Abdolsamad Rajabi Dehkordi

Abdolsamad Rajabi Dehkordi: We Must Get Rid of Chemical Weapons

 

“I want people around the world to know about chemical weapons survivors in Iran. We veterans defended our homeland and we have no regrets, but the world needs to know about our suffering.”

 

dehkordi-fuAbdolsamad Rajabi Dehkordi is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and is a survivor of a chemical weapons attack during the conflict. In sharing his experiences, he urges the world to understand what happened to Iranians under attack and pleads for a global ban on all chemical weapons.

 

Abdolsamad volunteered as a Basij soldier as soon as hostilities broke out in 1980 and served until he was the victim of a chemical attack in 1984.

 

“It was the 9th of March 1984 and I was in the Majnoon Islands,” said Abdolsamad. “I was involved in Operation Kheibar, which was part of the Battle of the Marshes. My comrades and I had been there for 5 days and after a shift rotation of new soldiers, we were waiting on the side of the Arvand Rud to return to the Iranian side to rest.”

 

The only mode of transport at that time was by hovercraft and Abdolsamad and his friends had no choice but to wait for the hovercraft to arrive to take them across the river to safety.

 

Unfortunately, transport did not arrive in time and Abdolsamad and his fellow soldiers fell victim to a brutal chemical weapons attack by Iraqi fighter jets.

 

“We had been waiting for hours,” said Abdolsamad, “and decided to go and wash ourselves in the river. Our bodies were still wet when Iraqi planes flew overhead and dropped bombs right next to us.”

 

Mustard gas bombs have no detonator like conventional bombs, and so on impact the sound they make equates to a dull thud. There is no loud explosive sound.

 

“At first,” remembered Abdolsamad, “we thought the bombs had not exploded. But then, we saw thick clouds of gas and we knew that these were chemical agents.”

 

“There was nothing we could do,” he continued, “and there was nowhere for us to go.”

 

Exposed to heavy doses of sulphur mustard, Abdolsamad had to wait for almost four hours for relief when helicopters finally arrived and flew the injured soldiers to Ahvaz.

 

Dehkordi
Abdolsamad (in right) with his comrade, 1983
“We were taken to the big sports stadium in Ahvaz,” said Abdolsamad, “but this was early in the war and I was among the first groups of victims of chemical weapons. The doctors were still learning to cope and were not entirely ready to deal with us.”

 

Having completely lost his vision and lapsing in and out of consciousness, Abdolsamad was transferred to Tehran. He was admitted initially to the Shari’ati Hospital and later – due to the bleeding in his lungs – was moved to the Labbafi-Nejad Hospital in the city.

 

And, although Abdolsamad was released from hospital within two months, he has spent the rest of his life in and out of hospitals to help him cope with the consequences of chemical weapons exposure. He was also sent on several occasions to Germany for medical care for his injuries.

 

Abdolsamad went back to live with his family in the city of Shahrekord in the Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province of central Iran.

 

However, the dry climate there was to prove to be too difficult for him with such severe lung injuries. In time, Abdolsamad moved his family to the more humid climate of northern Iran for two years, but his family felt isolated and lonely and the frequent travelling to Tehran for medical visits proved too difficult for them. They finally relocated to Isfahan where Abdolsamad and his family continue to live.

 

“I worked as a teacher,” he said, “but unfortunately, due to my health condition, I had to retire much earlier than most people.”

 

Although now retired, Abdolsamad speaks out about the need to abolish chemical weapons and to share the stories of the Iranian chemical weapons survivors.

 

“We veterans defended our homeland,” Abdolsamad said, “and we have no regrets, but the world needs to know about our suffering.”

 

“But,” he continued, “I don’t want anybody else in the world to suffer from the effects of chemical weapons. It is my wish that all chemical weapons be abolished.”

 

However, Abdolsamad has more to say than the fact that chemical weapons must be abolished. He feels there is an important role for all survivors in sharing their experiences to tell others that there is no place in this world for weapons of mass destruction.

 

“I believe that all chemical weapons survivors have a lot of abilities,” Abdolsamad concluded. “We are not healthy physically, but our experience and our mental and spiritual capacities are valuable.”

 

“We should all play our part in society to make sure chemical weapons are abolished.”

 

Written by Elizabeth Lewis

 

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MohammadRezaTaghipour

MohammadRezaTaghipour: Victim of Aggression, Voice for Peace

 

“When I see an Iranian standing on their legs, I am happy because I lost my legs so that they can stand today.”

 

Taghi-pour-fuMohammadRezaTaghipour was 15 years old when he joined the Basij as a volunteer soldier to defend his country, Iran, in the eight-year war with Iraq. It was the year 1982 and within four months of being at the front, MohammadReza was injured in a way that would shape the rest of his life.

 

“It was the day that Khorramshahr had been reclaimed from the Iraqis,” said MohammadReza, “and my comrades and I were in our bunker near the front line, when we were hit by a mortar shell.”

 

MohammadReza and his friends were cleaning up the mess from the first shell attack, when a second shell exploded and he was wounded in his lower back. And, it was while seated in an ambulance waiting to be transferred away from the front line to the back, that MohammadReza fell victim to a life-changing injury.

