Baha'is decry cultural cleansing in Iran

12 September 2004

— The destruction of yet another Baha'i holy place in Iran has prompted an outcry by Baha'is around the world, who see that the Iranian Government is persisting in a campaign of persecution so extreme in the fanaticism driving it that it even jeopardizes invaluable assets of the country's cultural heritage.

The demolition in June of an historic house in Tehran, which followed the leveling of a Baha'i holy place in Babol earlier this year, has spurred national Baha'i communities in several nations to place a statement in major newspapers decrying the destruction.

The statement, which ran in the New York Times today, is set to run soon in newspapers in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

The Baha'i community of Iran, with about 300,000 members, is that country's largest religious minority.

With some five million members in more than 180 countries worldwide, the Baha'i Faith is an independent religion that promotes such teachings as the oneness of humanity, the underlying unity of the religions, the equality of women and men, and the need to eliminate prejudice.

Since 1979, despite their peaceful character, more than 200 Iranian Baha'is have been killed, and hundreds more have been tortured and imprisoned. Tens of thousands have lost jobs, pensions, and access to education, all solely because the clerics who rule Iran declare them heretics.

"The hatred of the extremist mullahs for the Baha'is is such that they, like the Taliban of Afghanistan who destroyed the towering Buddhist sculptures at Bamiyan, intend not only to eradicate the religion, but even to erase all traces of its existence in the country of its birth," says the statement, which took the form of a paid advertisement in the New York Times.

The house that was destroyed in June had been owned by Mirza Abbas Nuri (also known as Mirza Buzurg), the father of Baha'u'llah, Who founded the Baha'i Faith. Mirza Abbas Nuri was an eminent provincial governor and was widely regarded as one of Iran's greatest calligraphers.

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  • An interior courtyard of the historic House of Mirza Abbas Nuri (Mirza Buzurg), Tehran, June 2004.

  • Destruction of a Baha'i holy place...inside the House of Mirza Abbas Nuri (Mirza Buzurg), Tehran, June 2004.

  • Entrance to the House of Baha'u'llah in Takur, which was destroyed after the 1979 revolution in Iran.

  • The House of the Bab, Shiraz, Iran, before its destruction in 1979.

  • The House of the Bab in Shiraz, Iran, one of the holiest sites in the Baha'i world, being destroyed by revolutionary guardsmen in 1979. It was later razed by the… »

  • Gravesite of Quddus, an early apostle of the Baha'i Faith, during its demolition, Babol, Iran, April 2004.

  • Destruction of cultural heritage...interior of the House of Mirza Abbas Nuri (Mirza Buzurg) during demolition, Tehran, June 2004.

  • Historic photograph of the entrance to the House of Mirza Abbas Nuri (Mirza Buzurg), Tehran.

The statement in the Times notes that Mirza Abbas Nuri's house was an "historical monument, a precious example of Islamic-Iranian architecture, 'a matchless model of art, spirituality, and architecture.'"

"In their determination to rid Iran of the Baha'i community and obliterate its very memory, the fundamentalists in power are prepared even to destroy the cultural heritage of their own country, which they appear not to realize they hold in trust for humankind," the statement continues.

"Surely the time has come for Iranians everywhere to raise their voices in protest against such willful desecrations," concludes the statement.

Placing the statement in newspapers around the world is part of a coordinated effort by Baha'is outside of Iran to call the world's attention to the destruction of cultural landmarks that are part of the heritage of the entire world, said Glen Fullmer, director of communications for the Baha'i community of the United States.

"The places that are being demolished are significant to all humanity," said Mr. Fullmer. "They reflect unique elements of Iran's cultural history. So we are calling on Iranians around the world to protest the destruction of their own culture."

The statement will also be printed in one of France's premier newspapers, said Brenda Abrar, a spokesperson for the Baha'i community there.

"There are a great many Iranians in France," said Ms. Abrar. "We want to alert them that their own cultural heritage is in danger. The house that was demolished in June actually represents a great work of Islamic architecture."

In July, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri published a lengthy article about the life of Mirza Abbas Nuri and the architecture of his house.

"As he had good taste for the arts and for beauty, he designed his own house in such a style that it became known as one of the most beautiful houses of that period," wrote Iman Mihdizadih in Hamshahri on 13 July. "The plasterwork and the tile-work in the rooms as well as the verdant veranda, the courtyard with its central pool, and the trees planted in the flowerbeds, all created a tranquil atmosphere in this house."

The house was demolished over a period of about one week in June. The demolition order was issued in April by Ayatollah Kani, director of the Marvi School and the Endowments Office, ostensibly for the purpose of creating an Islamic cemetery. When the demolition started on 20 June, officials from the Ministry of Information were present, and by 29 June more than 70 percent of the structure had been destroyed. [See photographs]

The destruction of Mirza Abbas Nuri's house represents just the latest in a series of demolitions that appears to be aimed at systematically destroying Baha'i holy sites, said Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

In April, despite international protest, the gravesite of an early apostle of the Faith was destroyed in Babol. The house-like structure marked the resting place of Mulla Muhammad-Ali Barfurushi, known as Quddus.

Quddus was the foremost disciple of the Bab, the Prophet-Herald of the Baha'i Faith.

In 1993, more than 15,000 graves were bulldozed at the well-kept Baha'i cemetery of Tehran on the pretext of constructing a municipal center.

In 1979, shortly after the Islamic revolution, the house of the Bab in Shiraz, one of the most sacred sites in the Baha'i world, was demolished. The house of Baha'u'llah in Takur, where the Founder of the Baha'i Faith spent his childhood, was also demolished soon after the revolution and the site offered for sale to the public.

"We see all this as part of a concerted plan on the part of the Iranian government to gradually extinguish the Baha'i Faith as a cultural force and cohesive entity," said Ms. Dugal. "Over the years, the government's strategy has changed, from outright killing to methods that are less likely to attract international attention, such as the destruction of holy sites.

"But the end result is the same: to completely destroy the Baha'i community of Iran, along with its history and heritage," said Ms. Dugal.

To see a copy of the statement placed in the New York Times, see
http://www.bahai.org/pdf/ad20040912.pdf.

To see a press release from the Office of Public Information of the Baha'i community of the United States, see http://www.bahai.org/pdf/pr20040912.pdf.

For information in French see http://www.bahai.fr/article.php3?id_article=122.

For background article on the situation of the Baha'is in Iran, see http://bahai.org/article-1-8-3-6.html.

For the history of the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran, see http://bahai.org/article-1-8-3-7.html.

For an article on Iran's secret blueprint for the destruction of the Baha'i community, see
http://bahai.org/article-1-8-3-14.html.

For an August 2004 news story on the ploy to deprive Baha'is of higher education, see
http://www.bahaiworldnews.org/story/317.

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