A Bilingual Edition with Critical Introduction, Annotations and Archival Material. Edited and Translated by Nima Mina, SOAS, University of London (2019)
Those of us who remember the 1970s in Iran know Freydoun Farokhzad as a singer, songwriter and host of the popular Mikhak-e Noqreyi television show, which was broadcast for several years and made Freydoun one of the most successful personalities in the history of Iranian television. Less well known than his work as a songwriter, composer, recording artist and show host are Freydoun’s contributions to literature, including his own poetry written in Persian, translations of poetry mainly from English, French and German and his work as the organizer of the Forough Farokhzad literary award. Freydoun founded this award shortly after his return to Iran in the late 1960s, and during the 1970s it evolved into a landmark event which was taken especially seriously by politicized Iranian writers. Recipients of the prize included such prominent, socially and politically engaged writers and dissidents of the pre-revolution era as Ahmad Shamlou, Esmail Khoi and Sohrab Sepehri, as well as younger talents like Hossein Monzavi, Mohammad Zokayi and Seyyed Ai Salehi, who became better known after winning the award. Towards the end of the 1970s and with the rise of the revolutionary movement, the award ceremony lost its popularity and was eventually discontinued by Freydoun himself.
Initially, Freydoun observed the birth of the revolutionary movement in the autumn of 1977 with some degree of sympathy, and even participated in aid initiatives such as collections of money and drugs for the wounded victims of street demonstrations. After the change of power in February 1979, however, he was shocked at the outbreak of indiscriminate violence against those who were accused of being agents of the overthrown regime. Like many other actors, singers and dancers who were celebrities in the pre-revolution era, he was summoned before the revolutionary tribunal and forced to sign a statement of commitment obligating him to refrain from any form of public performance. The revolutionary tribunal also ruled that portions of his property were to be confiscated by the Islamic Republic.
He distanced himself from the revolution, but stayed in Iran until 1982, when he eventually left the country by crossing the border into Turkey with his companion Said Mohammadi. From Turkey they were granted permission to enter France and move to Paris, the international centre of organized opposition in the 1980s. A wide spectrum of Iranian oppositional groups and organizations were active in Paris during those years, including royalist activists who fought for the overthrow of the post-revolution regime and the reinstatement of the monarchy. After 1981, political organizations and associations that had participated in the revolution of 1979 but had been ousted by Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers gradually found their way to Paris. Freydoun fraternized with activists from the conservative side of the opposition spectrum; after two years, he broke his silence and began working again as a singer and television show host, this time with a distinctly counter-revolutionary agenda. During his years in exile he lived in Paris, Los Angeles, Hamburg and Bonn. He helped underage Iranian POWs, travelled to Iraq three times on behalf of UNICEF, and each time brought between 25 and 30 of these children back to Europe with him. In the 1980s he also acted in Houshang Allahyari’s feature film I Love Vienna. In subsequent years he actively supported the organization Derafsh-e Kaviani, founded by Manuchehr Ganji in Paris, and moderated a show on the organization’s shortwave radio programme. Finally, at the end of his life, he became one of the most prominent victims of the Islamic Republic’s state terrorism, which reached a historical peak during the presidency of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the 1990s under Intelligence Ministers Ali Fallahian and Qorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi. On 6 August 1992, Freydoun was stabbed to death and beheaded by three assassins in his apartment on the outskirts of Bonn.
In Europe and North America, Freydoun used his popularity to draw large audiences to his shows, which always had anti-regime content. It is conceivable that his relentless and radical criticism of the Islamic Republic, of its ideological and political foundations, and of its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were the real reason for his assassination.
The German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (Bundeskriminalamt) and the Interpol appeared at the crime scene only three days after the murder and carried out extensive investigations which – according to members of the Farokhzad family, who flew in from Iran and other parts of Germany – must have led to a clear identification of the assassins. However, no one was charged on the basis of these investigations, and the case never resulted in a judicial process such as the Mykonos trial in Berlin. It appears that Freydoun was also the victim of the “critical dialogue” that dominated German foreign policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran in the early 1990s. Under the pretext of “critical dialogue” and in the interest of lucrative business relations which had reached unprecedented levels in the early 1990s, German authorities tolerated and overlooked certain “misdemeanours” on the part of the Islamic Republic, as long as the personal security of German-born citizens was not directly affected. The last years of Freydoun’s life, his political engagement in exile and the nature of his possible interaction with his assassins are among the enigmatic parts of his legacy. The truth about his murder will only be reconstructed when the Islamic Republic ceases to exist, when open access to the archives of its intelligence ministry is granted – and, of course, when the German and international authorities disclose their findings.
