Ayatollah Khamenei Visiting
The Family of Martyr Vartan Aghakhanian
Visit Date: 26/12/1985
Martyr Vartan Aghakhanian
Martyred in Majnoon Island, Iraq
Martyred on 9/12/1985
It’s Christmas Eve. The first family to visit is Uncle Gabriel’s. Edmond went out to buy some cakes while I was readying myself for the occasion; I choose the darkest of my clothes, and a brownish head- scarf. It’s true that it’s Christmas time but Uncle Gabriel and his wife, Artoush, are mourning for their martyred son, Vartan.
Edmond is not back yet; perhaps the confectionary shop is crowded. I write poetry in Armenian and I am deeply fond of poems by Sa`adi, Hafiz and Saa`eb; they were great, Persian poets. Then the door-bell rings, so I close my poetry booklet, and go out. Edmond is behind the wheel in his car waiting for me. Sorry, Edmond says, there was a bad traffic-jam, and I say: It is okay, it’s not late yet.
Uncle’s house is not very far from us. On the way, Edmond picks up a magazine and tells me: Here you are, your poems published in the issue of the magazine “Parvin”. I read the article ‘Hafiz and Jesus” and read it so carefully as if it was not written by myself! Now we have reached the uncle’s house. Uncle Gabriel’s house is really crowded; almost all the members of our family are here except my martyred cousin Vartan. Of course there are many photos of him on the walls but he himself is missing.
Sadness and grief overshadows the celebration of Christmas: the eyes of my uncle’s wife are blood-red because of constant weeping and her voice is not audible.
The uncle’s state is not much better than his wife; the absence of Vartan is written down in the lines of his face. They both have aged for some 15 years after Vartan’s martyrdom 15 days ago.
Vartan was one of the best young men in our family and he was so good at his studies; he used to have excellent marks in his exams. But, none of us could understand why he left everything to join the army for his military service.
All his friends warned him: Vartan, this is not a Joke; it’s real war, murder and slaughter! But he listened to nobody and started his military service.
In Uncle Gabriel’s house, though it’s Christmas, there are no flowers and no Christmas tree; there are only tears and weeping and wailing.
I, together with other female members of the family, have encircled my uncle’s wife trying to console her but she seems to be in a sort of half-asleep. Well, did you expect otherwise? her 19- year-old, wonderful son is gone forever. She had so many sweet wishes for him, but he is now lying under tons of earth. I, as his cousin, felt my heart was cut in two when I heard about Vartan’s death, well, and she, as a mother? I don’t know what to say.
The door-bell rings and my cousin who opens the door comes in with two strangers who are not Armenians because they say “Ya Allah” when they enter.
Apparently it had been arranged earlier for some reporters to come and interview my uncle and his wife and I wonder how they are going to talk in their grief-stricken condition, for it is only two weeks since Vartan’s martyrdom. The behavior of the two men is rather strange; they seem to be very worried as if they did not expect to see so many people in this house. One of them takes the uncle to a corner and whispers something in his ears. We notice that uncle’s face changes colour; it seems that the man has revealed a great secret to our uncle. He then approaches us and says: Soon we’ll have an important guest, I go to welcome him and you must prepare yourself to receive him properly.
I am truly surprised; who is this important guest for whom our uncle seems to be in high spirits again and is going towards the entrance-door to welcome him?! I am now so curious to know who the guest is; I can’t wait any more and ask uncle: Please, who’s the guest? Mr. Khamenei, the President, says he hastily.
I am more puzzled now. For what reason should the President come to uncle’s house at Christmas Eve? I still don’t believe it: uncle has misheard, probably they are some people from the Iranian Television. But then, oh my God, this person who just entered the house and talked intimately with all of us and congratulated us on the occasion of Christmas, this person who’s now sitting at the table and intensely looking at Vartan’s photo is the President himself.
Yes, he is gazing at Vartan’s photo and we are all gazing at him whose face is a friendly spectacle. He then, after his rather long studying of Vartan’s photo, turns to us and says:
ـ God willing, this martyr in your family will be a great source of pride and honour for all of you, as he is for us too, May God Almighty grant to all of you, specially to this mother, a happy heart, clear vision and plentiful rewards in both this world and the next. We truly take pride in you, in this young martyr and the likes of him who courageously and selflessly defended independence of their patriotic country and their homes.
I have certain unforgettable memories about Mr. Khamenei. One was when he, as the Friday Prayers Imam, was delivering a sermon when a bomb exploded among the crowd listening to him. The waves from the explosives even reached the sermon tribune. The crowds were scared and they were about to run away when the loud-speakers announced: The President is determined to continue his sermon. Then he, with a saddened face but firmly, went on with his lecture and people became so calm and fearless as if no bomb had exploded among them a few minutes ago. I have always been proud of such a courageous, powerful President.
Anyway, now Mr. Khamenei asked our uncle about the way Vartan had been martyred and uncle says: It was 15 days ago, it happened in the Majnun Islands. His dead body had been taken to Tehran quickly.
Mr. Khamenei then praised the characteristics of the uncle and his wife for bringing up such children who also brought up someone like Vartan who was as brave and selfless as his parents. He added:
ـ These children, these young men, in fact, these great men of our country, guaranteed the independence of our land. If it was not for these, our people could not preserve their integrity, their independence and unity. We are immensely indebted to these martyrs; not only the present generation owes them a lot, but also our future history will be indebted to them. And this goes for you parents too who brought them up. The martyrs were in the front-lines of battle and you were supporting them from behind.
Then the president addressed our uncle and said:
ـ you and specially your wife, this mother, if you did not have the strength, tolerance and patience and if you were weak persons, your youth would not be that strong and courageous. It is your strength indeed that empowered them to fight so bravely and selflessly. That’s why I say that the whole country is indebted to you.
Minutes go by after Mr. Khamenei’s presence in this house and every minute our grief-stricken atmosphere changes and some happiness appears in everybody’s face. Now Mr. Khamenei addresses the martyr’s mother and says: I would like very much to hear about your feelings and the way you were informed about your son’s martyrdom.
The mother tries to say something but a lump in her throat prevents it and tears run down her cheeks.
When Vartan’s dead body was taken to Tehran, mother hardly managed to take a quick look at him, and now whenever she intends to talk about Vartan, she visualizes that moment and cannot utter a word.
Mr. Khamenei, noticing mother’s sad mood, rapidly changes the subject and asks my uncle about jobs and his other children.
I have three other children, one son and two daughters, he replies.
The President says: May God protect your children and keep them in good health and high morals; I pray for their prosperity in life.
And then as he sees that we are still standing there says: You ladies, why are you standing there, please come and sit down.
At this juncture, while remembering his decisive, firm sermons, I realize that in this great man, there are other aspects: affection, kindness and delicate emotions. After we sit down, Mr. Khamenei says: I guess you are relatives of one another?
My husband Edmond says: Yes sir, we are.
And Mr. Khamenei adds: You did well by coming here to wipe away the loneliness of the martyr’s parents.
One of us says: Yes, sir, it was our duty, the least we could do.
ـ Yes, it is truly a duty specially now at Christmas time when people are celebrating. You must do this in the coming years also.
Then Mr. Khamenei, in a very attractive, sweet tone, talks about the sincere feeling of Muslims for Christ Jesus and the Christian martyrs at the early stages of the Christian faith. What he says is so interesting to me especially from the tongue of a President who is a clergy man himself:
ـ what your martyrs have done these years, is comparable to what the Christian martyrs of early Christianity did. Those Christian martyrs do not only belong to you, they are our martyrs too. Jesus Christ himself is our prophet also. Muslims do revere Jesus and, as you know, there are numerous verses in the Quran concerning Christ and Holy Mary. We consider Jesus as one of the prophets closest to God Almighty.
Your early Christian martyrs, despite the suppression of the Roman Empire- an idol worshipping system- and despite the animosities of Jews in places such as Jerusalem and Old Syria, fought for their divine faith and resisted against all odds. In those days Christians could not express their opinion openly, and the Gospels, as you know, were transferred by the word of mouth for some 100 or 150 years, no one dared write down anything in this respect or carry any written notes. Through the fear of the Romans and Jews they were forced to read verses of the Gospels in underground hideouts. Thus many of these faithful people were murdered; they even murdered their women and children.
The Roman soldiers used to enter Christ villages and places of residence, forced doors open and murdered their wives and children; it was absolute savagery. But Christians resisted all hardships and, as a consequence, after some 2000 years, you do have Christianity today. This spreading of Christianity, this global expansion of your faith, is really the result of the sacrifices of those great martyrs. If it were not for them, today you would hear nothing of Christianity. And today similar sacrifices and selfless acts could keep our Revolution alive and preserve its integrity and independence. Yes these martyrs are great, valuable assets and I am proud of all of you, specially this lady-mother and your martyred son; you are truly a source of pride and glory for all of us.
When Mr. Khamenei is about to leave, the grief-stricken atmosphere in the house is completely changed; you don’t see much sorrow and sadness on the faces. When he decides to leave, he goes towards my uncle and his wife and says: Allow me to give you some keep-sakes in memory of our martyrs. He first hands some coins to my uncle and to his wife and then, in the warmest and friendliest manner, he says good-bye and leaves us.
I am now at my own house; it’s about 2 in the morning. I am walking in my room, going in circles. The vision of what went on in Uncle Gabriel’s house a few hours ago, does not let me go to sleep. What a wonderful evening it was!
Since Mr. Khamenei left us, I have been reciting a verse by Hafiz which is most descriptive of this evening’s intimate meeting:
The burden of the grief which had our souls depressed
Was taken off by someone who possessed
The healing breath of Jesus Christ
I also composed a few lines of poetry about this marvelous visit following the rhyme and rhythm of Hafiz.