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Systematic murders
Interview with Parastou Forouhar

April 22, 2004

"I received a phone call and someone on the other side asked me when was the last time you heard from your parents? Are they OK? There is some news coming out of Iran that is not so good..."

These were the words uttered by Parastou Forouhar, the daughter of Dariush and Parvaneh. She was in Germany on that awful Autumn day in 1998 and her parents had been stabbed the night before in their home in Tehran. At first, she thought that they were in the hospital but the news agencies reported a grimmer story, of the brutal stabbing to death of the couple.

Since then, life has not been the same for her, her brother Arash, and their entire family. Parastou gave a poignant talk at a gathering at George Washington University this past Easter Sunday. The audience shed tears as she was speaking. She is an eloquent speaker like her late mother, Parvaneh.

We spoke for twenty minutes before her departure for Frankfurt, Germany, where she has been living with her two sons, Kourosh and Kaveh. She told me Kourosh would not speak Farsi for a long time, would walk in the hallway of their house in disbelief and say, where were these people to defend my grandparents? Why did no one come to their defense?

Kourosh stopped talking for a long time and went into his own world. He blamed Iranians for their death and his refusal to speak the language was a kind of resentment towards his birth country. Both her sons were extremely close to their grandparents, and their deaths impacted them greatly.  Personal photos (1) (2)

I put forth the following questions to Parastou:

What is the current situation with their murder case at the judiciary of the Islamic Republic?

After we declared that we would not participate in the trial, as all the investigations which had been done were insufficient and the mishaps, which our lawyers had seen, were not addressed, whatever the justice ministry was doing, we would not even be informed.

The case went to the higher courts and all the verdicts were handed down without our knowledge. We tried to go through the parliament to find a way, but that also didn't produce much, even though we went with the families of [murdered writers] Mokhtari, Poyandeh. We wrote letters and asked for an explanation, but no reply was given to us.

In my last trip, when I spoke to the head of the parliamentary "Article 9" commission, Mr. Ansari-Rad, I asked him why we have not received a response to our demands. He said that in their investigations they noticed that some of the individuals in question are beyond parliament's jurisdiction. What this shows is that there are people included in this dossier, who are suspects, but have such immunity that they cannot be called to testify before the commission.

Four years after the murders, we announced that we had no hope that the IRI judiciary will in fact follow through or bring any indictments against the real perpetuators. And, in fact, they have no desire to find the truth and have only created obstacles in the case. We have no hope they will bring anyone to justice and they have obscured and hidden facts from us. This is why we have gone to the international courts of law and the defenders of human rights worldwide.

Who or which individuals do you consider to be the real elements behind these murders?

In my opinion, it is not an individual or individuals who are the real culprits. It is a system of thought or ideology, which is behind such crimes. The same ideology that allows "believers" to eliminate "non-believers" by any means - the ones who have attempted to silence the intellectual or secular elements during the last many years. In my opinion, it is this type of organization, which is behind such killings. It isn't just a person or persons who committed these crimes or even those who gave the orders; it is the ideology behind it. It is a school of thought.

I heard that they were going to confiscate your parents' house at one point. Is there any truth to this?

Look, this house, since it became a sort of shrine for people who came to visit my parents' home, to pay their respects, became in fact a place of gathering especially for young people. Even discussions were being held there and this was not to the liking of the officials. The security people became sensitive to the comings and goings.

In the last year especially, some of the people visiting the house were stopped, beaten in the surrounding alleys, and even arrested for a few hours after having visited the place. So, the government in a way warned members of my family that if such activities went on, they would in fact confiscate the house in their name. So in order to keep the house, as it was when they lived there, there is less traffic. We have tried to keep the house, as it was when my parents lived there.

The last time you went to Iran, how did government officials react?

Well, you see for the commemoration of my parents there were some skirmishes last year, and we were confronted by the intense pressure of the security forces. Therefore, I knew that this year we would have the same problems.

I asked that the ceremony be held in Hosseiniyeh Ershad, which was not accepted by the government. They wanted us to go outside Tehran to Behesht Zahra, so it would be out of the way and far from the eyes of the public. I vehemently objected to this. We really didn't need permission to have a ceremony inside a building, but still I asked and finally it was granted.

