What follows is an account of one of the 34 memories written on the visits made by the Leader of the Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei, to the families of Iranian Christian martyrs.
These memories are going to be published in a book entitled 'Christ in the Night of Decree' on the eve of the new year 2016 by Sahba Publication Co.
Parts of the book have been made available to Khamenei.ir by Sahba. Let's read together one unique account from the book.
The story of Leader’s presence at the home of Christian martyr
It is natural that when a country is engaged in a long, extensive war, the young people go and fight. But what makes the imposed war on Iran different is the way that these young people see the war, how their families reflect on the sacrifices of their young, beloved ones and how a family who has lost their sons feel about them. These are the clearest manifestations of their outlook towards the war. Here is when the difference between a war caused by the arrogant powers and a defensive war on the basis of values and the valour of the martyrs manifests itself, such was the scene of the war in Iran in the 8 year-war and the magnificent scene of patient, resisting families who had lost their dearest ones.
The picture becomes touchingly more significant when it involves members of the small Christian minorities in the face of the martyrdom of their youth.
In the course of the war, there were some 48 martyrs, 105 wounded and 35 war prisoners from among the small Armenian –Christian minority. There were also some 30 Armenian men, women and children who died during air-attacks and bombings. The same kind of sacrifices were witnessed among the yet smaller Assyrian-Christian minority; more than 30 of them were martyred defending their country in the unjust, unequal war imposed on the Iranian nation for they considered themselves as part of this oppressed nation and the war as a national question and they did whole - heartedly participated in the war effort. Apart from these efforts, the Armenians were also very active in the war’s relief work; they did set up a headquarters for this purpose from the early days of the war under the supervision of their religious authority.
During those days of hardship the Iranian Armenians proved how they felt about the imposed war on their fellow-countrymen: at the beginning of the Christian year 1982, they decided not to celebrate the New Year in respect for thousands of families whose sons had been martyred during the war as victims of Saddam Hussein’s crimes.
Ayatollah Khamenei was the first person who valued this significant action by the Armenians.
In his message concerning the Christian New Year he said:
- I congratulate this New Year, which commemorates the blessed birth of Messiah, Mary’s son, the grand prophet of God, to all Christians in our country and to the true followers of Jesus Christ and wish the best of happiness and salvation by asking the Word and Spirit of God to help them. The new year begins at a time when millions of people who thirst for justice, peace and love pray for the realization of Christ’s promises in the future ...in our country the blood of many of our people including the Christians were shed for defending our land …Now the Iranian Christians have decided not to celebrate the new year in sympathy with families who have lost their loved ones during this war …I, in the name of the Iranian nation, express my appreciation for this kindness and insight and I hope that under our Islamic state and the rule of the Quran, the new year will be a year of happiness and progress for the Christian community, and I wish happiness and success for all Christians throughout the world.
Ayatollah Khamenei started his routine for visiting the families of the war martyrs since 1984 and in this very year, he also visited a few families of the Christian martyrs on the occasion of the Christian New Year.
The Iranian Christians are mainly Armenians and Assyrians and there have been martyrs from among both communities. The Leader of the Islamic Republic has visited the families of either group on a yearly basis.
The Leader’s presence at the homes of the martyrs in the Iranian, Christian communities which contains sensitive, interesting and attractive points gives us a deep insight into the importance of this matter.
Galoust, “the good news of coming back”, He who never came back
Martyr Galoust Baboumian
Martyred during Ahvaz Aerial Bombing
Martyred on 1980/10/9
Galoust was working in the Oil Company in Ahvaz for some 30 years at the Computer Department. He was very active during the days of Revolution and workers strikes and now at this critical juncture his presence and experience were crucial for the administration of the company and the continued flow of oil for the country.
In a conversation with Galoust, his mother told him: “My dearest son, the Iraqis will capture Ahvaz in a short time, and then you can’t imagine what they will do to you. Those Iraqi Baathists are not like the Iranian Muslims. Yesterday our neighbor Miss. Zahra said that these people were the descendants of those who murdered Imam Hussein and Abolfazl, his brother. My son, you are not a military man, so you must come to Tehran soon.”
Varuzhan was about 10 years of old and Talin was only 6. After the phone call, he picked up the children’s (Varuzhan and Talin) photos that were in a frame. Tears came into his eyes but when he watched the television narrating what was going on during the 17th day after the war and showing columns of fire and smoke above the refinery installations, he was upset and angry and became more determined to continue his work in Ahvaz.
