Luisa Hommerich, Zeit Online, November 16 2021:… Iranian Mojahedin Khalq . The cult headquarters is evidently located in the respectable Berlin district of Wilmersdorf, in a quiet cross street between two tennis clubs. The villa is painted beige, neatly trimmed bushes adorn the front garden, flower boxes the window sills, behind the windows hang blue curtains. Here, behind the bourgeois façade, an Iranian political cult is said to have largely isolated about 50 women and men from the outside world until a few years ago.
Iranian Mojahedin Khalq – Struggle For Freedom Using Cultic Methods
Several members of the Bundestag support a political cult that wants to overthrow the Iranian regime. Dropouts report degrading practices – even in Berlin.
By Luisa Hommerich
November 15, 2021
The cult headquarters is evidently located in the respectable Berlin district of Wilmersdorf, in a quiet cross street between two tennis clubs. The villa is painted beige, neatly trimmed bushes adorn the front garden, flower boxes the window sills, behind the windows hang blue curtains. Here, behind the bourgeois façade, an Iranian political cult is said to have largely isolated about 50 women and men from the outside world until a few years ago.
The name of this organization: the People’s Mojahedin. These are Iranian exiles who want to overthrow the clerical regime in their home country. Externally, these Iranian resistance fighters pretend to be democratic and freedom loving. But, according to former residents, members were manipulated and detained in the villa using psychological techniques. They also describe ideological sessions in which they had to criticize themselves and confess their sexual thoughts to a group. Speaking about “mind control” and “brainwashing.”
When asked, the People’s Mojahedin did not respond to these allegations. In a public statement, however, they described them as “lies and slander”. In previous statements, the organization also denied using psychological techniques. Through a law firm, it announced that information about the People’s Mojahedin was largely controlled by the Iranian secret service. This portrayal is apparently also supported by some prominent supporters: for example, German politicians who have been advocating for the People’s Mojahedin for years.
Can it be? A kind of political cult centre, in the middle of Berlin-Wilmersdorf?
ZEIT ONLINE has spent months researching, evaluating archive material and internal documents, interviewing not only dropouts but also experts – and considers the reports of the former residents of the villa to be credible.
Psychological techniques and lobbying
For years, allegations have been known that the People’s Mojahedin are supposed to make members abroad, for example in Albania, submissive by means of psychological techniques. Two weeks ago, ZEITmagazin also reported that the organization allegedly smuggled dozens of children from Cologne to Iraq in the nineties and detained them there with the help of such techniques (ZEIT No. 44/2021), which they deny. For the first time, there is now evidence that the People’s Mojahedin have allegedly used similar methods in Germany in recent times.
The People’s Mojahedin have changed many times in the course of their history. Until 2009, they were on the EU’s terror list. In the meantime, they no longer appear militant, so they are no longer an object of scrutiny for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Today, they mainly engage in lobbying. For example, they organize signature campaigns and call on politicians to break off all diplomatic relations with Iran. They are currently drumming against the nuclear negotiations with Iran, which the EU wants to resume at the end of November.
In Europe and the USA, they are active under the label National Council of Resistance Iran (NCRI). The headquarters are located near Paris, the German headquarters are located in the Villa in Berlin. The organization presents itself as the main democratic opposition to the Iranian regime, with thousands of members and supporters worldwide.
The US government saw the People’s Mojahedin as an ally
This has made them some friends among politicians, such as members of the Trump administration. Just recently, in late October, former US Deputy Secretary of State Mike Pence called the leader of the People’s Mojahedin, a 67-year-old Iranian woman named Maryam Rajavi, an “inspiration to the world.” And in Germany, an association called the German Solidarity Committee for a Free Iran (DSFI) has been campaigning for the People’s Mojahedin for many years. Former Bundestag President Rita Süssmuth sits on the advisory board. When asked, she did not want to comment on the allegations against the People’s Mojahedin.
Again and again, members of the Bundestag also took part in the events of this support committee – in a video conference in November 2020, for example, the two Hamburg CDU deputies Christoph Ploß and Christoph de Vries. “A democratic alternative to the ruling mullah’s regime in Iran,” de Vries calls the people’s Mojahedin’s front organization, the National Council of Resistance. Thomas Erndl (CSU), Lukas Köhler (FDP) and Bernhard Daldrup (SPD) also took part in such conferences, as did former Bundestag President Norbert Lammert (CDU) – and the People’s Mojahedin leader Mariam Rajavi.
Democratic inspiration or dangerous cult – opinions on the People’s Mojahedin could hardly be further apart. Why that is can be explained in part by their history. The People’s Mojahedin was founded in Tehran in 1965 – initially as an Islamic and in parts Marxist and anti-imperialist inspired clandestine organization. They helped overthrow the Shah in 1979. But the ensuing clerical regime did not involve them in power and instead persecuted them – and executed thousands of People’s Mojahedin. Those who survived carried out attacks on public officials and eventually fled into exile, most of them to Iraq. From there, they fought alongside Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war against their own country.
“Personality cult in its most extreme form”
In Iraq, they became more and more of a cult, as the US historian Ervand Abrahamian describes it. Around the then leader Massoud Rajavi “a personality cult in its most extreme form” had developed. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, married couples had to divorce for ideological reasons, and children were separated from their parents. The U.S. State Department concluded in a 1994 report that the organization was an “opposition cult.” Members in the West would sometimes live in community houses, they would get little money of their own there and would have strictly structured days – this is exactly what dropouts now claim about the villa in Berlin. And German security circles also see the People’s Mojahedin to this day as a self-contained group with cult-like structures.
The fact that the organization nevertheless managed to paint a positive picture of itself in the West has a lot to do with August 14, 2002, the day on which the People’s Mojahedin surprisingly entered the stage of geopolitics: At that time, the US spokesman for the National Council of Resistance presented evidence at a press conference in Washington that Iran was working on a secret nuclear programme. A sensation. As the New Yorker later revealed, the Israeli secret service Mossad had leaked the information to the People’s Mojahedin. But to this day, the organization benefits from the credibility it enjoyed back then.
Apparently some of the US soldiers who invaded Iraq seven months later also let themselves be wrapped up by the People’s Mojahedin. This is suggested by a report by the RAND think tank, which advises the US armed forces. According to the report, the People’s Mojahedin presented themselves as friends of America who could provide information about Iran.
The charm offensive was successful: In June 2004, the US Department of Defense classified the People’s Mojahedin in Iraq as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention – even though the organization was still on Washington’s terror list at the time. According to media reports from the time, hardliners such as Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney wanted to keep the resistance fighters warm as a possible weapon against Iran. Later, starting in 2005, U.S. Special Forces trained some People’s Mojahedin in the Nevada desert, according to research by the New Yorker. According to NBC, they also killed nuclear physicists in Iran on behalf of the Mossad. The organization has always denied this.
“They controlled us – mentally, socially, financially”
From 2009, however, it became dangerous for many members of the People’s Mojahedin. More than 3,000 of them were still living in a camp in Iraq at that time, without weapons, because the Americans had taken them from the ordinary members. Pro-Iranian militias attacked them, many people died. At the time, politicians such as Rita Süssmuth campaigned with the “German Solidarity Committee for a Free Iran” to take in at least some of the resistance fighters. With success: About 100 came to Germany. After their arrival many of them ended up in the said villa in Berlin-Wilmersdorf – according to the former residents, with whom ZEIT ONLINE was able to speak.
All these informants want to remain anonymous, nothing in this text should indicate their identity. Neither their age, their gender nor the period of their stay in the Berlin villa, not even the exact number of them can therefore be mentioned here. This much only can be said: They are several, and their observations are a few years old. ZEIT ONLINE was able to talk to them personally for many hours for months. Their details have been examined and verified wherever possible. They all still want freedom and democracy for Iran. But at some point, they agree, they should have realized that this goal does not justify ‘any means’.
“We thought we were coming to Europe, to freedom,” says one of these people about arriving in Germany. “But in Berlin, the executives of the organization continued to control us – mentally, emotionally, socially, financially.” Ordianry members of the People’s Mojahedin, the dropouts report, could only leave the Berlin villa for sports or on behalf of the organization, and never alone –they should have been at least in pairs so as to spy on each other.
At that time, women would have slept in the attic, men in the basement, usually four or five people each in a room, sometimes ten. For some members in leadership positions – mostly women – however, there were special rights: they often had single rooms with televisions and could live more freely. Like all the other women, however, they would have to wear a headscarf. Members also had to pray three times a day. Supporters of the organization regularly came by, sometimes Rita Süssmuth. But they only got to see what they were supposed to see.
Thoughts of sex and family were forbidden
According to the dropouts, the organization’s cadres had their everyday lives strictly structured: they had to get up at seven o’clock, after breakfast they worked all day for the organization, for example collecting donations in the street. In the evening, there were ideological sessions in which they had to disclose forbidden thoughts – such as thoughts about their own family. Because, it was said, family is a “demotivator” in the fight against the Iranian regime. They also had to confess to sexual thoughts. “You had to bring everything out, from bottom to top, and write it on a piece of paper,” says a former member. “Like: I saw someone on the street and wanted to sleep with the person.” It was degrading.
The members were also kept docile by methods that are typical of cults, such as sleep deprivation. There were sometimes political meetings until late at night, the dropouts report, from about 10 p.m. to four o’clock in the morning. The residents of the villa were often overtired. And another manipulation technique of cults has also been used: the destruction of social ties. Consequently, the residents of the villa, say the dropouts, were rarely allowed to see their own children, their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, many only about once a year. The yearning for family had been instrumentalized to manipulate the members – for example, by allowing contact only if someone behaved particularly docilely. A person who secretly visited a family member was then criticized for weeks and psychologically drained.
In addition, they were largely shielded from information about the outside world, the only television station put in front of them was that of the People’s Mojahedin. Anyone who read newspapers and magazines or listened to the radio was criticized. Listening to one’s own music was forbidden, as was accessing the internet on a mobile phone. The internet on the computers in the villa had been censored. And from the films, which they were allowed to watch about once a week, the kissing and sex scenes were cut out.
Pictures of torture victims and starving children
At the same time, the cadres had frightened them about the world outside, of Berlin, of Germany. The Iranian secret service lurks on every corner, it was said. “And they said the people outside were selfish, self-centred and aimless, only we were real freedom fighters,” says a former member. They portrayed life in the organization as heaven on earth, life outside as hell. Theoretically, you could leave at any time, says a former member. Due to such manipulation techniques of the organization, however, this step seemed enormously difficult to them: “I could no longer imagine that a liveable world was waiting for me outside.”
What was the purpose of this alleged manipulation, what did the members in the villa have to do? The dropouts say: They were cheap labour. From morning to night, they report, they had to undertake tasks for the organization, six to seven days a week. Some, for example, looked after politicians and supporters or kept the organization’s German-language websites up to date. Others organized demonstrations. For this purpose, they recruited extras from Eastern Europe. This practice, at least, lives on to this day: In July, ZEIT ONLINE was able to talk to Slovaks in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, who stated that they had gotten a trip to Berlin, including a hotel stay, for a mere 45 euros. “All we had to do was come to this demonstration,” said a woman waving a People’s Mojahedin flag. She had been recruited via Facebook. What is it about? “About human rights for Iran.”
Most of the residents of the Berlin villa, however, according to the dropouts, collected donations for the People’s Mojahedin. For example, they went to the homes of wealthy people and specifically courted them. Other members would have to stand in pedestrian zones and show pictures of torture victims and starving children – these collectors were at times an everyday sight in Berlin. Especially in the run-up to Christmas; this brought in a lot of money. This then flowed to several fake associations, which had been run from the Berlin villa.
“We never told people that the money goes to the People’s Mojahedin”
Some of these associations are still active today. They have names such as Aid for Human Rights in Iran, Association for People and Freedom or Association for Hope of the Future. In the past, the German Central Institute for Social Affairs (DZI), which examines the use of donations, has already warned that some of these associations were not managed transparently. In fact, the dropouts say: These associations were led by completely different people than stated in the register of associations. Donors were also deceived about the true goal of their donations. “We never told people that the money would go to the People’s Mojahedin,” says a former member. “But said for example: This is to save a woman in Iran from the death penalty.” In fact, the money had flowed, for example, into the demonstrations and campaigns of the People’s Mojahedin.
However, the former residents say that they themselves were hardly paid for their work: they received about 50 to 100 euros per month in cash, plus some cigarette money. At times, they did not even have health insurance. When asked, the People’s Mojahedin did not respond to these accusations either.
Politicians are surprised at who they got involved with
Cult structures, deception, fraudulent donation collections: Again and again in the past there have been such accusations against the People’s Mojahedin, again and again they managed to get away with minor penalties or to not be prosecuted at all and to dismiss the accusations as a propaganda campaign by the Iranian regime. In public, the image of the slandered freedom fighters was partly believed in – probably because it has some basis in reality: In fact, the regime in Tehran repeatedly campaigned against the People’s Mojahedin and spied on it in Europe, as is also stated in German reports on the protection of the constitution. As recently as February, a Belgian court sentenced an Iranian diplomat to 20 years in prison: he had planned an attack on the annual meeting of the People’s Mojahedin in France in 2018. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani also spoke there.
However, the Iranian-born foreign policy expert Omid Nouripour (Greens) warns against seeing this persecution as proof of trustworthiness – the motto “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is misleading in the case of the People’s Mojahedin: “They must also ask themselves to what extent they guarantee democratic principles and human rights,” he says. For years, Nouripour has been trying to educate his colleagues in the Bundestag about the organization. They, says Nouripour, persistently try to lure parliamentarians with slogans such as “freedom” and “human rights” for their own purposes.
If you ask the two Hamburg CDU members of parliament Christoph Ploß and Christoph de Vries why they took part in the conference with the leader of the People’s Mojahedin in November 2020, a spokesman for the CDU Hamburg justifies it with very similar values: The two stand “on the side of the Iranian people, who strive for freedom, democracy and equality,” he writes. “In this, we fully agree with the DSFI, in which well-known personalities such as Rita Süssmuth are also involved.” On the accusation that the People’s Mojahedin are a cult, the spokesman writes: Such accusations correspond “in part in the wording to the statements of the mullah’s regime, its secret service and its militias”.
Trusted the request because of Rita Süssmuth
Other participants of the conference are surprised after inquiries from ZEIT ONLINE, about who they got involved with. It was not apparent from the invitation to the conference that it had to do with the People’s Mojahedin, says a member of the Bundestag, who does not want to identify himself by name. Only the DSFI had asked him. He decided to participate because he found the issue of human rights in Iran important. Since the former President of the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, was also on the list of participants, he had no concerns. Norbert Lammert, on the other hand, told ZEIT ONLINE: He trusted the request because not only his predecessor and party colleague Rita Süssmuth is involved in the DSFI, but also other long-standing colleagues in parliament.
This refers, for example, to the recently deceased former CDU member of parliament Otto Bernhardt, long-time chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. And Martin Patzelt (also CDU), who until recently sat in the Bundestag. Both are still listed on the board of the DSFI. When asked, Patzelt says he supports the People’s Mojahedin because he considers it the most powerful democratic opposition to the Iranian regime. However, he followed the developments of the People’s Mojahedin attentively and critically.
“They are deceived by the People’s Mojahedin”
“You only need one or two famous names,” a former member of the People’s Mojahedin explains of its lobbying strategy. You have to invest a lot of energy in the first contact person. You have to shower the person with attention and compliments, give them gifts – and give them the feeling of being committed to a meaningful, noble cause. In the second step, one would then slowly introduce the idea that the person could establish an association or a society that advocates for the People’s Mojahedin. “It’s a psychological trick: when you ask someone for a favour after so much flattery, people think they owe you something and can hardly say no.” With a single respected politician, you can attract many more prominent supporters. In Germany, Rita Süssmuth and the DSFI fulfil this function.
The former residents of the Berlin villa believe that the German politicians would not receive any money for their commitment. “They want to do good, but they are deceived by the People’s Mojahedin,” says a former member.
In other countries, however, it is proven that the organization also pays lavish fees for speeches. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, for example, received $40,000 from the People’s Mojahedin for a speech in 2017, the Guardian reported. And the organization was already involved with party donations. In 2014, for example, People’s Mojahedin sympathizers financed the European election campaign of the right-wing populist Spanish Vox party on a large scale, as the newspaper El País revealed. Its founder Alejo Vidal-Quadras is a long-time supporter of the People’s Mojahedin. If you believe the dropouts, then similar fees to foreign politicians were processed via the villa in Berlin – to whom, and whether these payments were also financed from donations, none of them wants or can testify exactly.
Do people still live here?
A sunny Sunday in October in Berlin, in front of the Wilmersdorfer Villa a green-white-red flag with a golden lion waves, the flag of the People’s Mojahedin. In addition, a surveillance camera is filming. In front of the villa there is hustle and bustle. Cars drive away and come back, men with moustaches smoke, make phone calls in the front yard. Again and again, women come out of the glass door of the villa or disappear back into the house – some wear headscarves and uniforms, the typical clothing of the female, full-time members of the Iranian Mojahedin Khalq .
Is it a kind of office, an office where the last one turns off the lights in the evening and everyone goes home?
Or do some of these people live here? Is the villa your home?
If so, this could mean that the cult-like methods that the dropouts speak of are still being used there. Such practices make up the core of the organization, says a person who once lived in the villa. However, members would be urged to vehemently deny this to outsiders. “From the inside,” says another person, “many things look different with the People’s Mojahedin or Iranian Mojahedin Khalq than from the outside.”
