Abstract This article argues against a universalist theory in which Shi’ism explains all Iranian sacrifices during the Iran-Iraq War. The article asserts four methodological reasons why the current focus on Shi’ism as the explanation for “acts of martyrdom” is insufficient. The “Sacred Defense” literature of Christians, Zoroastrians, and the Fedayeen-e Khalq is examined to support the argument that nearly four decades of the Shah’s rule and the battle over the future of the country engendered Iran as the sacred. Iranian minorities also participated in this internal battle. Unsurprisingly these same communities constituted the Iranian military forces at the start of the War. Yet, the reason why these diverse individuals and communities offered of and from themselves remains couched within the hegemonically unhelpful idioms related to Shi’as and Shi’ism and their alleged culture of martyrdom. This article demonstrates how the Islamic Republic perpetuates this image of its populace, Shias and non-Shias alike, as part of a larger monotheistic culture of sacrifice. In contrast, this article re-inserts these communities back into Iranian history in their own words to demonstrate that some individuals willingly offered their lives during the early stages of the Iran-Iraq War because of nationalism, not a religious culture of sacrifice. We congratulate the fighting, heroic people of revolutionary Iran and assert the heart felt willingness of Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Assyrian communities to participate in the fight against imperialism and side-by-side with our brothers defend our land and beloved nation. —Representatives of Iran’s Religious Minorities ON SEPTEMBER 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran. Saddam Hussein’s ordered invasion shocked the diverse communities of Iran. Despite how the Islamicization of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 alarmed the leftist and non-Shi’a communities, they immediately responded to this existential peril to Iran. Like most Iranians, these communities—representing more than fourteen different ethno-linguistic groups and five religions—largely put aside domestic in-fighting to defend Iran.1 Like their Shi’a compatriots, these religious, ethnic, and political communities offered, gave, and sacrificed themselves for their sacred (moqadas), for Iran.2 The willingness of these communities—specifically Armenian Christians, Zoroastrians, and the Fedayeen-e Khalq, on which this article focuses—to die for a vastly and desperately contested Iran makes plain they believed the country to be the ultimate sacred for which they would kill and be killed.3 They were in this sense like the Shah, the Liberal-Left, and other major communities in late twentieth-century Iran. The decades prior to 1979, decades of sacrificial discourse and actions were not hermetic, affecting only these prominent actors and those associated with Sayyid Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini’s version of Shi’ism. All of Iran was exposed to these groups’ conflicting notions of the sacred and sacrifice, resulting, as I show, in the wartime actions of communities who did not necessarily share in the desire for the Islamic Republic’s sacred Iran. Nearly four decades of the Shah’s rule and the battle over the future of the country engendered Iran as the sacred, that for which an individual, community, or society sacrifices. The sacred is defined and produced by sacrifice, the giving up of personal or material interests. The Shah and his cadre of technocrats as well as all the fissiparous parts of Iranian society who opposed monarchical rule all inherited the language of sacrifice (feda kardi) from previous generations attempting to construct a new, prosperous Iran. These late twentieth-century actors, following on the path of their predecessors in events leading to the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906, not only learned and used the language of sacrifice, but embodied the language as well, giving of themselves and taking from others (Bonakdarian 2005). Political violence and a transformative discourse about Iran as sacred went hand-in-hand with Iranian attempts to produce the ultimate modern, functioning sacred: the nation-state. These actors’ emphasis on and willingness to sacrifice—a crucial feature of religion—made religious even those groups commonly understood as “just” political. In this sense, the Marxist-Leninist Fedayeen-e Khalq and other leftist groups were no different from the traditionally and formally recognized religious communities of Christians, Zoroastrians, and others. In the decades leading to the 1979 Revolution, the rhetoric, imagery, and action of sacrifice were intrinsic to the religiopolitical triangle of the Pahlavi State, the religious right, and the splintered Liberal-Left.4 But the words and actions of these groups changed how Iranians, within and among each of these groups, as well as beyond them, viewed and felt about Iran. The country’s diverse religious communities were no exception. In this regard, the majority of scholarship and popular discourse focuses on the Shi’a. But Christians, Zoroastrians, and people of other minority religions as well as political groups also helped constitute the internecine combat over the nation-state before the Iran-Iraq War (hereafter, the War). It is thus not surprising that they also comprise the Iranian military forces in the War. They too had become committed to sacrifice for a sacred Iran. Hubert and Mauss explain this willingness to sacrifice as a product of individual socialization within a community (Hubert and Mauss  1981, 50–60). The same can occur for a community within a country. But this explanation is limited; it offers a universal theory of sociological relations and human constructions that does not allow for individual and cross community variation. Rather, socialization depends upon how individual biography interacts with communal beliefs and social and structural conditions. The individual impetus and the historio-cultural weight that propels a person to sacrifice can thus vary greatly within the broad strokes of socialization. Such was the case in the decades of contestation over Iran, as the battle became a discursive process exposing Iranians to and helping them construct Iran as a sacred worthy of sacrifice. This article argues against a universalist approach to sacrifice that focuses on a particular religion’s concept or paradigm of sacrifice. Instead, I use the words and reasoning of Iranians fighting in the War to make clear that motives for sacrifice go beyond previously offered explanations that focus on traditionally understood concepts of religion and culture. As a starting point for my argument and given the limited written record of political and religious minorities and their accounts of the War, this article concerns only Christian Armenians, Zoroastrians, and the leftist Fedayeen-e Khalq.5 Because studying these communities reshapes our understanding of what happened historically and conceptually in Iran, I purposely deemphasize quantitative analyses or numerical justifications for continuing to ignore politico-religious minorities, the subaltern, and alternative factors outside of Shi’ism that possibly influenced individuals’ decisions to fight in the Iran-Iraq War. Contrary to much previous research, this article emphasizes a more historically specific Iranian history outside the bounds of the hegemonic, universalist approach to sacrifice and, so, includes diverse and historically important voices and reasoning. Iranian Christians, Zoroastrians, and leftists like the Fedayeen (as well as the Tudeh and other leftist groups) did not have to participate in the War. Although the Islamic Republic continued the mandatory military service of the Pahlavi era, the government, at the start of the War, did not conscript or mandate additional service, because Saddam Hussein’s invading forces generated a sufficient mass of volunteers, including the politico-religious minorities discussed in this article. Moreover, numerous possibilities existed to avoid fighting in the military of the Islamic Republic. Individuals could have emigrated to Euro-America or to nearby countries, as some would eventually do and many had done in previous conflicts and wars in Iran. During the decade of the War, estimated emigration from Iran to just five of the Euro-American countries neared 300,000 (Hakimzadeh 2006). In addition to legal visa requests, Iranians illegally crossed borders, smuggled themselves and their families into neighboring countries, and/or petitioned for asylum around the world. Based on their numerical scarcity, the Jewish community asked for and received protected status until 1986, and thus did not fight at the warfront until then.6 Families with only one son could also request an exemption, and those enrolled at a university often received exemptions. Others did not leave Iran to escape fighting in the War but to continue fighting for their ultimate vision of and empowerment in Iran and not that of the Islamic Republic. This includes those who sided with Iraq, for example, the Iranian Mujaheddin-e Khalq who became a “fifth column,” or those who became counter-revolutionaries. Still others engaged in separatist or autonomy movements. And these are not the only ways people can avoid participating in a war. Yet, during the first years of the War, when Iran fought for its existence and was on the defensive, the majority of Iranians from the country’s religious and political groups chose to fight. They stood with and for Iran. As I have noted, scholars analyzing Iranian nationalism, Iranian war efforts, and the country’s minorities have long ignored or minimized these communities and their offerings—their sacrifices. The latter’s actions usually receive cursory acknowledgement, and, when acknowledged, are explained in the strategic terms of a community’s post-war political gains. Rather than show how these sacrifices were leveraged, I demonstrate, using the words of participants themselves, why these sacrifices were willingly offered in the first place: the contending visions of Iran as sacred and the willingness to sacrifice for that sacred prior to the War readied the populace to willingly make sacrifices during the War. Furthermore, examination of Iranians during the War remains largely fixated on Iran as a “culture of martyrdom” originating from its Shi’i identity.7 What this forgets or ignores is that the Iraqi invasion transformed Iran’s internal, political debates. Because of the invasion, the revolutionary promise of a progressive society got lost in the language of defense, loyalty, and sovereignty. As the Iranian Revolution was “forcefully and violently ‘Islamicized,’” so too was Iran’s “defensive war” (Dabashi 2011, 275). This stems from projects initiated en masse following November 1983, after Iran rejected Iraqi ceasefire offers and a U.N. Security Council resolution and attacked Iraq. At this time, the Islamic