In Iran, there are two native flowers that dominate the landscape and culture: red poppies and red tulips. Folklore tells that these two crimson symbols get their color from all the blood shed of Iranian martyrs who defended the nation in times of turmoil, first against the Greeks, then Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Russians, Iraqis, and so forth. The tale goes onto say that for each Martyr, a new flower blooms every spring to remind Iranians of the sacrifices of their ancestors.
As a child I used to be mesmerized by this tale, even began believing it when I saw the endless fields of freshly bloomed poppies in Mariwan, a Kurdish city near the Iran-Iraq border. And again on the route to Isfahan, from the Iranian capital, Tehran. Like little rubies they decorated the landscape which, just a month before, was nothing but bare soil and dead shrubs. When my father would pull over the car to stretch his legs and take a break, I was sure to not step on the fragile gems, thinking to myself, “which ancestor of mine could this be for? A great uncle perhaps,” one that I had heard much about and his valiant stand against Russian soldiers.
Almost fifteen years later and over two thousand miles away, the story in my eyes still holds true, although now only metaphorically, and with a much different kind of martyr:: those fighting for human rights for religious and ethnic minorities, women, and finally homosexuals. These martyrs die almost weekly under the oppressive Islamic Republic, a regime installed by Shi’ite radicals after the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty over 40 years ago. Each week human rights activists are imprisoned, tortured, and killed. The people they fight for, are also doomed to the same fate.
Homosexuality, in particular, is a crime punishable by death. Under Islamic Sharia Law, any homosexual act condoned by two consenting male adults is punishable by death. For two consenting female adults, the punishment bears 100 public lashings. Even worse, those charged with homosexual acts who are underage (16 and under) are subject to 75 lashes to be decided by the religious judiciary. People subject to lashing usually die from shock by the 30th lash. Amnesty international predicts that 4000-6000 homosexual individuals have been killed since 1990 under the Islamic Republic, but due to corruption, poor record keeping, and forced confessions, the actual numbers are unknown.
And so every spring the poppies and tulips bloom in greater numbers, each one stained with the blood of a martyr.