The name of Khavaran, a cemetery southwest of Tehran, has long been associated with the criminal history of the Islamic Republic. Many victims of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, whose bodies were never identified or returned to their families, are buried here in unmarked, mass graves. Also resting there are Baha’is who are buried in a plot paid for by Baha’i philanthropists.
The Iranian regime has tried to wipe out any trace of this gruesome period, including by desecrating and vandalizing Khavaran Cemetery, while the victims’ families have done everything in their power to keep the memory of their loved ones alive.
Bidaran, the first website documenting the 1988 massacre, has now launched a campaign titled “Khavaran Endures.”
The first virtual seminar organized as part of this campaign was held on the Clubhouse app on April 27. Speakers included internationally recognized human rights lawyer Mehrangiz Kar, journalist and writer Vahid Vahdat-Hagh, journalist and activist Taghi Rahmani, writer and historian Naser Mohajer, women’s rights activist Monireh Baradaran, Farhad Sabetan, a spokesman for the Baha’i International Community, artist and critic Barbad Golshiri and journalist Mohammad Javad Akbarin. Other speakers included Mahin Fahimi and Zohreh Tonekaboni, members of the grieving families who lost loved ones in the 1988 massacre.
Few, if any, Iranians have not heard of Khavaran Cemetery, which for a long time was used as a burial ground for Tehran’s Christian Armenians and Baha’is. The cemetery is now surrounded by high concrete walls to conceal the crimes committed by the Islamic Republic. In the early 1980s, it was turned into a graveyard for executed political prisoners because – as Ayatollah Khomeini, the founding father of the Islamic Republic, said – leftist political prisoners were “apostates” who must not be buried with Muslims.
According to the families of those executed in the 1980s, the graves were first individually marked. But after the summer of 1988, when thousands of political prisoners were sentenced by a “death panel” that included the current President Ebrahim Raisi, the families found that the bodies of their loved ones were piled on top of each other across the graveyard. Those who had buried these young men didn’t even bother pouring enough soil on the mass graves, leaving their bodies exposed to the elements.
After the destruction of Golestan Javid, the cemetery of Tehran’s Baha’is, an area of Khavaran was purchased by Baha’i philanthropists to be used as a final resting place for Baha’is. But in the past few years, the government has prevented Baha’is from burying their loved ones there and tried to bury them with the victims of the 1988 massacre. It has even stolen the bodies of the dead Baha’is. As recently as on March 30, an agent of the Intelligence Ministry buried a deceased Baha’i from tehran, Behzad Majidi, in Khavaran Cemetery without the cemetery officials observing Baha’i funeral rites and without notifying the family, and after officials tried to charge the bereaved an “exorbitant” large sum for the burial.
“Knowing the Truth is Part of Seeking Justice”
Human rights activist Reza Moini, a family member of a victim of the 1988 massacre and an organizer of the “Khavaran Endures” campaign, tells IranWire that Khavaran has become a symbol of the punishment inflicted to opponents of the Islamic Republic. He says the recently launched campaign aims to “keep Khavaran alive and emphasize that the dignity of our dead must be safeguarded.” “It’s a campaign that makes it clear that both Baha’is and those who have been executed have the right to be buried according to their own rites and in a way that they and their survivors want.”
Moini believes that keeping the cemetery “alive” is a historical and social necessity for Iran: “It’s the right of the families to know whether their loved ones are buried at Khavaran or not. It is their right to know why, how and where in this cemetery their loved ones were buried. Knowing the truth is part of seeking justice.”
Addressing the three-hour online seminar about the harassment of Baha’i families who want to bury their loved ones according to the rites of their faith, Mehrangiz Kar cited articles of the Civil Code referring to “Personal Affairs” that, among other things, relate to burial ceremonies: “Burial is a ‘Personal Affair’ and the dead must be buried according to his own beliefs. Furthermore, the rights of the survivors is also an issue here because they have a bond of memory with the deceased.”
She praised the resistance of the Baha’is in the face of the government’s pressure to bury their loved ones in the mass graves of those who were executed in 1988: “Their principled stand is unparalleled. They say they do not want to be part of the government’s project to erase history. They say that if this ground is flat it is because they have bulldozed it flat to erase history.”
Mehrangiz Kar also pointed out that Islamic laws contain humane highlights, but “the mullahs who rule us constantly search to find the most inhuman rules in Islamic Sharia so that they can harm anybody who is not like them or with whom they want to settle accounts.”
“Anybody who Defends Khavaran Defends his own Human Sanctity”
Political activist and former political prisoner Taghi Rahmani said that the Islamic Republic has no mercy for anybody: “It destroys graves and dehumanizes the dead to wipe out its crimes. Khavaran must endure as a symbol” of the inhuman treatment of the Baha’is and the families of the victims who suffer every day to keep the memories of these crimes alive.
He addressed Iranians and Shias who have remained silent in the face of the sufferings endured by Khavaran families: “If anybody thinks that he’s safe he’s mistaken because the Islamic Republic even sacrifices the people who are very close to it. Therefore, we are making a mistake if we say that they are Baha’is or they were victims of the execution of political prisoners so it has nothing to do with us. Anybody who defends Khavaran defends his own human sanctity because one day they would come for him as well.”
Farhad Sabetian, a spokesperson for the Baha’i International Community, spoke about the destruction of cemeteries in Iran: “Our Baha’i compatriots are denied the right to rest in peace. They have attacked at least 42 Baha’i cemeteries. They have attacked Baha’i morgues with firebombs. They have desecrated Baha’i graves and harassed their families by writing anti-Baha’i slogans on these graves.”
Sabetian reported that the bodies of seven Baha’is are currently waiting in the morgue to be buried and said that security officials want the families to pay 30 million tomans if they want to bury their loved ones in the plot that was paid by Baha’i philanthropists.
Zohreh Tonekaboni is a family member of a victim of the 1988 massacre. She told the seminar: “We suffer from the same injustice as our Baha’i friends. Every day they come up with new tricks to incite trouble between us.”
Another victim’s relative, Mahin Fahimi, said: “The government’s intention is to distort history. I thank Baha’i families who resist and keep their loved ones in the morgue. I bow my head to them and I hope that, with more solidarity, we can be the voice of Khavaran.”