The Islamic Republic's History of Massacring Kurdish Baha'is

Wednesday, 30 November, 2022 , 16:26

Slaughter has been the Iranian government’s only response to protest over the past 43 years. And even as the September 16 death of the 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of Islamic Republic forces, triggered Iran’s current and unprecedented nationwide protest against more than four decades of tyranny, so too has the Iranian government again massacred men, women and children to hold on to power.

Ethnic minorities in Kurdish areas and in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan have borne the brunt of this savagery. According to the Kurdish human right organization Hengaw, by November 22 at least 42 Kurds had been butchered by direct fire from government forces.

The Islamic Republic has suppressed and killed Iranian Kurds on several occasions since it came to power. We often hear about the systematic targeting and killing of Kulbars, porters who haul goods on their backs across the borders of Iran and over long distances, mostly in the impoverished, mountainous Kurdish areas adjacent to Iraq. But there is another link in this chain of murders about which we have heard little: Baha’i Kurds.

Below, we look at a few cases of Baha’i Kurds who were murdered by the Islamic Republic in the early years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Bahar Vojdani, 57: Executed in Mahabad

Bahar Vojdani was born in 1921 in the city of Miandoab in West Azerbaijan. After finishing high school, he moved to Mahabad and started a business, selling household goods. He lived in that city for four decades and was known as an honest and reputable businessman. IranWire obtained the below from a fellow Baha’i of Vojdani’s in Mahabad, named Abdollahi, to whom Vojdani told the story.

At 5pm on September 26, 1979, two Revolutionary Guards entered Vojdani’s shop and arrested him. He was first taken to the police headquarters and then before the revolutionary prosecutor at a military barracks. Vojdani was speaking with the prosecutor when Sadegh Khalkhali, chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, known as the “hanging judge”, entered the room.

The prosecutor told Khalkhali that Vojdani was a respectable member of the community. Khalkhali ignored him, however, and started to angrily go through files on the desk. Sounds of gunshot were heard from outside and Khalkhali became angrier and angrier.

Vojdani, who was still speaking with the prosecutor, at one point said: “I am a Baha’i and I don’t tell lies.” Khalkhali, who had not been following the conversation, turned suddenly and, throwing papers at Vojdani, said: “You are a Baha’i? ... Write down that you are not a Baha’i and we will let you go.” Vojdani refused, telling him: “You are a learned man and a scholar and you know that religion and heartfelt beliefs are not like clocks that you can change when you want.”

“Then you must pay a million tomans to the Mostazafan [“Downtrodden”] Foundation so I can release you,” said Khalkhali. “I don’t have that kind money,” Vojdani said. “Then give 500,000 tomans,” Khalkhali told him, but Vojdani repeated that he does not have such funds. Khalkhali agreed to let him go if he paid 80,000 tomans and left the room. Vojdani was then released and both sides agreed that he would return the next day with the money.

Vojdani put together the money and took the 80,000 tomans to the prosecutor that night. He went there at 10pm – and then never returned. The following day, when the family visited the barracks, they were told that Bahar Vojdani was convicted of “corruption on earth” and had been executed by firing squad at 4am on September 27, 1979.

In a note that Vojdani left for his family, he wrote: “For refusing to hide my beliefs and for conceding that I believe in the Baha’i faith, I have been sentenced to death. I do not know when the verdict will be carried out. Hereby I say farewell to everybody.”

Ali Sattarzadeh, 24: Shot Dead in Bukan

Ali Sattarzadeh was born in 1955 in the village of Egrighash near Mahabad. His father, Balal Sattarzadeh, had been killed by fanatics because of his Baha’i faith when he was a child. In 1978, he moved to the village of Amirabad, near the city of Bukan in West Azerbaijan. He was a plumber and every morning he went to Bukan to work and returned home at sunset.

On October 28, 1979, as he was returning from Bukan to Amirabad, he was shot. Government forces for the new Islamic Republic and Kurdish militants had been engaging in armed clashes across Kurdish areas. The first shot injured Sattarzadeh in his arm and, when he tried to escape, he was shot in the midriff. He was taken to the hospital but he died soon after arriving.

