News / USA

US Scholar's Planned Iranian Burial in Limbo

FILE - Harvard University's Richard Frye, Aga Khan Professor of Iranian Studies (photo: Harvard University).
FILE - Harvard University's Richard Frye, Aga Khan Professor of Iranian Studies (photo: Harvard University).
Maryam ManzooriGolnaz Esfandiari
The burial of a prominent American scholar who wanted to be laid to rest in the central Iranian city of Isfahan remains in limbo amid a backlash from a small but influential group of hard-liners.
Richard Frye, a Harvard professor who dedicated his career to studying Iran’s ancient culture and language, died last month in Boston at 94 and his body is waiting to be transferred to the land he loved.
In his will, Frye had asked to be interred at a mausoleum on the banks of the Zayandeh River, near Isfahan, the former capital of Persian Empire and, in his own words, “the cultural center of Iran.”
But Kazem Mousavi-Bojnourdi, director of the Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia, a Tehran-based research institute on Iranian and Islamic culture, told Iran’s ISNA news agency Wednesday he had yet to receive responses to letters sent to Iran’s president, foreign minister and the local government in Isfahan regarding Frye’s request.
“I have asked Ali Akbar Velayati, the supreme leader’s close consultant, to inform us if he disagrees with transfer of the body. But if he agrees, he should mediate and direct the opposing group not to politicize this totally cultural matter,” Mousavi-Bojnourdi told ISNA.

Mousavi-Bojnourdi, whom Frye had personally asked to execute his will, said Frye had trained many Iran specialists and “we owe him [the honor of his request].”
Hard-line pushback
A local cleric who opposes the planned interment, however, had other ideas.

"The people of Isfahan will not allow authorities to bury the body of a CIA spy in the city," Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, the city's prayer leader, said of Frye’s burial plans during the weekly political sermon.
In a statement released earlier this month, Frye’s wife, Eden Naby, acknowledged he had worked for the Office of Strategic Services, an American intelligence agency, during World War II.

She said Frye had carried out “cryptographic and interview work” in Afghanistan and Turkey and monitored communications between Germany and Japan, The New York Times reported.
Naby Frye said her husband returned to Harvard after the war and that he loved Iran. “And no, he was never ever paid by the CIA,” she said in her statement.
Dozens of hard-liners in Isfahan protested against Frye’s burial plans on April 10, with some spray-painting slogans on the mausoleum, where two other American Iranologists – Arthur Pope and Phyllis Ackerman, his wife – have already been laid to rest.
The demonstration followed attacks on the deceased scholar in the media, including the influential Kayhan daily, which often carries the views of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Lawmaker Ahmad Salek called on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not to allow Frye to be buried in the Islamic republic.
The attacks appear to emanate from a group of conservative clerics and commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards opposed to the recent thaw in U.S.-Iran relations and the ongoing talks between Washington and Tehran.
Iranian journalist Isa Saharkhiz said the government does not have a plan to confront the small group of hard liners.

“Rouhani knows very well [they] won’t miss an opportunity not to let him work,” he told VOA in an interview.
Revered figure
Frye, sometimes referred to as “dean of the world’s Iranologists,” was admired even by some of Iran’s most conservative, anti-American leaders.

In 2010, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then Iran’s president, approved Frye’s burial plan and reportedly gave him the keys to a traditional house with a courtyard garden in Isfahan.

A prodigious scholar, Frye spent more than 70 years studying Iran and helped establish the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard University, one of the first Iranian studies programs in the U.S.

A prominent Iranian linguist, Ali Akbar Dehkhoda, gave Frye the title “Irandoost,”or, “friend of Iran,” which he used when signing his papers.

Iran’s reformist foreign minister, Javad Zarif, paid public tribute to Frye on Twitter a day after the scholar's death.

"Deeply saddened by passing of Prof Richard Frye: true friend & scholar of #Iran. His legacy as giant will forever live on. God rest his soul," Zarif tweeted on March 28.

Zarif and other government officials have not commented publicly on the controversy over Frye's possible burial in Iran.

“I am not surprised by his [burial wishes] because he worked about 70 years on Iranian history and culture,” said John Limbert, a former U.S. diplomat and ex-American hostage in Iran.

“It was [Frye] who encouraged me to enter diplomacy when I was his student, about 40 years ago. He believed [America] needed more people focused on history and civilization in our diplomatic system,” Limbert said.

While the issue of Frye’s burial continues to play out, Tajikistan has volunteered a resting place for the American scholar. Frye’s wife was quoted by Iran’s Ghanoon newspaper as saying “if Iran decides not to comply with the will, [he] will be transferred to Dushanbe.”

Maryam Manzoori reported from Washington for VOA's Persian service and Golnaz Esfandiari reported from Prague for Radio Free Europe

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Stephanie B from: New York, Tehran
April 18, 2014 9:30 AM
This is a deeply flawed article. Writers should correct this as you are creating confusion for people. I do not know why President of a country give 'blessing of plans' should translate to acquiring a transport permit. The Transport permit clearly states a plot must be assigned prior to bringing the body into the country. Well, being that, there is no plot as the country doesn't issue new cemeteries. No non-muslim can be buried in normal one. It is not in the President's jurisdiction to override so many rules to accommodate such a sad situation. I am deeply grateful for Dr Fyes passion and to show what an amazing civilization Iran is, but I disagree with the essence of this article. Its not about Iran/US and now we are even creating free publicity for hardliners transferring such ill-written article to english speak public.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs