A Cry from Iran: Brothers Honor Father’s Martyrdom

Michael Ireland | Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service | Friday, July 25, 2008

A Cry from Iran: Brothers Honor Father’s Martyrdom

July 25, 2008

SANTA ANA, CA - Two brothers, a murdered father and an untold story of pain and forgiveness are the inspirations behind a six times award-winning documentary on the secret death of a prominent evangelical pastor in Iran, Haik Hovsepian.

The movie is the untold story of Iranian Christian martyrs, and Christian converts, who became the victims of their beliefs and paid the ultimate price – their lives.

Two brothers from Iran, Joseph and Andre Hovsepian, who made the documentary "A Cry From Iran" about the life and work of their father, recently joined international journalist Dan Wooding as guests on his Front Page radio program on KWAVE 109.9 FM in Santa Ana, California. (The interview will be aired again this Sunday, July 27, 2008, at 5:00 PM Pacific Time. It can also be heard on http://www.kwve.com/.)

Their documentary is the story of Bishop Haik Hovsepian, who was the superintendent of the Assemblies of God and, later in his ministry, the representative of protestant churches in Iran.

Joseph Hovsepian explained: “Living with him for twenty years of course I’ve had a lot of good memories from him, but thirteen years ago in 1994 because of his faith and all he did for Christians and defending them, he one day disappeared and then we found him stabbed to death because of his faith.”

Joseph continued: “After going through all the tragedy and comfort and different stages of forgiving (and) having a background in film industry, the idea of making this documentary started two years after the actual martyrdom. In 1996 we started gathering several documents and all the clips that I had shot when my dad was alive -- and at the time we didn’t think that those clips could become so vital and important and the world would see them -- but praise the Lord with the support of the Holy Spirit and family and churches we came a long way, and two years ago with partnership with Open Doors we could officially start producing this documentary fulltime working with my brother on the board, and as a result 'A Cry from Iran' has been born.”

On the question of who killed Haik Hovsepian, Joseph replied: “That’s a good question. We hope that the audience, after watching the documentary, can judge and know the answer for themselves. We haven’t pointed our fingers at any special person or group or government but, as we know, that our main enemy is the devil that works through people and not people themselves. But of course it’s been very, very hard, very sad at times. During the editing process our goal was focus, was to see beyond our pain and memories, and see what this film can do for the people in the west who appreciate their freedom and to the people in Iran to see that the martyrs names still go on.”

Andre Hovsepian said he was only ten years old when his father was martyred so he didn’t have as much memory as Joseph and the rest of the family did.

“But I do definitely have a lot of memories still and a lot of pictures of him in my head because I was ten years old and I lived with him for ten years, but definitely besides memory what I heard about -- his life from other members of the church, from other family members -- really impacted me so much. And of course after making this documentary spending sometimes twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours a day, at times I think I saw more footage from him and clips and pictures than I’d seen in my ten years.”

Wooding wanted to know what did Andre learn new about his father from making the movie? “When you started working on this movie 'A Cry' From Iran you must have been amazed that you found out all sort of new things about him,” said Wooding.

“Yes, I did actually, and one thing that stood out I would say (was) the amount of passion and the vision that he had, because everything I believe starts from one person’s vision and then does something to its community or results and is fruitful, and in the process of making this documentary I saw that vision that my dad had and at the end of course resulted in growing the zeal of Christians in Iran.”

Joseph Hovsepian said the documentary is narrated by a well known award winning voice-over who did the Verizon Wireless commercial a few years ago.

He pointed out that when some people think of documentaries they think of boring talk and a program full of talks, whereas a lot of audiences have already said "A Cry From Iran" is a docu-drama.

“We’re very glad that this film has not only won awards in the Christian awards but also has gone beyond that and even in the scope of human rights issues and freedom of religion, freedom of choice, has brought a lot of interest in (the situation in Iran), and we’re very excited about that.”

Joseph said they carried out a series of reenactments, shooting about two-hundred hours footage of his father, so in the last years of his life they had enough coverage. But the first part of his life and in covering the radical parts of country of Iran they had to reestablish (through reenactment), and the brothers had to travel to five countries and also five states in America.

“We have shot over thirty-five interviews and thirty-five hours of reenactment and the result has been fifty-five minutes of packed documentary, plus a lot of behind the scenes (footage).”

“Take us back to the period when there was all this trouble for your father. What led up to it?” Wooding asked.

Joseph responded that sadly the situation hasn’t changed that much from that day to the present.

“But going back to 1993, the church at the time had big clashes with government officials and the church had to be closed down and my dad as superintendent of the churches in Iran was the front person in the battle and would always get involved in the situation. But it came to its climax in 1993 when Mehdi Dibaj, who was a Muslim convert and a Christian brother had served ten years in prison and he was to be executed for his faith. The only punishment for his conversion was basically dying for it and paying the price, and my dad stood against that execution order and brought it to the attention of the government officials in Iran and then took a bigger step to the Christian world outside, to the United Nations, and even involving the congress of the US. So as a result of his activities and campaign he was released and this was a big victory for the church of Iran, but soon after he had to pay a bigger price -- and that was his own life.”

Wooding asked Andre to “take us the next step: what exactly happened to your dad?”