 

“An Iraqi tank aimed a shell directly at the stationary ambulance,” MohammadReza recalled, “and I was sent flying from the back into the front seat.”

 

Fellow soldiers had to cut MohammadReza out of the mangled wreck of the ambulance. When he was finally free, MohammadReza remembered feeling some pressure in his legs, completely unaware that they had been damaged beyond repair.

 

“I was a young 15 year old,” said MohammadReza, “I lost a couple of my fingers in the blast and I was so focused on that, that despite the pain, Ididn’t know that my legs had gone. My friends took out my boot laces and tied them tightly around my upper legs to stop the bleeding.”

 

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MohammadReza (first in right) with his comrades, before being injured in 1982
“The funny thing is,” added MohammadReza, “I didn’t feel scared.”

 

MohammadReza was transferred from the front to a field hospital near Ahvaz, called the Babaei Hospital. And, with only local anesthetic being administered, doctors proceeded to amputate both legs above the knee.

 

After the operation, MohammadReza was transferred by a C130 military aircraft to the Chamran Hospital in Shiraz to begin the recovery process – which was to prove to be long and painful.

 

“There was so much dust and dirt at the time of the explosion,” said MohammadReza, “and the dirt got into my wounds. It wasn’t cleaned properly in the Shiraz hospital, so I got very bad infections.”

 

MohammadReza was transferred from Shiraz to Tehran, where he was admitted to the Bank-e Melli Hospital. It was there that MohammadReza was to undergo another four operations on his legs. Each time, to save his life, more and more of MohammadReza’s remaining legs were amputated.

 

As if losing his legs wasn’t bad enough, MohammadReza also had to cope with a shrapnel injury in his bottom.

 

“I was in the hospital bed in Tehran,” he said, “when I used the triangle handle above my head to help me move around. Suddenly, I smelt and felt the sensation of warm blood from my bottom. I didn’t even know it but there was a piece of shrapnel stuck in there. It was only when I moved my position that the shrapnel dislodged and caused more trouble.”

 

After a year of treatment in Tehran, MohammadReza returned to his hometown of Arak to start life anew aided with a set of prosthetic legs. He was soon married to the sister of his brother in law and continued his education until he graduated with a high school diploma.

 

United Nations Resolution 598 brought an end to the war in July of 1988, although the war did not officially end until August 20 of that year. From 1983 until the Resolution, MohammadReza, as a member of Sepah – the Revolutionary Guards – was in charge of the casualties’ affairs bureau.

 

Taghipour3
Mohammadreza while in London for Treatment, 1991
In 1990, MohammadReza travelled to London to be fitted with a new set of prosthetic legs and underwent several months of rehabilitation and physiotherapy. However, he was not to continue with the use of artificial limbs finding it far too uncomfortable and unstable.

 

“My wheelchair is part of my body,” proclaimed MohammadReza.

 

MohammadReza would soon turn his mind to learning about computers and particularly about computer software. Rapidly, he became the go-to man with his work colleagues and family to sort their computer software problems. And, in the year 2000, MohammadReza was accepted by the University of Tehran to study law.

 

However, after three semesters, MohammadReza was forced to give up his university studies due to complications arising from his war wounds. MohammadReza drove the long journey from home to the university every day and this began to exhaust him so much that it was difficult to study. And, as a result of the long-term use of his hands and upper body for his mobility, MohammadReza contracted a disease known at Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). To ease the discomfort, MohammadReza went through a painful procedure to have his two upper ribs removed. Consequently, due tothe discomfort and pain, MohammadReza eventually dropped out of university.


It was shortly after this that MohammadReza began to turn towards helping his fellow war veterans. In 2005, he was introduced to the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support group (SCWVS) by his friend Dr. Hamid Salehi and worked with them closely until 2007, when MohammadReza started his work with the Tehran Peace Museum.

 

The ethos of the Tehran Peace Museum and the SCWVS is to support both military and civilian survivors of chemical weapons used during the Iran-Iraq War. And although MohammadReza was not himself a victim of these heinous weapons, he feels it is his duty to raise awareness about weapons of mass destruction and the need for all of us to build a culture of peace.

 

“As Executive Director of the Tehran Peace Museum,” said MohammadReza, “I am involved in the day to day running of things but for me – as a victim of aggression – it is rewarding to be working for other survivors.”

 

“War is bad and it happens all the time. Death, injury and imprisonment are all a part of war. But the use of chemical weapons is inhumane and against all the rules that govern wars.”

 

Taghipour4
Mohammadreza in TPM's children's drawing exhibition, 2014
MohammadReza is now actively involved in not only raising awareness about chemical weapons, but also about the necessity for everyone – but especially the younger generation – to be talking about peace and more importantly, doing something about it.

 

“One of the special things about the Tehran Peace Museum,” said MohammadReza, “is that we connect with the younger generation. We talk about the future. Peace will not become historical and it is so critical now to be talking about it.”

 

It is clear from listening to MohammadReza that he loves his work and is inspired to keep going.

 

“I sacrificed the loss of my legs in the war,” concluded MohammadReza, “but I am happy that I can help other war heroes to share their stories, to campaign against chemical weapons and to talk of peace.”

