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Children as Protectors: The Conditions of Parenthood in a Political Prison in Iran





This article describes the condition of childhood and parenthood in Evin, one of the most notorious political prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran. To contextualize, it offers a brief account of the events and forces that led to the severe political suppression of the 1980s. Shortly after the revolution, Iran faced eight years of bloody and long war with Iraq. Meanwhile, between 1981 and 1988 massive arrests, systematic torture, long imprisonments, and summary executions created a gloomy and violent landscape within the country in contrast to briefly lived “Spring of freedom” that had followed the 1979 Revolution. Combining research and my own first-hand experience as a prisoner of conscience for over eight years, this piece is informed by what I have elsewhere called ‘anthropology afterward’, or ‘retrospective ethnography’. My account and analysis of unconventional kinship in prison draw on the stories of a few children with whom I lived part of my imprisonment and of their relationship with adults, including their parents, other inmates and prison officials. Foregrounding the performative role of language, this piece attempts to show how not only language, but children’s game - itself a form of language - and parents’ behaviors toward their children and one another, or in general life as we lived it, were all influenced by prison condition and the sociopolitical dynamic of the time. I also illustrate the challenging yet creative work that went into generating a sense of normalcy for children and a bond of kinship under such unusual circumstances. Finally, reflecting on my own life, I trace the work of memory and the return of the past as “present,” in its double meaning, as gift and as a complex temporality, influencing and projecting my life in and as present. These reflections illuminate the inseparable relation between memories, languages, and life forms as they journey through and across time and space.

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