Monday, February 20, 2006

The Crush of Dervishes in Qom

Rooz Online:
Last week, a specific well-known notorious group in Qom, along with members of the police, attacked the temple belonging to the Gonabadi Dervishes of Iran and occupied it. The group that was part of the attack is known as the Fatemiyoon. This groups which resides in Qom whose some leaders are ideological supporters of ultra-conservative cleric Mesbah Yazdi are affiliated to the Imam Khomeini institute in Qom. The Fatemiyoon group entered the temple and imposed its ritual, and continued this while the owner and others protested their forced entry and ritual.

The occupation began when the occupiers applied pressure on the temple keeper living on the premises with his wife and infant, forcing him to leave his residence. They first shut their water supply, and then they prevented the delivery of the powder milk that was sent to the family for the infant. At this time other individuals belonging to the Dervish group who knew the temple keeper well and witnessed the events thus sympathizing with the family, forced their way into the temple and re-took it from the occupiers. On January 25th, 2006, when they entered the temple, it had been vacant for 3 years and sealed by officials. The Fatemiyoon group opened the seals after occupying the sanctuary. When the Dervishes re-took the building, they were shocked at what they learned. Inside the temple, the occupiers had installed sophisticated surveillance equipment that recorded the movement of large parts of the city of Qom while their eves-dropping equipment could pick up voice signals from quite afar. The location of the Shariat temple is on Eram Avenue, Shariat Street. Eram is the most important avenue in Qom, adjacent to the residences of many of the grand ayatollahs. So the theological center had been turned into a surveillance station to spy and eavesdrop on the grand ayatollahs of Qom. READ MORE

After the Gonabadi Dervishes re-take their center, pressure on them to leave it begins and intensifies as time goes by. Officials call the Dervishes the “occupiers.” The Qom office of the Ministry of Intelligence asks the Dervishes to leave the building. This takes place while the Fatemiyoon were openly threatening the Dervishes. They ask them to leave so the Fatemiyoon can take over the building. At this time, the Qom Intelligence office arrests and detains the four lawyers (Amir Eslami, Omid Behrouzi, Golamreza Harsini, and Farshid Yadollahi) who had been defending and negotiating the rights of the Dervishes and their center for four days. When they are released, they are given an ultimatum: the Shariat temple must be vacated in three days, on February 11, 2006. During the three day period, the Dervishes knock on every door to find a sympathetic ear for their plight. They write letters to the leader’s office and to those of some grand ayatollahs. They argue that they have absolutely no issues with the government, regime, the Islamic Republic, etc. Nothing happens.

On February 11, 2005 about a hundred Gonabadi Dervishes had gathered inside and outside their temple. One of them explains that on that day, they wore a black strip around an arm, as a symbolic religious act sympathizing with the martyrdom in Shiism. “We even carried flowers and pastries,” he said. But there was no friendship in sight. Facing the Dervishes who had come from all over the country and included old, young, and women, was a column of policemen who totaled in four-digit numbers, who too had been brought in from different parts of the country. The alignment clearly signaled battle. In Qom, the Dervish leader known as Seyed Ahmadi Shariati, is well respected by the local police force, which explains the presence of the out-of-town policemen.

As time passed, more plain-clothes men who carried walkie-talkie radios and batons began to gather on the side of the policemen. They too comprised clerics and ordinary people, two of whom carried loudspeakers who spoke to the crowd across using insulting and threatening language. One of them was a well-known prayer leader known as Salahshoor, while another was a cleric called Shahshahani who was known in Kerman to be an accomplice in the serial assassinations of the Ministry of the Intelligence in late 1990s.

As the group facing the Dervishes grew in size, it began to surround them. But the Dervishes and others were not intimated, while still holding their flowers, pastries, and pictures of the current and former leader of the Islamic Republic, and those of the war martyrs.

The attack began as the sun set. “They beat everything and everybody with their electric batons, regardless of whether it was a man, woman, or child,” said one witness. Then after hours of that, they put the top of the temple and an area around it on fire, with the Dervishes and their supporters inside the fire ring. Then began the stone-throwing by the assailants. Those who tried to flee, were beaten to death or near it. “Next to me was a woman with her tiny infant. They pushed her so that her child fell to the ground. I picked up the child and noticed that he was hardly breathing because of the tear-gas smoke. Then they attacked me, one grabbed the child from my arms, and threw him into a water ditch on the side of the street,” said a man who had experienced the whole episode. The assailants wanted to capture everyone on the side of the Dervishes and so had brought in tens of buses for this purpose. By this time, people were running in all directions and trying to flee the scene. Some of the shop-owners gave refuge to those fleeing, but they too then became the subject of attack, until the victims left the shop.

Eventually they occupied the temple. They also occupied Shariati’s residence. The next day, bulldozers were brought in to demolish the temple and the residence, setting fire to the property inside it. Shariati had been threatened and left his residence prior to the attack, and so survived the assault.

When the dust settled, it is reported that some 2,000 individuals have been detailed and jailed (the governor of Qom puts the figure at 1,000). Arrest warrants have been issued for 20 individuals in addition to Shariati and his four lawyers. Another lawyer Bahman Nazari belonging to the sect who had traveled to Qom from Tabriz was immediately arrested as soon as he approached the officials to represent the detainees and presented his practice license.

The carnage is said to have produced some 400 seriously injured individuals, with one reported death, who was a school teacher. The day after the bloodbath, a person from the hospital in Tehran that belongs to the Gonabadi sect to where some of the injured had been brought secured a letter from government officials to visit the prisoners and give them medical care. But when he arrived at the prison, he was beaten up so badly that he had to be hospitalized himself.

Those who have been released say that they were freed after giving three written commitments to officials: to present themselves to the Intelligence Office of their hometown on their return, to undertake never to take part in any Sufi event, and, to renounce Sufism altogether. The tragedy does not end there. Some of those who returned to their hometown of Kerman and went to the local Intelligence Office are said to have been beaten up again.
A must read.