Republic extensively deployed basij (Revolutionary Guard) units to the warfronts and began airing Revayat-e Fath. All these changed the War from defending the sacred Iran to seeking to extend Shi’i governance into another country. Almost simultaneously, the basij and state media combined to “become the strongest component[s] of the revolutionary project to create an Islamic reality” (Varzi 2006, 78; emphasis added). Concomitantly, Khomeini did not rein in the most radical Shi’a supporters who crushed political moderates and socialist alternatives, people who had spent the previous decades battling the Shah. Khomeinist consolidation of the Iranian Revolution and the Iraqi invasion changed the perceptions of Iranian words and actions. Throughout the 1980s, instead of a discourse about a capitalist or socialist utopia, “war, martyrdom, sacrifice, and vengeance were the [internal and external] themes of Iranian politics and national discourse” (Takeyh 2006, 28). As a result, “the distinctive continuities and discontinuities of Iranian revolutionary life never emerged” (Said 1981, 130). Instead, Iranian government officials capitalized on Ayatollah Beheshti absorbing the left’s religion-centered words in his statement that the country’s patriots were engaged in a “sacred defense” (defa’-e moqaddas) (Ettela’at 1980). These officials exploited this language to create an elaborate popular mythology and the subject of an enormous state-sponsored cultural industry. These moves instrumentalized both the War as the Sacred Defense and its associations with Shi’a martyrdom narratives. They reconfigured an arch of history spanning the Iranian Revolution, the Iranian War efforts, and their attendant ideologies. Consequently, in a country largely composed of people identifying as Shi’a, “nation building became synonymous with martyrdom” (Varzi 2006, 6). While the Islamic Republic constructed this perception of religious zealots fighting a holy war, Euro-America fully participated, corroborated, and endorsed it.8 The perception reverberates today. Arguing that a war mobilized nationalist and traditionally understood religious sentiment to (re)constitute a country is not new. This combination is a basic tenet of theories and histories of nations and their formation. But the singular focus on Iran as a Shi’a country engaging in martyrdom is problematic for at least four reasons. One, no general theory can account for all possible reasons individuals sacrifice. Two, universalizing participation based on religion predetermines and invents the reason for the War and for individual participation. Three, a general theory of war-sacrifice produces a racist discourse of one side as “primitive.” Four, by eliminating diverse communities and individual voices from analyses on war, scholars perpetuate the violence of “othering.” In the next section, I discuss these four issues. Then, in the following section, I use the words of Christians, Zoroastrians, and leftists to show why Iranians sacrificed during the War, reasons that challenge a universalist theory of sacrifice and defy the narrative of the “Shi’a martyrdom complex.” THE SACRED DEFENSE: THE MEANING OF IGNORING DIVERSITY IN SACRIFICE The assumption that all Iranians are Shi’a and that Shi’ism motivated sacrifice during the War result in a generalization that inherently relies on a universalist notion of sacrifice. This is the first problem with Shi’a-focused analysis and discourse. Such universalist theorizing effectively claims all sacrifices offered in every human context have the same meaning and the same reasoning. But no general theory can adequately explain the meaning of all sacrifices that occur in every culture at a particular time; as Eberhart notes “almost as many theories on sacrifice [abound] as there are scholars studying the subject” (Eberhart 2004, 486). Second, universalist theories tend to rely on Christian interpretations of sacrifice (Detienne 1989). These theories remain attractive, because Christian thought in Euro-America has long sought to reduce Judaism to a precursor of Christian theology and Islam to a subsequent perversion of it. But almost all interpretations of sacrifice derived from a universalist or general theory fail to account for some sacrificial acts because sacrifice is a flexible symbol (Bourdillon 1980, 23), and a universalist lens portrays non-Christian practices as “primitive” forms of sacrifice (Bloch 1992, 28–29). In particular, a universal theory of sacrifice does not and cannot sufficiently explain why an Iranian population of diverse religions, histories, languages, and political affiliations engaged in sacrifice for the sacred, for Iran. Emphasizing Shi’a Islam as the motivating factor for nationalist sentiment is a red herring. Shi’a Muslims do not have a monopoly on the idea of sacrifice. Further, Shi’ism’s religious idioms do not speak to all Iranians and do not constitute a causal link between alienation with a government and revolution or wartime sacrifices. Despite full acknowledgement of the “massive orchestration of public myths and collective symbolic (sic) in the making of the Islamic Revolution” and the “Imposed War” rather than the desires of the Iranian Revolution, the motivating force of Shi’a Islam continues to be the dominant discourse in analyzing Iranian war efforts (Chelkowski and Dabashi 1999, 6; emphasis added). A general theory of sacrifice based on Shi’ism cannot, by its essentialism and universalism, account for specific decisions. Just as there “is no validity in believing that all revolutionary participants…entered the [Iranian Revolution] with identical expectations, emerging from identical responses,” believing all participants in the War entered and sacrificed for identical reasons has no validity (Chelkowski and Dabashi 1999, 179). This dominant ideology of universal scientism eliminates sociopolitical and psychological factors while denying us the ability to understand history and the lives that make history. Such work produces a uni-dimensional Iranian character. We, as scholars, thus, “other” Iranians by continuing to produce such work. And research that relies on a general theory of Iranian sacrifice based on Shi’ism or on other traditionally recognized religious models that have no place for other explanations repeat nineteenth-century Christian methodologies of universalization (Janzen 2004, 3).9 A third problem is that inventing Iran as a culture of martyrdom shapes the War’s slaughter by changing the meaning of the sacrifices given (McGuiness 1986, 9). Before the War, violence exacted upon and against Iranians appeared as manifestations of sacrifice of the individual self who held a steadfast desire for a better Iran. Iranians largely presented themselves as controlling the offerings they made for Iran. When the War began, however, perceptions of control vanish. The call for a “sacred defense” produced more volunteers at the War’s start than either the highly demoralized Army or the newly formed Revolutionary Guards could absorb. As a result, instead of fighting Iraq, many volunteers were sent to the eastern provinces to put down autonomy movements and so-called drug smugglers, while in other areas the pasdaran commandeered organization, training, and deployment of hundreds of thousands more (Ward 2009, 244, 248). Now the War appeared to take on a life of its own, ravaging both peoples and countries, laying waste to all in the ferocity of its carnage. Rather than express control and a willingness to offer themselves—to sacrifice themselves—participants “seem[ed] to be in a state of catalepsy; they mechanically beat their chests like robots” (Chelkowski and Dabashi 1999, 163). The War, its tenor and tone, changed sacrifice from a concept in which Iranians made sacrifices to one in which they became sacrifices. The offering of the self—the sacrifice of the self—bespeaks a Durkheimian communal sacred: the sacred Iran (Durkheim 1995, 9, 35, 227). But the War became a religious principle through which Khomeini, in a contest for divine righteousness, pit the will of Iranians against that of Iraqis. He rejected ceasefire offers, demanded instead Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, and vowed that Iran would “fight to the last drop of [his, Khomeini’s] blood and to [his] last breath” (Pear 1988, A1). Khomeini maintained these positions and actions into 1988, when arguments concerning logistics, operations, and supplies, as well as human frailty led him to reluctantly accept U.N. Resolution 598. This was nearly identical to other proffered U.N. resolutions, including one passed unanimously nearly six years before.10 Khomeini’s determination to overthrow Saddam Hussein, quash Iraq, and export revolutionary Shi’ism at all costs opened the door to characterizations of Iran and Iranians as “primitive” or as culturally determined, unable to evolve beyond a given “essence” to embrace “civilization.” This process occurred in a few rapid steps, almost instantaneously. At War’s start, the motifs and images mobilized against the Shah and the Pahlavi monarchy were turned against Saddam Hussein and Iraq through a “production of persuasion” (Varzi 2006, 56). Islamic Republic propagandists pit Iranian Shi’as against Iraqi secularists and Sunnis. Through this contrast, the Islamic Republic not only focused explicitly on religion, but also mobilized existing Persian chauvinism against Arabness. Persian Iran as a Shi’a country arisen and resurrected to take on its historical enemy, Arab Sunni Iraq, became a common trope. As a result, this war amongst co-religionists became tinged with racism, for what is race (or culture or ethnicity) but the outgrowth of, conflation with, or contestation against religion?11 Because much research characterizes the War as degenerating into an absolute annihilatory Armageddon between two races and religions, scholars designate participants as both separate and the Other. In this discourse, Iranians—despite decades of the Shah’s modernization initiatives—still live in a prehistorical world of nonrational, “religious” discourse that does not exist in the historical world of “civilization.” Iranians remain in that archaic past where decadence and decay replaced their once noble culture. This primitive essence, denoted in the statement “Iranians are nationalists,” (Ziemke 2000, 106) reminds and forewarns that “[a]ny war with Iran would be a messy and extraordinarily violent affair, with significant causalities and consequences” (Kahl 2012, 166–73). After all, “Iranians have always had the reputation for being fierce soldiers, especially when defending the homeland,” as most recently evinced when the Iranians “attacked in ‘martyr battalions’…while the Iraqis cowered in their berms” (Brecher 2006, 29–32). This politics advances the prowess of one alleged race, Persian (Aryan), over another, Arab (Semite). This rhetoric simultaneously perpetuates the notion that certain peoples, like the region they inhabit, are an inert fact of nature. Such discourse advances