Martyrdom, a religious motif deeply rooted in Shiite Islam has been playing a central role in the process of cultural identity establishment ever since the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. A majority of streets in every town are named after martyrs. Already at primary school pupils are taught about the herosim of martyrdom. The education includes visiting sites and collective mourning for martyrs’ sacrifices. The sites of the First Gulf War, officially termed the “Holy Defense”, have been turned into memorial theme parks. It is part of the Iranian collective memory that once children were blown away there in mine fields. Now people visit these parks on sponsored trips to pay tribute to martyrdom.
Four decades after the foundation of the Islamic Republic, Iran is supranationally engaged alongside Shia allies in conflicts around the Persian Gulf and the Levant. Fatalities produced by these conflicts form a new generation of martyrs. Symbolized by red tulips, new martyrs sustain a narrative of hailing sacrifice to justify hardships for the people. One that claims the Shia theme of an everlasting battle between “the just against the corrupt” and promises martyrs an eternal place in paradise. Thus constant conflict, martial aesthetics and martyrdom build the core of an identity narrative in the Islamic Republic of Iran.