|Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, vol. 6, no. 3 (April, 2002)|
The following extract is translated from the Journal "Azadi" published by the Iranian National Democratic Front, Edition No.21, Spring 2000 , pages 120-137
Written by: Roya Parsay
Edited and Translated by: Sepehr Manuchehri, March 2002
This piece was originally written by Roya Parsay for the Journal "Azadi" published by the Iranian National Democratic Front in Spring 2000. The author starts by recording her recollections of the final days leading up to the execution her aunt Farrokh-Ru Parsay, the first female Minister ever to be appointed in Iran.
Born to parents with a solid intellectual and journalistic background, Farrokh-Ru pursued her education career and then became involved in modern politics. During her parliamentary career she was instrumental in drafting a number of reform bills aimed at elevating the status of women in the society. During the course of her ministry, she was credited with the establishment of over 100 new schools in Iran, training and employing an unprecedented number of women as school teachers and introducing the "free nourishment" program aimed at distributing free food to primary and secondary students across the country.
As an attachment to the main article, the author encloses biographies of Farrokh-Ru Parsay, her mother Fakhr-Afaq Parsay and her father Farrokh-Din Parsay.
Farrokh-Ru Parsay was rumoured to be an Azali Babi. She first entered the Majlis (Parliament) in 1962. In the summer of 1964 she was appointed as a Minister by then Prime Minister - Amir Abbas Hoveyda. Farrokh-Ru Parsay served in the Cabinet up until the resignation of Hoveyda in 1976.
Prior to her execution the authorities accused her of "being a Baha'i". This allegation was solidly rejected by both her and her family. This article reveals several interesting facts including:
- A close relationships between the Parsay Family and their Baha'i relatives
- Existence of personal diaries and notes that may provide more insight in to the life and achievements of Farrokh-Ru Parsay
- Records of her final interview from Prison which were later printed in Kayhan
- Extracts from her defence statement which were also printed in Kayhan
and her daughter
Farrokh-Ru Parsay by Roya Parsa
by Roya Parsa
I can recall vividly. After waking up, I sat instantly and wondered around the room to see where I was. Those days were indeed tremulous times. I had recently been separated from my husband and lived with my mother. The room was a little unfamiliar. I thought a little and remembered my dream. I had a dream about Maman-Baa'la, my grandmother Ms Fakhr-Afaq Parsay. She always lived upstairs from us so we called her Maman-Baa'la to distinguish her from our other grandmother. In the dream, she gave me a white envelope and said "I trust you with this, carry on the tradition".
Mother had just passed away and Ammih-jan1 (Ms Farrokh-Ru Parsay) was still in prison. Mum had witnessed how the Revolutionary Guards arrested Ammih-jan. Upon leaving the house, they slammed a heavy blow to her chest causing her to become ill instantly. She died a few days later at the house of Amoo-jan Farrokhzad. At the time of burial we were still bewildered. Ammih-jan and her husband (General Shirin Sokhan) were both kept in the Parliamentary Prison. I recall that my cousin actually performed the burial prayers. We were dumbfounded by the various revolutionary news and the arrest of Ammih-jan, who was the first female minister in the Royal Court. Khomeini had specifically stated that she will never be forgiven2 !
I rubbed my eyes and pondered a little.
"Why me?" I said to myself.
"As if I have no other problems, now Grand-mother has picked on me ".
My two-year old son lived with my ex-husband's relatives. I was concerned about his well being as they were Baha'is and this was an "Islamic Revolution".
Further more, I was put on trial and dismissed from work for wearing black3 and not obeying the Imam.
I constantly remembered Ammih-jan who had come to visit us in the days prior to her arrest. I informed her about the recent interrogations at work:
- Ms Farrokh-Ru Parsay?
- I am Roya Parsay. If you wish to see her, I can contact her for you
- Where is she?
- In her house.
- Anyway, why are you wearing black? Soon it will be her turn.
They referred me to another court with Ayatollah Rayshahri4 as a judge for final determination.
I appealed to Ammih-jan: "Please leave this country"
She replied: "What have I done, what have I stolen and what is their evidence?"
I said: "These people do not understand such things."
The determination court was held after the execution of Ammih-jan. Again as I entered the court room, they referred to me as Farrokh-Ru to which I objected. The Judge asked:
- Why have you ignored Imam's word?
- Because as Quran says there is no force (*in complying*) to religion5
- Yes, that is how the Baha'is put it
- What does that mean? Besides we are not Baha'is
- They utter one half of the verse and neglect the other bits. What is the rest of this verse?
