The Islamic Republic has a history of seizing properties owned by members of religious minorities in Iran. But recently some Iranian have claimed that the authorities have stopped confiscating these and have even returned some of them to their owners.
Many such confiscations have occurred in the past decade. Soon after the revolution, the Mostazafan Foundation of Islamic Revolution (Foundation of the Oppressed) was the only organization in charge of seizing a large portion of properties owned by non-Muslim Iranians. And later the Ministry of Intelligence, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Office of the Supreme Leader joined the feast.
Parviz Fattah, head of the Mostazafan, criticized the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) on television last August and said that the IRGC had seized “public properties” worth millions and was not willing to release them to the Mostazafan Foundation. He claimed that, with the support of the Supreme Leader, he would transfer ownership of these seized properties to the Mostazafan.
The irony is that the real owners of these properties – members of religious minorities – have either left Iran or have chosen to stay silent for fear of their lives. Members of these minorities say privately that they have no hopes of regaining what was once theirs.
Losing everything to the Revolution
“There was a judicial order,” Paridokht Vahdat Hagh said. “My husband was executed by nine bullets in Qasr Prison. Our home and everything inside was seized. I slept in the elevator of the apartment for 23 days. We owned a 1,200 square meter home in Tehran. But not a single square meter belonged to us after 1981.”
Vahdat Hagh is a Baha’i citizen who fled Iran to Germany in 1981 after the Islamic Republic executed her husband and confiscated their properties. She is in her nineties now and has broken her silence about what happened 40 years ago.
“I want to ask the Iranian government if education, freedom to choose one’s religion and husband, and in general a person’s lifestyle are personal matters that should be respected and that, by law, no one should interfere with them.” She acknowledged that by killing her husband, and making her an exile, the Islamic Republic showed they had no respect for anything.
Colonel Hossein Vahdat Hagh, Paridokht’s husband, was arrested on September 30, 1981, at his office. He refused to repudiate his beliefs and was executed by in Qasr Prison after several months in detention.
Vahdat Hagh recalled the day her husband was arrested. Revolutionaries entered their home and took away jewels, carpets, a television and a radio. They seized her daughter’s violin and called it a “forbidden instrument.” The agents then sealed the doors to the bedrooms, a storage room, an office and even the bathrooms, before sealing the entire property. Paridokht had to live in the elevator for 23 days and used the building’s communal bathroom located in the yard.
Vahdat Hagh says she frequentedly visited the prison to pursue her husband's case but to no avail. The authorities unsealed her home only once so that she could gather a few belongings. Bank accounts and other properties belong to her and her husband were also seized. And finally, after her husband’s execution, Vahdat Hagh left Iran with just one suitcase of belongings.
In the past several years, houses, shops and even articles of furniture of many Baha’is have been confiscated in Tehran and other Iranian cities.
In a conversation with the Center for Human Rights in Iran, in May 2015, Ziaullah Motearefi, a Baha’i citizen from Semnan and CEO of Meeyoun Loubar, a farming company, said that the Ministry of Agriculture had confiscated 50 hectares (about 123 acres) of his land in September 2014. Motearefi said that the value of this land, as well as the 18,000 trees on it, was about 200 billion rials.
Motearefi filed a complaint against the Ministry of Agriculture but with no result.
“If they told me from day one that I wouldn't be able to work because of my religion, I would have left, Motearefi said. “I would not have worked so hard. I can work and live anywhere in the world. But I stayed in Iran because I love my country. I am one of most law abiding citizens of this country. I have farmed animals and planted flowers and trees. What they did to me was not fair.”
In 2017, the Executive Headquarters of Imam's Directive seized the home of Sharareh Farokhzadi, wife of Sirous Iran-Nejad, also a Baha’i. And these are just two examples of properties being seized from Iranian Baha’is in recent years.
Hormoz Aresh and Karan Vafadari
Arbab Hormoz Aresh, Arbab Keikhosrow Shahrokh, Arbab Fereydoon Felfeli, Arbab Fereydoon Sedaghat, Arbab Rostam Giv, and Arbab Mehraban Zartoshty are among many Zoroastrians who lost large portions of their farmlands, factories and homes to the Mostazafan Foundation since after the 1979 revolution. Mostazafan seized their properties on the grounds that these citizens had left Iran. Part of the land previously owned by Hormoz Arash was turned into Police Park, as well as a roundabout in Tehranpars, a neighborhood in Tehran.
The prefix “Arbab" means lord or landlord and these Zoroastrians who were titled Arbab had farming lands or other properties which were given over to the use of the Zoroastrian community. Arbab Rostam Giv constructed Giv Elementary School and Rostam Bagh apartment complex in Tehran and donated them to Zoroastrian Iranians.
