Tensions in Kermanshah province have been on the rise in recent weeks after a Salafi fundamentalist cleric made inflammatory comments about the Yarsanis, one of Iran’s largest religious minorities, during prayers at a mosque in early November. Human rights activists have questioned why a fanatic has been given a platform to threaten minorities in the province, voicing their anger on social media. Some have accused Islamic Republic authorities of direct involvement, saying the comments are part of a larger campaign to destabilize the minority community and push them to submit to increasing pressure from Tehran authorities to give up some of their rights.
IranWire spoke with Yarsani activist Mohammad Reza Dehlaghi, who is also known by the nickname Gouran, about the rising tensions.
Cleric Mullahamid Faraji made his comments during Friday prayers in early November, calling Yarsanis infidels, Satanists, and enemies of Muslims. Yarsanis are not our brothers, he told the congregation, adding that brotherhood was only possible in Islam.
Protests followed, gaining momentum over the days that followed, prompting Faraji to issue a retraction via a video posted on social media.
On the video clip, the prayer leader said enemies of the Islamic Republic had distorted and misrepresented his statements in an attempt to sow division between Muslims and Yarsanis in the area. He defined these “enemies” as Jewish and Christian people, as well as Zionists.
But activist Mohammadreza Dehlaghi says the regret Mullahamid Faraji expressed was disingenuous, and argued it was part of the increasing pressure placed on Yarsanis by the Islamic Republic authorities, an attempt to undermine security in the area and prepare the ground for more vitriol of the type voiced by Faraji.
“By highlighting and giving the stage to people like him, especially on the pulpit of a mosque, the Islamic Republic is trying to convey that, without the control and the security it provides, the Yarsanis’ fate will follow that of the Yazidis,” Dehlaghi said. “They are trying to systematically induce belief that if people like Mullahamid Faraji come to power amid political turbulence, they will do to us what ISIS did to the Yazidis.” In 2014, Islamic State (ISIS) targeted the Yazidis of Iraq, killing and holding thousands of the minority religious group hostage.
A source close to Mullahamid Faraji confirmed he was cooperating with security forces. “He was a chaplain in a village near Paveh, Kermanshah some time ago, and he was very poor,” the source told IranWire. “He has become very wealthy in the last few years and he now owns a huge greenhouse somewhere between Sarpol Zahab and Qasr-e Shirin.”
The source said that, in addition to cooperating with the Ministry of Information and security forces, Mullahamid Faraji has close links with Mullah Krekar, the leader of the militant group Ansar al-Islam, which grew out of the Kurdistan Islamic Movement and was established in 2001. Some in Kurdistan refer to Mullah Krekar as the Kurdish Bin Laden.
The source IranWire talked to explained that Mullahamid Faraji had been working publicly as one of the main organizers of Al-Qaeda in the region. He has been personally responsible for recruiting, inspiring, organizing and dispatching youth from Jafayette in the mountainous region of Avroman to join the jihadist groups of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. In fact, the source said one of Faraji’s sons fought for ISIS and died after detonating a suicide bomb in Syria.
Mohammadreza Dehlaghi says the city of Kermanshah and the surrounding area is a Yarsani base, and is known as “the city of 72 nations.” Al-Qaeda doesn’t belong there, he says.
A Resilient Community
He doesn’t deny the temporary effect of inflammatory actions like Faraji’s. But, he says, the communities these kinds of attacks target are resilient.
“Even after the 1979 revolution, harmony between the Yarsanis, Shias, Sunnis, Jews and Baha’is was not disturbed. None tried to weaken the other. Accepting differences and diversity has been a genuine part of Kermanshah’s culture and part of its society and people’s lives and the history of this region.”
He continued: “The Islamic Republic eliminated Mullah Mohammad Rabiee, a wise and influential Sunni scholar who was politically conscious and insightful, to make room for disreputable and loathed elements. Rabiee, who was extremely intelligent and thoughtful and was not in favor of the government’s policies, was an obstacle and was removed [by the Islamic Republic] because he inspired solidarity and social cohesion.”
Mullah Mohammad Rabiee, a well-known scholar and author of Keepers of the Religion, was appointed as a Friday prayers Imam for Sunnis in Kermanshah in 1979. He was killed on December 2, 1996, part of a series of killings known as the Chain Murders carried out by the Islamic Republic between 1988 and 1998. Among his crimes was criticizing the television series “Imam Ali” at the International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran.
Dehlaghi says Yarsanism was always in danger of being distorted by people, and those following the religion have repeatedly faced extreme suppression, even when the religion has been fused with the dominant religion of a country such as Shia Islam in Iran. In his opinion, the phrase “Ahl-e-Haqq” — literally “People of Truth” — is an example of such distortion, and the Islamic Republic has tried to introduce the term as a common name for Yarsanis.
“Why should we be considered the People of Truth and not others? This phrase is made up and publicized by the cultural organizations of the Islamic Republic. Their goal is to change the true meaning of Yarsanism by changing its name. In addition, they have people like Mullahamid Faraji call us names like Ali-o-allahi (worshipers of Ali), Nasiri (Alawites), Satanists or Ghulat (extremists or people who exaggerate).
Mohammadreza Dehlaghi left Iran 14 years ago because of the dangers he faced as a social activist. He currently lives in the city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. He told IranWire that Yarsanis had a better life under the Pahlavi government [the government of the last Shah of Iran, 1941-1979] than they do under the Islamic Republic. “Because when you went to a government office during the Pahlavi government, no one asked if you were Yarsani. They even treated the Yarsanis better most of the time. But the era of Islamic Republic has been ominous, frustrating and insulting for Yarsanis. The more the Islamic Republic took root, the more the Yarsanis had to leave their homes and their country and escape.”
He added: “Kermanshah is the front line of the fight between Yarsanis and the enemies of freedom and the coexistence of religious minorities. Our religion is the religion of 'Yar' (friendship), not enmity, not hatred, and not hostility. We invite everyone to be Yar (a friend).”
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