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Voices of #Notara26 Interviews from the struggle in #Exarcheia. Part 4: “We have to keep this idea alive”

This is part four in a series of interviews with people involved in the Notara 26 squat in Exarcheia, Athens. The struggle for the free spaces here is made up of people with very different backgrounds, life stories and ideas. We aim to record people’s own words without imposing our views – though of course we can’t escape our own perspectives, or the limits of translation.

Originally published by Stateless.

4. “Sirus”

You could say my political activity started even before I was born. I was born in Iran in 1984, and my mother was serving time in prison for her own political activity. She was three months pregnant with me when she was arrested, and she gave birth to me prematurely due to the torture she experienced in jail. In prison they used me to pressure her, another form of torture, and unfortunately she gave them the names of some comrades. They were executed by the authorities. My mum was released after a couple of months, but she wasn’t able to care for me, she could never return to a normal life.

From 2004, I started to be a political blogger myself, and from 2005 I became active with the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. Like other parties, this was illegal. It existed completely underground, although there are some connected organisations which have a legal presence and carry out activities concerning the rights of women and children. Myself I was very involved with the rights of children.

In October 2007 I was arrested by the Security police and kept for 45 days in solitary confinement in a cell in the secret police headquarters. But they had no evidence against me, and I was released with a five year suspended sentence. All that happened in my city of Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province in Iran. As the repression was becoming too intense there, I moved to Tehran and found a job there. That was April 2008.

In the streets in Tehran

In summer 2009, when the Green Movement started, I was in the streets. The Green Movement’s demands were about the election, and I didn’t vote or support the reformist electoral campaign, but even so I participated in the movement in the streets.

This led to me being arrested several times. The last time, after being beaten and tortured, I was sent to trial and eventually sentenced to ten years. But they let me out on bail before the court date, and I took the opportunity to get away from Tehran and get out of the public eye.

A year later the Secret Services nearly caught me. They found where I was working, and they came to my aunt’s house. Luckily I wasn’t at either of those places when they came, and I managed to escape thanks to a warning from a friend. I was so close to being arrested, just metres away.

In hiding in the mountains

Then I went into hiding for almost a year. For months I hid out in a village in the mountains. The Kurdish people have a famous slogan, “No friend but the mountains”, and I know what that means because that was completely the situation I found myself in. Every week friends would come to bring me food, books. One time a friend brought me a hard drive with films and some PDFs to read. One of the shows I was watching was “Walking Dead”, and that was just how the world was for me: alone and just trying hard to survive.

But I still kept active, helping coordinate events from hiding including that year’s May Day celebration in Sanandaj city. When a couple of months later the police went through their videos of the demo and saw my picture there they arrested my father and held him for almost a week, trying to make him tell them where I was. That’s when I decided to leave Iran. That was September 2012.

In Turkey

I made a new life in Turkey. That wasn’t easy at all. Many things happened which I can’t go into now. But anyway, I stayed active politically, at first working with my party as a journalist and blogger, and I became an advisor to the central committee. I was organising a TV program and 2 online magazines about political prisoners in Iran, and also about the leftist youth movement.

I left the party in 2015 due to political differences. In particular, during discussions about sending a letter of support to Syriza, which had won the elections in Greece! Myself and some other comrades understood that as the party turning towards social democracy, we decided to leave and start working with other groups.

In  2016 I participated with youth socialist organisations, was involved in demonstrations and other activities, and in creating a new political party. But again, I was arrested several times, this time by the Turkish police. That’s a whole other big story, I won’t go into it now.

The last time I was arrested, in Autumn 2017, on the way to the police station they checked my ID. When the officer saw I was an Iranian he started to hit me, shouting “you’re not Turkish, how dare you protest against the Turkish state!” When we got to the station they terminated my UNHCR asylum ID and issued me with a deportation order. They took my money and used it to buy me a plane ticket to Georgia.

To explain, this is a common event in Turkey. As a refugee, they couldn’t deport me to Iran, but they have a deal with the Georgian government to expel people there. Instead of going to Georgia, I got in touch with a smuggler and came straight to Greece. That was in November 2017.

In Greece

I came to Greece from the North. Almost 8 hours walking, under the rain and on a very cold night. At first, I tried to leave Greece and get to another European country. But that was after the borders were closed by the EU, I didn’t make it out and I ran out of money. So I decided I had to try and make a life in Greece. Getting my asylum-seeker registration papers was a really difficult process. In the end I managed to get a lawyer who helped me register and get the documents — but almost 7 months after arriving.