It was a difficult task. That is why I went to Tehran long before the event. Sometimes, two or three times a day I would go to different ministries to ask for permission. We wanted the ceremonies to be held where there is life, in the city, and not the cemetery, where there is no life.

One thing I see, the reaction most ordinary people have shown even in the different government offices is always with such kindness when they find out who I am and when their bosses are not around to watch over. They tell me stories of encounters with either my father or mother. They are such great moral support to us. 

The murderers, those who actually committed the crime, have you ever met them or seen them? And if you ever see them, how do you think you would react?

No, I have never seen any of them. As you know, none of us (the families of the serial murder case) attended the mockery trials. But I read some of the accounts. It is chilling. One of them testified that my mother who was stabbed 24 times, was still alive and she was moving, so he stabbed her again and again to make sure she was no longer living.

Either they were doing this out of their religious of political beliefs, or it was on the orders of others, but can one imagine what sort of human beings would stab an old man and an old woman like this - with so much hatred and contempt for another human being? It is beyond anyone's imagination. 

I cannot honestly tell you how I would react and what I would say if I saw any one of them. I don't know. 

If you want to remember from among the memories you have of your parents, which one is the most outstanding in your mind?

The image of their faces, standing in the stairs of our house looking with such kindness and love towards us, and anyone who entered their house, in the Eyvan of our house in Hedayat St. they greeted everyone warmly. Those are the images sunk in my head.

What are you doing now, in Germany? How do you live your days?

Well, you know I went to art school in Tehran, graduated from Daneshkadeh Honarhayeh Ziba, and then came to Germany to continue my education. I am an artist. I have some exhibitions from time to time and of course, I lead my own personal life with my two sons. And like many, I have daily responsibilities. Sample art (1) (2) (3)

In many places, where crimes against humanity have taken place, especially where you live, in Germany, like the Holocaust victims, their families, after decades, took the perpetuators to courts. Do you think this will ever happen in Iran, with those who have committed crimes against people? Are the families of the victims, not just this serial murder, but also the murders of so many individuals throughout the years, are they going to ask for an international tribunal?

I hope so. I hope we will come to that. What we have done so far is that we believe and are in full agreement that the political murders of the last two decades in Iran are not separated from the murders in 1998. They are totally related. It was the same organization and ideology behind all of them, either inside or outside of Iran.

In order to find the answers to all these crimes, the whole system must come under scrutiny. Of course, as you know, it is extremely difficult, especially inside Iran, since many of the crimes were committed under the guise of accidents. It was never an admission of "crime". And also it is hard on the families of most victims to get together, they are still so hurt. But I certainly hope that one day we will have justice. And there are many people who have begun to take action.

Did you ever get a direct message from any of the officials of the IRI or the person of Khatami regarding your parents' death?

On the first days of that nightmare, when the murders occurred, I received a message of condolence from one of the secretaries of Mr. Khatami during the funeral, privately. But what was important to us was the follow up on the case itself, which never really happened, even though he made many promises in the press. Although Mr. Khatami himself said we must take out this cancerous tumor from our society, we haven't seen any results, nor do I have any hope that we will, under the present circumstances. 

If you have one message to give to the people abroad, especially the young people, as you yourself are a young woman, what would that be?

That they should never forget that in their homeland, or their parents' birthplace, there is a lot of pain and suffering, for a long period now. It has deep roots. In order to find remedy for this pain, we need positive energy. We must all find the cure for this illness, all of us, together. 

When Dariush Forouhar was in prison during the Shah's time, one of his prison mates was Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The story goes that Rafsanjani, who was a young clergyman at the time, was being beaten by a prison guards. Forouhar told the guard to flog him instead. He was concerned about the young prisoner's life.

Pages of history turned and Dariush Forouhar died savagely by those he defended at one point. And now Rafsanjani heads the powerful Expediency Council and is a wealthy man with many investments throughout the world.

Parastou is trying to live a somewhat normal life with her sons. She goes to Iran frequently in the quest for justice for her parents. She has written book entitled "Kafshaaro Dar Areen" (Take Off Your Shoes), a satirical drawing of the life in the courts of the Islamic Republic. 

She is determined to find the real perpetuators and bring them to justice in a genuine court of law. She will never give up.

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By Parastou Frouhar

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