the characterization of people on both sides of a falsely constructed binary as needing political actors to mediate the “mythopoeic imagination” of “peasant-minded” Iranians who are neither expected to nor given the opportunity to proclaim their reasoning and the cause of their sacrificial offering (Amin 1984, 4). In turn, the universalist notion of Iranian sacrifice based on Shi’ism advances the idea that history, modernity, and civilization exist as concepts and have not won over the primitive Other. The conversation between Euro-America and the Islamic Republic is symbiotic. Part of the more subtle and vibrant understanding of Iran and Iranians I advocate for arises from treating each more equitably, individually and together, than extant research. Rather than presuming and relying on the religious idiom of Shi’ism as the mobilizer or explanation of sacrificing, we need diverse research to test theories from multiple disciplines. Research on the War, for example, asserts that soldiers sacrificed themselves for a Shi’a nation-state and for the Islamic (not Iranian) Revolution or a mixture thereof.12 In response, this article asks: What about those who fought for Iran as a nation-state? Similarly, research on Iran during the War does not address long-standing sociological studies that show the performance of soldiers in combat relates, not to preserving or protecting national identity, but to the solidarity with regimental or platoon comrades (Holmes 1985). Accessing archives and other information sources as well as the physical dangers of research, among other constraints, can limit carrying out this work in Iran or with Iranian soldiers. These constraints point to the depths of the political and substantive issues I raise. But these cannot be allowed to prevent more intellectually diverse research that can more accurately demonstrate the importance of religion and religions in producing and defending Iran as the sacred upon which its citizens agree: the nation-state.13 A fourth problem with focusing on the Shi’a element of Iranian war efforts that dominated after 1983 is that scholars rarely and to a limited degree include other communities in analyzing the war efforts thereby implicitly casting them as the internal Other. This helps perpetuate violence against them. It is vital for a community to create the Outsider, the Other—real or perceived—as the way to offer a sacrifice that (in theory) prevents, rectifies, or wards off disaster. The mechanism of scapegoating can be used to create this Other. Through this mechanism, the community actively expresses its desire for social and structural stability. Further, sacrificial rites that create the Other specifically address the dilemma of social heterogeneity by fortifying threatened social boundaries and political borders. In so doing, the community as an institution seeks to preserve the welfare of those included in the kinship group, community, society, or nation. In particular, sacrifice through scapegoating safeguards community hierarchy. The Pahlavi State took an internal group, the Liberal-Left generally, and identified it as the Other, the Outsider, before declaring it the enemy. Prior to using physical violence to sacrifice some of the Liberal-Left for his vision of Iran, the Shah employed violent words to demarcate it as the Other. That is, before violent action, the use of words to construct the Other is a violence. In so doing, the Shah went beyond labeling the Liberal-Left “red reaction.” The government sought to coerce academics, students, and everyday Iranians into compliant, moldable objects that would do and say the prescribed things to “resurrect” Iran and reconstruct it in accord with “modernity.” To the Liberal-Left (and to those on the right as well), the Pahlavi State’s desire to reach an imperial, modern utopia drove it to dictatorship, authoritarianism, or fascism. A University of Tehran student group analyzed the situation by explaining, “The Ruling Class obviously wants a university. Their country, for propaganda (sic) sake, must have everything—even a nuclear reactor! But this university should not have living students, let alone talking ones” (Zonis 1971, 73; emphasis added). The students, like the population of Iran, were not to live and breathe as they chose but as the State and its class wanted. Thus, they were the Other, the Outsiders. And, as Regina Schwartz shows, people “defining themselves as a group is negative [for] they are by virtue of who they are not” (Schwartz 1997, 5). Those not part of a defined group, those “so needed for the very self-definition of those inside the group,” (Schwartz 1997, 5) are thus regarded as a threat. In contrast with the radical left, the Shah did not consider Christians and Zoroastrians a threat—they were not Outsiders—so long as they adhered to his vision of the future, sacred Iran. The relationship of the Pahlavi State with these communities and their individual representatives was dialogical. The State rewarded loyal subjects who were often enabled rather than forced to embrace sanctioned service to the country. In turn, the State used communal group participation to project power, inclusion, modern notions of secularism, and Iranian nationalism (Yagoubian 2014, 266–68). With the coming to power of the Islamic Republic and in the face of the Iran-Iraq War, these communities felt as threatened as the Shi’as. They quickly mobilized in a united response that asserted their “anti-Other” sentiment. The next section analyzes these communities. Specifically, I demonstrate, through written testimony of Christians, Zoroastrians, and Fedayeen communities—communities excluded by research on Sacred Defense and war literature—how Iran was sacred for them. In so doing, I show how their sacred Iran differed from that of the government and how their reasoning for sacrificing differed from the sacrificial models offered by recognized religions. THE SACRED DEFENSE: CHRISTIANS, ZOROSTRIANS, AND THE FEDAYEEN-E KHALQ At his news conference on October 9, 1980, Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, Chief Justice of Iran and leader of the Islamic Republican Party, answered questions about the Iran-Iraq War. Amidst his responses, Beheshti explained Iranian emotions as he understood them. Nations, he declared, are neither happy at the prospect of war nor at its continued blood-letting. However, he averred, “when a nation is invaded, it will rush to the battlefield with bravery and courage to repel the enemy’s aggression.” Beheshti thus reasoned that although continuing to fight is against the interest of every participating state, Iranians would selflessly persist in battling Iraq, for “what [the Iranian] people are doing is not war, it is a sacred defense of [their] land” (Ettela’at 1980, 1). And, so, the phrase “Sacred Defense” entered the Iranian lexicon in discussing the “Imposed Eight Year War.” No doubt remained: Iran was the sacred necessitating the Sacred Defense. Shi’as alone did not constitute the Sacred Defense. Christian and Zoroastrian communities joined other religious minorities to assert their belonging, their non-Otherness, as part of the Iranian nation (Jomhouri Islami 1983, 3). They did not want to become the Islamic Republic’s internal Other, taking the place of the left or joining the left in the gallows. They also did not want to be perceived as or accused of being a fifth column. And, as their own statements below demonstrate, their emotions and their nationalism also demanded they act. These communities immediately prepared to defend Iran, its land, its history, and its independence. Their representatives informed Khomeini and other government officials of the nascent Islamic Republic that, despite theological and political differences, Christians and Zoroastrians would present and give themselves, would offer themselves as sacrifices. In these words and actions, we can see that the nation-state is conceived in sacrifice, in blood, in death. This is not to say that other theorizing is not useful for understanding the formation of nations. Benedict Anderson’s theory of print capitalism, for one, explains how reading, writing, speaking, and remembering are mechanisms for imagining and interpreting new structures in which to live (Anderson 1991). But, “imagining” is not enough to construct or maintain nations. The materiality of the nation-state forms and continues to exist based on sacrifice. The sacrificial discourse and imagery contained in writings across the political spectrum during the twentieth century helped produce Iran as sacred. This construction, the sacred Iran, demanded the lives of Iranians. Therefore, Anderson’s long-ignored concomitant claim that “one could be ‘invited into’ the imagined community” does not withstand historical scrutiny. His assertion isolates as exceptions the violence of lynchings, pogroms, forced conversions, and discriminatory practices that constitute national formation and maintenance rituals. Anderson is of course correct that language remains vital for nations, but sacrifice remains a necessary condition. The shared history of sacrifice’s loss, suffering, deprivation, and violent shredding of individuality forge emotional, national bonds. Language serves the imagination but blood births the nation. The Armenian Christians As the new government attempted to both create an Islamic Iran and counter the Iraqi assault, the otherwise fissiparous groups asserted their place in the country’s history. Representatives of the religious communities clearly stated why their respective groups offered to sacrifice. They understood the power of sacrifice, the need to offer themselves. To each, their community had been for millennia an inseparable part of the country that lived under Iranian skies. As Archbishop Sarkisian of Tehran asserts, these communities professed loyalty as their emotions and principles demanded. They and their families worked for the progress and peace of Iran. They and their families spent their lives contributing ideas, labor, and spiritual beliefs. He noted that Armenian Christians found safety and security in Iran when Ottoman forces began the genocide; they participated in the 1906 Constitutional Revolution; they joined labor movements and demonstrations against the Shah; they used the Armenian-language paper, Alek, to contribute to a progressive, fighting press that advocated for a democratic revolution and reflected the political events in Iran; and with Bazargan’s appointment as prime minister in the new government, Christians ceased worrying about their status. Thus, when war arrived, they picked up arms to fight those who wanted to harm Iran. Sarkisian rages that Saddam Hussein and his “secret allies” (the West), who cared little for the “consequences of his actions,” based their “calculations” to destabilize Iran on faulty assumptions and a misunderstanding of history (Shahnazarian 2006, 5). Attempts to provoke tensions between the government and the minorities would not work. “Armenians did not