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Powerful tale about Iranian stoning victim comes to Turkey

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 4/12/2010 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU

The true story of Soraya, who was stoned to death in Iran nearly 30 years ago, is now hitting theaters around the world. ‘The Stoning of Soraya,’ however, could trigger a backlash. ‘It is inevitable in this society that one becomes a target when you touch on the values that are regarded as holy by some subcultures,’ said psychology expert Nizam Eren

Aiming to rescue one Iranian woman’s tragic end from the injustice of anonymity, “The Stoning of Soraya,” a powerful film about patriarchal authority and violence against women, will hit Turkish theaters next month.

The film, which is likely to be a source of controversy, depicts the true story of Soraya M., a woman stoned to death on fabricated charges of adultery in a small Iranian village nearly 30 years ago.

İrfan Film, which holds the film’s copyright in Turkey, is worried about a violent backlash given the graphic depiction of the stoning and has continued to analyze public opinion in the run-up to the film’s release.

Psychology expert Nizam Eren, who has worked in the public relations industry for over 20 years, said screening the film without the support of the media represented a great risk for everyone involved in “Stoning.”

“Some may claim that the film is opposed to Iran. It is inevitable in this society that one becomes a target when you touch on the values that are regarded as holy by some subcultures,” he said.

Eren said the film was released in the United States and Europe last year. “Viewers left the cinema because of the violent stoning scene.”

He said, however, that Turkish viewers are unlikely to be as surprised by the final scene as Westerners, since the public is already conscious of “honor killings” against women in the country.

“Women have become victims of honor killing in Turkey even because of an SMS sent by a GSM operator on Valentine’s Day. Our society’s view on truth is subjective and ideological,” he said.

[HH] Death warrant for author

In accordance with their interpretation of the shariah, locals in a small Iranian town stoned Soraya to death in 1986 after falsely accusing her of cheating on her husband

The punishment, in which people are buried up to their waste before being stoned, has been meted out to countless women in Iran, many whose names have were quickly erased from memory after the act. The suppression of such stories led Iranian-French journalist Freidone Sahebjam to share Soraya M.’s true story with the world.

While conducting research in Iran in 1986, Sahebjam became stranded in the small Iranian town in which Soraya M. was killed. While waiting, the victim’s aunt, Zahra, approached him, telling of the woman’s tragic tale. The encounter later compelled him to write “The Stoning of Soraya,” which became a best-selling book.

Eren, however, said: “Sahebjam’s biggest wish was that Iranian directors and actors make a film based on the novel. This wish was also his legacy. Sahebjam’s wish was not realized until 2008 but he learned a few weeks before his death that his novel would turn into a film.”

Speaking about the life of Sahebjam, Eren said: “Since he was a journalist at the time of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iranian Islamic revolution, Sahebjam was tortured for the reason that he leaked information. He revealed that little children were being forced to join the Iran-Iraq war and he was detained. Later, a death warrant was issued against him for writing Soraya’s story.”

[HH] First stone from father

Those played a major a role in the making of the film, including director Cyrus Nowrasteh, Mozhan Marno, who plays Soraya, and Shorhreh Aghdashlo, who plays Zahra, are all Iranians now in exile in the United States.

The star of the film is Hollywood actor James Cavizel, best known for his performance as Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.” Cavizel, who occasionally speaks Persian in the film, portrays Sahebjam, who is waiting for someone to help fix his broken-down car when Zahra comes to tell Soraya’s story.

The film depicts not only Soraya’s gruesome final moments, but also the daily ordeals she had to endure at the hands of her husband and young sons.

Ali, whom Soraya was forced to marry, is an abusive husband with a lust for power. Having decided to marry 14-year-old Mehri, Ali looks for a way to abandon Soraya since he does not want to support two women nor return his wife’s dowry.

When Soraya refuses to end the marriage, Ali and the local religious authorities collude to accuse the woman of cheating on her husband, thereby warranting her death.

In final scenes that make for difficult viewing, the white-clad Soraya is taken out and buried up to her waist; her father throws the first stone, then her husband and then her two sons.

“Stoning” will be shown at 45 theaters across Turkey, starting May 13.

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