Dr Mohammad Farsi
The incredible life story of Excelsior Academy Chair of Governors Dr Mohammad Farsi will star in a new photography exhibition focusing on people who have arrived in Tyneside and successfully made it their home.
The 77-year-old former commander in the Iranian Navy is one of 40 people whose portraits and stories are being captured by photographer Jeremy Abrahams for his display “Arrivals: Making Tyneside Home.”
People who migrated to Tyneside from overseas between 1945 and 2018 are the focus of the fascinating exhibition which will shed light on the warm welcome they received – some fleeing persecution and threats to their lives.
Dr Farsi, his wife and two sons, have built a hugely successful life in Newcastle.
He became a highly respected senior lecturer at Newcastle University and gained a reputation for his compassion in leading child welfare and safeguarding issues at Excelsior Academy and championing community Black and Minority Ethnic rights.
It’s all a far cry from the chaotic events of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which turned Dr Farsi’s life upside down, forcing him to leave his beloved Iran under threat of death from the revolutionary government.
Photographer Jeremy will capture Dr Farsi’s image in a photo shoot in Excelsior as well as at St Joseph’s Church in Benwell, where he helps with interpretation and support for Iranian refugees.
The exhibition will paint a portrait of why people chose to come to Tyneside and how they feel about their adopted home. It will run at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum early next year.
“We have been welcomed here, we have more English friends than we have Iranian and have enjoyed our life here,” said Dr Farsi.
“They have provided an environment in which we can excel and if this story of my life is going to be exhibited, I will be over the moon.”
Dr Farsi and his family have called Newcastle home since 1982.
As a Lieutenant Commander in the Iranian Navy, he oversaw work on a ship called the Kharg being built in Tyneside’s Swan Hunter shipyard.
He brought his young family to the UK in the late 1970s as work continued on the vessel, returning to Iran as part of his duties when the Shah was overthrown in a revolution which sent shockwaves throughout the country and across the globe.
“In Iran after six months of seeing the revolution, I didn’t know if I was going to be alive or not, it was so difficult,” said Dr Farsi.
“There was no logic. Everything I did as a commanding officer was scrutinised, my phones were tapped, I couldn’t even send a letter out.
“I had to smuggle a letter to friends in the Merchant Navy to post from Dubai which they sent to my wife and two kids, saying ‘don’t come back, I don’t know how long I’m going to stay alive here, do whatever you can.’
“I thought I would die.” Dr Farsi was accused by the government of sending revolutionary sailors to fight on the frontline in the 1980 war with Iraq, keeping back personnel who did not support the revolution to help trigger a coup d’etat in Iran.
“I ended up with a file being put together and I was put before a military revolutionary court,” he said. “I was fortunate and believe that God was with me when I went to the court because the mullah that usually presided was not there.
“There was a law officer presiding who knew me, and that I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“He said because he knew me that he would ask questions in a particular way to conclude that there was a disciplinary case, but that I must get out of Iran as soon as possible because they want to kill me, they will kill me.
“If there was a mullah sitting there within 20 minutes I would have been shot dead.”
Dr Farsi worked with contacts to flee Iran and settled in Tyneside with his family. He describes applying for political asylum and having to denounce his country as “the darkest day of my life.”
“I hope to go back to Iran one day, I have never lost hope, I love Iran,” he said.
Photographer Jeremy said he approached Dr Farsi to be a subject after speaking with Newcastle City Councillor David Faulkner, who told him of his inspirational life story and work in Newcastle.
“What I want to bring to the exhibition is an understanding of the great variety of reasons people migrate to this country,” said Jeremy.
“Dr Farsi’s story is distinctive, very unusual and his story serves to emphasise the many different reasons people come to settle in the North East.”