#OurStoryIsOne: Temple event honors 10 Iranian Baha’i women executed in 1983

June 16, 2023
#OurStoryIsOne: Temple event honors 10 Iranian Baha’i women executed in 1983

June 18, 2023 marks the 40th anniversary of the hanging execution of 10 Iranian Baha’i women in Shiraz. Their only crime was refusal to renounce their Baha’i Faith. Remembrance of such a heartbreaking event could evoke despair—or worse, the details from these women’s lives could have been forgotten—if not for stories of their bravery and steadfastness, including those shared recently by a friend and fellow prisoner.

Ruhi Jahanpour, who had been imprisoned with the 10 women in 1983, shared their stories with some two hundred people gathered at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois on Friday evening, June 9.

“The story of these women and many, many other women who are seeking justice and equality is truly one story, and it is the story of [the] incredible resilience of [the] human spirit,” Jahanpour said.

The event was held as part of a campaign, #OurStoryIsOne, launched this month by the Baha’i International Community. Honoring the executed women, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the long struggle for gender equality lived by women of all faiths and backgrounds in Iran for many decades, which continues to this day.

A woman on stage at a lectern speaks while holding up a black-and-white photo of Mona Mahmoudnejad, age 17.
Ruhi Jahanpour holds up a photo of Mona Mahmoudnejad as she tells stories of the 10 woman hanged for their faith in Iran on June 18, 1983. Photo by Richard Doering

As Jahanpour shared personal remembrances of the martyred women, she defiantly held aloft a photo of each. The screen monitors on either side showed the faces of all 10 as she recounted how they encouraged one another, sharing prayers and stories and food in prison.

“When they are confronted with these two choices, to give up their lives or to give up their faith, they willingly and happily give up their lives,” she said. “Because by denying your faith, it means you deny your own reality and your own existence. And in fact, at that moment, there is not two choices because it is only one choice. Their faith is their lives, and their lives is their faith. It is one thing, and this is what they chose.”

These women were arrested, interrogated and tortured. Then they were forced to look on as, one after another, they were hanged on a single night in the town square. Eight of the 10 women were 30 years old or younger. The youngest was only 17.

Jahanpour, now in her mid-60s, said their executions were only part of a greater persecution of the Baha’i community. She told of repeated arrests, including her own. “They arrest them, they release them, they again go back for them, then again, they arrest them … they torture them.” She said it was all to terrorize the community so that none of the Baha’is would feel safe and secure in their homes.

Jahanpour said one of the women asked her interrogator, “What is your goal?”
“He said, ‘Well, our goal is to eliminate the entire Baha’i community.’ And then this exasperated friend said, ‘Why don’t you call all the Baha’is together? Gather them in one place and kill them all together.’

“The interrogator said, ‘If we kill them all together, the whole world is going to see it and protest it, but we are going to do one at a time. Then the world cannot see it.’”

“But they were wrong,” Jahanpour said.

She said that several of the women were students pursuing professions, for which they were taunted by their captors. “It is truly sad because the education is so important in the Baha’i Faith,” Jahanpour said. “In the Baha’i writings we know that it says that if you have two children, one boy and one girl, and you could educate only one of them, educate the girls because they are going to be the mothers of society.”

These are the women who were remembered:

  • Mona Mahmoudnejad, 17
  • Roya Eshraghi, 23, executed along with her mother, Ezzat-Janami Eshraghi
  • Simin Saberi, 24
  • Shahin (Shirin) Dalvand, 25
  • Akhtar Sabet, 25
  • Mahshid Niroumand, 28
  • Zarrin Moghimi-Abyaneh, 29
  • Tahereh Arjomandi Siyavashi, 30. Her husband, Jamshid Siavashi, was executed two days earlier
  • Nosrat Ghufrani Yaldaie, 46. Her son, Bahram Yaldaie, was executed two days earlier
  • Ezzat-Janami Eshraghi, 57, along with her daughter Roya, 23. Her husband, Enayatullah Eshraghi, was executed two days earlier
A woman in a maroon business suit and a woman in a black dress and a necklace stand on a stage with their arms around each other's shoulders.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (left) and Ruhi Jahanpour embrace at the #OurStoryIsOne event June 9, where both spoke. Photo by Richard Doering

Those in attendance came to honor the memories of the martyred women and to thank U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois for her present-day efforts on behalf of the Baha’is still undergoing persecution in Iran.

“I’m so inspired and strengthened by what I’ve already heard today and what I’ve heard in the past about what you stand for as members of the Baha’i Faith,” Schakowsky said. “It really helps me to carry these messages of love and peace and equality and justice and human rights with me to Washington.”

Schakowsky announced that she recently introduced House of Representatives Resolution 492, which “condemns the government of Iran for its constant attacks on the people of the Baha’i Faith.”

In the previous session of Congress, Schakowsky cosponsored House Resolution 744 condemning the ongoing persecution of the Baha’is of Iran. That resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority on Dec. 1, 2022.

A companion resolution in the Senate, Resolution 74, was introduced in that house of Congress earlier this year.

#OurStoryIsOne social media campaign

The Bahá’í International Community has invited all to participate in a two-hour social media event on Sunday, June 18, 2023, starting 1:30 p.m. Eastern daylight time. This event is part of the broader #OurStoryIsOne campaign, which sheds light on the continuing sacrifices made by Iranian women of every background in their pursuit of justice and gender equality.

A man stands behind a lectern and holds up a large framed wall hanging that contains three pages of a document, as a woman stands nearby, both on a stage with an arrangement of roses at the front.
Kenneth Bowers, secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, presents U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky with a framed copy of House Resolution 744 from 2022. Photo by Richard Doering

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