The Brother Who Survived: Bringing a Humanitarian to Safety

Farzad - 1

Name: Farzad Zac
Background: Kurdish from northern Iran
Current location: Nevsehir, Turkey – for over five years
Risk of returning: Arrest, torture, death
Need: Private sponsorship to Canada. Fundraising $16,500 – see his GoFundMe profile here.
Advantages: University-educated, strong English, UNHCR certified

Farzad and his brother were taught by their mother – a strong single mother– to advocate for a better world, and respect the rights of women and children. This willingness to stand up for justice would cost the brothers dearly, with one losing his life, and the other his country. 

When his brother was killed by government forces in October 2010 for planning a political protest, Farzad decided to honour his memory by continuing his work as an activist. By 2013, the authorities targeted Farzad, forcing him to make a choice – risk the same fate, or leave his country forever. The price he paid: underpaid and malnourished, abused by an unscrupulous employer, he’s now an unwanted refugee in Turkey.

His story

Born to a Kurdish family in Naghade, Iran in 1993, Farzad was the younger of two boys: his older brother Farhad was born in 1986. In 1996, their father moved out, leaving their mother Sedighe to raise the boys on her own.

The decision to find a job earned her the scorn of the conservative neighbours, who considered it unseemly for a woman to support her family.

“From my mother, we learned the importance of making the world a better place for women and children. I love my mother, who taught me so much about being strong and standing up for what’s right.”


The brothers did their best to make their mother proud. Farzad played sports and learned woodworking, and studied hard in school.

His brother Farhad took his passion for social justice to university. He connected with some other activist students, and they organized a protest in response to the presidential election – an election that was widely believed to be rigged.

On October 28, 2010, Farhad was in his car when he was shot multiple times. He passed away three days later.

When Farzad and his father tried to claim the body, they were attacked by out-of-uniform officers of the Basij, the religious police. First his father was struck, and when Farzad tries to help him, he was stabbed twice from behind.

“My body was covered in blood, and I fell into a coma. When I woke up at the hospital a few days later, my mother was with me and crying. She explained that they had threatened my father if he complained, and they would kill me next.”

Farzad - hurt

Honouring a memory

Farzad had two surgeries to recover from the knife attack. When he was healed, he decided to honour his brother’s memory by continuing his work.

“It was unfair that they had killed my brother and injured me.”

At that time, he had started a degree in architecture at university, and he and his friends wrote articles in a student journal on the rights of women and children.

In December 2012, he was visiting a doctor in the city of Urmia with his mother when he received a call from the university disciplinary committee stating that they had decided to block his activity at school, until he signed a letter promising to stop his activities.

He signed it and returned to school, but it was just a taste of the trouble to come.

Speaking out

Life took a turn for the better when he found a woman he loved and married her on October 25, 2012. When her father found out about Farzad’s activist work, however, he forced them to divorce after just three months.

He thought he had found his calling when, in 2013, he was hired at an interior design company called Plaza Studio, where he used 3MAX technology to design interiors. “I was good at my job.”

In his spare time, he worked on a video on environmental issues with some of his brother’s friends, about a lake that had disappeared due to water overuse. He also continued to write articles about the rights of women and children “My hope was to get people to respect both the environment and human rights.”

Farzad - young

In October of 2013, a friend called to say that his work as an activist had been discovered.

“Everything I owned at home had been taken, and the police were searching for me as well.”

Leaving home

His parents said he must leave the country immediately. He took a bus to a town close to the border, where stayed with a family friend, and paid someone to help him cross from Iran to Turkey without a passport.

He travelled 18 hours on foot by mountains and a river valley.

“It was like a movie. There was a moment when I was on a hill at night. I could see the lights of a city in Iran, and thought, I’m not going to see this city again. I’m not going to see my family or my friends. It was an emotional moment. I cried but I couldn’t wait longer. I had to continue.”

Life on hold

As soon as he arrived in Turkey, he registered with the UNHCR office in Ankara, and by November 20, 2015, he was officially recognized as a refugee. The excitement of this announcement has long past, as it has been over three years since the last update.

The UNHCR office told him to live in Nevşehir, a small city in the centre of Turkey. Life there is difficult and unsafe. Because of his Kurdish background and Iranian nationality, he is treated badly.

“I am kept on the outside, and have been attacked by local citizens.”

He has a low-paying job at a photography studio, as an editor and cleaner, and still dreams of making a movie. He will have to keep dreaming, as Turkey is a country with poor human rights and few opportunities for foreigners – especially refugees.

How bad is it? He gets paid $80 a month for his work in the photoshoot, working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week – when his rent is $100 a month. Here’s more on his situation, from a friend who knows the details he won’t even tell his mom:

“He is quite down emotionally and physically exhausted. He eats only chicken, potatoes n rice. He has no means to buy drinking water or a water filter, so he drinks bad water from the tub.. He has his hair falling out bcos he lacks basic nutrition n he has too much stress. He is overworked.”

Educated people like Farzad are held in limbo for decades – unable to build a future in Turkey – and kept from seeking opportunity anywhere else.

In his own words

“Who am I? I am kind and work hard to make people happy, especially the people around me. When I try new things, I learn them quickly. I am good at sports. I am sensitive person who doesn’t lie or disrespect others. I love my mother: she is my hero. She worries about me and cries about me every day.

“I have been in this country for five years, much of it unemployed and feeling lost and stuck. These are the prime years of my life and they are wasting away. I want to continue my education, find a job in which I can support myself and feel safe again – in a country like Canada that values the freedom and dignity of all its citizens.”

The opportunity

As a UNHCR refugee, Farzad is eligible to be privately sponsored to Canada. He is artistic, a passionate humanitarian, and a good person. he would make a wonderful addition to our country.

If you would like to be a donor or sponsor, please contact:

Stephen Watt, Farzad’s friend in Toronto, Canada, by Facebook or email.

Kerrie Morley, his long-time friend and supporter in the UK.

Or you can message Farzad directly through Facebook.

Application: In progress
Fundraising: $0 out of $16,500 needed (less with in-kind donations). See his GoFundMe profile here.
Possible sponsors: Needed.

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Published by

Northern Lights Canada

STRONGER TOGETHER: Together we’re building a network of volunteers and humanitarians to find hope and opportunities for displaced people worldwide. Canada is a global leader in responding to humanitarian crises and welcoming refugees. At Northern Lights Canada, we support this effort to build bridges – rather than walls – with the wider world. Our own work in private sponsorship, settlement, and advocacy has put us into touch with the most dynamic and inspiring individuals on the planet, people who are making a difference in countless ways, large and small. We invite you to join us in this transformational journey to bring light to darkness. Northern Lights Canada stands with refugees – and their friends and supporters – as they navigate the process of immigration and resettlement. We provide guidance, share resources and build on our collective strengths as we work alongside people who have been forced to flee their homes, celebrating as they begin new lives and make the most of their boundless potential.

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