 

Written by Elizabeth Lewis

 

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Mohammad Rezaei

Mohammad Rezaei: His Journey from War to Mayors for Peace

 

Mohammad-Rezaei-fu

Mohammad Rezaei is a humble man, who goes about his daily work without any fuss. In fact, he is so quiet and unassuming that you would hardly notice his presence. Yet, Mohammad has a painful and remarkable history, which has led him today to campaign tirelessly for the Iranian Secretariat for the international organization: Mayors for Peace.

 

When he was a high-school student in Mahallat in the Iranian Province of Markazi, Mohammad was taken on a school trip to visit the war front during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Mohammad was so overwhelmed by the atrocities he witnessed, that he signed up and joined the Basij volunteer soldiers and went to fight for his country.

 

“I was sixteen years old and the year was 1984,” said Mohammad, “and I felt I had to do my duty and defend my country.”

 

Mohammad was to spend a total of two years fighting in the war in the southern sector, although at intermittent intervals, returning to work in Mahallat during periods when he didn’t fight.

 

And, it was in February of 1986, during the 8thValfajr Operation in Faw - while fighting on the Iraqi side of the ArvandRud or Shatt-al Arab River - that Mohammad was seriously wounded as well as being exposed to mustard gas.

 

During the Operation itself, Mohammad was wounded in his right leg by a piece of shrapnel.

 

rezaei1
Mohammad in Taleeie Front, May 1982

“I was waiting with other soldiers on the Iraqi side of the river,” Mohammad recalled, “and I was lying unconscious on a stretcher when Iraqi jets flew overhead and attacked the whole area with chemical weapons. It was mustard gas. Everyone was exposed to it.”

 

As Mohammad was not conscious at the time of the chemical weapons attack, his eyes were closed and, while he suffered the consequences of burnt skin and breathing difficulties from the mustard gas, his eyes were not badly affected.

 

“At the time of the attack,” said Mohammad, “my leg injury was so severe that this was the priority for the medics treating me and not the effects from the chemical weapons.”

 

“The bleeding was so bad,” Mohammad continued, “that although the medics gave me a blood transfusion, the blood was just running through my body and out through the wound in my leg.”

 

After the attack, Mohammad spent two nights in a hospital in Ahvaz before being transferred to Tehran, where he finally began to be treated for the chemical weapons injuries.

 

And, due to the severity of his injuries, doctors had no choice but to amputate Mohammad’s right leg from below the knee.

 

rezaei2
Mohammad (in right) and his comrade, 1984

 

Despite an amputated limb and being exposed to mustard gas, Mohammad found himself back at the front line by December of the same year.

 

To many of us reading this – if we had been brutally wounded - it would never cross our minds to volunteer to go back to the war front.

 

But, this is exactly what Mohammad – and countless other soldiers - did.

 

“One of the big concerns for wounded soldiers,” said Mohammad, “was if we could make it back to the front or not. I was eager to go back and fight and persuaded my commander to take me. I couldn’t even walk properly with my crutches but I went.”

 

rezaei3
Mohammad among friends in Tehran Clinic after exposure

And so Mohammad fought valiantly, proving to himself and others that he was able to defend his country, until the end of the war in 1988. After the Resolution brought about a ceasefire and an end to the conflict, Mohammad returned to Mahallat to work in the Sepah Bank.

 

After 15 years of loyal service to the bank, Mohammad – as a war veteran – was granted early retirement. He chose to start his own construction business, which he ran for 12 years until he was advised to stop, as the work was not suitable for someone suffering from the consequences of chemical weapons. Mohammad started another business in knitwear and ran it successfully for four years until 2011, when he was obliged to move from Mahallat to Tehran for medical treatment related to the consequences of exposure to mustard gas.

 

Mohammad’s journey to Tehran not only involved a change of location, but a change in his career to helping his fellow war veterans and in particular those who, like him, had been exposed to chemical weapons.

 

“There are quite a number of people from Mahallat who work in the Tehran Peace Museum,” Mohammad said, “and it was through this connection that I got to know about the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support (SCWVS) and the peace museum.”

 

While attending the April 29th, 2012 memorial service for victims of chemical weapons at the Tehran Peace Museum, Mohammad met Dr. ShahriarKhateri, who quite literally hunted Mohammad down and recruited him to volunteer for the Mayors for Peace organization housed at the museum.

 

“At first I would come to the museum one day a week to act as the secretary for Mayors for Peace in Iran,” said Mohammad, “but now it has grown so much that it is a full time job.”

 

rezaei4
Mohammad in sitting volleyball team of Mahallat, 1996

When Mohammad began working with Mayors for Peace in 2012, only 17 of Iran’s municipalities had joined the organization. With Mohammad’s tireless campaigning, Iran nowhas 770 registered municipalities and by the end of November 2015, it is expected that this number will rise to 792.

 

“It was quite difficult in the beginning,” revealed Mohammad, “because in 2012 the political climate was not open to working with international organizations. Many municipalities were nervous about adverse political consequences if they became involved. And not many mayors really understood what the SCWVS and the Tehran Peace Museum were all about.”