Contributor: Julia Kanning
Iranian Mojahedin Khalq – Struggle For Freedom Using Cultic Methods
MEK Child Soldier Speaks Out – Freed At Last
Zeit Magazin, Germany, October 30 2021:… He says he involuntarily spent twelve years in Iraq in the infamous Camp Ashraf, the former headquarters of the People’s Mojahedin. He is ready to make his story public, under his real name – as the first among the Cologne youth. “I want everyone to know what the People’s Mojahedin did to me. So that everyone knows what a dangerous group this is. ZEITmagazin put these allegations to the National Council of Resistance of Iran. It did not want to comment on the details, but through a law firm, stated that information about the People’s Mojahedin was largely controlled by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. MEK Child Soldier Speaks Out – Freed At Last
MEK Child Soldier Speaks Out – Freed At Last
“I missed the rain, the meadows and forests, wandering around in Cologne’s pedestrian zone”
Amin Golmaryami came to Germany as a refugee child. When he was 15, he was taken from Cologne to Iraq together with many other young people, he says – to a military camp run by an Iranian organization called the People’s Mojahedin. He is the first of those victims of this political cult to make his story public under his name.
We’re walking. Amin Golmaryami is a man with tousled dark curls who likes to wear Nike sneakers, as he does at this first meeting in October 2020 on Zülpicher Straße in Cologne’s Neustadt, the student party district. The 35-year-old has already had many jobs; at the moment he looks after people with disabilities. He speaks accent less German and yet sometimes uses words from his native language, Persian. They are not difficult to translate, it is more difficult to explain them: Almaas-e ensaani, for example, means ‘human diamond’. This is one of the core ideological concepts of the organization, into whose clutches he fell as a child, says Golmaryami: The idea behind this is that everyone has a diamond inside them, that has become tarnished. It is the person themself with their desires who is to blame – as is the family. One must renounce all of this. Only through devotion to a leader can one become ‘pure’. This explanation is also given by other witnesses who say they have knowledge of this ideology.
The organization that shaped and partially destroyed his life, says Golmaryami, is the Iranian People’s Mojahedin or Iranian Mojahedin Khalq Iranian exiles who want to overthrow the clerical regime in their homeland. They call themselves “Mojahedin” – jihadist fighters – like many Islamic groups that fight for religious goals. Fascinated by the Marxist economy, the founders wanted to combine Islam with class struggle in the 1960s. Today the People’s Mojahedin speak out for women’s rights, human rights and freedom. They have thousands of members and supporters worldwide, including in Germany. Many work for the political arm of the organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The European headquarters are located near Paris, in Germany the headquarters are in Berlin. The lobbying work is so successful that even members of the Bundestag support the National Council of Resistance and glorify it as a democratic alternative to the Iranian regime. Presumably they do not know what people like Amin Golmaryami have suffered according to what he said about the People’s Mojahedin – or they do not want to know.
According to research by ZEITmagazin, by the mid-1990s, the People’s Mojahedin are said to have smuggled at least 40 children and adolescents who had come to Cologne as refugees without their parents into Iraq. According to a total of eight dropouts, many of them were trained as soldiers there and lived isolated from the outside world for years.
One of them is Amin Golmaryami. He says he involuntarily spent twelve years in Iraq in the infamous Camp Ashraf, the former headquarters of the People’s Mojahedin. He is ready to make his story public, under his real name – as the first among the Cologne youth. “I want everyone to know what the People’s Mojahedin did to me. So that everyone knows what a dangerous group this is. ZEITmagazin put these allegations to the National Council of Resistance of Iran. It did not want to comment on the details, but through a law firm, stated that information about the People’s Mojahedin was largely controlled by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. On its homepage, however, the organization reacted: Children like Amin Golmaryami were at that time only “returned to their parents in Iraq”, it says “as adults”. Minors were never used in the military.
Amin Golmaryami tells his story like this: He was born in 1985 in the city of Abadan in southwest Iran – underground; his parents were already resistance fighters for the People’s Mojahedin. In 1979 they and other opposition groups overthrew the Shah of Iran. However, the clerical Islamic regime that subsequently came to power did not allow the Mojahedin to participate in the government and persecuted them. The People’s Mojahedin then carried out attacks on state employees and eventually fled into exile, most of them to Iraq. Until 2009 they were on the list of foreign terrorist organizations in the EU, but now, however, they appear more moderate. Security circles see them today as a self-contained group with a cult-like character.
When he was a few months old, Amin Golmaryami says, his parents fled with him and his two older brothers from Iran to Iraq, as did thousands of other members of the organization. From there they fought against their own country in the Iran-Iraq war. Amin’s father died in one of the battles, as did thousands of other People’s Mojahedin.
In the mid-1980s, the organization turned more and more into a cult – as the US historian Ervand Abrahamian, a renowned Iran expert, describes it: “A personality cult in its most extreme form” developed around the leader Massoud Rajavi. As is customary in cults, critics were denounced as “traitors, parasites, bloodsuckers, scum and dung”. According to the Rand think tank, which advises the US armed forces, social ties had to destroyed – also a typical manipulation technique used by cults. The People’s Mojahedin regularly reject such accusations as a propaganda campaign by the Iranian regime.
When a US-led alliance attacked Iraq in 1991 during the second Gulf War, the People’s Mojahedin used the stream of refugees to send hundreds of children abroad. To save them from the bombs, say the People’s Mojahedin today. According to dropouts, however, it was also about breaking family structures and strengthening the fighting spirit. Amin Golmaryami was there too, as were his two brothers Alireza and Hanif.
