Haik Hovsepian Mehr
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Haik Hovsepian (January 6, 1945, Tehran - January 1994), was an Iranian bishop and Christian martyr. He was the Bishop of the Jama'at-e Rabbani church (part of the Assemblies of God church movement) until his death. The life of Bishop Haik, who preferred the humble title of Brother Haik except when dealing with government authorities, began in 1945 in Tehran, Iran as the firstborn of an Armenian middle-class family. Haik later became the eldest of four brothers: Edward, Roubik and George. Just as Iranian born individuals consider themselves Muslim, Armenian born individuals consider themselves Christian. Nonetheless Haik professed Christ as his personal savior when he was 15. In 1966, upon completion of his mandatory military service, Haik married Takoosh Ginagosian. In 1967, he pastored his first church in Majidieh, a suburb of the capital Tehran. Not long afterwards, he served in the military and was stationed in Gorgan, a city in Mazanderan, a northern province of Iran near the Caspian Sea, where he established a house group. Tragedy struck one evening in 1969. Haik, his wife Takoosh, and their six-month-old child were traveling from Tehran to Gorgan with an American missionary family when the car rear-ended a tractor-trailer without reflective lights. The adult passengers survived, but the four children aboard were killed. Both Haik and Takoosh suffered broken legs and were not expected to walk again. Despite physical and emotional pain, they recovered use of their legs and within a few months they returned to Gorgan where they faithfully served for fourteen years amid much hardship and persecution.
While Armenian by ethnicity, Hovsepian had a strong motivation to evangelise Iranian Muslims. He was an outspoken Christian apologist and evangelist and a gifted musician. Many of his sermons and songs are still available on the Internet. (www.hovsepian.com)
Hovsepian spoke up for the rights of Christians in Iran. In 1993 he was one of only two church leaders to refuse to sign a declaration stating that they would not allow Muslims or Muslim converts into their churches. He also refused to sign a statement that Christians enjoyed full rights in Iran. He compiled a detailed report on violations of religious freedom and invited Professor Reynaldo Pohl, the United Nations Special Representative to Iran, to visit the country and meet Protestant ministers and government officials to discuss these violations. He also met the Ministry for Islamic Guidance for Minorities to call for the government to respect the rights of religious minorities set out in the 1979 Constitution. Bishop Haik Hovsepian and the denomination he represented, the Assemblies of God, were ordered to comply with the following directives: (1) Church services could not be held in Persian, the official language of Iran; (2) Church members must be issued membership cards and produce them upon attendance; (3) Membership lists, complete with addresses, must be handed over to governmental authorities; (4) Meetings must be confined to Sunday, not Friday the officially recognized day of worship; (5) Only members could attend Sunday meetings; and (6) New members could only be added to the membership and admitted to meetings once the Ministry of Information and Islamic Guidance had been notified. Haik deliberately disobeyed and defiantly declared, "Never would he or his ministers bow down and comply with such inhumane and unjust demands" and that "our churches are open to all who want to come in.”
He was killed after protesting about the treatment of his friend and colleague Mehdi Dibaj at the hands of the Iranian government. Haik’s committed campaign for Dibaj paid off. On January 16, 1994, Dibaj was released. Three days later Haik vanished from the streets of Tehran. Haik’s death was reported to his family on January 30, 1994. While the government initially denied all involvement, Iranian Christians and independent observers claimed that he was murdered for his beliefs. Takoosh and her four children (Rebekkah, Joseph, Gilbert, and Andre) eventually immigrated to California, to be surrounded by a large diaspora of Armenians and Persians, including family members and friends from Tehran. Takoosh and her children are frequently asked to speak at conferences, and their children are in different Christian ministries. Haik’s brothers who are active pastors are also ministering outside Iran.