Health workers are the front line in our defense against the coronavirus pandemic – including hundreds of Iranian Baha’i doctors and nurses. But they are not in Iran; instead, they live in countries around the world, treating their patients, where they are admired and praised by the people and governments of the countries where they live. The one country where they cannot do their work is Iran.
Many of these doctors and nurses – who studied and served in Iran – lost their jobs after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They were expelled from the universities and their public sector jobs, barred from practicing medicine, jailed and tortured, and a considerable number of them perished on the gallows or in front of firing squads.
The crime of these Baha’i doctors, nurses and other health workers was their faith in a religion that the rulers of the Islamic Republic believe is a “deviant” faith.
In a new series of articles, called “For the Love of Their Country,” IranWire tells the stories of some of these Iranian Baha’i doctors and nurses. In this installment you will read the story of Dr. Parviz Firouzi, a Baha'i pharmacist in Tabriz, who along with his father was jailed and executed after the Revolution.
If you know a Baha’i health worker and have a first-hand story of his or her life, let IranWire know.
Dr. Parviz Firouzi, born in 1942, was a medical worker and well-known pharmacist in the city of Tabriz. He was sentenced to death in the summer of 1981, at the age of 39, by Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, the Revolutionary Court Prosecutor of Azerbaijan province at the time, on the charge of believing in a religion other than Islam. Firouzi was a Baha’i.
His father, Reza Firouzi, a 73-year-old from Ahar, was detained for 50 days for converting from Islam to the Baha’i faith when he was a young man. He was declared an “apostate” and was executed in November 1980.
Father and son
Reza Firouzi was a young man when he first heard about Amin al-Ulama, a Shia mujtahid (an Islamic scholar) who had converted to the Baha'i faith. Another mujtahid, Mirza Ali Akbar Ardabili, had declared that Amin al-Ulama was an apostate. Amin was murdered by one of Mirza Ali Akbar Ardabili’s followers in 1927.
The news of the murder in Azerbaijan intrigued Reza Firouzi – then 20 years old and living in the town of Ahar. Firouzi investigated the Baha’i teachings and himself converted to the Baha'i faith at the age of 28.
Parviz, Reza Firouzi's son, was born on April 5, 1942, in Tabriz. Parviz was two years old when the family moved to Ahar. His father was an employee of the Oil Company in Ahar and ran a gas station. Parviz was in Ahar until the ninth grade; he then moved to Tabriz with his sister, as there was no high school for girls in Ahar at the time. Many families in the area were still accustomed to not educating girls beyond an elementary level. But Reza Firouzi encouraged several of these families to send their daughters to Tabriz to study.
Parviz and his sister settled in their aunt's home in Baron Avak, an Armenian neighborhood in Tabriz. Parviz went to Ferdowsi high school where he received his diploma. Ferdowsi was the best school in Tabriz at the time – dating back to Iran’s late Qajar period – and is now a national heritage site in Iran.
Parviz went to the University of Tabriz to study pharmacology after receiving his diploma. He graduated with his doctorate in 1969. Parviz, now Dr. Firouzi, then joined the Health Corps to serve in the military. After a four-month training course in Tehran, he was sent to Qasr Shirin where he worked as the head of a medical laboratory.
Dr. Firouzi returned to Tabriz in the early 1970s after serving in the Health Corps. But his efforts to find work as a pharmacist, either in health clinics or at the university, were frustrated because he indicated his belief in the Baha’i faith when filling in application forms. One of his friends at the university recruitment office advised him to leave the religion question blank; Dr. Firouzi did not accept.
Dr. Firouzi was unemployed for some time and helped his father run the gas station in Ahar. He eventually took over the running of a pharmacy on Shahpour Street in Tabriz – where he worked until his arrest after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Getting married and starting a family
Dr. Firouzi married Kianieh Mahlouji, a hospital nurse and nursing instructor, in 1974. They had two children. And like most medical workers in Iran, Dr. Firouzi and his wife spent long hours serving their patients. The couple lived in rented homes until, in 1977, Dr. Firouzi with the help of his father bought a two-storey house on Lalehzar Street in Tabriz. His family lived there along with his brother and sister.
But the new home belonged to the family for only three years: after Dr. Firouzi’s arrest the house was seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Court. Dr. Firouzi’s children were three and five years old at the time of the arrest and the loss of their home.
The persecution begins
A few months after the Revolution, armed agents went to Dr. Firouzi’s home when everyone was out, except for a Baha’i family who were guests. The guests’ home in Shiraz has been torched and they were staying with the Firouzis. The agents entered the house with threats and violence and confiscated Dr. Firouzi's documents and other articles.
