By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
IN 1977, MAJID MET EZZAT TABAIAN, FIVE YEARS HIS junior, a student of physiotherapy at Tehran University. "The first thing we did together was to organize a protest on campus," he says. "To control the students, SAVAK had set a curfew on the women's dormitory. There were guards everywhere on campus. The women could not get in or go out of their residence after 8 p.m." Majid and Ezzat made large posters calling for a protest, and posted them around campus. The ensuing demonstration was a success: The curfew was rescinded.
Ezzat and Majid became inseparable and soon married. In 1978, just a year before the revolution, the couple traveled around Iran to villages and factories to organize workers and write about the socioeconomic situation. Majid translated and edited a book about women's liberation as well as a Marxist critique of existentialism, both banned by the censors. Around that time, their political group, Peykar, broke with strict Marxist ideology. "We decided that armed struggle was not right. The masses have to make revolution."
By January 1979, the shah had fled the country. There was a brief, sudden state of freedom, but the revolution was soon hijacked by the extreme right, and hope of real democracy fast faded. "I condemn the corrupt intellectuals and the poisoned pens of conspiring writers and democrats," Ayatollah Khomeini declared soon after his victory. During the terror that ensued, thousands of intellectuals were executed or arrested. Majid and Ezzat went underground, using false identification and living in a safe house. Majid, as a key member of Peykar's "theoretical team," continued to write, edit and produce a monthly underground publication for the organization.
One afternoon during the fall of 1981, Majid waited at the Shadabad bus station in Tehran for a 5 p.m. rendezvous with his wife. Five p.m. passed, 6 p.m. passed, but Ezzat did not appear, nor would she ever appear again. She had already been captured and sent to Evin Prison. In his essay, "Prison Letters: A Look in the Correspondence of an Iranian Political Prisoner," Majid wrote, "I remember that on precisely January 7, 1982, I felt that the heart of Ezzat, my late wife who had been detained for four months, was no longer beating, and when two days later I heard by telephone the news of her execution, I was not surprised. The prison walls were not able to separate our hearts."
Disguised as a shopkeeper with a derby and beard, he sneaked into the Cemetery of Infidels, where the Khomeini regime buried its executed opponents in a series of fresh, unmarked graves. Families of the deceased located the graves by measuring paces. Majid found it eight steps before the gate and 16 steps from the wall. Ezzat had been buried with one other woman and 50 men, all of whom had been executed together.
In the wake of his wife's murder, the poetry returned. "It was winter," he says. "There was snow on the big mountains around Tehran. I'd gone up to the mountains with friends to commemorate Ezzat. When we came down, I went to the safe house. I sat down, and all of a sudden poetry came back to me. 'I must create her again,' I thought. 'I must take revenge on her killers.' I wrote nine poems in one sitting. I hadn't written poetry in eight years. Now I know how those cavemen felt when they drew those bulls on the walls of caves. You want to create what was lost. It gives you energy -- for hunting, for magic. It's when you feel powerless against reality, that's when art comes to you."
Eight months after Ezzat's execution, Majid met a fellow revolutionary named Esmat. "We met each other at a very bad time in our lives," he says. They rented a safe house and lived there together for six months. In April 1983, they fled Iran. With the help of Kurdish guerrillas, they traveled seven days by horseback over the border from Iran into Turkey, moving only by night to minimize detection. Majid carried very little with him: the nine poems for Ezzat he'd written the day he came down from the mountain, some money, an Afghani passport, a photo of his brother Sa'id, and the torn photograph of Ezzat as a teenager in her garden in Isfahan -- the one that sits on the table of his Santa Monica apartment today.
After a year-and-a-half stay in Turkey and France, Majid successfully applied for political asylum in the United States. "I considered France my second homeland, but my eyesight was failing and I already knew English very well." Settling in Venice with Esmat, who became his second wife and the mother of his son -- now divorced, they remain good friends -- he re-dedicated himself to his vocation as a poet and commenced a period of intense soul-searching. Where had his ideological thinking led him? Where had it led his country? "I said to myself, 'Ezzat is dead. The revolution is defeated. Okay. But now, what do you want to do with your life? You have to start a new life.'"