Amin Golmaryami remembers the trip in fragments. “My mother stood in front of the bus for a long time, she cried and waved.” They were taken to Germany. He and about 150 other children came to Cologne. Golmaryami was accommodated in a house in the Meschenich district, he remembers a dilapidated semi-detached house. The children were there as unaccompanied minor refugees in the care of functionaries and confidants of the People’s Mojahedin. Ten of them slept in one room. “I missed my mother terribly”, says Golmaryami. Some were beaten, many had little to eat. Amin started school and quickly learned German. Most of the other Iranian children were older than him and attended the Martin Luther King secondary school in Cologne-Weiden. One of the teachers from back then remembers: “Pleasant and hardworking” the children were. But there was also something fanatical about them. Some had worshiped the leader Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam “like gods”. He informed the police. But nothing happened. The Youth Welfare Office also became aware of the children. “I was worried about them” says Klaus-Peter Völlmecke, 64, then head of department and responsible for the Iranian children. When he and his colleagues wanted to talk to the Iranian caregivers about the children, prominent German supporters appeared. The People’s Mojahedin turned to the lawyer Annemarie Lütkes.
Lütkes was then parliamentary group leader of the Cologne Greens, and later became Minister of Justice in Schleswig-Holstein. Her husband Christoph Meertens reports that her law firm represented the children in asylum proceedings. He himself, also a lawyer, had taken on the guardianship of around 60 children. Amin Golmaryami also became his ward. Meertens says today that he initially checked on the children every week, later every two weeks. In addition, in 1993 the couple and Kerstin Müller, the then state Chair of the Greens and later parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag, founded a non-profit aid organization: the Iranian Refugee Children’s Aid. This was recognized as a provider of youth welfare. From then on, it was the board of this organization which spoke with the Youth Welfare Office about the children.
Klaus-Peter Völlmecke says that the functionaries of the Iranian Mojahedin Khalq always accompanied Meertens and tried to assert their interests. “They wanted financial support for the children and maximum personal influence.” The women insisted that the children should be looked after by cadres or supporters. After tough negotiations, an agreement was reached: every Iranian supervisee was assigned a German-speaking educator. This would give the young people a chance to break away from the organization. From 1994 onwards, the children were gradually moved to other accommodation. Amin Golmaryami moved to a better equipped house in Cologne-Marienburg. However, they continued to live in purely Iranian residential groups. “We have always remained under the spell of the organization,” says Golmaryami.
And yet the move from Cologne-Meschenich was a turning point for him. Thanks to the German-speaking teachers, he flourished. The children now had enough to eat, new clothes and even bicycles, and there were night hikes with campfires. Once he stayed with a German school friend and was amazed that his parents kissed them both goodnight when they went to bed. “That’s when I realised that my life is very different.”
A letter from Iraq came from his mother only once a year: “I hope you are well” – he always said that the letters were not particularly sensitive. The rare times he was allowed to telephone his mother, she often only asked: “What is happening at school?” He says that it was not until much later that he understood that the mother was probably monitored by the organization during the telephone calls. The mother was also asked by ZEITmagazin whether the depictions by her son were correct. She called them lies without going into detail.
As Amin Golmaryami got older, he rapped Eminem songs in front of the mirror, saving his pocket money for Adidas sweat pants and Nike jackets. His two brothers gave him support, especially Hanif, the eldest: a marauder whom many would have respected at the time. “He made me feel safe,” says Amin.
When Amin was 12 or 13, he happened to meet a girl on a bus with whom he was in elementary school, also a child of the People’s Mojahedin. He still likes to talk about this moment today: a first kiss. The girl’s name was Alan. He didn’t see her again until much later, in an unexpected place.
From the mid-1990s, some of their former teachers remembered that People’s Mojahedin children suddenly disappeared from Cologne. They suddenly stopped showing up in their classes, 14-, 15-, 16-year-old teenagers. A former teacher says today that he informed the Cologne Youth Welfare Office and the guardian Christoph Meertens about it.
Amin Golmaryami says that in 1999 his brother Hanif also disappeared, 18 years old. Hanif ordered Amin and the third brother Alireza to a secret meeting point at Cologne’s Westfriedhof to say goodbye. “I’m going to Iraq,” said Hanif. His destination there was the headquarters of the People’s Mojahedin, a military camp. The cadres had promised him that he would meet his mother there. Amin Golmaryami says he was shocked and burst into tears. Who would protect him now? If you talk to Hanif Golmaryami today about this time – he now lives in Canada – he says that he had bad lovesickness back then and longed for motherly advice and a hug. The People’s Mojahedin cadres had assured him that he could come back after a few weeks if he didn’t like Iraq. He believed them. “It was the biggest mistake of my life.” In a self-portrait published in German in 2014, the National Council of Resistance Iran wrote: Everyone who went to his camp was an adult and voluntarily joined the resistance.
In 1998 at the latest, the Youth Welfare Office noticed that children were disappearing. The office warned the guardian Christoph Meertens: many young people allegedly went to Iraq. If there were to continue to be payments to the “Iranian Refugee Child Aid” association, then it would have to completely replace the remaining Iranian staff with German educators. Meertens argued to the office that the young people had voluntarily returned to their parents in Iraq, which was humanly understandable. Today Meertens says he tried to talk many young people out of going to Iraq. “I didn’t succeed.” In a press release from the Youth Welfare Office in August 2000, it was said succinctly: “That said, these allegations were out of the way and settled.” And so, says Amin Golmaryami, he remained in the clutches of the group. At that time he longed to belong. That is why he went to holiday camps and demonstrations by the People’s Mojahedin, where he met the organization’s offspring from all over Europe. The cadres had spoken about the alleged martyrdom of the parents. “You have to avenge their blood, pick up their weapon again,” demanded a functionary in a holiday camp. During demonstrations, the children and young people would have chanted: “We are resistance fighters!” Golmaryami says he did not understand what all these words meant. He was proud that the cadres called him the son of a martyr. But seriously take revenge for his father, he never wanted that.
He saw his brother Hanif again in a propaganda video that the cadres showed him and other children: Hanif in Iraq, marching in rank and file. A functionary, a founding member of the Cologne association “Iranian Refugee Child Aid”, persuaded him, “Amin, you have to grow up. You have to go this way too.”
