can't help but wonder what might have been had I not been on duty that night [and had been able to treat him at his home]. Perhaps, just perhaps, Momin's life could have been spared," he said.
Security Forces Injured: Sometimes by Colleagues
What if the same officer, armed with a weapon, who took the lives of Fawad and Momin, and left others injured and blinded, found himself wounded?
Dr. Sohrabi had encountered cases where members of the security forces faced injuries.
However, these injuries were not caused by shotguns or pellets; instead, they occurred when they were struck by stones, had objects thrown at them while crossing the streets, or even had hot water poured on them.
There was an incident in Marivan where a military official was wounded and transported to Sanandaj.
He did not survive. Dr. Sohrabi learned that it was the agent's own colleagues who had attacked him.
He had been in plainclothes, riding a motorcycle, and carrying a firearm. The agents sent from Zanjan did not recognize him and attacked him.
"Oppressors from various units, including the police, special forces, Revolutionary Guards, and intelligence, were deployed to suppress the protests,” Dr. Sohrabi said.
"They were dispatched not only from within the region but also from other cities in Kurdistan, such as Zanjan, Kermanshah, Hamadan, and neighboring provinces," he added.
One of the officers who ended up at the hospital had been shot. Dr. Sohrabi first assumed he was an ordinary civilian but later discovered his true identity.
"Surprisingly, he was actually an officer. His injuries were inflicted by his own colleagues. Reinforcements had arrived from Kermanshah, and they were given orders to open fire wherever they encountered gatherings of more than three people. These officers were also in plainclothes, and his fellow motorcycle officers had mistakenly shot him. There were so many of them that chaos ensued," Dr. Sohrabi said.
Dr. Sohrabi further revealed that not only traffic officers but also police officers whose job is to monitor people's activity on the internet were brought to Sanandaj to suppress the protesters.
The Costs of a Revolution from 1979 Until Mahsa Amini
Those who experienced the aftermath of Mahsa Amini’s murder in Iran, amidst the protests, often likened it to a "battlefield" or a "revolution," evoking memories of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Many nurtured heightened hopes for the eventual fall of the Islamic Republic.
But how did this period appear through the eyes of a doctor?
Dr. Sohrabi frequently pondered the role of doctors during this tumultuous revolution and amid the suppression of Kurdistan, where the Islamic Republic had perpetrated massacres.
He moved from one household to another, tending to wounds, and during the nights, his thoughts dwelled on the youthful lives that had been lost.
"Every time I entered a home, I encountered weeping mothers and sisters, anxious fathers, and disoriented families. I would offer them solace, provide treatment, and restore a sense of hope to the family," he said.
"I would affirm and encourage them, saying, 'Your child is a hero.' And when they eventually inquired about the fee of my services, I would respond, 'What fee? You have already paid the price,’" he said.