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July 7, 2013   

Ottawa Bahá'ís Remember those facing Persecutions in Iran  

Yaran Photo 2On Saturday June 22nd, the Ottawa Bahá’í centre hosted a gathering to remember fellow believers who have been, and continue to be, persecuted in Iran for their convictions. The thoughtfully prepared event included photos, presentations and music from several different cultural traditions.

In Ottawa, there are many Bahá’ís whose personal lives have been deeply impacted by the persecutions that have taken place in Iran since the Islamic revolution. Several individuals shared stories about the tribulations faced by family members in Iran, sometimes reading from diaries or letters sent from prison.

The host for the evening, Cheshmak Farhoumand-Sims, explained that the Bahá’ís have been persecuted in Iran since the earliest days of the community in the mid-19th century. This intensified with the Islamic revolution of 1979 which led to waves of arbitrary arrests, imprisonments, torture and executions. In more recent years, detentions without due process have increased across Iran as part of a calculated and deliberate anti-Bahá’í policy.

She explained that Bahá’ís have been dismissed from their jobs, had their property seized, their cemeteries destroyed and they have been denied the basic rights of citizenship, such as access to schools, pensions and other government benefits. This situation has been regularly condemned by human rights organizations and by national governments, including Canada’s. Despite this oppression, the Bahá’ís, however, have never responded with any violence or political opposition. Cheshmak explained that Bahá’ís always obey the government. When they are summoned by the police, they go to court as ordered, even if they do not expect to receive the same treatment as their fellow citizens.

The most well-known case of the difficulties faced by Iranian Bahá’ís today is the imprisonment of the “Yaran,” seven Bahá’í leaders who are serving 20 year sentences on baseless charges of espionage and “spreading corruption on earth.” They have already spent five years in prison. This event provided a public opportunity to remember their difficulties and those of many others, past and present, in Iran.

Yaran Photo 1Several Ottawa Bahá’ís have family members and close personal friends who have been detained, arrested without cause, tried unjustly, tortured and even killed. Some have family members in prison today whose only crime is their membership in and service to the Bahá’í community in Iran. Through the reading of several prison reflections, those who were present on Saturday gained a privileged insight into the trials faced by these individuals and the spiritual resources that they possessed in the face of such hardships.

Family members of Dr. Nasir Vafai read excerpts from his diary, documenting his final months in prison leading up to his execution. He was killed in 1981 along with most of the other members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Hamadan. Another family shared stories of Rahman Vafaie of Shiraz, painting a picture of the human cost of his arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Detailed profiles of these stories will be featured in subsequent articles in the days to come.

Some thoughtful questions about history and memory were raised in the letters of Kamran Rahman, who completed a masters degree in Ottawa before returning to Iran, where he was arrested and detained in Evin Prison. His father had been killed in the anti-Bahá’í violence of the 1980s. Finding himself threatened with a similar fate, he asked the question “Why do we not learn from history?”

Too often, Kamran thought, we only remember events, names and dates and “people’s feelings are forgotten. " Too often, history is reduced to “incidents and statistics deprived of feelings,” where the fears, sadness and tears felt by real people are overlooked. “If the shaking of my and your knees were recorded,” he thought, “then maybe history would not be repeated.”

The program fittingly ended with a beautiful poem by Tahirih, one of Iran’s most famous poets and a prominent woman in Bahá’í history who was killed for her faith. The entire evening closed with prayers for all those facing persecution, including the Yaran and other Bahá’ís in Iran, as well as their loved ones, most notably the families who have shown such resilience and courage. Recognizing both the sorrows and spiritual strengths of all these individuals, all those who participated in the evening helped to ensure the continued memory of both feelings and events in history, as they shared prayers for a future of dignity, justice and equality.

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