Baha'is in Iran, Our Story is One

#OurStoryIsOne: Ezzat-Janami Eshraghi, 57

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One of the reasons I decided to write these posts in order of age is that I wanted to have mother and daughter at both ends of the series of posts.  Well, almost, since Roya was the second youngest of the group.  But let’s just roll with it!

Ezzat-Janami Eshraghi was born in 1926 in Najafabad, in the province of Isfahan.  She finished high school, then married Enayatollah Eshraghi a little later, in in 1947.  They had four children.  After her husband’s retirement, the family settled in Shiraz, where their home became a shelter for other Bahá’ís made homeless by the persecutions of the Bahá’ís during the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  And although they didn’t lose their home, the Eshraghi family wasn’t unaffected; after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Enayatollah’s pension was cut and Roya was expelled from university, both because they were Baha’is.

Ezzay and Enayatollah were encouraged by their three children who were living abroad, at the time of the Revolution, to leave Iran, as their lives were in danger. “My parents were against leaving Iran,” recalls Nahid, one of the Eshraghi children.  “My father said ‘Now that the Bahá’í community in Iran is under pressure, they need each other’s help to cope with it.  We must stay together and help each other.’  My parents asked us to encourage Roya and Rosita to leave Iran, but they were against it as well, and said ‘In this situation, when the Bahá’ís need solidarity, how can we leave Iran for our own comfort?’”

The comings and goings of the Bahá’í friends attracted unwanted attention and in November 1981, agents of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) raided the Eshraghi home and arrested the four members of the family, as well as two guests.  They were taken to the IRGC’s detention center and were released after three days.  But even then, rather than try to leave their home for a safer location, they chose to remain in Shiraz.

A year later, in November 1982, agents of the Revolutionary Guards raided the homes of a number of Bahá’ís in Shiraz, arresting 41 of them, Ezzat, Enayatollah, and Roya among them.  The guards searched their home for three hours, then put them in a car and took them to Sepah Detention Center, insulting and abusing them. The father was transferred to the men’s ward, the mother and the daughter to the women’s.  They were transferred to Adelabad prison, Ezzat and Roya separately from Enayatollah, sometime in January 1983.

Ezzat and her family were subjected to both physical and mental torture.  Sometimes, their interrogators would tell them that their loved ones had recanted and denounced their faith during their detentions.  The claims were untrue: it was a tactic used to try to break the morale of each jailed member of the Eshraghi family.

At other times, the Eshraghi family were blindfolded and interrogated together.  By humiliating and insulting one member of the family, they tried to put pressure on the other members.  They also often invented false quotes from one member of the family and told it to another member.

My favorite story about Ezzat has got to be her answer to an interrogator taunting her when Ezzat would move clumsily because of her blindfold.  The interrogator asked her: “Are you too blind to walk?” To which she boldly responded: “I’m outwardly blind, but you are inwardly blind.”

One day, when Roya was walking in the prison yard, a voice over the loudspeaker summoned her.  The guards, who were standing close to her mother Ezzat, spoke in a way that Roya would hear them.  They said that her mother had been taken to be whipped.  Roya returned to the cell after a few hours and said: “They blindfolded me and took me to a room where they kept me for four hours.  The interrogator repeatedly came to the room and threatened me with torture and execution.  I was told that my parents had renounced [the Bahá’í faith] and if I did the same all three of us would be released immediately.  I said that ‘I am a Bahá’í and I will not denounce it.’  The interrogator then threatened to whip me, but I was not flogged during the four hours that I was in that room.”

Interrogations were conducted by magistrates, who focused on convincing the detainees to recant the Baha’i faith instead of actually leading an interrogation.  At the end of “questioning”, bail was set for a number of prisoners, including Enayatollah; but he refused to take the bail release.  He told the magistrates: “I have been arrested, along with my wife and my daughter, and without them I do not want to be released.  I have only one house to post as collateral and this collateral must be for the release of all three of us.”

On 12 February 1983, a local newspaper reported that 22 Bahá’ís had been sentenced to death.  The next day, the Sharia Judge of Shiraz confirmed the report and warned the Bahá’ís that they must convert to Islam or face the consequences.  After each trial, Bahá’ís were asked: “Islam or death?”  Enayatollah, Ezzat and Roya refused to renounce their faith, accepting the death sentence.

On 12 June 1983, the Chief Prosecutor visited Bahá’í prisoners and told them: “Your repentance starts tomorrow.  You have to go through four phases of guidance to convert to Islam; otherwise you will be executed.”  The “guidance” sessions started the day after; but the Baha’is signed testimonies that they refused to repent and to change religion.

On 16 June 1983, Enayatollah was executed by hanging, together with five other believers.  His daughter, Rosita, was engaged to be married on that same day.  Rosita had previously visited her family in prison to tell them the news.  Not free to attend Rosita’s wedding, Izzat asked Mrs. Mahmudnizad, another Baha’i prisoner who was being released, to attend the wedding on her behalf and to take with her red carnations to represent each of the women prisoners.

On 18 June 1983, during a visit at 17h00, Ezzat and Roya learned from Rosita that Enayatollah had been executed.  A calm Ezzat quietly intoned: “I knew, I knew, I knew.”  On their way back to the ward, Ezzat and her 23 year-old daughter, as well as eight other Bahá’í women, were separated from other prisoners and put on a minibus.  Later that evening they were executed by hanging in Chogan Square. At the time, Ezzat Janami was 57.

While all the Eshraghi children had to deal with the blow of this loss, my heart particularly goes to Rosita, who had just gotten married but had to deal with the aftermath, which includes the confiscation of the Eshraghi family home four months later.  Rosita appealed and did her best but ultimately, in 1992, the home was razed to the ground.

“The news that my family, all three of them, have been executed together, was like my head had suddenly been hit with a sledgehammer. I could not eat for days. My body rejected everything and I was in total shock. But today, I feel better, because my family stood by their beliefs until the last moment of their lives and taught me, their children and thousands of others, to never submit to tyranny and injustice, even if one has to pay with their lives. Great causes demand great sacrifices,” says Nahid Eshraghi.

It’ll be 40 years to the day tomorrow, 18 June 2023, since Ezzat, Roya, and the other eight women were executed by hanging, under the cover of darkness, in Shiraz.  I’ll be sharing some final thoughts in one last post, trying my best to honor these women—although I don’t think anyone can really ever honor them adequately enough.

Find my entire #OurStoryisOne project here. For more information, visit the official #OurStoryisOne website, here, or follow on Instagram.

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