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

In May, Khalkhali became the head of the reconstituted Fedaian Islam, a group that had committed a series of political assassinations of people it deemed un-Islamic in the 1940s and 1950s.86 Following Khomeini’s return, the reconstituted group adopted a “shoot on sight” policy towards members of the former Shah’s government and orchestrated extra-judicial killings. 87

While other Revolutionary Court judges sought to maintain their anonymity, Khalkhali openly courted the media.88 For example, in June, he traveled to Khuzestan, a province in the Southwestern part of Iran whose population was mostly Arab. He told Ettelaat newspaper that Khomeini had ordered him to travel in order to “relieve the load of work” faced by the local Revolutionary Court.89 While in Ahvaz, he sentenced tens of individuals to death for creating unrest. Family members of those killed were so incensed that they gathered at the Ahvaz court and chanted anti-Khalkhali slogans.90 In his memoires, Khalkhali boasted:

I was the religious magistrate and ordered the execution of five hundred and some criminals and loyalists to the Shah as well as hundreds of actors in the Kurdistan and Gonbad and Khuzestan incidents and a number of thugs and drug dealers. About these executions I have no regrets; I am not complaining and my conscience is clear. In fact I believe that I didn’t kill enough! Many were deserving of execution who I didn’t manage to catch. People such as: the Shah, Farah [the Queen], Ashraf Pahlavi [the Shah’s sister], Ja’far Sharif Emami [former Prime Minister], Lieutenant General Gharebaghi, Lieutenant General Fardoost.” 91

3.2. Paveh

Ayatollah Khalkhali and his entourage arrived in Paveh on August 20, the day after government forces brutally took control pursuant to Khomeini’s orders. Paveh is a small, picturesque town built on mountainsides in Kermanshah Province that sits along the Iran-Iraq border. In 1979, it had a population of about 6,000 and there was a military base outside of town. 92

Khalkhali immediately set about deciding who bore responsibility for the unrest and who accordingly would be executed.93 Ettelaat newspaper reported that he visited “damaged areas of town including a


[86] See Ayatollah Khalkhali Rahbar-i Fedaian-i Islam Shud [Ayatollah Khalkhali Became the Leader of the Fedaian Islam], ETTELAAT, [May 26, 1979], http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html. See generally YADVARIHYIH SHAHID NAVVAB-I SAFAVI [IN MEMORIAM OF MARTYR NAVVAB SAFAVI] (2005) (describing assassination campaign of Fedaian Islam under its founder and leader Seyyed Mojtaba Navvab Safavi who was arrested and executed on December 26, 1955).
[87] Rahbar-i Fedaian Islam: Fedaian Islam bih Mexico Raftihand ta Shah-i Makhlu’ ra Terror Kunand [Leader of the Fedaian Islam: The Fedaian Islam have travelled to Mexico to Assassinate the deposed Shah], ETTELAAT, [June 16, 1979], available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[88] Ayatollah Khalkhali Isti’fa Kard [Ayatollah Khalkhali Resigned], ETTELAAT, [May 23, 1979], available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[89] Ayatollah Khalkhali: Barayih Pust-i Riyasat-i Jumhuri Hich Mani’i dar Khud Nimibinam [Ayatollah Khalkhali: I Do Not See Any Reasons Why I Would Not Be Qualified to Be President], ETTELAAT, [June 3, 1979], available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[90] Pasukh-i Ayatollah Khalkhali bih Muddarisin-i Qom [Response of Ayatollah Khalkhali to the Teachers of Qom], ETTELAAT, [June 6, 1979], available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[91] AYYAM-I INZIVA, supra note 72, at 12.
[92] Ashayir-i Musallah control-i Rahhayih Kermanshah bih Paveh ra dar Dast Giriftand [Armed Nomadic Tribes Took Control of the Roadway between Kermanshah and Paveh], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 12, 1979], available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[93] 9 Nafar-i digar Imruz Tirbaran Shudand [Nine More People Were Executed By Firing Squad Today], KAYHAN, [Aug. 21, 1979], available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html; IHRDC interview with Gelawij Heidari (Jan. 29, 2011) (on file with IHRDC) [hereinafter Heidari Interview].

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