Dr. Firouzi reported the incident to the police: his case was sent to the Revolutionary Court. He was summoned to the court a few months later. Mirvali Mousavi, a prominent member of Hojjatieh, an anti-Baha’i religious group, in Tabriz, was in charge of the case.
Reacting to Dr. Firouzi presenting himself to the court, Mousavi said: “Bravo! The enemy has dug his own grave.”
After interrogating Dr. Firouzi, Mousavi accused him of insulting the agents who had raided the Firouzi home. He said: “The fact that you wrote in your complaint that armed people stormed your house is an insult to government officials, because government officials never ‘storm’ a place. This insult is punishable by 80 lashes. If you leave now we will forgo the punishment.”
After the arrest of two members of the Spiritual Assembly of Tabriz, the elected administrative body of the Baha’i community, Dr. Firouzi was elected to replace one of them, in May 1980.
The expulsion of Baha'is from government offices had also begun and Baha’is were feeling new forms of economic pressure. Dr. Firouzi was worried about his children and he knew that economic pressures would soon overwhelm his family. But despite all this he did not want to disregard the new responsibilities entrusted to him by the Baha'is of Tabriz. He accepted this responsibility even as the pressure on the Baha'is and the risk of arrest were increasing in Tabriz and across Iran.
The Hojjatieh society had considerable influence among government officials in Tabriz. Mohammad Sadegh Pashmineh Azar, the mayor of Tabriz, was a leading Hojjatieh figure and was known for his enmity toward the Baha'is before the Revolution. Mirvali Mousavi at the Revolutionary Court – who led Dr. Firouzi’s interrogation, as well as those of other Baha’is, and was responsible for fabricating cases against them – was Mohammad Sadegh Pashmineh Azar’s deputy.
Baha'is were arrested under various pretexts and handed over to Mousavi for interrogation. Two members of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tabriz were executed in July. The lives of other members, including Dr. Firouzi, were in danger. Many people advised him to leave the city but he believed the Baha'is of Tabriz had chosen him to represent them to the government and he could not leave them during such a difficult time. He also felt an abiding commitment and responsibility to his pharmacy and to his patients.
Arrest and execution
Dr. Firouzi was arrested on July 29, 1980, and was initially held in solitary confinement. His honesty kept him there longer than may have otherwise been the case. A fellow detainee, who was later released, remembered that prisoners were advised to describe themselves as “political prisoners” when the head of the prison, Haj Hassan, asked them about their supposed crimes. Haj Hassan would then order their transfer to the public ward. But Dr. Firouzi always said “I am a Baha'i” which kept him in solitary confinement.
On 20 September 1980, Reza Firouzi, Dr. Parviz Firouzi’s father, was arrested and transferred to Tabriz Prison a few days later. Dr. Firouzi became the carer for his 73-year-old father – who had encouraged and inspired his son on the path he had chosen. The interrogator, Mirvali Mousavi, tried to break one of the Firouzis during his interrogations so as to break the other; he failed, and his treatment of the father and the son did not change their behaviour or shake their beliefs.
On November 8, 1980, Reza Firouzi was taken to court. In a secret trial that only lasted a few minutes, the Islamic religious authorities sentenced Reza Firouzi – who had converted to the Baha’i faith 45 years earlier – to death for the crime of being an apostate. He returned to the ward and said goodbye to the prisoners under the pretext of being transferred to Ardabil Prison. But everyone knew this was their last meeting with the old man.
When saying goodbye to his son, Reza Firouzi said that everything they were experiencing was because of their belief in the Baha'i faith, meaning that he was happy to sacrifice his life for his beliefs. Reza Firouzi was executed the next day by order of the Revolutionary Court of Tabriz, headed by the prosecutor, Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, on charges of converting from Islam to the Baha'i Faith. His property and his family’s property was confiscated.
Dr. Parviz Firouzi, together with eight other Baha'is, was sentenced to death by Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi on July 29, 1981, nine months after his father’s execution and a year after his own arrest. He was accused of spreading “corruption on earth” and called “the enemy of God” before his execution by firing squad at just 39 years old. His property was confiscated by the Revolutionary Court.
Due to the secrecy of the trial and the lack of access to lawyers, no information is available on how these nine people were tried. Dr. Parviz Firouzi's body was buried next to his father in Wadi Rahmat cemetery in Tabriz. The father and his son rest together forever.
Read other articles in this series: