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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.


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: 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.”


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.


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.”


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 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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.



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.


[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]  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 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 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 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.


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.


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



{jcomments on}







Saeid Sadeghi





Professor Mahdi Balali-Mood












War Veterans





Abdolsamad Rajabi Dehkordi  





MohammadReza Taghipour  






Hamid Salehi





Mohammad Rezaei





Hassan HassanTabar





Ahmad Zangiabadi 





Hassan HassaniSaadi





Jahanshah Sadeqi





AliReza YazdanPanah






Ali Asgaari 










Young Reporters at The TPM



















 Marzyeh Tahmasebi

Part 2





 Marzyeh Tahmasebi

Part 1





 Faride Shafe'i














Hamid Salehi


Hamid Salehi: A Journey from War to Peace


Hamid Salehi 1

Dr. Hamid Salehi at the

Tehran Peace Museum, May 2015 

“My friends who died in the war, they went on an express train with no return ticket. I was on an ordinary train, and I came home.” Dr. Hamid Salehi, Iranian veteran and chemical weapons survivor of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), spoke these words as he reflected on how his war experiences have transformed him.


Once a starry-eyed teenager, he is now wizened by life’s trials. An academic, he has risen to become a respected international relations professor and board member of the Tehran Peace Museum.


“I don’t really know why I wanted to join the army,” Hamid said, “but I decided to defend my country. I wanted to go to the front and fight.”


In the winter of 1982, Hamid was barely 15 years old with a heart pumped full of patriotism and passion to defend his country – already two years into a long and bloody war with its neighbour. Knowing full well that he was underage, he needed to find a way to get himself to the front.


“I used my older brother’s birth certificate,” Hamid confessed, “and the Basij (volunteer soldiers) recruitment officers didn’t really take notice. When I turned up for my training, I just told them they had made a mistake with the name. They changed it and my dream came true.”


From that day on until the end of the war in August 1988, Hamid served in the army. Undeterred by bullet and shrapnel wounds, he found himself, time after time, back at the front in the southern sector of the war around the disputed waters of the Shatt-al Arab – or Arvand Rud as it is known in Iran.


“I didn’t finish my schooling before going to war,” Hamid said, “but in war no-one tells you that you are a child anymore. I had no idea how to manage at that young age, but I had chosen this path and I learned quickly how to become a soldier.”


By the winter of 1986, young Hamid had grown up fast. His school was the battleground and his teachers were his officers. At this time, Hamid was playing his part in the preparations for the major military operation, known as Valfajr 8.


Hamid Salehi 2

Hamid stationed in southern sector of the war, near

Talaie, Majnoon Islands, December 1984 

“Valfajr 8 began on 9 February 1986,” Hamid said, “and at that time we were billeted in a disused school building in a town called Arvand Kenar. We were almost directly opposite the Iraqi port of Al Faw and our mission was to cut off Iraq from its access to the Persian Gulf and international waterways.”


Hamid’s job was to operate the heavy anti-tank artillery. In the morning, he would move his rocket firing machinery to the front line. Then, in the evening, he would bring it to the rear in preparation for the following day’s offensive. “The heavy artillery was of no use to anyone after dark,” Hamid said, “so we had to transport it to the back line every night.”


Hamid and his comrades had just returned to their billet on the fifth day of the offensive. It was around 5 o’clock in the afternoon on 15 February. “I was sweeping our room in the old schoolhouse,” Hamid said, “when we heard Iraqi jets flying overhead. We always went out to watch when the planes came, so I dropped what I was doing and ran outside.”


With about 20 of his fellow soldiers, Hamid watched as three Iraqi jets thundered overhead. The men watched in awe as one jet started to nosedive. “We thought it was about to crash. We started to cheer and clap,” recalled Hamid, “as we were convinced this plane was heading straight for the ground.”


But the jet didn’t crash. With a dramatic turn to pull out of the dive the jet released a number of bombs – including a combination of both conventional and chemical bombs - and then flew off, leaving chaos, carnage and insufferable bloodshed.


Chemical bombs are not like conventional bombs. Conventional bombs require an explosive device to detonate their particular brand of horror. Chemical bombs do not need an explosive device. When the bomb hits the ground it breaks open and releases its contents slowly and insidiously.


Hamid Salehi 3

Hamid with his commanding officer in the southern

sector of the war, Autumn 1984 

While  Hamid and his friends were struggling to cope with the mayhem brought about by the conventional bombs, they were oblivious to the chemical bomb that had been simultaneously dropped behind the school building – adding an unseen layer of evil to this devastating scene.


“It was a horrific scene.” Hamid paused as he recollected the memory of that bloody afternoon. “There were dead bodies all over the place. Some of my friends had died. One of my friends had his body severed in two.”


Shortly after the attack, specialist units dealing with chemical and biological weapons appeared and found the chemical bomb at the back of the bombed out school – seeping a dark liquid into the air.


“The specialists told us that there was a chemical bomb here,” recalled Hamid, “and they told us that we were all exposed to chemical weapons and we had to go immediately for treatment at the special hospital units.”

“I was terrified.”


Hamid and his comrades were immediately taken to a temporary medical unit, dug into the ground, where chemical weapons victims were given first aid treatment before being sent to the main cities for the necessary medical care.


“We had to take off all our clothes,” Hamid remembered, “and then the medics injected a serum into us to force us to vomit.”


The usual symptoms that follow exposure to sulphur mustard gas – burning skin, eyes and lungs – do not show immediately. It is only slowly that they begin to reveal their sinister and permanent nature.


“The first sign that I had been exposed to chemicals,” Hamid said, “was about three or four hours after the attack when I couldn’t open my eyes without prizing them open with my fingers.”


After a long and traumatizing train ride to Tehran, Hamid was eventually taken to Tehran’s Labbafinejad Hospital, which had become one of the main medical hubs for treating chemical weapons victims during the war.


Due to the severity of his injuries and a dangerously low white blood cell count, Hamid was immediately put into an isolation ward, where he was to spend most of the following four months.


Hamid Salehi 4

Hamid receiving visitors while in Labbafinejad Hospital,

May 1986 

“Some of my friends died in the hospital,” Hamid remembered, “but I was determined to survive and I remained positive that I would live through this.”


Hamid’s resolve succeeded and once his blistered skin had healed, he made his way back to the battlefield.


“I just had to get back to the front,” Hamid said, “I didn’t realize that I only had about 50% lung capacity but it didn’t stop me so I just took medication for the coughing. Both corneas were burnt, but I just wore special dark glasses to protect my eyes.”


By the time the war had ended in a bitter stalemate in August 1988, Hamid had risen to the rank of Farmandeh in the volunteer army, commanding an anti-armour batallion of around 200 to 300 men. At this crucial time in his life, Hamid set himself three goals: to complete his education, to find a wife and start a family and to seek medical treatment for his chemical weapons injuries.


The medical treatment – in retrospect - was the easiest part. Yet, even that continues to be constant and painful. There is no cure for anyone who is exposed to sulphur mustard gas. The consequences live with the survivors forever.

Hamid Salehi 6

Hamid's damaged cornea, June 2010


Hamid’s scars have healed, but his lungs and eyes are constantly treated but never cured. Hamid spent the early years of his married life in Arak, one of Iran’s most polluted cities. The damage to his lungs was such that, despite four months of treatment in hospitals in London in the 1990s, he was forced to move to Tehran, where there is marginally less pollution but immediate access to specialized hospitals and doctors. His most recent hospitalization for lung disease was in March of this year.


Mustard gas burns the corneas and there is no possibility for repair. Hamid has had several cornea transplants and continues to suffer from poor eyesight.


And yet, as if Hamid’s medical problems were not stressful enough, he still had more challenges to overcome. Completing his education and settling back into society were to prove much more difficult than Hamid had ever imagined.


Hamid took advantage of the post-war educational facilities offered to veteran soldiers. With a fixed purpose to succeed and get into university, he completed his high school education and eventually passed the entrance exams to gain entry to the prestigious University of Tehran.


Reflecting on his past struggles, Hamid said, “It was not easy to complete my education after so many years away fighting in the war. I prayed to God to help me to please be a useful man and He has helped me in this.”


“There was a lot of discrimination against veterans like me,” Hamid continued. “The other students at university who hadn’t gone to war did not consider me to be anything like a war hero. Some said that without the government privileges someone like me from my humble background would never have made it into the University of Tehran.”


Hamid Salehi 7

Hamid attending a conference at

OPCW in The Hague, December 2013  

“That hurt me,” Hamid said.


