The crime that will never be forgotten

Eyewitnesses narrate the event of 17th of Shahrivar 1357

Interview and Compilation by Faezeh Sasanikhah
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevissan

2023-11-21


17th of Shahrivar 1357 (September 8, 1978) recalls a bitter day in the memory of Iran's revolutionary people. On this day, a large number of Iranian people were martyred in Tehran's Shohada (Jaleh) Square by the forces of the Pahlavi regime. According to many experts, the massacre of the people on this day, removed the ambiguity over the attitude of the Pahlavi regime toward the popular protests and showed the people the real motive of the regime. The event of the bloody Friday of the 17th of Shahrivar 1357 was known as "Black Friday" and "Bloody Friday", turning into 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 interviewed some of the eyewitnesses of the incident in order to know more about what happened on that day and afterwards.

 

How did you find out about the rally on Shahrivar 17 and how did you get to the rally?

Esmaeel Ehsanpour: I don't remember how I got to know about this gathering, but early in the morning, I moved from our house, which at that time was on Sassan Street, near the current Shokoufeh crossing, to Jaleh Square and arrived at Jaleh Square. The guards of the imperial army were standing in two or three rows around the square. Apart from the infantry forces, the tanks were standing and there were machine guns on the tanks, and the helicopters were hovering over the people's heads.

A large population from all walks of life had gathered around the square and the surrounding streets. I can say that the population had expanded from Jaleh Sqaure to Khorasan Street. 

Some of the people had come from the direction of Fouzieh Square (current Imam Hossein (PBUH) Square), another group of people had been standing from Jaleh Street (current Mujahedin-e Eslam Street), and some others were from the Farah Abad (current Pirouzi Street) side. The army forces did not allow the people who had come from the direction of Imam Hossein (PBUH) square to mix with us and said: "Go round the alleys and come back." We did not know what to do. Some people said to return and others said to stay. I had been standing in the first row and women had been in the second and third rows. When I saw that the situation was not normal, I came to a small gas station nearby. The army forces threw tear gases at people. Our eyes burned and tears flowed uncontrollably.

As the people had stood and chanted slogans, the soldiers started shooting. I hid myself behind a pump in the gas station. The people again rushed to Jaleh square and the army forces fired at the people again. Some people fell on the ground and some took shelter in the large and wide runnels of the street. The healthy, the wounded, and the martyrs were seen together. The ground was full of martyrs and wounded.

When the situation became more normal, the people lifted some of the martyrs and injured people from the ground and moved them away from the scene. In the meantime, I saw some young men picked up a martyr and carried him to the street behind the gas station while crying. I went to help them and we took the martyr to that street. At this moment, a photographer took a picture from us, which was later published and is still used 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 the year1357, I participated in demonstrations and rallies more or less and through my friends I learned about the rally on the 17th of Shahrivar. I had gotten engaged in that year. My husband used to participate in the rallies, but on that day he and his brother were supposed to go somewhere, and they also asked me not to go, but I had an appointment with my friends and went.

I started walking from the house of my husband's family to Jaleh Street. I went through alleys after alleys until I reached Shahbaz Street (current 17 Shahrivar) from Gotteh Street. A large crowd had gathered. I did not find my friends at the place we had arranged. I didn't wait for them and moved towards Jaleh Square with the people. The guards had lined up in front of us and the people were chanting. We had been sitting when the shooting started and some people fell on the ground. It was a strange situation. Several people had fallen on the ground and their bodies were covered in blood, but I did not understand whether they were injured or martyred. The wounded tried to save themselves anyway. I was really scared and we ran down with a part of the crowd. While I was running, I saw men helping women or guiding them which streets to go or helping the injured. As I was running, I noticed that one or two guards were following us, so I ran faster. We entered one of the alleys of Shahbaz Street with some other ladies. Someone had opened the door of his house and sheltered me and some women and closed the door. We were there for about half an hour, the sound of shooting was still heard from the direction of Jaleh Square. The owner of the house went out to see what was going on. When he made sure that there were no army forces around there, he told us that you could leave now. When I left the house, I kept looking behind me so that no one was following me. This time, I could hear the sound of gunshots from far away. When I arrived in front of the house, my husband had been standing in front of the door worried. He had followed me when he heard the sound of the bullet, but had not found me.

 

 

Mohtaram Mahdavi, the wife of Mr. Esmaeel Ehsanpour

We had heard the news of holding a rally on 17th of Shahrivar after the Eid al-Fitr prayer in the hills of Qaitarieh. We did not participate in that prayer ourselves, but we heard that some people said that a rally would be held on the 17th of Shahrivar in Jaleh square. The Pahlavi government had declared martial law at six in the morning on that day. After hearing this news, I said: "May God help us today." Our house was on Sassan street. My husband, Mr. Esmaeel Ehsanpour, and my brother, who lived in the same house with us, did not pay attention to the martial law and went to the demonstration site.

We were very worried about what was going to happen on that day. After they left, I said to my brother's wife: "Would you like to go see what is going on in Jaleh Square?" She said: "Let's go." I left the children to my sister-in-law, who was at our house, and emphasized her to lock the door so they wouldn't come out.

We reached ourselves to the Shahbaz Street alley by alley. It was very crowded and we managed to get ourselves to a place far below the gas station. Before we got there, the army forces had started shooting at the people. We did not see any martyrs, but there were many shoes and slippers on the ground and it was clear that many ran away with bare feet. However, the street was still crowded. There was an uproar. There was a crowd on the other side of the street and the crowd had gathered in one corner. We asked: "What has happened? Why have people gathered there?" They said: "Two soldiers have committed suicide!" We asked: "For what?" They said: "When their superiors ordered to shoot at the people, they did not obey and instead of shooting at the people, they killed themselves!"

The helicopter was hovering above us. It was said that they were shooting at people from above. We quickly ran away and went to one of the houses whose door was open so that if they shot from inside the helicopter, it would not hit us. The house was old and had a vestibule at the entrance. We stood there for a while and then when things calmed down we came out. We were very scared and returned home from there.

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

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

I had put a lot of effort in distributing leaflets inviting people to attend the Eid al-Fitr prayer. My friend Mahboobeh Danesh was part of the coordination and procurement group. I saw him after the prayer and recognized him from his walk and movements. He covered herself with a Chador and pulled up his mask and worn large sunglasses to avoid being recognized.

Together with the crowd, we went down from the hills of Qaitarieh. The guard forces fired tear gas into the crowd. Immediately, the guys set fire to the tire and used cotton and lemon juice with chopped onions that they usually had with them. The crowd moved down the street. The rally was peaceful and peaceful slogans were given. The soldiers and security vehicles were stationed on both sides of the crowd. Monday ended without any violence. At the end of the demonstration, it was quickly announced that another rally would be held on the same route on Thursday. We went on a date early on Thursday morning. I saw Mahboobeh, but in order not to be recognized without anyone noticing, we exchanged a short greeting. We were very careful. If one person was followed, everyone would be caught, that's why we didn't even remember each other's phone numbers, we didn't carry any information about ourselves and others, and didn't date each other or walk together in rallies.

The Thursday's rally was held more emotional than before. We walked from Qaytarieh Street and Shariati Street, which was then called Koorosh Kabir, to Eisenhower (current Azadi Street). Police cars, guards, and armed security forces were standing all along the road, wearing anti-tear gas masks. I was wondering for whom they had brought all these soldiers? The demonstrators chanted very peaceful slogans like the army is our brother, Khomeini is our leader; Independence, freedom, Islamic Republic. When we reached under the Seyed Khandan bridge, we stamped our feet on the ground and said "Down with Shah" with clenched fists, and the bridge shook. The people showed themselves very well, because the regime always announced that they are a bunch of thugs, traitors and narcissists, etc.

