A Crime That Will Not Be Forgotten

Eyewitnesses Narrate The Event Of 17th Of Shahrivar, 1357

Interviewed & Compiled by Faezeh Sasanikhah
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan

2022-01-04


17th of Shahrivar 1357 (September 8, 1978) is remembered as a bitter day in the memory of the Iranian revolutionary people. On this day, a large number of people were martyred by the forces of the Pahlavi regime in Tehran’s Jaleh (Shohada) Square. According to many experts, the massacre of the people on this day cleared the Pahlavi regime’s attitude over the popular protests and showed the real nature of the regime. The event of the bloody Friday of 17th of Sharivar, 1357 became known as “Black Friday” and “Bloody Friday” and became a turning point in expansion of popular opposition against the Pahlavi regime.    

On the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of this bloody event, we have conducted interviews with some of the eyewitness of this event to tell us how the people were killed and suppressed on this day as well as the events happened in the following days.

*How were you informed of the protest rally of 17th of Shahrivar and how did you get there?

Esmaeel Ehsan Pour: I do not remember how I was informed of the rally, but early in the morning, I moved from our house, which was then on Sasan Street, near the current Shokofeh intersection, to Jaleh Square and reached the square. Around the square, the Imperial Army guards had stood in two or three rows. Apart from the infantry, the tanks were standing there with machine guns over them, and a helicopter was hovering over the people. 

A large number of people including men and women had gathered in the square and the surrounding streets. I can say the population had spread from Jaleh Square to Khorasan Street.

A group of people had come on the side of Fouzieh Square (the current Imam Hossein (AS) Square). Another group from the side of Jaleh Street (the current Mujahedin-e Eslam Street) and the other group had stood from the side of Farah Abad Street (the current Piroozi Street). The police did not allow the people who had come from the side of Imam Hossein (AS) Square to join us, saying “Go through the alleys and come back.” We did not know what to do. Some said let’s go back and some asked the people to stay. I had stood in the front row and the women had stood in the second and third rows. When I saw that the situation was not normal, I moved toward a small gas station near the area. The police shot tear gas into the protesters. Our eyes were burning and tears were falling down uncontrollably. 

The people had stood and were chanting slogans. I hid behind a fuel dispenser. The people rushed again toward the Jaleh Square and the military forces opened fire at the people again. A number of people fell down on the ground and a number of others took refuge in large, wide streams of the street. The healthy and the wounded and the martyrs were seen together. The ground was full of martyrs and the wounded.

When the situation became more normal, the people lifted some of the martyrs and the wounded from the ground and removed them from the scene. Meanwhile, I saw some young people lifted up a martyr and took him to a street behind the gas station while beating on their head and crying. I went to help them and took the martyrs to that street. At this moment, a photographer took a photo from us which was later published and it is still seen in the background of some historical films. I returned home after half an hour or an hour.

Zahra Mir Mohammad Sadeq

My family and relatives were revolutionaries. In 1978, I participated in some demonstrations and rallies, and through my friends, I was informed of the rally on the 17th of Shahrivar. I had been betrothed in that year. My husband was participating in the rallies, but he wanted to go somewhere with his brother on that day and they asked me not to go, but I had an appointment with my friends and left.  

I started walking from the house of the family of my husband toward Jaleh Square. I went from the narrow alleys and reached the Shahbaz Street (the current 17th of Shahrivar Street) though Goethe Street. A large number of people had come. I did not find my friends in the place where we had made an appointment. I did not wait for them and walked toward the Jaleh Square along with the people. The guard forces had lined up in front of us and the people were chanting slogans. We had been sitting as the shooting started and some fell on the ground. It was a strange situation. Some had fallen on the ground and their bodies were bloody but I did not found out whether they had been martyred or wounded. The wounded did their best to save themselves. I had really scared and started running along part of the population. While I was running I saw that the men were helping the women or guiding them on which streets to go or helping the wounded. As I was running, I saw that one of two guard forces were following us, so I started to run faster. I along with a few women entered an alley in Shahbaz Street. Someone had opened the door of his house and sheltered me and some women and then closed the door. We were there for almost half an hour. The sound of shooting was still heard from the Jaleh Square. The householder went out of the house to see what was going up. When he was sure that nobody was around there, he said that we could go. When I went out of the house, I was continuously looking at my back so that nobody was chasing me. This time I heard the sound of bullets being fired at great distances. When I arrived in front of the house, my husband had stood worried in front of the door. He had followed me when he heard the sound of a bullet, but he had not found me.

