Discover more from Matthew's Notebook
Iranian Police Kill Childhood Friend of World Cup Player
Saeed Ezatolahi mourned his little league teammate Mehran Samaak, and a rapper accused Ezatolahi of collaborating with the government.
Iranian soccer player Saeed Ezatolahi learned that his childhood companion Mehran Samaak had been killed by police during a demonstration on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday night, people around the world were glued to their TV screens. The Iranian and U.S. national soccer teams faced off for the first time in decades, in a game that would determine which country made it to the knockout round.
The Iranian government had been using the game to stoke nationalist pride. The Iranian opposition was engaged in a heated debate on how to react: whether to boycott the team as a propaganda tool, or allow the players’ small acts of protest to draw attention to the ongoing uprising.
Samaak had every reason to watch, because his childhood friend Ezatolahi was playing as defensive midfielder. But he didn’t care who won or lost. As he wrote in an Instagram story:
Tonight is soccer. Whether they sing or don’t sing the anthem, whether they celebrated their goals or not, whether the English accent of that lady was good or not, whether that shameless baldie cried or didn’t cry, whether someone said this or that. Watch all of this but please please please don’t milk it and don’t think about it. Just the demands related to the strikes and taking the streets, please.
Whatever happens tonight, whatever the results are, let’s stick together.
The United States beat Iran by one goal in a very close match, one that was a nail-biter until the very end, and had a lot of aggressive physical contact. In a touching display of sportsmanship, American players consoled their Iranian counterparts afterwards. American forward Josh Sargent gave Ezatolahi a hug on the ground.
Although he didn’t know it yet, Ezatolahi had another reason to mourn.
After the United States won, some opposition supporters celebrated Iran’s loss. Mark Pyruz, a researcher who tracks Iranian protests, counted about 1,400 celebrants across the country.
Ezatolahi announced the death on his own Instagram the next day. He changed his profile picture to a black square, and posted an old photo of himself and Samaak together on their little league soccer team.
If only we could always stay that age, without worries, without hatred, without envy, without a war to destroy each other.
There’s a lot to say, my childhood teammate, but unfortunately people are drowning in ego and jealousy and turmoil, that even finding an ear to listen is hard. Or maybe there isn’t one.
Certainly, after last night's bitter game, the news of your passing has set my heart on fire. Even now, writing this Instagram story, I still haven't slept.
But old friend, you must know that day-by-day, the world is getting emptied of humanity. It’s a bunch of empty masks who will step on anyone to get what they want. Where’s our conscience and humanity?
There's a lot to say, but be sure that the day the masks fall and their truth is revealed, that day they will have to answer to the hearts of your family and the pain of your mother.
Condolences to your dear family.
This isn't what our youth deserve. This isn't what my Iran deserves. Now if they are happy with each other's sadness, no problem, but even the mirror is embarrassed of this type of human.
It’s been a rough few weeks for the Iranian national team. Many players are clearly torn up about the violent repression taking place in their homeland. They’ve taken serious risks to show their discontent while the government tries to manage the image of the World Cup as an apolitical, patriotic event.
Iranians opposed to the government are divided on how to react. (A lot of the English-language coverage doesn’t reflect that there is a live, heated debate over the question.) Some have shown their appreciation for the acts of the protest that the soccer team has managed to pull off.
Others have accused the athletes of vasat-bâzi (“playing moderate”) and even collaborating with repressive forces. There have been calls not only to shun the team, but to actively root for its downfall, accompanied by memes of the soccer players covered in blood or dancing on the graves of the innocent.
In the wake of Samaak’s death, some of these figures implied that Ezatolahi was unworthy of mourning his childhood friend.
British-Iranian rapper Hichkas responded to Ezatolahi’s Instagram story with a profanity-laced tweet:
This piece of shit. One Iran is united in revolution, and this shameless guy talks about “ego and jealousy.” Mehran Samaak didn’t pass away, you filth. He was killed by your terrorist masters.
Hichkas, the “father of Iranian rap,” is on the more militant edge of the Iranian opposition. He has demanded foreign military support for the “resistance” in Iran. His reaction may not be a consensus view, but the voices in the opposition who want to hunt traitors and moderates are certainly not uncommon either.
Iran is a country divided against itself in more than one way. The tragedy of Mehran Samaak is just one more example.
Thanks for reading Matthew's Notebook! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.