We arrived at Azadi Square at night. With God's special grace, a great and magnificent rally was held on the 16th of Shahrivar. After the rally, congregational prayer was held. When we prayed and wanted to disperse, a person whom we did not recognize immediately announced in a loud voice that tomorrow morning, at eight in the morning, Jaleh square.

Since the voice echoed, the others repeated this sentence. I don't know who announced this, but with my friends Mahboobeh Danesh and Zahra Ayatollahi, we agreed to participate in that rally.

It was 10 am when we reached home and my mother was not at home. They said that she had been worried about you since morning and her feet were burnt due to anxiety while cooking tomato paste. "Why didn't you call us?" asked my mother when she came. I explained to her that we couldn't make calls from the phone booths because they were usually bugged by SAVAK and even deployed around them.

 

 

Even though I woke up earlier than usual and before the morning Azan or call to prayer, it took me a while to do the housework and prepare breakfast. I left the house around half past seven. Our house was on Khorasan Street. From there, I walked towards Jaleh Square, but I did not take a taxi or a passing car. I expected the SAVAk agents to identify us in the guise of the driver. I got on the bus. When I passed a few stations from Khorasan Square, I saw that the street was very crowded. When I reached the station after Shokoufeh crossing, I saw that the street was more crowded than usual and the situation was chaotic. The street was full of police forces and many tires were burning and smoke was rising. "The road is closed," said the bus driver. And he could not go further. I quickly got off and walked towards Jaleh Street. Before reaching the square, I could see the anger of the people and heard some people say that they killed people. The sound of shootings was heard. Helicopters were flying overhead. The more I went forward, the more the crowd and the sound of gunfire. I was seeing military vehicles, soldiers and ambulances moving around. Ambulance sirens were heard. Some people had bloody clothes in their hands and were running. The police did not allow us to go further from one or two stops left to Jaleh Square.

I could not get closer to the square. Because of the promise I made to my mother, I turned around and went back to the house but the same furor and noise was again on the route. I reached home around half past eleven. My father's shop was in Khorasan Square and he had heard the news and was worried about me.

Fatemeh Alavi, daughter of Hojjat al-Eslam Alavi, the prayer leader of Imam Hasan (PBUH) Mosques of the Great Lavasan

I didn’t came out with the purpose of taking part in the rally of 17th  of Shahrivar and didn’t know anything about what was going on in Jaleh Square. Our house was in Shah Abbas Street (current Gha’em Magham).  On that day, I went to Baharestan Square with my first daughter, who was a primary school student, to do something. I saw that the sound of gunfire coming from the direction of Jaleh Square and the people running from Baharestan Square towards the current Mujahedin. I asked those around me: "What's going on?" They said the guard forces killed people. They were running quickly but I was behind the wheel and I couldn't get myself to that place fast enough. I turned into Mujahedin street and I could not go further from where Hosseiniyeh Fatemiyoun is located and a mosque known as Nouri located on that side of the street. When I arrived, the fighting was over, but there were still some wounded people there. I had been shocked and was shouting from inside the car: "People, come out, they killed your young people." I went to the end of the “Nirooy-e Havaee” and asked the people to open the doors of their houses and help the wounded. My car was a big station wagon and there were people getting on and off along the way. Because the street was still crowded, I couldn't drive fast and the people were getting on and off themselves.

I was not fine at all. My uncle's house was on Pirouzi Street. I went to his house and stayed there until the evening and they took care of me so that I could feel better so that I could drive again and return home.

Did you to the streets after the incident of Shahrivar 17 to see what was going on?

Ehsanpour: After two or three hours, I came back again to Jaleh Sqaure to see what was going on. When I arrived, I saw that there was nothing special and ordinary people were coming and going, and there was no news of dead bodies or wounded, and just a few military forces were standing there.