 

Mohammad, however, made it his job to spread the word about Mayors for Peace and his work has involved writing to each mayor and informing them about the organization and its peaceful objectives and how mayors in Iran can become a part of this worthy enterprise.

 

“Little by little,” said Mohammad, “the work became easier as more municipalities joined Mayors for Peace and we were able to use them as models to show other mayors how the organization works.”

 

“And now,” Mohammad added, “our relationship with the municipalities has developed tremendously. We have helped to show mayors that there is more to a municipality than urban planning and that socially, it is crucial for them to play their part in building a culture of peace in Iran.”

 

Citing some of the successful outcomes of the Mayors for Peace in Iran, Mohammad points to the fact that many municipalities now hold peace observance events, including hosting events for the International Day of Peace.

 

In fact, in 2015, as a result of all the determination and hard work of those working at the Tehran Peace Museum, Tehran has been chosen as one of the lead cities of Mayors for Peace, with responsibility to support other participating countries in the region.

 

rezaei5

Mr. Rezaei (left) receiving a Mayors for Peace Membership Certificate for a new Iranian member city
from Mayor Matsui of Hiroshima, President of Mayors for Peace (right), in Hiroshima in August 2015
(Photo: courtesy of the City of Hiroshima)


And, looking to the future, Mohammad said, “Our future objectives for Mayors for Peace include increasing the number of members as well as expanding the network and spread the message of peace. We aim to help our mayors to talk about peace with their citizens and build good relationships with other mayors and people around the world.”

 

Mohammad, who has twice visited Hiroshima – the headquarters for the Mayors for Peace organization – is happy that the work he is involved inhas helped to boost the global membership numbers.

 

“When I heard that the global member cities surpassed 6,500,” Mohammad said, “and this was due in part to the new Iranian memberships, it made me feel good that we have helped to improve the position of the Mayors for Peace in the international community.”

 

Mohammad’s journey from war to Mayors for Peace has been a long one but it is not yet at its end.

 

When asked what he had planned for the future of the organization, Mohammad smiled and said, “Our collective aim is to raise the number of members internationally to 10,000.”

 “I love my work. And I am not done yet.”

 

Written by Elizabeth Lewis

 

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Brief Overview of the Iran-Iraq War

On the 22 September 1980 Iraq declared war on Iran.

It was a conflict that was to last eight long and bloody years. The origins of what Iranians call the “Imposed War” were many and varied. Looking back at the history of the time, these two ancient peoples – each with complicated histories both of their own and with each other – fought over a combination of border disputes and highly-contested political and religious narratives.

Perceptions from the interviewees for this oral history project, who are uniformly Iranian, and the Secretary General of the United Nations, paint a picture of Iraq as the aggressor. And indeed the first military attacks did come from Saddam’s regime. However, as in all conflicts, there is a counter-narrative among Iraqis – and some Iraqi historians.

There can be no disputing the war’s ultimate result. Effective geopolitical stalemate. Battlefield stalemate. Futility. Wrecked lives on both the fighting front, and the home front. A legacy of sadness which endures to this day in both countries.

This is the story of a dozen human beings who were scarred – quite literally – by the worst excesses of that war. It is a story of trauma, indignity, hope and common humanity.

The Tehran Peace Musem’s oral history project team feel privileged to have been asked to give a voice to these stories which also tell of determination, dignity and triumph.

The human cost of the Iran-Iraq War – for both sides – was brutal and expensive. For Iran, there was, and still is today, a heavier burden to bear as a result of Saddam Hussein’s extensive use of prohibited chemical weapons.

Although Iran and Iraq were both signatories to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, Iraq violated the treaty and, by the end of the war, had dropped approximately 20,000 chemical bombs. Iraq also fired 54,000 chemical artillery shells and 27,000 short-range chemical rockets into Iran. Between the years 1983-1988, Iraq “consumed” 1,800 tonnes of sulphur mustard gas, 140 tonnes of Tabun and 600 tonnes of Sarin . “Consumed” is a euphemism for ‘used on Iran’. Two-thirds of these chemicals were used in the last 18 months of the war.

Over one million Iranians were exposed to chemical weapons – in one way or another – during the Iran-Iraq War. Of this number, 5,500 victims died immediately after the attacks and 100,000 survivors were treated for high dose exposure. Due to the heinous, life-long consequences of chemical weapons, many thousands of survivors are still suffering from the long-term health effects of exposure to chemical weapons agents. Currently, 75,000 of these survivors are registered by the Government of Iran and receive medical care.

Only a handful of these survivors have been able to tell their stories.

They are here on the Tehran Peace Museum’s website.

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[1] UN Doc S/23273, 2 Dec 1991 (report of the Secretary General on the Implementation of Security Council resolution 598), paragraphs 6 and 7

[2] http://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Bio/pdf/Status_Protocol.pdf.  Iran signed the Geneva Protocol on 5th November 1929, and Iraq signed on 8th September 1931

[3]  UNMOVIC Working Document (6 March 2003) Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes (Page 145)

[4] Tabun and Sarin are both lethal nerve agents.

