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Relatives of Victims Unable to Mourn

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Artemis Danehkar
Publication Date 3 November 2009
Citation / Document Symbol MR No 15
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Relatives of Victims Unable to Mourn, 3 November 2009, MR No 15, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Delays in confirmation of protesters' deaths and release of bodies prevents healing process.

By Artemis Danehkar (MR No 15, 03-Nov-09)

The families of many of the young people killed in post-election unrest have been unable to mourn properly because the authorities have banned ceremonies for the dead, hampering the grieving process.

Some have not had their loved ones' bodies returned or have had to wait weeks, and there have been reports of the authorities burying frozen bodies en masse.

The victims were among the many thousands of young people who protested at the declaration that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won re-election. They, as well as opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi and reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, say the authorities rigged the June 12 vote to ensure the re-election of Ahmadinejad.

Security forces cracked down on the protests and many died, the best-known being Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman whose shooting was captured on a mobile phone.

An Iranian commander was quoted in September as saying 36 people died in the unrest including three in a Tehran prison. Human rights organisations inside Iran believe the true figure is more like 200.

To their families, the victims were just campaigning for a better future for Iran.

Much of the country, however, now sees itself as being in a state of national mourning.

On Radio Farda on August 11, 2009 Alireza Beheshti, a member of the Mousavi-Karroubi Committee for the Support of the Harmed, said, "Due to policies dictated by security officials, the families of the deceased were not able to perform proper burial ceremonies for their lost ones."

The mourning process is an important rite in Iranian society with particular ceremonies on the third, seventh, and fortieth days after death. These are all part of the process of healing but that can only start with the certainty of death and knowledge of how the person died.

For this reason, close friends and relatives go to the mortuary to see the body washed.

After 40 days, the bereaved then revert to life as before, still remembering the deceased on their birthdays, the anniversary of their death, and other days that are reminiscent of them.

All this has been disturbed by the absence of the bodies of the protesters or the delays in releasing them.

People showed great forbearance during the Iran-Iraq war, when many Iranian soldiers died. Mothers were able to cope with their loss because of a belief that those martyred were in God's trust.

It was all very different in the latest protests, with many families made to
wait weeks before the deaths of their sons and daughters were confirmed. There were similar delays in the delivery of corpses, preventing families from holding proper ceremonies. Many were merely given directions to the burial place.

Complete mourning is a catalyst for healing. Denying families the ability to hold ceremonies in mosques and other public places prevents them from keeping alive the memory of the deceased. Mourners gain strength from collective remembrance, ultimately enabling them to heal deep wounds.

A mother whose son's death was hidden from her finds it hard to move beyond shock and denial. A father who watches the crushed body of his child being buried cannot be expected to grieve when the authorities refuse him the ability to mourn. Without support and empathy, they cannot overcome their loss.

People have found some ways to alleviate the pain caused by the restrictions, like a gathering in Tehran on July 30 that commemorated those killed in the protests. Mothers supporting each other in their grief hold weekly gatherings and notable figures from the protest movement have visited some of the families in mourning.

But this is not enough. Since many believe that these young people lost their lives in the quest for freedom and truth, they believe their passing must be commemorated at the national level.

Full healing will depend on widespread support from society.

Artemis Danehkar is an Iranian social worker based in the United States.
Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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