Nikbakht: Remembering a Rebel With a Cause

For nearly two decades, Faryar was one of the most frequently quoted sources in my stories about the Iranian Jewish community because of his unique and extensive knowledge about the regime’s antisemitism.

Last month, the Jewish world and those in the Iranian American community who oppose the Islamic regime in Iran lost one of their greatest advocates with the passing of Frank (Faryar) Nikbakht. Yet his passing has been especially difficult for myself and a close group of his friends in the Los Angeles area who considered Faryar their loving mentor, their loyal confidant and a tireless fighter against the injustices of the Islamic regime in Iran. He was one of the local Iranian Jewish community’s underappreciated rare jewels who was not only a brilliant mind but also fearless in publicly denouncing all of the Iranian regime’s Jew hatred. For nearly two decades, Faryar was one of the most frequently quoted sources in my stories about the Iranian Jewish community because of his unique and extensive knowledge about the regime’s antisemitism. Likewise my special friendship with him during this time gave me a rare glimpse into his generous heart, his special love of the Jewish people and rebellious spirit of fighting back against the Iranian regime’s constant genocidal anti-Jewish campaigns. 

A Fearless Fighter For Iranian Jews & Religious Minorities

Faryar was a fighter against injustice and especially against injustice carried out against religious minorities living under the rule of the Ayatollahs in Iran. With every fiber of his body he fought back against the regime for more than 40 years. What many people did know about Faryar was the fact that he was one of the few Jews who joined non-Jewish Iranian activists in returning to Iran in 1980 to be involved in an armed counter-revolution against the Khomeini regime. Unfortunately, after his comrades in arms were either killed or executed by the regime, Faryar was forced to flee the country illegal on horseback. 

Yet when he returned to the U.S., Faryar did not stop his efforts to fight Iran’s Islamic regime. He was not a religious nor an observant Jew by any means, but still very proud of his Jewish heritage and outraged by the Iranian regime’s continued media campaigns to demonize Jews. So at a time when it was not popular and even taboo among L.A.’s Iranian Jews to openly criticize the Iranian regime, Faryar spoke up at every opportunity. He wrote countless articles in Persian language newspapers and magazines exposing the regime’s outrageous anti-Jewish claims and the regime’s vile support for neo-Nazi conspiracy theories about Jews. He appeared on Persian language radio programs and satellite TV programs denouncing the regime’s sickening Holocaust denial and the on-going abuse by the Iranian regime against religious minorities such as Christians, Baha’is and Zoroastrians who still lived in Iran. In fact, he started the L.A.-based “Committee for Minorities Rights in Iran,” a human rights advocacy group that was constantly educating both Iranian Americans and Americans of the human rights abuses of the Iranian regime against non-Muslims living in Iran.

Throughout his life, he remained a brave fighter against Iran’s evil radical Islamic regime.

While many Iranian Jewish “leaders” in Southern California over the years have mostly remained publicly silent about the Iranian regime’s Jew-hatred out of fear of the revenge the regime may unleash on the Jews still remaining in Iran, Faryar always denounced the regime because he believed Jewish silence in the face of this antisemitism would only emboldened the regime to further advance their anti-Jewish campaigns worldwide. Even in the final days of his life, despite suffering from the debilitating effects of cancer, Faryar still continued to send e-mails to friends and fellow Iranian activists to convey his thoughts about certain topics of involving the Iranian regime. Throughout his life, he remained a brave fighter against Iran’s evil radical Islamic regime.

Always the Rebel

Faryar belong to a small but very vocal group of Iranian Jewish activists in L.A. who have continuously spoken out publicly against the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel campaigns of Iran’s regime. Many times he was one of the few Iranian Jews who would go on the record for my articles when I was writing an article about a particular attack on the Jewish community in Iran. He rebelled against the local “leaders” of the Iranian Jewish community by always going against their taboo of public criticism of the Iranian regime’s anti-Jewish activity. Faryar received the most criticism his community’s “leadership” in 1999-2000 when he and a small group of Iranian Jewish activists led an international public campaign with other American Jewish organizations to save 13 Jews from the Iranian city of Shiraz. They were falsely charged by the Iranian regime of spying for Israel and facing execution. Faryar and his group were responsible for placing a negative media spotlight on the Iranian regime which ultimately resulted in the Jews avoiding execution. At that time, some of the “leaders” of the Iranian Jewish community in L.A. argued that a “quiet back-door diplomacy” with the Iranian regime was the best method to get the Jews freed from prison. They were furious that Faryar and his group were not following their approach and attacked his character viciously after he publicly criticized the Iranian regime for arresting the Shiraz Jews. I once asked Faryar why he opposed the “quiet back-door diplomacy” approach with the Iranian regime and he replied, “for 20 years, from 1979 to 1999, the Islamic Republic of Iran executed or killed one Jew every year to keep the Jews of Iran in line and frightened. How did quiet diplomacy help those 20 dead Jews? Only when we made noise and held the regime accountable for their crimes in front of the world did they think twice about killing any more Jews. If we had not said anything publicly about the Shiraz 13, they would have likely been executed as well.” He was 100-percent correct about the Iranian regime’s anti-Jewish policies and the vast majority of L.A.’s Iranian Jewish community respected his outspokenness on the topic.