This overt discrimination did not deter Hamid from pursuing his dreams. Rather, he was determined more than ever to prove himself to be a useful and worthy man. Hamid completed his doctorate in international relations, and now holds the position of assistant professor in the Faculty of Law and Political Science in Tehran University of Allameh Tabatabaei.


But Hamid’s learning journey was not yet over. He was to face even more stigma in trying to reintegrate himself back into ordinary society. His exposure to chemical weapons had created a poisonous atmosphere in his own village, where he struggled to be accepted.


“After the war, when I was about 21,” Hamid recalled, “I really wanted to get married but it became such a problem for me.”


In recounting this part of his story for the interview, telling of the negativity coming from his own neighbours, he lowered his head and said, “Everyone knew that I had been caught in a chemical attack. None of the families wanted me to marry their daughters. They thought I might die soon or that if we had children, they would also have medical problems.”


Hamid did eventually propose to a local girl. But the love story was short lived and his heart was cruelly broken.


“I had gone to propose to this girl,” Hamid said with a faint smile, “and I had offered her a ring and given pastries to the family. But after I left, someone from the village went to the family and told them that I was very sick from the chemical attack and that I would die soon.”


“The next day,” Hamid said with a sigh, “the family returned the ring to me and broke off the engagement.”


Hamid Salehi 9

Hamid (4th from right standing) joins Tehran Peace Museum

delegation at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, August 2014 

Unable to settle back into life in his own village, Hamid was forced to move on. With the help of a friend, he met and married a young lady from another town and after their marriage in 1989, they settled down in Arak. Happily married and now living in Tehran, Hamid and his wife have a loving family of three healthy and exuberant children.


As Hamid reflected on how his life’s journey had brought him to where he is now, he stated that he would not change the path that he had chosen. Hamid continues to deal with stigma and discrimination, even from his own university students, intolerant of his constant coughing.


“My job now,” Hamid concluded, “is not only to teach young people about politics. The war has made me what I am now. And I bring my students to the Tehran Peace Museum to get a different type of education. They learn, I hope, from the experiences of people like me, to be more tolerant, more understanding and to learn about peace.”



Interview with Dr. Hamid Salehi, 15 May 2015
Written by Elizabeth Lewis
Persian interpretation by Golmehr Kazari


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Professor Mahdi Balali-Mood


Professor Mahdi Balali-Mood


Iran’s pioneering toxicologist – a man dedicated to helping chemical weapons victims


  Professor Balali visiting Tehran Peace museum,

  October 2014

Professor Mahdi Balali-Mood is a war hero of a different sort.  Although he bears no battle scars, Professor Balali has dedicated his professional career and his life to helping his fellow Iranians cope with the toxic effects of the chemical weapons used during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).


An award-winning chemist and physician, Professor Balali was the only toxicologist in Iran when the war started.  In fact, he had, at that time, already established the Medical Toxicology Centre at the University Hospital in his hometown of Mashhad.  


Shortly before the war started, he and his wife, Maryam, a pediatric dentist, had left Iran to further their studies at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.


But by early 1983, Mahdi had completed his PhD in toxicology (specializing in therapeutics) and was teaching at Edinburgh University.  This was when he first heard the news that chemical weapons were being used against Iranians by Saddam Hussein’s forces.


“My wife and I were so upset about what was happening in our country,” he says, “that we felt it was our duty to come back and help.”


Although Saddam’s forces had experimented with mustard gas and nerve agents in the early years of the war, it was from August 1983 that sulphur mustard gas bombs were regularly being dropped on Iran.  By the end of the war in August 1988, approximately 1,800 tonnes of sulphur mustard  gas had been used against Iranian soldiers and civilians.


When he joined the war effort in 1983, Mahdi was immediately tasked, along with other medical professionals, to organize the mass treatment and care of Iran’s chemical weapons casualties.


No one had any prior experience of treating chemical weapons victims.  So Mahdi was not alone.  But Iran’s doctors and hospitals were able to rise to the occasion within the space of a few short months.


“My main task,” says Mahdi, “was to collaborate with the university hospital medical committee and write down some guidelines for the treatment of chemical weapons patients.”


Mahdi and his colleagues in Mashhad transformed the two large university hospitals – the Imam Reza and Ghaem hospitals – into units for the treatment of gassed soldiers.  


“When the heavy chemical attacks took place along our western border with Iraq,” remembers Mahdi, “the communications were really poor.  I was on call every night receiving telephone calls from the physicians in the field at all hours.  For the first gas bombings, a large number of the victims were brought straight to our hospital in Mashhad.”



  Professor Balali (Front row, third from left) at Poisoning Treatment Centre

  in Mashhad

The mass management of victims involved initial first aid treatment on or near the battlefield and then transportation to the closest hospitals for decontamination and treatment.


“Between 1983 and 1984,” says Mahdi, “C-130 military transport planes would arrive in Mashhad with more than 200 patients on board each time.  We only had 30 beds in our hospital, but we made room for all the emergency toxicology patients.”


Reacting to the emergency situation, Mahdi and his colleagues adapted their facilities to treat the chemical weapons victims.  Patients seeking elective surgery were turned away and medical emergencies were often sent to other hospitals.


“At first we had a lot of problems,” recounts Mahdi, “we were not really prepared for such a large number of gas victims.  We were not ready with suitable protective clothing.  As a result of this many of our own medical staff became susceptible to secondary contamination.  But the real problem was that our knowledge of first aid in the event of chemical attacks was simply not good at all.”


“What really caused us difficulty,” he adds, “is that sulphur mustard is a stable chemical.  So although the patients had taken showers and removed their clothing, the sulphur mustard was still present and doing damage.  So we made shower rooms in both hospitals to assist with additional decontamination of the patients.”


The fatality rate for those exposed to sulphur mustard gas can be as low as 1 per cent.   Indeed, most of the victims who succumbed to the gas did so at the blast site or as they were being transported to field or town hospitals.  However, sulphur mustard gas (for which there is no known antidote) delivers slow onset problems – affecting breathing, vision and the skin.  These plague the victims for the rest of their lives.


Through a process of trial and error, the Iranian medical services succeeded in organizing the mass management of the gas casualties and the subsequent treatment.  By 1985, Iranian medical professionals, with the help of the military medical corps, had organized a functioning system to cope with large numbers of victims.



  Professor Balali receiving research award at Mashhad University

  of Medical Sciences (MUMS ) in 2009

Between the years 1983 and 1985, Mahdi shared his knowledge of toxins and treatment by teaching his colleagues and travelling to the other major cities – Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan – to train doctors in the necessary first aid and subsequent treatment of gas victims.


“In 1983,” says Mahdi, “even our Intensive Care Units (ICUs) were not designed for gas victims.  But by 1985 that had all changed.  We even had ICU poison centres.”


Mahdi continues, “We travelled the country to train doctors in how to treat gas victims.  Even interns – some of them in their last year in medical school – were trained in how to deal with chemical attacks.  Many then went to the front to help.”


In a time of such severe adversity, Iranian doctors appear to have collaborated admirably.  Many volunteered to go to the front and work in field hospitals.  “We had American-trained doctors as well as doctors from other disciplines,” says Mahdi, “who just turned themselves into toxicologists and did the best they could to help their fellow men.”


During the war and to this day, Mahdi is among a team of Iranian doctors who continue to treat long-term Iranian chemical weapons victims for their medical difficulties.


“The complications are vast,” he states, “the victims of sulphur mustard poisoning suffer for their whole lives because there is no effective treatment.  The main targets, of course, are the skin, eyes and respiratory system.  Sulphur mustard is an alkylating agent which affects the DNA and, to a lesser extent, the RNA and other proteins in the body.  As a result, this causes major dysfunction in both the respiratory and immune systems.”


  Professor Balali receiving research award at MUMS in 2013
“But it is not only one organ that is involved,” Mahdi adds, “several organs are affected.  But in particular, the immune system.  This means that victims are highly susceptible to recurrent infections in the chest such as acute bronchitis and the possibility of developing cancer.”


According to Mahdi, because there is no antidote for sulphur mustard, the only medical response is to treat the victims’ symptoms.  For the rest of their days, chemical weapons victims have a lifestyle impeded by constant sickness and hospitalization.  Most victims suffer from respiratory diseases, which reduce the quality of their lifestyle, and many suffer from dyspnea – shortness of breath.  Consequently, a less active life-style leads to other complications such as diabetes myelitis, hypertension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.  In severe cases, some victims fall prey to different forms of leukemia and lymphoma cancer.  Gastro intestinal problems are also common, especially resulting from the victims’ consumption of different life-saving medication.