Mohtaram Mahdavi: I didn't go to the street anymore, but I saw a number of wounded people being brought from our own street and taken to the neighbor's house opposite to ours to find a reliable doctor to treat them and remove the bullet from their bodies. One of them had been injured in the leg. I asked, “Where have you been?" He said: "I came to Tehran from Tabriz by bus with another group of my friends. We lost each other and I don't know where they are?"

Masoumeh Khansari Bozorgi: I didn't leave the house anymore, but my brother came home at noon and was very upset. "Where have you been?" I asked him. He said: "I was in Khorasan Square and could not go farther. The reason was that this rally had not been planned by the headquarters that worked with martyr Beheshti and martyr Mofatteh. We didn’t know what to do. We were standing in the square to do something or support if we could." My brother was very active in political works and cooperated with various groups and even embedded weapons in our house. Our house was old and big, with cellar and basement, water tank, chimney, etc. My father had a grocery and dairy shop and kept rice and beans in the basement. It was a good place to hide weapons, there were a large number of leaflets and Imam Khomeini's Risala or treatise. Sometimes my brother told me, “I will go out and if I didn’t come back, throw the gun bag in the snow well. In the old days, we had a snow well in the yard where we poured the snow.

I asked him: "Didn't you see anyone being killed?" He said: "I saw. They even killed people in Khorasan Square." Khorasan Square 14 Police Station severely suppressed the revolutionary forces because there were many revolutionary forces in this area. Its chief was a very violent and executioner and tortured people after arresting them in the lower floor of the police station, and the last resistance close to the victory of the revolution was carried out by this police station, and it surrendered very late with difficulty.

In continuation, my brother said, “Mahboobeh Danesh has been martyred.” I became very upset and felt that the world has come to an end for me.” I was fourteen at that time and Mahboobeh was two years older than me and love her very much. Our friendship was based on religious and political issues. I had met and acquainted with Mahboobeh in Golshan Mosque. We were doing cultural activities there under the supervision of Hojjat al-Eslam Haj Agha Reza Gharavi. Mahboobeh taught the Qur'an, explained the stories of the prophets and organized competitions for the children. In addition to cultural activities, we had political activities such as typing, printing and distributing leaflets, holding numerous campaign meetings and distributing religious and political books, and because of these activities, the regime had become very sensitive to the movements of this mosque and kept an eye on it. But since Haj Gharavi the prayer leader of the mosque was a brave man, the SAVAK stood in awe of him and attacked the mosque rarely. However, they attacked several times through the back door of the mosque and we escaped through the back door with a disguised chador. Mahboobeh was very brave and fearless. She already identified and knew all the alleys leading to the mosque and its surroundings.

Mahboobeh, Zahra and I had programs for studying and self-improvement. We recited the Qur'an and prayed every day and fasted two days a week. Every week we read a book and discussed it together. We were very sensitive to the order in the implementation of the set plans, and if we were lax in the implementation of the plans, we would fast to punish ourselves and perform more worship.

Later, I found out that Mahboobeh comes to Jaleh Square very early in the morning and goes to Zahra's house. Zahra offers him breakfast, but she eats nothing, and Zahra realizes that she is a fasting. She leaves the house before seven o'clock and is martyred in a conflict along with the first group.

Fatemeh Alavi: The next day, I went to Nouri Mosque located in Mujahedin Eslam Street and asked if I could help. They had collected cotton and cloth there. They said since you have a car, take these to Behesht Zahra Cemetery and deliver them to the mortuary, and I did.

Mustafa Abolhasani: There were a few of us who did cultural work in the mosque's library. I was 20 at that time. I, along with martyr Mohammad Hossein Nayeri, martyr Mahboobeh Danesh, Ms. Ayatollahi, martyr Javad Maleki, Mr. Ershadi, Ms. Khansari (Mr. Abolhasani's wife) and... we did cultural work in the library of Golshan Mosque under the supervision of Mr. Gharavi.

