Editor’s Note: Excerpts from this article are taken from the author’s book review, “Nasser Mohajer, Voices of a Massacre: Untold Stories of Life and Death in Iran, 1988”, published October 27, 2020 at Center for Human Rights in Iran.
The author was the first Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations between 1979 and 1980.
The clerics who lead the authoritarian theocracy in Iran represent one of the predominant anti-Enlightenment regimes in the modern world. That is to say, they apparently reject the very idea of human rights and demand that citizens live up to the duties and obligations dictated by the self-proclaimed “viceroys of God” on earth. The hostility of these characters towards the equality of the sexes has a certain barbarism in common with what Margaret Atwood describes in The Handmaid’s Tale. When supporters or representatives of the Iranian theocracy face a Western audience, they become sophists to answer questions or justify their position.
An example of such behavior is illustrated in a recent Voice of America Persian News Network interview with Iran’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati of Oberlin College. The interviewer, Masih Alinejad, asked Mahallati about his response to the 1988 execution of around 5,000 political prisoners in Iran, highlighting Mahallati’s position at the UN at the time of the massacre. Mahallati said he was unaware of the executions – an unprecedented tragedy in Iranian history. Afterwards, Alinejad asked Mahallati what he thought of the massacre now that he knew about it, to which Mahallati replied, “I firmly believe that killing one person is equivalent to killing the whole world.”
This absurd and demagogic answer to a precise question reveals Mahallati’s shameless hypocrisy. Has there ever been a despot who admits to killing innocent people? All dictators regard their detractors or opponents as guilty. Mahallati, as an agent of Iran’s totalitarian theocracy, implicitly follows the same rule but uses the nonsense words quoted above to hide his position.
Mahallati denies knowing about the massacre when it happened. He maintains that “We are responsible on the basis of the information of which he has knowledge”. This is another example of his sophistry. The truth is that shortly after the Iranian state began its criminal acts, Amnesty International and several news agencies, including the Associated Press, reported the crimes. The information was there; Mahallati chose to continue the regime’s cover-up.
In 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a secret fatwa (a religious edict) ordering judicial authorities to execute political prisoners, resulting in between 4,500 and 5,000 killings. The detainees were men and women, young and old, who had been arrested in the previous 10 years for writing, speaking or demonstrating against the regime. Some of them were teenagers at the time of their arrest. A court known as the death commission enforced the order within three months. The bodies of the victims were buried in mass graves and their families were kept in darkness for the next three months.
Since then, international human rights organizations have documented the massacre and called it a crime against humanity. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have carefully documentlied and exposed the crimes.
Several exiled Iranian writers, artists and political analysts have published articles and produced documentaries on these atrocities. At Ervand Abrahamian’s Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran and Geoffrey Robertson The massacre of political prisoners in Iran, 1988published by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation in 2011, provided testimonies and official statements revealing the crimes.
Some members of the death commission, including current Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, still hold positions of authority in Iran. Yet the mass media in the United States barely covered this unprecedented massacre.
In Voices of a Massacre: Untold Stories of Life and Death in Iran, 1988author and specialist in modern Iranian history, Nasser Mohajer paints a unique and creative portrait of this tragic reality.
This new book offers a highly believable series of reflections, testimonies, eyewitness descriptions, and recollections of relatives and friends of the victims during the massacre. It reveals how the death commission executed Khomeini’s sociopathic fatwa in such detail that the Iranian regime’s denial of his crimes becomes nihilistic nonsense. It provides eyewitness accounts from inmates about what happened to prison victims and how executions were carried out in different cities.
The suffering of Iranian prisoners in general, and that of the great massacre in particular, is illustrated most vividly by the activities and memoirs of the families and friends of the victims, as they played a central role in attracting international attention. on the fate of political prisoners. in Iran. “The vanguard of this resistance and this struggle was made up of women: the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of those who braved tyranny, yearning for a better future for their country,” Mohajer wrote. . These activists made a significant contribution to the rise of the women’s movement in Iran, unprecedented in the history of the Islamic world.
The goal of Voice of a massacre, as Mohajer explains, is more than exposing the lies of Iran’s clerical leaders. Instead, he “seeks to embody what Primo Levi defines as the ‘Duty of Memory'”. Republic of Iran,” the author wrote. Lynn Novick, co-director with Ken Burns on the documentary Vietnam War, deplores the obvious lack of transparency. “It is a shortcoming and a self-humiliation to say that they constantly lied; there’s no question they lied,” Novick said. “But what we really want to do is show what happened.”
Voice of a massacre reveals the cruel nature of a theocracy that rejects the idea of human rights politically, socially and in the private sphere of life. Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, whom we call on to condemn these crimes against humanity, currently teaches Muslim oral culture: Persian poetry in translation, music and calligraphy at Oberlin College.
Dr. Mansour Farhang, Professor of Politics at Bennington College