I have met Travis Zamani in 2014 while traveling through Azerbaijan. His story is very interesting and poses many questions about our current society. I want to present you his extraordinary story and tell you about the struggle he is going through.
We are all born in countries with different beliefs and a distinct culture. Travis, however, was not ready to embrace most things he was being taught as a kid in Iran, religiously and culturally. It might be true that Iran has a great history as the Persian empire. However, the current regime has changed the country and created a different image after the Islamic revolution.
Travis grew up in Iran and went to schools that teach religion in the same way as mathematics and other sciences. Normal schools have one hour of arts per week and not many students are attending. This was the only hour Travis loved, more than anything else. Year by year he was developing more interest in art, and music. He plays piano, guitar, santoor, and tar. In Tehran, he even worked with the famous musician Farzad Farzin. As soon as he finished college he started running an illegal music studio and was keen on producing hip-hop and rock music in a basement. Unfortunately, his superstitious neighbors disliked his business. Due to their behavior, Travis’s place eventually got raided by the police. He was then sent to court, got 100 lashes and lost all equipment and instruments to the government. His music studio was locked and everything in it was seized.
In the same year (2009) the young and unhappy generation did many protests on the streets of Tehran. Many people disagreed with the regime and wanted liberation. There was a great need for laws against religious extremism. The results were violent suppressions which led to around 300 people getting killed. Among the victims was a friend of Travis named ‘Neda Aghasoltan’ who was shot in the back for no reason. Many more were jailed and a few even executed. Others, like Travis, left the country looking for a new start somewhere else. He didn’t want to live in Iran anymore. He was also kicked out of the university the last year of his studies due to his arrest in the protests.
Before leaving Iran Travis was searching for God. He quickly realized that Islam was not an option. He found Christianity to make more sense and is always carrying a Bible since then.
After a few short visits to nearby countries such as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Armenia, he chose to stay in Baku, Azerbaijan. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) immediately recognized his case as a refugee and provided him a protection letter. This was the only reason his deportation could be prevented. Not having a work permit or legal status made it hard to make any progress in life. He managed to play music in bars and learned a few programming skills to work as a freelancer. He was baptized and converted to Christianity in Baku, which makes it nearly impossible for him to return to his homeland.
Travis still praises many of his friends he’d made in Baku for helping and supporting him when he arrived. Paul was among the ones who helped him start playing paid gigs and later on they even formed a band together.
Unfortunately, almost everywhere racism can be experienced. Travis clearly felt he was treated differently. The Azerbaijani government mistreats Iranian citizens in general, compared to someone holding a passport from western countries.
Travis never considered moving to Europe because he never had the budget. This made him ineligible for the visa. There is a huge refugee crisis in the world, meaning too many people have been forced to leave their homeland. There are many different kinds of people in the world… shepherds, carpet weavers, engineers, doctors or artists, Muslims, Wahabis, Christians. Everyone should be treated equally!
After 5 years of court procedures and despite many promises, the Azerbaijani government eventually refuses his residency application for no apparent reason.
At this time his Iranian passport was still valid for 8 months. Due to the fear of not being able to move elsewhere, he decided to go to India around the beginning of 2018. He then tried to return after 2 months but his visa to Azerbaijan was unfortunately denied 3 times. Finally, he was denied boarding his flight because he had less than 6 months validity on his passport.
He feared arrest and deportation and thus applied to UNHCR in New Delhi and got registered. India is overpopulated and facing its own problems. Travis, unfortunately, does not have a job at the moment. Neither does he have a health insurance, money or any kind of support. Without a computer to work with or instruments to play on, it is very difficult to find work for Travis. His family has always disagreed with his believes. Because of the recent inflation in Iran, their financial help has stopped and it is impossible for them to help out. Actually, he feels obliged to help them.
Travis is currently living with friends in a tiny apartment and struggles to survive. Just before finishing this article he was robbed and lost precious belongings he could not afford to lose. Travis was married and has a daughter. Due to making the wrong decisions and bad luck, he is no longer with them. He used to study the restoration of ancient monuments in Iran. His dream is to study biochemistry sometime in the future. Losing plenty of weight and decreased health within the one year stay in India has made him worry a lot. Travis is afraid not to find happiness, freedom, and belonging. His destiny is unknown.
Here a link to an interview done by Chai-Khana in Baku.