During the eleven years of his life in exile, Freydoun published two volumes of his poetry in Persian, but seemingly never tried to write in a foreign language. As a student in Germany more than 25 years earlier, however, he had written poetry in German. These poems were highly acclaimed in the German-speaking countries of Europe (West and East Germany, Austria and Switzerland). News of his success even travelled to Iran and was noted primarily by people who knew his family name through his sister. In 1964 Freydoun published a book of poetry entitled Andere Jahreszeit ( Another Season). With this book, he became the third Iranian in the history of German literature to write in German and publish widely.
Before Freydoun, two other Iranians had 14 already written and published poetry and prose in German: the poet Cyrus Atabay, who had been raised and educated in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and Bozorg Alavi, who published a collection of short stories entitled Die weiße Mauer in East Germany in the late 1950s. Freydoun established contact with Atabay in Munich and with Alavi in East Berlin while he was a student in Munich.
Portions of Freydoun’s book of poetry in German were translated into Persian more than 40 years later by his older sister Forough’s adoptive son Hossain Mansouri and by the poet Mirza Agha Asgari (Mani) in collaboration with Daryoush Marzban. Apart from these translations, the content of this book was unknown to the Iranian public, although Freydoun himself occasionally mentioned its existence.
Before discussing the book in detail, it is helpful to gain an overview of Freydoun’s life in Germany and his involvement with German language and literature.
After finishing school in Tehran (first Razi, later Pirnia and Sharaf), Freydoun went to Germany in 1958 at the age of 22 in order to pursue university studies. His elder brother Amir Masoud had been in Germany since 1952 and had studied medicine at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich; he was married and established in that city. Following Amir, Freydoun – and later the other brothers and one sister – moved to Munich. Two years earlier, Forough had also spent the winter of 1956 with Amir in Munich, learning German and translating a book of poetry into Persian. Freydoun attended a language school during the week and worked at a farm in the village of Versmold, near Bielefeld, on weekends, commuting every week between the Bavarian capital in the south and rural Lower Saxony in the north. His musical talent contributed to the speed and thoroughness with which he learned German. Already as a high school student, he had developed an interest in music and performed as a singer in school functions.
Having met the language entry requirements, he was accepted to study social sciences at the LMU in Munich. Ever since his first encounter with the German language, he had been reading 19th and 20th-century poetry, and while studying political science at the Geschwister Scholl Institute he began establishing contacts with artists and writers in Munich. In 1962, while visiting a Munich-based American author, he met the writer and actress Anja Buczkowski. They married in 1962 and remained together for 12 years. Anja, who was a few years older than Freydoun, had studied German literature and recited poetry for a literary programme on Bavarian radio. The couple moved into a large apartment on Hohenzollernstraβe in Munich, and Anja helped Freydoun cultivate his interest in German poetry. Freydoun began publishing samples of his work in the literary supplement of the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the German section of the Persian cultural magazine Kaveh. In 1963, German author and literary critic Martin Walser selected 11 poems by Freydoun for the literary yearbook Vorzeichen 2, where major voices in contemporary German literature were presented.
In 1963, Freydoun compiled a selection of his poems into a book-length manuscript and began searching for a German publisher. He only approached established and prestigious companies such as Suhrkamp, which had already published his poems in the Vorzeichen 2 yearbook. He finally reached an agreement with Hermann- Luchterhand-Verlag in Neuwied and Berlin; the afterword of this edition was written by Johannes Bobrowski, one of the most significant writers of poetry and prose in post-WWII German literature.
While he was a student at the LMU in Munich, Freydoun travelled often and attended lectures at the University of Vienna and the Free University of Berlin.
The political situation in divided Germany fascinated him, and he travelled repeatedly from Munich to West Berlin, visiting East Berlin frequently and contrasting his experience of the two contradictory socio-economic orders in the two parts of the city. His preoccupation with the “German-German question” was reflected in his book of poetry Andere Jahreszeit, one of whose chapters was dedicated to this theme. In East Berlin he visited Johannes Bobrowski, who read his work with interest. Bobrowski’s socialist views had a strong impact on Freydoun, who himself had radical Marxist affinities.
