South of Tehran, there is a cemetery called Khavaran with hundreds of individual and mass, unmarked graves. In the past, it was used as a graveyard for religious minorities such as Hindus, Christians, and recently Baha’is. Between August 1988 and February 1989, Iranian authorities buried here thousands of regime opponents who were executed in a wave of persecution that was the most massive after the executions in the first two years of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. 4,500 to 10,000 prisoners are believed to have been killed in this wave (see: Amnesty International).
Most of the graves are not marked by cemetery authorities. Flat earth covered by individual markings made by the families of those executed indicate mass graves of hundreds.
Last week, alarming reports from Tehran reached the West that Iranian authorities have started to destroy dozens of the ad hoc grave markings by bulldozer. The site has been partially covered by soil and trees were planted.
The Tehran-based Association of Human Rights Defenders, formerly led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and now closed for ‘lack of license,’ called on authorities to show respect to the dead and to revise their decision. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called on Tehran to stop the destruction and “to ensure that the site is preserved and to initiate a forensic investigation at the site as part of a long-overdue thorough, independent and impartial investigation into mass executions which began in 1988.”
Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, the most prominent Islamic critic of the Tehran regime criticized the destruction of the Khavaran cemetery, saying that the government is ”now even fighting their graves.” Mr. Montazari had criticized the mass executions in late 1980’s when he was officially still the successor to Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.
We all grew up in a culture and tradition that said to respect the dead even if we disliked them while they still lived. We were forbidden to walk on any grave. We were asked to pronounce a sentence or two of prayer whenever we saw an even unknown grave or a cemetery.
What happened to us?