The arrest of a Zoroastrian citizen, Karan Vafadari, and the seizure of a large portion of his properties by the IRGC, has brought fresh media attention to confiscation of properties of religious minorities.
Karan Vafadari, a dual citizen of Iran and the United States, was arrested on June 21, 2016. He was released on bail two years later, on June 21, 2018. “Vafadari’s family are still trying to reclaim some of their properties” a person close to Karan told IranWire.
Judge Abolqasem Salavati, head of Branch 15 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, sentenced Karan Vafadari to 27 years in prison, 124 lashes and confiscation of all his properties. His sentence was reduced to 15 years in the appeals court.
Karan’s sister, Kateh Vafadari, wrote an open letter to the leader of Islamic Republic in November 2016. She wrote that not only were her brother and his wife Afarin Neyssari fined but their home, properties and cars were also confiscated. Kateh Vafadari also said that her own family received phone calls and visits from people who demanded money to release her brother.
After receiving his sentence, Karan Vafadri wrote a letter to his fellow Zoroastrians and warned them about returning to Iran.
“Every one of you dual national Zoroastrians who returns to your country to invest in the homeland you love are always going to be in danger of losing your assets and being forced to leave the country,” he wrote.
Karan Vafadari’s family wealthy members of the Zoroastrian community who own part of the Deh Vanak neighbourhood in northern Tehran and farmland in Kerman and Yazd. The Vafadaris have also previously donated part of their wealth to the Zoroastrian community.
Many Zoroastrians who have lost their properties to unfair seizures have decided to leave Iran. The Islamic Republic took their wealth by force and they escaped for fear of their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Accepting that everything is gone
In a conversation with Tejarat-e-Farda weekly, on August 23, 2017, Asadollah Asgaroladi, a member of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that properties of religious minorities had been confiscated. But he also claimed that “Most of the properties seized in the 1980s were returned to their owners”.
“I know a Jewish person who talked to me about the subject a few times,” Asfaroladi added. “I told him I didn’t want to interfere and he should hire a lawyer. He came to Iran, hired a lawyer and took back a building that belonged to his mother.”
Soli Shahvar, an Iranian-Israeli researcher and a professor of Iranian Studies at the University of Haifa, says few Jewish-Iranians have been able to reclaim even a portion of the properties they have lost over the past 40 years.
“There were two waves of confiscation of homes, farmlands and factories of Jews in Iran. In the first wave, the authorities seized the properties of a small group of Jews who were accused of helping Zionism financially. In the second wave, authorities confiscated the properties of Jews who had to leave the country after the Revolution. They left everything in fear for their lives and the Islamic Republic confiscated their properties using their absence as an excuse,” Shahvar told IranWire.
“A family member of mine who passed away a few years ago,” Shahvar added, “had 400 pieces of land that was confiscated by the government and was built on. If they had stayed in Iran, they might have been able to protect some of the land. But they escaped in fear for their lives and the lives of their family. Another wealthy Jewish-Iranian who currently lives in Israel and doesn’t want to be named says that because he was not in Iran, his land was confiscated by the Islamic Republic and was turned into a crossroad.”
Shahvar says that Iranian Jews are rarely able to reclaim their properties through the courts. “Homes, lands and factories seized from Jews are worth billions. An organization in Israel handles these complaints, not only for Iranian Jews, but for Jews who live in other Islamic countries. But few people are able to take back their properties. It is very difficult. The most important factor is that Jews do not want to go back to Iran for the fear of their lives. They have lost hope of regaining their properties. The Islamic Republic uses fear and terror to feast on these properties.”
Habibollah Elghanian was a prominent Jewish-Iranian known as Haji Habib Elghanian. He served as president of the Tehran Jewish Society and was a leading businessman. Elghanian was executed in Qasr Prison by Sadegh Khalkhali shortly after the Revolution and all his properties and factories were confiscated by the Mostazafan. His execution sparked a huge wave of Jews who left Iran.
Jewish-Iranians do, however, have a representative in Iran’s parliament. Were they able to take action on this issue?
“Religious minorities who still live in Iran can’t speak up,” Shahvar says. “The representative of Jews in parliament has to support the Islamic Republic if they want to keep their position and their life. They have no choice. If they talk they would be in danger. So they don’t speak up. If they mention Israel’s government even once, we all know that they would be accused of being a spy and they would be sentenced to a long imprisonment. The Islamic Republic uses the seized properties of others through fear-mongering.”