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.
“Since the soldier in question was a follower of the Baha’i religion, to ascertain his religious beliefs we inquired from his father, and the father of the aforementioned confessed that he and his son were Baha’is … Therefore, according to the statement by the Martyrs’ Foundation and the confirmation by [Kerman’s] Friday prayers leader, it was [decided] that the said soldier cannot be considered a martyr and, therefore, he has been buried at that city’s Baha’i cemetery,” rather than the cemetery for “martyrs” or casualties of Iran’s 1980-88 war with Iraq.
The above is from a letter by the Personnel Department of the Islamic Republic Ground Forces, regarding the conscript Farhang Shah Bahrami, whose self-sacrifice for his country in the war was ignored because he was a follower of the Baha’i faith. Below, IranWire will show that these officials not only refused to recognize this young Baha’i as a “martyr” but that the authorities even tried to refute the very fact of his death in the line of duty.
From Childhood to Military Service
Farhang Shah Bahrami was born on September 10, 1961 in Shiraz. His father, Ardeshir Shah Bahrami, and his mother, Molki Hakhamaneshi, were from a Zoroastrian family who had converted to the Baha’i faith. Ardeshir was a graduate of Shiraz Higher Health Academy and, after graduation, was hired as a medic to visit villages around the country and to investigate the health situation of the villagers and the available medical facilities.
The result was that, as a child, Farhang was always moving from one village to another across Iran. He was only six months old when his father was assigned to Tarom County in Zanjan province and he and his mother accompanied him.
After two years, Ardeshir, his wife and his son left for Mashhad so he could complete his medical studies. After four years in Mashhad, Dr. Ardeshir Shah Bahrami was assigned to Bandar Rig in Bushehr, a Persian Gulf coastal province. They lived in Bandar Rig for two years and Farhang finished his first two years of primary school in that city.
Dr. Shah Bahrami, the father, was then assigned to the city of Joupar in Kerman province, where Farhang finished primary and middle schools . After four years Ardeshir and his family were transferred to the provincial capital of Kerman and finally, after 15 years in various parts of Iran, the family settled and stayed in Kerman. Farhang earned his high school diploma in mathematics and his last year of high school coincided with the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Farhang Shah Bahrami was a thin and rather tall young man, with a dark complexion, dark eyes and black hair.
When Farhang received his high school diploma, the universities were closed after the newly-established Islamic regime launched the so-called “Cultural Revolution,” between 1980 and 1983, and there were reports that Baha’is would be banned from institutions of higher education. The reports turned out to be true and Baha’is are still banned from universities.
Since higher education was now out of reach, Farhang made himself busy by engaging in what he liked to do, especially electricity and electronics. His room was filled with science and electronics magazines. At one corner of his room, he had set up a workstation piled with wires, an ohmmeter and a voltmeter, along with a few sets of old record players and radios. For a while he worked at an electric repair shop owned by a Baha’i in Kerman and then started repairing household equipment and wiring houses for electricity.
Farhang also spent a good amount of time doing photography. He bought a basic set of equipment and set up a small darkroom at home.
Farhang did his best to keep busy in different ways but he was unhappy because there was no prospect of going to university. He decided to leave Iran to continue his education. But there was one big obstacle: the conscription.
On September 22, 1980, the eight-year Iran-Iraq started when Iraqi forces attacked Iranian airfields and the next day launched a ground invasion along a 644km front. The Public Conscription Organization called all men born in 1961 to military service and announced that if these draftees presented themselves before 1981, they only have to serve 18 months instead of 24 months.
Considering the situation, Farhang decided to present himself for military service but his parents were strongly against it. He was the oldest child and the only son in the family. Farhang and his mother deeply loved each other and he had an exemplary friendship with his father. The parents did not want him to leave them to serve in the military.
Then, when the Shah Bahrami family and a Baha’i friend had a gathering, that friend said that, according to Baha’i teachings, Baha’is must follow government orders unless it goes against the teachings of their faith. This made Farhang more determined and, finally, on December 6, 1980, he joined the army. For around nine months he served with Kerman Combat Battalion and then it was announced that they would be sent to Tehran for training for two months. But instead the battalion was dispatched to the south of the country.
The Problems of Being a Baha’i Soldier
Farhang was trained at Do Kuheh military base in Andimeshk in Khuzestan province. Most of his fellow soldiers were granted leaves of absence but neither him nor another Baha’i soldier in their outfit were granted this privilege. After four months of training, the Kerman Combat Battalion was deployed to military operational zones in Dezful and Gilan Gharb.
This period coincided with presidential election in Iran. The authorities would transport groups of soldiers to the ballot boxes to vote. But Farhang told his superiors at the barracks that he could not vote because he was a Baha’i and his religious beliefs do not allow him to intrude into politics. This upset his superiors and one of them even threatened Farhang with the gallows.
Farhang and his family usually communicated through letters; but at a certain point, his family had not received any letters from him for quite some time. This worried the family until a friend of Farhang’s, who was on leave, delivered to Farhang’s family one of his letters. They were happy – but when they read the letter they became worried again because Farhang had written that he believed his letters were being restricted and censored. He was not receiving many letters and they were not mailing his letters. He suggested that his family make a copy of each letter that they were sending him and send the copy to a friend of his at the front. This way they could find out whether his suspicions were justified. The family did this for a time; eventually, it became clear that Farhang had guessed correctly, and he was not receiving some of the letters his family were sending him.
The Baha’i Martyr
By late August of 1982, Farhang’s family had not heard from him for quite some time. He had been granted leaves of absence every three months; but this time he was late, and had not sent any word about his situation. HIs parents were worried. On September 1, 1982, Dr. Shah Bahrami was called from Kerman Military Training Center 5 and was told to report there before noon. At 11:30am Farhang’s parents were at the training center. “Is Farhang your son,” a captain by the name of Foroughi asked them.
Dr. Shah Bahrami: “Yes. Is anything the matter?”
Captain Foroughi: “In his dossier he has identified himself as a Baha’i.”
Doctor: “It was his own choice … Has something happened?”
Captain: “He has been hit by shrapnel.”
Doctor: “Which hospital is he in?”
Captain: “He is not in the hospital. He has passed away. He is right here.”
Captain Foroughi tore up a picture of Farhang that was on his desk and asked the parents: “Do you want us to bury him or you would do it yourselves?”
“We will have our own burial ceremony,” said Dr. Shah Bahrami. “Then take him out as soon as possible,” the captain said, asking them to leave the room.
The shock from the death of their son and the captain’s insolence and disrespect upset Farhang’s parent so much that they could not find the exit. A soldier had to assist them as they left.
The authorities then took Dr. Shah Bahrami to the morgue to see the body of his 21-year-old son. Dr. Shah Bahrami described Farhang’s body: “The body’s exterior was generally untouched except that there was a round entry bullet, hole 5-6mm wide, on his head, around 3-4cm above the left ear and about 2cm from the forehead. On the right side of the head, in the area of the upper lip and continuing to the lower lip, there was a slit the size of a coin in the shape of a smooth curve that was made by the bullet’s exit. Also, the skin over the wrist of the left hand appeared rubbed off and the bones underneath were crushed.”
At 4pm on the same day, Dr. Shah Bahrami went to the morgue and took delivery of the body. Farhang was buried at Kerman Baha’i cemetery, known as Golestan-e Javid (Eternal Garden) in a Baha’i ceremony in the presence of a large number of relatives and friends and representatives from the Army and the Martyrs’ Foundation.
The Ever-Changing Story
But the story of Farhang Shah Bahrami’s martyrdom did not end there. After looking at his son’s body, Dr. Shah Bahrami went to see Captain Foroughi again and told him: “You said that he had been hit with shrapnel. But here we see a gunshot!”
“No, can’t you see?” Replied the captain. “The bone of his wrist has been shattered. An incompetent soldier pushed the trigger of an RPG-7 carelessly and, as a result, 12 people were injured. One of them was your son, who died.”
“RPG is an anti-tank and anti-armor grenade,” said Dr. Shah Bahrami. “It melts whatever it hits. This does not match with what happened to my son.”
Foroughi shook his head and insisted that “No, this is what happened.”
Dr. Shah Bahrami met with Foroughi again and, this time, the captain told him that his son and another soldier had been playing with a grenade in the trenches when the grenade suddenly exploded and killed both of them.
The doctor told Foroughi that a grenade would splinter the hands and the body whereas the body of his son had been intact. Foroughi, who had no logical response, answered: “Sometimes a grenade works like a bullet!”
Such contradictory statements about the death of Farhang was also seen in official letters.
In the permit issued by the medical examiner to move Farhang’s body to Kerman, the cause of death was listed as a gunshot wound. Another official letter, dated November 1, 1982, from the Office of Martyrs’ Affairs of Army Ground Forces, told a different story: Farhang “achieved the exalted status of martyrdom by the shrapnel of a grenade [launched] by Iraqi aggressors in a clash by the Iraqi Zionist mercenaries on the western front.”
And a third letter by the Martyrs’ Affairs of Kerman Military Training Center 5, dated March 27, 1983, in reply to Dr. Shah Bahrami’s inquiry, said: “The soldier was killed at 3:00 o’clock on October 25, 1982, in Choqa Ḩaman area as result of being hit in the head by a shrapnel from a grenade.”
These contradictory statements by responsible officials have made it impossible to know how exactly Farhang Shah Bahrami died for his country. What we do know is that he was denied official recognition as a “martyr” – with the financial support given to martyrs’ families also denied to his parents – because he was a Baha’i.