During the 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 – the ones were were killed are officially termed “martyrs”.
A continuing 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.
On July 20, 1987, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 598 that called for an immediate ceasefire between Iran and Iraq and the repatriation of prisoners of war, and for both sides to withdraw to international borders. Three days after the resolution was adopted, however, Saddam Hossein, who thought that Iran was in a vulnerable position, launched new attacks from the south and the west. Iranian forces stood up to these attacked and, after 10 days, the Iraqi army retreated to internationally recognized borders.
In these attacks, hundreds of Iranian soldiers of different ethnicities and religious faiths lost their lives. Mehrdad Ebrahimzadeh was one of these soldiers – whose martyrdom has not been recognized by the Islamic Republic.
Mehrdad Ebrahimzadeh’s Childhood and Adolescence
Mehrdad Ebrahimzadeh Sisan was born on September 15, 1968, to a Baha’i family in the city of Miandoab in the province of West Azerbaijan. He had many siblings and the boys of the family had to work from an early age to help support the family. Mehrdad was the ninth and last child and, like his brothers, he started working as a child. He could not continue his education because of this – after just a few years of primary school. He tried different jobs before going into military service. For a while he worked as a laborer, then as an apprentice in his elder brother’s plumbing shop and at one point sold socks in the local bazaar.
Miandoab During the War
Miandoab is a transportation crossroads between three large provinces of West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan and Iranian Kurdistan. The city’s strategic location caused it to be repeatedly bombed by the Iraqi air force and, because of this, Miandoab and three other cities of West Azerbaijan, Oshnavieh, Sardasht and Piranshahr were declared “war zones” by the General Staff of the Armed Forces despite not being on the frontlines.
Many residents of Miandoab left for the front to defend their country. According to published figures, during the war between Iran and Iraq, 850 soldiers from Miandoab were killed, 130 were injured and 179 were taken prisoner.
Ebrahimzadeh’s Military Service
Mehrdad Ebrahimzadeh was one of these young people from Miandoab who decided to defend his country instead of remaining at home. He voluntarily registered for the military service before he was drafted. He served a total of seven months – three months in training and four months at the frontlines – until he was martyred. At the time, Baha’i soldiers were only accepted by the ground, air and sea branches of the regular armed forces because the Revolutionary Guards refused to enlist anybody who specified his religion on the registration form as Baha’i.
As told by a friend of Mehrdad to his family, a few days after Iran accepted Security Council’s Resolution 598, the Iraqi army suddenly launched new attacks. Mehrdad was a sharpshooter and was one of the first soldiers who was dispatched to stop Iraqi forces. He was hit in the head and in the neck by shrapnel and his half-dead body was moved to the roadside by his fellow soldiers. This happened in the strategically located Shiler Valley on the Iran-Iraq border between the Iranian Kurdish towns of Marivan and Baneh.
After an hour or so, an ambulance took Mehrdad to the hospital in the Kurdish city of Saghez. It is not known whether he died on the way to hospital or afterwards. Mehrdad Ebrahimzadeh was 20 at the time.
On August 20, 1988, around 20 days after his martyrdom, a ceasefire was officially announced and the war between the two countries; not before hundreds of thousands had been killed, maimed, taken prisoner or lost their homes.
After the Martyrdom
Miandoab is a small town and everybody knew that Mehrdad Ebrahimzadeh and his family were Baha’is. But despite being from this minority, which the Iranian authorities have spread disinformation about for decades, Mehrdad’s body was carried around the town with respect. They even carried his body before of the city’s mosque.
Iranian officials, however, informed Mehrdad’s family that they could not bury their son in the martyrs’ cemetery because of his Baha’i faith. The family then buried Mehrdad in the city’s cemetery with Baha’i rites.
The Martyrs Foundation of Miandoab never denied that Mehrdad Ebrahimzadeh was a martyr of war – but it used his Baha’i beliefs and his family’s Baha’i faith as an excuse for refusing to declare him a martyr and to grant his family benefits and privileges accorded to the war martyrs’ family. Nevertheless, many people of Miandoab still remember him, a Baha’i soldier, as a martyr for their country.