When I was a teenager, I helped my parents and other people in my home city, Sanandaj, Iran, build a cemetery for the Baha’is of that community. It is against the law for Baha’is to be buried in a Muslim cemetery. A young Baha’i man had died, and because there was no Baha’i cemetery close by, his body would need to be taken many miles away.
Our Baha’i community of about 200 decided it was time to have our own cemetery. A government office assigned us land just outside the city. We got the necessary permits, and with our own hands we built a room to prepare the body and a place to hold services. We planted scores of saplings. A decade and a half later, those saplings had become beautiful trees.
Two weeks ago, that cemetery was destroyed. Only the presence of sobbing family and friends prevented the bulldozers from defiling the graves. But the headstones, the buildings and the walls surrounding the cemetery were crushed and pushed away.
The same government office that assigned us the land sued the Baha’is in court, claiming that we didn’t have the proper permits and the cemetery was illegal. The court sided with them. But the real reason for this destruction is the Iranian government’s policies aimed at ridding the country of the Baha’i religion.
Last week, the United States Senate passed a resolution condemning the continued state-sponsored persecution of the Baha’is in its country and called on the Iranian government to release Baha’is who are being imprisoned solely for their religious beliefs. The resolution cites a whole host of acts of discrimination and violence directed at Baha’is in Iran and the many U.N. and human rights organizations that have documented this repression and persecution.
The concern shown by Americans and the American government for people in countries in other parts of the world makes me proud to now be a resident of California and the United States. I wish I had not had to leave Sanandaj, but I am happy to have found a place that shows respect for the central tenet of my religion, the oneness of humanity and the need for everyone to be concerned with the conditions of our world community.