"Where is my Figen?" (An Iranian's story of love's beauty and terror - part 1)

Intelek Int'l By Intelek Int'l, 7th Oct 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>True Stories

I first published this touching story of an England-based Iranian's 40 years search for his long lost love in December 2010.

It seems that little has changed for him since then.

Sweet dream or beautiful nightmare?

The record of the words that David and Teresa Yeates’ spoke to their murdered daughter’s corpse are a testament to the profound sense of loss that they were suffering by virtue purely of her disappearance.

"It was a relief to see her again - we just said: 'Welcome back.'" say the media reports.

The depth of the bewilderment and grief that such a disappearance of a loved one can cause may be difficult for some of us to fathom.

Not for Reza Khodayeki though.

This Iranian living in England appears to have been enduring precisely such a sense of bewilderment and grief for going on 40 years now.

He says the mystery surrounding the fate of the long lost love of his youth, Figen Bilgen (formerly Apaydin), is killing him.

Khodayeki, a 65 year old resident of Norwich in Norfolk, spoke to me recently about the distress he has been suffering since his separation from the young Turkish woman he met and fell in love with in London many years ago.

He began by sharing a letter that he wrote to her.

The amorous epistle was prompted by an ominous dream he had in May of 2010.

That dream, in which his beloved appeared dressed in white (as if for her funeral, in accordance with Muslim rites) signalled the intensification of a longing that he had been suppressing for many years.

A longing that probably ended his marriage to Angela, a British woman who bore him two daughters and with whom his broken heart had once found a degree of solace.

He wrote “To my love and life Figen. I am now writing to you after a lifetime...My dear love, the reason that I am writing to you after all these years is because of my dream. This dream is different my usual dream about you. For some time I have been troubled. My life has become a living hell; I am very anxious and worried. I am extremely concerned for you and your wellbeing. I cannot get you out of my mind. I cannot stop worrying. God forbid I keep on thinking that something has happened to you or something is wrong with you. I hope and pray that my thoughts and concern are unfounded: it is just a bad dream. I know that it might sound crazy to you but it is honest truth, and I want you to trust me on that darling. I have no intention other than to find out about your wellbeing: after all, you are my sweetheart, and it is important to me. And it is important that I can have a peace of mind as well.”

Reza’s “usual dream”, an unchanging scenario that haunted him for most of his adult life - persisting even for the duration of his eight year marriage - was not particularly comforting either.

Describing it he said,

She is in a locked room, and she’s looking out a window and I am outside. She’s very uptight and she’s very upset; she almost in tears. She’s telling me something from the window but I can’t hear her. And I’m trying to get into that building to rescue her.
I can’t, I couldn’t.

Torn apart by Turkish xenophobia

This dream was probably inspired by the actual circumstances of his last meeting with Figen, before the two young lovers were forcibly separated by her xenophobic aunt.

That day, having boarded a train at Victoria Station, on the first leg of a journey back to her hometown in Ankara, Figen leant out of one of the passenger windows and wept uncontrollably as the train slowly moved away from the platform.

That was the last time Reza, with tears streaming down his own face, saw hers.

The aunt, Figen’s legal guardian, had forbidden the couple marrying.

“We (Turkish people) don’t like foreigners! We don’t like Iranians!” she had told him.

The hospitality with which he had treated her over the week that she spent as a guest in his tiny London flat was of no consequence to her.

Nor was Figen’s declared love for him.

Reza says he left Victoria Station a broken man.

He says he went back to the bedsit that he and Figen had shared for about a year, but he could not stay there.

He said “I was absolutely ill! I was throwing-up; I was absolutely all over the place. I was in pieces!”

So extreme was his condition that Reza’s cousin took him to the hospital.

That cousin also took him into his own home, as with Figen gone, it was impossible for Reza to resume life in the same space he had shared with her.

So traumatic had been the separation: so profound his bereavement.

As employees at a London branch of the now defunct Pizza Land, Reza and Figen had found each other at a time when they were both rather vulnerable.

He had left Iran because of the death of his father, a popular political activist, with whom he shared an exceptional bond.

Figen had fled a forced marriage to a man who turned out to be impotent.

Both were fighting depression.

She seemed particularly melancholy, and this apparently drew him to her.

He wanted to comfort her, he says.

Her vulnerability - coupled with what the outline of a thumb-sized photographic image suggests was a voluptuous Mediterranean beauty - was a part of her charm.

”I was madly, madly fall in love with her...Just seeing her and everything; I almost forgot about my dad. I was so in love with her; I loved her so much, is unbelievable! It-it’s just some sort of madness!” says Reza.

Figen initially checked his advance, declining an invitation to go to the cinema with him.

However, later that day, as he left work, he heard her calling after him.

When she caught up with him she said she had changed her mind.

Figen explained that she had declined his offer at first out of consideration for their Pizza Land colleague and her then flatmate, Tulun, from Istanbul.

Tulun had confided to Figen that she was in love with Reza, and furthermore, had asked Figen to help set her up with him.

So at first Figen thought she should just step aside.