Yet Faryar’s rebellious spirt did not end with his battle to save the Shiraz 13. After that incident, he continued to speak out against the plight of 11 missing Jews who during 1994-1997 attempted to escape Iran illegally but were arrested by the Iranian regime. Their whereabouts were never disclosed to their families. He did not care if the “leaders” of the Iranian Jewish community in L.A. attacked him for publicly denouncing the Iranian regime’s crimes against Jews. While the community’s “leaders” hated Faryar for his outspokenness, they still begrudgingly respected him. This was because he never attacked them personally but always responded to them in a civil manner and with hard facts on why their “quiet approach” to dealing with the Iranian regime’s Jew hatred was flawed. Additionally, Faryar never missed an opportunity to call out non-Jewish Iranian leaders or media personalities who were living outside of Iran if they publicly used derogatory Persian terms for Jews, or if they repeated outrageous anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

The Walking Encyclopedia

Whoever met Faryar immediately realized he was an intellectual giant and a pure genius  because of his remarkable ability to recall historical dates, names, events and could uniquely analyze their importance in relation to current events. He was a treasure trove of important information for reporters who cover issues related to the Iranian regime. Whether it was U.S. State Department diplomats, National Security officials, U.S. members of Congress or White House policy makers during the George W. Bush administration, Faryar’s expertise on all things related to the Iranian regime were always valued and sought after. In fact, in 2004, he prepared a special report for the State Department on the Iranian regime’s official laws which were biased against religious minorities living in Iran. Over the years countless academics in U.S., European and Israeli universities also sought his expertise and historical information when preparing their academic papers related to the Iranian regime. 

Likewise, Faryar was famous for sending his close friends very long informational e-mails exposing the lies and propaganda of the Iranian regime whenever the regime would parade out a member of the Jewish community in front of U.S. news media outlets to sing the regime’s supposed “great treatment of Iran’s Jews.” When I reported on anti-Semitic incidents in Iran, such as the Iranian regime’s failure to investigate the firebombing of the synagogue next to the mausoleum of Esther and Mordechai in Iran in 2020, Faryar was the first person to send me comments about the failure of Jewish leaders living in Iran to denounce the attack because of their fear of being arrested by the regime. “Is this the great treatment the Jewish leaders of Iran always claim to be receiving from their Islamic regime? They haven’t even mentioned the attack on the Esther and Mordechai site in their own state-run media!” Faryar email me. He was also one of the few sources that collected and archived the names of each Jew the Iranian regime had executed or killed since 1979. He was able to recall each of the incidents involving their arrests, imprisonments, tortures and executions of Jews for the last 43 years. He also knew many of the Islamic Shiite fatwas or religious rulings issued by Iran’s famous Ayatollahs like Khomeini pertaining to women, non-Muslims, homosexuals and others which the regime deemed “corruptors on earth.” More often than not, Faryar’s well-researched articles in Persian-language newspapers and magazines about the Iranian regime’s vile antisemitic actions, policies, and support of Holocaust deniers, even shocked the local Iranian Jewish community. 

A Mentor Par Excellence

While Faryar was a life-long bachelor who never had children, he was an amazing mentor and teacher to many younger and older individuals who became his close friends. I was blessed to be mentored by him as a young journalist about the ideology, history and anti-Jewish origins of the Islamic regime in Iran. He also mentored Iranian-American journalist Lisa Daftari, who considered him her “go-to source” for anything concerning Iran. Moreover, Faryar spent countless hours, days and months mentoring young, non-Jewish Iranian political activists in the U.S. and Iran in their efforts to fight back against the Iranian regime’s dictatorship. He gave the activists words of guidance on their campaigns and important history on the regime’s crimes against humanity. He received a special joy and pleasure from seeing us succeed and flourish. Faryar knew his knowledge and efforts would never be lost to time because we, his mentees, would carry on his message and legacy of fighting back against the injustices of the Iranian regime. Ultimately, Faryar’s activism on behalf of the Jewish community and for those seeking freedom for Iran were his life’s work and the journalists, activists and individuals he mentored were like his family members. 

The Generous & Humble Gentleman

Perhaps one of the most special attributes of Faryar was his incredible kindness and humble nature in all his work. He never sought the limelight for his activism against the Iranian regime. In fact, I had the honor of writing about Faryar’s endless hours of volunteer work in exposing and fighting back against the Jew-hatred of the Iranian regime when he was honored as a mensch by the Journal in 2013. At that time he told me did not want recognition or any public accolades for his work because he said it has his duty to fight back against the Iranian regime’s antisemitism. Sadly the Iranian Jewish community in L.A. never honored Faryar for all of his work, but he did not mind it one bit. I cannot even begin to count the many hours Faryar gave me to interview him for articles throughout my career. Never once did he turn me down or tell me to go away. He was always eager, willing and happy to provide me with information for my stories concerning the Iranian regime. At his memorial last month, many of his closest friends recalled Faryar’s generous nature of always insisting on paying the bill after a meal at a restaurant. Likewise, his aunt in Iran sent an e-mail message for his memorial recalling that, as a young boy in Iran, Faryar came home without his shoes. When asked about his shoes missing, he confessed that he had given his shoes to a poor, shoeless boy begging on the streets of Tehran!

There will never be another Faryar Nikbakht in the world, he was indeed a unique and tireless activist.  He fought back against the vile Jew-hatred of the Iranian regime with every fiber of his being for the last four decades. I was honored to call him my friend and mentor. My work as a reporter covering the Iranian regime’s antisemitism all of these years was made more informative because of his expertise on the topic. My only hope, now that we no longer have Faryar in this world, is that his writings and works will help inspire a new generation of Jewish and Iranian activists to fight back against the injustice and blind hate of the Iranian regime.

Karmel Melamed is an award winning internationally published Iranian American journalist based in Los Angeles.

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