hesitate for even one second during the eight-year Imposed War to fulfill their duties as citizens;” they were among “the most beautiful examples of patriotism and sacrifice” (Shahnazarian 2006, 5). Like the Armenian Christians, so for other communities of Iranians. The people of Iran, Sarkisian declares, “with all its parts, like a unified body, forgot about their own personal difficulties, and with the cost of every sacrifice, stood up to defend the freedom and territorial integrity of their nation” (Shahnazarian 2006, 5). Iranians stood their ground, together. Like Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who long exhorted that the strength of nation-states was found in the willingness of its people to sacrifice, the Armenian Archbishop of Tehran asserts that the “greatness of nations is demonstrated” by its people’s “determination to face crises and difficulties” (Shahnazarian 2006, 5). Sarkisian declares, “people have shed [their] blood in defense of their nation and its territorial integrity,” because “the nation is the most valuable sacred” (Shahnazarian 2006, 5). The nation-state is the ultimate sacred, the Archbishop explains, because, it symbolizes and guarantees a people’s transcendence across time into the eternal. Like the radical leftist opposition publisher Amir Mokhtar Karimpour, the Archbishop extolls those who sacrifice for Iran. And like both, Sarkisian speaks of the “fundamental and honorable duty of every citizen” to defend “eternal Iran” (Shahnazarian 2006, 5). Unlike Sarkisian, the Shah, or Karimpour, the Shi’a war veteran Ali Farroukhmehr does not insist upon the longevity of Iran as a country or focus upon the millennia in which Christians have lived in Iran (Farroukhmehr 2002). Instead, writing about the War’s destruction of his hometown, Abadan, he emphasizes a more immediate and intimate history. All of Iran gave for Iran, Farroukhmehr contends, because of their intimate, emotional connections to their cities and hometowns. He exalts Iranians fighting together during the War as a product of a diverse populace living, suffering, and dying together in the period around the War itself. He explains how his generation, not having lived or learned about World War II, indifferently “hear[d] the elders talk” about it (Farroukhmehr 2002, 102). But, then, he and his generation “lived to ultimately see and live war” (Farroukhmehr 2002, 102). He abhors and mourns the Iraqi bombing of Abadan’s Department of Education on the first day of the school year. He writes about how the fire that began that day lasted for eight years. He accuses the “white-haired ones” for being wrong and thinking “the war would end in six days” (Farroukhmehr 2002, 102). Thus, Farroukhmehr insists that the stories of the War—stories of displacement, ravaged homes and churches, and sacrificed lives—be told. He insists that telling individual stories enables today’s youth to appreciate their health, history, and security. They, unlike his generation, should know why those “beloved exemplars [of sacrifice] fell to the ground and became soaked in blood” (Farroukhmehr 2002, 107). He insists that those individual stories, large and small, are about freeing Khorramshahr, breaking the siege of Abadan, and keeping Iran independent. Farroukhmehr states that the joy and tumult of youth prevent individuals from being separated and produce “that root” (Farroukhmehr 2002, 173). These emotions sew the connections Farroukhmehr sees as integral to Iran’s defense: his Christian Armenian school teacher, Leon Minassian; the Armenian church near the Behbahani Mosque his family attended; the pivotal role of Christians in commerce; the streets and alleyways of Abadan in which Christian and Muslim adults would greet him as well as reprimand him. Farroukhmehr wishes now that his younger self had been more respectful of his Christian compatriots. These connections, he avers, show that Abadanians, who lost many Armenian and Assyrian Christians, “have good memories of these compatriots,” as “they are a part of the good and sweet memories of [life]” that existed before the War (Farroukhmehr 2002, 165). They are also part of the new memories, the war memories, and must be recognized as such. Farroukhmehr recognizes “every war martyr in every corner of Iran as living evidence of friendship . . . and love” for Iran and Iranians (Farroukhmehr 2002, 172). He does this because in the War, no difference existed between those from Zabol, Isfahan, Khorasan, and Khuzestan just like no difference existed between those who died with guns in their hands and those with cameras. They “all became honorable” (sar farazi) in their “common and collective” feeling for Iran (Farroukhmehr 2002, 172). And, not to be lost in the past, Farroukhmehr reminds his audience that Christians of Iran “stood by the Muslim people of Iran,” sending “the best of their children to the battlefield,” and giving irreplaceable martyrs to the sacred Iran (Farroukhmehr 2002, 165). To an extent, the Islamic Republic accepts these Christian histories in order to parlay them into a larger history of monarchical despotism that led to the Iranian Revolution. For instance, The Christian Sacrificers (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984), a compilation from the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Armenian Program, incorporates the Christian community into Iranian history. The introduction, written presumably by individuals at the Radio and Television Broadcasting Department, weaves Christians into this history specifically through the community’s willingness to sacrifice and give lives (feda kari va jan buzi) for the country. It asserts that Christians, like their Muslim compatriots, witnessed and lived the history in which “Iran was the playground of invasion and aggression” (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 3). Christians, like Muslims, suffered “all those dark years” when Iran lived under oppressors and executioners alike (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 3). Thus, we are told, Christians, like other Iranians, understood the Islamic Revolution as the end of those years, as a “manifestation of divine power” (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 3). And, so, the introduction concludes, Christians, like Muslims, did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives to protect the Revolution and Iran’s future. This introduction further explains that Christians, as followers of Jesus, also willingly offered their lives in the War. Only here, at the beginning of the volume, not elsewhere, not later in the words of the Christians, do we see the “Shi’ization” of Christianity: Christians learning and mimicking sacrifice based on the offering of Christ, like Shi’as learning and mimicking sacrifice based on that of Hussein. Like their Shi’a compatriots, the introduction insists, Christians understood sacrifice as a way to alleviate pains and misfortunes. Not only is there the Shi’ization of Christianity but the universalization of sacrifice as a religious dictum. So, in turn, Christian families, just like the Shi’a, “are not only not mourning the deaths of their children” but, like Jesus, cut themselves off from pain to achieve “prosperity for the oppressed and downtrodden” (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 4; emphasis added). For these reasons, Iranian Christians offered their lives to strike back “at the hearts of the Baathist-Zionist rulers of Iraq” (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 4; see also Chelkowski and Dabashi 1999, 115, 153, 164–65). Christians, like Muslims, like all Iranians who sacrificed themselves, became red tulips scattered across the country as the embodiment of love and dedication for the sacred Iran. In contrast to this introduction’s portrayal of Christians, the biographies in the rest of Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi, drawn from family letters, offer no testimony relating to faith or religious sources of inspiration. Rather, these men are largely described as from the lower, under-privileged classes who fought to support Iran as their country and the Iranian Revolution as a socioeconomic revolution. The short biographies of Jilbert Abkarian, Razmik Davidian, Zorek Maradi, Vartan Arakelian, Hiyek Mouseian, and Edmond Mousesian depict college-aged men who participated in the Revolution. They marched, distributed pamphlets, protested martial law, and were arrested. And some were killed. The Imperial Army allegedly murdered Malekian on December 30, 1978 as he violated martial law. Arakelian died on February 11, 1979 protecting the national radio and television compound. Edmond and Hiyek Mousesian died fighting anti-revolutionary forces in a street confrontation in June and September 1981, respectively. Other men joined the Sacred Defense forces immediately after the invasion to demonstrate their support of the Revolution as a mechanism to achieve social justice. Maradi’s mother explains that her son joined the sixty-fourth division of Oromieh because, as he avowed to her, Iranians “must stand up to the Baathists and fight to the last drop” of their blood to protect the Revolution (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 9–10). The Revolution “is for the downtrodden,” and “we,” Maradi told his mother, “also are a member of the downtrodden” (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 9). Whether Maradi meant “we” the downtrodden as Armenians, as Christians, or as Iranians remains ambiguous. His allegiance, however, does not. His mother states that Maradi told her, “We must defend this Revolution and our nation (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 10).” Reflecting the diversity of opposition to the Pahlavi State that spurred the Iranian Revolution, at least one Christian also joined the pasdaran. After supporting the Revolution, Davidian became a member of the revolutionary committee for fifteen months before “willingly” leaving the pasdaran and joining the artesh as a conscript (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 7–8). Davidian’s will and his voluntary service affirms his refusal to be sidelined in the fight against Iraq. He explains that giving up his “life for the independence of the nation” (vatan) was indeed his objective; neither family nor friends should “be sorrowful” (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 7–8). Echoing the language of decades past and present, Davidian explains that giving his life to protect the country (ab va khak) in the “clothing of a conscript” gave him transcendent “honor” that registers his name amongst other patriots (vatan doostan) across time (Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi 1984, 7–8). These early Christian offerings to and for Iran indicate a more inclusive understanding of the Revolution and the Sacred Defense. Yet, by 1982, religious communities augmented their expressions of nationalism to conform with the government’s views. The War raged on, the Muhajeddin-e