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TAGS: Auguste Forel; Human rights; League of Nations; Persecution; Persecution, Iran; Persecution, Other
LOCATIONS: Iran (documents)
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History of Forel's involvement with the Faith. Includes correspondence from Shoghi Effendi.

August Forel Defends the Persecuted Persian Bahá'ís: 1925-1927

by John Paul Vader

published in Bahá'í World, Vol. 18 (1979-1983), pages 970-974

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PERSIAN BAHÁ'ÍS:  1925-1927

AUGUST FOREL was one of the greatest scientific minds of the latter half of the last century and the beginning of the present century. He gained world renown during his lifetime for his studies in the fields of entomology, brain anatomy, psychiatry and mental hygiene. He was active in many social reform movements such as temperance, women's rights and world-peace movements. He has been described as `one of the last representatives of a generation of encyclopedists, of open and curious minds, who took interest in almost all human activities', as `a glory not only to his Swiss fatherland, but to the whole human race', and as `the strongest and purest voice of the world's conscience'.2
    In 1920 August Forel encountered the Bahá'í Faith and immediately recognized the striking similarity between his own principles and those proclaimed by Bahá`u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith.3 He wrote directly to `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá`u'lláh's eldest son and appointed successor, expressing his admiration for the Bahá'í principles and asking whether he could be considered a Bahá'í with his agnostic and Darwinian tendencies. The answer he received constitutes one of the most comprehensive statements of the Bahá'í conception of the nature of God, of man and of the universe.4
    Forel became a member of the Bahá'í Faith in 1921 and in August of that year he added the following paragraph to his will and testament (which he had written in 1912):
`I wrote the preceding lines in 1912. What must I add today, in August 1921, after such horrible wars have reduced humanity to fire and blood, and at the same time, unmasking as never before, the terrifying ferociousness of our hateful instincts? Nothing, except that we must remain all the more steadfast, all the more unshakable in our struggle for the common good. Our children must not become discouraged; on the contrary, they must take advantage of the present world chaos in order to further the painful organization, higher and supranational, of mankind, with the help of a universal federation of peoples.
  `At Karlsruhe, in 1920, I first came to know of the supraconfessional world religion of the Bahá'ís, founded in the East more than seventy-five years ago by the Persian Bahá`u'lláh. This is the true religion of human social good, without dogmas or priests, uniting all men on this small terrestrial globe of ours. I have become a Bahá'í. May this religion live and prosper for the good of mankind; this is my most ardent wish.'5
    For the next ten years, until his death in 1931, he undertook activities supporting the Bahá'í teachings that are truly impressive. Nothing thwarted his resolve to fulfil his `most ardent wish'. Among his many activities in favour of these teachings was his defence of the Persian Bahá'ís during the wave of persecutions against them in the 1920s. This is particularly interesting when one considers that this community is, at present, once again the target of barbaric cruelties, pogroms, persecutions and martyrdoms. Ever since its inception in the middle of the last century, the Bahá'í Faith has been subjected in Persia to waves of open and ruthless persecution. These outbreaks are often associated with periods of

1 This article was adapted by the author from a chapter of his book For the Good of Mankind:  August Forel and the Bahá'í Faith (Oxford:  George Ronald, Publisher, 1984) and is here printed with the publisher's permission.
2 Oscar Forel, Auguste Forel (Lausanne: Imprimerie Populaire 1928), p. 3; Julius Donath, `August Forel', Zeit-schrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 136 (1931), 642-644; Arthur Kronfeld, `August Forel, der Mann und sein Werk', Psychotherapeutische Praxis, 1 (1934), 227-228.
3 The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion, founded in the 19th century by Bahá`u'lláh (The Glory of God) and based on the principles of the oneness of God, the oneness of religion and the oneness of mankind. (Cf., e.g., Bahá`u'lláh and the New Era (Wilmette:  Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980).
4 `Abdu'l-Bahá, `Tablet to Dr. Auguste Henri Forel', The Bahá'í World, Volume XV, 1968-1973 (Haifa:  Bahá'í World Centre, 1976), pp. 37-43.
5 `Oraison funèbre', Fonds Forel, Document no. IS-1925, I-12, Département des Manuscrits, Bibliothèque Can-tonale et Universitaire, Lausanne.


political upheaval, as at present, when the Bahá'ís in particular are singled out as scapegoats. In the 1920s Persia had recently deposed the Qájár dynasty and chosen, with the support and sanction of the Shí`ih ecclesiastical hierarchy, Reza Pahlavi, father of the late Sháh, as hereditary sovereign. Such an initial period of instability and uncertainty afforded the traditional enemies of the Bahá'í Faith their longed-for opportunity to give open vent to their evil schemes.1
    The first stirrings of the persecutions occurred almost simultaneously in several provinces in the first months of 1925. Forel learned of these persecutions through Shoghi Effendi, great-grandson of Bahá`u'lláh and head (Guardian) of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957. He undertook immediate action to call the atrocities to the attention of the European public. In the following undated letter, sent to the French Foreign Minister and received on 10 April 1925, Forel wrote:
  The universal religion of the Bahá'ís, whose twelve principles are enclosed, was founded in 1851 by Bahá`u'lláh. It is spreading more and more throughout the world. In spite of the persecutions to which the Bahá'ís have been subjected by Muslims, the Bahá'í Faith has gained about 500,000 followers in Persia. But `Abdu'l-Bahá was forced to take refuge in Haifa in Palestine; he died there in 1922.2 `Abdu'l-Bahá's successor, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, is presently head of the movement in Haifa. Two years ago, during an international congress, a Persian Muslim affirmed to me personally the high esteem which the Bahá'ís have gradually won in Persia.
    But, alas! The world war has brought in its wake personal, economic and regional discords which have ignited, once again, the irrational and fanatical hatreds of the Muslims against innocent Bahá'ís. Shoghi Effendi writes us that among other things, in the provinces of Fars, Yazd and Khurasan, etc., Muslims are destroying or burning the houses of the Bahá'ís, and murdering, mutilating or martyring the Bahá'ís themselves who offer only passive resistance in keeping with their broad principles. At times they must flee.
    I will not go into the details of these atrocities. I will merely attempt, with the the weakening forces of a crippled old man, to call the attention of the European press and governments to these sad happenings, requesting them, urgently, to exert themselves, wherever possible, in order to put an end to these unspeakable cruelties, or at least to limit them as much as possible. I can hereby attest that all the Bahá'ís I have known have deeply impressed me as pure and shining examples of high moral standards, of disinterested devotion and of truly international bounty.
    The following address is sufficient:  Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, Haifa, Palestine.
               (signed) Dr. A. Forel
P.S. I had the honour of hearing your talk in Geneva in 1923 on the subject of world peace and international arbitration.3
    We do not know what the reaction was to this appeal. The minister in question was none other than Edouard Herriot, Premier of France at the time.
    A few days later Forel addressed an almost identical plea to the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna. This was published on 26 April 1925 under the title `A Persecuted Religion:  Islamic cruelties against the Bahá'ís', and contains Forel's explanation of the Bahá'í teachings:
The Bahá'í Religion, which was born in Persia, now has followers the world over. It is a religion with neither dogmas nor priests. Its twelve principles were proclaimed by Bahá`u'lláh in the year 1851. Among other things one finds:  All mankind is to be considered as one; all prejudices
1 For a detailed treatment of the present-day persecutions, see The Bahá'ís in Írán:  A report on the Persecutions of a Religious Minority (New York:  Bahá'í International Community, 866 U.N. Plaza, 1982).
    For a treatment on the persecutions in the 1920s, see Douglas Martin, `The Bahá'ís of Írán Under the Pahlavi Regime, 1921-1979', Middle East Focus (March 1982), 7-17.
2 `Abdu'l-Bahá did not flee to Palestine. Rather, as an exile, He shared the successive banishments of His Father, Bahá`u'lláh. Palestine was for Them the final destination of a series of exiles decreed by the Sháh of Persia and the Ottoman sultan. `Abdu'l-Bahá died in 1921, not 1922.
3 August Forel to French Foreign Minister, 10 April 1925 (date arrived), Archives diplomatiques du Ministère des Affaires étangères, Paris, Document no. NS E, Asie, Perse, 1918-1929, vol. 22--Questions religieuses, note E--368-1.


against other peoples, other nations, other races must be abolished. All religions must unite in a superior unity which represents the Godhead. A firm federation of all peoples with an international tribunal must establish and maintain a universal and lasting peace. In addition to the different national languages an international language must be introduced and taught everywhere. Every human being has the same right to the spiritual and physical necessities that his existence requires. All have the duty to seek out the truth for themselves; between true religion and true science there can be no contradictions. Both sexes should receive the best possible education corresponding to the development of their individual talents. Men and women have the same rights everywhere; all forms of slavery and subservience are strongly forbidden. All human beings have the duty to work; for invalids and people without a means of livelihood, the state must provide the latter through the enacting of laws.1
On 11 May Dr. J. E. Esslemont2 wrote Forel on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, thanking him for the helpful article and inquiring if arrangements could be made to have it published in other newspapers. Forel replied, according to notes on the letter, and authorized translation and reproduction of the article. According to Forel himself, an `impartial Turkish translation of this article was published in a "progressive" Istanbul newspaper'. On 20 May Shoghi Effendi cabled Forel:  DELIGHTED YOUR SRTICLE VIENNESE JOURNAL IT ACHIEVED NOTABLE RESULT.3
    During the following year persecution of the Bahá'ís in Persia intensified, and Forel wrote the following article, which appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (23 May) and Droit du Peuple (15 May), in slightly different versions:
New Persecutions and Martyrdoms
of Bahá'ís

  I have learned from Shoghi Effendi, the present Head of the interdenominational Bahá'í religion, that, alas! in spite of their innocence, twelve precious members of the Bahá'ís have just been subjected to a long and atrocious martyrdom and were killed in southern Persia. This is a repetition of previous persecutions without any justification, for the Bahá'ís refrain from provoking anyone, in keeping with their sacred principles. They accept in their midst Muslims as they do all other confessions.
  When, I ask, will Western Europe awake from its indifference and its heedlessness towards this flower of humanity which, by its principles, is fervently exerting itself in order to achieve, all over the earth, a true and effective love of one's fellow man, regardless of his religion.
  The press of all parties is urgently requested to help us by publishing these lines in order to awaken the consciences.
  The governments are requested to act with all their power in order to to prevent the renewal of such atrocities:  they can do this if they wish, of a common accord, by putting pressure on the Persian government.
  The League of Nations is also requested to take up this matter. This is part of its international and supranational duty of keeping peace among all peoples. In unity there is force. Let us not lose this wonderful opportunity for unity in common action for the good. I will say no more--that should be sufficient.
  Whoever has doubts can right to the Bahá'í Bureau . . . in Geneva for information and documentation.
Dr. A. Forel
former Professor at the
University of Zurich4
    The same appeal was also sent to the League of Nations, addressed to Sir Eric

1August Forel, `Eine verfolgte Religion:  Islamitische Grausamkeiten gegen die Bahá'ís', Neue Freie Presse, Vienna (26 April 1925).
2 J. E. Esslemont, M.D. (1874-1925). Medical director of Home Sanatorium, Bournemouth, England, from 1908 to 1923, author of Bahá`u'lláh and the New Era (see note 3), now translated into fifty-eight languages.
3 J. E. Esslemont to August Forel, 11 May 1925, Shoghi Effendi Letters, International Bahá'í Archives, Haifa; August Forel to Mustapha Kémal Pacha, 18 November 1927 (draft), Fonds Forel, Document no. IS-1925, V A.39, Lausanne; and Shoghi Effendi to Forel (telegram), 21 May 1925, Fonds Forel, Document no. IS-3765, IV-52, Lausanne.
4 August Forel, `Nouvelles Persécutions et Martyres des Bahá'ís', Droit du Peuple, Lausanne (15 May 1926).


Drummond, Secretary-General, along with the following handwritten message:
Yvorne (Vaud) Switzerland
12 May 1926
Honoured Sir,
  I am sending you herewith a short but urgent appeal on behalf of the poor Bahá'ís, urgently requesting that you take note of it as well as of the explanations on the other attached sheet. I would particularly like to draw your attention to the penultimate paragraph of my appeal which concerns especially the League of Nations. I have been a Bahá'í since 1921; the Bahá'ís number today over 500,000 adherents. I am counting on you to inform as rapidly as possible the organs of the League of Nations, whom it concerns, of the plight of the persecuted Bahá'ís in Jahrum; there is no time to lose.
  Please accept, honoured Sir, the expression of my noblest sentiments.
Dr. A. Forel
P.S. Please excuse my bother and my poor handwriting; my arm is paralysed and I am 78 years old.1
    Forel's letter and a copy of the answer he received are on file in the archives of the League of Nations. The reply must have been a disappointment:
. . . I am obliged to inform you that, concerning petitions on behalf of minorities, the League of Nations is only competent if the concerned States have accepted an international agreement concerning the protection of minorities and if this agreement has been placed under the guarantee of the League of Nations. Such is not the case of Persia, and the League of Nations is thus not competent to undertake action concerning the facts submitted in your request.
    The following year, in a letter dated 27 April 1927, Shoghi Effendi again appealed, through his secretary, to Forel for his assistance and intervention on behalf of the persecuted Bahá'ís in Persia.
My dear Dr. Forel,
  I am taking the liberty of sending you enclosed a copy of Shoghi Effendi's letter to the Assemblies in the West, in connection with the martyrdom of still another brother of the Faith in Persia.
  The horrible news of this evil happening has just broken upon us and Shoghi Effendi would be very grateful if you could communicate the news to some papers in Switzerland and Germany for publication. With all our grief and feelings we can extend no helping hand to our fellow-Bahá'ís in that distracted country. All that we can do is help through publicity, and acquaint humanity in the civilized world with such terrible tales of horror.
  In the event of the publication of the news contained in the enclosed letter, Shoghi Effendi would deeply appreciate it if you could send him a copy of it.
    Shoghi Effendi added in his own handwriting:
My dear and valued co-worker:
  Your letter dated March 24 and the copy of `Der Freidenker' have safely reached me and i thank you warmly for your continued efforts for the spread of the Bahá'í Faith. I trust that the journals with which you are in touch will publish the account given in my letter, and I shall be pleased to receive copies of such publications. Their sufferings, so heroically borne, surely deserve the most strenuous efforts on our part to give them the widest possible publicity.
Your true and grateful co-worker,
Forel's notes on the letter indicate that the news was sent to the `Freindenker', to his printer and to Vienna. An account of the execution appeared in the Neues Wiener Abendblatt on 10 June 1927 under the title `Martyr of a new Religion:  Murder of a Bahá'í'.3
    Forel had earlier published in the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna still another article entitled `Persecution of the Bahá'í Religion:  A Letter from Persia'. In it he quotes portions

1August Forel to Sir Eric Drummond, 12 May 1926, Archives of the League of Nations, Geneva, document no. 41/51398/51398 (also contains answer to Forel from G.C., Directeur de la Section des Minorities, pour le Secrétaire général).
2 Shoghi Effendi to August Forel, 27 April 1927, Shoghi Effendi Letters.
3 `Märtyrer einer neuen Religion:  Ermordung eines Bahais,' Neues Wiener Abendblatt, Vienna (10 June 1927).


of a letter from a Bahá'í in Hamadán that describe the various forms of open and subtle persecution to which the Bahá'ís there were being subjected daily. The article ended with this paragraph:
Be happy, friends. You are the free servants of God. Fly free, sing happily, serve joyously, remember us always--and pray for us.
We all look forward to the day when we will, unhindered, be able to practise our Faith. This hope is strengthened through our Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, that the thick clouds oppressing the horizon of Persia will be dissipated and the sun of freedom will shine on our land, for it is the homeland of Bahá`u'lláh.1
    Forel seems to have taken this request for prayer to heart. In the unclassified documents of the Forel papers at the University of Lausanne there exists a small scrap of paper on which he wrote, in French on one side and in German on the other:
Bahá'í Prayer for October 1927.
  O Thou, universal and unknowable God!
Suffer us, poor humans on this small terrestrial globe, to work relentlessly for the social good of all mankind,. just as Bahá`u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and so many other courageous martyrs have done before us. Suffer us to struggle against our hereditary, voracious, hypocritical and egotistical instincts. No sweet-sounding slogans, whether spoken or written. Rather good, great and resolute acts. Only then, shall we overcome.
(signed) A. Forel2
Picture in upper right corner with the caption:  August Forel; 1924. This photograph was chosen for reproduction on the present-day 1,000 franc Swiss banknote.

    On the French copy of this prayer there is a note:  `sent, 8 September 1927', but there is no indication to whom it was addressed.

    It is a tragic coincidence that, in 1978, shortly before the recent recrudescence of of cruel persecutions against the Persian Bahá'í community, August Forel's portrait and symbols of his awe-inspiring lifework were printed on the new one-thousand-franc Swiss banknote. Though efforts to alleviate the sufferings of these innocent servants of humanity often seem (today as in Forel's day) fruitless and frustrating, we can, and certainly must, follow Forel's example and continue to do our utmost to awaken the world's conscience to this crying injustice.
    1 August Forel, `Die Verfolgung der Bahá'í-religion; Ein Brief aus Persien', Neue Freie Presse, Vienna (21 February 1926).
    2 August Forel, `Notes Diverses', Fonds Forel, Document no. IS-1925, IIG.46, Lausanne.
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