Everyone is in shock and no one can speak a word. The young wife cries so much that she is breathing heavily. The two very young children don’t know yet that their dad won’t be coming back. Starting four years ago, he had been in constant commute to Syria and back to play his part in the Syrian civil war.
Mohammad was a 34-year-old Afghan citizen living in Iran. He joined the Liwa Fatemiyoun Brigade — a militia of mainly Shia Afghan immigrants set up by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — four years ago. He was deployed to Syria many times, until he finally lost his life there. “After his death, someone from the IRGC called and informed us,” one of Mohammad’s relatives told IranWire. “He offered his condolences and apologized for Mohammad not coming back home.”
He had an 11-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son. According to the relative, although it’s been three weeks since the incident happened, his family has yet to receive Mohammad’s body.
Like many Fatemiyoun soldiers, before going into combat, Mohammad used to work in the construction industry. “His specialty was working with marble for the building’s facade,” Mohammad’s relative said. “He worked on many buildings in Tehran, Mashhad and Qom.”
Mohammad’s friends and family say he joined the Fatemiyoun Brigades to defend the shrine of Hazrat Zainab, the sister of the third Shia Imam. He was deployed about two months ago for what would be his last tour of duty. He usually called his family while he was away, but this time the phone calls suddenly stopped. Then, four or five days later, the family received the phone call from the IRGC. They told them Mohammad was gone. The family is still in shock and can’t believe they won’t see him again.
According to some reports, many of the Afghan volunteers join the Fatemiyoun Brigade for financial benefits or the promises of citizenship in Iran. But Mohammad’s family insist that he joined the war because of his beliefs: “He went to Syria to fight against ISIS and defend the shrine. He wanted to protect justice from tyranny.”
Many Afghan fighters have lost their lives in the war in Syria. In January 2018, Zahir Mujahid, the public relations officer for the Fatemiyoun Brigade, told the Basij News website: “The total number of Fatemiyoun casualties is 2,000, and more than 8,000 soldiers have been injured.”
This was not the first time that Iranian authorities publicly disclosed the number of injured and fallen soldiers. In March 2017, Mohammad-Ali Shahidi-Mahallati, one of the Supreme Leader's representatives, estimated in an interview with Javan newspaper that the number of Afghan fallen soldiers was more than 2,000 and that Iran was providing care for their families. According to Shahidi-Mahallati, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed to grant citizenship to Fatemiyoun fighters. He also said that state institutions would cover for a family of five for each “martyr.”
Prior to the Javan interview, some Fatemiyoun Brigade fighters told IranWire that the IRGC had promised them that in event of their death, their families would be granted Iranian citizenship, identification cards, an apartment and education for their kids. According to others, “blood money” for the families was another IRGC promise in the event of death. However, some soldiers IranWire spoke to denied that they had received such promises.
Mohammad's family said they only received some stationery and toys for the children. “They did not even promise us anything. They only provide the fallen soldiers' families with an apartment if they are homeless, but Mohammad had his own house.”
The IRGC and its advocates hold well-planned ceremonials for fallen Afghan soldiers in Syria, burying them with dignity and respect. Many critics have argued that these ceremonials are just propaganda and also a way of targeting and encouraging other Afghan youth to join the Fatemiyoun militia.
Now Mohammad’s family awaits his return. They know he won’t be coming back on foot, but instead in a coffin emblazoned with his name and with the honor: “Guardian of the Haram.”
Amir Mirzayi, citizen journalist
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