In the post-war years, a number of clinics were established specifically to treat chemical weapons victims.  


“A few years after the war,” recalls Mahdi, “I was the first to make a special clinic in Mashhad for chemical weapons victims.  The clinic was called the Bonyad Janbazan, which is the support cooperative for war veterans.  Some colleagues and military physicians came to visit the clinic and copied the style in other cities in Iran.”


Sadly, as a result of government cutbacks and the effects of the multi-lateral and bi-lateral sanctions placed upon Iran, many of these clinics have been forced to close their doors.  The clinic in Mashhad closed and Tehran has only one special clinic open for gas victims.


“Nowadays,” Mahdi says, “chemical weapons victims are not treated in these clinics but are referred to specialists.  Many victims feel that they are being neglected as they no longer have access to the same facilities and benefits that they had received in the past.”


“The negative impact of sanctions has really been significant,” Mahdi says, “especially when it comes to buying medication.  Before the sanctions the medication was affordable but now it has increased to almost four times in price.  It is also difficult to access better quality foreign medication and many victims have to pay high prices on the black market.”


Yet, despite the difficulties faced by victims and doctors, Mahdi continues to dedicate his life to supporting the survivors, continuing his scientific research and raising awareness about the heinous nature of chemical weapons.


Mahdi has been involved – since its inception in 1997 – with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons , the OPCW, which was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2013 for its efforts in working towards a world free of chemical weapons.


“In 2004,” recalls Mahdi, “I was elected to the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) of the OPCW and served as vice-chairman from 2005 to 2012.  And, since 2012, I have been a member of OPCW’s Temporary Working Group focusing on education and outreach programmes and I have joined research projects concerning the immunological complications of patients with sulphur mustard poisoning.”


Traveling the world to share his expertise and to campaign against the use of chemical weapons, Mahdi has participated in many international conferences and driven scientific research in toxicology.  In addition to being a visiting professor in toxicology at the University of Newcastle in England, Mahdi has published a significant number of papers and books on his chosen subject and is currently focusing on the clinical toxicology of sulphur mustard compound as well as a youth project which seeks to explain toxicology to young chemistry students.


In collaboration with a number of Iranian colleagues, Mahdi established the Medical Toxicology Research Centre (MTRC)  at the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences (MUMS) in 2005, which was approved by the Ministry of Health and Medical Education in 2007.  Their research covers clinical toxicology, occupational and environment health.


Mahdi is a distinguished academic and physician, yet his humility and deep-seated desire to help others are among his most striking attributes.  



  Professor Balali with Executive Director of the Tehran

  Peace Museum, MohammadReza Taghipoor at Tehran

  Peace Museum, October 2014

“During the gas attacks,” he recalls, “I would work day in and day out without a break.  My family criticized me and asked me to look after my own health more.  But I didn’t see what I was doing as “work”.  I thought I was helping to prevent people from dying and I felt as though I was making a difference.”


Still working after 42 years, Mahdi says he continues to be inspired by young medical professionals at the University Hospital in Mashhad who still give him the strength and the willpower to carry on.


“Nowadays,” he says, “I only see chemical weapons survivors.  I love to help these people with both their medical, psychological and family problems.  I am touched that they still seem to rely on me.”


When asked what message Mahdi would like to share with the world, he replies that more people should be made aware of the horrors of chemical weapons and should support the OPCW in its efforts to prevent future chemical warfare.


“We have to work on prevention,” he says firmly, “and we have to support chemical weapons victims.  Together, we can all cooperate to make a world free of chemical weapons.”


Oral reflection : Mahdi Balali-Mood
Written by Elizabeth Lewis

All Rights Reserved

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Ahmad Zangiabadi


Ahmad Zangiabadi

Chemical Weapons Victim from the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)



  Ahmad Zangiabadi in January 2014. (Photo courtesy of

  Time Magazine)


 Ahmad Zangiabadi died two weeks ago.  The day was Tuesday, the 18th of November 2014.  He was 49 years old.  The cause of his death was respiratory collapse.


Ahmad was born in Kerman on the 9th of April 1965, into an ordinary Iranian family.  But when the Iran-Iraq war started in 1980 over a territorial dispute, he followed the well-trodden path chosen by patriotic young men from across the ages.  He volunteered to join the army and went off to defend Iran.


Ahmad spent his military career on the southern front defending Iran’s control of the Arvand River – the Shatt al-Arab – where he was a member of the volunteer army’s logistics unit.


“In 1984,” said Ahmad in an interview before his death, “Iraq was dropping chemical bombs on our troops.  We didn’t even know what chemical bombs were.”


   Map of Iran, courtesy Atlas of Mustard Gas

   Injuries (2012)


On the 12th of April 1985, Ahmad was positioned with his unit in the Tala’ie region of the Majnoon Island when Iraq dropped a sulphur mustard gas bomb on his position.  He was then only 19 years old.


When people are exposed to sulphur mustard gas, in more than 95 per cent of cases they don’t die.  Most associated deaths occur either as a result of the explosive blast itself or when the patients – in a condition of vulnerability and exposed to liquid chemicals – are being transported to medical facilities.  The real trauma and tragedy come afterwards.  The symptoms of mustard gas are slow-onset.  Many veterans have told of feeling quite well for some time even after the explosion.  Ahmad was no different, and it was not until several hours after the attack that he began to feel unwell.


“It was about 10pm in the evening,” Ahmad recalled, “when I first realized that something was wrong.  I guessed that I had been exposed to chemicals.  I asked someone to replace me at the front so that I could go to the medical centre.”


Ahmad’s condition rapidly worsened.  His eyes were severely burned and he started vomiting violently.  His entire body began to break out in burns and blisters.

“I was taken to Tehran to a hospital,” said Ahmad, “and I lay unconscious for about 40 days.”


   Ahmad as a young volunteer soldier in 1982.

   (Photo courtesy of Tehran Peace Museum)



Ahmad slowly began to understand that his lungs had been damaged permanently and for the next 30 years his life would be dependent on medication, hospitalization and a series of oxygen machines.  After the war, Ahmad got married.  In time, Ahmad’s wife, Marzieh, would be his loyal and dedicated nurse, administering his medication, helping him with his oxygen machines and making life as comfortable as possible for him.


After the war, Ahmad tried to further his education and enrolled at a local university to study English literature.  However, the sulphur mustard had burned his cornea and his eyesight had rapidly deteriorated.  His lung condition worsened and after falling into a coma and being hospitalized, he was forced to give up any hope of continuing his studies.



  Ahmad guiding school children around the Tehran Peace

  Museum, June 2012. (Photo courtesy of Tehran Peace


As one of over 100,000 survivors of chemical warfare in Iran from the war with Iraq, Ahmad sought for himself a role in helping other survivors.  He joined a non-governmental organization, the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support (SCWVS) later becoming a board member.


In 2007, Ahmad began a career as a volunteer guide at The Tehran Peace Museum.  As an eyewitness and survivor, Ahmad escorted visitors around the museum and gave first hand accounts of the terrible consequences of chemical weapons.  He served as living testimony to the open wounds – both literal and metaphorical – still troubling war veterans, civilians and many people who continue to be affected by secondary contamination from sulphur mustard.


A committed campaigner for peace, Ahmad travelled with delegates from the Tehran Peace Museum to The Hague in April 2013.  The group attended the Third Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention at the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  While moving around with his portable oxygen machine, Ahmad was honoured to meet the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, and the OPCW’s Director General, Mr. Ahmed Üzümcü and asked them to double their efforts to make a world free of chemical weapons.



  Ahmad Zangiabadi at the OPCW Conference in The Hague,

  April 2013 (Photo courtesy of Tehran Peace Museum)

With each laboured breath, Ahmad described his role at the Tehran Peace Museum and shared the experiences of survivors like him.  Sadly, within the last year of his life, Ahmad’s respiratory condition worsened.


“I am a candidate for a lung transplant,” he said, “my lungs were burnt so badly that they can’t provide my body with the oxygen it needs.”


Ahmad did not live long enough to receive the lung transplant.  His dream of taking deep breaths would not come true.


Ahmad Zangiabadi is survived by his widow, Marzieh, and his only son, Hesam.


But through his work and the lives he touched, Ahmad’s story will live on and his tireless campaigning to see a world free of chemical weapons will be remembered.



Written by Elizabeth Lewis


All Rights Reserved


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Jahanshah Sadeghi


Jahanshah Sadeghi

“What do I wish for?  I wish for a world without suffering.  I wish that peace in this world would replace my coughing, my wheezing vocal cords.  I wish that I could once again smell the aromas of all the beautiful flowers.  I wish for one night – just one night – when I can get a full night’s sleep.  Just one night of peaceful sleep for my wife and children.”