- To tell you the truth, I can not recall. Because I read the English translation of the Quran by Yusuf Ali
- Very well Mrs Farrokh-Ru Parsay
- But, I am Roya Parsay
It was only here that I began to realise the full extent of each allegation against Ammih-jan. My alleged belief in Baha'ism might have falsely originated in the fact that my husband is a Baha'i. But Ammih-jan was married to a Tabatabai Sayyid and a descendant of Sadr-i Shirazi? Mum had read in the books that Mirza Masih Tehrani who had murdered Gribadov happened to be one our great grand parents.
Anyway I described the dream to my mother and asked her permission to visit Ammih-jan in Prison. Her daughter Mahshid lived in Abadan and used to visit her each weekend. One week in her absence, my mother payed a visit to Prison.
I recall the day when they finally succeeded in arresting her (on a previous occasion, the dumb guards actually caught Ammih-jan. She introduced herself as the sister of Ms Parsay. They did not realise and left her alone. Since that time she lived in hiding at a friend's house). On that day my mother had gone to my cousin Hamid's house. She did not return in time so I called her. Not convinced by her tone, I went to Hamid's place immediately. Parked near the gate were two cars and several guards. I entered the house and saw Ammih-jan sitting on the couch. Her son Hamid explained:
"I even managed to send her out using the back door but she promptly returned!"
In reply to the General who asked "Where are you taking the lady?"
the guards replied "Now we will arrange a warrant for you to fully understand".
It was one of the most difficult periods of my life, resisting the temptation to slap the guard. I feared making life harder for Ammih-jan. Although it was evident that things will not get any worse, we hoped that perhaps this was simply a political manoeuvre and she could be released after detention. In reality, the period of arrests were now behind us and only those who worked for SAVAK6 or ministers whose departments committed murders were to be arrested. The Veil had not yet been fully imposed and they needed victims. I asked Ammih-jan:
- Can I do anything?
- Go and see if you can find Abbas
- Is that all?
- Yes, go quickly
I looked at her face one more time and left. Why didn't I hug her? She was concerned about my safety and knew that I will speak my mind and get involved in a brawl with the guards. I left with a fury.
We went to the former house of Lily Amir Arjomand in Niavaran7. This lad (*Abbas*) was previously unemployed and now was the personal bodyguard for (*Ayatollah*) Taliqani8.
If I knew this is my last time I see her, I would never have left. Her face was so calm. She was tired of all the adventures and life on the run.
She said: "If they have arrested Hoveyda9, then they must arrest all of us who were Ministers in his cabinet. Then I can testify that (*Ayatollah*) Beheshti10 and (*Hojjat'ul Islam*) Bahonar11 were my employees. They must also be arrested as they were paid by the Department of Education and Training"
Again we did not consider the gravity of the issue because both Ammih-jan and the General were now in the Parliamentary Prison and were allowed to attend Hammam-i-Golestan on the next day …
I heard that following my Grandmother's death, one of our brave relatives had visited them in the Prison under the pretence of being the General's sister and taken black clothes for them. I heard they had been reunited in one room several times. They had separate rooms. But later in Evin (*Prison*) where the cell accommodated several others, the meetings were behind glass and through handsets.
Nevertheless I figured that since Ammih-jan was used to visiting prisons as a social worker in her youth, the environment was probably not so strange to her. She had stated in her will to donate her clothes and chador to the female prison guard. In prison a reporter from Kayhan International paid her a visit and conducted an interview which was later published.
What do you think Grandmother meant? Which tradition should I continue?
I knew that both of them had suffered persecution in fighting for women rights. But I did not know enough at the time. I was aware that my grand mother and grand father (Farrokh-Din Parsay) published the Jahan-i Zanan Magazine. Because of their association with this magazine they were threatened and finally exiled. It was there that Ammih-jan was born. At the time of exile on their way to Qum, my grandmother was expecting Farrokh-Ru .. Their crime was providing information to women and solving their day-to-day issues through the publication based in Mashhad….
Suddenly I remembered a little diary Ammih-jan gave me before her arrest and asked me to hide on her behalf. I took it out and read 2-3 pages and memorised its content. Then I contacted a friend who had a private business and asked if I could photocopy the diary … he allowed me to photocopy the diary in his office .. I completed the photocopy over two days and hid it under my carpet at home. I heard that there are several other diaries that have either been sent abroad or kept with relatives. Fortunately the first volume of her diary relating to mother (*Fakhr-Afaq Parsay*) and her life was now with me.
Without the right to have a defence Attorney, her defence statements in the ridiculous court were printed in the papers. She kept her promise, did not stay quite for fear of losing her life and spoke out against Beheshti and Bahonar. In her will, she advised everyone not to mourn her death. She asked her children to imagine she was killed in a plane crash. She wrote that she did not owe money to anyone.