Mohtaram Mahdavi, wife of Mr. Esmaeel Ehsan Pour

After the prayer of Eid al-Fitr was held in Qeitarieh hills, we had heard the news that a rally would be held on 17th of Shahrivar. Of course, we did not take part in the prayer but heard that some people had said that a rally would be held on 17th of Shahrivar in Jaleh Square. The Pahlavi regime had declared martial law at six AM on that morning. After hearing the news, I said, “May God end today safely.” Our house was in Sasan Street. My husband Mr. Esmaeel Ehsan Pour and my brother who were living in a house did not pay attention to the martial law and went to the place of demonstration.

We were worried about what would happen today. After they left, I said to my brother's wife, "Shall we go and see what is going on in Jaleh Square?" "Let's go," she said. I handed the children over to my sister-in-law, who was in our house, and demanded her to lock the door so that they would not come out.

We reached ourselves to Shahbaz Street through alleys. There was a large population and we were able to get to a place much lower than the gas station. Before we got there, the shooting at the people had started. We saw no martyr but many shoes and slippers had been thrown on the ground and it was clear that many had escaped barefoot. However, the street was still crowded. There was a great tumult. There was a crowd on that side of the street and the crowd had gathered in a corner. We asked, "What has happened? Why have the people gathered there?" They said, "Two soldiers have committed suicide!" "Why?" We asked. They said, "When their superior ordered them to shoot at the people, they did not obey and killed themselves instead of shooting at the people!"

A helicopter was flying overhead. They said it was shooting at the people from above. We quickly fled and went to one of the houses with the door open so that we were not hit if they fired from inside the helicopter. The house was old and had a porch at the entrance. We stood there for a while and then when the situation calmed down we went out. We were very scared and returned home from there.

Masumeh Khansari Bozorgi, the wife of Mr. Mustafa Abolhasani, a revolutionary activist

I have to go back a little bit to answer your question. My friends and I attended the Eid al-Fitr prayer, which was held in the hills of Qaitarieh. The prayer was led by Ayatollah Mohammad Mofatteh.

I had worked hard to distribute the leaflets inviting the people to attend the Eid al-Fitr prayer. My friend Mahboubeh Danesh was part of the coordination and supplies group. After the prayer, I saw her and recognized her through her way of walking and movements. She had covered herself with a chador, lifted his wimple, and had worn large sunglasses to avoid detection.

We came down the Qeitarieh hills along with the population. The military forces fired tear gas toward the population. For countering the tear gas, the guys immediately set tires on fire and used the cotton and lemon juice with the chopped onion they usually brought with them. 

The crowd moved down the street. It was a calm rally and calm slogans were chanted. There were military and security vehicles on both sides of the crowd. Monday ended without any violence. At the end of the demonstration, it was quickly announced that a rally would be held on the same route again on Thursday. We went to the place of appointment early Thursday morning. I saw Mahboubeh, but in order not to be identified, we greeted each other briefly without anyone noticing. We were very careful. If someone was being chased, everyone would be caught, so we would not even remember each other's phone numbers, we would not have any information about ourselves or others, and we would not make an appointment with each other or walk together in the rallies. The Thursday rally was held more passionate. We walked from Qeitarieh Street and Shariati Street, then called Kourosh-e Kabir, to Eisenhower (now Azadi Street). Police cars, the guard forces, and armed security forces had stood all the way, wearing tear gas masks. I was wondering for whom they brought all these soldiers? The audience chanted very soft slogans like “The army is Our Brothers”, “Khomeini is Our Leader”; “Independence, Freedom, the Islamic Republic”. When we reached the bottom of Seyed Khandan Bridge, we hit our feet on the ground and with our fists clenched, we said “Death to Shah” in a way that the bridge shook. The people showed themselves very well, because the regime declared continuously that these people were a bunch of thugs, traitors, and so on.

We arrived at Azadi Square at night. With God’s help, a great and glorious rally was held on 7th of September. After the rally, a congregational prayer was held. When we prayed and wanted to disperse, a person we did not know immediately announced loudly that tomorrow morning, at eight in the morning, Jaleh Square.

Because the voice was echoed, the others repeated the same sentence. I do not know who announced this, but with my friends Mahboubeh Danesh and Zahra Ayatollah, we arranged to participate in that rally.

I reached home at ten PM and my mother was not at home. I was said that she had been worried about you since morning and that her feet had been burnt out of anxiety while baking tomato paste. When my mother came, she asked me, "Why didn't you contact with me?" I explained for her that I couldn't call from the booths because the booths were usually eavesdropped by SAVAK agents and they even stationed around there.

Though I woke up sooner than always before the morning Azan (call to prayer) on that day, it took a while until I did the housework and prepared the breakfast. I got out of the house at around 7:30 AM. Our house was in Khorasan Street. I started moving toward Jaleh Square, and didn't get a taxi. I considered probable that the SAVAK agents might identify us under the cover of drivers. I got on a bus.

A few stations after Khorasan Square, I saw that the street was very crowded. When I reached the station after the Shokoofeh Intersection, I saw that the street was more crowded than the usual and the situation was chaotic. The street was full of police forces and many tires were burning and smoke had risen. The bus driver said that the way was closed and he could not drive more. I got off quickly and started walking toward Jaleh Square, before reaching the square, I saw the tumult among the people and heard that the people had been killed. The sound of bullets and machine guns were heard. The helicopters were flying overhead the people on the ground. The more I went forward, the more the crowd of population and the sound of shootings were increasing. I was seeing the military vehicles, soldiers and ambulances which were coming and going. One or two stations before the Jaleh Square, the police did not allow the people to go forward.

I couldn't get closer to the square more than this. Due to my promise to my mother, I turned away and returned home but the same tumult and noise existed along the way. I got home at around eleven PM. The shop of my father was in Khorsan Square and he had heard the news and was worried about me.

Fatemeh Alavi, the daughter of Hojatoleslam Seyed Jalal Alavi, the prayer leader of Imam Hasan (AS) Mosque of Great Lavasan:

I had not come out of the house to take part in 17th of Shahrivar's rally and did not know what was going up in Jaleh Square. Our house was in Shah Abbas Street (the current Qa'em Maqam Farahani Street). On that day, I along with my younger daughter who was a student of the elementary school had gone to Baharestan Square. I saw that the sound of shooting was heard from the side of Jaleh Square and the people were running from Baharestan to the current Mujahedin Street. I asked those who were around there, "What's going on?" They said the guard forces have killed the people. They were going fast but I was driving and could get to the place quickly. I turned into Mujahedin Street and I could not go more forward from the place where the Fatemion Husseinieh is located and there is a mosque on the other side of the street, which was known as Nouri. I could not see anything from there, only the sound of gunfire and the people’s shouting and moaning were heard. There, I stayed behind the crowd for a long time until the street gradually became more secluded and I went further. No one was allowed to enter the square. I crossed the crowd with difficulty and moved towards Piroozi Street. By the time I arrived, the clash was over, but some of the wounded were still there. I had been shocked and shouted from inside the car, "People, come out and see that they killed your youths." I went to the end of Niroo Havaei and asked the people to open the doors of their houses and help the wounded. My car was a large station, and people were getting on and off at their destination along the way. Since the street was still cramped, I could not drive fast and the people would get on and off themslves.

I felt very bad. My uncle's house was on Piroozi Street. I went to their house and stayed there until evening, and they took care of me so that I could feel a little better so that I could sit behind the wheel again and return home.

*Did you come to the streets after the event of 17th of Shahrivar to see how the situation was?

Ehsan Pour: I came back to Jaleh Square after two or three hours to see what was going on. When I arrived, I saw that there was no news and that ordinary people were coming and going, and that there was no news of the bodies and wounded, and that few military forces had been standing there.

Mohtaram Mahdavi: I did not to the street again, but I saw that in our alley, a number of wounded people being brought and taken to a neighbor's house to find a trusted doctor who would treat them and remove the bullets from their bodies. One of the wounded had been injured in the leg. We asked, "Where have you been?" "I came to Tehran by bus from Tabriz with another group of my friends," he said. "We lost each other and I do not know where they are."

Masumeh Khansari Bozorgi: I did not go out of the house anymore but my brother came home at noon and was very upset. "Where have you been?" I asked him. "I was in Khorasan Square and did not go higher," he said. The reason was that the rally was not planned by the headquarters that worked with Martyr Beheshti and Martyr Mofatteh. We didn’t know what to do? We had waited in the square to do something if we could." My brother was serious in his political activities and collaborated with different groups and even planted weapons in our house. Our house was old and big, with a cellar and basement, a water tank, a chimney, and so on. My father owned a grocery and dairy shop and stored rice and beans in a basement warehouse. It was a good place to hide weapons, a large number of leaflets and the Imam Khomeini’s treatise. Sometimes my brother would tell me, “I will go out and if I do not come back, throw the gun bag in the snow well”. We used to have a snow well in the yard where we poured snow.

I asked him, "Did you not see anyone killed?" "I saw", he said. "Even in Khorasan Square, people were killed." The police station in Khorasan Square severely suppressed the revolutionary forces because there were many revolutionary forces in this area. Its commander was an executioner and a very violent man who tortured people in the lower floor of the police station after their arrest and the last resistance close to the victory of the revolution was carried out by this police station, and they were surrendered very late and hard.

In continuation of his words, my brother said, “Mahboubeh Danesh has been martyred.” I got very upset and felt that the world was over for me. I was fourteen years old at the time and Mahboubeh was two years older than me and I loved her very much. Our friendship was based on ideological and political issues. I had become familiar and made friend with Mahboubeh in Golshan Mosque. There, we carried out cultural activities under the supervision of Hojjatoleslam Haj Agha Reza Gharavi. Mahboubeh taught the Quran, told the story of the prophets to the children and held competitions. In addition to cultural activities, we had political activities such as typing, printing and distributing leaflets, holding various campaign rallies, and distributing religious and political books, and because of these activities, the regime had become very sensitive to the movements of this mosque and monitored it. But because Haj Gharavi, the mosque's prayer leader, was very brave and fearless, SAVAK was in awe of him him and attacked there less. However, they attacked several times from the back door of the mosque, and we escaped through the back door with a disguised chador. Mahboubeh was very brave and fearless. He had already identified and knew all the alleys leading to and around the mosque. Mahboubeh and Zahra and I had study programs and a self-improvement program together. We recited the Qur'an and prayed every day and fasted two days a week. We read a book every week and discussed it. We were very sensitive to discipline in the implementation of the planned programs, and if we lazed in the implementation of the programs, we would fast and perform more worship for our own punishment.

Later, I found out that Mahboubeh would come to Jaleh Square very early in the morning and went to Zahra's house. Zahra asked her to have breakfast but she did not and Zahra realized that Mahboubeh was fasting. She left the house before seven o'clock and was martyred with the first group in a clash.

Fatemeh Alavi:The next day, I went to Nouri Mosque in Mujahehdi-e Eslam Street, asking to help them if needed. They said that since you had got a car, bring the bodies to Behesht Zahra (AS) Cemetery and deliver them to the mortuary, and I did so.

Mustafa Abolhasani: There were a few of us doing cultural work in the local mosque. I was 20 at the time. Together with martyr Mohammad Hossein Nayeri, martyr Mahboubeh Danesh, Mrs. Ayatollahi, martyr Javad Maleki, Mr. Ershadi, Mrs. Khansari (Mr. Abolhasani's wife) and others, we were doing cultural work in the library of Golshan Mosque under the supervision of Mr. Gharavi.

