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Thousands Attend Iranian Poet Behbahani's Funeral

Women hold pictures of Iranian poet Simin Behbahani at her funeral in Tehran on August 22.

Thousands of Iranians, including prominent intellectuals, artists, and rights activists, have attended a funeral ceremony held in Tehran for celebrated poet and women’s rights advocate Simin Behbahani.

Behbahani, known as Iran’s lady of "ghazal" for her use of a traditional genre that employs a series of couplets, died on August 19 in a hospital in the Iranian capital of heart failure and respiratory problem.

The two-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in literature was 87.

Iran’s most famous classical singer, Mohammad Reza Shajarian, said Behbahani had made history: “Simin [Behbahani] will always remain alive in our history and live on in us,” Shajarian was quoted as saying by Iranian news agencies.

“Simin Behbahani, the crown of Iran’s women,” some chanted, according to a participant who spoke to RFE/RL.

Behbahani was laid to rest at Tehran’s Behesht Zahra cemetery, where her father is buried, Iranian media reported.

Her burial location has led to some controversy amid reports that Iranian authorities had prevented the family to lay Behbahani to rest at Imamzadeh Taher cemetery, where many prominent literary figures and dissidents have been buried.

Ahead of the ceremony, Fariborz Raisdana, a friend and colleague of Behbahani's in the Iranian Writers Association, wrote on his Facebook page about official pressure and said that in protest he would not attend the funeral.

Writer and journalist Ali Dehbashi, who attended the ceremony, told RFE/RL that the family had said that Behbahani had included two options in her last will for her burial place, including the Imamzadeh Taher cemetery.

According to Dehbashi, a relative said at the funeral that the family had chosen the second option, which was Behesht Zahra.

The outspoken Behbahani had faced the wrath of Iranian authorities, who had censored her work and banned her from traveling to an International Women’s Day event in Paris in 2010.

In her poems, Behbahani tackled topics such as patriotism, women’s issues, war, peace, revolution, poverty, justice, and other challenges facing Iran and its people.

One of the speakers at Behbahani's funeral, writer and poet Javad Mojabi, said the poetess always remained loyal to her people.

Iranian tenor Shahram Nazeri sang one of Behbahani's popular poems, titled “My Country, I Will Build You Again."

Among the participants at Behbahani’s funeral was prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Many Iranians are mourning the death of Behbahani, who touched their hearts through her words and her stanzas in support of human rights and freedom of speech.

"Simin Behbahani, you are in our hearts," some chanted while paying their last respects to the poet.

With additional reporting by Radio Farda's Mohammad Zarghami
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.