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Victims and Witnesses

KHAVARAN ROSE GARDEN, THE STORY OF A MASS GRAVE

M. Raha
Noghteh
November 30, 1996
Report

Khavaran cemetery is situated on a slope of a hill14 kilometers from Khorasan square and into the Khorasan highway. This barren and dry land was marked by a cement fence a few years back. One part of this cemetery has been designated for Indians, another for Armenians, and North West of it has been allocated to the Baha'is.

From the summer of 1981 onwards, the executed communist were also interred in this cemetery. They also transferred the remains of many of those who were previously buried in "Behesht-e-Zahra "* to this land.

The relatives of the deceased gather in Khavaran cemetery every week. Early Friday, at around five or six in the morning, they meet at Khorasan Gate and travel together by a minibus, or a similar vehicle, to the cemetery. Most of them are the mothers; young women and men do not usually show up, because every time the "pasdarans"** raid the cemetery they arrest a number of them and imprison them.

Sadly, the families are not told of the exact place of the grave; each family sits or stands at a specific place they feel their loved one may be buried. Others, through calculation of the date of execution, choose a certain row and spot as the gravesite of their loved one. When the dirt looks fresh it is indicative of a new burial. The graves are not dug deep enough; a few times a piece of clothing has stuck out of the graves. Once, a woman discovered a piece of her husbands clothing showing from under the dirt. She pushed the dirt aside and found the body of her husband who was executed three days earlier.

At times families are tempted to dig in the ground in search of clues so that they can locate their loved ones. This activity is dangerous and invites severe punishment from the guards, but what is more arduous than that is deterring a grief-stricken mother from searching for her child's grave. Pasdarans could attack the cemetery at any given moment in which case they would prey on the families. They would single out the familiar faces and take them in for confinement. These attacks were much more common in the past, especially in 1981.

The families mark the ground or the rows by tying ribbons or placing stones or pouring cement that they obtain from nearby factories. Pasdarans destroy these marks by going over them with a bulldozer. The families go back and put up their marks again. They count their steps or use whatever way they have to make a mental mark for themselves; at times they go by whatever their heart tells them — there is no place for math in this method.

When these families come for visits they bring with them flowers and rose water, and they lay them on the grave rows. By the time they are done the entire cemetery is filled with flowers, and it looks like a garden. They have named this cemetery "Golzar " [or garden] and they insist that everyone call it Golzar.

One time a mother whose son was buried in this cemetery planted a tree on a grave that she thought might be her son's. Each Friday she visited the grave. She hid a bottle of water under her cover, watered the plant, and watched it grow. This was the only tree planted in that bare land, and it made that area look beautiful. Its growth was a solace to heartbroken ones and gave them a small glimmer of hope for the future. On one of those Fridays that the mother showed up with her hidden water, she found the tree missing. The tree had been uprooted and taken away. The families had not forgotten the beauty of that tree. They planted a few more trees and borrowed a water hose from the Baha'i cemetery. As soon as Pasdarans found out, they threatened the Baha'is saying if they repeated such a crime one more time they would punish them by disconnecting their water and desecrating their cemetery. They uprooted the trees and took them away.

The last Friday of the year or the first one in No-Rooz [Persian New Year], Golzar is crowded with people. All the families come. The youth and the men from towns come. If equinox does not occur in the middle of the night they setup "Haft Seen "*** and bring sweets, nuts, rose water, and flowers.

Golzar is the place for exchanging the latest news and holding memorial services.

In Behesh-e-Zahra the executed bodies are not interred in the same area, but they are spread out in various parts of the cemetery. In that cemetery the officials have permitted the families to put pieces of stone on the graves. Despite this, at times, they charge into the cemetery at night and break the tomb stones. There is no need for another sign; the broken tomb stones represent graves of those who were executed.

There are mass graves in Behesh-e-Zahra and Golzar, and according to a rumor, there are more on the outskirts of the city limit of Varamin. It is also said that the government is going to allocate the entire Golzar cemetery to the Baha'is, and they vainly think that by doing so no one will remember their loved ones, no one will bring flowers to their grave sides, or plant little trees and there will be no crowed of families! Thus far, the Baha'is have rejected this great generosity. However, the government has announced that they will give this land to others.

It remains to be seen where these heartbroken and bereaved mothers and spouses will congregate. Perhaps they will be found on the streets wearing the picture of their loved ones on their chests!


* A large, and the main, cemetery used for the Muslim deceased.

** A form of police force

*** Traditionally during the Persian New Year a table is decorated with seven foods whose names begin with "s. " Persians believe each one of the food represents prosperity, abundance, and good fortune.

Source: Noghteh Magazine, 6, 1996, p. 8.