Khalq continued its attacks against the government, and some separatist forces still remained at-large. Positioning themselves against these groups, religious communities pledged loyalty less to the ideals of the Iranian Revolution and more to the Islamic Republic. Delegates from religious organizations, councils, and localities from across the country joined parliamentarians and religious leaders to meet with Khomeini (Sanasarian 2000, 139). In addressing the “Supreme Leader,” Bait Ushana, the Assyrian and Chalden deputy, spoke for the over 800 representatives present. Ushana paid homage to the cleric by heralding his leadership and then reminded him that Iranian history included the officially recognized religious communities protected by the “correct, revolutionary, and humane laws of Islam” (Sanasarian 2000, 139). Because of this history, Ushana continued, the religious communities did not doubt and, in fact, supported the desire of “the authorities of Islam” to actualize “their popular anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist goals and to protect the rights of the oppressed, poor, and deprived masses of the beloved country” (Sanasarian 2000, 139). Ushana averred that religious minorities also suffered under “royal deprivation” and tasted “the bitter yoke of the oppressors and despotism” (Sanasarian 2000, 139). They understood “the true value of the freedom, independence, and justice bestowed upon” them by the Islamic Republic (Sanasarian 2000, 139). Ushana assured Khomeini that the communities believed their “religious and national duty” required they “make any effort, bar none, toward the complete independence of Iran, the elimination of any form of dependence, and the further development and better defense of the Islamic Republic” (Sanasarian 2000, 139). Ushana concluded by asserting that “no amount of sacrifice and selflessness” would be “too great” in fighting the enemies of the Islamic Republic, because they were also the enemies of the minorities (Sanasarian 2000, 139). The religious communities and the Islamic Republic appeared as one. Shaping Christian sacrifices for Iran as expressions of a universal theory or authorized depiction becomes more explicit after the War. In the introduction to the highly referenced Gol-e Maryam (Flower of Mary), General Mir Bagherzadeh promulgates the general and government-authorized conception of Christian sacrifice as part of the history of Shi’ism. Bagherzadeh explains this relationship through the story of Vahab, a young and “purely” righteous Christian who came to believe in Hossein and “chose to help God’s religion” by walking on the “path of sacrifice (janbuzi) and martyrdom (shahadat)” (Boudaghianse 2006, 7). This refers to Christians rushing to the battlefield to defend fairness and righteousness. He tells Vahab’s story of converting to Islam, fighting at Karbala, being taken prisoner, and then being decapitated by the enemy. The Ummayyad forces then throw Vahab’s head at the feet of Shi’a prisoners. Vahab’s mother, outraged and distraught, cradles her son’s head as she gathers arms to enter the battle against the repressive Ummayyads. This is the history to which Bagherzadeh alludes when mentioning Vahab and “righteous” Christian women and men who, “like the companions of Jesus . . . rushed to the battlefield of martyrdom and sacrifice” (Boudaghianse 2006, 7). Having taught the lessons of Jesus, Vahab, and the disciples, Bagherzadeh promotes the idea that from the time of Vahab “until today,” Christians “all” have “one” destination for they all walk on one path (Boudaghianse 2006, 7). (Revealing that path, he writes, is the job of Boudaghianse, the volume’s author.) Bagherzadeh then asserts that “stars” light and shine this path, and that the secret to the pride and dignity in which he, and presumably Iran, revels is jihad in the “path of the almighty god and the defense of the ever-present homeland (vatan-e ma’louf)” (Boudaghianse 2006, 7). The “gift”—the sacred—the long-living Iran, Bagherzadeh extols, exists and, as such, Iranians are “indebted to the sacrifices and efforts of the pious mothers and fathers who, as followers of the Virgin Mary,” raised righteous children who struggled and endured on the path of god (Boudaghianse 2006, 7). The general concludes his introduction to Gol-e Maryam by asserting, “humanity still needs these stars of guidance (the Christian martyrs of Iran and those like them) to be recognized and known” (Boudaghianse 2006, 8). Such an achievement on the local level is not possible “unless the word of Jesus Christ is fully comprehended when he said all people see the stars but only those who know the stars’ movement and destination can find their own way” (Boudaghianse 2006, 8). In the book itself, the Christian author Boudaghianse implies that the destination of stars, of the followers of Christ, is the path of sacrifice in which religion and nationalism are not merely analogous. Like those who claim their nationalism is imbued both by Persianness and Shi’ism, Boudaghianse claims the culture of martyrdom in “pure Christianity” has had, over the past thousand years, an “indisputable influence on the Armenian ethnic spirit” (ruhiyat-e qomi) that served the “sacred land” (khak-e moqadas) of Iran (Boudaghianse 2006, 12–13). This authentic version of Christianity, he proclaims, facilitated Christians accompanying “the caravan of Karbala,” as the War—according to the Islamic Republic and now Boudaghianse, representing the Christian community—was an extension of Karbala. To support his contentions and explain why Armenian Christians engaged in sacrificial acts, Boudaghianse cites the fifth-century Armenian priest Yeghishe as having said, “the anticipated death [martyrdom] is eternity and natural death is just dying” (Boudaghianse 2006, 13; see Khrlopyan 1977, 506–7). Death without sacrifice is meaningless. Their lived history in Iran and this “pure” Christian culture came together in Armenians offering their lives in the War. Boudaghianse makes this point by posing rhetorical questions, asking how one explains that Muslim basiji soldiers endured torture for their Christian comrades while in Iraqi jails or how Christian soldiers endured the same for their Muslim compatriots (Boudaghianse 2006, 13). Boudaghianse asserts that Gol-e Maryam answers these questions by providing a brief history of the community in Iran and then conveying testimony of the community’s veterans, prisoners of war, and relatives of those who died (Boudaghianse 2006, 13). At the end, Boudaghianse promises, the reader will understand how and why Iran’s diverse communities supported each other during the War (Boudaghianse 2006, 13). Much like Jang-e Tahmali-ye Hasht Sahleh (The Imposed Eight-Year War), Gol-e Maryam also offers vignettes of heroism and stories of sacrifice. For instance, four hundred Christians who completed their tour of service nevertheless returned to the warfronts (Boudaghianse 2006, 208). They did not leave their Muslim compatriots (ham vatanan) to alone provide territorial defense, the Sacred Defense, of Iran (Boudaghianse 2006, 208). Similarly, both books credit the significant roles the community’s industrial technicians and mechanics played in the war efforts (Boudaghianse 2006, 208; Shahnazarian, 2006, 79, 83). But in Jang-e Tahmali, Shahnazarian focuses on the roles played by community leaders in addition to those of the church. Specifically, he credits much of the biographical data collection on Armenians to Eskandar Eskadarian (Shahnazarian 2006, 7, 15, 44). In so doing, Shahnazarian highlights the role of an otherwise unknown figure and the role Eskadarian played in promoting Armenia-Iranian religiosity for Iran, the cohesiveness of the Armenian community with Iran’s larger Shi’a communities, and the locations across Iran in which he advocated those sentiments. Eskadarian, for example, extolled to a group of basijis before leading prayers, I am proud that our Armenian mechanics and technicians today stand among hundreds of basijis…in unity with our Muslim brothers, we defend and support the independence and territorial integrity of the country. Just as young Armenian soldiers fight and become martyrs, our doctors, medics, and sister nurses—with the same spirit of abnegation and sacrifice— participate along with them at the war fronts. (Shahnazarian 2006, 125) Although both books, published eighteen years after the end of the War, share brief biographies of church and community members, neither nears the diversity of reasons for why individuals offered, gave, and sacrificed themselves as does the wartime Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi. By publishing largely biographical information and not personal statements, Jang-e Tahmali and Gol-e Maryam attend to the work of the Council of the Archdiocese and its support of the government. The result is to promulgate a general theory of sacrifice. Both of these latter works draw attention to the early meeting between then Archbishop Ardeak Manoukian and leaders of the Islamic Republic, including Montazeri, Khomeini, Khameini, and Rafsanjani. In addition, the books emphasize that Mehdi Karroubi, then Director of the Martyr’s Foundation, recognized the community. At ceremonies celebrating and honoring the Christians, Karroubi asserted the disappointment of the “‘masters’ of the unbelieving world,” otherwise known as “global arrogance,” at the fate of Saddam Hussein (Boudaghianse 2006, 212). He averred that the Iraqi dictator’s fate could not be otherwise, given the “belief and faith” of all Iranians in the Revolution. Karroubi acknowledged that Armenians made sacrifices and provided martyrs from the beginning of the “popular Islamic Revolution” and throughout the War (Shahnazarian 2006, 79). He reminded his Christian audiences that their community was “once again, more than ever” present and engaged in yet another “sensitive and historical period” of Iranian history (Shahnazarian 2006, 79). He claimed that Christian actions from the beginning of the Islamic (not Iranian) Revolution and during the War constituted support of and investment in the Revolution (Boudaghianse 2006, 212). The mix of spilt Christian and Muslim blood only strengthens the bonds of friendship and brotherhood, Karroubi averred (Shahnazarian 2006, 79). Their faith and unity in defending Iran humiliated Reagan and the United States, not Iran and Iranians (Boudaghianse 2006, 212). The personal assertions and reasons for sacrifice found in Jan Bakhtegan–e Masehi get lost in Gol-e Maryam and Jang-e Tahmali. Numerous are the denunciations against the “global arrogance,” reasons to reject peace proposals, and assertions of willing participation in the Sacred Defense “until the final victory, and until the just conditions of the Islamic Republic of Iran are accepted” (Boudaghianse 2006, 211). Similarly, numerous are letters of thanks from Prime Minister Mousavi’s office and the Department of Education as well as requests of participation from the Supreme Defense Council to commemorate