In February 2001, when Amin was 15, he finally turned to his Iranian supervisor: He wanted to follow his big brother to Iraq. The two pretended to the German educators that Amin Golmaryami had simply run away from the home after a fit of anger. Cadres would have brought him to their European headquarters in France, a house surrounded by high concrete walls in Auvers-sur-Oise, a small community northwest of Paris. His brother Alireza, who had also run away a few weeks earlier, was already waiting there. Amin had to hand over his cell phone, he says he never got it back. He was woken up in the middle of the night and taken to the airport. According to the stamps on their travel documents, it was mid-March 2001.
If you ask Amin Golmaryami today, he says that Iraq was like a train everyone jumped on, “and only you are standing outside.” He was gripped by the fear that his whole family and all his friends would gradually leave him. That he had to stay alone in Germany. He also imagined Iraq as a large holiday camp. He was a child, immature. “They manipulated me,” he says.
Camp Ashraf, the headquarters of the People’s Mujahideen in Iraq, was the size of a small town, 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, in the middle of the desert. Amin remembers driving down a dusty road past eucalyptus trees. They got out in front of a bungalow, and a committee of high-ranking women with headscarves greeted them. Whatever the teenagers wore, they had to give up. He was given a uniform to replace his Nike jacket. The cadre withheld his travel document.
He had to undertake in writing not to have any romantic or sexual relationships with women. So he became one of around 3,800 soldiers of the People’s Mojahedin at the time – he, the 15-year-old who had never held a weapon before. In the beginning, he says today, it all seemed like a strange dream to him. Barbed wire fences spanned the camp. Women and men were strictly separated. Even friendships between the soldiers should be avoided. They lived according to strict Shiite Islamic rules and had to pray three times a day. Contact with the outside world was almost completely forbidden. It was unthinkable to hear Eminem here, the cadres had restricted access to music as well as television, newspapers and the Internet. His brothers were also at the camp, but at first he was only allowed to see Alireza more often because they had completed their military training together. In its self-portrayal from 2014, the National Council of Resistance of Iran claims that the camp was open and tolerant.
He actually wanted to leave immediately, says Amin Golmaryami, but Alireza persuaded him to wait and see. And he complied with everything: getting up at four in the morning, marching, learning to shoot, and later also driving a tank.
After two weeks, he was allowed to see his mother again for the first time, who also lived in the camp. She came with an aunt and several other women, hugged him and his brother and cried. But after the greeting she was very distant, and the women listened to every word like watchdogs. He later learned that the People’s Mojahedin urged their members to spy on one another.
From now on he was only allowed to see his mother once a year. Secret meetings: impossible. His longing for maternal security was not fulfilled. Today, Amin Golmaryami says that later on instead of love he even felt hatred and disgust for his mother. Hatred because she gave him away as such a small child.
Amin Golmaryami in May 2021: another meeting, the third. He’s sitting in his kitchen in Cologne – unplastered walls, chairs from the flea market. When the conversation turns to his mother, he looks sad. He says he still feels the consequences of never having a normal family.
After his return to Germany, he was restless for a long time. He had partied all night, continued working without sleep, smoked weed to calm down. He had palpitations, anxiety. After a panic attack, he began psychotherapy. For the first time, he says, he was able to sort out what had happened to him in his head.
At Camp Ashraf, the cadres tried to use psychological techniques to make the soldiers submissive. Once a day everyone would have had to bare their innermost feelings in front of a group and criticize themselves: Would they have not wanted to take part in shooting training or would they have doubted one of the superiors? Later they would have had to confess sexual thoughts in front of the group – for example when they had masturbated or had an erotic dream. This is also confirmed by independent studies by the think tank Rand. The organization denied such allegations years ago.
Golmaryami says he internally resisted the brainwashing. Only rarely did he express his true thoughts. So he kept a clear head. Then suddenly and unexpectedly he saw Alan again, the girl who kissed him on the bus in Cologne. “She was in the back seat of a car. I waved to her. But she just stared impassively at me through the window. He hadn’t gotten any closer to her. A few weeks after seeing her again, Alan shot herself; several dropouts confirm this. The People’s Mojahedin told them that her death was an accident. Golmaryami says he was deeply sad afterwards.
Just weeks after his arrival, Iranian rockets hit several Iranian Mojahedin Khalq camps. He says he sat next to frightened adult men in the bunker and heard them cry and cry, “I don’t want to die!” He was terrified. When they staggered out of the bunker days later, he asked a supervisor for a meeting. “I don’t feel comfortable here,” he said. “I want to go back to Germany.” – “We’re thinking about it,” she replied. After that he was allowed to see his mother again, unplanned. She encouraged him to stay in the camp: Fear is normal, we are freedom fighters, that’s part of our path, she said. The mother does not want to comment on this depiction by her son today either.
From now on, the cadres overwhelmed him with tasks, says Amin Golmaryami, kept him up late in the evenings, criticized him heavily in order to break his will. On their homepage, the People’s Mojahedin present the camp differently, they quote a US colonel who was there: He had never seen “a man or a woman being detained in the organization against his/her wishes.”
Amin Golmaryami says he thought about Alan incessantly back then. And about Germany: “I missed the rain, the green meadows and forests, strolling around the Cologne pedestrian zone.” He also missed New Year’s Eve parties, Nutella, McDonald’s, kebab, cinema, and traveling by bus and train. And Eminem. In the camp in the shower, he secretly cried. Slowly, says Golmaryami, over months and finally years, he learned to harden himself internally and no longer attract attention.
About five months after his arrival, there was a special ideology session that lasted for weeks, from morning to night. The leader Massoud Rajavi personally directed it, a man in uniform with a round face. It was about things that Amin Golmaryami did not understand, but he was curious about the man who had managed to rally a small army around him. Rajavi threatened: Sex and the longing for Europe destroyed the organization. Anyone who escapes ends up in Saddam Hussein’s Abu Ghraib torture prison. Years ago, the organization described similar reports as “ridiculous and fictitious film scenarios.”
