"Roya Hakakian's insight and dialogue with our audience brought an immediate response from the members of the Lancaster Literary Guild. They soon recognized that our guest writer was an insightful first-hand observer who brought the changes in Iran into better clarity."
'As Roya Hakakian sat on a panel in Washington last month listening to another Iranian writer speak, she had a small epiphany. It was a completely harmonious panel,” Hakakian recalled. “We were all in agreement about everything, and then this other writer started saying, ‘We are the people of Persia, the great people who built Persepolis,’ and rather than kind of feel the usual warm, fuzzy feeling, I just started getting really annoyed. . . . How many times do we need to march out these glorious things from 2,000 years ago, as if preserving the dignity of the past is more important than dealing with what’s immediately happening today?” Hakakian is trying to do just that; this month, she will address the Democratic Caucus on the United States’ Iran strategy in the wake of charges last month that Tehran was plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador here. The alleged plot in some ways mirrors the events described in Hakakian’s new book, “Assassins of the Turquoise Palace,” about the 1992 killing of four Iranian Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant. In light of the 1997 verdict in the case, European Union governments suspended relations with Iran for nearly half a year, and Interpol put Iran’s then-minister of intelligence on its most-wanted list. The subject of Hakakian’s book is not typical fare for Iranian American writers of her generation. But since Iran’s violent 2009 crackdown on post-election demonstrators, something has snapped. Iranians are fed up with apologizing for their country.
“Let’s stop being ashamed of these tragedies that we kind of keep as little secrets within our own community and start doing the job of bearing witness,” she said. “A lot of my earliest writings were deeply rooted in the sociological upheaval going on outside,” she said, “and so, for me, this political life under tyranny in Iran and creativity became entwined.” She became interested in the Berlin shooting when one of the survivors, whom she had once interviewed for a short article, visited her family's home. But to New York publishers, it was not an easy sell: The years-old case did not involve American characters, and the action didn’t take place here. I was amazed at how very few people knew about it, and the very few people who knew about it knew only the highlights. Although she prevailed against the initial suggestions to write herself into the Berlin story, she accepts that she has taken on a role by bringing it to light. "I feel myself as a translator,” she said, “My job is to tell what gets lost in the narrative about Iran.” '
ROYA HAKAKIAN is an author and Farsi poet whose opinion columns, essays and book reviews appear in English language publications like the New York Times, the Daily Beast / Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal and NPR's All Things Considered. A founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, she has collaborated on over a dozen hours of programming for leading journalism units on network television, including CBS 60 Minutes. Roya is the author of two collections of poetry in Persian, and is listed among the leading new voices in Persian poetry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies around the world, including La Regle Du Jeu , Strange Times My Dear: The Pen Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature. She serves on the board of Refugees International.
Her most recent book, the Assassins of the Turquoise Palace (Grove/Atlantic) about Iran’s terror campaign against exiled Iranian dissidents in Western Europe has been named a Notable Book of 2011 by the New York Times Book Review in September, made Newsweek’s Top Ten Not-to-be-missed books of 2011 and was among Kirkus Reviews Best Non-Fictions of 2011. Her memoir of growing up a Jewish teenager in post-revolutionary Iran, Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran (Crown) was a Barnes and Noble's Pick of the Week, Ms. Magazine Must Read of the Summer, Publishers Weekly's Best Book of the Year, Elle Magazine's Best Nonfiction Book of 2004, and was named Best Memoir by the Connecticut Center for the Book in 2005 and has been translated into several languages including German, Dutch, and Spanish. Roya is also a recipient of the 2008 Guggenheim fellowship in nonfiction.
Born and raised in a Jewish family in Tehran, Roya came to the United States in May 1985 on political asylum. She lives in Connecticut.
Body of Work
Human Rights Activism
Roya was a founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. IHRDC was founded in 2004 by a group of human right scholars, activists, and historians to document the patterns of human rights abuse in Iran and to promote accountability, a culture of human rights, and the rule of law in Iran. Board members include prominent American legal scholars such as Professors Owen Fiss and John Simon (Yale University), Lawrence Douglas (Amherst College), and Laura Dickenson (Arizona State University), and Roya Hakakian. Gissou Nia is currently the group’s executive director.
Awarded a 2008 Guggenheim fellowship in nonfiction, Roya's latest book, Assassins of the Turquoise Palace – released on September 6, 2011 through Grove/Atlantic – is a non-fiction account of the Mykonos restaurant assassinations on September 17, 1992 in Berlin. In this attack, four Kurdish and Iranian activists were killed following a pattern of assassinations of opposition leaders (see: Chain murders of Iran). Hakakian's book explores the assassinations and the implications of Iran, their fallout, and the subsequent court case known as the Mykonos trial that became one of the most high profile cases in Europe that ended implicating the highest level of Iranian government. It was a New York Times Sunday Book Review editors choice, a Daily Beast-Newsweek Not To Be Missed Book of 2011, and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Her memoir of growing up a Jewish teenager in post-revolutionary Iran, Journey from the Land of No : A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran (Crown) was a Barnes & Noble’s Pick of the Week, Ms. Magazine Must Read of the Summer, Publishers Weekly’s Best Book of the Year, and Elle Magazine’s Best Nonfiction Book of 2004. It also won the Persian Heritage Foundation’s 2006 Latifeh Yarshater Book Award and is the 2005 winner of the Best Memoir by the Connecticut Center for the Book. Journey from the Land of No has been translated into several languages and is available in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain.
Roya is the author of two collections of poetry in Persian, the first of which, For the Sake of Water, was nominated as poetry book of the year by Iran News in 1993. She was listed among the leading new voices in Persian poetry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies around the world, including La Regle Du Jeu, Strange Times My Dear: The Pen Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature, and the forthcoming W.W. Norton’s Contemporary Voices of the Eastern World: An Anthology of Poems. She contributes to the Persian Literary Review, and served as the poetry editor of Par Magazine for six years.
Television Production & Documentaries
As a callaborator on over a dozen hours of programming for leading journalism units on network television, Roya worked on 60 Minutes, A&E's "Travels With Harry", and ABC Documentary Specials with the late Peter Jennings, Discovery and The Learning Channel. Commissioned by UNICEF, Roya directed a film, Armed and Innocent on the subject of the involvement of underage children in wars around the world was a nominee for best short documentary at several festivals around the world.
Her opinion columns, essays, and book reviews appear in English language publications, the New York Times, the Daily Beast / Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal among them. She is also a contributor to the Weekend Edition of NPR's All Things Considered.