In her final night visit she told her son and husband: "I have achieved my goals in life and succeeded in fighting for women's rights to the best of my ability. It is an honour not dying in a hospital bed.".
Her son asked why she was talking like this.
She replied: "The gentlemen are planning for my execution".
Her son and husband pleaded: "But we have been promised a pardon from Bani Sadr12".
She simply answered "As I said, the children are now grown and matured. I am now considered an elderly (she was 59). Give my watch and ring to Mahshid ….
Later Mahshid advised that once Ammih-jan requested a watch from her as she wanted to say prayers in Prison and did not know the time .. She always wanted my Baha'i ex-husband (son of General Sani'ee) and I to reconcile.
I wanted to tell her it was me who had married a Baha'i, why did they accuse you? It was me who sang and danced, why did they accuse you of prostitution?
I recall once at a restaurant at the wedding reception of her daughter Nahid, the band were playing. I knew she had a good voice and danced well during her youth, and asked her to dance. She said "It is not appropriate, people will talk and besides, the General does not dance!" … Little did I know that in fighting for women's rights even at that stage she had to tolerate so much hardship …
It appears that both Beheshti and Bahonar wanted her silence. Khomeini was a known critic of women's rights. Years before he had issued a fatwa from Najaf against the liberation of women after a woman was appointed to a ministerial position …
Attachment 1: Jahan-i Zanan and Fakhr-Afaq Parsay
Jahan-i Zanan (*Women's World*) magazine was initially published in Mashahd and later in Tehran. It was established in Mashhad under the name of F.A.P (Fakhr-Afaq Parasai) as the Editor in Chief. The first issue was dated 04th February 1921.
Every month two issues were printed and the contents as indicated on the front cover were "solely dedicated to the lives of women and importance of their education" .. Some of the titles in the first issue were:
§ Action and aspirations of women around the world
§ Necessity of training women
§ Raising a child
§ Famous women
… here is an extract from the Actions and Aspirations article in the first issue:
" .. Our virtues are chastity of the pen, tongue and body. Our aspirations are self education, belief in our superior station, necessity to follow religious obligations, living in harmony with our guardian/husband as to provide us with the basic material necessities and not be condemned to death under the severity of beatings, torture, or hanging by rope ..
We have elected to write at a time where the peoples of the earth have come to appreciate the station of woman and made her a real partner in their private lives. Women are asked to administer social affairs and have political and economic rights in accordance with the law of creation.
However in our country we feel that in complying to Islamic laws and regulations, when it comes to the education and training of women, popular opposition prevents us from writing openly and leaves us only to highlight and convey the basic importance of the issue.
In particular soon after the conception of this magazine, the environment was contaminated by such jealousy and hatred that very nearly resulted in this infant becoming aborted, leaving the mother to mourn the death of the unborn child.
Now we have the honour to courageously put forward our considered views and reflections .. we do not wish to repeat the obvious. We reiterate that our aspirations and actions are based on the Islamic religion and regulations .."
Farrokh-Din Parsay, a veteran Iranian journalist once described his early days in these words:
" I married Fakhr-Afaq in 1913. This was at a time when Malak u'lshoara Bahar13 had just arrived in Tehran .. At this time we had two children. As the income from the newly established Akhlaq newspaper was insufficient to cover the production costs, I took up a paid position with a newspaper in Mashhad in 1916 solely to support my family. I wrote articles for the 'Chaman' newspaper, was the resident correspondent for the 'Ra'd' newspaper and established the 'Jahan-i Zanan' magazine managed by my wife.
In 1920 I accompanied the Afghan Ambassador to Tehran as the deputy host for his visit. I returned to Mashhad in two months. In 1921 I was appointed by Sayyid Zia'u'Din14 the Chief Minister to manage the publications for the Ministry of Interior in Tehran. I came to Tehran for this purpose but the assignment was foiled after a month when Sayyid Zia'u'Din tendered his resignation."
