Anglican bishop of Iran’s official residence turned into a museum

Anglican bishop of Iran’s official residence turned into a museum

The bishop’s house is now a museum, flanked on one side by flags of the Islamic Republic, and with pictures of Iran’s two Supreme Leaders, Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, outside the front door. (Photo: Twitter @Alireza_E_1999)

The official residence and family home of the former Anglican bishop of Iran is now a museum.

Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti was forced out of Iran in the year of the Islamic revolution of 1979, his son murdered, and his house and several other church-owned properties confiscated. 

In the decades before the revolution, the Anglican Church had been responsible for a number of well-respected schools, hospitals and institutions for the blind, many of which were situated within the same complex as the bishop’s house.

However, in the years that followed many of these institutions were confiscated and later either left empty for years or repurposed. 

In the same way, the bishop’s house in Isfahan had been empty for many years following its confiscation until, in late 2020, it became apparent that it had been taken over and was about to be repurposed by a rich foundation owned by Iran’s Supreme Leader.

The Mostazafan Foundation purportedly exists to support the poor – “mostazafan” literally translates as “oppressed” – but it is one of the richest organisations in the country, and its dealings are far from transparent.

As Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, explains: “This ‘foundation’ was set up at the beginning of the revolution and used to seize properties belonging to political opponents and affiliates of the former regime, as well as religious minorities such as Christians, Jews and Baha’is, who were some of the first victims of the revolutionary fervour that swept across the country.”

Mr Borji added: “It is not clear whether the revenue generated from this new museum will be used to make this rich foundation controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader even richer.”

Reacting to the initial news of its repurposing in September 2020, the bishop’s daughter, Guli Francis-Dehqani, who is now herself a bishop in the Church of England, told Article18: “The house, which belonged to the Church, was unlawfully confiscated and the injustice of that still stings. However, after 41 years of being vacant, I hope it will now at least be put to good use and that it will truly be used as a place from which those who are dispossessed and poor may be helped.”

She also tweeted: “I hope and pray it will now become a base to help those in need until perhaps one day it will be handed back to the church.”

Then, in July last year, when it became apparent that her former home was to be turned into a museum, Bishop Guli said: “If it is to be a museum, I hope it will in some way reflect its history, which was that it used to belong to the Persian Christian Church.”

But there was no mention of the building’s former purpose in the promotional video released by the Mostazafan Foundation ahead of the museum’s inauguration on 3 February, nor in the opening statements by the head of the foundation.

He merely stated: “The value of this property is very high, and we could have chosen an administrative or residential function for it. But we got the property for free, and the cost of turning it into a museum was small compared to the value of the property. 

“This is the way we work. Wherever there are any of these kinds of buildings, let us restore and revive them for you!”

The “Isfahan National Museum of Arts” is now open to the public.