Elnaz Nabiyi

Elnaz, In Search of Truth

“Javad! If I stay somewhere for too long, I think I’ll start looking like Heisenberg.”


“Yes! Walter White in Breaking Bad.


“No, seriously. That’s how I feel in the company.”

“What about at home? Who am I, Jimmy?”

“I’m serious, Javad. I’m applying today.”

A year and a half after Elnaz said these words, she had already left Iran and was living and studying in Canada. She was a PhD student, enrolled on the operations management program at the University of Alberta: the same thing as Javad. In Iran, they had been at the same university. Now they sat in the same classroom. Javad remembers the first time he saw Elnaz. It was at the library of Sharif University’s Management and Economy Department. Javad remembers being patient. He remembers taking things slowly to win the girl’s heart.

Elnaz was born in Zanjan in early 1990. Her name was Turkic and she liked it.

She was elegant, creative, artistic, friendly and eternally smiling.

“She wasn’t my daughter,” her mother said. “She was my everything. She was all my being, all my life.” Her mother didn’t know, who would send her the first flowers next Teacher’s Day?

“She shone, like her name,” her father says. “We were proud of her.”

“My Dearest Elnaz,” her sister writes. “The grief of your absence will one day destroy me. This grief is like an endless road, full of ups and downs, without end. The further I go, the more time passes, the more I learn of the depth of this life’s degeneration. Sometimes I’m filled with rage, sometimes with missing you. Sometimes filled with hatred, sometimes filled with weakness and inability. But oh, those moments when I lose hope in miracles. A miracle that can bring back you and all your fellow travelers.”

She went to Sama for primary school, then to Farzanegan. She joined the Young Mathematicians’ Society of Tehran. She made it to the last round of the Physics Olympiad. She entered Sharif University. This was Elnaz’s path to success.

“Javad! You see, I have my hijab on, and no one’s looking at me.”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.”

“I have. No one’s bothering me here. No one bothers anyone here.”

“Is this the only difference?”

“I don’t know. I feel less responsible for catastrophes. Although even here, my heart sinks when I look at Iran from afar. For the cheetah they killed on the road. For the girl they beat up on the streets, for the worker they didn’t pay…”

Elnaz was seeking the truth. She had even taken religious courses in Iran but had left after she didn’t find the answers to her questions. She said she couldn’t accept tyranny. It didn’t matter who carried out the oppression but if religious folks were the ones doing it, she didn’t want to be an accomplice. She was educated. She had come 147th in the national examination. She had earned a degree in electrical engineering from Sharif University and then a MBA from the same institution. In Canada, a PhD awaited her.

Javad remembers the sad courtyard of Sharif University. When Elnaz came down the library’s stairs. When, when could he share his secret?

They married on a cold and rainy day in Tehran: December 16, 2016. Elnaz worked in various companies but didn’t like them. She thought she should go. All she needed to do was open her laptop and put her talent and knowledge of English to work.

When she left Iran, she knew she couldn’t stay away. Her sister, mother, father and brother were here. She thought she’d be closer to them from afar. She thought she can build a better picture of the land of her birth from afar. She travelled to Iran twice in 2019. Once in summer and once for Christmas holidays. In between the two trips, Iran had come to smell of blood. Elnaz watched the videos of the November protests daily and cried.

On the damned hour of 5:15 am on that darkest of mornings, Wednesday, January 8, Elnaz was sitting next to Farideh Gholami and her son, Jivan. One’s imagination kicks in. Did the passengers knew this would be their last trip? Was this why Elnaz either didn’t put her phone on flight mode, or change back from it? They never gave us back her mobile phone. Maybe we should assume that she said hello to everyone when she got on the plane. Most of the passengers were sleepy. She asked one of them, “Aren’t you Dorsa? Daughter of Alireza Ghandchi?” and, turning to another, “Aren’t you Parisa? My sister has the same name. Your daughter’s hair is so beautiful!”

“Arash and Pooneh?” she might have said, addressing the young couple. “You look so good together.”

“Saeed and Niloofar? You do too!”

Siavash and Sara. Hossein and Hakimeh, Aida and Arvin. She said hello to Farhad, Faezeh, Nasin, Amirhossein, Pegah, Delaram, Sadaf, Amir. On the way to her seat, she wondered to herself what they would all look like after the crash.

“Will Javad only recognize my hands? Will they not give my ring to Javad? Will Javad attack the ranks of the IRGC and clerics who pretend to mourn in front of the Seyed Mosque? Will he tell them they are worse than Yazid? Will Javad try to seek the truth, as I did all my life? Will he find out why, why, why, did they shoot at us?”

She sat on her seat.

“Hoger will be born in two months, right?” she asked Farideh.

Farideh laughed. She forgot to ask how Elnaz knew the name of her child. Instead she cradled her son and said, “Unfortunately we won’t live to see that day.”

Elnaz remembers Javad, and tells him this: “I want to have a daughter. A daughter with long hair. A daughter we will raise well. In a good educational system. I want her to be raised as a human. If everybody raises their daughters well, the kids will grow under good people. We won’t have to be angry all the time!”

Elnaz laughed. She wasn’t laughing at death. She laughed at a life she was about to lose. She laughed at the tyrant who would want her to be forgotten.

“Elnaz jaan! They won’t forget us, will they?” Farideh asked her.

Elnaz looked at her mobile phone, which was still ringing. It was Javad, from the other side of the world. Should she respond? Elnaz looked at her phone and told herself: “Even if the rest of the world forgets us, a few will never forget this crime.”


Translator: Arash Azizi
Editor: Hannah Somerville
With the support of iranwire.com

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