As he says himself (according to his mother), Ali Reza Khaleqi was born in the summer, on the day of Ashura, although his date of birth is given as the first day of winter 1334 H.S (1955) in his birth certificate.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “The date of my birth according to my birth certificate is 01/10/1334 H.S (23/12/1955). But my mother says that I was born in the summer and on the day of Ashura. My mother had gone out to attend the mourning ceremonies for Imam Hussein. I was born just after she returned home.”


Childhood in a crowded family

Ali Reza Khaleqi’s childhood was spent in an old house in Mir ‘Alam-Khan alley (near the shrine of Imam Reza) in Mashhad. They lived with his father’s family in a big crowded house. Khaleqi’s father, who had only completed elementary school, was interested in farming and spent most of his time in a nearby village.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “Our house was one of the big houses that had seven or eight stairs just after the entrance. The stairs led to a courtyard that was about a thousand square meters in size [about 1200 square yards]. We had a couple of big gardens in the courtyard, as well as a small pool which always had fish in it. There were some also Geranium pots around the pool. That house had many rooms. We lived there with my extended family, from my grandmother to my uncles and aunts. Each family owned two or three of the rooms. Every morning, my mother, my aunt, and my uncle’s wife planned what to cook for lunch. At that time we had a stove with three burners. The women would usually put the food on these burners and let it cook from morning till noon, and the food was usually Āb-gūsht[1]. Sometimes, the three families would eat together.

My mother was more open-minded than many of the women of her age. She even went to English classes. In the summer, on the days my father wasn’t home, my mom would put a basin next to the pool and wash our hair (the boys) with soap. Despite all the work she had, she lovingly took care of us. In winters, when the pool’s tap froze, she would break the pool’s ice and wash our clothes with that freezing water.”

As the children got older and matured, the families gradually separated.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “When the children of the three families got older, my mom and my uncle’s wife had to wear the hijab in front of the other young men. They couldn’t wear them all the time, so the families separated. My uncle’s family moved to “Tapol Mahalle” Alley, and we went to “Onsori” Alley, to my grandfather’s (my mom’s father) house.”


School and Soccer

The Abed Zadeh religious schools had a good reputation and were renowned in Mashhad. Due to this reputation and their religious orientation, most religious families tended to register their children in those schools. Because of their religious disposition, Khaleqi’s family also preferred to register him at the Baqeriyeh School, which was one of the Abed Zadeh schools. However, because of something he had heard from people inside the school, Ali Reza Khaleqi insisted on being registered elsewhere and finally his family registered him in a public school next to their house.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “My father insisted that I go to one of the religious elementary schools of Mr. Abed Zadeh (the Baqeriyeh School, which was close to Onsori Street. The first day I went there, in the yard, I heard from one of the seniors that they were very strict there. One of the children said that they even had a dungeon where they would imprison students. No one of course acknowledged their being imprisoned there, as it was just hearsay. Hearing these words, I just went out and came straight back home. My mother saw me and asked, “What’s wrong?”, and I cried saying “I won’t go to that school; It has a well, and they’ll throw me into it.” My parents didn’t wait much. After two or three days, they registered me in the Onsori Elementary School which had a nice and happy atmosphere. When I finished the first year, a new school called Jamshid opened near our house. So I went there for my second year of elementary school.”

After a few years, Ali Reza Khaleqi showed talent in drawing. His talent drew the attention of his fourth grade teacher, which then led to his entering the world of art through the school principal and the teachers’ encouragement.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “One day, in the fourth grade painting class, I drew a cat. I had drawn the cat’s hair with such precision that my teacher, who showed great surprise, took my painting and showed it to the principal. Then the principal came over and told me, ‘Can you draw this cat on a larger scale, so that we can enter it in the Kanun-e Parvaresh[2] exhibition? I said yes, and so they gave me a large, thick piece of paper, of a much better quality than the one I was using. I drew the cat with a black pencil at home and gave it to the school principal the next day. A few days later, the principal, accompanied by a couple of teachers took me to the Kanūn park, where I saw many other children as well. The Kanūn had a small hall in which the children’s paintings were exhibited, and I saw my drawing there too. It was really delightful for me to see it on the wall. The Kanūn’s officials congratulated me on my drawing and rewarded me with a box of colored pencils and a book. This was the first and the only prize I received during my elementary school years for my drawings. My parents also encouraged me when they saw my paintings, especially my mother.”