I was not in Tehran on the day of the incident on Shahrivar 17, but I heard about it. I reached Tehran on Saturday morning. The city was still in a state of war. We were having lunch at noon when my friend Mr. Ershadi came to our house and said: "Mahboobeh Danesh was martyred yesterday." She was the daughter of martyr Dr. Gholamreza Danesh, who was martyred on 7th of Tir 1360 in the bombing incident of the Islamic Republican Party. She was active in our mosque. Ershadi said, “Let’s go to Behesht Zahra tomorrow and find and bury her body.” Of course, we later found out that when Mahboobeh Danesh was martyred in the conflicts, her body was moved to the mosque where Mr. Movahedi Kermani was praying; he identified the body and called her father and said: "You have a guest in our mosque! » “Who?” says his father. Mr. Movahedi says: "Your daughter was martyred and she is here." They bury the body on the same Saturday. In some writings and quotes, I have seen that some people wrongly say that Mahboobeh Danesh was a member of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, whereas she worked with us for two years in Golshan Mosque 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 works in most of the mosques in the south of the city. Maybe the hypocrites (Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization) say these things not out of stupidity but out of meanness to make martyrs for themselves. It should be said that after the incident on 17th of Shahrivar, some prison guards were crying because of the tragedy, but the hypocrites are celebrating in the prison that the reaction failed.

What was going on in Behesht Zahra Cemetery?

Fatemeh Alavi: There was an uproar in Behesht Zahra. Men and women had been separated. The girls and women who had been martyred were laid in two rows in the same corridor with the clothes they were wearing until it was their turn to be buried. There was a stream in the middle where serum was pouring from below. Many parents came to look for their loved ones. I used to go back and forth to Behesht Zahra (PBUH) for three or four days to take people or cloth pieces.

Mustafa Abolhasani: I went to Behesht Zahra alone on Sunday morning. The whole area of the mortuary was full of dead bodies. Worried and inflamed people were looking for the bodies of their family and relatives, no one was in their mood. I went into the men's mortuary. Many bodies were brought there, some of them were inside the cloth, but most of them were spread on the ground. It had been written “unknown” on most of them. I don't remember that a name had been written on a dead body. At that time, it was not common for people to carry identification cards with them, so most of the bodies were unidentified. I was looking at the bodies perplexedly, when I suddenly heard the voice of a dead body washer, who was calling me, crying and very anxious. We already knew each other. "What do you want to do?" he said. I said, "I don't know." He said: "Whatever you do, hurry up. Last night, the military regime came and took all the bodies and threw them into the well." Later, when I asked the families of the martyrs of Shahrivar 17, they also said that after much follow-up, we found out that the bodies were dumped in a pit. This shows that the regime already had a plan for this because digging a pit is not an easy task. Many witnesses of the incident say that on the day of the incident, the regime operatives collected the people who were lying on the ground, both dead and alive, taking with them. I believe that the bodies that I saw on Sunday in Behesht Zahra mortuary were those who had taken shelter in the houses around the accident site. In general, the bodies can be divided into three parts, one part was the bodies that SAVAK itself had collected from the street on the day of the incident, the other part was the unknown bodies that had been brought to Behesht Zahra Cemetery, and the last part was the martyrs who had names and specifications. The dead body washer told me: "Whatever you do, do it quickly, because they will come here tonight and take away the rest of the bodies." When he was talking to me, he was worried and kept looking around so that no one would notice what he was saying. I started walking around the mortuary.

How old 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 more, even children aged one to two were among the martyrs. My estimate of the number of bodies at 8 am on Sunday was about 150 people. I said to the dead washer: "What should we do to bury the bodies?" He said: "You should go pay 1,000 tomans for each and prepare a bill so that we can wash the bodies." I looked around, I actually wanted to estimate the costs. I came out of the mortuary, people were anxious and inflamed, some were crying and some were chanting, no one knew what to do, it was a strange atmosphere. About 300-400 people were gathered in the area and were talking in groups of several people. There was no panic because the officers were not there, but there was a disturbing atmosphere. A little further, I saw one of my acquaintances standing on a barrel-like hill and giving a speech to the people: "O people, the regime killed our friends, and now we have to enter into an armed war with the regime."