However, whether because of her own loneliness or Reza’s declared interest in her - and possibly after a conversation with Tulun - Figen subsequently decided that Reza was too fetching a catch to let him slip through her fingers.

He says she later told him “I thought, you are a nice looking boy. Why don’t I get you for myself?”

The cinema date commenced an intense, year-long romance.

However, the paradox of love is the interchangeability of its beauty and terror.

While Figen lived in London Reza had glimpses of that terror any time she was out of his sight.

But from the day that train pulled out of Victoria Station, love’s terror fully manifested itself in a virtually sustained stalking of his every waking and sleeping moment.

In the weeks after their separation, Reza and Figen had comforted each other through letters.

He received three of these from his sweetheart, each one signed “Your wife Figen”.

However, after a month or so her replies to his letters suddenly ended without explanation.

He received the last letter in July 1975, he says.

He says that at the train station Figen promised to return to him.

“She promised she was going to come back, because uh, she said that she was going to come back to marry me. And I believed her.” he said.

He became very, very sick, says Reza, and quickly asked his boss for time off to go to Turkey to find out what had become of his beloved.

However, that trip proved fruitless.

Arriving at the address to which he had been sending his letters – Flat 76, 11 Necatibey, Cadasi, Ankara - he was confronted by Figen’s aunt who he says nastily questioned why he had come there and promptly reminded him of her (and all of Turkey’s) aversion to Iranians.

Figen was not there the aunt said.

She said she was away on holiday with her brother.

The respectful Reza did not challenge this claim, but he says he did not believe her.

He says this explanation runs counter to their culture.

He did meet a younger sister of Figen’s though, who apparently recognized him immediately from pictures Figen had sent from London.

This young woman was very kind to Reza, showing him around her neighbourhood.

But with her aunt hovering close by, she stuck to her aunt’s story.

And about an hour after his arrival, a frustrated Reza was put in a taxi and sent on his way.

Reza says that after enduring his ordeal for about seven years, he begged his boss at Pizza Land to have him transferred from London.

He says he told his employer “Every corner of London that I know, I’ve got some, some sort of uh, memory, where ever we went. And these are causing me so much problem; I cannot live in London!”

He says his boss welcomed the news of his desire to get out of London, saying they were looking for someone to train staff at new Pizza Land outlets across England.

He thus came to Norwich, where he met local girl Angela.

“She was nice girl” he said.

He said “She was different than other English girls, that I thought, uh, because of my culture...she was respectful of her parents.

So I thought, she’s good.”

They were married after a year, he hoping that marriage and the advent of offspring would help him get over Figen.

And for a time, especially after the birth of his children, he “was over the moon”.

However despite Angela’s fine qualities and what seemed like her deep love for him, Reza says he could not forget Figen.

Indeed, he suggests that his decision to name their first daughter Arezou – meaning “desire” – was itself a sign of the ill-fated nature of his union with Angela, as it was his desire to have a child with Figen that mainly influenced his choice of that name.

He and Angela were separated in 1989 and divorced in 1991.

A custody battle ensued in the English court system, leading among other things to an injunction preventing Reza from even going near his daughters’ school.

This stemmed from what he insists are utterly unfounded fears that he would unlawfully remove Arezou and her sister Shive (meaning “eloquent speaker”) to Iran.

Of the hurt, perhaps panicked Angela turning against him and holding their children as a ransom, Reza says “That knocked me down as well. This was the second sort of, uh, hammer on my head.”

He fell into a downward spiral of depression, leading to a spell of hospitalization at Norfolk's Yare Psychiatric Clinic.

Afterward, with considerable effort, Reza managed to get an arrangement where he could see his children without too much restriction.

From two hours a week, he ultimately was allowed two days a week with them.

“These two girls were my world. I put all my love and care to them.” he says.

Unfortunately, despite everything Reza says he went through to ensure that he maintained a bond with his daughters, they too became estranged from him, once they had grown up.

Today Reza lives alone, as he has done for the past twenty years.

There has been no other woman in his life since parting with Angela.

His only interest it seems is in being re-united with Figen – or at the very least, ascertaining how she is doing.

I feel obliged to state explicitly that there is no intention here to understate or trivialize the suffering of Joanna Yeates’ parents.

This writer’s primary reason for referencing their situation is, as indicated, the subtle power and pointedness of the words they spoke to their daughter’s corpse in communicating the distress that such traumatic separation from a loved one brings.

As 2011 dawns, it is hoped that they, Reza and all who suffer similar separations – and Madeline McCann’s parents come to mind here – will find the answers, grace and/or healing they so desperately seek.




Ankara, Figen Bilgen, Iran, Joanna Yeates, London, Relationships, Reza Khodayeki, Romantic Affair, Romantic Love, Turkey, Victoria Train Station

Meet the author

author avatar Intelek Int'l
"I think therefore I jam"
I'm a holistic communication and education specialist, trading as Intelek International (www.intelek.net).
I write about spirituality, science, philosophy, politics, love.

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24th Jan 2020 (#)

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