On the other hand, Ali Reza Khaleqi’s skill and interest in soccer made him choose Ferdowsī high school to continue his studies, despite the school’s academic stringency; his reason was that Ferdowsī high school had a good soccer field. He was the captain of his neighborhood’s local soccer team, and despite his young age, he was selected to play in his school’s soccer team.

Mr. Ali Reza Khaleqi: “I’d heard that Ferdowsī was a tough high school, but I went there because of the good soccer field it had. The soccer team members were usually selected from the seniors. But I was always selected despite being younger than the others, and I played as a midfielder. The Ferdowsī high school soccer field was made of crushed rocks, and each time that a truck would bring a haul into the field, our physical education teacher would ask us to remove the bigger stones! I was both the head and the captain of the Onsorī neighborhood local team Homā. I was about thirteen or fourteen then and all the other players in the team were about two or three years younger than I was. We played and practiced three or four days a week and had matches on Fridays.”


The Khaleqi Studio

In the early years of high school an unpleasant accident occurred to Ali Reza Khaleqi’s father, which opened up a new realm of art for his artistic talent.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “One night in the village, when my father was on the tractor plowing the field, a large rock hit the rear wheel; suddenly he lost control and fell down, and a part of the tractor wheel ran over his back. After this accident, my father had to stay in bed for a period of six months, because some of his vertebrae were damaged. He couldn’t even lift his head. But since he had a strong body, he slowly got back on his feet and back to his regular life a year later.”

His father, who was weary after a year staying at home, decided to work in the gallery of Mr. Asa’i, who was one of Mashhad’s famous calligraphers. His father’s taking an interest in calligraphy finally led him to open the first calligraphy studio in the Sarab Alley Bazaar in 1969, which he called the Khaleqi Calligraphy Studio. In later years, this studio turned into the center of calligraphic arts in Mashhad. Ali Reza Khaleqi’s father’s interest in calligraphy affected him as well. Besides studying for school, Khaleqi helped his father with his calligraphy. An unfortunate event provided him with an opportunity to flourish,

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “My father couldn’t afford to buy a shop on the main street, so we bought one in the Sarab alley Bazaar; we called it the Khaleqi Calligraphy Studio. I was so glad when my father started calligraphy. I studied and helped my father at the studio. At the beginning, his handwriting was better than mine and I assisted him. But being very interested in calligraphy, I studied this art carefully. For example, I used calligraphy master Amir-Khani’s Nasta’liq and Cursive calligraphy—in our Persian Literature Book—to practice. We would accept orders from gas stations to make sign boards that would advertise the price of gas… and I’d make silkscreens of each of the letters with a cutter and we would print them on the signboards.”

At the same time, Khaleqi’s skill and talent for painting in high school art classes grabbed the attention of Mr. Bat-hai his high school arts teacher, who was very skilled in drawing and painting. He taught Khaleqi the technical subtleties of drawing and painting, and steered his interest toward painting.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “Bat-hai was about sixty years old and I heard that he was somehow associated with some of Mashhad’s famous painters. When he saw that I had a talent for painting, he taught me some techniques. He said: “Work on your sketching! Your hand should first take to sketching a bit more”. Sometimes he would even say: “Khaleqi! Get up and take a look at your classmates’ works and check them for errors!” I used to enjoy helping them…and all of these factors furthered my desire to paint.”

Meanwhile, a young man named Charoq-duz started working at the studio, and his pencil sketches were extraordinary. Khaleqi’s careful attention to the way he worked helped him learn many techniques, which allowed him to draw portraits on his own by the time Charoq-duz left the Studio.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “After a while, my father got to know a young man named Charoq-duz who did remarkable pencil sketches. Every time a customer ordered a portrait to be drawn from a photograph, my father would ask Mr. Charoq-duz to do it. He would come to our atelier, sit there and draw 50×70 sized portraits. As Charoq-duz worked, I would carefully look at his hand, trying to learn how to draw with the pencil and the proper technique to hold one. Mr. Charoq-duz worked with us for about two years. After he left, I took to painting the portraits whenever my father had such orders.”

