Balkans Post, Novemer 30 2019:… While Albanian citizens living in Tirana and Durres, 30 km and 15 km from the epicenter respectively, had some luck to avoid disaster, the members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK) aka National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR) had none. Stationed only 5 km from the epicenter of the main earthquake, as well as less than a kilometer away from the epicenter of powerful 5.3-magnitude aftershock, the residents of poorly built barracks of the Ashraf-3 base have experienced true horror. Earthquake Destroyed MEK Camp in Albania
Earthquake Destroyed MEK Camp in Albania
Devastating earthquake destroys the PMOI/NCR base in Albania, possibly dozens dead, survivors blame Iran
On 26 November, early Wednesday morning at 3:54 local time, northwestern Albania was struck by a strong 6.4-magnitude earthquake with an epicenter northwest of the capital Tirana. The maximum perceived intensity was VIII (severe) on the Modified Mercalli intensity scale. The tremor was felt in all parts of the country, and in places as far away as the Italian city Taranto and the Serbian capital Belgrade, some 370 kilometers northeast of the epicenter. It was the strongest earthquake to hit Albania in forty years. There have been hundreds of aftershocks, of which four have been greater than 5-magnitude.
Following the deadly earthquake, the Albanian government declared Wednesday a day of national mourning and a state of emergency in the Durres and Tirana regions. The earthquake razed several buildings to the ground in the port city of Durres and the surrounding villages, trapping dozens of people. Material damage and casualties have been reported in Tirana also. Neighboring and European Union countries have reacted to the earthquake with sending civil emergency rescue teams and financial aid.
For more than 36 hours, civil emergency crews, police, the army and specialized rescue teams from other countries have been digging in the ruins of collapsed buildings seeking survivors. The authorities say they have so far rescued 45 people. According to the latest official data, at least 48 people were killed in the earthquake, with 790 injured and more than 20 missing. These numbers are far from complete, especially considering the official hiding of foreign victims.
Unreported foreign casualties
While Albanian citizens living in Tirana and Durres, 30 km and 15 km from the epicenter respectively, had some luck to avoid disaster, the members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK) aka National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR) had none. Stationed only 5 km from the epicenter of the main earthquake, as well as less than a kilometer away from the epicenter of powerful 5.3-magnitude aftershock, the residents of poorly built barracks of the Ashraf-3 base have experienced true horror.
And everything almost went unreported. Standing with a colleague at the entrance of Tirana’s hospital in search of new information and tragic personal experiences, we were surprised to see a column of emergency vehicles led by a police car, trumpeting and shouting “Clear the way!” Wondering who is so important that ordinary civilians have to get out of the way, including wounded women and crying children, we followed the column until it stopped and politely asked the police officer about the VIP patients. “No camera, get back,” he ignored our questions and tried to drive us away.
Standing aside, but at a decent distance, we saw paramedics fastly carrying wounded on stretchers inside, at least two dozen of them. Some were covered with sheets full of blood, probably half dead, while others were howling in some incomprehensible language. Foreigners, therefore special treatment, I think to myself. But who? Too many for some embassy staff, too much well-treated for tourists, I wondered.
Given the obvious secrecy and strict police measures, we decided to change our approach. Instead of asking sensitive details with the press cards, we dodged the cops and approached one young paramedic: “They sent us here, we are translators, where should we go?” I asked him with self-confidence. “So you speak Iranian,” he responded. “Of course I speak Persian, or Iranian, as you inaccurately say,” I taught him differences and repeated the question about direction. “Second floor,” he explained, showing us where to go, and left quickly.
For me, things immediately started to make sense. Few in Albania do not know that there is a base near Tirana with 4,000 members of the controversial Iranian opposition group, displaced in 2016 from Iraq at the request of the US government. We journalists know a little more. Their compound is highly guarded and residents are strictly controlled, with no contact with the outside world. Several fugitives from the base gave shocking stories, and Albanian journalists who reported about their cases were facing tremendous pressures and harassment. Thus, this disastrous situation turned out to be a gold mine, a unique opportunity to find out what happened there. And what was happening earlier.
Repeating the same approach, I introduced myself as a translator and entered the hospital building. Fortunately, being busy in all that mess, none of the hospital staff asked additional questions or demanded documents, nor know Persian. Neither do I. Therefore, I hoped to find a sufficiently lively and friendly English speaker among the casualties, and I did. Teymur, a skinny mustachioed man in his late 50s, spoke English badly and slowly, but honestly.