The fifth edition of Jahan-i Zanan was published in Tehran in 1921 .. this issue indicated Farrokh-Din Parsay as the owner and Fakhr-Afaq Parsay as the editor in chief. The publication of this magazine in Tehran caused a stir and many called on the owner, publisher and editor to suffer religious sanctions. Here is how Farrokh-Din Parsay described the events:
" Upon returning (*from Mashhad*) and acting on my wife's insistence who had promised to publish Jahan-i Zanan in Tehran, the first edition of the publication was printed in this city. This coincided with the general opposition to the cabinet of Qavam u'l Saltanah15. His opponents used the contents of this magazine, essentially about the education and training of women, to mobilise the merchants (*Bazar*) against the Cabinet. Eventually the Chief Minister gave in to the opposition and arranged for the banishment of my family and I from Tehran in order to appease the Bazar. We were banished to Ara'k. On our arrival at Qum, we heard whispers of Takfir against myself and my wife apparently in progress at various gatherings in Tehran. I even witnessed a protest rally in a cemetery in Qum who called the female editor of Jahan-i Zanan magazine as an enemy of the Prophet. Around the same time a number of individuals were arrested in Ara'k for allegedly being a Baha'i and having burnt the Quran. For these reasons we refrained from going to Ara'k and settled in Qum. Later I returned to the public service as a Roads Inspector for the Tehran-Ara'k highway."
After much despair for not being pardoned by the authorities, the editor of Jahan-i Zanan prepared a statement addressed to the "Subscribers of Jahan-i Zanan" published in the Iran newspaper dated December 1922:
" Dear Subscribers: In the end we were not taught freedom and eventually the freedom to write, publish and criticise was also taken away from the men. However I await that day, because quietism is a sign of little intellect. I may now pass away in waiting carrying the financial debt of subscribers with me. For this reason and having lost faith in restarting the publication, I wish to repay my debt at a time when the Magazine has suffered a loss of over 500 Toomans.
I do not have the documents relating to Jahan-i Zanan and have no means of identifying my out of pocket subscribers. Even if they are identified, forwarding small amounts ranging from 8 to 16 Qerans will encounter numerous difficulties. Therefore I request the loyal subscribers to send me their subscription receipts to the committee's address in Qom and indicate which editions .. they like to read. I can repay my debt through sending their requested editions and thereby say farewell to those loyal friends. After that I will wait for an effective general revolution which may even take me as a victim … Fakhr-Afaq Parsay"
Jahan-i Zanan was never published again. Fakhr-Afaq is the first woman to have her publication stopped. Here is how her husband describes this intellectual lady:
"My wife has a life unlike other ladies. Her education took her through upper school. From the start of our marriage she longed for freedom and reform. She regarded the Veil as a barrier to the progress of society. She was particularly skilled in educating her children and managed to raise our five children with distinction even though we were always on the road."
Attachment 2: Farrokh-Ru Parsay
Farrokh-Ru was born on 21 March 1922 in exile at Qum. She would always start her autobiography with the name of her mother. Life was particularly difficult and unbearable to a mother who became pregnant in exile. Every one knew why Fakhr-Afaq Parsay was banished to Qum.
Publication of her two articles in Jahan-i Zanan magazine had caused a revolt. In these articles she advocated the need for equal education and training for boys and girls. The mullah's quickly denounced her by using Takfir. One day Qavam u'l Saltanah, the then Prime Minister, summoned her husband Farrokh-Din and advised him to "take your wife and go to a remote location".
They hired a place outside of Qum. The family lived on a 200 Tooman pension paid by the Government. On the first day of Nawruz 1921, when the new year had barely began, Farrokh-Ru came in to this world. She was the second daughter born to the exiled mother. Farrokh-Zaman her eldest one was eight years old at the time and later died at eighteen.
.. Their children were: Farrokh-Din, Farvardin, Farrokh-Zad, Farrokh-Ru, Farrokh-pour. They longed for their daughters to become educated. In reality they were unable to find a school in Qum even for their boys. Farrokh-Ru was barely one when they returned to Tehran .. her first day at school was 1927 in a school known as "Sharq" … Farrokh-Ru was in her sixth grade when her father was asked by the Department of Roads to serve in Mashhad. She completed her middle school in the "Foruq" school in Mashhad. There the girls wore the Chador to school, something Farrokh-Ru was careful to avoid. They returned to Tehran after three years.
Farrokh-Ru was one of the early graduates attending the Teacher Training College. She continued her post graduate studies in the same college. In 1942 she was employed as a high school teacher in "Noorbakhsh" High School. She taught biology to the students in year seven. In 1944 she married a young Army Officer. His sister had four years earlier married her elder brother. His family were close neighbours for close to fifteen years. Soon after their marriage, Officer Shirin Sokhan was appointed as the Chief of the Kazeroon brigade16 and immediately left for duty. The couple were separated for three years during which Farrokh-Ru studied at the College of Medicine.
In 1948 at the time she was still a student, her first child was born. Hamid was only four months old when she became pregnant with Nahid. She had two infants at the time of doing her thesis. In 1950 she became the biology teacher in 'Jandark' High School where she stayed on until 1956 .. This is how she recalls the events:
"When I wanted to become the School Principal, I said to my husband: I will not be in the house for many hours in a day. Do you approve? He accepted and advised: I am confident that you are aware of your responsibilities in the home just as you manage your responsibilities outside of the home."