Hossein Shakouri Shishavani, 58: Shot Dead in Oshnavieh

Hossein Shakouri was born in 1921 to a Muslim family in the village of Shishavan in East Azerbaijan. His father passed away when he was five. Shakouri began working to support his family after finishing elementary school and was employed by a government-owned physician’s dispensary in Maragheh. After he was hired fulltime, he was transferred first to the city of Naghadeh in West Azerbaijan and then to Oshnavieh.

In 1951, he converted to the Baha’i faith. Seven years later, in 1958, during a series of attacks against the Baha’is instigated by several Islamic clerics, Shakouri was dismissed from his job for his beliefs. He later opened a small dispensary which was closed by the authorities and he spent time in prison. In 1964, his 14-year-old son was attacked and killed by other students for being a Baha’i.

On April 2, 1979, Hossein and his 6-year-old daughter, while on their way home from school, were both shot during an armed clash between Kurds and government forces. Shakouri did not survive the shooting although his daughter lived. His home was looted after the murder and Shakouri’s family were left penniless.

Azadollah (Aziz) Zaydi, 55: Shot Dead in Mahabad

Azadollah (Aziz) Zaydi was born in 1928 in Miandoab in West Azerbaijan. He worked as a farmer for most of his life. Early after the Revolution, the homes of Baha’is in Miandoab were set on fire and he had to move to Bukan, where he bought and sold fruits and herbs at the local market.

On April 1, 1982, Zaydi was on his way to Mahabad to buy vegetables when he was stopped and questioned by rural police officers. One of the policemen was from Miandoab and recognized him. Zaydi told his companions – who were Muslim – that they were going to shoot him.

Zaydi’s premonition was proven right. On his way back from Mahabad, he was killed in a hail of bullets fired by unknown assailants. He was with two other Baha’is at the time who were injured but not killed. His body was buried by his family in the Miandoab Baha’i cemetery.

Hassan Esmailzadeh, 84: Shot Dead in Sanandaj

Hassan Esmailzadeh was born in 1896 to a Muslim family in Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan province, and he became a Baha’i as a young man. Esmailzadeh, his wife and nine children were living in Saqqez when in 1941, during a local upheaval, he lost his home to fire and his belongings to looters and locals. He was forced to move to Sanandaj where he ran a successful barber’s shop in the bazaar.

On June 6, 1980, while the city of Sanandaj was in the midst of a political uprising and under siege from Islamic Republic forces, he was shot by a gunman positioned in the spire of the Sharif-Abad mosque while crossing the street. He was 84 when he was killed. A local buried his body under a wall. When the upheaval was over, the authorities, along with a few of Esmailzadeh’s Muslim relatives, exhumed the remains and laid them to rest at a local cemetery without a Baha’i ceremony and without informing his family and friends. His wife passed away 50 days after his death.

Parviz Bayani, 35: Executed in Tehran

Parviz Bayani was born in 1945 to a Baha’i family in Miandoab in West Azerbaijan. As a young man he enlisted in the army and worked as a junior officer for 14 years at the province’s Piranshahr army barracks.

In early 1979, after the Revolution, Bayani was accused of teaching others the Baha’i faith and of plotting attacks for the capture of the barracks with some other Baha’is. He was sentenced to two months in prison. A few months later, in April 1980, during the visit of the Purge and Reconstruction Board to the barracks, Bayani was called to Urmia for interrogation.

Three days passed and he did not return. Bayani’s wife made enquiries and found that he had been imprisoned. He was transferred to Evin Prison in Tehran in July. No prison visits were allowed, nor was access to a layer, and Bayani’s family could only communicate with him through letters.

Bayani was executed at 3am on July 23, 1980, by firing squad, and there is nothing to suggest that he was ever formally tried.

The remains were sent from the coroner’s office to the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in Tehran. His family were finally able to secure the remains for burial after three days of persistent effort and after promising to not bury him anywhere else: on his chest in large writing the authorities had written “Parviz Bayani, Baha’i”.