Thanks to Khaleqi’s brilliance, who learned only by looking at painters’ hands, and his God-given talent and creativity, the Khaleqi Calligraphy Studio became one of the few places that worked in drawing and painting, as well as in calligraphy. During this time, Khaleqi also tried to merge his first spark for drawing and painting with his passion for soccer: before long soccer teams began to choose the Khaleqi Calligraphy Studio to design their logos for them and paint the numbers on the players’ backs.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “Sometimes we had orders for signboards from sewing shops, for which I’d paint a male model on the boards. The other calligraphers wouldn’t do such work in their shops, but we were able to do so because we had a few calligraphers who used to paint as well. Little by little, sports teams also came to our shop for their logos and shirt numbers. If they already had a logo, I’d just use a cardboard cutout and print it on their shirts. I even made the shirts numbers for Homa, the small team that couldn’t afford to buy sportswear. Being the team’s captain, I bought white t-shirts at seven or at most ten Rials each, and printed the team logo and numbers on them. This was the beginning of my logo-making job; and after a while our shop became the center for logo-making and number printing for sportswear in Mashhad.”


The First Spark

Ali Reza Khaleqi’s interest and desire in reading the Quran led him to take part in Quran reading sessions where the books and the cassette lectures of Ayatollah Falsafi were circulated among the members, and that led him to a new realm. Ayatollah Falsafi’s lectures hinted at the dictatorship of the monarchy. There were murmurings of discontent and talks of political uprisings at the Imam Hasan mosque and the Torbatiha mosque. Ayatollah Khomeini had become known to everyone, and some new names such as Ayatollah Khamenei, Mohammad Taqi Shariati, and Dr. Ali Shariati were also being mentioned. Because of the Quran sessions, Ali Reza Khaleqi chose Ayatollah Khomeini as his source of religious emulation (marja), and the first spark of political activity against the Shah’s regime were ignited in his mind.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “I really liked the styles of the Egyptian masters, like Tablawi and Sheikh Mostafa Ismail, and I tried to imitate their recitations of the Quran at home. Moreover, in gatherings, I used to recite the Quran more than the others. So I was often encouraged and awarded. The awards we were given were usually Ayatollah Falsafi’s books. His recorded cassette lectures were also circulated in these meetings. In the lectures, he sometimes referred to the tyranny of the Shah’s regime. There were also a few Quran recitation sessions in some of the mosques, the most famous of which were those of the Imam Hasan mosque on Danesh Street (currently called Danesh-e Gharbi).  I hadn’t gone there, but I’d just heard from the guys in front of the mosque that someone called Mr. Khamenei lectures there on Quranic subjects hinted at revolutionary themes. The Torbatiha mosque was across Onsori Street. Dr Shariati’s father gave lectures there after the prayers. I’d listened to his lectures a couple of times when I’d gone there for prayers. I’d also heard something about Ali Shariati, but I didn’t care to find out exactly who he was. I just knew that his speeches had Politico-Islamic content. Their house was also in our neighborhood. One day, I noticed the alley was very crowded. I found out a speech was being delivered from inside the Shariatis’ house, but there were crowds of people even out in the alley. I listened to the speech for a bit, but I didn’t know who was talking. To be honest, I didn’t follow political issues very much. I just thought the Shah was bad and I’d also heard some things about Ayatollah Khomeini in some of the meetings. In fact, I became acquainted with Ayatollah Khomeini’s thought in the second year of high school. However, I only knew that he started campaigning against the Shah in 1963 and was then exiled to Najaf. Having heard that, I decided to choose him as my source of religious emulation (marja) and bought his Resaleh.”[3]

The sparks of political activities and campaigns slowly began to flame up inside him and the result could be seen in his artwork. He usually won first prize in his high school painting exhibits and was thus recognized as a well-known artist among the participants of these tournaments.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “Affected by Falsafi’s books and audio tapes, I came to adopt some views that were in opposition to those of the regime and in 1973 I painted my first oil painting with a political theme. The idea came to me from a weekly journal in which I saw the picture of a pigeon sitting on a branch. I liked the picture and thought that I wouldn’t have drawn it that way. So first, I drew a “No Stopping” traffic sign on the canvas and drew the branch of a tree beside it. Then I painted the pigeon I’d seen in the magazine, with a nice white color, its leg enchained to the “No Stopping” sign. In that painting, I wanted to show that people were deprived of their freedom by the laws that governed them at the time. I spent two days on that painting, because I tried to paint the pigeon very accurately. When the painting was complete, it looked to be somehow satirical and a bit vague, and it seemed that nobody would understand what I meant, so I just put it on the display window. It stayed there for about three to four years, and people would just pass by and look at it […] They all had different views about the painting; for example some said that the pigeon was enchained because it was sitting in front of the “No Stopping” sign. Some police officers also stopped by and watched the painting a couple of times. But nobody asked me about it…

