Mothers of Khavaran and the struggle of Iran's communists

Mothers of Khavaran and the struggle of Iran's communists
Comment: Mothers of political prisoners massacred in Iran in the 1980s are dying, while the plight of their sons and daughters is commodified in humanitarian business, writes Soheil Asefi.
5 min read
15 Jan, 2016
Many of the executed prisoners are buried in mass graves in Kharavan [Facebook/Mansooreh Behkish]

Pelageya Nilovna Vlasova, the real protagonist in Maxim Gorky's The Mother, moved by her maternal feelings, though uneducated, gets involved in revolution by overcoming her political ignorance.

The cover of the Persian version of the novel was among the most popular forbidden books for a generation of enchanted souls in Iran and an indictment of the Shah's regime.

In the decades following those years, we have been witnessing the mothers who have been looking for the last trace of their fallen children.

Nayereh Jalali, known as Mother Behkish, and who passed away lately in Tehran was one of them. She had never seen anything from her loved ones who had gone missing.

Revolutionising motherhood

Mother Behkish, who died on January 3 in Tehran, lost five of her children and her son-in-law - all communists - in the 1980s. She was searching for any scrap of detail as to their last moments until her own bitter end. She once said:


 What should I say? The merciless killed Mohammad in March 1980,Syamak in September 1980,Zahra in August 1982,Mohsen in May 1984 and Mahmoud and Ali in August 1989.I have spent most of my life outside the jails to get permission to visit my children or was wandering in the cemeteries.


According to her son, she was a devoted Muslim but had a great respect for her children's beliefs and supported them in the path they took.

For all these years, Mother Behkish has been a symbol of the families of those killed during the political violence of the 1980s.

If The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are the voices of those anti-imperialist forces in Latin America who were "disappeared" during the Dirty War in Argentina, their Middle Eastern counterparts, Mothers of Khavaran, are still trying to make their voice heard.

What is at stake is the historical sequence in relation to the cause. These mothers who lost their enthusiastic loved ones from the US-backed Shah's dictatorship to the Islamic Republic's theocracy, from the Iran-Iraq war to the turbulent aftermath of Iran's 2009 election.

Making one's voice heard is not an easy job

Perhaps the mighty image of Gohar Eshghi, the mother of Sattar Beheshti, the worker and blogger who died after his arrest by Tehran Cyber Police, leading Mother Behkish's funeral procession in Tehran, is able to depict the high noon.

Putting aside the mainstream reading of these women's political struggle as just a "non-political group of women who were moved to civil resistance by their traditional status as mothers" it is precisely this pertinent nature of the participants that gave them a strategic edge in their confrontation with the systems both in Argentina and Iran.

Thus, talking about the notion of the mother in the context of massacres and foreign interventions is able to surpass the mainstream common narrative of "the sacred mother", the way the dominant culture has always tried to reduce women to mothers - the myth of good-woman-as-mother - and get into the Motherhood as political voice.

The tragedy

Making one's voice heard is not an easy job when every single violation of human rights in your country might be taken as a pretext to justify the Western agenda in the region.

In other words, what is at stake is how the human rights industrial complex in the West has been fishing in the troubled waters of Iran.

Taking the case of the pro-West mainstream human rights organisations regarding the so-called Iran tribunal for the executions - which have effectively become apologists for Western imperialism - might give one a picture of the ongoing struggles of families and friends of those who laid down their lives for a specific political cause.

Yet, these mainstream human rights activists have been playing the role of saviour by recruiting the NATO attorney to the role of prosecutor, financed by the infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

It is not a big surprise when hawkish politicians try to play the role of saviour

This is only one of a few ongoing rearguard actions by the mainstream discourse to de-politicise a systematic political tragedy. It does, however, go a long way to delineate the hazards of seeking justice, particularly in the ulcerous Middle East in our time.

Thus it is not a big surprise when hawkish politicians try to play the role of saviour for the Mothers of Khavaran in front of a large number of excited Iranian elites - under Tehran's political propaganda and that of the West.

Hence, delving into the nitty-gritty of the mothers' struggle for justice can enable us to understand the dynamics of state terrorism and people's resistance in Iran today.

Moreover, here is the focal point to trace the fashionable approach of bourgeois pundits who have been trying to disarm the desperate mass of people, while an already non-violent society faces a life where oppression and discrimination are not yet things of the past.

The gist of this is that it is those in the think-tanks of both Tehran and the West who support wars, nuclear weapons, sanctions, armies, prisons and reinforcing ideological state apparatus in one way or another.

Needless to say that the ad-hoc nature of the ruling theocracy in Iran today has been smoothing the path to justify an imperialist agenda, which has long been one of the main reasons for the physical elimination of a number of revolutionaries - from Chile, Argentina and Indonesia to Turkey, Guatemala and Iran.

It happens every spring

The mothers are gradually dying out, while a new era of free market capitalism becomes established in Iran. In its dialectical manners, it also carries the potential of entering into another phase of the 1979 revolution.

Though Tehran's security service would occasionally arrest the Mothers for brief periods of time, they continued their campaign - and those who can walk, such as Forough Tajbakhsh, known as Mother Lotfi, are still showing up with their roses at the beginning of every spring in Khavaran, where many of the executed prisoners are buried in mass graves.

Soheil Asefi is an independent journalist based in New York. Follow him on Twitter: @SoheilAsefi

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.