By Youhanna Najdi
August 12, 2020
Owj Arts and Media Organization is one of many institutions affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), aiming at propagation of its hardliner ideology and shaping Iran’s culture to fit the agenda of the Islamic Republic.
Ehsan Mohammad-Hassani, the man who chairs the organization and spends its hefty budget has been a warrior in Syria, an associate of top IRGC commanders such as Qassem Soleimani, and even an interrogator who has questioned political prisoners.
Mohammad-Hassani has a background in security. In March 2017, Basij [militia] Commander Gholamhossein Gheibparavar appointed him as the chairman of three other cultural organizations affiliated with the IRGC. Four months later he was also appointed as the head of Artists’ Bassij.
It is interesting that Mohammad-Hassani has five positions while the official unemployment rate in 2017 was more than 25 percent.However, he has said that all of his positions are in fact one and that the Artists’ Bassij is merely a networking facility for revolutionary artists.
He appears to be the Islamic Republic’s ideal “young cultural figure,” as the IRGC-linked Tasnim news agency has called him. There have also been media reports that have mulled the idea of Mohammad-Hassani being the next chairman of the state broadcaster the Islamic Republic Broadcasting organization (IRIB).
He launched Owj in 2011 when Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari was the commander of the IRGC and he has been following the IRGC’s cultural agenda since then; an agenda that aims to establish “the cultural front of the revolution.”
Owj soon became the leading player in Iran’s cinema, theater, music, graphic art, and urban graphics. It produced several movies that tell the story of Iran’s past 40 years the way the IRGC wishes it was, rather than how it has really been. Although most of its productions have been made by hardliner filmmakers, a recently surfaced document said Owj is also a partner and co-producer of many Iranian films, even some of those known as “independent” movies.
“We are proud to be supported by the IRGC and at the same time, we lend support to artists, “Says Mohammad-Hassani whose friendship with IRGC commanders is not limited to the boundaries of Iran. He has accompanied IRGC commanders including former Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani during visits to Syria and has been in the same helicopters with them.
He was so close to Soleimani that other people begged him to arrange a meeting with the iconic commander. Soleimani was at the set of Owj films as visitor several times, most recently in 2018 when he blessed the start of filming of a movie, “23 Men”.
Mohammad-Hassani has a group of hardliners around him including Nezameddin Mousavi the former head of IRGC-linked Fars news agency who is currently a lawmaker.
Mohammad-Hassani and his men reproduce the Islamic Republic’s ideology and translate it into cultural products with artists who agree to work with the IRGC. He boasts about “having trained 500 guerrilla artists during a decade.” He has called for trending a hashtage such as “WE are the regime’s servants,” adding that “We take pride in earning our bread in this political system.”
He maintains close ties with some of the hardliner filmmakers such as Ebrahim Hatami-Kia, whom he has praised as the “guiding light for the third generation of the Islamic Republic’s children.” He says: “Our children are the anonymous soldiers of the 12th Imam,” a characterization that is reserved for Iranian intelligence operatives.
At the same time, Mohammadhassani is known to be one of the interrogators who questioned dissident filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad in prison. Other filmmakers such as the internationally acclaimed Mohammad Rassouloff have also said that individuals from Owj have interrogated them in prison.
Mohammad-Hassani is also known for his elaborate attempts to please Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: “We are brandishing our sharp swords and are marching toward the final apocalyptic battle,” adding that “And Khamenei’s house is a house for all of us.”