The high school exhibitions in painting, calligraphy, journalism, etc. were held every year, and the Ferdowsī high school cultural liaison officer, Mr. Haj Aqa Jani registered me every year. They didn’t accept me the first year because I was too young. But from the second year onward, I attended the Mashhad high schools’ painting exhibitions. The exhibitions were held in a large hall in which about thirty or forty participants were painting with oil and about ten to twenty of them worked with pencils. When the other participants saw my work they were usually sure I would win, and that was usually the case. Once, the competition was in Ebm-e-Yamin (currently called Shahid Hekmat) high school, and I participated in the pencil sketching division. I had taken part in the oil painting exhibition the year before, and it required its own equipment, but black pencil drawing only needed a pencil and an eraser. The competition had not started yet when I saw the supervisor put a paneled photograph of Reza Pahlavi [the previous Shah] at a young age, about 10 to 12, as the model of the competition. Due to my dissidence and heartfelt discontent, I called out to God, saying “Oh God, What should I do!” Then I decided to change branches and went for oil painting. As I did this, I felt that one of the supervisors, who was called Baba Kuhi recognized the reason behind the change but didn’t say anything. Now I had to get painting equipment! I went to the other participants and said, “I want to take part in the oil painting exhibit,” naturally they disagreed, because they wanted to win in their division. But I didn’t listen to them and borrowed some equipment. In that division they chose a still life model for the exhibit, and I gained the first prize there. In that same year, I was also the winner in the provincial competitions, and the award was a trip to Ramsar in the summer, but I didn’t go because I’d heard that there would be parties and dancing every night in the camp.”

Royal Invitation

In February 1974, governmental organizations started to register their employees in the Rastakhiz Party simultaneously with the Shah’s publicity campaign in inviting all people to join this party. High schools also started to participate in this drive, and Ali Reza Khaleqi’s was one of those schools.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “One day in an exam session, I noticed our high school principal was putting some papers in front of all the students. When he got to me, I asked, “What’s this paper for?” He said, “How is it that you don’t know when they are constantly talking about it in the newspapers and the radio? It’s for joining the Rastakhiz Party.” I had heard that the Imam[4] had issued a fatwa from Najaf that no one should join the Rastakhiz Party. So I purposely said, “I didn’t know of it and will not sign the paper.” He said, “It will have bad consequences for you”. I said, “Whatever happens, I will not sign it.” After I said that two other students also refused to sign, but all the others did. Although I guess many of the others were not happy with it, but nobody dared not to sign them.”

After this event, and in order to complete the publicity campaign, a rally for the party was held in Ferdowsi high school. Since Ali Reza Khaleqi was well-known in the school, he was purposely invited to the meeting and each time he rejected the invitation, he faced more insistence from the managers.

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “It was almost one month after the exam session, when they announced that the Rastakhiz Party’s rally would be held at Ferdowsi high school, in which the students of the Danesh Bozorgnia, Rahimian, and Ferdowsi high schools (which were on Danesh Street) are all required to attend. I was well-known in the high school for my skills in painting and football. The day before the meeting, my physical education teacher, who was among the rally’s managers as well, said ‘Khaleqi, you remember tomorrow’s meeting, don’t you?’ He knew that I wasn’t very interested, so I said, ‘Sir, you know it’s not my scene. I’d better not go.’ He said, ‘If you don’t, they will reprimand us. All the students should be present.’ The more I refused, the more he insisted that I must participate as my failure to do so would lead to them reprimanding us later. ‘Try to be there even if it’s just for ten minutes!’ On the meeting day, I went to Ferdowsī high school near the end of the program, and sat down at the back of the hall, beside a student who lived in my neighborhood. Some of the meeting’s managers like my physical education teacher and a few officials from the Rastakhiz party were sitting in the front. One of the party members was speaking at the lectern. He gave his speech on the Rastakhiz Party and the celebrations of the ancient kingdom of Iran’s 2500th year, in which the Shah of Iran would invite guests from other countries, and repeatedly praised these events.