Jahanshah Sadeghi, a retired army medical corps Colonel, shares his story about the gas attacks during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and the responsibility he feels has fallen to him to publicize the horrors of chemical weapons.



Jahanshah Sadeghi

at Tehran Peace Museum

When the war with Iraq broke out in 1980, Jahanshah had just graduated from medical school and was immediately sent to work in military hospitals in Kermanshah Province.Several months later he was sent to the war front, to Field Hospital 528 near Soomar, a small town a few kilometers away from the Iraqi border with Kermanshah.  


From 1980 to 1986, Jahanshah served in front-line field hospitals in Kermanshah Province as well as continuing his education at university in Tehran to become a laboratory and blood bank technician.


“I loved my job,” said Jahanshah, beaming with pride, “I really felt like I was making a difference.  My work and my colleagues were like family to me.  We were all eager to help the wounded soldiers survive.”


Confronted with horrible injuries and coping with life and death on a daily basis, Jahanshah is able to share many anecdotes of bravery.  Remembering a unique medical procedure carried out in the field, Jahanshah spoke with satisfactionabout how one courageous young soldier was kept alive by an ingenious chest specialist called Professor Riahi.  Jahanshah relates that he was part of a medical team on dutythat day.


jahanshah-2“This young soldier’s lungs had been pierced by a piece of shrapnel.” said Jahanshah, “We could hear the air hissing out of his lungs.  He was brought to Professor Riahi who worked on his lungs to seal up the wounds with a plastic freezer bag.  The professorpacked the bag around the soldier’s lungs to stop the air being sucked from the wound.  He closed the chest wound so that the soldier could be evacuated to a hospital in Kermanshah for further surgery.”


Jahanshah was sent to accompany the young man in the helicopter evacuation.  He met the soldier’s family and explained what had happened.


“We were all so happy. “ remembered Jahanshah, “My colleagues and I were so proud of the fact that – despite the odds – we could work together to try anything to keep our men alive.”


A devoted family man, Jahanshah recalls the special day of his marriage to Batoul Tavakoli in 1984.  The following year they were blessed with the birth of their first son, Saman.


“My wife and I felt complete when Saman was born,” said Jahanshah, “there was so much disorder in the country at that time, but when my wife gave birth to our son, we felt that there was at least order in our own lives.”


Jahanshah-3Jahanshah spoke of the strength he drew from Batoul and Saman, who faithfully followed him to stay in the city of Kermanshah, close to the field hospitals.  However, by 1986 the Iraqi War of the Cities campaign of aerial bomb attacks caused Jahanshah to fear for the safety of his young family.  Batoul and Saman returned to their family home in Harsin – further away from the Iraqi border – while the war continued to rage all around Kermanshah.


In preparing for Operation 6th Karbala, Jahanshah joined specialist medical teams in Soomar.  That was in December 1986 and the field hospital was reinforced with medical experts called up from all over the country.

The Soomar field hospital, stocked with specialized medical equipment,was nestled into the foot of a hill, a mere 23km from the front line.


jahanshah 4In normal circumstances, an army field hospital is required to be 60km from the front line.  “But it was decided to move the unit closer,” recalled Jahanshah, “so that we could assist the casualties faster.  We were prepared for any type of medical care from simple first aid to even brain surgery.”


Describing the field hospital, Jahanshah said, “There was no mistaking what we were.  We had an enormous capital H painted in red on the roof of the hospital.  Ambulances were parked across the road.  It was obvious we were a hospital unit”.


Towards the end of December 1986, as the Iranians completed their preparations for Operation 6th Karbala, Iraqi forces began a fierce artillery and aerial bombardment of the Soomar area, resulting in hundreds of soldiersbeing killed and seriously wounded.  Casualties inundated the field hospital.


On December 30th, Jahanshah remembered Iraqi planes flying overhead and dropping strange objects.


jahanshah-5“It looked like balloons and bits of paper, even little smoke bombs,” he said, “and at the time, we had no idea why the Iraqis would drop such unusual things.  Of course, by the next day, we realized they were testing for wind direction.”


The following day, December 31st 1986, the Iraqi air force dropped chemical weapons on soldiers at the front line near Soomar.  They would also target Jahanshah’s hospital unit–hitting it directly with eight chemical bombs.


“The day of the chemical attack is one I will never forget,” said Jahanshah.  “It was 8 am and I heard our anti-aircraft guns start.  I saw six bombers overhead dropping conventional bombs.  There was also heavy shelling.  Our hospital unit had no air defence.  We were overwhelmed with wounded soldiers.  There were hundreds of them coming in to us.”


But, it was not until just after midday that the actual chemical weapons attack with mustard gas took place.  Four Iraqi aircraft dropped the eight bombs on and around the medical unit, instantly killing medical personnel and already wounded soldiers.  The entire medical unit was paralyzed.


Jahanshah’s soft poetic eyes filled with tears as he remembered that terrible day.


“For us, it was a different kind of attack,” he continued, “chemical weapons don’t explode like ordinary bombs because there is no explosive device.  When the bombs fell, something like white powder escaped, and there was smoke and droplets splashed everywhere with a garlic-like smell.  We were all exposed.  All of us.”


“One bomb landed at the entrance to the emergency room.  Everyone inside was trapped.  There were no survivors.  Another bomb hit the operating room where two surgeons were operating on a soldier.  They all died either the same day or later.  We were not prepared for this.  Why would anyone drop bombs on a hospital?”


Jahanshah-6As soon as the attack was over, and completely unaware of the consequences of such heinous weapons, Jahanshah and the surviving medical team surveyed the damage to the hospital.


“None of us were wearing gas masks,” said Jahanshah, “it wasn’t that we didn’t have any.  The masks were stored in our barracks.  It is just that none of us seriously expected a gas attack.  Hindsight tells us we should have gone to higher ground, but the hospital was bunkered under the hill.  We were trapped.  We were all exposed.”


The effects of chemical weapons do not normally start to appear until between one and two hours after the attack.  The first symptoms are usually constant vomiting, breathing difficulties and loss of vision.


“After about an hour,” Jahanshah recalled, “everyone started to vomit.  Violent, projectile vomiting.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that people vomited so severely that they started to vomit their own faeces.”


Jahanshah’s memories are honest yet painful.


“People started to lose their sight,” he said.  “We all felt like we were suffocating.  At one point, I took a mask off one of the dead soldiers.  I washed it and tried to use it, but it was too late.  The suffering was intolerable and people started to die.  My body was burning and I was coughing so much.  I couldn’t really see, so I didn’t know what was going on.”


As the entire region was a war zone, the bombing had irreparably damaged hospitals in the nearest cities.  With the province in such chaos and with so little medical knowledge about how to treat chemical weapons victims, the casualties were transported by ambulance buses to Tehran.  Many were still wearing the clothes contaminated by the mustard gas.  What followed for Jahanshah was an 11-hour bus ride, covering 600km to the capital.


“It was 11 hours of nothing but suffering and pain,” said Jahanshah.  “On the way we made several stops to use the bathroom.  None of us could see properly, so we had to go to the bathroom and come back to the bus in one long line holding each other’s hands.  Tragically, one of the buses crashed and many died.”


Jahanshah-7On arrival in Tehran, Jahanshah and his comrades were transported to the city’s Azadi Sports Stadium.  The staff was overwhelmed by the number of casualties and, struggling with their limited knowledge of the injuries and chemical burns, often made unintentional mistakes.


“Their job at Azadi,” recalled Jahanshah, “was to change our clothes, gives us showers and send us to hospitals in Tehran.  The people there didn’t understand how to treat our skin burns so they gave us hot showers.  It was probably the worst thing they could have done.  I ran out of the shower, begging them to stop.”


Jahanshah was finally sent to the Khanevade (Family) Hospital, where he remained for 20 days.  “The doctors did their best,” said Jahanshah, “but they had little experience of these chemical injuries and were often unsure what to do.  I suppose no one expected this.”


Within 48 hours, Batoul, pregnant with their second child, arrived at the hospital demanding to see her husband.  The doctors were unwilling to let her near Jahanshah.  There was no certainty at that time that she would be free of contamination. But Batoul was determined.  Lying about her condition, she claimed she had already given birth and was permitted to visit Jahanshah.