There were no anti-aircraft guns in the city and so the enemy's warplane used to fly over the people and to drop bombs on them.
Galoust only saw some black spots coming down from the warplane; three bombs exploded in front of the station. Galoust realized that he could not move, the very last images in his eyes were the picture of his children Varuzhan, Talin, his wife and his mother.
It was Thursday when we were informed that some high official would visit us if we happen to be home in the evening. I informed Galoust’s brother and my sister’s husband and asked to come to my home in the afternoon. Varuzhan and Talin were not happy at the news as they were very busy with their exams. Varuzhan is studying medicine and Talin has high-school examinations. They both study well as they know how much importance I attach to their education. When Varuzhan succeeded in his medical studies and became a medical student, I felt that all my efforts in the absence of Galoust had borne fruit. I was spiritually elevated and congratulated him. He is also very proud of his success and says that in the process of his acceptance, there was no discrimination between the sons of Muslim or Armenian martyrs. Talin went to a friend’s house to study together and Varuzhan went to his college as he has to pass a microbiology exam.
We are impatiently waiting for our guest. We had already heard that the President had visited some Armenian homes in previous years. We guessed that our guest this evening may also be the President. But we found out our guest was the same President who also had now become the Leader after the Imam’s demise. I was now very upset for the absence of the children, for if they knew this, they would have certainly stayed home to meet him.
Ayatollah Khamenei arrived and said ‘salaam’ to all of us and then he together with Galoust’s brother and my brother-in-law and some of his companions sat down in our guest-room.
None of us was able to say anything and the Leader, sensing this, started to speak and asked:
- Is this gentleman the father of your martyr?
And he pointed at Galoust’s photos on the wall. As most Armenian martyrs were young soldiers, the Leader thought that this older man must have been the father of the martyr.
- “No, this is the photo of our martyr himself.” I said calmly.
- “I see” said the Leader.
- Is he the martyr?
- “Yes,” I replied.
- Are you the wife of the martyr?
It was so difficult for me to speak. I had never spoken to an ordinary Muslim cleric but now the highest spiritual authority was sitting in front of me. I was standing and I intended to go to the kitchen to bring some tea. But the Leader did not allow this and said:
- Please sit down here.
I said “thank you” and sat down on the couch on the right side of the Leader. I had strange mixed feelings of happiness, shame and pride. I wish Galoust would have witnessed this scene, oh, I am sure he was watching us.
- How are you, lady?
- Fine, thank you.
- Where was Mr. Galoust martyred?
- When was he martyred?
- On the 17th of Mehr (1980/10/9), that is, three weeks after the war began.
- Was he an employee there?
- Yes, he was.
I loved to talk about Galoust’s character and morals but I was not able to. Oh, I wish my heart was not beating so fast.
The Leader then asked about the relationship of the two persons, sitting next him, to the martyr.
We answer that one of them is the martyr’s brother and the other one is his brother-in-law.
Then the Leader said:
- May God bless your martyr and make this New Year and the birth-anniversary of Jesus Christ the most pleasing to all your family.
We all thanked him. The Leader then said:
- Please tell me about your husband’s occupation.
- He was an employee in the Oil Company in Ahvaz and he was martyred there.
He then asked about the occupation of Galoust’s brother and his brother-in-law and then turned to me and enquired whether I own my own house and also about the children. The Leader was very pleased that they both were students and that they were following their education enthusiastically. From the corner of my eyes, I looked at Galoust’s photo and his smile.
- Your children, are they sons or daughters?
- One son and one daughter.
- Aren’t they around?
- No, we weren’t told that you would honor us with your visit; they would have definitely stayed home.
- You’re right, it is the rule not to give exact information.
I smiled and thought to myself that if we were informed as to who our guest was, then all of our friends, relatives and neighbors would have come to our house! I further explained that both my children were at that time very busy with taking exams.
- What is the major of your son?
- I hope that he will succeed to become a good doctor, and your daughter?
- She is at high school.
The Leader looked around the rooms and said:
- Here I don’t see anything showing that it is your New Year.”
Galoust’s brother explained:
- Our mother has recently passed away.
- I see. May God Almighty, through his boundless mercy, bless all those who are gone and may God reward you and your family.
