Followers of the Yarsan faith in Sahna, Kermanshah carry the picture of Nimkard Tahiri who died of his burns in hospital last week. Photo: NNSROJ
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Members of the Yarsan faith in Iran and across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan have staged angry protests and acts of self-immolation, after Iranian prison guards violated a religious prohibition by shaving off the moustache of a Kurdish Yarsan inmate last week.
The BBC’s Persian service reported that, after prison authorities shaved off Kayomarth Nakat’s moustache, two fellow Yarsans had set themselves on fire in protest outside the mayor’s office in the Iranian city of Hamadan. One of them, Nimkard Tahiri, later died in hospital of severe burns.
His brother, Bihroz Tahiri, told the BBC that “Every religion has its symbol. To us Yarsans, the moustache is part of our identity.”
The Yarsans, also called Ahl-e-Haqq or “People of Truth,” reportedly number about one million around the world. They are Kurds who live predominantly in western Iran and in smaller numbers across the border in Iraq. The moustache is an important symbol of the faith.
“It is not just about the hair or the moustache,” Tahiri told the BBC. “It is about the identity of a people who are still not officially recognized in Iran.”
Iran’s western province of Kermansh is home to the largest number of Yarsans. Reports from inside Iran say that Yarsans across the province, including Kermanshah city, had come out in support of the prisoners and the man who died in hospital of his burns.
The body of Nimkard Tahiri was taken back to his hometown of Sahna, where he was buried amid angry protests and under heavy police presence.
According to roozonline.com, Kermanshah MP Saeed Haydari Tayib has sent an official protest to Iran’s justice minister about the incident.
The same website reported that the governor of Kermanshah has apologized to representatives of the protesters for the prison incident, and promised to take it up with higher authorities.
In the Iraqi town of Halabja, which is home to more than two thousand Yarsans, the largest number in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, followers of the belief gathered to express solidarity with their fellow Yarsans across the border.
“We are gathered here to condemn the act of shaving off the moustache of a Yarsan prisoner,” Sarwat Hama, a Yarsan resident of Halabja told Rudaw. “That man’s beliefs were insulted by this.”
“We have been living here among Muslims for years and we have never been treated the way our Yarsan brothers are treated in Iran,” said Hama.