Saturday, April 05, 2003

After that Kaveh Left…

(Tribute To Kaveh Golestan)

BBC Persian

In the autumn of 1978 and at the culmination of events that led to Islamic Revolution, a group of Time journalists came to Tehran under the supervision of Burnett. They had already chosen Kaveh to work with them before coming to Tehran. During the week they spent in Iran, I came to know young Kaveh, who showed an incredible interest in journalism and camera was an excuse for him to be present and broadcast exact professional information without letting his personal interests and tastes to interfere.
All through the revolution Kaveh was everywhere with his camera producing unforgettable pictures such as those of a young man sitting where his brother's blood was shed, hitting his head with a flower, of funerals, of soldiers fighting with people in the once called 24 Esfand and now called Revolution square, of Behesht Zahra graveyard that had turned to Tehran Hyde Park corner during the last months of Shah's military government.

With his camera, Kaveh Golestan achieved what thousand articles and reports could accomplish, until the day when we received a card that was in fact an entrance permit into the leadership camp of the Revolution. On the following day, Ayatollah Khomeini was returning to Tehran and Kaveh nearly fell from the street light post and if it were not for children of the revolution grabbing him he would have lost his life. Kaveh's pictures witnessed the revolution and found their way into highly esteemed news agencies abroad and in Iran they were published in the weekly magazine Tehran Mosavar.
After the victory of the revolution and establishment of Islamic republic, Kaveh Golestan appeared on the scenes of civil wars waged in Kurdistan, Turkmen Sahra, Ahvaz and Abadan with exceptional enthusiasm and later of Iran-Iraq war fronts. And each time he returned with hundreds stories and helped the reporters to write their reports on the scenes that not many people dared to approach. In his profession, he was unfamiliar with such emotions as fear.
During the last month of Shah's regime, he lost his camera once and that was when we were summoned to Baghshah for an interrogation by an officer who told us that there was going to be a military coup on the next day and we were all going to be killed. With a kind of sincerity originating from his professionalism, Kaveh Golestan asked whether he could take pictures of the coming event.

Such incidents often happened during the last nine years that we worked for BBC as freelance journalists, and he lost his camera twice again and his films were exposed to light many times, so much so that he gradually got used to such treatments and constant interrogations.
Kaveh's power of discernment seemed sometimes incredible. Like a day in 1995 when he was filming three young girls brought to the office of Islamic News Agency for an interview with journalists on the charge of killing three Christian priests. While looking through his camera, Kaveh had everyone under his eyes. He showed me a man and whispered in my ears, 'He is the boss; I wish he would let us take a few pictures of him.' A few years later when all the media were looking for a picture of Said Emami, the ex-deputy of the Ministry of Information arrested on the charge of plotting the murder of Parvaneh and Darius Frouhar, Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, I remembered that day and thought if Kaveh had succeeded in taking those pictures on that day, how useful they could be now.

When he made the documentary film, "Recording the Truth," on the subject of censorship in Iran (with the script written by Enayat Fani) shown in British channel four TV in 19991, he proved that he could be a competent documentary film producer too.
It was following the production of this film that together with one of the people interviewed, we were once again summoned for an interrogation. All through that night of interrogation, Kaveh's eyes were constantly looking for rare angles that the light and the empty room and the iron table and chair produced.

In a country where there is usually a great misunderstanding on behalf of the regime in regard to information, journalism can have many unforeseeable dangers, such as one's office door being broken repeatedly and one's house searched secretly every now and then. Each time that we were interrogated, we had to explain the distinction between information and counter-information and secret information so much so that it became like a routine for us, even though there were always individuals who finally realized the meaning of impartiality and neutrality in reflecting events. Kaveh's incredible honesty and simplicity and candidness made the officials think more realistically, even though his ID card as a journalist was confiscated and invalidated three times.
Once the incredible picture that he took from Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral found its way abroad despite the will of authorities and was published anonymously in Paris Match, a sad event as he couldn't record his brilliant work under his name in the world of photojournalism. The last time that he got into a serious trouble was when he produced a shocking documentary film on disabled children. It was easy to foresee that it would definitely provoke the harsh reaction of those who did not like such scenes to be revealed and considered it as an act against the regime.
What made him to seriously consider a change of career and living place was the students he trained. Five years ago, he exhibited their works in Farabi University and everybody saw how he had assiduously and patiently made such good photographers out of those enthusiastic young people with some of them not even possessing a professional camera. It seemed that he had perfectly taught them how to hunt events and become a part of them as he himself always did.
Last year during and after the war in Afghanistan he brought brilliant incredible photos that I was sure could win him an esteemed prize in the world of photo-journalism, such as Politzier that he had already won four years earlier.
Although he was always full of excitement and enthusiasm, never losing hope in resuming work, I saw him thrice in tears. The first time was in 1978 when Shahr Now (Tehran's prostitutes' corner) was put on fire. The year before that, he had taken photos of the women living and working there that he then compiled in an album and published some of them in Tehran Mosavar.
For taking those pictures, he had spent many days and nights in that district listening to the stories of the inhabitants of that forbidden land and suffering their suffering. He knew most of those women – some did not even have a real first and second name -and had given them a copy of their photos as he had promised which they had hung in their rooms.
The second time I saw him crying was when he brought his pictures of chemical bombardment of Halabcheh. Pictures of dead women holding their children in their arms, of a dead man staring at the sky as though waiting for a miracle and salvation to happen, of the street extending on both sides of dead people in different position and postures.
While showing his slides in a darkened room, he talked about each with tears in his eyes and at the end he started to cry quite fiercely. He had a humane presence on the scenes that he photographed and filmed, as though he was hidden behind each one of them with his signature being his humane look at events.
The last time I saw his tears was in the winter of 2000 when I was taken to the court from the prison. Together with Jim Mior, he was standing by the courtroom from early morning. It was as though he could not imagine his old colleague in prison uniform. I saw him sticking the camera to his face, with an eye looking into the camera and another eye crying. On that scandalous day, he brought his head near me and asked me sadly in a whispering voice, 'were you hurt a lot?'
Last week, together with a short note, he sent the pictures he took that day in the courtroom to the Persian department of BBC. He then left for Kurdistan together with Jim Moor and I did not have the chance to reply him. Now in my imagination I have to ask him, "did it hurt a lot?' Or I should ask Jim Moor who had been standing near him when the whole thing happened. Although I know what Kaveh's response could be: a smile and the sentence he always used to say: "This is our work, isn't it?"
An hour after the incredible death of Kaveh Golestan, John Simpson, BBC correspondent in north of Iraq talked about Kaveh's passionate enthusiasm for his profession in BBC news. He also mentioned the name of four other British journalists and photographers killed in Iraq war during the past two weeks.
For Iranians who do not possess many people like Kaveh Golestan, his death is more painful and tragic. Unless among his students that he was deprived to teach for a time, arises one who like Kaveh would look at the world and its rare scenes humanely and idealistically through his camera and press the button at exactly the right moment.
Moments like the one on that Wednesday morning near Soleimanieh where a mine exploded under his feet and after that Kaveh left us for good.