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Faith triumphs over Iranian persecution

Columbian Missourian
Friday, May 19, 1995

By Cassandra Sweet - Missourian staff writer

"It's the pain of my heart, the pain of my mind," author Olya Roohizadegan says of her experiences in Iran during the Islamic fundamentalist revolution.

Roohizadegan fled Iran in 1983 after she was arrested and thrown in jail for being a follower of the Baha'i faith. After the fall of the Shaw in 1979, the revolutionary regime led by the Ayatollah Khomeini began persecuting Baha'i communities across Iran.

Roohizadegan has written a book, "Olya's Story," about the persecution, violence and humiliation that she and other Baha'is faced during the revolution and afterwards.

She will visit Columbia to speak about her experiences and her book at 7 p.m. Sunday in Memorial Union, Room 215, on the M.U. campus.

During a recent telephone interview, Roohizadegan told of how she and 10 other women were sentenced to death, and how she managed to escape to Pakistan. Once in Pakistan, Roohizadegan and her family were granted political asylum and settled in England, where they live today.

Despite her fortune in escaping the fatal grip of the Iranian revolutionaries, Roohizadegan regrets that she left her ten Baha'i friends in prison. Soon after she left Iran, Roohizadegan learned that all ten women had been executed by hanging.

"Even though I left 12 years ago , their sounds and faces are really clear in my mind," Roohizadegan is intent on telling their story, lest these women and other Baha'is who struggled against the ruthless Khomeini regime be forgotten. Telling the story of their persecution, arrests and execution, and calling the world's attention to it, was the driving force that moved her to write "Olya's Story."

"I had a covenant with my friends in prison: If one day I was released, I would go out of Iran and tell our story after the war. And now, my promise has come through." Roohizadegan said.

Roohizadegan said the pain and sadness she feels because of hat happened to her people has strengthened her devotion to the Baha'i faith and made her "feel closer to God."

"I forgive (the Iranian government)," Roohizadegan said. "I don't feel any hatred. I'm sure that one day the government will wake up and realize that what they were doing is wrong. Fighting each other nothing is achieved."

Roohizadegan said "Olya's Story" is a story of sacrifice for peace, unity and love.
"I do not want what happened to me and my friends to happen any more," she says. "I'm free physically, but I'm really not free. I will only be free when all the people in the world will be free."

Members of the Baha'i faith span the world. There are Baha'is in more than 2,100 different ethnic and tribal groups. It is also one of the fastest growing faiths in the world.

The Baha'i is based on major religions of the world - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hindi and Zoroastrianism - and was established by Baha'u'llah, a former Persian nobleman, in the early nineteenth century. Baha'is believe in the equality and unity of all people. They also believe that Baha'u'llah was the most recent in a long line of prophets including Jesus Christ, Moses, and Buddha.

Most of all, Baha'is believe in love and acceptance of all people, regardless of race, gender or other characteristics.

"Despite everything, my Baha'i friends and I all felt very strongly that we must stand for our beliefs, and be ready to die for them," Roohizadegan writes in "Olya's Story."

©Copyright 1995, Columbian Missourian

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