[5] UNMOVIC Working Document (6 March 2003) Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes (pp145-146)

[6] Inai, Dr. Kouki: (2012) Atlas of Mustard Gas Injuries: Building bridges between Iran and Japan through the relief of victims exposed to mustard gas (pp 23-25)

[7] Khateri, Dr. Shahriar: (October 2014) Gassed: from the trenches of Khorramshahr to the Imperial War Museum. Essay submitted to The British Council.

Marzieh Tahmasebi 2

Surviving Chemical Weapons: A Partner’s Story

Part Two

 

“For a while we enjoyed the sweet life in Mazanderan. But, it wasn’t to last.”

 

Marzieh and Ahmad moved from Kerman to Mazanderan in 1999 to help Ahmad – a survivor of chemical weapons – lead a healthier life. The transition from a dry to a more humid climate worked. But, only for a short time. By 2008, Ahmad’s condition deteriorated in such a way that they had no option but to return to Tehran.

 

Ahmad--His-Father
Ahmad and his father on their wedding day, April 1991

“We did benefit from living near the Caspian,” said Marzieh, “but there were always problems for Ahmad’s eyes and his breathing.”

 

Many chemical weapons survivors suffer from burnt corneas leading not only to partial eyesight but an increased sensitivity to light. Photophobia is a common complaint and survivors find it painful to be exposed to light. Wearing dark glasses inside and out is often very necessary.

 

“The front of our house faced the sea,” Marzieh said, “and when I opened the curtains, the reflection of the sun on the water would hurt Ahmad’s eyes. So, Ahmad had to stay at the back of the house which faced the forest.”

 

And, despite the cleaner and more humid atmosphere of the Caspian region, Ahmad still had severe problems breathing and his lungs were affected by the most ordinary of every day aromas.

 

“Cooking smells, perfumes, the smoke from a bar-b-q, the harvesting of fruit and rice, even the fibres from my carpet weaving and embroidery – this was all too much for Ahmad to bear,” remembered Marzieh. “He would not be able to breathe and so we couldn’t even go out for picnics or even visit friends any more. And, we became more and more isolated.”

 

As time passed, the need for Ahmad to have access to more specialized medical attention became more and more necessary. The two doctors who treated him in Tonekabon – Dr. Yousefi-Zade and Dr. Ramezanifar – were excellent doctors and attended to Ahmad diligently but neither were lung specialists and both felt that if Ahmad had any chance of survival, he and Marzieh would need to relocate to Tehran.

 

By this time, Marzieh and Ahmad’s son, Hesam, was in high school. For the son of a chemical weapons survivor, Hesam’s youth was somewhat different from that of most young people. Independence and caring for others were skills Hesam picked up from an early age.

 

“Hesam couldn’t expect what normal parents do for their kids,” Marzieh said as she reflected somewhat painfully on her son’s formative years. “He was always cautious around his father so as not to hurt him. He had to take care of himself a lot more than other children. By the time he was in the 5th grade, he had learned how to cook.”

 

Hesam – at the age of 16 - was religiously obliged to start fasting during the holy month of Ramazan. Traditionally, mothers are expected to prepare special meals before sunrise and for Iftar (the evening meal to break the fast). It was a custom that Marzieh sadly had to forego. Marzieh was spending more and more time nursing Ahmad and tending to his needs and so Hesam had to fend for himself.

 

It was around this time that Ahmad went into another coma-like state and experienced great difficulties breathing and would often fall into an anxious state experiencing drowning sensations. Ahmad’s weight increased with the medication he was obliged to take and he became increasingly dependent upon oxygen machines. In mid-2008, Ahmad was rushed to hospital and doctors gave him a less than 5% chance of survival. With Marzieh’s constant care and attention Ahmad survived but they could no longer deny the fact that they would have to go to Tehran to seek more specialized care and have access to essential medical facilities.

 

And so, late in 2008, Ahmad and Marzieh moved to Tehran. It would only be for a few months, they believed, and soon they would return home.

 

Sadly, this was not to be.

 

Once the decision to relocate had been made, the most difficult part was for these loving parents to leave their son behind with his grandmother.

 

“Hesam needed to finish high school,” Marzieh said, “and we didn’t think we would be in Tehran for very long so we left him in Tonekabon under the care of my mother-in-law.”

 

Hesam did finish his schooling in Tonekabon and as his grandmother could not stay permanently, the young man was often left alone. In 2010, Hesam graduated from high school and was accepted on an electronics course at university in Yaft Abad in Tehran. However, after his two years of independence, Hesam preferred to stay in university residence than with his parents.

 

Life in Tehran meant constant and lengthy visits to hospitals, particularly to treat the deteriorating condition of Ahmad’s lungs. The price to pay for the proximity of specialized healthcare was the distance from family and friends.

 

“It bothered us that we did not see our families much,” Marzieh said, “as we could only see our parents and family once maybe twice a year.”

 

Ahmad-during-war

Ahmad during the war, 1985

But, despite this initial isolation, Marzieh and Ahmad soon found friends in their neighbourhood and at the Tehran Peace Museum.

 

As Marzieh was adjusting to her new life in Tehran and keen to restart her craftwork, she left their apartment one morning and as she was walking along the street saw a billboard advertising art classes to be held in the local religious cultural centre. It was here that Marzieh was to make friends with another war veteran’s wife, Mrs. Darabadi. And new friendships began.

 

“I explained to Mrs. Darabadi,” said Marzieh, “that I may miss some classes because my husband was a chemical weapons survivor and needed help. Mrs. Darabadi came to visit us with her husband, who lost a leg in the war, and she introduced us to other veterans and their families.”

 

“Meeting these families,” Marzieh continued, “helped me to feel less lonely with my son and family so far away. Ahmad too was happy that we could make friends again in such a big city like Tehran.”

 

It was around this time too that Ahmad was introduced to the Tehran Peace Museum and breathed a new type of fresh air – comradeship and peace.

 

“Going to the peace museum gave Ahmad a new lease on life,” Marzieh said with a smile. “He became much more active and became a tour guide at the museum, talking about the war and about peace.”

 

As Ahmad became a part of the Tehran Peace Museum family, he shared his story on film for the Channel 1 network. He and other chemical weapons survivors who had undergone cornea replacement eye surgery - with the help of Dr. Mohammad Ali Javadi – spoke about their experiences and treatment for public television.

 

Ahmad was also able to make a trip to the former war zone location in Khuzestan with his comrades from the museum. Although the trip brought back painful memories, it helped Ahmad to come to terms with his past and to speak out about the need for the abolition of chemical weapons.

 

“After this trip to Khuzestan,” remembered Marzieh, “Ahmad felt so much more confident.”

 

This confidence lead Ahmad to accept an invitation to attend theThird Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention at the headquarters for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague in December 2014. While he was in The Hague, Ahmad was honoured to be able to share his experiences with both the Secretary General to the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, and the OPCW’s Director General, Mr. Ahmed Üzümcü.

 

Ahmad-and-UNSG
Ahmad meeting the UNSG, December 2014

 

Ahmad’s trip to The Hague was a great highlight for him and on return, talked of little else for many weeks. It was not only the excitement of the conference but Ahmad also enjoyed the fresh and clean air of The Netherlands. Returning to the pollution in Tehran was particularly difficult for him.

 

Marzieh, remembering Ahmad’s words, recalled this: “He said that when he returned to Tehran it was like moving from an oxygen tent into a smoke filled room.”

 

After his trip to The Hague, Ahmad’s health began to fail – at first slowly but then the decline became rapid. Within two years of his visit, he could not leave their home and often refused to go out.

 

Worried about Ahmad’s failing health, Marzieh felt it was time for Hesam to get married so that Ahmad could see his son happily married. After a brief engagement, Hesam married Nahid Tavakoli in the spring of 2014.

 

“It is normal in Iranian tradition to have a series of ceremonies for the engagement and then marriage,” said Marzieh, “but because of Ahmad’s condition, Nahid’s family very kindly agreed to keep it short and speed the process up so that Ahmad could see his son happily married.”

 

Within only a few months of Hesam and Nahid’s wedding, Ahmad’s health took a turn for the worse. Ahmad could not leave their home and suffered from a lung infection that had to be diagnosed over the telephone. In early November 2014, Ahmad was hospitalized for a brief time with inflammation on the heart, but the worsening lung infection was not picked up by doctors at the time.

 

After a week in hospital, Ahmad returned home. His condition grew worse and he grew quiet – praying constantly and listening to Marzieh recite verses from the religious text, Mafatih-al-Hayat.

 

Ahmad’s end came suddenly and distressingly. On the morning of November 14th, Hesam went to his father to say goodbye before going to work and noticed that his father was too quiet. He called an ambulance and Ahmad was taken to hospital. Ahmad was rushed to CPR and Marzieh and Hesam were asked to wait outside.

 

Marziehs-Memories-at-Home
Marzieh’s memories at home, May 2015


“I did not want to leave him alone,” Marzieh said, eyes brimming with tears, “so I sat on the floor outside the CPR room until the doctor finally came out.”

 

“All he could say to me was: ‘I am very sorry.’”

 

As Marzieh collects her thoughts and wipes away her tears, she said she had a message to share.

 

“The best thing in life is love,” she said. “The love and friendship between a husband and wife is eternal and helps you to experience too the divine love of God.”

 

And Marzieh also has one burning question.

 

“I have one question in my mind for which I cannot find an answer. Why were such cruel and unfair weapons used against people who were just defending their country?”

 

Based on interviews with Marzieh Tahmasebi (May to June 2015)
Written by Elizabeth Lewis
Persian Translation by Elaheh Pooyandeh

 

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Marzieh Tahmasebi

Surviving Chemical Weapons: A Partner’s Story

Part One

 

“I was 22 years old, determined to educate myself and marriage was the last thing on my mind. Then I met Ahmad Zangiabadi and my whole life changed.”

 

Marzieh Tahmasebi met and married Ahmad Zangiabadi in 1991 – six years after he had been exposed to chemical weapons during the war. As she tells it, the match was made in heaven. But it was a life together that ended too soon with Ahmad’s death on 18 November 2014. From respiratory failure.

 

Ms-.zangi-abadi
Marzieh Tahmasebi in June 2015

Ahmad was a survivor of chemical weapons used during the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988 and his increasingly debilitated condition shaped the course of their married life.

 

“When I was 21, I was still a bit reluctant to get married,” said Marzieh. “I had two sisters who went to university but didn’t complete their studies. They left to get married. My father wanted me to do the same, but I wasn’t having any of that. I wanted to get out and work. I wanted to study.”

 

So, while Marzieh’s family invited – and entertained – a large number of suitors for her to consider, the determined young woman rejected them all. She continued her work and accountancy studies in her hometown of Kerman.

 

In traditional and religious Iranian families, it is the family’s responsibility to arrange a marriage and match couples. For young women especially, there are certain cities where it was (and remains) difficult to go out in public alone and parents of daughters are anxious to see their girls married off to suitable young men.

 

Pressure also comes from siblings. “My older brother was very anxious that I get married,” Marzieh recalled, “and I really wasn’t interested. Actually, we once had quite a big argument about it.”

 

But, when the arguing was over, Marzieh realized that her brother only had her welfare at heart, and so she reluctantly agreed – to his face – to let him find a suitable husband for her.

 

“Of course,” Marzieh added with a smile, “I didn’t tell him that I planned to reject every man he brought to the house.”

 

Ms-.zangi-abadi 1
  Ahmad as a volunteer soldier, 1984

The matchmaking went on at a feverish pace with all the customary drama and intrigue. Eventually, a certain Ahmad Zangiabadi entered her life. Ahmad was considered to be an eligible match and was invited, along with his family, to Marzieh’s home. On the day of the visit, with the guests seated in the front room of the house, Marzieh’s younger brother decided to make some fun and pulled the curtain back dividing the front room and the kitchen, where Marzieh was busily making the tea.

 

“I was so annoyed with him,” Marzieh said, “it was an impolite thing to do and the visitors would think I was some bold young woman with no manners desperate to see the young man.”

 

But, as the fuss died down and Marzieh pulled the curtain back, she caught her first glimpse of her future husband and life started to take on a different perspective for this determined young woman.

 

“Ahmad was sitting with his back to me,” Marzieh remembered, “and all I saw were these strong, firm, proud hands.”

 

“My heart skipped a beat.”

 

And so it was, that much to her family’s surprise, Marzieh – who had rejected one suitor after another – told her father that this was the man she wanted to marry.

 

“I don’t know what it was,” she said, “I couldn’t even look at him but my heart was racing. I knew it was just meant to be.”

 

The engagement was announced, the wedding plans started to unfold. This is when discussions also started about Ahmad’s war wounds. Ahmad had been a young volunteer soldier during the Iran-Iraq War. In fact, he was only 19 years old when Iraqi forces dropped a sulphur mustard gas bomb near his brigade in the Tala’ie area of the Majnoon Islands on 12 April 1985. Ahmad suffered severe skin burns, as well as permanent damage to his lungs and his corneas. He had recovered from the initial injuries but the medical consequences of chemical weapons were still largely unknown at that time.

 

Ms-.zangi-abadi 2
 Marzieh and Ahmad on their honeymoon in  Mashhad, April 1991

 

Ahmad’s parents were honest with Marzieh’s family about their son’s injuries and met with the family to discuss what had happened and what kind of future might lie in store for the young couple.

 

“Ahmad’s father said to us,” recalled Marzieh, “that his son had been exposed to chemical weapons and that none of us really knew what this was or what might happen in the future but that Ahmad was in good health at that time.”

 

Marzieh’s father also had a heart-to-heart talk with his daughter, asking her if she was really sure that she wanted to marry a man who had been so damaged by chemical weapons.

 

“My father knew that I really wanted to marry Ahmad,” Marzieh said, “but he wanted me to think about what might happen because of Ahmad’s exposure to mustard gas. He was worried that we might not be able to have children or if we did have children that they might develop problems. He told me to think about what it might be like if Ahmad’s first symptoms returned.

 

And, Marzieh did think about it. She thought long and hard about what the future might hold and gave her father her answer.

 

“You can decide my future,” Marzieh told her father, “and I will accept it. But I will not say no to this man. If you want to say no, then you have to do it – not me.”

 

Ahmad and Marzieh were married on 18 April 1991 and moved into their own apartment in Kerman to begin their future together.

 

However, from the first days of their married life, the consequences of the chemical weapons began to slowly reveal themselves. En route to their honeymoon in the holy city of Mashhad, the couple had to stop off to visit Ahmad’s doctor in Tehran.

 

Ahmad constantly had problems with coughing and shortness of breath. Attributing this to seasonal colds and infections, the newlyweds didn’t think much of it at the time and waited for the symptoms to go away.

 

But the coughing didn’t go away.

 

“We had only been married for seven months,” Marzieh said, “when our landlord, who lived in the apartment beneath us, came to ask me one day why Ahmad was always coughing and what was wrong with him.”

 

Marzieh explained that her husband had been exposed to chemical weapons during the war and the coughing was a result of the damage to his lungs.

 

“You may want to sacrifice your lives,” the landlord said, “but I don’t want my family to get sick, so you will need to pack up and leave.”

 

Marzieh and Ahmad had no choice but to move in with Ahmad’s family and, in the dry dusty air of Kerman, Ahmad’s condition deteriorated even further.