I was not in Tehran on the day of the event of 17th of Shahrivar but heard the news. I came back to Tehran on Saturday morning. The city was still in a war mode. We were having lunch when my friend Mr. Ershadi came to our house and said, "Mahboubeh Danesh has been martyred yesterday." Mahboubeh Danesh was the daughter of Dr. Gholamreza Danesh who martyred in the event of 7th of Tit, 1360 (June 28, 1981) during the bombing in the building of the Republican Party. She was active in our mosque. Ershadi said, "Let's go Behesht Zahra tomorrow and find and bury her body." Of course, later, we found out when Mahoubbeb was martyred in the clashes, her body was transferred to the mosque where Mr. Movahedi Kermani was praying. He identified the body and called her fathers and said, "You have a guest in the mosque!" her father asked, "Who is it?" Mr. Movahedi said, "Your daughter has been martyred and is here." The body was buried on the same Saturday. I have seen in some writings and quotations that some say mistakenly that she was a member of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, while she worked with us at the Golshan Mosque for two years and was a Quran teacher. We and a number of young people were doing cultural work in the library of this mosque, and were able to expand cultural work in most of the mosques in the south of the city. Perhaps the Monafeghin or hypocrites do these things not out of stupidity but out of turpitude to make a martyr for them. It should be noted that after the Shahrivar 17th incident, some prison guards were crying over the severity of the tragedy, but the hypocrites (Mojahedin Khalq Organization) celebrated in prison over the failure of the reaction

*What was going on in Behesht Zahra (SA)?

Fatemeh Alavi: There was a commotion in Behesht Zahra (SA). Men and women had been separated. The girls and women who had been martyred had been laid out in two rows with their clothes on in a corridor so that it would be their turn to be buried. There was a stream in the middle through which the sanies flowed from below. Many fathers and mothers had come to find their children. I went to Behesht Zahra (SA) and came back for three or four days to take people or pieces of long cloth.  

Mustafa Abolhasani: On Sunday morning, I went to Behesht Zahra alone. The whole mortuary area was full of corpses. Concerned and inflamed people were looking for the bodies of their families and relatives. Everyone was nervous and uneasy. I went into the men's mortuary. Many corpses had been brought there. Some of them were inside cloth but most of the corpses were scattered on the ground. “Unknown” had been written with paper on most of them. I don’t remember that any name had been written on any of the bodies. At that time, it was not common for people to have an ID card with them, so most of the bodies were unknown. I was looking at the corpses astonishingly when I suddenly noticed the voice of a corpse-washer calling me, crying and was very anxious. We already knew each other. "What do you want to do?" He said. "I do not know," I said. "Whatever you do, hurry up. Last night, the military government came and took all the corpses and dumped them in the well," he said. Later, when I inquired about the families of the martyrs of 17th of Shahrivar, they also said that after much follow-up, we found out that the bodies had been dumped in a pit. This in itself shows that the regime had already planned for this because digging a pit is not so easy. Many of the eyewitnesses say that on the day of the incident, the regime agents picked up people who had fallen to the ground, both dead and alive, and took them away. I believe that the bodies I saw on Sunday in the mortuary of Behesht Zahra (SA) were people who had taken refuge in the houses around the accident site. In general, the bodies can be divided into three parts. One part were the bodies that were collected from the streets by the SAVAK itself on the day of the incident, the other group were unknown bodies that were brought to Behesht Zahra (SA) and the last group were the martyrs who had names and details. The corpse-washer told me, "Whatever you do, do it quickly, because they will come here tonight and take the rest of the bodies When he talked to me, he was worried and was looking around relentlessly so that no one would notice what he was saying. I started walking around the mortuary.

* At what age were most of the martyrs?

