By Naeim Tavakkoli
Editor’s Note: Iran Press Watch is pleased to share the following profile of Behrouz Tavakkoli outlined by his son, Naeim. Mr. Tavakkoli is one of the seven members of the national body responsible for coordinating activities of the Baha’is of Iran, known as Yaran [Friends]. One of the members of this group was arrested in March 2008, and the remaining members were abducted last May. To this day, they have not been charged with any wrongdoing, nor have they been provided access to their lawyer, Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace laureate.
I am pleased to say a few words about my father. Behrouz Tavakkoli was born in 1951 in a small town, two hours distant from Mashhad, the capital of Khurasan.
He grew up in that area, and at an early age developed an interest in photography. I remember in my childhood having found his “darkroom” in my grandparents’ old house. He also played volleyball and used to run. Eventually he entered university, where he studied psychology and received his degree at 23. He then joined the military service and served in the army as a lieutenant for two years.
While in the service and stationed in Mashhad, my father married my mother, Tahirih Tooski. From this union, they had two sons: I am the eldest at 31 and my younger brother, Nabil is now 24 years old. My father was about 26 when he left completed his military sevice – mandatory for all Iranian men – and resumed his profession by participating in further advanced study so that he could serve as a social worker in rehabilitation centers. Soon afterwards they moved to Sari, a pleasant town in northern Iran and close to the Caspian Sea. His life passion was helping people through social work and providing a means for rehabilitation. His job as a specialist was to provide technical support for organizations that took care of mentally and physically handicapped patients. To this day, he often talks about his work in the 1970s, prior to the Islamic Revolution, when he served as a social worker. It appears that it was the happiest time of his life.
Some time later, we returned to Mashhad and for some 13 years we lived in Gonbad, a smaller city close to the Turkmenistan border. During the last 9 years, my family has lived in Tehran where he has been able to serve the community and people. In fact, to my knowledge, all the Yaran lived or moved to Tehran, or somewhere close by, so they could be more effective in their service to the community.
After the Revolution, as with all other Baha’is in Iran, he was fired from his job on account of his religion.
My father was an active Baha’i all his life. When he turned 15, he began participating in the Baha’i youth association institute, which served the youth of the community from the age of 15. He served for a long time in this institute.
In either the late 60s or early 70s, he was elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly while he was a university student in Mashhad. He served in that capacity until he moved to Sari, where he was once again appointed to serve in the youth institute. However, within a couple of years he was elected to the Spiritual Assembly of that town.
With the emergence of the Revolution and persecutions engulfing the Baha’is of Iran, he was soon appointed an Auxiliary Board member, and served in that office until 1982-3 when our family returned to Mashhad. Because of the pressure of harassment and the constant attacks of the enemies, we lived in seclusion for the next four years, and no one knew of our whereabouts except my uncle and aunt. We often lived in hiding, and got good at becoming “invisible”.
Once the intensity of persecution had lessened to some degree, our family moved to Gonbad – a small town of relatively humble circumstances. My father started a series of Baha’i studies classes for youth and adults. During these years, he developed a millwork carpentry shop, so he could earn a living. He continued with that work in Gonbad.
It was in the late 1980s that he was asked to serve on Yaran group, a service that he continued for the next 19 or 20 years until his arrest last May. The first 10 years of this service was in Gonbad and the rest in Tehran.
Before this arrest, he had been detained every so often, but typically just for a couple of days. However, three years ago, while he was taking a bus to visit Baha’i communities in Khurasan as a part of his service for the Ruhi training institute, he was arrested by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence. This arrest was sudden, and we did not have news of him or know his whereabouts for some 10 days. At the same time, Fariba Kamalabadi (another member of the Yaran group) was arrested with him. Eventually, they released Fariba after about two months, and my father after four months of incarceration. They had spent most of their time in solitary confinement with no charges against them. After that imprisonment, my father developed serious kidney and orthotic problems.
When he returned to Tehran, in addition to his services as a member of the Yaran, he resumed his teaching of Baha’i classes for various age groups, which were different from the earlier Baha’i studies classes. In recent years he would teach “teaching methods for training of children” and “family consultation skills”. In addition, he used to teach courses for BIHE (Baha’i institute for Higher Education) in the Psychology Department.
He is an ordinary person propelled to do extraordinary things. When he was called upon to serve as a member of Yaran, he gave up every thing else so he could devote himself fully to that service. This included permanently giving up his occupation, which he had been engaged in while in Gonbad.
My father is not an unusually brave man, or gifted with exceptional talents, nor does he possess the ability to learn faster than others. But when it comes to serving the Faith, he fears nothing – absolutely nothing. And I also remember him intensely studying the Faith all the time in order to have deeper knowledge of its teachings and to learn better ways to share its healing message with those around him, or gain insights about new techniques and methods of managing the Baha’i community.
Once I remarked that Baha’u’llah had admonished us to moderation in all things. My father responded, “But you have to define moderation for yourself in relation to the Faith’s priorities.”
When it came to service, my father knew no moderation. Every single day of the week, for 18 hours a day, he was engaged in the most intense work of the Cause. I remember him as a tall, slim, pleasant looking young man. I don’t know when he became an old, ill man. May God watch over him in prison.