With damp eyes, Jahanshah recalls that day, “Batoul was so worried and concerned that she was even prepared to pretend she wasn’t pregnant so that she could see me.  But when she finally did see me, she couldn’t recognize me.  My body was covered in severe burns.  My face was burned and my eyes were swollen.  I thought I was going to die.”


Jahanshah’s condition did not improve.  Almost four weeks after the attack, the High Medical Council assessed his case.  Declaring Jahanshah to be a critical emergency, he was sent overseas to Germany, where he spent one month in the Elizabeth Hospital in Recklinghausen, near to Cologne.jahanshah-8


In Germany, doctors treated Jahanshah’s severe lung injuries and the grave damage to his eyes and skin.  Since then and to this day, Jahanshah has to make use of oxygen machines to stay alive and receives hospital treatment both in his hometown of Kermanshah and in Tehran.


“As a result of the chemical attacks,” said Jahanshah, “doctors have diagnosed that I only have 30% of normal lung capacity.  I am admitted to hospital between 8 and 10 times a year.  I have to use special sprays and inhalers.  I use a drug delivery device called a nebulizer.  It works by administering the medication in the form of a mist inhaled into my lungs.  At night I use a BiPAP machine for ventilation.”


Afflicted with this chronic lung disease, Jahanshah is one of many chemical weapons survivors who suffer from polycythemia, whereby the number or red blood cells rise in the body to compensate for the low level of oxygen in the blood.  The consequence for Jahanshah is fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing when lying down, blurred vision and joint pain.


“I have many problems with my eyes too,” said Jahanshah, “I will never have perfect vision and I see the world in blurred images.  I have had five operations on my eyes including stem cell and corneal transplants.  I have to use eye drops at least every hour to help me see better because the mustard gas destroyed my tear glands.”


And, although the scars on his skin have healed, Jahanshah has suffered from deeper, more emotional scarring.Jahanshah-9


“I have to admit,” he said quietly, “I have suffered from depression because of my inability to see properly.  I will never return to the healthy man I was before the war.”


Yet, despite the incredibly difficult life that Jahanshah has led since the chemical attacks, he is a deeply reflective man, who now feels it is his responsibility to educate the youth of Iran and others around the world about the value of peace and international cooperation.


“In Iranian culture,” Jahanshah said, “we have a saying:


Digaran kashtand o ma khordim
Ma bekarim o digaran bokhorand


Which means that the previous generations planted for us and we are now eating it.  Now it is our turn to plant for the next generation to eat.”


Humble and gentle are only two words describe the humanitarian outlook of Jahanshah, who has dedicated his life to teaching others about the consequences of chemical weapons.


jahanshah-10“We need to educate our young people about the horrors of chemical weapons,” said Jahanshah, “and at the same time we need to encourage our children to love their neighbours.  Every peace activist in the world, no matter what his or her religion, should work hard to make sure nothing bad happens again in the world.  We should look to our Bibles, our Torah,and our Quran and find the good things written there, and live by those codes.  Then, I believe that the tension between countries and nations will just disappear.  That way people will be happy.  I will be happy.”


Jahanshah’s peace education campaign is driven by the desire that following generations should never suffer like him or his fellow survivors.  His inspiration leads him to volunteer at the Tehran Peace Museum whenever he is in Tehran.  He has travelled to The Hague in the Netherlands, to meet the ambassador and other delegates at the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).


This year, 2014, Jahanshah visited Hiroshima in Japan on the anniversary of the nuclear attacks during World War II as part of the peace exchange programme between the Tehran Peace Museum and the citizens of Hiroshima.  During the visit, Jahanshah met and shared experiences with survivors of the atomic bomb attacks.


Eliminating chemical weapons from this world is Jahanshah’s ultimate aim, but he also asks his fellow men to carefully considertheir responsibilityto seek the humanity within themselves, to work towards a more caring and loving world, a place where everyone can live in peace.


Jahanshah’s story ends with his recitation of a poem by the famous Persian poet Sa’di:


Of one essence is the human race,
Thusly has Creation put the base.
One limb impacted is sufficient,
For all others to feel the mace.
The unconcern’d with others’ plight,
Are but brutes with human face.


Oral reflection by: Jahanshah Sadeghi
Farsi to English translation by Elaheh Pooyandeh
Written by Elizabeth Lewis

All Rights Reserved


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Hassan Hassani Sa’di


Hassan Hassani Sa’di


It was cold that morning in February.  Hassan Hassani Sa’di was 20 years old.  A volunteer soldier defending Iran in its war with Iraq, he could gaze westwards across the Arvand River and see the Iraqi defences on the other side of the water.  He was a mere 600 metres from the Iraqi port of Faw on the opposite river bank.  The year was 1986.
It was this morning that Iraq chose to launch a surprise chemical weapons attack.  The consequences of the attack would shape the rest of Hassan’s life.  


Saadi-11These days, almost 30 years later, Hassan reflects long and hard on all that has happened since then.  The patriotic fervour which moved him then and moves him still.  The damage to his body.  The years of endless medical treatment.  And his mission to rid the world of chemical weapons.


The Iran-Iraq War lasted from 1980 to 1988.  Most observers conclude that it was a conflict imposed on Iran by an aggressive neighbour seeking opportunistic territorial expansion.  But the war would mould the Iranian psyche – especially of the generation that fought it.  A generation that includes Hassan.  It created a rallying cry among young Iranian men to join up and defend their country.


Hassan Hassani Sa’di, was almost 18 when he joined up in 1984.  He became a volunteer soldier in the 416 Battalion of the Kerman Province Corps.


“When the war started,” said Hassan, “we felt it was our duty to defend our country, because we were the ones who were young and powerful.  I come from a farming village in Kerman Province and many men had joined the war.  When they returned and told us what was happening, young men like me felt this burning desire to go and defend our country.”


With his older brother, Mohammad, already serving in the regular army, Hassan joined up as a volunteer soldier.  He would serve for three years – from the beginning of 1984 to the end of 1986.


“After I joined the army and went to the front,” recollected Hassan, “I knew I couldn’t come back home.  I didn’t want to come back.  I wanted to be there.”


And so Hassan spent his military service moving around the whole of the southern front, serving as an infantryman, an assistant machine gunner and a scuba diver.  Seriously wounded by shrapnel in Operation Badr in 1985, Hassan later returned to the front to assist in the capture of the Iraqi port of Faw, which is where he was that cold February morning.


The night before, Hassan had been on reconnaissance duty on the Iraqi side of the river.  Now he was back on the eastern side of the river and was bunkered down with his comrades in a house evacuated by local people who had fled the war zone.  The men were preparing to return to the military base at Ahwaz – 100 kilometres to the northeast, well inside Iran.


But life took a different turn.


“It was the 13th of February,” said Hassan, “it was eight o’clock in the morning and we were eating breakfast inside when we heard our anti-aircraft guns firing.  We realized we were under an aerial attack.  I came out of the house and looked up at the sky and watched as the airplane launched the bomb.”


Saadi2In fact, several bombs were dropped around Hassan’s military base.  One of them landed directly on the roof of the house where Hassan and his comrades were occupying.


“A wall of sandbags fell on top of me,” said Hassan, “I was in shock for a while but when I got up I could hear my comrades screaming for help inside.  The roof had fallen in on them.  There was so much smoke and a dark fluid spilled form the bomb and was splashing everywhere.”


Realizing that they had been victims of a chemical weapon attack, the men put on their gas masks and set about freeing their friends from the rubble with their masks on.


Unlike injuries inflicted by conventional weapons, the effects of a chemical attack can take some considerable time to show up on (or in) the body.  As much as two hours can pass before the physical effects begin to reveal themselves.


Believing that they were unhurt, Hassan and his colleagues returned to work, but within an hour of the attack they started to experience the telltale signs of a mustard gas attack – nausea, coughing, burning eyes and blistered skin.


“We were close to a field medical unit and things were getting progressively worse,” remembered Hassan,  “so we walked over there to get help.  We had to take off our uniforms and have cold showers.  Then we were loaded on to pickup trucks and driven to the nearest hospital.”


Unable to open his eyes and with his skin on fire, Hassan was taken to a field hospital.  Prizing his eyes open with his fingers he saw long queues of men with their hands on the shoulders of the man in front of them, waiting patiently for whatever help would come.Saadi3


“There is a picture here in the Tehran Peace Museum,” Hassan said,  “it is from the gas attacks at Ypres in First World War.  It is called Gassed.  Whenever I look at it, I am reminded of that day.”


After a harrowing journey by bus-ambulance to Ahwaz, Hassan, along with many other wounded soldiers, were loaded onto C-130 Hercules military aircraft and medevac’d to hospitals in Tehran.  There, after many days of confusion, unconsciousness and pain, Hassan finally became aware of his surroundings.


“I think it was almost two weeks after the bombing,” said Hassan, “that I remember regaining consciousness.  My body was covered in blisters.  My hands, my back, my neck, even my feet were full of blisters.  I had a terrible fever and chills.  My lungs were in a bad way.”


None of us in Iran had anticipated that the Iraqi military would use chemical weapons, at least not on such a large scale. saadi4Consequently, the country’s medical infrastructure was unprepared for such a massive inundation of soldiers seriously wounded by the mustard gas attacks.

Yet, in these times of extreme hardship and stress, the professional and ordinary citizens of Iran rose to the challenge to help their fellow countrymen.


“One time,” said Hassan, “I heard the doctors talking about how very sad they felt.  There were too many casualties and not enough doctors.  One doctor said he felt there was no hope.  But there was hope.  And it came from the lady volunteer nurses from the Iranian Red Crescent Society.  Without these ladies, we wouldn’t have survived.”


Three months of hospitalization in Tehran involved critical but excruciatingly painful treatment for Hassan’s injuries.  Hassan’s older brother arrived to assist in the recovery process but the suffering continued.


“Where we were being treated, well, we called it Room Hell,” said Hassan, a dark shadow passing across his face as he recollected the pain of the recovery process.  “Because it was hell.  We were taken there to have our blisters treated and our dressings changed.  When the nurse called our name, we would cry like little kids.”


In a process, described in medical terms as debridement, Hassan was taken each day to Room Hell to have his skin washed and the tops of each blister cut off followed by silver sulfadiazine antibacterial ointment spread on the underlying wound.  Unable to wear any clothes during this process, Hassan’s body was covered with a simple white sheet, which would stick to his suppurating flesh and would need to be removed by a nurse every morning.


“Removing the sheet from my back was like torture,” sighed Hassan.  “Worse, it was a dreadful feeling to be helpless like this.  I couldn’t even control my bladder.  It was so embarrassing.”


Hassan endured the hell and within one month began to see gradual improvements in his skin.


saadi5“As my skin started to feel better,” said Hassan, “it became so itchy and I wanted to just scratch my body all the time.  My brother was a great help to me.  He even tied my hands to the bed so that I wouldn’t scratch my skin.”


But the blistered skin was not the only physical consequence Hassan had to bear.  His lungs were severely damaged and his larynx was so badly affected that he couldn’t speak properly and was unable to communicate effectively with his family.  Nightmares and delusions added mental stress to his physical pain.


“My mother came to see me six weeks after the attack,” said Hassan.  “My brother begged me to try to ‘look well’ for her.”


As Hassan sat quietly reflecting on this time, struggling to hold back his own tears, he added, “I didn’t do a very good job.  I feel so emotional when I remember how my mother looked at my burnt, weak body.”


And of course, severe damage had been inflicted on Hassan’s eyes.  With burned corneas, Hassan suffered from photophobia, a painful sensitivity to strong light.


“We all suffered from this,” said Hassan, “and all the hospital windows were covered to keep the place dark.  For two months I couldn’t make out people’s faces.  I just saw shapes moving in front of me.”


Three months after the attack, Hassan returned to his village, Saadi, near Kerman.  However, although his diminished sight made life difficult for him, he was about to embark on an ingenious homeopathic, traditional treatment plan designed by his own grandmother.


“My grandmother was instrumental in my recovery,” smiled a proud Hassan.  “She was very knowledgeable about herbal and traditional medicines.  When I told her that I was injured with a toxin, she set to work.”


saadi6Living on a farm was the ideal location for Hassan’s continued recovery.  Every day, after the cows were milked, Hassan’s grandmother prepared a warm milk bath for him.


“The milk bath would leave a fatty film on my body, which I would wash off in the afternoon with water,” said Hassan.  “Then, every night my grandmother gave me the cream off the top of the milk and I rubbed it all over my body.  My skin became really soft and started to heal in no time.  Thanks to my grandmother I have fewer scars than many of my comrades who were also gassed.”


Hassan’s grandmother also prepared beds of willow tree leaves, which would absorb the poisons from his body.  She prepared him a variety of herbal drinks and despite continued vision problems, within six months Hassan was well enough to be sent back to the battlefield.


This was an unwise decision.  Hassan experienced recurring illnesses and hospitalization.  Eventually he had to give up and was medically discharged from the army one year later.


“You see,” he reflected, “at the time the military doctors really did not know what were the effects of these chemical weapons.  They didn’t tell us what to do or what treatment to take, but I believe they just didn’t know.”


After his discharge from the military, Hassan returned to his village and started up his own series of small business such as pesticide and fertilizer distribution and pistachio farming.  Unfortunately, problems continued to arise, which were always related to his health.


“When I was in the fertilizer business,” Hassan said, “every winter I developed serious lung problems and would be sent to hospital.  Then when I went into pistachio farming, I had more lung problems and my eyes became so bad that I could no longer see to drive.”


The doctors in Kerman made no connections between Hassan’s deteriorating health and the consequences of the gas attack during his military service.  Their diagnosis was that the dry, dusty air of Kerman was the cause of Hassan’s problems.


In 1992, two major events occurred in Hassan’s life.  Hassan married Zahra, the sister of one of his army comrades.  And he met a scholarly ophthalmologist called Dr. Mohammad Ali Javadi.


Dr. Javadi was one of the first Iranian physicians to understand the nature of damage to the eyes caused by exposure to chemical weapons.  Upon examining Hassan, Dr. Javadi recommended that he leave the dry Kerman climate and move to the more humid, northern part of the country, next to the Caspian Sea.  Hassan and Zahra took his advice and relocated to Salmanshahr.


Although life for Hassan and Zahra improved and they were able to start their own cut flower business, Hassan continued to suffer difficulties with his sight.saadi7

“Every morning I would get up around 9 or 10 o’clock,” said Hassan, “and it was just so difficult to open my eyes.  I felt burning and pain in my eyes.  My head would hurt so much I thought someone was banging on my skull.”


Although two successive corneal transplants in 1995 and the following year did somewhat ease Hassan’s vision difficulties, he continued to be highly sensitive to light.  The result was hazy vision.  Frequent road trips to Tehran for a further six eye surgeries and treatment also made life difficult and uncomfortable.


Unfortunately, the consequences of the chemical attacks extended to Zahra.  The couple struggled to conceive a child and two miscarriages revealed congenital malformations in each fetus, most likely resulting from the chemical toxins in Hassan’s body.  After the successful birth of their daughter, Fatimeh, in 1998 and their son, Ali, in 2000, Hassan and Zahra decided not to have any more children because of the risk.


“I owe a lot to my wife,” Hassan said quite emphatically, “she has had a very painful life because of my health situation. saadi8 It isn’t easy for her, and she has had to go through so much stress because of me.  I appreciate everything she has done for me.”


In 2005, Hassan and his young family moved to Tehran, where he could have easier access to specialized doctors and hospitals.  And it was here in Tehran, where Hassan met and made friends with members of the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support (SCWVS) and the Tehran Peace Museum.


Finding support and friendship, Hassan’s medical and psychological condition improved dramatically.  Through his socialization with the SCWVS and the Tehran Peace Museum, Hassan’s knowledge and understanding of the nature of chemical weapons increased to such a high level that he soon became a volunteer and guide at the museum.


“When the war was over,” said Hassan, “I felt that I had done my duty and that I had served my country well.  I felt that my responsibilities to my country were over.  I had done my bit.  But when I started volunteering at the Tehran Peace Museum, I realized how wrong I was.  I have a huge responsibility now to share my experiences and let others know about the consequences of chemical weapons.  It is my duty to raise awareness against chemical weapons and to spread the word that war is not the answer.”saadi9


Hassan has been a volunteer now for seven years.  He says that his journey has only just begun.  His aim is to speak out about the horrors of chemical weapons.  It is his belief and his mission that sharing his own experiences and engaging in open dialogue are essential to creating a peaceful world - a world without war.  A world without chemical weapons.


This story is one part of his life’s work.


Oral reflection by: Hassan Hassani Sa’di
Farsi to English translation by Elaheh Pooyandeh
Written by Elizabeth Lewis

All Rights Reserved


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Faride Shafa’i


Faride Shafa’i

 June 28th, 1987 – an ordinary summer day in the northwestern Iranian town of Sardasht.  The Iran-Iraq War – started seven years earlier – was still raging along Iran’s border.  But for residents, the summer was here.  Schools were out.  It was holiday time.  Despite the war, things were ok – good, even.

That was until 4:30 pm when Iraqi fighter jets flew overhead and dropped chemical bombs.  Life, for the town and its people, was never the same again.

The world has heard of the Iraqi town of Halabja – just over 100 km away – which was bombed by Saddam Hussein in March 1988.  Few have heard of the same horrors, which befell the Iranian citizens of Sardasht, all victims of the same weapons.

On the 27th anniversary of the gas attacks at Sardasht, Faride Shafa’i, a survivor, shares her experiences from a woman’s perspective.

FSH1Faride had lived in Sardasht all her life.  A mother of three girls, she was a schoolteacher in her home town.  She was 27.  On that day the sun was starting to set in the western sky.  

With her daughters Shabnam (7 years), Shahla (3) and Nahid (2), Faride was celebrating the end of term over tea at her sister’s house.  Her husband, Mohammad Rasoul, also a teacher, had gone off for a walk in the hills with his friends.  Life couldn’t have been better.

The people of Sardasht had been accustomed to the sounds of conventional warfare.  The sound of artillery and shelling from the war front, fewer than 10 kilometres away, was a constant reminder of the long-imposed war with Iraq.   

“There were rumours that Saddam was planning to use chemical weapons,” said Faride, “but no one took them seriously.  Why would he want to gas innocent people?  It didn’t make any sense.”

Then the bombs fell.  And the memories have never left her.

“There was so much panic when the bombs fell,” Faride said.  Accustomed to conventional bombing, the residents of Sardasht were not expecting a chemical weapons attack.  Instinct drove people to take cover and hide in their usual safe places, including basements.

“Government pamphlets had told us to seek high ground in a gas attack,” said Faride, “but we were paralyzed with fear.  We ran to what we thought was safety in the basement.”

It was exactly the wrong thing to do.  Mustard gas clings to the ground.  And it followed them into the basement.  Enveloped by a wall of garlic-smelling mustard gas, Faride and her children began to cough, their skin started to burn, their eyes became blurry.  Faride’s maternal instinct kicked in, and the survival of her children was her priority.  Struggling to find water, she wiped her daughters’ faces but it was too late, the damage had already been done.

Mohammad Rasoul rushed back to take his wife and children to the safety of their own home but their conditions grew worse by the minute.  The effects of the mustard gas usually take around two hours to develop when serious symptoms start to appear and gradually worsen.

FSH2“I couldn’t open my eyes,” remembered Faride, “it was as if they were burning from the inside.  The girls were in such pain and crying.  Little Nahid was the worst.  She was too little to understand what was going on.  She just kept crying and crying.  It broke my heart to hear them.”

They felt as if their skin was on fire.  Soon suppurating, painful blisters appeared on their bodies.  Breathing was difficult and then the uncontrollable vomiting started.  

After an initial visit to a local doctor provided no relief, Faride’s husband took her and the children to Tabriz, where their condition was considered too severe for the facilities there.  
On that afternoon, Sardasht – a city of 12,000 people – experienced the trauma of chemical attacks in two bombing runs.  Four chemical bombs, each containing 250 kg of sulfur mustard, hit the densely populated town centre.  Three more bombs detonated in gardens around the town.

More than 8,000 people were immediately exposed to mustard gas.  Within the first hours of the attack, 20 people died.  In the coming days over a hundred more fatalities were recorded.  Of the 4,500 victims requiring medical attention, 600 were evacuated by air to Tehran.  Faride and her children were amongst them.


 Not expecting civilians to be attacked by chemical weapons, the Iranian hospitals were simply not prepared for the onslaught of casualties with such horrific injuries.  On FSH3arrival in Tehran, the Shafa’i family was taken to the airport’s triage post where their injuries were assessed and hospitals were assigned according to the needs of each victim.  Faride and her two older daughters were taken to the city’s Baghiatallah Hospital.  However, Nahid’s condition was considered to be the most critical.  And so, accompanied by her father, she went to the Imam Khomeini Hospital.  

In constant, searing pain, Faride and her two older daughters underwent skin treatment for the burns and blisters.

“I can’t describe the sounds of Shahla’s screaming as the doctors treated her burns,” said Faride, “I lay in the bed next to her, unable to see, and listened to her scream in pain.  I felt useless.  I couldn’t do anything to help.  Can you imagine what that is like for a mother?”

The following days were to bring more suffering to this small, humble woman.  Four days after they arrived in Tehran, Mohammad Rasoul arrived at the Baghiatallah Hospital to help his wife and daughters.  Faride was surprised to see her husband at the hospital and repeatedly asked him what had happened to Nahid.  Mohammad Rasoul evaded all his wife’s questions.

Stress levels increased even more for Faride when she was told that Shahla needed to be moved immediately to another hospital with more appropriate equipment for her needs.  Faride initially refused to have another daughter taken from her and strongly objected to Shahla’s transfer from Baghiatallah.  Mohammad Rasoul stepped in and persuaded Faride that moving Shahla was the best thing and she must cooperate to save her daughter’s life.  Faride relented and Shahla was taken to the city’s Mofid Hospital.

After Saddam Hussein’s attacks at Sardasht, many of Iran’s friends rallied to help them in their hour of need.  Doctors from a number of countries offered help and many victims were evacuated to European countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain.  Faride was told that she and her daughters were to be evacuated to Spain for medical treatment.  

“I told the doctors I was not getting on any plane to go anywhere without all my daughters,” said Faride.  Although reassured by medical staff that Shahla would meet Faride and Shabnam at Mehrabad Airport, Faride was still suspicious and upset.

“I was very adamant,” she said, “if Shahla was not there at the airport to meet us, then I was not boarding that plane.”  Fortunately, Shahla did meet her mother and sister and together they left for Spain.

With still no word about Nahid, Faride asked if she was coming to Spain too.

FSH4“My husband told me that Nahid was in a very bad condition and the doctors could not take her off the life-support machines,” said Faride.  “I was very suspicious.  I had had some disturbing dreams about Nahid, but I was still hopeful for her recovery.”

Now in a different country, Faride says she remembers the looks of shock and horror when she and her family arrived at Spain’s military hospital, Gomez Ulla.  The medical staff was expecting wounded soldiers from the front, not women and children.  Overcoming their horror, the Spanish doctors and nurses got to work and began a remarkable recovery process, treating their patients with respect and kindness.

“It was so much easier for us women and children in Spain,” said Faride, “the nurses were so caring and affectionate to the children.  They would play with them, sing to them and some would even buy toys with their own money to make them feel happy.  I cannot thank them enough.”  

After two months of intense but effective treatment, Faride and her daughters returned to Iran to finish their recovery in Tehran.  

Arriving at Iran’s Mehrabad Airport, Faride and her daughters were met by her aunt and uncle, who took them to their home to rest.  That same night, Faride’s uncle asked to have a word with her in private.

“He told me that I should be grateful and thank God that Shabnam, Shahla and myself were fine,” remembered Faride.  “I asked my uncle about Nahid and he told me that she was dead and it would be better for me now to forget her.”

Revealing her broken spirit, Faride lowered her head and wept silent tears.  She took a long time to suppress the emotional pain.  She then wiped her eyes and continued with her heartbreaking story.

Four months after the attack Faride had her first cornea transplant on her left eye.  Several months later, a second transplant on her right eye was less successful, causing permanent impaired vision.  It was three years after this second cornea transplant, when Faride was scheduled to undergo another eye operation, that she discovered that she was pregnant.

“The doctors were very worried about my pregnancy,” said Faride, “they tried to persuade me to abort the baby.  They said that all the medication and the anesthesia would not be good for the baby.  I refused to lose another child and said no.”

After months of close medical supervision, Faride gave birth to a daughter, Parisa.  The cornea transplant operation was more successful and everyone seemed happy.  

Two years after the gas attacks, German lung specialist, Professor Lutz Freitag, carried out a laser surgery operation to remove a blockage in Faride’s lungs, a consequence of the gas attack.

“When I was told that this famous professor was coming to do this operation on a number of chemical weapons victims, “ smiled Faride, “I thought he must have been a really old man.  But he was so young!  However, the operation did help.”

The procedure succeeded in easing her breathing difficulties, but Faride has had to grow accustomed to a life of constant coughing and dependence on nebulizers and oxygen machines.  

FSH5But Faride’s medical problems never seemed to end.  Recently, diagnosed with breast cancer, Faride had a mastectomy on her left breast a year ago and has just completed chemotherapy.

“Strong women like me don’t like to be sick,” said Faride, “we would give anything to be well again.  However, the hardest thing for women like me to bear is not just the injuries, but the stigma.”

