After Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in Iran, the nation’s 4 million Sunni Muslim Kurds rejected his rules and his religious beliefs and demended independence. Khomeini sent in his Revolutionary Guards, who slaughtered thousands of Kurds using mock trials.
On August 27th, 1979, in Sanadaj, nine Kurdish rebels and two former police officers were tried and sentenced to death. Their execution by firing squad was documented in startling detail by the above photograph, published in Ettela’at, a Tehran newspaper. A United Press International staffer in Tehran saw the photo and went to Ettela’at to obtain the photo. He then transmitted it via wire to UPI’s European office. On August 29th, various international newspapers including the New York Times put the photo on their frontpages. For security reasons, the name of the staffer was never revealed.
The photographer’s name had also remained unknown. The editor of the Ettela’at was afraid of government reprisals and didn’t mention the name of the photographer. Predictably enough, the Revolutionary Guards later invaded the newspaper’s office and confiscated the photos. They didn’t shut the newspaper because it was the oldest paper in the country, and damage done by such a shut-down would’ve been much worse.
The photo, named Firing Squad in Iran or more poetically, “the Numbing Transition from Life to Death” was the only anonymous winner of a Pulitzer Prize in the 90-year history of the award. In 2006, an Iranian photographer Jahangir Razmi revealed that he was the photographer and claimed the award. The irony was that Razmi had been the official photographer of Iranian Presidents since 1997. See all the photos he took that fateful day here.