Naser Amoli Moqaddam, who knew me well, nudged me in the ribs, saying ‘Ali Reza, what’s he saying!!?’ I said, ‘I won’t say anything now. This is not a good place for us to talk!” A while later, he nudged me again. So, I raised my hand and said, ‘Sir, I’d like to talk for a few minutes.’ The school officials who knew me thought I wanted to make a speech to praise the school, so I went and stood behind the lectern. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘this country must be honored! However, here in Ferdowsi high school, there was a student association, which took us to different villages to help. I saw there that some people were living in the same place as their donkeys and cows. Under these circumstances, is it right that the government spend such a tremendous fortune in such celebrations, where some people would go and drink alcohol in an Islamic country? In a country where some people are living in the same quarters with their livestock, with all the poverty and illiteracy that exists, it was not proper that you spent so extravagantly.’ Eventually, I said, ‘these two thousand and five hundred year old celebrations were gratuitous and ridiculous’ When I said this, the students in the hall clapped. As one of the officials came to catch the microphone, I immediately went out to the yard. Since it was the end of the program, all the students came out as well. However, many of them were afraid to come close to me, so they talked to me from a distance. I remember a couple of them told me, ‘Khaleqi, run away and don’t come to school tomorrow!’ I went out of the school. I had just walked a few steps on the pavement when I heard my physical education teacher yelling ‘Get in the car!’ He had a white Volkswagen, which was always parked in front of the school. Our teacher was extremely angry, and in the car he started swearing, using any swear word he could. At first, I was silent, because I knew it was really dreadful for them. But, as he was cursing me, I said, ‘What’s wrong? It was me who talked. Why are you so fretful?’ He said, ‘Don’t you know what’s wrong? They’ll make you pay, and make us pay too.’ Anyway, that day he dropped me off at the studio in his car, and left.

The next day, I went to school. I was in the yard during recess, when some of the students ran towards me and said, ‘Run away, Ali Reza! There are people from the SAVAK[5] at the school door, and they’re looking for you. I had a quick look outside from the school’s back wall. I saw two police officers standing in front of the door by their car, and thought to myself that if they had come after me, they would not have stood in front of the door. Then it came to mind that they might be some of our shop customers, because sometimes the police forces came to our shop for their car logos. So I went to the school’s door. When they saw me, they said “We went to the shop for the logos, but Haj Aqa [Ali Reza’s father] said Ali Reza is at school. If you are in a hurry, go and pick him up yourself.’ They asked the school for permission, and I left with them to the shop. I wondered why no one pursued me afterwards. I think the school officials were afraid from the backlash; so they decided to keep the Rastakhiz rally matter under wraps so that nothing would reach high-ranking officials.”


Ominous Passenger

On a trip to Mashhad, the Shah was to pass through Shah Reza Avenue, which was close to Mr. Khaleqi’s shop. Ali Reza Khaleqi, with some of his friends, joined the crowd waiting for the Shah to pass, but…

Ali Reza Khaleqi: “Mohammad Reza Shah was supposed to pass through the avenue close to our shop. So we went to that avenue with a couple of children from Sarab Alley Bazaar. People were standing on both sides of the avenue, waiting for the Shah. We spent a little time there, chatting and laughing together, and then got back to the shop. A few minutes later, two men entered the shop. One of them, who was shorter and had a robust body, asked “What’s your name?” and also asked a couple of other questions. I had never been in such a situation, so I couldn’t understand the reason behind their asking these questions. I dodged some questions by giving irrelevant answers. Suddenly the man with a robust body grabbed hold of my collar from behind the counter, and pulled me out to himself. He slapped me on the back of the neck, and kicked me out of the shop. It was then that I realized there were SAVAK personnel among the crowd, and they had noticed our behavior there. There was also a customer in the shop wearing a tie, who immediately went out when he found out what was going on. The SAVAK agent hit me on the head and threw me inside a car, parked across the shop.

My cousin, who was writing on a panel in front of the shop was watching us, but did not dare say anything. Mr. Vatankhah, whose stucco store was opposite our shop came close to the car and said, “Where are you taking him, sir?” One of the agents turned around and said, “Mind your own business!” When the car started, they pushed my head down between the two seats and kept me down there. Whenever I wanted to lift my head they would hit me on the head. As my head was down, I saw the person sitting next to the driver had a small black gun. Later, I found out the gun was an Uzi. After a few minutes when they opened my eyes, I found myself in the police station at the Eshrat-Abad intersection. They kept me there in the basement with a couple of other suspects. They usually came over in the middle of the night when I was sleeping and slapped either side of my face a couple of times; but they didn’t torture me! They just mostly used harsh swear words to insult me. After ten days and some beatings, they understood that I wasn’t affiliated with any groups or organizations. So, they let me go.

[1] A traditional Iranian stew.

[2] The children and adolescents’ intellectual development center

[3] The book of instructions published by the marja، as a guide for those who emulate him in matters of Islamic Law.


[4] Imam Khomeini.

[5] The Shah’s secret police.

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