During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, from 1980 to 1988, thousands of Baha'is went to the front alongside their compatriots. Dozens of them were killed, wounded or captured. The Islamic Republic is reluctant to name them alongside other victims of the conflict – officially termed “martyrs” of the war.
A new series of IranWire articles looks at the Baha’is who died as a part of this conflict. If you know any Baha’is who were killed during the Iran-Iraq war, and have a first-hand account of their lives, please contact us.
Mehrdad Badkoobeh was born in 1961 in Isfahan. His paternal family were Iranian Baha'is from the city of Badkoobeh, in Tsarist Russia, who were expelled from the new Soviet Union after the Bolsheviks came to power. The family resettled in various cities across Iran. Mehrdad's father, Ahmad, was born in Isfahan, and his mother, Rouha Ferdowsian, was a Baha'i from Najafabad.
Badkoobeh’s family belonged to the middle class. Mehrdad's father was an employee of the municipality who, like other Baha'is, was fired from his public sector job after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Mehrdad had two sisters and a brother.
Mehrdad lived in Isfahan until he was sent to the army. He was very social and outgoing, had good relationships with everyone, and had many friends.
Mehrdad loved ornaments and decoration. He graduated from Isfahan’s Industrial Technical School No. 1 with qualifications in interior decoration in 1980. After graduation, Mehrdad, who like other young Baha'is, was not allowed to pursue higher education in Iran, but did not want to leave the country, entered the labor market. He decorated homes and offices to earn a living. But he was not able to buy the necessary equipment or sign contracts because he had not completed his military service.
"After consulting with his parents and officials within the Baha'i institutions, Mehrdad decided to go to mandatory military service to pay his religious and national dues," wrote Rouha Ferdowsian, Mehrdad's mother, in a note.
According to the Baha'i faith, all individuals are obliged to obey the government and are ready to serve their country during a time of war. However, since killing people is forbidden in the Baha'i faith, Baha'is must ask the authorities for assignments that can accommodate their beliefs even if it puts their life at risk.
Rouha Ferdowsian writes that, when Mehrdad enlisted, he was questioned about his religion and mentioned that he was Baha'i, which was noted in his military record.
On October 12, 1982, Mehrdad and a group of conscripts were sent from Isfahan to Tehran for training. They completed a three-month training course in Tehran. Mehrdad completed his training and was assigned to Hamzeh Division 21. He was sent to Dehloran with the division.
Mehrdad wrote a letter to his commander asking to be exempted from operations that ran counter to his religious beliefs and to entrust him with another responsibility on the front. In this letter, dated January 31, 1983, and addressed to a Captain Abbaszadeh, Mehrdad wrote: "I would like to inform you that I am of the Baha’i faith and, as you might know, I should not partake in war and politics based on my faith. Could you please assign a role to me that could accommodate my beliefs. Thank you in advance for your help."
Mehrdad’s commander agreed to his request. He served as a driver in Battalion 144 of Hamzeh Division 21 for ten months until he was killed in action. He took part in most of the division's operations, including Valfajr 1 and 3, and was known as a brave and cheerful soldier who, even under fire or bombardment, took charge of delivering food or first aid to soldiers on the front line. Mehrdad's discipline and diligence in performing his duties had made him a trusted soldier to the satisfaction of his commanders.
In October 1983, Mehrdad was due to go on leave but his replacement had not yet returned to duty. On October 20, 1983, Mehrdad was on a mission on Marivan Road, in his vehicle, when he came under attack by aerial bombardment. Ten days later, army representatives informed Mehrdad's family of his martyrdom. The reason for the delay in informing his family is not clear. In the letter from Meraj Headquarters of the Martyrs of Kurdistan, which was issued after Merhdad’s body was sent to Isfahan, the date of martyrdom was recorded as October 20, 1983, and the place of the incident was Marivan. The cause of death was shrapnel injuries to the legs and abdomen as a result of the bombing.
In notes written by Mehrdad’s mother, it is stated that when officers delivered Mehrdad's body, they said that, because Mehrdad was a martyr, the family could bury him in Golestan Javid (the Baha'i cemetery) in Isfahan. But no one would be allowed to attend his funeral. Mehrdad could alternatively be buried in Najafabad where there would be no problem and the family would be allowed to hold a funeral and to visit the grave. Badkoobeh's family decided to bury their son in Najafabad.
Two months later, the tactical base of Hamzeh Division 21 announced the martyrdom of Mehrdad Badkoobeh for registration at the Land Forces Martyrs' Branch – an administrative step that would acknowledge Mehrdad as a "martyr" and bring with it certain financial entitlements and social standing to his family. The authorities confirmed Mehrdad's martyrdom but the Isfahan Martyrs' Foundation canceled the case because Mehrdad's father was a Baha'i. The ruling never mentioned that Mehrdad himself was Baha’i.
During Iran's eight-year war with Iraq, thousands of Baha'is, like Mehrdad Badkoobeh went to the front alongside their compatriots. Dozens were killed, wounded or captured. The Islamic Republic is reluctant to name them alongside other victims of the conflict – officially termed “martyrs” of the war. The authorities want to hide the fact that despite being deprived of many basic rights, Baha’is fought alongside their fellow citizens to defend Iran.