Iran has many museums dedicated to the country's rich history. Nevertheless, those places that are dedicated to events during which Iranians and other prominent 'Defenders of Islam' lost their lives, enjoy a special status. While the most important of these events is, of course, the war against Iraq, other events are also remembered, such as the death of over 400 Iranians during a mass panic in Mecca during the Hajj in 2015.

'Defenders of the shrines'

The largest cemetery in the country, Behesht-e Zahra (the Paradise of Zahra), has a section reserved specially for all martyrs who die on pilgrimage to Mecca or other shrines. Because Iran also considers itself to be the protector of Shia Islam, places like Behesht-e Zahra are also platforms for communication and places of international exchange with Shia Muslims from all over the world.

Shrine to the 400 victims who died during the Mecca incident in 1987 in Iran's largest cemetery, Behesht-e Zahra, literally 'Paradise of Zahra' (photo: Philipp Breu)
A common act of remembrance: Iran is careful to include non-Farsi-speaking visitors to the cemetery in honouring the fallen, with memorial texts in Farsi, Arabic and English. However, in the case of its latest wave of martyrs – those fighting alongside the Syrian army to regain territory lost to IS and opposition forces – the Islamic Republic is somewhat less forthcoming. There are no official figures for the number of Iranian citizens who have actually fallen in Syria

The section reserved for international martyrs and 'defenders of Islam' features memorial steles for all notable deceased members of the Lebanese Shia party Hezbollah, which is largely funded by Iran. Prominent Shias such as Nimr al-Nimr, a cleric who was executed by Saudi Arabia on 2 January 2016, are also remembered. So too is Rachel Corrie, an American activist who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in partially unexplained circumstances in 2003. On the memorial to her, she is depicted wearing a hijab, which she never actually wore. The failed Shia uprising in Bahrain is also marked by a stele.

All these memorial sites feature texts in Farsi, Arabic and English. Iran is careful to include non-Farsi-speaking visitors to the cemetery in the act of remembrance. However, in the case of its latest wave of martyrs – those fighting alongside the Syrian army to regain territory lost to IS and opposition forces – the Islamic Republic is somewhat less forthcoming.

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