Andre said: “Basically what happened was that after several threats that we got in different ways, finally one day my dad was on his way to the airport to pick up a friend from church and he disappeared for eleven days. We had no news of him -- I mean you could only imagine how hard it was for us -- and of course I have to mention here that the whole church was very supportive internationally, worldwide. We received many, many support from different believers around the world and that of course helped us a lot to cope with the situation. But after eleven days, unfortunately, we received the call in which they said we need your eldest son (who was Joseph) to come and identify some pictures.

“That was from the morgue officials. Then, I won’t get into details, but of course later on we found out that that he was killed and actually he was buried in a Muslim graveyard in which they only bury Muslim people.”

Wooding asked Joseph, as the eldest brother, what that was like.

“As Andre said as hard as it was and even is right now to talk about it, we have captured all these moments in the documentary and when it gets to this part, the movie kind of slows down. You feel what a martyr’s family goes through when such things happen. But for me, I think it was very shocking because it was the climax and very challenging point of my faith for the situation because I had trusted that God would protect his children in any situation, and this was something where we thought always and believed in, but maybe I hadn’t seen the other side of the picture. Especially having such a faithful father whose ministry was very fruitful for God it was the last thing that passed my mind that in the morgue I would see the twenty-six times stabbed face of my dad and chest of my dad covered in blood. So I went in with the knowledge that he won’t be there and in fact when we went through all the pictures of the albums he was not there but until the last minute before we left they said there’s one more picture and we have already buried this man as an unidentified person, and that was my father.”

Joseph continued: “I think at the time soon I got into this stage of kind of challenging God, and I was alone with the two police officers -- which were not too comforting either -- so I didn’t cry at that time that much and then I walked home to my uncle’s house because I didn’t know how to share the news with my mother and my brother Andre (at the time was ten years old), and he was the first thing in my mind that in Iran at the time people there are not that many divorces so not having a father is also a very big deal there. And he came to my mind, and I just didn’t know how to digest the situation and I think it kind of hit me a few hours after.”

Andrew still remembers what he said.

“Yes, I remember exactly,” said Andre. “Actually, it’s very interesting if you saw the movie End of the Spear. I saw myself in that movie when the guy comes home and his son is upstairs and he just listens -- he puts his ear on the ground -- and listens from another room. That was exactly me in 1994 because I was in my room doing homework and then I heard Joseph coming in and I just ran to him and I saw his eyes, and that was enough for us to know what has happened. And then, of course, we hugged each other -- it was very emotional, very emotional -- but at the same time overall I have to say that I really do believe that if God let something happen for a reason He also takes care of you too. He’s not a coward God; He’s a very caring God in fact, and that’s why He protected us.”

Joseph said it was probably God’s plan that during those eleven days they were very calm and believed that their father would be alive, maybe somewhere in interrogation, but were expecting him to be coming back.

“After that shock, I think we all went through several stages of (what) my mother calls the University of God, which you never in fact graduate from, you always keep learning. But I think the first stage was the hatred that we had towards the enemies, and it took us a good couple of months to start even thinking about (what had happened).”

Did the brothers want to get revenge somewhere?

“Yes,” said Joseph, “I remember even in the very first days my mind was working that 'ok I have to pay them back, they have killed an innocent person.' But as my brother said, the support of the church and all the prayers that were coming from outside in the west and organizations including Open Doors that we are working now with (really helped). I think God really touched us and things went very smoothly and as a result it was a process of forgiveness; it was a process of not only forgiving and interceding and finally praising and being thankful.”

The Hovsepian brothers said that one thing that always is alive and never dies is the peaceful spirit of God that works even when your tears are shedding. Something magical happens through the power of prayer.

Wooding asked Andre tell some of the lessons people can learn if they watch their movie "A Cry From Iran"?

Andre replied: “One of them, as you already mentioned, I think it stands out is the appreciation of life no matter what situation you’re in, no matter if you have financial problems or someone in your family has a disease or anything like that, after watching this movie the first impact that I think that it leaves on you is that 'wow I have to appreciate my life. I have to appreciate this freedom that I have' and of course I have to make a note that Christians in the west are persecuted too in other ways, which maybe is a whole different topic. But at least it’s not physical -- they don’t take your life.

“Other feedback that we’ve gotten from people has been just simply the awareness, because a lot of people watch the news and they think that’s all we need to know and that’s all that’s happening on this earth, in this universe. But after watching this movie, people are really more aware of what is happening in these third world countries.”

Wooding wanted to know: “Are there other Christians and Christian leaders in Iran who are suffering like your dad did?”

“Sadly, yes,” said Joseph. “And I should say that even in the past two months there were other house group leaders and Christians that were officially executed, and still there are groups that are always taken for interrogation and some have paid a price -- whether they lose their job or their kids can’t go to school. But the fact is that what has changed during the past several years after the series of Iranian martyrs are how the Christians handle their faith and how they respond to the persecution. They pray for their enemies, they trust in the Lord more than ever, and my dad being an Armenian was not from a Muslim background, but defending Muslim background believers already left a great impact on them and they all say that if Armenians could give their lives to reach us through the message of the Gospel how much more we are ready to pay that. So they have become much more stronger than ever before.”

How difficult is it for a Muslim in Iran to give their lives to Christ?

“Well it is very difficult actually,” said Andre.” Because of security reasons I think primarily, because once you do give your life to Jesus you’re not only making a decision for yourself but also in a way you are somewhat endangering your family members. So I mean it’s a whole different world out there than here. So I think as far as that goes it’s the security comes in to line, but God leads them to do the right thing.”

For both DVD information and screening information you can go to the official website which is www.acryfromiran.com.

Copyright 2008 ASSIST News Service