“Not fair, we’re razed, but Tehran is not”
“It started shaking while I was sleeping in our dormitory with many others,” Teymur begins his experience. “At first the bed started to shake and I saw many waking up, then the windows and ceiling bursting down. Comrades in our and adjacent dormitories started screaming, some shouting that we were under attack. Finally, the structure began to collapse and the beam fell on my legs. I can’t feel my legs. In the half-dark I saw large chunks falling down, some were crushed, instantly dead. All this happened in less than a minute. Soon there was a lot of dust and I couldn’t see anymore, I just yelled for help. It felt like Mersad.”
Later, on the Internet I found out that Mersad was the name of the 1988 military operation in which Iranian army destroyed their troops in a canyon. Asked to evaluate the number of dead and the damage in their base, Teymur says:
“At dawn I was pulled out of the rubble. They lined us up the road and we waited for emergency vehicles. I heard that some were taken to Durres, others to Tirana. I saw seriously wounded and dead, perhaps dozens. I don’t know exactly. Earlier in the ruins I was calling out the names and out of twenty comrades in dormitory, only three answered me. But I know very well that the dormitory barracks have been destroyed, some razed to the ground, some badly damaged. Most of the base staff were sleeping, the rest were at computers in a hall, working an eight-hour night shift online. There are casualties there too, the ceiling has fallen and ruined our hard work. Simply not fair!”
It was astonishing that Teymur spoke calmly about the dead and wounded, but started to blubber like a baby about the computer hall. He seemed to be more upset by infrastructure losses than by human casualties. I asked him why the computer hall is so important to him.
“We arrived in Albania three years ago and since then we have been preparing for a new life. We have been told that our dear Saudi and Israeli allies have invested a lot of money in our base and infrastructure, that we are safe here. We have been told that we have full support of the US government and all their allies, mister Bolton even promised us to celebrate together in Tehran soon. A year ago, we got new computer equipment and for months we worked hard, promoting human rights and democracy. Just ten days ago, we saw Iranian people on the streets and Tehran buildings ablaze, we thought our dreams had come true. But today, no revolution, no halls, no computers. Everything was lost!”
“It has something to do with Iran”
Teymur’s raised voice elicited the reaction of his colleague in the next bed, chanting something like “mark bar this, mark bar that.” Asked to translate from Persian, Teymur explained that his comrade was cursing Iran and its government. “Why,” I asked.
“It has something to do with Iran, no doubt, we all know that,” Teymur claimed. I was pretty dazzled and asked him if he wants to say that Iran caused the earthquake.
“Yes, yes! How is it possible that an earthquake hits us directly? We were told that the earthquake epicenter was very, very close to our base, that there had been no such strong earthquake for decades! Is it a coincidence that it strikes precisely in the early morning hours when all comrades are at the base, inside the barracks? Someone obviously planned to cause as many casualties as possible! How is it possible that an earthquake strikes us just five days after the suppression of our revolution inside Iran? This is pure revenge! I’m sure that Iranian fingerprints exist. In fact, the Albanian police already announced that they had uncovered Iranian agents who were planning attacks against us, just a month ago. Maybe their agents buried and activated powerful bombs, maybe they use high frequencies via satellites to provoke earthquakes, I read that it’s possible. Iran should not posses such advanced technology, I hope our brother Trump will increase sanctions against their research networks, or respond by force,” Teymur said.
Just when his story was becoming more and more interesting, our conversation was interrupted by a security guard who banged on the door. “Who gave you permission to interview the casualties? If you don’t have an interview permit, get out”, security guard yelled, threatening to take our equipment. “If you publish anything in the media without permission, we will sue you and you will regret it,” a corpulent patron of alleged democracy fighters threatened us at the end.
Earthquake Destroyed MEK Camp in Albania
MEK Terrorist Cult Members In Albania Who Mustn’t Think About Sex
Linda Pressly and Albana Kasapi, BBC News, Tirana, November 11 2019:… For six years, Albania has been home to one of Iran’s main opposition groups, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK. But hundreds of members have walked out – some complaining about the organisation’s rigid rules enforcing celibacy, and control over contact with family. Now, dozens languish in the Albanian capital, Tirana, unable to return to Iran or get on with their lives. “I didn’t speak to my wife and son for over 37 years – they thought I’d died. But I told them, ‘No, I’m alive, I’m living in Albania…’ They cried.” MEK Terrorist Cult Members In Albania Who Mustn’t Think About Sex
MEK Terrorist Cult In Albania Members Who Mustn’t Think About Sex
The Iranian opposition fighters who mustn’t think about sex
For six years, Albania has been home to one of Iran’s main opposition groups, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK. But hundreds of members have walked out – some complaining about the organisation’s rigid rules enforcing celibacy, and control over contact with family. Now, dozens languish in the Albanian capital, Tirana, unable to return to Iran or get on with their lives.
“I didn’t speak to my wife and son for over 37 years – they thought I’d died. But I told them, ‘No, I’m alive, I’m living in Albania…’ They cried.”
That first contact by phone with his family after so many years was difficult for Gholam Mirzai, too. He is 60, and absconded two years ago from the MEK’s military-style encampment outside Tirana.
Now he scrapes by in the city, full of regrets and accused by his former Mujahideen comrades of spying for their sworn enemy, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The MEK has a turbulent and bloody history. As Islamist-Marxist radicals, its members backed the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah. But relations with a triumphant Ayatollah Khomeini soon soured. When the government cracked down hard, the Mujahideen had to run for their lives.
Neighbouring Iraq offered sanctuary, and from their desert citadel during the Iran/Iraq war (1980-1988), the MEK fought on the side of Saddam Hussein against their homeland.
Gholam Mirzai was serving in the Iranian military when he was captured by Saddam Hussein’s forces at the start of that conflict. He spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Iraq. But in time, Iranian prisoners like Mirzai were encouraged to join forces with their compatriots. And that is what he did.
Mirzai is now a “disassociate” – one of hundreds of former MEK members who have left the organisation since they moved to Albania. With the help of funds from family, some have paid people smugglers to take them elsewhere in Europe, and perhaps two have made it back to Iran. But dozens remain in Tirana, stateless and officially unable to work.
So how did the battle-hardened members of the MEK – formerly a proscribed terrorist organisation in the United States and Europe – find their way to this corner of Europe?
In 2003, the allied invasion of Iraq made life perilous for the MEK. The organisation’s protector, Saddam Hussein, was suddenly gone, and the Mujahideen were repeatedly attacked – hundreds were killed and injured. Fearing an even worse humanitarian disaster, the Americans approached the Albanian government in 2013 and persuaded it to receive some 3,000 MEK members in Tirana.
“We offered them shelter from attacks and abuse, and the possibility to lead a normal life in a country where they are not harassed, attacked or brutalised,” says Lulzim Basha, leader of the Democratic Party, which was in government at the time, and is now in opposition.
In Albania, politics are deeply polarised – everything is contested. But, almost uniquely, the presence of the MEK isn’t – publicly, both governing and opposition parties support their Iranian guests.
For the MEK, Albania was a completely new environment. Gholam Mirzai was astonished that even children had mobile phones. And because some of the Mujahideen were initially accommodated in apartment buildings on the edge of the capital, the organisation’s grip on its members was looser than it had been previously. In Iraq, it had controlled every aspect of their lives, but here, temporarily, there was a chance to exercise a degree of freedom.
“There was some rough ground behind the flats where the commanders told us we should take daily exercise,” remembers Hassan Heyrany, another “disassociate”.
Heyrany and his colleagues used the cover of trees and bushes to sneak around to the internet cafe close by and make contact with their families.
“When we were in Iraq, if you wanted to phone home, the MEK called you weak – we had no relationship with our families,” he says. “But when we came to Tirana, we found the internet for personal use.”
Towards the end of 2017, though, the MEK moved out to new headquarters. The camp is built on a gently sloping hill in the Albanian countryside, about 30km (19 miles) from the capital. Behind the imposing, iron gates, there is an impressive marble arch topped with golden lions. A tree-lined boulevard runs up to a memorial dedicated to the thousands of people who have lost their lives in the MEK’s struggle against the Iranian government.
Uninvited journalists are not welcome here. But in July this year, thousands attended the MEK’s Free Iran event at the camp. Politicians from around the globe, influential Albanians and people from the nearby village of Manze, joined thousands of MEK members and their leader, Maryam Rajavi, in the glitzy auditorium. US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, addressed the crowd.
“These are people who are dedicated to freedom,” he said, referring to the uniformly dressed and gender-segregated MEK members present in the hall.
“And if you think that’s a cult, then there’s something wrong with you,” he added, bringing the house down.
Powerful politicians like Giuliani support the MEK’s goal of regime change in Iran. The movement’s manifesto includes a commitment to human rights, gender equality and participatory democracy for Iran.
But Hassan Heyrany does not buy it any more. Last year he left the MEK, rejecting what he saw as the leadership’s oppressive control of his private life. Heyrany had joined the Mujahideen in his 20s, attracted by its commitment to political pluralism.
“It was very attractive. But if you believe in democracy, you cannot suppress the soul of your members,” he says.
The nadir of Heyrany’s life with the MEK was an evening meeting he was obliged to attend.
“We had a little notebook, and if we had any sexual moments we should write them down. For example, ‘Today, in the morning, I had an erection.’”
Romantic relationships and marriage are prohibited by the MEK. It was not always like that – parents and their children used to join the Mujahideen. But after the bloody defeat of one MEK offensive by the Iranians, the leadership argued it had happened because the Mujahideen were distracted by personal relationships. Mass divorce followed. Children were sent away – often to foster homes in Europe – and single MEK members pledged to stay that way.
In that notebook, Heyrany says they also had to write any personal daydreams.
“For example, ‘When I saw a baby on television, I had a feeling that I wished to have a child or a family of my own.’”
And the Mujahideen had to read from their notebooks in front of their commander and comrades at the daily meeting.
“That’s very hard for a person,” Heyrany says.
Now he likens the MEK camp in Manze to Animal Farm, George Orwell’s critique of the Stalinist era in the USSR. “It’s a cult,” he says simply.
A diplomatic source in Tirana described the MEK as “a unique cultural group – not a cult, but cult-like.”
The BBC was not able to put any of this to the MEK, because the organisation refused to be interviewed. But in Albania, a nation that endured a punishing, closed, Communist regime for decades there is some sympathy for the MEK leadership’s position – at least on the prohibition of personal relationships.
“In extreme situations, you make extreme choices,” says Diana Culi, a writer, women’s activist and former MP for the governing Socialist Party.
“They have vowed to fight all their lives for the liberation of their country from a totalitarian regime. Sometimes we have difficulty accepting strong belief in a cause. This is personal sacrifice, and it’s a mentality I understand.”
Even so, some Albanians worry that the MEK’s presence threatens national security.
Two Iranian diplomats were expelled following allegations about violent plots against the Mujahideen, and the European Union has accused Tehran of being behind conspiracies to assassinate regime opponents, including MEK members, on Dutch, Danish and French soil. (The Iranian Embassy in Tirana declined the BBC’s request for an interview.)
A highly-placed source in the Socialist Party is also concerned that the intelligence services lack the capacity to monitor more than 2,500 MEK members with military training.
“No-one with a brain would’ve accepted them here,” he says.
A diplomat says some of the “disassociates” are certainly working for Iran. Gholam Mirzai and Hassan Heyrany have themselves been accused by the MEK of being agents for Tehran. It is a charge they deny.
Now both men are focused on the future. With help from family in Iran, Heyrany is opening a coffee shop, and he is dating an Albanian. At 40, he is younger than most of his fellow cadres and he remains optimistic.
Gholam Mirzai’s situation is more precarious. His health is not good – he walks with a limp after being caught in one of the bombardments of the MEK camp in Iraq – and he is short of money.
He is tormented by the mistakes he has made in his life – and something he found out when he first got in touch with his family.
When Mirzai left to go to war against Iraq in 1980, he had a one-month-old son. After the Iran/Iraq war ended, his wife and other members of his family came to the MEK camp in Iraq to look for Mirzai. But the MEK sent them away, and told him nothing about their visit.
This 60-year-old man never knew he was a much-missed father and husband until he made that first call home after 37 years.
“They didn’t tell me that my family came searching for me in Iraq. They didn’t tell me anything about my wife and son,” he says.
“All of these years I thought about my wife and son. Maybe they died in the war… I just didn’t know.”
The son he has not seen in the flesh since he was a tiny baby is nearly 40 now. And Mirzai proudly displays a picture of this grown-up man on his WhatsApp id. But renewed contact has been painful too.
“I was responsible for this situation – the separation. I can’t sleep too much at night because I think about them. I’m always nervous, angry. I am ashamed of myself,” Mirzai says.
Shame is not easy to live with. And he has only one desire now.
“I want to go back to Iran, to live with my wife and son. That is my wish.”
Gholam Mirzai has visited the Iranian Embassy in Tirana to ask for help, and his family have lobbied the authorities in Tehran. He has heard nothing. So he waits – without citizenship, without a passport, and dreaming of home.
MEK Terrorist Cult Members In Albania Who Mustn’t Think About Sex