My wife’s grandfather was executed for his Baha’i faith. Iran has not changed enough.

(RNS) – Last week, the Iranian nuclear talks appeared to be moving closer to a resolution, with the US Treasury Department authorizing South Korea to pay $63 million in outstanding damages to an Iranian company and the Iranians releasing Aras Amiri, an Anglo-Iranian prisoner. . These developments were not characteristic of a process hitherto marked by tension and mistrust.

Whatever the outcome of the talks, they have already produced bitter fruit: further evidence of an increasingly dysfunctional international order, stalled by increased polarization. I’m interested in the nuclear talks, but not just as a barometer of the state of international diplomacy.

My interest in Iran is smaller, stranger and sadder: 40 years ago this week, the Iranian government admitted to executing members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran. The Assembly was a small group elected to look after the affairs of the Baha’i community – a religious minority that believes in the unity of mankind and the elimination of all forms of prejudice. Kamran Samimi, my wife’s grandfather, was among those killed.

The new revolutionary government announced the executions at a press conference, disguising them under a litany of fabricated accusations: that the Baha’is were spies, thieves and foreign stooges. While these accusations were patently ridiculous, the outright admission of the murders of Baha’i leaders was serious. He signaled with bracing cruelty and shamelessness the kind of welcome Bahá’ís could expect in revolutionary Iran.

Ever since my marriage into the Samimi family six years ago, I have searched for Kamran, drawn inexplicably to him and the nature of his death with a force that sometimes surprises me. What do I hope to learn from him?

The bare facts about his life sometimes hide more than they reveal. He was born in 1926, he lived in Jakarta for a few years, teaching English. He dressed colorfully, he liked jazz music, he was tall and handsome. But all these details do not justify my interest in him. The stories I hear tell me a little more.

At a meeting of the Assembly, he and his colleagues were consulting on how to protect their community, already under heavy pressure from executions, vigilante violence and imprisonment. During a pool break outside, to cut the tension, this dignified man amazed everyone by throwing himself into it fully clothed – managing to make everyone laugh.

I learn the most, however, when I focus on his final days, which were preserved by loved ones and others who are equally drawn to his memory.

I spoke recently with the only surviving member of his Assembly, Guiti Vahid. Late at night, she received a call informing her that more Baha’is had been executed in the city of Shiraz. In accordance with perverse custom, the Baha’is had been killed on the eve of one of our holy days, with the object of spoiling the festivities of the community and undermining morale. She lay awake with the news for several hours before deciding to call Kamran. Although it was late, he responded instantly and listened intently as she shared the news.

“Guiti,” he said, “let’s keep this horrible news between us, just for today, for the sake of our colleagues.” The day passed excruciatingly slowly, but Kamran wanted his friends to at least enjoy the festivities. “Let them, at least,” he said, “have their holy day.”

Kamran Samimi speaks during his trial in December 1981. Video screenshot

There is presumably a video of the Assembly trial, lost for years only to resurface recently. Kamran sits upright alongside his companions, the poor quality of the image stripping away its realism to the point that it appears to look more like a painting than a film. The key to his freedom is simple. He only has to recant his convictions and he would be released.

At some point during what happened to him in the last few days in Evin prison, I wonder if he was tempted? In the footage, Kamran inexplicably smiles through the vicious accusations. They frequently interrupt him as he calmly unravels their lies. Her nerves, almost certainly tested by torture, show themselves only in the slight tic of touching her face with her fingers. A few hours after the camera was cut off, he died, buried without honor or ceremony.

This is what adherence to principle looks like. It’s selfless, courageous, and ultimately transcendent, as it takes us to the breaking point of what we think is possible, and then pushes it further.

Iranian Baha’is carry on this legacy of moral strength today. They endure arrest, imprisonment, torture, economic deprivation, land expropriation, denial of higher education, and other forms of state-sanctioned persecution. Far from yielding to this pressure, the community continues to practice its teachings of service to humanity, fully believing, even if their government does not, that they are full citizens, loyal to their country and its inhabitants.

As I watch the dark carousel of nuclear talks spin in circles, I think of all that may depend on it, including, perhaps, in the future Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities, who often serve as scapegoats for the Iranian regime’s diplomatic policy. and economic failures.

Despite international censorship and repeated evidence of growing popular discontent, he has made no fundamental adjustments and remains committed to the same ideology that justified Kamran’s murder 40 years ago and continues to justify the persecution of Baha’is and other minorities.

Could our leaders say that they respect our principles if a nuclear agreement does not take into account such human rights violations? Kamran’s story illustrates the difference between those who are willing to kill for an idea and those who are willing to die for an idea.

It should not be forgotten.

(James Samimi Farr is a writer and Baha’i living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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