I lived in the refugee accommodation squat called City Plaza for one year. It was run by left-wing people, and I tried to get politically involved with that project. But I had political disagreements with the coordinating team, who made all the decisions. At one point they threw me out of the building and I was homeless for about a week. When other people supported me, especially political refugees who were living there, they allowed me to return, but I decided to stop any activism in general and entered a period of extreme depression. I started smoking weed heavily, drinking and wasting my time. That period lasted for about six months. During this time I got my asylum-seeker papers.

I met a volunteer in City Plaza who was staying for one month. We got to know each other and spoke deeply about many topics, our life, our experiences, our habits and interests. Through this friendship I slowly began to come out of my depression and build myself up again. I started walking and hiking, studying Greek and English, I found a job as a translator for a movie about the women’s struggle in Rojava.

And that’s also when I first came across Notara. Though I really started to get involved when the new government was elected this summer and started to threaten the squats, in August 2019.

What does Notara mean for you?

I have found Notara to be a community that is genuinely autonomous and self-organised. I liked how they were organising here, with decisions made by the residents in the assemblies, in a clear and open way. There are many difficulties and complicated situations, but they work through them together. Learning and self-organising to survive in the face of capitalism and the violence of the state.

For me, Notara is not just a building or a housing project. It’s a place of resistance and struggle. It’s a place of humanity. What do I mean by that? If your common sense tells you that blindly following authority is detrimental to humanity, then maybe you too are an anarchist, and maybe it’s time you get together with other people who feel the same way, and organise to change society.

How is it to be a communist organising together with anarchists?

In my perspective, communism and anarchism are two sciences or approaches, two very important parts of the movement of the working class in our struggle against capitalism. Of course there are political differences. But it’s very clear who is the enemy for me.

For me communism means something very different to bourgeois communism or bourgeois socialism. And I’ve found that the communist movements in Iran and in Greece mean very different things. In Iran, communism means a revolutionary movement, fighting for its life against the state. Here, what is called communism is reformist or social democratic, but not revolutionary.

Bourgeois socialism, in all its offshoots and sects, has reached an impasse. The Soviet and Chinese experiences, social democracy and eurocommunism in Europe, or anti-imperialist populism in countries dominated by imperialism — they are all in their last throes. But this collapse is not taking place because of the pressure of radical worker socialism, which at present lacks social coherence and power. It is coming in the face of the offensive of the right wing of international capitalism.

At no other time has the contradiction been so glaring. On the one hand, the need of society for revolution, and the conditions of production ripe for a society based on common ownership. But on the other, the total absence of the organised political force for undertaking this transformation.

I am a Marxist. Classical Marxist teaching is about collective ownership, the collective involvement of the working class, of people as a whole, in the process of production and in political decision making. The Soviet model, and the bulk of the so-called communist movement, put the state at the centre of their economic theory, and reduced collective ownership to state-ism. But Marxists of my type, what I call the worker-socialist tradition, don’t have this confusion.

And, as I said before, what matters is when you find that common sense with others. That is what I’ve found here and so, without any doubt, I decided to be a part of this movement.

What are your thoughts on the present situation of threat against the squats?

We have to face this honestly. The great truth of our time is that our world is increasingly engulfed in brutality. We are living in a moment of violence and savagery. Because this is how private ownership protects itself. Capitalism targets refugees in an attempt to separate us from other parts of society and the working class. It aims to break the solidarity between us, to divide the working class and force us to accept their will.

The government’s attacks on migrants are a trick. For example, they take away asylum seekers’ right to health treatment and present this as a good thing for Greek citizens. But it won’t be long before the same citizens find their health services have been sold to private insurance companies and no one has free healthcare any more.

They attack the squats because the squats are the symbol of our solidarity and struggle. In capitalism, migrants and refugees are those who have no basic rights, who are stuck trying to move through a maze. The movement of squats opposes this and says: no, we can rise up and create a different life, a free life, if we come together. Not refugees or citizens, but human beings who all demand an equal right to live.

What is your vision of the future?

The future is the fight, the class struggle. I believe the world without the idea of socialism is empty and dark and without any hope. We have to keep alive this idea and this fight. We are fighting for it, we are never going to give in to the fascists and capitalism. We will shoot them with our hope, just as our grandmothers and grandfathers shot them!

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