In Tehran's Martyrs' Museum, Iran courts new believers

Tales of heroism and artifacts of war are amassed across the street from the old US Embassy.

Sad music is piped into the cryptlike Martyrs' Museum in Tehran, where the collected artifacts of war and tales of heroism are aimed to inspire new believers in Iran.

Scraps of bullet-riddled, bloodstained cloth, a beat-up pair of field binoculars, strings of prayer beads, and black-bannered religious effects from the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s fill display cases in rooms almost devoid of visitors.

"In our beliefs and ideology, the shahid [martyr] has the highest value, the highest position in society," says Morteza Alizadeh, museum director.

"The museum is to show what people have given up – their lives – for the war," says Mr. Alizadeh. "It's a way to communicate between the older generation and newer ones."

That message is delivered to just three or four sets of students a week, less frequent college and tourist groups, and the daily handful of passersby who step into the museum across the street from the former US Embassy – site of the 1979-80 hostage crisis – where murals excoriate the US and show a Statue of Liberty with a skull face.

Visitors hear the legends of Iran's most exalted martyrs. And they learn, in keeping with Shiite belief that blood can revitalize religion, how to apply such commitment to their own lives.

There is the "miracle" of the daughter of a martyr, whose exam schedule had to be signed by the father. The father, Mojtaba Salehi, was a cleric who was ambushed and killed as he drove food supplies to the front line. The girl dreamed that her dead father had signed the school report, and when she awoke it had indeed been signed. Witness statements confirm the miracle.

And there is a tribute to Mustafa Chamran, a University of California Berkeley-educated plasma physicist and Iranian defense minister, who died at the front. "This is one of our martyrs of the highest level," explains museum guide Ali Asghar Vafaee.

Sensing that his martyrdom was imminent, Mr. Chamran wrote a letter to his body that began: "O life! I am going to separate from you...."

Chamran told his legs: "I know I have given you a lot of trouble, but you will be free of me in the next few minutes and have eternal rest."

He begged of his heart: "Withstand these last moments...."

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