Religious head of Iranian Armenians condemns local mass media


Feb 28 2005

TEHRAN, FEBRUARY 28, ARMENPRESS: The religious leader of Armenians
in Iran, Archbishop Sepuh Sarkisian, denounced, for the second time
in less than a month, the Iranian mass media for disseminating false
reports alleging that a great number of Christian Armenians
participated actively in the Festival of Muharram, an important
period of mourning in the Shi’ite branch of Islam.
Muharram signifies the Karbala tragedy, when Husayn bin Ali, a
grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was martyred. Muharram is the first
month of Islamic lunar calendar. This marks the time when Prophet
Mohammed was driven out of Mecca. He, along with Muslims, took refuge
in the city Ya-Th’rib, which was later renamed to Medina (City of
Prophet). Though Muslims around the world celebrate the new Islamic
year, the Shi’ite sect has most visible celebration proceedings.
This festival is observed in the first month of the Hijra year,
Muharram. Mourners, both male and female, congregate together (in
separate sections) for sorrowful, poetic recitations performed in
memory of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, lamenting and grieving to the
tune of beating drums and chants of “Ya Husayn.” Passion plays are
also performed, reenacting the Battle of Karbala and the suffering
and death of Husayn at the hands of Yazid.
Many of the male participants congregate together in public for
ceremonial chest beating as a display of their devotion to Husayn and
in remembrance of his suffering. In certain Shi’a societies, mainly
Lebanon and Iraq, some male participants will inflict actual wounds
upon themselves, though this practice is viewed as being extreme and
is widely discouraged and banned in other countries with significant
Shi’a populations, such as Iran.
The Armenian Archbishop cited a local TV coverage showing an
Armenian woman, whose son died in the war with Iraq, recalling her
son’s deep faith in and respect to Islam. Local newspapers in turn
reported that around 700 Armenians gathered in a huge tent to mourn
and recite in memory of Imam Husayn, “though such tents can house
only 400 people.” Newspapers also reported that Armenians organized
mourning ceremonies at their own in their living quarters.
Archbishop Sarkisian demanded publicly that such reports be
stopped immediately. “They (presumably Iranian mass media) have no
right to approach us and ask what our opinions about Islam and its
relics are,” he said.