the time I was finally able to go for a visit back
to Iran in 1995, my grandfather had already surrendered
his life for over a decade. I never got a chance to
say goodbye to him when I left Iran, as I departed
under rather temporary intentions. A brief trip that
turned into a lingering existence. He passed away
shortly after I left, although the family kept the
news away from me for a year. I was never particularly
close to my grandfather. By the time I had started
to develop a personality and find out who I was, he
was rapidly deteriorating as a result of worsening
Parkinson's disease along with aftereffects of a major
stroke. Most of my memories of him consist of him
trying to remember who I was and me getting so excited
when he remembered I didn't like salads but loved
plain cucumbers with salt sprinkled on top.
one of the first places I wanted to visit was his
burial place. I needed to tell him that despite our
distance and disassociation, I loved him oh so much.
So, shortly after arrival and despite other relative's
grumblings about the short trip, I went there.
the experience turned into something completely unexpected
visiting his grave we went to my great-grandmother's
site (another very important person in my life whom
I will write about when appropriate) as well as a
cousin's. They are both buried in one of the newer
sections of Tehran's main cemetery. A busy part with
plenty of people around, fancier headstones, flower
pots and lots of "professional prayer readers"
looking to bless your beloved's graves for a small
to the one side, was the "martyr's section".
This is an even fancier sub-section with flags and
picture frames and tons of rose-water washed headstones,
sweets and dates left as offerings by families and
a sizable audio speaker system broadcasting mostly
Koran readings and other prayers. This is where mostly
the victims of the awful 8 year long Iran-Iraq war
the other side though the picture was very different.
Another section almost entirely void of any headstones,
just markers with numbers and letters, no flowers,
no tiled walkways and no families or other visitors.
I knew what it was but I still started walking that
way. My uncle nervously caught up to stop me. His
voice was shaking as he pointed to a couple of revolutionary
guard types who had noticed my move towards there
and were starting to head towards us. "This is
the monafeghin section" he said, using
the derogatory term regime uses for People's Mojahedin
Organization (also called MKO), as one of the guards
was close enough to hear him. I just pointed to him
to go back to be with everyone else and continued
walking over to this gravelly section.
was trying to take as much in as possible before being
interrupted. A few modest headstones that were put
on certain graves a long ago, had been vandalized,
damaged and broken. Some had only a first name scribbled
on a small rock. One had left a small flower pot,
but the little plant had died many days ago. I could
feel both guards getting closer and closer but was
trying to zigzag my way around, not making eye-contact
and going as deep as I could.
finally reached me asking rather politely "do
you have someone buried here?". I played stupid
saying I don't know, I was just coming back to Iran
after so many years and am looking all over the cemetery
for relative's names. He said "you won't find
anyone here". I continued playing dumb and asked
why?. He said "these are all e'damies
(executed ones)". I kept a straight face asking
"e'damie?". The second guy that was
older, maybe 20, said in a harsher voice "yes
them". I briefly looked at the submachine guns
they had swung over their shoulders in a somewhat
relaxed fashion and decided to dig deeper. "have
they executed anyone?" I asked. The second guy
said "of course baba (a friendly slang
term, meaning father but used variably), where have
knew neither one was old enough to have been part
of or even remember the bulk of the executions in
the 80's, so I asked "how many?". The second
guy was obviously starting to get irritated and said
"how do I know? but I tell you this much, I heard
on the days of executions, there were piles of executed
prisoner's sandals stacked up to the ceiling".
I looked down. On a small stone somebody had scribed
"Sasan S.". A few other white stones had
outlined a square around my feet. I was standing on
Sasan S.'s grave. Suddenly I remembered one Sasan
I had gone to school with. He was also of the "monafeghin"
and had disappeared right after the crackdown on political
groups. I'm certain it wasn't him, his last initial
wasn't 'S' but then again it might as well be. For
if it wasn't our Sasan, it was another Sasan. A young
man, full of love for his people and country, now
buried amongst the "undesirables".
must've gone into a long period of silence with the
flood of thoughts going through my head, as the first
guy grabbed my arm and said "come, you need to
get out of here. If our superior sees you, we'll both
be in trouble". I started walking away still
in a comma-like state of numbness. I will never forget
reminded me of that day was a series of pictures by
a fellow Iranian blogger,
published on a Persian bi-weekly webzine called 7sang
(or seven stones). They are of Khavaran Cemetery outside
Tehran. This is the burial place for "undesirable"
non-Muslims. There is a section for Bahai's for example.
But this is also where the "infidel" execution
victims, mostly communists and non-religious ones
are buried. It resembles ruins of an old yard more
than anything, no flowers, paved sections, proper
headstones. No fanfare at all. See the complete set
can read more of Pedram Moallemian at his weblog,
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