Ode to Reza Barati on the seventh anniversary of his death

by | 17 Feb 2021

Reza Barati was a Kurdish Iranian man who was killed on Manus Island – Australia’s immigration prison in Papua New Guinea. Reza was killed on 17 February, 2014. He was 24 years old. The Kurdish Iranian writer Mardin Arvin was his friend. Imprisoned with him on Manus Island, he has written this ode on the anniversary of his death.(C)

Omid Tofighian, Manus Island (2019)
Omid Tofighian. Manus Island immigration detention centre, Papua New Guinea. (2019)

The whole scene is dominated by darkness.

Darkness everywhere. 

Noise. Tumult. Screams for help. Moaning. These noises heighten the horror of the darkness.  

We have been under attack, under attack within a detention centre. Some carry wooden clubs, some carry metal bars, looking for a body to beat within an inch of their life. They even throw rocks at us from the outside. 

I am overwrought. I am bewildered, in a state of shock. Distressed. The truth is we cannot do anything about the situation. 

We stand facing them. We stand facing death. 

This all amounts to an unjust war. Like a child struggling against an adult, a child who cannot stand and cannot fight. 

I see a distraught inmate, someone from my very own cell. The sight of his small frame throws me into shock. His hand is over his forehead to help stop the blood. The damn blood will not stop.

I utter: “You OK? Are you wounded? What did they hit you with?”

“I didn’t even see which direction the rock came from and from who.”

I immediately focus my attention to what is happening outside the prison camp. I hear random shots fired. I hear random rocks hit our rooms. Who knows how many heads have been struck by those rocks until now.

I look over at the adjacent prison camp. The ruckus is worse over there. Two tall fences were erected to separate us. We know many of the people there. There is conflict in every prison camp, there is thundering upheaval in every prison camp. But Mike prison camp is the most tumultuous. 

The struggle lasts a long time. It seems no one wants to give an inch. 

A middle-aged man opens the door and leaps inside the room. He was able to escape from Mike prison camp and arrive here. He has gone pale with fear. He cannot pronounce the words, it is hard for him. He is simply able to say: “They took someone away! He was wounded and bleeding. It was as if, as if he were dead!”

Anxiety cascades down through our souls. Throughout all these years in this prison camp we have made friends with many people who came to work and stayed working. Our humanity demands that we show respect and love them, even if only for a few short moments. We are worried, moments after there is nothing but silence everywhere. Total silence and complete darkness.      


I can see beads of sweat on her forehead. In between the wrinkles on her forehead, through her white hair. She was never inclined to colour her hair or change it to look younger. Her white hair symbolises the grief and sadness she feels for her two sons. She wakes, startled in the middle of the night. Her pillow rests on the carpet, she lies there breathing heavily. A mother’s life never really belongs to her, a piece of her is always part of her child or children. Her heart beats for them. 

Mothers are sacred in this way. This is why she cannot sleep after having the nightmare. She still imagines herself in that moment, on the threshold where she can see her son lying there screaming. Screaming for help. His hands reaching for the sky, reaching for his mother as she stands over him, reaching out for her to save him. But she fades away. 

Omid Tofighian. Manus Island immigration detention centre, Papua New Guinea. (2019)

The sound of a broken women crying softly, she has been anxious about her son for a long time, she is concerned about Reza. She has not heard from him in a while. Waiting in anticipation for someone to contact you is disconcerting, especially when a mother waits for her child. 


Sunrise is more melancholic today. Everyone is more tired, more disoriented. We have been dead for a while, the fact that we are breathing distinguishes us from cadavers. The reality is that we started the day with news of the death of Reza Barati. That same young Kurdish man of twenty-four years of age, the same innocent young man who was taken from this world. 

My eyes well up with tears, they drop onto the rough unkempt volleyball court. The same volleyball court where Reza played volleyball some time ago. An empty place, never to be replaced again. Death came quick. Really fast. One can never determine one’s own death. I look over at the others around me in this place. Some are crying, some deep in thought. 

Reza dreamed of seeing his mother and father and younger brother again. Reza thought about his mother more than anyone else. She is now engulfed in sorrow by the fact that she will never see her son again and hold him in her arms. Reza had many dreams. Instead of achieving just one of his dreams he was taken from this world.


Mardin Arvin is a Kurdish Iranian writer and translator who was imprisoned by the Australian government from 2013-2021: Manus Island (2013-19), Port Moresby (2019), and Melbourne (2019-2021). Since January 2021 he has been living in Melbourne on a temporary bridging visa – his future remains uncertain. He works in four languages: Kurdish, Farsi, English and Tok Pisin; and he has continued to conduct research, translate and write his book, all of which he began during his incarceration. His writing has been published in the Guardian, Meanjin, Overland and Southerly.

Omid Tofighian is a lecturer, researcher and community advocate. He is affiliated with Birkbeck, University of London, UNSW and University of Sydney. His publications include Myth and Philosophy in Platonic Dialogues (Palgrave 2016) and the translation of Behrouz Boochani’s multi-award winning book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (Picador 2018). He is co-editor of special issues for journals Literature and Aesthetics (2011), Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media (2019) and Southerly (2021)

1 Comment

  1. Rest in peace, Reza Bararti, the Gentle Giant. Our government is responsible for your death, having trafficked you there against your will. As a mother, I ache for the poor woman who mourns you with empty arms.


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