Mustafa Abolhasani: All age groups were seen among the martyrs. Men, women, children, old women, old men. But the number of women and children was the highest, even children aged one to two were among the martyrs. My estimation is that the number of the bodies at about 8 a.m. Sunday was about 150. I told the corpse-washer, “What should we do for burying the bodies?” he said, “You have to go and pay 1000 tomans for each of them and get a receipt so that we wash the bodies.” I looked around. Actually I wanted to make an estimate of the costs. I came out of the mortuary. People were anxious and inflamed, some were crying and some were chanting slogans, no one knew what to do, it was a strange atmosphere. About 300-400 people had gathered in the compound and talked in groups. There was no atmosphere of panic because the police officers were not there, but a depressing atmosphere prevailed.

A little further on, I saw a friend standing on a barrel-like height and giving a speech to the people: "O people, the regime has killed our friends and now we have to go to armed war against the regime.”

Many people had gathered around him and he was speaking enthusiastically. I called from below: "Haj Morteza! Haj Morteza! "What is it?" He said. "For now, let's go and bury the bodies," I said. He said, "No, we have to wage an armed war, and ..." I said, "Ok, but now let's go and bury the bodies of the martyrs. After that, we will start an armed war." I took a brief look at the population. Most people present there were young. I distanced a little from the crowded population. Hojatoleslam Haj Hasan Saeed, the prayer leader of the Chehelsotton Mosque in bazar who was also a friend of my father along with Agha Jafar Khansari, the son of Ayatollah Khansari had stood under a tree. I went forward and said hello and told them the story of burial and how it was done. Haj Hasan said, "I've brought money for this." Agha Jafar had also money with him.

Haj Hasan gave me some money and said, "Take this and start quickly." I referred to the administrative department and received receipts, giving them to the corpse-washer. They started their work. I saw that they first want to was a soldier. So I protested and said, "First let's wash the martyrs and then wash this soldier." The corpse-washer said, "Do you know who this soldier is?" I said, "No." He said, "This is the same soldier who shot at his commander." I had heard his story from the people. On the day of the incident, when the commander ordered to shoot at the people, the soldier stood up and shot at his commander. As soon as I saw his body, I started crying uncontrollably. I went over his body and took off his clothes and prepared him for the Ghusl (perform ablutions) of martyrdom. First, I took off his boots and kissed his feet, I had never done that in my life. He had been shot in the temple and abdomen. I read his plate, his name was Seyed Hasan Hosseini. The first martyr that we buried was this soldier. Later, I found out that the soldier was from Tabriz and his mother had delivered s speech in the ceremony of the fortieth day of the Tabriz martyrs and this showed that he was from a revolutionary family. 

A while after the burial of the bodies, I suddenly remembered that we had buried them anonymously. I took a look at around myself and saw someone who had a camera in his hands. I called and told him, " Take a photo of each body that has a receipt and number it for the photos". We also made a list and wrote the number of pictures and receipts in it. Years later, I contacted him and with his photographs, we held a photo exhibition of the martyrs of the 17th of Shahrivar incident at the University of Tehran Mosque so that people could identify the bodies. In short, I repeatedly took money from Haj Hassan and prepared receipts. While working, I noticed that the bodies had been buried irregularly and scattered in different pieces. I went to the administrative department of Behesht Zahra (SA) and said, "The bodies must be buried together." "No, we were ordered to bury the bodies in a scattered way," the person in charge said. I started shouting, "We don't pay anymore, you have to bury the bodies together." Finally, they agreed to bury the martyrs in the piece no. 17, the number of which accidentally coincided with 17th of Shahrivar. The atmosphere of Behesht Zahra (SA) was in the hands of the revolutionaries. Haj Morteza's speech had also been disturbed as a result of the burial of the martyrs. It was noon and everyone was tired and some of the bodies were still on the ground. About 50 other martyrs were brought by nightfall. There was a lot of work to be done. We had no one else to carry and take them to the grave.

Everyone was out of breath. We were not focused senses at all. I begged to come and pick up the bodies. At the end of the day, we remembered that we had to pray on the corpses and we had not done that.

How many days did it take to perform Ghusl and bury the martyrs you saw, and how many were there?

Mustafa Abolhasani: The burial of the martyrs took until Tuesday. As far as I remember, the number of the martyrs buried during the three days were more than 400.

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