At the time of the American and British coup against the government of Dr Mohammad Mosaddeq on 19 August 1953, Freydoun was a member of the clandestine youth organisation of the Tudeh Party, which had been banned as early as February 1949. Without the knowledge of his father, who was a colonel in the Imperial Armed Forces of Iran, he had hidden several comrades from the Tudeh youth organisation at the family home. Later, in Munich, exiled student activists such as Mehdi Khanbaba Tehrani, who were linked with the Tudeh Party’s leadership in Leipzig, and founding members of the Confederation of Iranian Students such as Mohsen Rezvani and Kurosh Lashai were among his close friends.
Most likely under the influence of his dialogue with Bobrowski, Freydoun chose to write his master’s thesis in political science on the relation between the state and the Protestant church in the GDR.After finishing his master’s degree cum laude, he immediately started working on a PhD thesis entitled “Marx, Engels, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and the Polish Question”. After Forough’s death in February 1967, he decided to return to Iran together with Anja and their son Rostam (born in 1966), and never finished the PhD thesis.
Years later, when Anja and Rostam had returned to Germany and Freydoun was living alone in his home in the Amir Abad district of Tehran, a large picture of Rosa Luxemburg hung in his living room, as most people recall who visited him during that time.
Five months after the publication of his book of poetry, Freydoun received the literary award of the city of Berlin. On this occasion Johannes Bobrowski came from East Berlin and gave a speech in his honour during the ceremony in the western part of the city.
Freydoun Farokhzad and Johannes Bobrowski maintained their friendship through the exchange of postcards and letters between East Berlin and Munich until Bobrowski’s sudden death on 2 September 1965. A three-page letter, a postcard and an unpublished poem entitled Herbst ( Autumn) were found in the German Literary Archive (Deutsches Literaturarchiv) in the special collection of Johannes Bobrowski’s unpublished works and correspondence. The text of the poem is included in this book, as are reproductions of the handwritten letter, of the postcard and of the typed manuscript of the poem. The letter and postcard indicate that there must have been a two-way communication between Freydoun Farokhzad and Johannes Bobrowski; however, Bobrowski’s response to Freydoun could not be found by Freydoun’s sister Pouran among his personal effects in Iran. In the note on the postcard dated 24 April 1964, Freydoun expresses his love for the city of Berlin, stating that he had been able to meet like-minded people there.
At the time the postcard was written, the Wall had already been erected and Berlin was a divided city; Bobrowski’s address, Ahornallee 26, was on the outskirts of the Soviet sector in the eastern borough of Friedrichshagen. In a three-page letter dated 26 April 1964, Freydoun uses the polite form of address “Sie” for Bobrowski, although he states that he would rather use the informal “du”, since from the very beginning of their encounter he had felt as if they had known each other for a long time.
He seems to have received books of Bobrowski’s poems, and says he is going to read them again, now that he knows the person behind them. The two men must have become personally acquainted in early 1964. It appears that just before the postcard was written, Freydoun had met Johannes Bobrowski somewhere outside of East Germany, possibly in West Berlin. In the letter he asks whether Bobrowski had already written the “afterword”, referring to the text included in this book. Freydoun seems to have sent Bobrowski a bundle of poems as a manuscript. He asks Bobrowski to discard a poem with the title Zwecklos ( Pointless), because he is unhappy with it and it is an early work. The letter contains references to Freydoun’s communication with the publisher Suhrkamp-Verlag (Frankfurt), with a copy editor and literary critic only identified by her first name, Elisabeth, and with the editorial board of the East German magazine Sinn und Form.
In his afterword to the book, Bobrowski describes Freydoun as “a man with clear-cut, confident movements”, who “comes from a land of great poetic traditions”. When he writes in German, that is, “in a language he has learned and which he wields as such”, he does not feel the burden of the history and literary traditions of this language. “... [T]he naturalness we notice in the language extends all the way to the metaphors, the imagery; they immediately gain life and energy from the initial situation so that they evolve into actions and are able to grow, to walk, to fly”. He believes in Freydoun as a German poet and invites his readers to “greet him warmly”.
The book Andere Jahreszeit is only 63 pages long, including Bobrowski’s three-page afterword. It begins with a dedication to Anja, curiously written in the present perfect tense: Für Anja – ich habe sie sehr geliebt ( For Anja – I have loved her very much) .
Following the dedication is a tanka by Sasaki Nobutsuna:
Whether or not
a trace remains
on the road –
will I go my way