Moments of Freedom

Moments of Freedom

Javad Parsa, 2014 Finalist

Photographer Javad Parsa documents the refugee experience.

In 2009, following announcement of the results of the tenth round of Iran's presidential elections in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was again declared president, thousands of protesters who viewed the election as a coup d'etat protested in Tehran and other Iranian cities. Supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's main election rival, questioned the legitimacy of the vote count. These protests were met with brutal suppression by the regime's security forces and paramilitary militiamen. The brutality of the suppression is said to have been unprecedented in the last decade.

A wedding party in Hamedan, Iran.

A yearly exhibition of military equipment is held on the anniversary of the end of the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq.

Traditional wrestling, Mazandaran, Iran. Luchu is a traditional wrestling competition for the natives of Mazandaran, inherited from ancient times. Luchu means “on the stick.” The custom was that a stick was placed somewhere near the wrestling ground and a sheep, or a carpet or cloth material was tied to it, and the winner would carry the stick on his shoulder after the wrestling match and would then run round the grounds with his trophy.

Ashura in Iran. Throughout Iran, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, Shia Muslims mourn during the first ten days of the Islamic month of Muharram. The last two of those ten days are particularly revered, and are Tasua and Ashura. The types of mourning differ in some parts of Iran.

Hamid has lived in Iran for 30 years and was working as a journalist and photographer. He was fired many times from the news agencies that he was working for, and says his “reflection of the truth” was the reason for his termination. Hamid left Iran on September 18, 2010, and headed to Ankara, Turkey, to apply for refugee status in a UN office there. Here, Hamid and Pooneh sit beside a wooden fireplace and checking their emails; it has been two months since they applied to become refugees.

A group of youth playing on a dirt field in Tehran, as part of the traditional last days of Shia mourning in honor of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.

Farvardin 12, April 1st,  (April 1) is Islamic Republic Day in Iran. In a two-day referendum staged in late March after the victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian nation made a historic and decisive choice by voting for the establishment of the Islamic Republic system in Iran. In the referendum, over 98.2 percent of Iranians gave “yes” votes to the Islamic Republic and ever since the Iranian nation annually celebrates Farvardin 12, as  Islamic Republic Day.

Ashura in Iran, one of the days of mourning during the first ten days of the Islamic month of Muharram, when Shia Mulims mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.

Shia Muslims mourn during the first ten days of the Islamic month of Muharram.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a meeting in Tehran.

The father of this household was arrested by Zahedan Police on charges of arrest of this family's father on charges of drug use in his house.

Hamid, a journalist and photographer who lived in Iran for thirty years, seen in a reflection of a window on board a train in Turkey a few hours after he left Iran, to seek refugee status.

The Basij, or “The Mobilized Oppressed” is a militia group made up entirely of volunteers. Practically every city in Iran includes a Basij organisation. Estimates of the scale of Basij membership vary wildly between 1 million to 8 million members, including women and boys over the age of 12. Generally speaking Basij members are only allowed to carry weapons under special circumstances, but training sessions focus on the handling of, in most cases, AK-47s. Training sessions also include first aid, riot control, and emergency management services to be used during or after a natural disaster.  The militia can also be mobilized to take part in demonstrations.

The visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, to Isfahan province to make a speech.

An Iranian student during a rally marking the thirty-third anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy outside the former U.S. embassy in downtown Tehran, Nov. 2, 2008.

Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveling by helicopter to visit several cities in Fars province.

In spite of the cold temperatures, Ali, 26, a drug addict, has taken of his clothes to kill the insects within them.

A woman collecting flowers. Gilan is one of the most densely-populated provinces in Iran and has diverse natural resources, especially large reservoirs of oil and natural gas. Gilan includes plains, prairies, forests, and rainforest stretching from the sandy beaches of the Caspian Sea to the rugged and snowcapped Alborz mountains, including Mount Damavand, one of the highest peaks and volcanos in Asia.

A woman wailing. Like Gilan, Mazandaran is a densely-populated province, which has  diverse natural resources, especially large reservoirs of oil and natural gas. 

Iranian fire fighters try to extinguish a blaze at a burning factory in central Tehran, near the city’s old main bazaar.

An Iranian student holds a poster showing supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, (left in the poster), and late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, during a rally marking the thirty-third anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy.

Members of the The Basij (“The Mobilized Oppressed) militia. Practically every city in Iran includes a Basij organisation. 

May 17 - Norway's National Day. Mustafa and his family, refugees from Iran, take part in a National Day ceremony. After two years living there, Mustafa has become somewhat familiar with the culture and language of Norway, and is able to communicate a little in Norwegian.

Sunlight streaming through the window into Mustafa’s house, as he and his daughter Donya enjoy the sunlight. Norway is one of the coldest countries in

Northern Europe, with little sunlight in winter. Mustafa welcomes these rays of sun, hoping to get vitamin D from them.

Two days a week, Mustafa, an Iranian refugee, works as a language trainee at a large farm, twenty kilometers from his home. He will remain a trainee until his language skills improve.

Mustafa and his daughters playing ball in front of his house. Mustafa sees Norway as a piece of heaven for himself and his family, a free country which he spent years trying to reach.

Mustafa visit Oslo’s Museum of Technology, where they saw exhibits about the past century of progress for Norway, including medical advances and access to industrial oil reserves.

Mustafa takes his daughters to school every day, happy that they are growing up in a free country.

Photographer's Statement: 

Tens of thousands of people leave Iran every year, impelled by a lack of political, religious, economic, and social freedom to go in search of a better life. The majority of people fleeing the country go to the UK, Turkey or Germany. I never imagined myself as one of these thousands of Iranians to have left their homeland, but I had to flee Iran in 2009. The government had issued an arrest warrant for me, after my images of the Iranian uprising of that year had been published abroad. I fled to Turkey, and after 16 months of hope and expectation, Norway finally accepted me as a refugee. In my new life I have met up with many fellow Iranian immigrants and refugees. They all have different reasons for having left their mother country. But everyone I spoke to hoped that one day they could return to Iran – but to an Iran where they were allowed to vote in truly democratic elections, speak freely, dress the way they wanted to, and choose their own religion and beliefs.

Javad Parsa
javad.parsa's picture

I started photography when I was 18 years old. At the beginning I worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Sari, in Northern Iran, to earn some money to buy me a camera. In 2005 I began taking pictures for Fars News Agency in Iran after I met its picture editor by chance. I still remember that during that time I hardly knew how cameras worked. While I was shooting for them I used to experiment a lot and in those four intense years I’ve always tried to find interesting ways to shoot the subject which I was interested in. I was born in a country, Iran, where real democracy is not existing. Even today there are two kind of journalists: the ones who work for the government and cannot be really called journalists and the others who hardly try to work as critical investigators of our society; the latter are unfortunately working under very complicated circumstances in a country ruled by a dictator. In 2005 I got a full-time position as photographer with the national government-controlled news-agency of Iran, in 2007 I was admitted to the Khabar University to study photography. My images were often banned by the government that did not like my personal vision of Iran. In 2009 during the public protests, after the so called Iranian elections, I was assigned by my agency to document the events. Some of my images were smuggled out of Iran and published by international magazines, one was choosen for the cover of the 29 june 2009 edition of Time Magazine. Within few days I had to leave Iran permanently since the government was trying to arrest me for my images published abroad. I had also to leave my studies behind. I have since lived in Turkey and in 2010 been living in Oslo, Norway. Now i’m working as a freelance photographer for Norwegian newspapers.