27 Years After It Was Awarded, a Pulitzer Prize Is Acknowledged

Pradnya Joshi
May 28, 2007
The New York Times

Often the writing and photography that win Pulitzer Prizes require heroic efforts on the part of journalists. For one recipient this year, the process of receiving the award also took an enormous effort.

In 1979, a photographer stood nearby as executioners shot Kurdish prisoners in Sanandaj, Iran. A picture he took for an Iranian newspaper was picked up by United Press International and published worldwide. To protect the photographer, his name was not printed.

But the image proved so compelling that it was awarded the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography. It was the first and still the only time that the Pulitzer, the highest honor in print journalism, has been given to an anonymous winner.

That was 27 years ago.

In 2002, the image and the word ”anonymous” for the photo credit caught the eye of Joshua Prager, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, while he perused a book of historic photographs. After several years, Mr. Prager found the photographer, Jahangir Razmi, in Tehran.

Mr. Razmi had taken out the original contact sheet from time to time to reflect on that day, Mr. Prager said. After decades of keeping silent, he allowed his name to appear in a December 2006 article written for The Journal. That article prompted the Pulitzer Prize Board to seek out Mr. Razmi.

”I don’t even think he allowed himself to hope for it,” Mr. Prager said.

The board authenticated the background, confirmed that Mr. Razmi was indeed the photographer, and also considered the political situation in Iran. ”We concluded that more publicity would be more protection,” said Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzers.

Last Monday, Mr. Razmi accepted the Pulitzer at a ceremony at Columbia University. But the route by which he arrived in New York — and the circumstances under which he was able to take home the $10,000 prize — were tortuous.

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, so Mr. Razmi traveled to a consulate in Dubai to get a visa, Mr. Gissler said.

There were also financial complications. Mr. Razmi does not have a Social Security number or a United States bank account, and the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has restrictions on doing business with Iran. In this case, the government granted a waiver. And after some discussion with Columbia University officials on how to pay him, Mr. Gissler helped Mr. Razmi cash the $10,000 prize check at a Chase Manhattan Bank branch.

In a poignant moment, the night before the Pulitzer ceremony the mother and sister of two of the Iranians who were executed attended a dinner and met Mr. Razmi for the first time. ”I looked at him, and I couldn’t control myself,” said the sister, Roya Nahid, now 51 and a resident of Mission Viejo, Calif. ”He was the last person to see my brother.”

Mr. Razmi said that he had left the news business and spends most of his time in Tehran taking portrait shots.

”As a journalist, he was ready to give the prize to someone else,” said Siavash Zaryoun, a family friend who translated for Mr. Razmi. ”Even in these 27 years, he has not been able to forget.”