Christian martyrs, POWs, and the handicapped (Shahnazarian 2006, 113–21). The official pressure is clear. As Hojateslam Alemi, representing the Supreme Leader’s Office from the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Army, told a gathering of Armenian Christians, you should demonstrate to the unbelieving governments that the religion of Christ rejects blasphemy, heresy, and the exploitation of human beings by human beings. It (Christianity) stands for the freedom of human beings. Muslim and Christian youth have signed on to this objective with their own red blood, and [they] have proved that the oppressors will not be able to use our people as a tool to reach their objective. (Boudaghianse 2006, 214) Here, as the Islamic Republic eliminates its internal political opponents, Alemi insists on what becomes the government mantra: Christians fighting in the War do so to save the territorial integrity of Iran against Iraq and its Euro-American supporters. Christians share the same immediate objective as the Islamic Republic. They all fight “shoulder to shoulder,” and they must declare their actions as such. Alemi argues that the present (wartime) offerings of sacrifice directly correspond to the ability of future generations to be free from imperial influence and intervention (Boudaghianse 2006, 212). Euro-American attempts to produce divisions amongst Iranians based on religious difference, Alemi insists, cannot succeed (Boudaghianse 2006, 214). The Zoroastrian Community In contrast to the available, published material from and about the Christian community, a dearth of material exists for the Zoroastrian community. However, Rostam Khoramdeen’s Doreh-ye Darha-ye Basteh (The Period of the Closed Doors, 2011) (hereafter Darha-ye Basteh) establishes the insecurities of and biases against this community. His narrative also reveals the “banal nationalism” that exists in many people who do not explicitly express their dedication to the nation-state (Billing 1995). These people, lackluster or ambivalent about their nation-state before war, usually do not sacrifice themselves. Yet, Khoramdeen is one such person who did offer himself during the War. Rostam Khoramdeen, in many ways, differs from the Christians. He is neither involved in agitating for the Revolution nor does he volunteer to serve in the military. He says this bluntly and up-front. He merely ends up at the battlefront because he is uninterested in education, and so he failed the national college examinations that assured exemption from front-line service. Khoramdeen is a Zorostrian but does not expect or insist that he be free from military service because his religion differs from the religion of the government and the majority of Iranians. Unlike his two brothers who are physicians, Khoramdeen is an “ordinary guy,” the book’s editor Qaemi-Kashani tells us in this introduction (Khoramdeen 2011, 8–10). He becomes a hero by simply doing the right things every day. Khoramdeen’s story begins just as he fulfills his military service requirement. He is not a lover of war, front lines, jihad, or martyrdom. He is not a basiji volunteer. He is just like any other ordinary soldier, Qaemi-Kashani tells us and, therefore, a hero. But Khoramdeen is also “just like his ancestors, particularly his namesake Rostam Farrokhzad,” who defended Iran against invading Muslim armies in the seventh century (Khoramdeen 2011, 11). Qaemi-Kashani’s casual mention of the famed Zoroastrian warrior suggests multiple historical implications. First, the reference reminds us of the trauma Iranians suffered as Saddam Hussein, through the War, sought to promulgate “a new Qadisiya” (Jansen 1984, 82).14 Second, the Battle of Qadisiya occurred in the mid-630s when Muslim armies rose out of Arabia to conquer Greek and Persian armies. Farrokhzad, a nobleman whose family formed the Pahlav faction during the Sassanian Civil War (628–632), commanded the Persian forces. Thus, Qaemi-Kashani alludes to the Persian-Arab divide. Third, King Yazdegard III handicapped the famed and sagacious warrior by dictating how Farrokhzad should lead the Sassanid forces. As a result, he suffered a humiliating death and the empire perished. Nationalists of all stripes refer to Farrokhzad as a hero who died trying to save Iran. The reference reminds readers that Zoroastrians founded, populated, and guarded Iran against all odds. Fourth, Qaemi-Kashani’s comparison of Khoramdeen to Farrokhzad tells us how we should interpret the simple actions of the current day Rostam. The editor lets us know that, despite Rostam’s parents’ hesitations, they were justified in naming their child after the legendary warrior (Khoramdeen 2011, 47–48). Rostam is honorable and honest; he is pious and pure; and, he loves his country, the sacred Iran, for which he sacrifices. And Khoramdeen sacrificed despite the biases and discrimination of his compatriots. Qaemi-Kashani lightly scolds the reader, saying Rostam suffered not just the War but misunderstandings and ignorance within and amongst the Iranian military establishment. “The bowl,” Qaemi-Kashani explains, was “hotter than the soup [and] compounded the common pain” (Khoramdeen 2011, 9). That is, the Shi’a whom Rostam encountered were more Catholic than the Pope or more Muslim than a caliph. Yet, he went onward to fight. Khoramdeen’s service to Iran is scarred with the daily indignities he suffered as a Zoroastrian. He speaks of the lottery that assigned soldiers to particular locales but notes that, in his draft call, the government specifically pulled him and Christians from the larger lottery. The government assigned him to Tehran, his hometown, rather than to a warfront. He “thanked Ahura Mazda (the supreme god of Zoroastrianism who created the universe) that for once being a minority was not against his interest” (Khoramdeen 2011, 20). But his religion remained an issue. Later assigned a frontline secretarial position handling confidential information necessitating repeated background checks and clearances, Rostam remembers facing a more arduous process than the Shia’s. He somewhat jokes that, of course, the intelligence division cleared him every time (Khoramdeen 2011, 35). Captured by Iraq in July 1988, shortly before the War ended, Khoramdeen relives in Darha-ye Basteh his daily events as a prisoner of war. He details how, despite his repeated attempts to clarify that Zoroastrianism is “the ancient Iranian religion and its prophet is an Iranian prophet,” the Iraqis did not understand. They somehow decided Zoroastrianism was related to Christianity and designated him as such in their files. When an Iraqi Christian guard asked if Rostam needed anything, Rostam declined. He simply could not, just because of his religion, accept more than the daily-allotted food. He had to be treated as other Iranians. And, so, like other Iranians, Rostam was physically beaten. He responded by laughing. The more the Iraqis beat him, the more he laughed. One day, a bone popped out of his hand. He laughed again (Khoramdeen 2011, 48–55). Rostam did not laugh, however, when the Iraqis moved him to a cellblock housing members of the basij, sepah, and artesh. He did not know the difference between these institutions and the accompanying characterizations of their personnel. They knew nothing about Zoroastrianism. Learning about their differences came about because the basijis wanted everyone to pray according to a strict schedule and at the same time. Rostam heard from others about this socializing process and how these other soldiers changed as a result. They became more observant Shi’a. But Rostam did not pray or pretend to pray with the others. They wanted to know why; Rostam answered truthfully. The other captives then began looking at and treating Rostam like the two Baha’is also present. It was, he says, as if the three had horns and a tail (Khoramdeen 2011, 79–82). Rostam ignored the Shi’a Iranians, but increasingly their behavior became more and more difficult for him to handle as they loudly complained he “was not clean” (Khoramdeen 2011, 79–82). Rostam refused to accept this characterization of non-Shi’a. He corrected their mistakes about Zoroastrianism. He explained that his religion is merely the religion practiced by Iranians before Islam. He argued that their forefathers were Zoroastrian as well but changed their religion; his just had not. Rostam’s arguments echo those of two-time Zoroastrian deputy to the Majles, Parviz Malekpour, who asserted late in 1982, as the political current in Iran increasingly became tumultuous and radicalized, “I have always emphasized that the faith of Iranian Zoroastrians is not separate from the destiny of all Iranian people. Zoroastrians belong to this land, they have not emigrated from a different place, they do not constitute a separate nationality” (Sanasarian 2006, 150). Rostam similarly asserted that they were all Iranians. And he added that the constitution protects Zoroastrians (Khoramdeen 2011, 80). Despite Rostam’s exhaustive attempts to convince the other POWs through reasoning, “most [convincing] was Rostam’s own behavior,” Qaemi-Kashani writes (Khoramdeen 2011, 79). Rostam attempted to abide by the universal dictum against dishonesty. Thus, “even if he was beaten, he would not lie” (Khoramdeen 2011, 79). And, because of his honesty, Rostam eventually won over his compatriots. A few months after he was transferred to the new cell division, even those objecting to Rostam’s presence and criticizing him were curious to know about Zoroastrianism. They became ashamed of their previous behavior. Rostam, in turn, spoke about his religion but insisted he was not a cleric (mobad) who could properly educate them. Leaving religious guidance and education to clerics, as the Islamic Republic requires, Darha-ye Basteh goes on to proselytize that religions bring people together and solidify their unity rather than cause separation and division. And if religion does not bring diverse communities together, the nation-state does. Released on August 28, 1990, Rostam had been offered the chance to request asylum. He did not accept the offer. He did not allow for the question to be completed before responding that he of course wanted to return to Iran. All he wanted was to “dive head first” into Iranian soil and return to his family (Khoramdeen 2011, 106). Later, on the bus that would return the POWs and MIAs to Iran, Rostam and his compatriots began crying, when they heard their first Persian “hello” (Khoramdeen 2011, 109). Passing through Iraq, they largely sat in silence, with bated breath, eager to return to their sacred Iran. Darha-ye Basteh does not end before attempting to redeem the Shi’a soldiers and the Islamic Republic from charges of bias and discrimination. It tells how POWs and MIAs were gathered together in a hall to await release from the military (Khoramdeen 2011, 115–17). The army officer in charge asks if any minorities are present. As he wondered upon entering the military, Rostam now wonders why superiors want to know