Victims of 1988 Mass Murders in Iran Remembered in Play by Niloofar Beyzaie

By Azadeh Karimi

The latest work by the Iranian playwright and theater director Niloofar Beyzaie (1967-) titled “Missing Persons” made its theatrical debut in early September in Frankfurt. The two-character play commemorates the victims of the state-sponsored mass executions in 1988 of political prisoners, many of whom were members of the Tudeh Party of Iran (Iranian Communist party) and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization (MKO.)

Hermin Eshghi and Farhang Kasraei play the main characters in the production.

Ms. Beyzaie’s works revolve around political and social events in Iran, particularly those that have occurred since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A different version of the play, which includes an additional story, will go on stage at the Iranian Theater Festival in Cologne (Iranisches Theaterfestival – Koln) in November.

The following is Kayhan Life’s interview with Beyzaie about her work:

Q: What prompted you to write a play about the 1988 mass executions?

A: I spent many years researching and examining documents, letters, and memoirs of the victims of the 1988 mass executions. I was particularly affected by a letter from Shokoofeh Montazeri written to her father Hamid Montazeri, who was executed by the authorities in July 1988 at Tehran’s Evin prison. The letter sheds light on the plight of the victims of the massacre. It also offers a glimpse into the minds of the children of those who perished in that period.

I combined the content of Shokoofeh’s letter with a note that was discovered among the belongings of Ghorbanali Shokri, a political prisoner who died while serving a prison sentence. I plan to include a third story in future productions about a woman whose daughter was murdered by the prison authorities.

The regime also killed many of the prisoners who had served their sentences and were due to be released. Many of the victims were ordinary Iranians, intellectuals, people of Bahai faith and young people who were not politically active. My play draws heavily on the experiences of these individuals.


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Q: Why did you include the story of young people in your play?

A: Because I always focus on the present and look to the future. The current generation carries a heavy burden. On the one hand, it has the responsibility of finding out the truth about what happened in the 1980s, and on the other hand, it must discover its own identity. These contradictions add an extra dimension to the story I’d like to tell.

Q: How did the survivors of the 1988 massacre and the families of the victims react to the play?

A: Many people in the audience had either been in prison or knew someone who had been imprisoned or executed. I wanted individuals who had firsthand knowledge of the actual events to attend the play’s theatrical debut. I was curious about their reactions. I always highlight the human and not the ideological aspects of an event in my work. The play depicted incidents that resonated with the audience. At least that’s what many people told me. The overall response was positive and encouraging.

Q: What changes will you make to the play’s November production at the Iranian Theater Festival in Koln?

A: It will include an additional story about a woman from the southern part of the country whose daughter was executed by prison authorities. I’m not sure how I’ll combine this story with the other two. I’m currently working on that. The story was written by Roya Ghiyasi, whose 17-year old sister was executed by prison authorities. Setareh Soheili will join the other cast members Hermin Eshghi and Farhang Kasraei for this production.


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Q: It is impossible to discuss the 1988 mass killings in Iran openly. Your work revolves around many events that happened after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Why are you so interested in these stories?

A: I’m very concerned with issues that are gripping our nation. The current crisis facing our country stems from Iranian society’s ongoing struggle with its history and present situation. As a patriotic Iranian, I’m naturally concerned about the plight of our nation, and that’s my reason for getting involved. Also, I live outside Iran and can express my views on a variety of issues without having to worry about being censored. I can explore many topics that I would, otherwise, be unable to probe if I were living in Iran.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions. Artists in all disciplines should continue exploring these events from various angles. Arts and culture could and should play critical roles in preventing the recurrence of such catastrophic events. We are at a crucial point in our history. It is our responsibility as a nation to stand against tyranny and demand our human rights.

[aesop_image img=”تئاتر-گمشدگان-۰۲.jpg” panorama=”off” align=”center” lightbox=”on” caption=”“Missing Persons”. Source: Kayhan London ” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Q: You’ve been researching the 1980s killings for some time. Iranian authorities recently executed three Kurdish men [Loghman Moradi, Zanyar Moradi and Ramin Hossein Panahi accused of being members of a militant group.] How did you feel when you heard the news of their executions?

A: I was horrified. The executions of these men proved that the Iranian regime has no intention of changing its behavior. One can’t help thinking that the authorities wanted to send a clear message to people by executing these three men on the 30th anniversary of the 1988 mass murders. I’m, however, determined to explore these issues in my creative projects. There is much more work to be done in this area.


Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi