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Iran’s ‘Groom of Mahabad’ slain before his mother’s eyes

Iran's flag (Dreamstime/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

What should have been a time of celebration of a young couple’s life journey has become a time of remembrance of the death of the “Groom of Mahabad.”

It was one year ago that Zaniar Abubakri and his fiancee announced their engagement in a ceremony before friends and family. Videos on social media show the lovestruck 20-year-old nervously holding hands with his fiancee as they went public with their union, her face blurred by a large red heart to protect her identity.

But the marriage never came to be. Abubakri was killed in the line of fire after he joined nationwide demonstrations against the country’s clerical establishment last autumn.

Writing on Instagram last week, Abubakri’s mother, Nishtiman Ghaderpur, lamented the loss.

“My dear son, dear Zaniar,” Ghaderpur wrote. “Today is the day of your engagement. The anniversary of your soul becoming one with your love.”

Abubakri’s October 27 death, like that of many of the more than 500 protesters who were killed in the state crackdown on the demonstrations that broke out last year, is shrouded in mystery.

Details of the events that led to him suffering fatal wounds right before his mother’s eyes are scant, and efforts to honor his legacy on his simple gravestone have been censored.

But he is far from forgotten, and despite the authorities’ lockdown on information relating to the deaths of protesters, the circumstances of his last day alive are being revealed.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, a source close to the family provided a timeline of the events that led to Abubakri attending the street protest in his hometown of Mahabad, a predominantly Kurdish city in Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province.

Fresh out of the army, Abubakri had spent months preparing to embark on married life. But the September death of 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini just days after her arrest by Iran’s morality police captured his attention.

Like many in his northwestern region, Abubakri was motivated to join the protests against Amini’s death, which followed her arrest in Tehran for allegedly violating the Islamic republic’s requirement that women wear the hair-covering hijab.

Abubakri was consumed by the protests that erupted in Amini’s hometown of Saghez, some 100 kilometers to the south in the neighboring Kurdistan Province, and spread across the country.

His family refused his request to join the thousands of people who gathered at a cemetery in Saghez on October 26 to commemorate 40 days since Amini’s death.

But news of clashes between demonstrators and security forces near the cemetery steeled his desire to join the anti-hijab protests that snowballed into one of the most sustained demonstrations against Iran’s theocracy.

“Isn’t it a shame that one’s funeral would be like this?” the family source recalled Abubakri saying as he pored over images of the gathering. “I wish I were in Mahsa’s place.”

The killing of a young demonstrator by security forces in Mahabad that evening heightened Abubakri’s insistence on joining the protests. The next afternoon, Ghaderpur finally relented, agreeing to accompany Abubakri and his 15-year-old brother, Ramyar, with the aim of protecting them from any harm, according to the source.

Upon arriving in the city center, the trio encountered security forces facing off against “angry youths chanting slogans or throwing stones,” the source said.

Abubakri positioned himself at the front line of the demonstrations, with Ghaderpur just behind. As security forces began lobbing tear gas and firing weapons, Ghaderpur was anxiously trying to locate Ramyar when Abubakri suddenly fell to the ground with a wound to his abdomen.

“That bullet hit my son’s waist right from the back and came out on the other side through his stomach,” Ghaderpur wrote on Instagram on July 19. “I saw with my own eyes that my dear son fell to the ground and could not move due to the pain. I was with him at that very moment.”

Abubakri and his mother were pulled to safety by two other demonstrators, according to the source, and Abubakri was immediately taken to the hospital. He received emergency surgery, but the attempt to save his life was unsuccessful, and hospital workers quickly advised the family to leave before security forces arrived, the source said.

At least five people were killed, including Abubakri, and dozens injured in Mahabad on October 27 as the protests took a brutally violent turn when security forces opened fire and demonstrators attacked government buildings. At least two other protesters were killed in Kurdistan Province on the same day.

Iran’s northwestern Kurdish region was the epicenter of the monthslong antiestablishment protests and the scene of some of the bloodiest state crackdowns. The Islamic republic has long been accused of suppressing and discriminating against the country’s ethnic minorities, including Kurds, which make up about 10 percent of Iran’s 88 million population.

While Abubakri has been listed among the victims of the antiestablishment protests, including among the more than 300 identified by Radio Farda , the circumstances of his death have not been well-documented.

According to a copy of his death certificate obtained and reviewed by Radio Farda, Abubakri’s death was initially attributed to a “collision with hard or sharp objects.” But later in the document the cause of death was specifically identified as a “rupture of an artery due to a bullet.”

The source close to Abubakri’s family said that the security authorities in Mahabad, as in other parts of Iran, have yet to accept responsibility for firing on protesters and “still say that they are trying to find out from where the bullets were fired.”

Within an hour of his death, the source said, Abubakri’s body and those of others killed in the violence of October 27 were taken to Mahabad’s Bagh-e Ferdous cemetery.

Since the tragedy, the families of those slain in Mahabad frequently visit the cemetery to pay their respects and grieve. But Instagram posts by Ghaderpur show that even in death, attempts have been made to erase parts of her son’s legacy.

Passages of a poem honoring Abubakri’s Kurdish ancestry mark his grave:

“Dear mother, I am the martyred Kurdish fighter of my land. I am the bloodied dove of my land.”

At the demand of security forces, according to the source, the word “martyred” was removed from the gravestone, but the description remains in the odes left by Ghaderpur to her son on social media.

“Now you have the happiness of martyrdom and I left you with a souvenir, the heirs of your martyrdom. We come and sprinkle roses on your gravestone, plant flowers, sometimes we change the red cloth of your grave and put some red roses on your stone,” she wrote on Instagram last week.

“When we talk about you and your memories, we empty all our oppression on the flowers,” she added. “And we come to ourselves when we see that all the flowers that were scattered about each corner of your tombstone have bloomed.”