After completion of her daily work in the High School, she would visit women prisoners in various jails and educate them in her capacity as a Social Worker.
At this time she gave birth to two other daughters Mahshid and Navid.
For one year she was the Principal of the "Valli u'llah Nasr" High School. In 1957 she was appointed to head the 'Noorbaksh' High School whose name was later changed to 'Reza Shah Kabir'. At that time the school had about 110 female students. When Farrokh-Ru retired from education and joined the Majlis she farewelled 1850 female students. Here is how she described it:
"Heading an all girl's school is more onerous than being a Minister ! Sometimes a School Principal is confronted with specific problems whose solution requires the intellect of ten Ministers. For example from my 1000 female students in the Highschool, perhaps 70-80 displayed abnormal behaviours. At the time I was trying to figure out the reasons for this. I made up questionnaires and ordered the teachers to complete them during the course of the year. In these questionnaires the teachers were asked to document the mental state of each girl. I witnessed how family problems resulted in the discontent and rebellion amongst the girls. It was common for people to view Noorbaksh High School as a school for the wealthy and the well off. Reality struck me at once when I observed that one of my students is becoming weaker day by day. One day close to lunch time she fainted. I discovered that she had not eaten well for three days, her parents had divorced years ago, her mother supported the family with a daily 3 Tooman income from sewing but had elected to send her daughter to the best school in Tehran." 17
Farrokh-Ru joined the Mehregan Club which was a defacto union for the teachers soon after its establishment in 1951. Just like her mother she wanted to assist in building a better life for women and achieve equality with men. She desired for all women to further their place in society and use their expertise in all areas. She was a feminist dedicated to achieving equality for women through the political system. For this reason prior to the infamous referendum in February 1962, she would organise rallies for women to campaign for their right to vote. In April 1962 she joined Kanun-i Tarraqi (*Association for Progress*) established by Hasan Ali Mansour. When this association became a political party, she became one of its first female delegates to the 21st Majlis. She was appointed to the Parliamentary Committees for Budget, Culture and Family. She campaigned for reforms to the laws governing family life that lead to the passing of the "Family Support" bill.
Following the murder of Hasan Ali Mansour, she was appointed as the Minister for Education and Training by the new Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda. Thereby becoming the first woman to become a Minister in Iran.
As a Minister, she appointed educated women to positions previously occupied by men. She was instrumental in establishing the cultural centre of southern Tehran with more than 5000 male and female students under the management of Ms Najmi Vusuqi. Her other priority was the distribution of free food18 in state schools that in practice encountered real obstacles by way of corruption, lack of an effective distribution system and little coordination between various government departments.
Farrokh-Ru assisted in writing a book entitled "Woman in Ancient Iran" with Homa Ahi and Malakeh Taliqani.
She was convicted to death without due process in a court room in April 1980. Just before her execution, they wrapped her in a thick bag and then sprayed her with bullets.
1. Meaning Dear Aunty, a popular expression amongst some Iranian families when addressing their close relatives.
2. Reference to his Fatwa from Najaf dated summer 1962 soon after the appointment was made
3. The former Prime Minister of the Shah, the later Shahpour Bakhtyar was now resident in Paris. He ran an opposition campaign from exile oust the new regime. He had instructed that people wear black in public as a sign of protest against the gradual removal of their basic human rights. As a result the new regime were cracking down on men and women who wore black in the public.
4. One of the influential clerics in the justice and prison systems
5. La' Ikrah'a fi-ldin
6. Known as the secret service during the time of the Shah
7. A prestigious suburb in the North of Tehran. Arjomand's lavish residence had now been confiscated and used by the new leaders
8. An influential member of the New Revolutionary Council at the time
9. Amir Abbas Hoveyda, Prime Minister 1964-1977. Refer to "Khatirat-i Hoveyda" by Dr Abbas Milani
10. Another influential member of the Revolutionary Council, he went on to head the Islamic Republic political party
11. An influential figure at the time who now headed the Ministry for Education and Training. He went on to become the Prime Minister for a short time
12. Abol-Hasan Bani Sadr was the elected President at this time
13. Bahar is a well known Iranian poet, author and literally figure with many books and articles to his name
14. Chief Minister prior to Reza Shah Pahlavi
15. A professional politician who assumed the Prime Ministership several times during the Pahlavi reign
16. A town in the south western province of Khuzestan
17. Interview with M.Peernia printed in Zan-i Ruz Magazine 1976
18. Known as "Taqzieh Rayegan" or free nourishment