By Alexandra Zaretsky
Why You Should Watch This
In 1991, the Iranian government drafted a secret memorandum addressing the so-called “Baha’i question”. This document provides detailed instructions aimed at eliminating the Baha’i influence within Iran. If that sounds eerily familiar to you, that’s because it probably should. Hitler answered Germany’s “Jewish question” with his “Final Solution”. What will Iran’s answer be?
The short documentary series “Angels of Iran” strives to raise awareness about a minority group that is too often left out of history books and conversations. In each video, Iran’s Baha’is come forward to tell their own stories of persecution and oppression. The videos do not come in any set order, but “Faith and Sacrifice: The Baha’is in Iran” provides an effective introduction for those who know little about the Baha’i Faith. It offers a broad overview of the situation and introduces us to Iran’s Baha’is on a very personal level.
- Title: Faith and Sacrifice: The Baha’is in Iran
- Date Created/Posted: October 28, 2011
- Length: 9:18 minutes
- Who Made It: Single Arrow Productions, co-sponsored by Amnesty International
- Location: Iran
- Human Rights Issues: Religious tolerance, access to education
Background Information on the Baha’i: Born in nineteenth century Persia, the Baha’i Faith emphasizes the spiritual oneness of humanity. As Dr. Shokooh Madjzoob explains in the documentary, the Faith is an all-encompassing mindset: “It is about loving everybody. It is about the equality of mankind. It is about peace.”
In its short lifetime, the Baha’i Faith has spread to more than 5 million people worldwide. It has also endured severe persecution. While Iran’s 300,000 Baha’is make up the country’s largest non-Muslim religious group, they are nonetheless denied equal citizenship.
Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, persecution of Iran’s Baha’is became a matter of official government policy. Over 200 prominent members of the Baha’i community have been arrested, tortured, and executed since 1979, among them girls as young as 16. Iran’s Baha’is are denied access to higher education as well as basic civil liberties.
Goal: “Angels of Iran” was produced in conjunction with the documentary Education Under Fire”, which stresses the right of Baha’i youth to education. Under Iranian law, Baha’is cannot establish places of worship, schools, or any other religious associations. The Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE), founded in 1987, seeks to provide education to Baha’i youth in defiance of government decrees. It is systematically attacked, and both faculty members and students incur extreme risks for their efforts.
Together, these documentaries seek to encourage dialogue and raise awareness, particularly among those of us who know little about the Faith.
Primary Audience: Primarily directed at U.S. audience including: Students, educational administrators (university officials are encouraged to offer scholarships to Iranian Baha’is), voters, U.S. government officials
Message: Without sufficient international attention, Iran’s Baha’is will continue to suffer. Iran’s Baha’is need our help to exercise their beliefs and to fight off the type of systematic persecution that has led, too often within recent history, to genocide.
Content/Style/Voices: “Angels of Iran” is presented as a series of stories, told by Baha’is whose loved ones have been executed or imprisoned for their faith. They speak of communal and individual suffering, but also of the unswerving faith that these victims exhibited—a faith that their friends and family continue to channel.
As individuals tell their own stories, a common thread emerges. We meet Baha’i community members, not as statistics, but as fathers, husbands, daughters, and friends. We learn of touching friendships between the Baha’is of Iran and their Muslim neighbors. We experience their pride, despite everything, in their Iranian identity. And when we see their faces as they speak of loved ones they have lost, we cannot ignore their pain.
Support the passage of HR 134 in the U.S.: HR 134 condemns the government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of the Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenant on Human Rights. The bill is still pending in the House. Human rights activists everywhere are encouraged to contact their delegates and express support for the resolution.
Call on your Congressperson and tell them you support the Baha’i and their right to exercise freedom of religion. This is a time sensitive issue, as the Iranian government has stepped up its persecution significantly in recent months.
Seven Iranian Baha’is are currently being imprisoned by the Iranian government for providing education to Iran’s Baha’i youth. Nobel Laureates Desmond Tutu and Jose-Ramos Horta wrote an open letter to the international academic community condemning the actions of the Iranian government and calling for the release of those imprisoned.
To find out more about their plight—and what you can do to help—join the “Education Under Fire” campaign.
Why Does it Matter?
Former UN peacekeeping force commander Romeo Dallaire, who unsuccessfully sought to stop the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s, has expressed alarm at Iran’s “intent to destroy” the Baha’i community:
Make no mistake, these are not only indices of past and present persecution; they are warning signs of mass atrocities of genocide. Let us not witness another one, fully conscious of what the consequences are.
Dallaire is not alone in his concerns. The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention has been tracking Iran’s Baha’i community since 2008.
In the wake of the Holocaust, the world vowed “never again” to let genocide occur. We have failed to uphold this intention in the past. But this is our chance to make good on that promise. By paying attention, by intervening now, maybe we can avert another terrible crisis.
Alexandra is an external relations intern at WITNESS and a rising senior at Northwestern University.