Many people gathered around him and he had started a heated discussion. I called him: "Haj Morteza! Haj Morteza! "Huh?" he said. I said: "For now, let's go and bury the bodies." He said: "No, we have to wage an armed war and..." I said: "Let's go now and bury the bodies of the martyrs. We will start an armed war as soon as possible." I looked a bit in the crowd, most of the people there were young. I distanced myself a little from the dense crowd, I saw Hojjat al-Eslam Haj Hasan Saeed, the imam of the bazar’s Chehelsotun mosque, who was also a friend of my father. He had been standing under a tree next to Mr. Jafar Khansari, the son of Ayatollah Khansari. I went forward and greeted them, I told them about the burial and how it was done. Haj Hasan said: "I have brought money for this work." Mr. Jafar had also money with him.

Haj Hasan gave me money and said: "Take it and start quickly." I went to the administrative department and took some bills and gave them to the dead washer. They started the work, I saw that he was starting to wash a soldier. I protested and said: "Now come and wash the martyrs first, then wash that soldier." I thought that the soldier was not a martyr and that he was one of the people who killed people. "Do you know who this is?" the dead body washer said. "No," I said. He said: "This is the same soldier who shot his commander." I had heard about him from people. On the same day of the incident, when the field commander ordered to shoot at the people, this soldier stood up and shot at his commander. My tears flowed uncontrollably as I saw his body. I went over his body and took off his clothes and prepared him for the martyrdom ghosl  (ceremonial washing). First I took off his boots and kissed his feet, I had never done that in my life. A bullet hit his temple and another bullet was shot in his stomach. I read his license plate, his name was Seyed Hasan Hosseini. While they were washing him and wrapping him in a shroud, I prayed over his head. The first martyr we buried was the body of this soldier. Later, we found out that he was from Tabriz, and his mother gave a speech at the 40th day ceremony of those who had been martyred in Tabriz, which showed that he was from a revolutionary family.

After the burial of the bodies, suddenly I found out that we have buried these bodies without names or signs. I looked around and saw someone with a camera. I called and told him: "Take a photo of everybody who has a bill and put a number on the photos." We also prepared a list and wrote the numbers of pictures and bills in it. In the following years, I contacted him and with his photos, we organized a photo exhibition of the martyrs of the 17th of Shahrivar incident in Tehran University Mosque so that the people could identify the bodies. In short, I regularly received money from Haj Hasan and prepared bills.

While working, I noticed that the bodies were buried irregularly and scattered in different places. I went to the administrative department of Behesht Zahra (PBUH) and said: "The bodies should be buried in one place." The official there said: "No, we have been ordered that the bodies should be scattered and buried." I started shouting and said, "We're not paying anymore, you have to bury the bodies together." Finally, they agreed to bury the martyrs in plot no. 17, whose number coincided with the 17th of Shahrivar. The atmosphere of Behesht Zahra (PBUH) was in the hands of the revolutionaries. Haj Morteza's speech was also interrupted by the burial of the martyrs. It had become noon and everyone was tired and some bodies were still left on the ground. By nightfall, some 50 more martyrs were brought. Lots of work had to be done, but we didn't have anyone else to carry these bodies to the place of burial.

Everyone had become exhausted. We couldn’t think rightly. I was begging the people to come and pick up the bodies. At the end of the work, we remembered that we should have prayed over the bodies and had not done so.

How long did it take to wash and bury the dead bodies and how many were they?

Mustafa Abolhasani: The washing and burial of the martyrs took until Tuesday. As far as I know, over 400 martyrs were buried during these three days. 

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