The following article is excerpted from a news story that appeared in ‘The Sault Star’. Decades of abuse and denial of denial of basic rights such as education have forced many Iranian Baha’is to leave the country, and the exodus continues to this day.

The knock came in the night, shortly after the launch of what became known as the Iranian Revolution.

The year was 1979. The Islamic majority in Iran had driven out the Shah, welcomed the Ayatollah Khomeini from exile and voted to re-establish the country as an Islamic theocracy, their god firmly at the centre of all aspects of life.

The Mogharrabis were not of that majority, but of Iran’s largest religious minority — and many would argue its most persecuted — Baha’i.

“We wouldn’t have anticipated any problems because we had nothing to do with politics,” said Mahin Mogharrabi, now 79, about that night in her Tehran home.

The two young members of the Revolutionary Guard were looking for Mahin’s husband, a retired army officer — specifically, for the gun they were sure he had hidden in the house.

“We told them there was no gun. They said that was impossible,” she said in rapid Persian from her comfortable Sault Ste. Marie home this week. She was speaking through her son, Dr. Mehran Mogharrabi.

They ransacked the house until 2 a.m., finding nothing. They left with a warning to her husband: “From now on you report to the Revolutionary Guard headquarters anytime we summon you.”

Followers of Baha’i had already been told they would lose their pensions. Followers had lived with persecution since the faith was founded in the former Persia only a century earlier — but the revolution was of another order entirely.

The nine elected members of the National Spiritual Assembly, which runs the administrative affairs of the religion in place of a clergy, one day were simply all arrested and never heard from again. An uncle, a noted cardiologist and member of the assembly, was one of them.

First Mahin’s husband went into hiding. She stayed in the family home another couple of months, to care for her elderly parents, but they eventually insisted she leave as well. She found refuge with a childhood friend, and ventured out only intermittently to meet with family and friends, disguised, ironically, in the Islamic chador that was now required of all Iranian women.

After six months, her husband found a smuggler and made his way to Pakistan, then Spain, from where he called and told her to get out now. “My situation was worse than my husband’s. I was a woman, alone, and, worse, I had no money.”

Terrified and penniless, she managed to get money from her brother-in-law in California and made contact with a smuggler “with a good reputation.” The sum he extracted was enormous — both financially and emotionally.

At first, a “nice car” picked her up and a couple of other political refugees and brought them to the smuggler’s home in Tabriz, the capital of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. They hunkered down for a week, when suddenly the smuggler announced they had to move.

“He told us we had to move very light, to bring nothing with us.”

He led them to a swampland they waded through for a couple of hours, whereupon they came across some horses. “We said, ‘Where’s the car?’ There was no car. I had never experienced horse-riding in my life.”

She reluctantly mounted the saddle-less horse. “It was very, very hard. It seemed the horse knew I had no experience — it was galloping. I asked the guide what would happen if I fell. He said, ‘Nothing. You would die. We would leave you here.’”

Chuckling at the memory now, Mahin says she began to whisper in the animal’s ear, “and then surprisingly the horse became a little bit more calm. I was crying and talking to the horse all day.”

Night fell and they arrived at a filthy, freezing cave. The guide had brought some dirty blankets the four hapless people initially refused but were soon begging for. He also produced yogurt, which they were obliged to eat with cupped hands.

The next morning they again mounted their horses, exhausted and dying of thirst. The guide kept urging them on, pointing to the horizon where he promised water waited for them. It was a mirage. At one point Mahin spied some brackish liquid in the dust and greedily scooped it into her hands — horse urine.

The interminable ride finally ended several kilometres from the Turkish border, where the guide “took the horses and said, ‘You’re on your own. Keep walking.’” The spent quartet presented themselves to Turkish police literally trailing blood, their shoes completely torn apart from the trek.

Mahin would reunite with her husband two months later, and in 1982 the National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’i sponsored them to come to Canada.