The Executions of 1988
Pedestrian / From: Bahman Agha
August 27, 2009
What happened in the prisons of Iran (especially Evin) during the summer of 1988 is unprecedented. Killing thousands of people in the span of only a few short months, as far as I know, is unprecedented in the modern history of Iran. The list that groups outside of Iran have released reports of 5000 names. Ayatollah Montazeri reports that the number of executions is between 2800 and 3800 and that he can not remember the exact number.
I do not want to go into the details here about why these executions were carried out or how things developed. Ervand Arahamian, writer and historian ("Iran Between Two Revolutions") wrote an article a decade after the events and explained the details. The article is not long and it is a recommended read. I think it also has interesting points to note even for those who are well into what happened.
In most cases, the bodies were not returned to the families and even their place of burial was not reported. Years later, it was eventually revealed that many of the dead were buried in a mass grave in Khavaran, 20 km from Tehran. This was a graveyard mostly used by the Bahais. The families of the dead, like all families, gather in this cemetery every Friday and the last Friday of every year, as is custom in Iran, even more families show up. Hundreds of people gather, sing songs, play instruments, read poetry, chit chat, and in the end, they sing a song in unison while walking around the cemetery. And then they go home. Khavaran is located in a road that leads to Mashahd, and near it, there is big flower market. That’s why people buy flowers on their way there and the grounds of Khavaran are literally swept in flowers. (The website of the Persian BBC released an account of the events of 1988 four years ago.)
I always tried to go to Khavaran the last Friday of the year when I was in Iran (and, in the past two, three years, whenever I visit Iran.) Nobody bothered us (of course, back then, there had not been a coup d’état.) The brothers [i.e., Basijis] in their outlandish appearances were present. But they would stand aside and they would not bother anyone. One time, when I was wearing a beard, everyone gave me stares for half an hour because they thought I was a brother [Basiji] too. I had to go and constantly greet people I knew, so that everyone would know I am one of them.
[Besides the last Friday of the years] there is another day when a large population shows up and that is the Friday of the last week of Mordad (July-August) or the first week of Shahrivar (August-September). Because, from the available accounts, the beginning of the executions was in the first week of Shahrivar [last week of August]. For instance, this year, they’ve planned to go to Khavaran tomorrow, on the sixth of Shahrivar, and some have released a pamphlet and have asked people to accompany them at the memorial.
Some of these dear families hold ceremonies in memory of their dead in their homes every year. Of course they don’t know the exact date of their death, but they make an approximation, according to the available evidence. For example, one of our acquaintances holds his service in the first week of Aban [I don’t know a single Iranian family that has not lost a close or distant relative in the executions.] Some of their friends and famiiy, and the families of other victims attend. Sometimes, up to 100 people attend. There too they sing songs and read poetry, and if there is a letter left by the deceased, they read it out loud. Things of this sort.
Of course, these are amongst the bravest of the families. The intelligence ministry does not leave them alone and constantly calls for them to go to the notorious edareyeh peygiri [translates to Follow-up Office, not sure what that is.] This happens especially during their annual ceremony. Mansooreh Behkish, who is one of the people who has lost a loved one, writes of her constant summons to this office here.
This turned out to be a long post. In another, I will write about the effects of recent events on these families and their relationship with society.
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Deadly Fatwa: Iran’s 1988 MassacrePress Release / August 27, 2009
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center Releases Report on:
Iran’s 1988 Massacre of Thousands of Political Prisoners
New Haven, Connecticut – The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) today released a report documenting and analyzing the Iranian government’s massacre of political prisoners during the summer of 1988. Much of the material presented in the report, Deadly Fatwa: Iran’s 1988 Massacre, is the result of interviews conducted by IHRDC with survivors and family members of victims.
In late July 1988, pursuant to a fatwa issued by then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian government began systematically interrogating, torturing and summarily executing thousands of political prisoners. The interrogations of prisoners who supported leftist parties began twenty-one years ago today. Although the exact number of victims is not known, thousands of prisoners were tortured and executed over the course of only a few months.
The victims included prisoners who had served their sentences but had refused to recant their political beliefs, prisoners who were serving sentences of imprisonment, people who had been detained for lengthy periods but had not been convicted, and former prisoners who were rearrested. Many families were never informed about the executions and many of the victims were buried in unmarked mass graves. Families who received the remains of their loved ones were not allowed to hold funeral services and, to this day, are forbidden from mourning their loss. The government recently bulldozed a mass grave site at Khavaran Cemetery in Tehran.
The Iranian government has never identified those who were secretly executed and tortured, and has never issued an explanation for this crime. However, many of the men who were responsible for the massacre continue to hold positions of power in the Iranian government.
Deadly Fatwa: Iran’s 1988 Massacre, is available in English on IHRDC’s website www.iranhrdc.org. A Persian translation of the report will be available this fall.
IHRDC is a nonprofit organization based in New Haven, Connecticut that was founded in 2004 by a group of human rights scholars, activists, and historians. Its staff of human rights lawyers and researchers produce comprehensive and detailed reports on the human rights situation in Iran since the 1979 revolution. The Center’s goal is to encourage an informed dialogue among scholars and the general public in both Iran and abroad. The human rights reports and a database of documents relating to human rights in Iran are available to the public for research and educational purposes on the Center’s website.
Download the complete report here.