Documentary tells story of Baha’is

By Steffi Porter

The University of Massachusetts Baha’i Club hosted a screening yesterday of the film “Education under Fire,” a documentary about underground Baha’i schools in Iran.

Justin Surgent/Collegian

The documentary was presented in Herter Hall yesterday to raise awareness about persecution of people of the Baha’i faith, according to senior journalism and environmental design major Kimya Hedayat-Zadeh, a member of the Baha’i Club.

Baha’i people – members of a minority religious group in Iran, a primarily Muslim country – have been denied access to education for years. In the late 1980’s, people of the faith began forming secret illegal schools, according to the documentary.

“Baha’is have always faced persecution, arrest, torture, along with other marginalized groups in the country,” said Hedayat-Zadeh. “It is becoming more and more pronounced, the level of determination Iranian government to keep its people Baha’is and others included from bettering themselves.”

Ramin Abrishamian, originally from Iran and now a resident of Boston came to the screening at UMass yesterday to speak on the film.

“Baha’is have been persecuted in Iran for a long time … including imprisonment and executions,” said Abrishamian in an interview before the screening. “One of the worst things that the Islamic republic has done against the Baha’is is to prevent the Baha’i students from attending university.”

In Iran, people of the Baha’i faith are not allowed to enroll in college, according to the documentary. The film explained that members of the secret education system, known as the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education, meet all over Iran’s providences, and study in houses, unknown to the Iranian government.

People come to study from all over Iran, and must communicate only by word of mouth so as not to be discovered, because when the Iranian authorities uncover a secret Bahai school, they confiscate the house and arrest the participants, according to the documentary.

Sophomore chemical engineering major and Baha’i Club secretary Iman Khozouee said he wants people to be aware of the issues facing fellow Baha’i people.

According to Khozouee, the club has hopes that UMass will follow the lead of other American schools by accepting credits from students of the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education.

The documentary told the story of numerous Iranians, both of the Baha’i and Muslim faiths, who encountered first hand or heard from family and friends about the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education.

In 1997, the Iranian government began attacking homes in which classes were being held. They arrested many of the processors and confiscated the homes, according to Abrishamian.

One story shared by a member of the Muslim faith in the documentary was that of a man recollecting his childhood in Iran. At that time, Baha’i children were required to drink from separate water fountains from the Muslim children. The man said he was friends with a Baha’i classmate, and when it would come time to drink from the water fountains after exercise, he would drink from the Baha’i fountain with his friend.

He was instructed by his teachers not to do so, and went home and asked his mother why he could not drink from the same water fountain as the Baha’i children. He said his mother told him that some people were uneducated and stupid, and told him to “drink from whatever water fountain you want.”

Hedayat-Zadeh, who has been a member of the UMass Baha’i Club since her freshman year, said she was motivated to show this documentary and raise awareness after hearing about raids on the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education in 2011.

“I am a Baha’i myself, so I’ve grown up learning about the principles of the Baha’i faith. Throughout my life I’ve known that my parents faced discrimination in Iran as Baha’is,” she said.

Steffi Porter can be reached at [email protected]