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Haunted Memories: The Islamic Republic’s Executions of Kurds in 1979

Gowhar Feizi remembers that her brother was questioned a few days after his return:

Khalkhali, appointed as judge, came to Saqqez. My brother was called before him. There was no formal court proceeding and nobody bothered to ask about the circumstances of his arrest, or his psychological and physical health. Instead, they asked him what he did. He responded: “I supported my people and distributed food and medicine.” They asked him who the leader of his people was. He answered “Dr. Ghassemlou.” Then, with a thin wooden stick, Khalkhali pointed my brother in one direction and instructed him to stand there. That comprised the entirety of the questions and answers my brother was subjected to.

Feizi’s family was told to visit him in detention so they packed clean clothes and food for him and set off for Saqqez by bus. Gowhar remembers that on the way, she saw many women dressed in black chadors. As they approach Saqqez, they saw a group of about 300-400 men and women walking. The bus stopped and the driver asked them whether the bus could enter the city. They said that the bus could but that the city was under martial law and advised that they stay off main streets. When the bus passengers asked why, they said that Ayatollah Khalkhali had executed about twenty people that day, including a boy who was not yet 16 years old. They also said that a group had not been executed.

Photograph of men killed in Kurdistan in 1979 (The Economist, Sept. 1, 1979 p. 48)

Gowhar Feizi felt a strong sense of foreboding and hoped her brother was not the teenage victim. Once their bus reached its destination, she, her mother and her sisters disembarked and walked with a group of mostly women towards the military base in Saqqez. Soldiers at the base started shooting in their general direction. The women fell to the ground and took cover. From the watch tower, someone with a loudspeaker warned the group to not come any closer or they would be shot and killed. A guard came out and asked why they had come to the base. When the group replied that they wanted to see their imprisoned relatives, the guard instructed them to go to the central mosque in town. He said all the prisoners were released and waiting there.

Feizi’s family anxiously headed to the mosque. The mosque was extremely crowded but they were told that people had been executed and that they should help identify bodies. Gowhar saw a pile of corpses with ice on top of them. Throngs of people, many crying and wailing in distress, clustered around the bodies in frantic attempts to identify their relatives. Gowhar recalls:

I was scared and shocked yet pulled uncontrollably towards the bodies. My brother and I were very close and he often came to pick me up from school. On the walks home he wrapped his arms around my shoulders and so his hands, and his fingers, were very familiar to me. As soon as I saw his hands—there in that heap of bodies—I recognized him. I kissed his hands. His chest was riddled with holes—it looked like he had been shot 10-20 times. There was also a mark left by ropes around his neck. His arm was still in plaster and I screamed: “that is my beloved brother!” My sisters outside the mosque heard me and ran inside. They beat their chests in mourning. The damage was done

The ligature marks and bullet wounds are clear evidence of how Feizi was executed. However his family does not know the details. The city was under martial law and the Imam of the mosque said he could not do anything to help them bring the body back to Bukan. The family eventually obtained permission from the military authorities to take the body home in an ambulance.

In 1980, Seifollah Feizi’s brother Abdullah Feizi was executed as well. Gowhar Feizi recalls his humiliating treatment and brutal death:

Without interrogation or trial, the pasdaran wrote “anti-revolutionary” and “infidel” on placards, placed them around [the prisoners’] necks, and paraded them in the streets. Bystanders were encouraged to throw rotten tomatoes, eggs, stones, pieces of wood and other objects at my brother and his friend. In this way, the government exploited the emotions of innocent people—they made brothers enemies of one another. After my brother and the others received this humiliating treatment, I do not know how they were killed. But when the bodies were returned to Bukan I saw that my brother’s entire neck was cut open and the insides exposed. It was so gruesome that I passed out at the sight.

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