Anacortes resident recalls religious persecution – new haven register

In february, the group screened a documentary highlighting the thousands of young baha’is who are barred from higher education in iran because of their beliefs.

Such religious persecution served as the catalyst that prompted fahimeh to flee iran with her young daughters in 1995. For the past 21 years, fahimeh has called anacortes home.

Growing up, fahimeh said she led an average life — she went to school, attended the occasional gathering, came home and had dinner with her family every night.

Within the first week of the revolution, fahimeh said she heard of seven baha’i leaders who had disappeared.Baha faith despite the widespread persecution of her faith, fahimeh said she remained open about her beliefs.

"You’re not allowed to be a baha’i until you’ve investigated all the religions that you believe are true or could be true," fahimeh said. "It forces you to question everything."

At 13, fahimeh began her own independent investigation by attending religious services with her jewish and christian neighbors and asking her muslim peers about their faith.

After two years, fahimeh followed in her parents’ footsteps and adopted the baha’i faith. She said she chose it because of its emphasis on equality, human rights and religious tolerance.Baha faith

Fahimeh said she would watch her parents walking together, her father’s shoulder always just behind her mother’s. Her non-baha’i friends’ parents were a different story — the husband often walked five steps ahead of the wife.

"These are the things I was watching daily," fahimeh said. "For the baha’i, all the people are the same. No matter what color, what religion, what nationality. These are the main things that, for a 15-year-old, were good enough."

A few months after the revolution began, she said she received a letter saying she was no longer allowed to work.Fahimeh said other members of the baha’i faith working in public institutions received similar letters.

In the middle of one night in june 1979, the baha’is persecution reached fahimeh’s doorstep. Soldiers of the islamic revolutionary guard corps burst into her home without warning, turning it upside down within minutes, fahimeh recalls.

The soldiers were looking for "evidence" that the family was spying for the united states or israel, fahimeh said. It was a charge commonly used to justify the imprisonment of baha’is.

To keep herself occupied, fahimeh exercised as much as she could in the cell, the width of which allowed her to put one arm out, and the length just barely fit her height.Fahimeh said

"The physical torture was not as bad," fahimeh said. "You forget after 25 years how bad it felt. But emotional torture, however, was harder, harsher."

"The day after, when they open the door to take you to get some air you see a blue shirt full of blood and the first thing that comes to mind is that is my friend’s blood, so maybe they really killed him," fahimeh said. "Or if you see a rope where somebody was hanged, maybe that was my friend too."

"He said ‘write that you are not baha’i and you will go free tomorrow. You can teach at university and life will go back to normal.Fahimeh said or, you can write that you are baha’i and you will be executed,’" fahimeh said.

The next time her cell door opened, the guards told her they were transporting her to another prison. She was there for three months before a guard told her she could go home.

Resigned to making the best of her situation, fahimeh started working in a private hospital. Soon after, she married and had her two daughters.

But little by little, she said her husband, who was not baha’i, stopped tolerating her religious practices and eventually stopped letting her leave the house. That’s when she decided to ask for a divorce.Baha faith

"Imagine a baha’i woman with two daughters, not sons, which is a big deal, asking for a divorce," fahimeh said. "It was a really big no-no in an islamic country."

Desperate, fahimeh said she bribed a secretary at the court for advice. He said her best chance was to take her daughters — 6-year-old saba and 3-year-old diba — and get out of iran.

When the family crossed the border into pakistan, they had no money and few possessions. They carried only diba’s pillow, saba’s backpack, a bedsheet, a small doll and three toothbrushes.

Fahimeh and her daughters were taken in by another family, who shared their cramped concrete room until fahimeh’s sisters were able to wire her money.Diba said

"We had a comfortable life in iran with a big house," fahimeh said. "Refrigerator, bed, a normal life. We came to pakistan in a cement room with a pillow, a backpack, a sheet. But I opened my eyes in the night and thought, ‘I feel reborn.’"

Fahimeh and her daughters spent the next five months applying for refugee status from the united nations in an effort to join fahimeh’s siblings in washington.

Once they received refugee status, fahimeh took her daughters to vienna where they lived as they arranged to get to the U.S. To earn money, fahimeh picked up a job ironing sheets at night, working until 5 a.M.Fahimeh said

Fahimeh’s two daughters went through elementary, middle and high school in anacortes. Despite being the only middle eastern girl in school, diba said she never felt ostracized.

"I went to elementary school with these people so they’ve known me since I was little," diba said. "You can’t just wake up one day and decide you don’t like me because I’m brown."

After conducting her own independent investigation in high school, diba joined her mother in practicing the baha’i faith. When she went to western washington university, she said most people assumed she was muslim.Diba said

"It doesn’t bother me when people think I’m muslim," she said. "If you want to think I’m christian, great. If you want to think I’m jewish, fine. If you want to think I’m muslim, OK. As a baha’i, I don’t think any of them are bad."

Both diba and saba earned undergraduate degrees from western, and are now pursuing postbaccalaureate degrees. In iran, baha’i aren’t permitted to go to college and can be imprisoned if caught pursuing higher education, diba said.

As she raised her daughters in the U.S., fahimeh said she made certain they stayed in touch with their roots, encouraging them to embrace the good culture of the west while not forgetting the good culture of the east.Diba said

"I want them to appreciate every single minute of living in the U.S.," fahimeh said. "The U.S. Is not a paradise. It is not a heaven, but to compare with the rest of the world — to compare with my homeland that I love — here is paradise."