Tomorrow will be the 25th anniversary of the forced disappearance of Tateos Mikaelian, an outspoken Iranian Armenian church leader and Bible translator who was found dead three days after going missing.
His son identified his body, which according to one report was riddled with bullets, on 2 July, 1994. Tateos was 62.
The Iranian regime claimed an opposition group had been behind the killing, but there was little doubt among the Christian community that Tateos had been killed because of his evangelical activities and public criticism of the regime. He had received several anonymous death threats.
Tateos’ murder came just five months after that of fellow Iranian Armenian church leader Haik Hovsepian, himself an outspoken critic of the government.
Indeed, some believed that Tateos laid the foundations for his own death when he told a foreign journalist at Haik’s funeral that he believed the Iranian regime had been behind the killing.
Tateos was even more outspoken at a Christian conference in Cyprus a month before his murder, when he said Iranian Christians were treated like second-class citizens and “unclean”; “encouraged and even indirectly forced to become Muslim”; not allowed to build churches or publish Scriptures; and that their leaders were killed. He also compared the “religious dictatorship” in Iran to the Middle Ages, and called on the World Council of Churches and United Nations to put pressure on the Iranian regime to ensure there was religious freedom in Iran.
When he sat down, a colleague reportedly told him he had signed his own death sentence.
Previously, in the 1980s, he had complained to the Ministry of Islamic Guidance after a Muslim cleric said on TV that Christians, like pigs and dogs, were “najess” – unclean.
He had also criticised restrictions on Christians in an interview with a French magazine, after which he was summoned by the authorities and accused of “counter-revolutionary activities”, which he denied.
And he refused to agree to stop evangelising to Muslims and preventing them from attending his St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Tehran, which held services in Persian.
Tateos was a brilliant scholar, responsible for the translation of over 60 Christian books into Persian, as well as the Good News version of the New Testament.
He was acting chairman of the Council of Protestant Ministers in Iran, and had also served as Executive Secretary of the country’s Presbyterian Synod and General Secretary of the Bible Society before it was forcibly closed in 1990 – something else he protested about.