 

Ms-.zangi-abadi 3

 Hesam at about 8 months old

The following year after their marriage, Marzieh gave birth to a healthy boy, Hesam. Sadly for Ahmad, his health prevented him from doing things that fathers normally do with their children.

 

“Ahmad couldn’t carry Hesam for very long,” Marzieh said, “and when Hesam started to walk and run, his father couldn’t run with him. He couldn’t even toss him up in the air and catch him.”

 

By the time their son was six years old, Ahmad’s condition was in such a dreadful state that the family feared that he would not live long. Ahmad’s lungs deteriorated and he struggled to breathe and started to cough up blood. The old sores on his skin began to reappear and his eyesight was appallingly poor.

 

“Around that time,” Marzieh said, “our doctor in Kerman said that there was nothing much he could do to save Ahmad’s eyesight and the doctor suggested surgically removing his eyes.”

 

Pinning his hopes on new scientific discoveries that he had been hearing about, Ahmad flatly refused to do this and his eyesight improved for a short time after a conjunctiva transplant donated by his own brother.

 

“Ahmad’s brother’s eyes were healthy,” said Marzieh, “so donating his conjunctiva was a very simple procedure and his brother’s conjunctiva grew back very quickly.”

 

By 1998, Ahmad’s health went very rapidly from bad to worse. He developed osteoporosis and his lung condition worsened so much that he needed

Ms-.zangi-abadi 4

 Ahmad in hospital after chemical    weapons attack, 1985

to continually use oxygen tanks to help him breathe. Many chemical weapons victims have to use cortisone medication and this caused Ahmad to gain weight and his body started to bloat. Consequently, as his body began to swell, his heart could not pump enough oxygen to the rest of his body and he began to have severe problems with his heart.

 

“The doctor in Kerman told me that we had to leave if Ahmad was to survive,” Marzieh said. “We didn’t want to leave our families but we had no choice, so in 1999, we moved to Tonekabon City in Mazandaran Province in northern Iran.”

 

Northern Iran was the destination for many chemical-weapons victims forced to leave their homes for a more humid climate and less polluted air that would help them to breathe more easily.

 

“When we reached Mazandaran,” Marzieh recalled, “Ahmad felt like a bird released from a cage. New life slowly crept into him and he could breathe again.”

 

This initial freedom was short lived however, when shortly after their arrival Ahmad drove their car to the market to do some shopping. His war wounds had caused his reflexes to slow down and he got into a car accident on the way to the shops which sent him into a coma for two months.

 

It was at this point that their local doctor in Tonekabon insisted that Marzieh learn some basic first-aid and nursing skills if she was to help her husband to survive.

 

“I borrowed nursing books from the Tonekabon University,” said Marzieh, “and I also went for two weeks’ training at the local medical centre, where they taught me how to give injections, take blood pressure and monitor heart rate. I was really nervous at first, but with all this help, I soon became more confident in nursing.”

 

Ms-.zangi-abadi 5

Marzieh's carpet weaving she started with Ahmad in 2014

In time, Ahmad recovered and after overcoming the culture shock of living in a strange place with new people, Ahmad, Marzieh and Hesam began to enjoy a more normal life. They made friends with other chemical weapons survivors and other more open-minded people in their community. Ahmad and other veterans started their own taxi company and Marzieh began to work on her carpet weaving and embroidery, teaching the craft as well as practicing it.

 

“During this period,” said Marzieh, “we tasted the sweet life. We built a family atmosphere around ourselves with our friends. We were accepted into our local community and were not lonely anymore.”

 

But, sadly, this sweet life didn’t last long and, by 2008, Ahmad’s condition had become once again so bad that, in order to be closer to bigger and better hospitals, the couple were forced to move to Tehran.

 

To be continued…

 

Based on interviews with Marzieh Tahmasebi (May to June 2015)
Written by Elizabeth Lewis
Persian Translation by Elaheh Pooyandeh

 

 

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Professionals

 

S-Sadeghi

 

 

  

Saeid Sadeghi

Balali-tim

 

 

  

Professor Mahdi Balali-Mood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

War Veterans

dehkordi

 

 

    

Abdolsamad Rajabi Dehkordi  

Taghi-pour

 

 

    

MohammadReza Taghipour  

Hamid-Salehi

 

 

 

   

Hamid Salehi

Mohammad-Rezaei

 

 

    

Mohammad Rezaei

Hasan-Tabar

 

 

    

Hassan HassanTabar

Ahmad-Zangi-abadi

 

 

    

Ahmad Zangiabadi 

Hasani-sadi

   

 

   

Hassan HassaniSaadi

Jahanshah-Sadeqi

 

 

  

Jahanshah Sadeqi

Yazdan-Panah

    

 

   

AliReza YazdanPanah

Askari

 

    

 

 

Ali Asgaari 

Youth

 

 

 

 

young-reporter

 

 

 

Young Reporters at The TPM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 .

Women

 

Marzieh-Tahmasebi

 

  

 

 Marzyeh Tahmasebi

Part 2

Marzieh-Tahmasebi

 

  

 

 Marzyeh Tahmasebi

Part 1

Shafei

 

  

 

 Faride Shafe'i

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 .

 

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