I then went to the kitchen to pour some tea and I heard that the Leader was talking with the brothers of the Martyr about the New Year, the Armenian community, our churches and our representatives in the Parliament.
It was obvious that the Leader tried to create a warm, friendly atmosphere because he felt that it was not easy for us to talk. I noticed that Mr. Khamenei’s information and knowledge about Armenians and Christianity was far deeper than many of us!
I came out of the kitchen carrying the tray of tea-cups but one of Leader’s companions took it from me and served all those who were in the room. I brought another photo of Galoust and gave it to Mr. Khamenei. In that photo Galoust was very well-dressed and was smiling.
- This is another photo of our martyr.
- I see, what is his full name?
- Galoust Boboumian.
- What age was he?
- Forty-eight. He started his job with the Oil Company at the age of 18. Therefore he had worked there for some 30 years.
After I uttered these words, I felt as if I was choked. I didn’t want to be seen crying. So, I went to the kitchen pretending I was going to bring something to serve my guests. Therein I allowed my eyes to be wet with tears.
On the Leader’s side, the conversation was about the Armenian bishop and the differences between the ceremonies of Armenians and the Assyrian Christians. I was trying to calm down myself before the Leader said:
- Well, tell this lady to come and sit with us for a while, we must be shortly leaving, but this lady constantly goes into the kitchen! Tell her we’re about to leave.
Quickly I put myself together. I went back. The Leader had drunk the tea along with a piece of cake. I said that I had gone to bring them some fruits but he asked me to please sit down and added:
- We don’t want to be served. The purpose of our visit was to sit down with you for a few moments to relieve you of the grief caused by your husband’s sacrifice to give up his life for this country’s ideals. I should truly extend my condolences to you. Our visit should serve this purpose. You should not be troubled to serve us.
I, together with Galoust’s brother and my brother-in law were very impressed by Khamenei’s simplicity and modesty.
The Leader as well as the people present in the room were talking about the churches throughout Iran. Mr. Khamenei told us about his visit to our church in Jolfa and Isfahan. He said:
- I visited the Armenian Church in Jolfa. It was in the year 1958 when I travelled to Isfahan from Qom. I visited two churches there .One of the two churches was huge and very beautiful; its gong was located in the middle of the yard. In the smaller church a burial ceremony was being held. Two other theological students also accompanied me. Before entering the church, we asked a church servant whether we were allowed to go in and he said “no problem!” Of course people there could tell that we, wearing turbans, were not Armenians! They treated us in a most friendly way. We stayed there till the end of the ceremony. There are many churches in this city.
Galoust’s brother explains:
- The exact number of churches there is 12 and the big one you mentioned is the Central Church.
Finally the Leader said:
- Well, lady, may God give you more patience, reward and success in your life so that you will be in a position to bring up your children and turn them into valuable, efficient and skillful persons. I hope these children could be examples in serving our country and may, in showing affection and love towards you, take the place of their father. God bless you all.
These words and the prayer made by the Leader impressed me and I said “Amen” in my heart.
The Leader then rose up from his chair and said good-bye to all of us. His behavior and manners were so simple and intimate that at that time I was no longer anxious and my heart had calmed down. Now I wished that this visit could have lasted for hours. I wished I could tell him more about Galoust’s character and Varuzhan’s similarity to his father but there was no more time as he was leaving when such thoughts went through my head. At the door, I thanked him many more times. I wanted to go out of the house to follow him but the Leader’s companions told me not to, because they did not want to attract any attention. After the Leader’s departure, we were all silent for a while as we could not believe that. A few minutes ago, the highest spiritual authority was drinking and conversing intimately in our house.
I took out a small photo of Galoust from my purse and gazed at it for a few minutes. At that time, I was only wandering what to say to my children when they come home.
Varuzhan came home about 11 p.m. I told him:
- How are you, Doc.?
- Do you know what you missed this evening?
- What’s happened, mum?
- Didn’t I tell you we are receiving a guest this evening?
- Well, what could I do when we have difficult exams? Anyway, who were the guests?
- You won’t believe it, Mr. Khamenei was here in person. I was heart- broken you were not present. I don’t think you’ll ever meet him so close.
He looked at me in wonder. I thought whatever he had studied flew out of his mind. But he came to me and embraced me.