For six years, Albania has been home to one of Iran’s main opposition groups, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK. But hundreds of members have walked out – some complaining about the organisation’s rigid rules enforcing celibacy, and control over contact with family. Now, dozens languish in the Albanian capital, Tirana, unable to return to Iran or get on with their lives.
“I didn’t speak to my wife and son for over 37 years – they thought I’d died. But I told them, ‘No, I’m alive, I’m living in Albania…’ They cried.”
That first contact by phone with his family after so many years was difficult for Gholam Mirzai, too. He is 60, and absconded two years ago from the MEK’s military-style encampment outside Tirana.
Now he scrapes by in the city, full of regrets and accused by his former Mujahideen comrades of spying for their sworn enemy, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The MEK has a turbulent and bloody history. As Islamist-Marxist radicals, its members backed the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah. But relations with a triumphant Ayatollah Khomeini soon soured.