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

Khalkhali ordered that Nasrin be exiled to Mahan—in the southeast of Iran—and that Shahla be exiled in Qazvin. After they returned to Saqqez, war broke out in the spring of 1980 and the Kaabi sisters were re-arrested. They were taken to Sanandaj prison but soon transferred to Evin prison in Tehran where they remained for a month and a half before being transferred back to Sanandaj. Government authorities never told the family the reason for the temporary transfer to Evin. Prior to the sisters’ transfer back to Sanandaj, they were only granted one or two family visits.185

In Sanandaj, visitation was completely denied. While their family remained in the dark, on Friday, August 29, 1980, a firing squad executed the Kaabi sisters at Sanandaj prison. No notice was given to the Kaabi family about the impending executions. Instead, in a remarkable act of gratuitous cruelty, the authorities told the daughters’ father that his daughters would be freed from prison on Friday and that he could come pick them up. But when the parents arrived at Sanandaj prison, guards threw the sisters’ clothing at them and told them they had been executed that day. The Kaabi family still does not know what crimes Nasrin and Shahla were formally charged with and convicted of, or whether they were ever charged at all.186

3.5. Mahabad

Mahabad – circa 2010

Mahabad, of course, held special significance for Kurds, having been the site of the only independent Kurdish republic. Located in a fertile valley in West Azerbaijan Province, it had traditionally been an agricultural market. The KDPI had its headquarters there and set up a local government following the Revolution. 187

After government forces entered Mahabad on September 3 following the three week siege, the residents sent a telegram to Khomeini begging that Mahabad be spared summary trials and executions. However, on September 6, it was reported that Khalkhali had ordered the execution of 80 Kurds and that he was planning to travel to Mahabad despite Tehran’s orders to return to the capital.188 He arrived in Mahabad on Friday, September 7.189

He reportedly met with a group of local citizens, neighborhood trustees and clerics from the city. Ettelaat newspaper reported that he explained “as the religious magistrate, I announce that by order of Imam Khomeini, whoever hands over his arms, even if he is a member of the [Kurdish] Democratic Party, and stops his support of the anti-revolutionaries, then he will be subject to Imam’s amnesty.” He forbade any form of anti-national and anti-religious demonstration and warned that “if a person acts against the laws of the military and pasdaran, he will be dealt with in accordance to the laws.” However, in another part of his speech, Khalkhali added that leaders of the “Democrats” were not subject to amnesty. 190

Khalkhali apparently also took the opportunity to again explain some of the executions. He said he ordered that Dr. Rashvand [the doctor in Paveh] be executed because Rashvand had ordered the beheading of Sunni Muslims. He is reported to have explained that:


[185] Kaabi Interview, supra note 27.
[186] Id.; Maruf Kaabi Interview, supra note 183.
[187] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 57-58.
[188] Thurgood, Iranian Forces Pursue Retreating Kurds, GUARDIAN, Sept. 6, 1979, at 7, available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[189] Thurgood, Kurds May Wage Mountain Warfare, GUARDIAN, Sept. 8, 1979, at 7, available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[190] Ikhtar-i Shadid-i Khalkhali dar Mahabad [Serious Warning of Khalkhali in Mahabad], ETTELAAT [Sept. 9, 1979]; Thurgood, Kurds May Wage Mountain Warfare, GUARDIAN, Sept. 8, 1979, at 7, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html

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