if a non-Shi’a is present. Nevertheless, he and three others stand. Rostam is the only Zoroastrian; the rest are Christians. Asked to step forward, the four reluctantly move, “feeling like criminals, being pulled out, [as if] not qualified to be among the Muslims.” Rostam did not know how the army would treat him; he thought they might say that his captivity was different, that he was not considered free, or ask why he had not become a Muslim after all these years. A thousand other thoughts raced through his head. A Shi’a soldier began shouting, interrupting Rostam’s thoughts, demanding why minorities were being taken. Mamad, a basiji from prison who tried converting Rostam, stood yelling at a superior, insisting his questions be answered. Typically a quiet guy, Mamad demanded that the superior officer answer why minorities were being removed and what it meant? He exhorted that in their common captivity the label “minority” did not exist. In Iraq, they were not Muslims, Christians, Armenians, or Zoroastrians. They were all Iranian. After all, when “the enemy’s bullet whistles and moves forward, it does not ask for a person’s religion and denomination; it aims for an Iranian heart” (Sanasarian 2000, 151). They all put their lives on the line, offered their lives for their homeland, for their vatan—for Iran. They all thus suffered the same humiliation and agony. Reaching the crescendo of his argument, Mamad, the basiji, damns the military establishment. While so many were held for years on end, officers who remained away from the frontlines or were not held prisoner remained “stuck” and fixated on who is or is not Muslim (Khoramdeen 2011, 116). Responding to Mamad’s words, Rostam tells us he was stunned and felt simultaneous joy and shame (Khoramdeen 2011, 117). He felt joy because a Muslim defended Rostam and his religion. Mamad used his position as a Shi’a and a basiji to question the authority of separating Iranians based on religion. This was new, alien, and long awaited. Rostam released the breath of air he had been holding. Yet he also felt shame that he did not have the courage to defend himself and his religion. Contrary to Sanasarian’s analysis that finds Zoroastrians able to “boldly and directly criticize the Islamic extremists and forcefully, even righteously, claim rights” (Sanasarian 2000, 151), Rostam had not felt empowered to demand such recognition. He felt shame that he kept silent and cowered, waiting his fate. He felt shame that Mamad, “a stranger, a basiji, who was not a close friend” defended and supported him. Ultimately, the officer allayed fears of bias and discrimination. He affirmed Mamad’s assertions. He declared all the gathered men to be Iranians, and, from the viewpoint of rights, affirmed that no difference existed between them. This was, he said, particularly the case for those of the Sacred Defense, and even more so for those who remained missing-in-action (Rostam’s official designation). The minorities were not called forward to disrespect them in any way, rather to respect them. The military did not want to force Khoramdeen and the Christians to attend Friday prayers. Shi’as or those not identified as a religious minority were expected to (would be forced to, apparently) attend Friday prayers. The commanding officer affirmed that the men—friends, brothers, and fellow compatriots—could attend Friday prayers if they wanted. Rostam and the three Christians happily chose to do so for they did not want to be separated. They chose to remain united as Iranians (Khoramdeen 2011, 117). The Period of the Closed Doors ultimately casts Rostam Khoramdeen as an archetype. He is not educated and finds himself in war. Captured and imprisoned by the external enemy, other Iranians harass and berate him, if not worse, as the internal enemy. Yet Rostam neither succumbs to enticements to be treated better than others nor does he lash out at his compatriots. He endures. As he withstands the physical abuse he receives from the Iraqis, Rostam endures humiliation from the Shi’a Iranian cellmates. He rises above the bias and discrimination to teach them, to better them, to show them how life could be different. Religion, we are told by the book and by Rostam, does not teach violence or hate, but love and peace. Yet, as The Period of the Closed Doors shows, actions not words convinced his cellmates. Rostam’s behavior toward other Iranians determined how they treated him. Ultimately, the book asserts that even if individuals maintain their biases, the Islamic Republic does not discriminate against the Zoroastrians and other recognized religious communities. Rostam’s war sacrifices arise from his familial and communal affinity with and historical relation to the land and culture of Iran. The Fedayeen-e Khalq Unlike the apolitical Rostam who appears to have had banal nationalistic sentiments prior to the War, members of the Marxist Leninist Fedayeen-e Khalq had actively agitated against the Pahlavi State and campaigned for revolution. They believed in their vision of a sacred Iran and sacrificed over the years to advance their goal, most famously in the 1971 attack on a gendarmerie in Siahkal, in northern Iran near the Caspian Sea, as well as in the streets of Tehran. The Fedayeen, like their less radical compatriots in the Tudeh Party, believed in the religion of a secular nation-state. But when the Iranian Revolutioncame and Khomeini ascended to its helm, the Fedayeen split into the majority and the minority. The former believed they could work with Khomeini and the newly forming government to further their revolutionary ideals; the latter opposed working with clerics and others who sought to form a government based on traditional concepts of the sacred in religion. The majority claims its soldiers and air force personnel played an “effective role” in the Revolution, particularly just before February 1979. In February 1979, they sided with air force technicians to thwart reprisals from the Shah’s Imperial Guards, and they then played a crucial role in distributing guns to the public after opening “prisons, police stations, armories, and Tehran’s major military bases” (Keddie 1981, 255). They also aver that in the following year they “played an undeniable part in purifying the army from the generals and other puppets of the US-backed Shah” (Kar International 1984b, 6–8; see also Chubin and Tripp 1988, 35). Importantly, the majority writes that the Fedayeen in the military played “an outstanding role in thwarting various counter-revolutionary coup d’états” (Kar International 1984b, 6–8). And, above all, the Fedayeen had vital roles as members of the armed forces during the “War of Resistance against the US–backed Iraqi regime’s aggression” (Kar International 1984b, 6–8). Before November 1983, hundreds of Fedayeen members and supporters lost their lives or were wounded trying to free their “native soil.” The Fedayeen were patriotic progressives who insisted on membership in the Iranian armed forces. Despite their losses under the Pahlavi State, the Islamic government, and during the War, the Fedayeen continued to promulgate their vision for Iran. They fought to save Iran from the Iraqis while insisting on their sacred Iran. The Islamic Republic sought to eliminate the Fedayeen and other political parties that could vie for power. Unlike the recognized religious communities that largely adapted to the government in power, forming either a symbiotic relationship (with the Pahlavi State) or a tenuous accommodation (with the Islamic Republic), traditionally defined political parties posed a threat to the new government and the new nation-state it sought to institute. The Islamic Republic, therefore, moved to eliminate the Fedayeen, almost immediately. It particularly focused on the group’s members in the armed forces. The government sought this by following the Pahlavi State’s decree that prohibited members of the military from joining or being a member of political parties and organizations. In 1981, Khomeini decreed that people in the armed forces choose between the military and political organizational membership. In 1982, the prosecutorial authorities banned Mardom and Kar, the Tudeh and Fedayeen newspapers, respectively. In 1983, the government and military arrested numerous Fedayeen members and supporters who were in the military. And in 1984, Mohammad Rayshari, the Public Prosecutor for the Army’s Religious Court, outlawed the Fedayeen and demanded all its members report to authorities. His office accused thirty military personnel of party membership; trial dates were set. And there were the cases where no warrants or judicial determination of record were made in accordance with Iranian law or made at all (Kechichian and Sadri 1989, 297). But these machinations did not keep Admiral Bahram Afzali, Commander of the Iranian Navy, and other leftists from defending Iran by remaining in the armed forces. Iran needed their support. Men like Afzali responded. These leftists and alleged traitors, part of the group of 101, claimed by the Tudeh and Fedayeen parties (the two parties having merged), included Colonel Houshang Attarian, Colonel Bezhan Kabiri, Colonel Hassan Azarfar, Colonel Seifallah Qiasund, Colonel Abul-Qassem Afrayi, and hundreds of junior and noncommissioned officers (Tarock 1998, 81–83). Like many Christians, Zoroastrians, and members of other communities, Afzali’s “only aim was to serve” (Kar International 1984a, 22). Despite being subjected to bias, discrimination, torture, or executions, religious and political minorities offered themselves for the sacred Iran. Afzali stated that he knew of “the contradictions, oppression, injustice, and deprivation,” but he offered himself for Iranian national independence (Kar International 1984a, 22). The Islamic Republic arrested him for being a communist and violating the decree against political affiliation. It also claimed his transmission of information to the Soviet Union. The government executed him on February 25, 1984. Afzali was not the only leftist to be killed by the Islamic Republic. After the 1981–1982 purges, the government removed hundreds more from the military, including junior and noncommissioned officers; it executed dozens for being members of leftist parties. But like Afzali, each leftist, Fedayeen and Tudeh alike, knew the dangers of violating Khomeini’s decree. Many died in the war or the 1988 mass prison executions. Unlike the brief words of Afzali, the written or oral testimonies of these latter officers as to why they sacrificed remain lost. In this way, much scholarly work remains to be done. CONCLUSION After 1983, by Islamizing the Iranian Revolution and the Iranian war efforts against Iraq, Khomeini and his partisans increasingly marginalized non-Shi’a Iranians and those with “problematic” political affiliations. Sacred Defense literature and relevant research largely reflect this marginalization, so the Iranian war efforts appear synonymous with, as I argue, the false notion of only a Shi’a culture of martyrdom. This marginalization also includes making the war participation of non-Shi’a religious communities appear to reflect, erroneously, each community’s religious culture while eliminating the war participation of ostensible political foes, such as the Fedayeen-e Khalq. Rather, as I have shown, these minority communities were, in their own ways, “co-religionists” of a secular nation-state. In the end, such history furthers a flawed universal theory of sacrifice that propels a violence of complicity that enables the othering of Iranians. As I noted earlier, countering the prevailing image of wartime Iranians remains a difficult task. It is hard to find individuals, communities, and supporting documentation that shows diverse people fought in the war due to their nationalism, in the name of Iran and not in the name of Shi’ism or another religion. These individuals and their communities do not appear to constitute a majority of Iranians. Many of them are dead. Others remain in Iran and are difficult to access. And the archival sources of information are almost nonexistent. Still, the difficulty of acquiring empirical evidence cannot be allowed to blinker our understanding of what religion, both formally and conceptually, has meant in recent Iranian history. Further, the difficulty of this research cannot mean our accepting the universality approach that I critique. The erroneous edifice of martyrdom can be corrected by using newspapers, magazines, and other literature published during the War or soon thereafter, as I have shown, as well as by developing new oral histories. We need to write a more accurate history of Iranians and their sacred Iran. I thank William McAllister for his significant support and mentorship during the writing stage of my dissertation from which this article is drawn. His continued guidance after the completion of my Mellon Fellowship has been inspirational. I also thank Gil Anidjar who always sees the little as well as the big things and pushes me to argue more vociferously. All shortcomings herein of course lie with me. REFERENCES Abrahamian, Ervand. 1999. Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran . Berkeley: University of California Press. Aghaie, Kamran. 2004. The Martyrs of Karbala: Shi’i Symbols and Rituals in Modem Iran . Seattle: University of Washington. Amin, Shahid. 1984. “ Gandhi as Mahatma: Gorakhpur District, Eastern UP, 1921–2.” In Subaltern Studies III , edited by Ranajit Guha, 1–61. New Dehli: Oxford University Press. Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities . 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Footnotes 1 Higgins estimates the fourteen most populous groups in Iran during the middle of the War and the percentages of the Iranian population they constitute (Higgins 1984). She and others who attempt to determine the population of Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities pay careful attention to their methodology, as Iran has not conducted a census that includes minority categories in over 50 years. But organizations do make estimates. The United States Institute of Peace estimates that in 1979 the Iranian population was about 37 million (DaBell 2013). Of this, 350,000 belonged to the Baha’i religion; about 320,000 were Christians (composed of Armenians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians); 80–100,000 were Jews; and 300,000 were Zoroastrians. 2 The literature defining sacrifice and sacred are voluminous, especially as one must consider the history of religions and sociology of religious literatures within Euro-American scholarship and the specific etymology of these words in Iran. The latter requires, at minimum, both the Qur’anic understanding of these words as well as the transformation of these words beginning in nineteenth century Iran, which I demonstrate elsewhere. Here, I generally define sacred as that for which a person is willing to sacrifice or be sacrificed. Sacrifice is the act of giving to or for a sacred. The extent to which one sacrifices to or for a sacred varies in degrees from first fruit offerings to the giving of life. Here, as in the fuller research from which this article stems, I show a multiplicity of sacreds can exist. Yet the sacred or the ultimate sacred among those multiplicities is most often that for which people are willing to kill and be killed (Bolourchi 2017, 25–48). Moqadas is the Arabic word, also used in Persian, to mean sacred, that which is set apart from the ordinary and mundane by a community. I use and focus on the word moqadas because of the frequency in which it appears in my archives and its adjectival use in those archives when referring to Iran. For a collection that brings together some of the pivotal theoretical works, see Carter 2006. 3 As footnote one indicates, three ethnic groups compose the majority of Iranian Christians: Armenians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans. Because each group specifically includes its ethnicity when asserting their religion (see the quote that begins this article), I too shall retain this nomenclature. The Christian works I analyze here were composed by Armenian Christians; thus, I identify them as such except when the writer or speaker specifically otherwise identifies him/herself. 4 I use the umbrella term “Liberal-Left” throughout this article. I do so in accord with the historical trajectory and explanation that Mosaddeq and the National Front largely subsumed the main parties of the Iranian left (the Tudeh party, the Toilers of the Iranian Nation Party, and the Third Force) within the intensity of the Nationalist Movement even though it did not necessarily express Marxist concepts. The submersion of these groups under this umbrella term relates not only to the immediate goal of ending the economic and political dependency of Iran on Anglo-America but also achieving a democratic government. When I specifically address leftist groups, like the Fedayeen-e Khalq, I will not label them as Liberal-Left. 5 I have not included Iranian Jews in this article because I have yet to find or be given written records as to why they defended Iran early in the War efforts. 6 One reason for the lack of written records pertaining to early Jewish War sacrifices is that “[a]ll the recognized religious minorities with the exception of the Jews served at the battlefront,” because the “recruitment laws, binding on the Iranian population, were not binding on the Jews” (Sanasarian 2000, 143). In the early years, they contributed by fundraising and donating tractors and heavy equipment. They did serve after the 1986 directive asking them to enlist. In 2014, the Iranian government under President Hassan Rouhani erected a monument honoring ten fallen Jewish soldiers who died during the Revolution and War (Daily Mail 2015). 7 The topic has been studied exhaustively since the Revolution. See Abrahamian 1999; Aghaie 2004; Chelkowski and Dabashi 1999; Dabashi 1993; Fischer 1980; Gieling 1999. Finding academic and especially journalistic writing engulfed in stereotypical depictions of a uniquely Iranian “culture of martyrdom” or “culture of death” is not challenging. See de Bellaigue 2006 and 2012; Grotto 2009; Kifner 1984; Smyth 2016. 8 In this context, much of the work produced by Euro-American scholars continues to perpetuate the idea that the 1979 Iranian Revolution was a revolution that pits the Shah and his modernization efforts against Khomeini and his religious culture of theocracy. This is not to say this applies to all works on the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Obviously, a plethora of works examine other political dynamics as well as economic and structural reasons, among others, to provide multi-dimensional analysis. But what I am pointing to here is the more simplistic elements in which academics and analysts have told us that individuals who believed in and followed Khomeini–the majority of Iranians–would of course zealously participate in the Sacred Defense since “the cult of martyrdom in Shi’ite Islam... explain[s] Iran’s intransigence in its war with Iraq.” Academics and researchers who studied Iranian politics and society for the quarter-century prior to the 1979 Revolution and “never observed that Iranians were particularly interested in sacrificing their lives in order to gain early entry to heaven” have much for which to account in their analysis after the Revolution where their written works describe Iranians as perennially, traditionally religious despite the attempts of the Shah at modernization. Why did and do Euro-American scholars and journalists produce works that wholeheartedly agree or mirror the rhetoric of the Islamic Republic? Did they ignore or miss this part of Iranian culture? Do they now subscribe to a particular reading of history that explains the Iranian government through the Islamic Republic’s understanding of itself? Did the Iran-Iraq War substantively change Iranians? Or have they just missed something? I am not the first to ask these questions or point out the flaws. See Farhang 1985. 9 Janzen provides a more recent survey of “universal theories of sacrifice” and their critiques Janzen 2004, (75–81). 10 The Security Council passed Resolution 514 on July 12, 1982 and Resolution 598 on July 20, 1987. Neither country accepted 598 until July 20, 1988; it became effective on August 8, 1988. 11 The propensity to associate religion and race (or ethnicity) and the alleged superiority of said race is evident prior to the advent of the history of religion and sociology of religion as distinct academic disciplines. But the formation of these disciplines during the nineteenth century formalized the associations between race, religion, and evolutionary superiority in Euro-American scholarship. These associations also came to dominate scholarship on nations and civilizations. The literature on the subject is vast. For examples, see Said 1978 and 1993; Balibar and Wallerstein 1991; Prentiss 2003; Masuzawa 2005; Anidjar 2008. 12 Zahra Hoseini’s colossal success is a more recent example of this and is one that is a notable exception in Sacred Defense literature because it vividly presents a woman’s willingness to sacrifice. Her writing is one in which the Iranian Revolution was a Shi’a revolution. A Shia Kurd (“I am a Muslim first, and then a Kurd,” she declares), she promotes the messaging of the Islamic Republic even as she points out the faults of men, refuses to listen to them in some cases, and questions gender normativity at the warfront. Hoseini 2008. See also note 8. 13 Ahmad Dehqan addresses some of these issues (Dehqan 2006). 14 Extant research often focuses on the extent to which Arab as well as Western governments supported Saddam Hussein after 1983. But Jansen asserts early in the War the five key mistakes the Iraqi leader made and why they prevented Arab governments from supporting Iraq in the years prior (Jansen 1984, 81–83). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 18, 2018
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