Golmaryami says that many of the Mojahedin jumped up indignantly: “Who wants to go? We’ll put them against the wall!” Others accused themselves. These were then insulted as “spies” or “traitors”. Some of the others spat on and hit them. According to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, some of those who wanted to leave actually ended up in Abu Ghraib. Others were tortured in a People’s Mojahedin prison, which they deny. One of the last days of the meeting was September 11, 2001, the day on which the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York. The “two horns of imperialism” fell, a high-ranking member of the People’s Mojahedin rejoiced.
For many years, Golmaryami did not give up hope that someone from Germany would rescue him from this nightmare. But nobody asked about him. One thing is certain: neither his guardian nor his former tutors were looking for him in Iraq. After all, the Federal Criminal Police Office was dealing with the People’s Mojahedin. In December 2001, investigators from the BKA searched 25 of the organization’s properties in Germany, including the office of the Iranian Refugee Child Aid in Cologne. In the room there was evidence of social welfare fraud with alleged orphans – that is, with the children who had come to Cologne. The functionary, whom Golmaryami says encouraged him to join the armed struggle, was wanted on an arrest warrant on suspicion of forming a terrorist group; but she had fled to Iraq. The investigation was later closed. However, several People’s Mojahedin were convicted of other offenses. In May 2002 the EU Council of Ministers put the People’s Mojahedin on its terrorist list, and in July the Cologne Youth Welfare Office terminated its cooperation with the Iranian Refugee Children’s Aid. Nobody looked for the missing children anymore.
Then something happened that suddenly made the Iranian Mojahedin Khalq appear in a different light – and possibly extended Golmaryami’s stay in the camp by many years. At a press conference in August 2002, the US spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran surprisingly presented evidence that Iran was working on a secret nuclear program.
This press conference gave the People’s Mojahedin a certain amount of credibility in the eyes of many to this day. In 2006, the New Yorker revealed that the Israeli secret service Mossad had leaked the information to the resistance fighters.
When the US Army invaded Iraq in 2003, says Amin Golmaryami, his superiors sent him to the Iranian border. He crouched there in trenches for weeks. He and his comrades were to attack Iran as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Fortunately for him, the opportunity never came. Finally, on May 10, 2003, the American troops disarmed the People’s Mojahedin, including in Camp Ashraf.
When US soldiers questioned Amin Golmaryami, he said he wanted to go back to Germany. He was offered to be transferred to an internment camp for dissenters. But there was hardly a way to Europe from there. When he asked to call a former educator in Cologne, the Americans laughed. “They thought, why isn’t he calling from the camp?” But there the cadres continued to prevent contact with the outside world.
In Europe, meanwhile, the organization was reaping the fruits of its lobbying work. From 2004 onwards, an EU parliamentary group called “Friends for a Free Iran” invited Maryam Rajavi to Strasbourg several times; she has been running the People’s Mojahedin since her husband disappeared without trace in 2003. And since 2005, German politicians have been campaigning for the People’s Mojahedin in a group called the German Solidarity Committee for a Free Iran. Former Bundestag President Rita Süssmuth (CDU) sits on the advisory board. She does not want to comment on this at the moment. In the past, she said it was about standing up for women’s rights, freedom and democracy in Iran.
From 2009, Golmaryami reports, life in the camp had become even more dangerous for him. The US handed over responsibility for security in the camp to the Iraqi government, which wanted these enemies of Iran out of the country. Security forces stormed the camp and people were killed. From 2012 onwards, the UN had the People’s Mojahedin taken to a temporary camp next to Baghdad airport. Everyone in the camp was interviewed individually. When it was Amin Golmaryami’s turn he was finally able to make a phone call, he says – the first contact with the outside world in so many years. He called a number in Cologne that he had received from another member, but it had got through to a supporter of the organization. The superiors in the camp would have known immediately that he had done something forbidden. He was interrogated for hours. “Only a spy does that,” they had said.
In February 2013, pro-Iranian militias fired rockets at the interim camp. Eight people died, including members of his military unit, Golmaryami says. He could hardly sleep, could hardly eat. “I had an old man’s face.” In the end, it was possibly a packet of cigarettes that saved him. An employee of the UNHCR refugee agency, who regularly visited the camp, played a role in this. She still remembers Amin Golmaryami well today. Many People’s Mojahedin turned to her in fear, secretly whispering something to her.
“Our water pipes are broken,” he told the UNHCR employee on her tour, says Golmaryami. A sentence that cadre would have impressed on him beforehand. Talking about personal matters with the UNHCR was forbidden. He said quietly afterwards: “Please help me.” She understood immediately. “The walls here, should they stay?” She asked back. “Yes, they stay.” And he added quietly: “I have a pack of cigarettes in my pocket, there is a letter in it. Please meet me again if no one is watching.”
The next day the woman tracked him down. He slipped her the box. The UNHCR has kept the corresponding letter to this day, it contains the pleading request for an interview: “I hope you understand the urgency of an appointment, as I feel under enormous pressure about my future.” Today Golmaryami says: “This one woman saved my life.
To Cologne: UNHCR staff told him he could not go back there; he got another offer. More than 200 People’s Mojahedin were allowed to travel to Albania. Three weeks later, in May 2013, the UNHCR took them to the airport. On board the plane, says Golmaryami, he was with his brothers and five or six others who had once come from Germany. On the plane they toasted with red wine: “To freedom!” Amin Golmaryami was now 28 years old.
Your luck: In Tirana, the first People’s Mojahedin – thousands followed later – were under more public scrutiny than in Iraq. The cadres, says Golmaryami, could no longer determine their lives as they did in Iraq. At first he lived with his brothers in a refugee house, then with his brother Hanif in a hotel room paid for by the UNHCR. But the way to Germany remained blocked for the time being. His residence status had expired. He bought a cheap smartphone, set up a Facebook profile and sent friend requests to people he knew from his childhood. A woman from the Netherlands responded, two years older than him, whom he knew from one of the holiday camps. Her name here is Sarah.
Sarah says of herself that she has gone from being an ardent supporter of the People’s Mojahedin to a dropout. She called Golmaryami, and soon they were Skyping every day. In July 2013, Sarah flew to Albania, and they met in the courtyard of her hotel. They hugged in greeting and didn’t let go of each other for ten minutes.
“We were totally confused,” she says today. “The shared memories, the shared story. And Amin was so lost.” They both said they fell in love instantly. However, at first, Golmaryami says that he could hardly endure so much closeness. They would often argue when Sarah was with him again for a few weeks. “But without her,” he says, “I would not have made it psychologically.” With Sarah’s help, both say that Golmaryami finally managed to flee to Germany in October 2014. He cried when he saw Cologne Cathedral from the highway, says Golmaryami.
Amin Golmaryami and Sarah were a couple for three years after his return to Germany. To this day, both say, they are united by a deep friendship. In 2015 Golmaryami was recognized as a refugee in Germany. He caught up with his secondary school diploma and passed his high school diploma. The city of Cologne rejected an application for naturalization for the time being: he has not lived in Germany long enough.
Golmaryami’s brothers also managed to get out in Albania, says Hanif Golmaryami, both of whom now live in Canada. Amin Golmaryami says he has little contact with them and that their time in the camp has alienated them. Hanif says on the phone that he still feels guilty today for luring his little brothers into ruin by leaving the country. Most of the 40 minors who were allegedly smuggled from Cologne into Iraq have allegedly now dropped out; many live in Cologne again. At least ten, however, are said to be with the People’s Mojahedin to this day, somewhere in the world. Some are said to have died in attacks in Iraq.
Amin Golmaryami’s mother, now over 60, still lives with the organization in Albania, says her son. The country has taken in most of the People’s Mojahedin from Iraq. The organization has built a new camp near Tirana. Dropouts there report that cult practices continued there, but the organization denies this.
Amin Golmaryami says he has forgiven his mother. She was “brainwashed” by the People’s Mojahedin. He was last allowed to see her in the summer of 2019, in a restaurant in Tirana. When he offered to help her leave the organization, the mother became aggressive. “Only traitors and agents of the Iranian regime say that,” she screamed. He no longer has any hope of being able to save her. She doesn’t want to comment on that either.
Cologne in August 2021, the fifth meeting with Amin Golmaryami. He is now 36. He seems relaxed. He has told everything. And he’s made provisions in case the organization attacks him. Because it is conceivable that it will try to put him under pressure after this article is published – a popular means is to damage his reputation on the Internet. Golmaryami has obtained legal assistance as a precaution. He and his pregnant girlfriend have just moved. He also changed jobs. He is now removing graffiti from house walls for the city of Cologne. One could interpret this: He is trying to repair what others have destroyed. But Golmaryami says: he does it because he enjoys it. Outside, on the road in Cologne, he feels free.
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Behind the story: All details of Golmaryami’s report have been checked and verified as far as possible – with the help of archive material and through discussions with former classmates and caregivers, with teachers, diplomats and in security circles. The author was also able to speak to seven other witnesses who also state that they were smuggled from Cologne to Iraq as children.
Translated by Iran Interlink
MEK Child Soldier Speaks Out – Freed At Last
Yeser Ezati: Mojahedin Khalq (MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult) armed me by my Mom’s fake will
Nejat Association, Tehran, January 29 2014: … Yaser was returned to the MKO in Germany where he attended fundraising gatherings.”In 1997 the MKO gave me a fake will allegedly of my mother who was killed in Mersad Operation [Eternal Light],” Yaser said.”It was written:”You must take gun and follow my path”. I was impressed.” Thus, he was sent to Iraq …
Yeser Ezati: Mojahedin Khalq (MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult) armed me by my Mom’s fake will
Former MKO member: They armed me by my Mom’s fake will
Yaser Ezzati, a former member of the Iranian Mojahedin Khalq was interviewed by Mehr News Agency. Below is an excerpt of the interview.
Yaser was considered as a member of the MKO militia because his parents were also old members of the group; Yaser grew up in the MKO camps in Iraq.
Yaser was sent to Canada under the pretext of the group’s so-called policy to save children.
Yaser was returned to the MKO in Germany where he attended fundraising gatherings.”In 1997 the MKO gave me a fake will allegedly of my mother who was killed in Mersad Operation [Eternal Light],” Yaser said.”It was written:”You must take gun and follow my path”. I was impressed.” Thus, he was sent to Iraq where the group was rebuilding its forces after the horrific failure of the Eternal Light.
…Yaser Ezzati was mobilized to Iranian border to launch cross border mortar attacks.
“After I attended four operations, I declared that I gave up because I had no idea of what and who we were attacking,” he said. “I was told that I was a child of the group and I shouldn’t have disgraced the group.”
Ultimately, the MKO officials accepted his defection on the condition that he went on a six-month solitary confinement and then he would be sent to Iran.
Yaser who was so scared of getting back to Iran – that was terribly demonized by the Iranian Mojahedin Khalq – stayed in Camp Ashraf until he was fed up with the brainwashing meetings that he had to attend every week.”Weekly Cleansing” was a cult jargon in which members had to confess all their private thoughts and dreams.” I could no more tolerate the condition”. Therefore, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement. He was brought on trial and accused of being the agent of Iranian Intelligence Ministry!
“Again they brought in my Mother’s will; I had no way out.”
The former member of the MKO Cult states that his father is known to be a torturer in the MKO.”He even beat me several times after I declared defection.”!
. Whenever I missed my parents my father would receive me by beating and kicking me.”
He continued,”some children in the MKO went crazy. I remember a person who committed suicide.”
He notifies that the militias are kept in the organization by recruiting them and paying them. They are offered free trips to attend the group rallies.
“I have not forgotten my past yet because an important part of my life, my childhood, my adolescence were lost for the misguided goal of the MKO”, he uttered.