Zohreh Heydari was from the city of Qom, and was only 17 years old. Her statuesque and heavily-built physique made her appear somewhat older.
But it wasn’t only her height and strength, rather her courage and bravery, the capacity to take risks, and strong will power that also contributed to her mature appearance.
It was shortly after her marriage with a militant cleric from Qom that her husband was arrested and executed in 1981.
She was later arrested while trying to escape the country, on her way to joining the resistance. She underwent tremendous amount of torture and used to recount her memories from the period under interrogation. She used to say, “The torture room seemed so small to me that upon my return to my cell it felt as if I have stepped in to a hotel. I would take advantage of that space until it was time to return for more torture the following day.”
Zohreh used to stand steadfast against the interrogators (IRGC). Whenever the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) in Evin’s prison would rush into our cells to attack us, they would directly go to Zohreh and assault her, assuming she’s guilty and responsible for everything.
She used to suffer from severe migraine headaches. It was by the end of 1986 when the IRG brutally attacked our sisters, along with Mojtaba Halvaee, the head of Evin’s death squad at the time. They used to rush into our cells with their lashes beating everyone. Due to Zohreh’s headache, she had not partaken in our protest this time around. However, Halvaee, that evil executioner who had a particular hate for Zohreh, directly approached Zohreh and started kicking her with his heavy boots. Zohreh started yelling, “You malicious, dirty guard, leave me alone! Don’t you get close to me!” And that evil Halvaee would only increase the strength of his blows. Meanwhile, as she was enduring the painful beatings, she asked us to pass her medication, and she managed to swallow a few of the pills. As the guards were dragging her outside for more punishment, she continued shouting and chanting slogans against the brutal guards.
It was exactly because of her continuous persistence that we had nicknamed her as “Waterfall”. Her shouts were similar to the roar of the waterfall as it continuously pounds upon falling.
Zohreh and I were on a hunger strike together for a month in Gohardasht Prison. When we were transferred to solitary confinements, our cells were near each other, so we were able to know how each is doing.
One day, in the midst of our hunger strike, Jabbari, the head official and hangman of Gohardasht prison, called Zohreh to offer her a proposal. He had asked her that if she is committed to undertake what is asked of her, they would transfer her to a general ward. Zohreh had firmly told him that she shall never do such a thing and returned to her cell and carried on with her hunger strike.
She came and sat beside me and read a Quranic verse (33) from the Yusuf Chapter (12): “My Lord! The prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me.” She continued, “Strike and dying from strike is much better than betrayal of my people.”
We preoccupied ourselves by learning various languages/dialects such as Azeri, Shomali, and Kurdish. Ever since those days the Azeri word of “Oushachlar”, meaning friends or more colloquially, guys, has become very popular and still used to this day. That’s how we used to refer to each other. And that’s how the word “waterfall” (Aabshar (waterfall) in Farsi is phonetically similar to Oushachlar in Azeri) had come to signify Zohreh.
Whenever we were moved or transferred to different cells, Waterfall was the one in charge of announcing wake-up calls and blackouts. In fact, her voice was so loud and clear as if it were coming through a speaker, reaching from one side of the hall to the other. She was also in charge of announcing daily prayers while in solitary confinements. Each morning she would yell out, “Hey Oushachlar (guys), good morning!” At the time of prayers she would call, “Oushachlar, it’s time for prayers. Let’s pray together.” And at the end of prayers she’d say, “May God accept our prayers, Oushachlar.” When they turned off the lights at nights, Zohreh’s loud and clear voice would break the silence in our cells by wishing everyone a good night. All the guards could recognize that it’s Zohreh’s voice and knew Waterfall was her nickname. But she was not afraid of anyone and would face them all single-handedly.
The female guards were not capable of punishing or silencing her, hence why they always sent brutal male torturers after her. One day as dusk was falling, she called everyone to prayers. “Oushachlar, it’s time for prayers!” We all stood up in our cells for prayers. Like the usual routine she called out, “May God accept your prayers,” once we had finished. She hadn’t fully completed her sentence that we heard her cell’s door open, followed by the voice of three men. We realized they had been waiting to attack her after our prayers. On the one hand we could hear the beatings of those three heinous torturers, and on the other hand Zohreh’s voice, shouting, “Get out of my cell you evil bastards! Don’t you touch me!”
An hour of this unjust but proud battle continued. The rest of us who were in the surrounding cells started banging on our doors and yelling to leave the poor girl alone. We didn’t know what had happened to Zohreh as she had gone silent as the beatings continued for more than an hour. Only the voice of those three bastards who were taking out their revenge and hatred on her could be heard. They left her cell after a while and although we kept calling Zohreh, she didn’t respond to any of us.
We were all very sad and worried about her health. A heavy silence fell upon our ward. That night, we didn’t hear Waterfall’s voice calling out the usual, “Good night Oushachlar!” But somebody else repeated the exact line on her behalf. We had no news of her state all night long.
Shortly before dawn, at the time of prayer, our heroine once again, with her waterfall-like roaring voice, stronger than ever, yelled out, “Time to wake up Oushachlar, it’s time to pray.” And it was Waterfall’s voice which ended our prayers with the usual, “May God accept our prayers.”
She made our enemy understand that with violence, torture, and brutality they cannot stop our roaring Waterfall from defending her rights against misogynist mullahs.
Zohreh was part of the first group of people who were taken away during the massacre of 1988, executing more than 30,000 people. She was sentenced to 70 lashes in court, and the night prior to her execution she received those 70 floggings. Zohreh was truly a living representation of a Waterfall; an eternal roar of the women’s struggle; the same women who are standing against this misogynist regime in Iran and inviting others to join in as well.
Zohreh Heydari, our brave heroine Waterfall, is certainly an inspiration to all those women who are now continuing the struggle against Iran’s mullah-ridden corrupt misogynists. Long live her name and her path.