I viewed with great interest the . I was neither shocked nor surprised, maybe because similar incidences have happened to the resting places of some of my own relatives who died in Iran both before and after the revolution.
The main Bahai cemetery in Tehran, for example, which had thousands of graves, and was more a meticulously kept garden than a cemetery, lined with trees and flowers (and was appropriately named “Golestan-e Javid” or Eternal Garden), shortly after the victory of the Islamic Revolution was taken over by the new government, which gleefully destroyed its graves and ordered a government building constructed on the land.
Another case that I know of is that of my great grandfather. Years before the revolution, my great grandfather passed away in a town in central Iran and according to his wishes was buried in his orchard, which he loved so much. Nearly two years after his death, however, his tomb was raided by thieves.
Some in my family think the robbers were after what they had presumed was a valuable ring on his finger. Though it is true that Bahais put a special ring on the corps of the dead, the ring itself may very well be plastic and has no material value. It has a holy script written on it. The grave raiders may very well have been anti-Bahai hate-mongers, something Iran has seen plenty since the beginnings of the Bahai religion in the 19th century.
After this incident, my grandfather decided to rebury his father in a more secure place. This time he was buried inside a chamber which was part of the orchard and which had a locked door. Iindeed, the tomb now looked more like a mausoleum, and thus a proper setting for a man of the stature of my great grandfather, who had the respect of hundreds of friends and townspeople of all faiths. I remember as a child having visited my great grandfather's mausoleum in the orchard with my dad and each time I had said a little prayer in his honor.
Soon after 1979, when the mullahs, mob rule and revolutionary fervor took hold of Iran, nearly all of my family left Iran as the regime consolidated power and began persecuting, imprisoning and executing people for a variety of alleged offenses including the religion one belonged to.
As a result of the Islamic Revolution, I now have as many as 300 cousins and relatives, all descendants of my great grandfather in about 10 countries worldwide, anywhere from Canada, Britain, Venezuela, Romania, China and New Zealand. Though we were mere middle class folk in Iran, many of my cousins have achieved fair amounts of financial and educational success — and I suppose in an ironic way they have Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers to thank.
With the election of President Khatami, a moderate among the ruling mullahs, many Iranians including religious minorities felt safe enough to visit Iran. Despite some initial hesitations and even chastisement by a cousin, in 2003 after 24 years of having lived abroad, I too decided to go back.
Naturally, among the places that I felt obliged to visit was the burial site of my great grandfather. I thought it only proper to do so and had planned on saying a short prayer and paying my respects to him whose legacy and lineage continues to live in Iran and a myriad other lands.
Though I had heard rumors that the local government was aching to take over my great grandfather's orchard (though legally belonging to his surviving children), I never believed that they would do such a thing, especially not under Khatami's rule. Nor did I believe that they would dare disturb my great grandfather's resting place. Surely at least the dead are respected under the Islamic Republic, I naively assumed.
When I got to the town and neighborhood where my great grandfather was supposed to have been buried, I could neither find his orchard nor his mausoleum. I could only see some flat barren land and no trees. I also saw some construction equipment and newly built structures nearby. I inquired from an old man who was in the area if he knew who my great grandfather was and where I could find his orchard and grave. The old man responded: “You mean 'Baagh-e Bahaeeya' (The Bahai Garden)? … They [the government] have destroyed it!”
The old man, who was not Bahai, showed me where the orchard used to be and I vaguely found the site of what may have been my great grandfather's mausoleum: There was nothing left. It was all destroyed with virtually no trace of any walls or a room. All I was able to retrieve was an old brick, a 'khesht', as a memorabilia. The ground seemed disturbed and I would not be surprised if the local authorities had dug up what remained of my grandfather's coffin (Bahais normally bury their dead in coffins) and dumped the bones.
Needless to say, when I came back to Tehran I felt extremely sad and rather angry as a result of that experience. Soon after, however, especially on my flight out to Frankfurt, I had an incredible sense of peace, one which other Iranians, Bahai or not, may relate to.
You see, in Central Asia, where my work has often taken me, I have come across old cemeteries which have grass grown all over them. Often one sees herders with their cows and sheep in the streets and near such cemeteries, but never in the cemetery compound. Many of the graves belong to non-Muslims (Russians and other Slavic peoples which the USSR had sent there to work) whose descendants are now nowhere to be found, many living in Russia.
What was interesting to me was that the shepherds, many of whom are extremely poor and are always looking for fresh forage for their animals, appeared to not to allow their herds graze on the grass grown in the old cemeteries. One of my friends from Tajikistan told me that to do so would be considered bad omen, that treating someone's grave with disrespect such as allowing an animal to walk over it would surely bring bad luck.
Now, I am not a superstitious person, but when it comes to messing around with the dead, I have found myself to be one. Indeed, the mullahs of Iran and their followers may toy with the living and surely have the blood of tens of thousands of innocent Iranians of all faiths and ideological backgrounds on their hands; and it is hoped that they would someday answer to a court of law or to the almighty for such crimes, if not in this world for some of them, at least in the next.
But what may indeed put certain mullahs over the top and into the dustbin of history is when they play with the corps and spirit of the dead. An admonition in Islam goes: 'Namaaz dar khaane-ye ghasbee haraam ast', (prayer in a confiscated house is forbidden). Still, Ayatollah Zahremaar takes over my family's ancestral house and make condominiums instead. And for laughs and spite, the Islamic government and its rapidly dwindling fanatic following destroy my great grandfather's grave, and those of others they consider infidels in Tehran, Yazd and other places in Iran.
I have come to believe, however, that The Good Man or Woman upstairs will deal with this and other abhorrent, despicable acts of the mullahs in due time and with a justice that will shake the turbans and slippers off the miscreants who are ruling over our Iranian motherland. In a strange way, therefore, I and my great grandfather are both at peace.