Constant coughing and skin discoloration from the burns have brought about soul destroying social stigma.  Unable to attend social gatherings because of the persistent coughing, Faride slumped in her chair as she described how she, formerly a very socially active woman, was forced to become a near recluse.

“The worst thing for me,” she said, “was the lack of support from my own family.  They would look at me sometimes as if I were contagious.  They didn’t want me to come to their parties because the coughing up of phlegm disgusted them.  I understand it made them feel uncomfortable but it made life so depressing for me and for my own family.  We couldn’t go out anywhere.  I was always very lonely.”

Faride sat pensively for a few moments, then continued, “It is not easy for women gas victims here.  For men, it is different.  They chose to go to war, so they knew the risks.  We didn’t ask for this.”

The cultural expectations for married women in Iran made recovery even more difficult for female survivors.  Faride says that the network for male victims and war veterans is vast and supportive, but very few support outlets exist for women.  Tradition expects women in Iran to have the important role of keeping the family together, educating the children, cooking, shopping and cleaning.  As a gas attack victim, these were things she often did not have the strength to do.  

“When I am at home,” said Faride, “it seems that I have to do everything a healthy wife does.  But I believe if a man is injured, the family don’t expect of him the same responsibilities they expect of a healthy man.”

But the social expectations were there.  As a result there was little sympathy for women – they were simply expected to get on with their duties and not complain.  

FSH6“Even my husband,” Faride said quietly, “had very little sympathy for my illness and hospitalization.  It has been very difficult.”

After the long process of treatment and recovery, Faride and her family chose not to return to Sardasht to live, but to the nearby city of Orumieh.  She tried to resume her teaching career, but was given very little consideration or sympathy for her injuries.

“The district authority wanted to send me to some very remote city in Anzal,” she said bitterly.  “I had to ask them if they cared about my problems or not.”  After months of negotiation, the district authorities accepted her doctor’s recommendation to stay in Urumieh.  

“It was so difficult, but my teaching colleagues at least were supportive,” she said.  “They would help me with the paperwork and allow me to work as a substitute teacher.”  With the support of her colleagues she continued teaching until the statutory retirement age.

Faride’s voice speaks for the many silent women, who suffer from the consequences of chemical attacks and who feel ignored by society.

“Women need more support than men,” she said, “especially psychological support.”  Explaining that women are vulnerable to oppression and strict social expectations, Faride suggested that authorities need to find a way for such women to live comfortable and independent lives.

“Maybe the government can made some centres or facilities so that these women can live together in peace,” Faride explained.  “I’m not talking about a fancy, equipped centre.  Just somewhere safe.  Somewhere that is happy.”

Despite suffering from depression, Faride speaks out on her experiences in the hope that future generations will learn from the suffering of war and chemical weapons.

“I want to tell the people in government and politics to think about the consequences of their actions,” she said, “we need to live in a peaceful world.”

Today Faride continues to raise awareness about the atrocities of chemical weapons attacks.  And the strength of this diminutive woman – and the power of her voice – speaks out to us from her heart for a world free from chemical weapons.


Oral reflection by: Faride Shafa’i
Farsi to English translation by Elaheh Pooyandeh
Written by Elizabeth Lewis


All Rights Reserved


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Alireza Yazdanpanah




Ali Reza Yazdanpanah was 15 years old when he volunteered to join the front.  The year was 1987 and Iraq was at war with Iran.  But that single act of patriotism would change his life forever.

Ali Reza would serve at the front for only a few months and would witness bitter fighting at Khoramshahr and at Shalamcheh.  In Shalamcheh he would be gassed in a chemical weapons attack.  The effects of the mustard gas would forever shape his life.  

Now a volunteer at the Tehran Peace Museum, aged 42, Ali Reza invites visitors to look back on his war experiences.

YP1Many young men throughout history have answered the call to serve their country during times of conflict.  And like many others, Ali Reza was under-age when he served towards the end of the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted a full eight years.  It was through sheer grit and determination that he succeeded in joining up to defend his country.

“I was only seven when the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979,” said Ali Reza.  “The war started one year later in 1980 when Saddam’s army invaded Iran, and so, by 1987, we thought the war might be coming to an end.  I was worried that I would never get a chance to serve my country.”

The war with Iraq had been raging for seven years, and Ali Reza had watched friends and family members leave home to defend Iran.  It tore at the young man’s heart that he would miss the opportunity to fulfill what he considered his duty.  So he set out to join the volunteer soldier unit – the Basij.  But his father found out and – unexpectedly for Ali Reza – turned up at the training camp where Ali Reza had enrolled. The camp commander was informed that Ali Reza was far too young to fight and ought to be completing his school.  Ali Reza was asked to return home.  His first attempt to enlist was foiled.

Undeterred by this initial setback, Ali Reza then used more creative means of subterfuge to achieve his goal.  

“Anyone can forge an ID card,” smiled Ali Reza.  “Of course, the authorities can spot a fake easily, so I decided to present the correct papers.  My dad was a Gendarme who patrolled outlying areas.  I waited until he had gone off on duty, rushed up to my mum and breathlessly told her she had to sign some papers for school right away or I would get into serious trouble.  She signed the papers and I faked my dad’s signature.  It was as simple as that.  I was 15 years old.  I hadn’t even started to grow a beard!”

Coping with his family’s reaction proved much more difficult.  Although Ali Reza’s family was proud of their son, the fear of losing him drove his mother, he said, “to inconsolable tears”.  Ali Reza found it painful to watch the visible distress his mother felt at the possibility of losing her first-born son.  But it was his father’s angry words about his deception that swirled in his mind.  Refusing to say goodbye to his son as he marched off to war, Mr. Yazdanpanah said, “If anything happens to you, I won’t come for you.”

AYP2fter two months of basic training, the young Ali Reza found himself carrying wounded soldiers as a stretcher-bearer in the 90-man-strong 21st Corps of Imam Reza.  At the beginning of April 1987, his unit was involved in Operation 8th Karbala at Shalamcheh, which turned out to be one of the bloodiest battles of the war.  The intense fighting at Shallamcheh was exhausting and, around April 6th, the entire unit was sent to the port town of Khorramshahr to rest.  By a twist of fate, the gas attacks came down – shortly after lunch on April 10th – exactly on top of Khorramshahr.

It was a day, said Ali Reza, which he will never forget.

“All of a sudden, we heard the unmistakable sound of jet engines.  Some of us younger men ran outside and looked up to the sky.  There were more than ten Iraqi fighter jets circling up above us,” Ali Reza remembered.

In the confusion that followed this reconnaissance flight, some of the older veterans chastised the “young pups” for exposing themselves and giving away their location.  

Sure enough, within five minutes, five Iraqi jets returned and circled overhead.  Two flew off, and the three remaining jets flew low over the encampment.

“There was a deafening roar,” said Ali Reza, “and the ground began to shake.  The planes were flying so low over us that we could read all the markings on them.  We were unprepared for any attack, let alone a gas attack.  We were scared.”

Minutes later, the jets each dropped a bomb on what appeared to be random, non-strategic locations.  The bombs all landed with a dull thud.  There was none of the usual explosion with conventional bombs.  Hindsight would reveal to Ali Reza that chemical weapons do not contain an ordinary explosive detonator.  The gas simply leaks out and then comes a strange smell of garlic in the air.  There did not seem to be any massive damage to their surroundings.  This left the men of Imam Reza Corps confused and even more frightened.

“You know,” said Ali Reza, “we were all a little scared and shocked.  We really didn’t know what had just happened.  Some of us even made jokes about the pilots.  I mean what kind of idiot drops bombs without choosing a proper target?”

YP3Unaware of the extreme danger they were in, the men returned to work.  The communication lines had been damaged and wires were cut.  The repairs and the cleaning up process were a priority for the unit, and they went back to work completely unaware of how their lives were about to change – irreparably – and forever.

Within two hours, a medical team from Khorramshahr, aware of the chemical attack, arrived at the camp to evacuate the men to the nearest hospitals.  “We had no idea we were injured,” said Ali Reza unaware that he had been exposed to mustard gas.  “We were starting to feel strange.  Our skin and our eyes started to itch and burn.  We were coughing a little.  We figured we would just go along with these guys to the hospital, get some pills and all would be fine.”

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

As Ali Reza was moved from the military field hospital to the city hospital in Ahvaz, the effects of the mustard gas intensified.  The sensation of severe burning, the inability to breathe properly, burning eyes and vomiting took over.  

“It was when I was transferred to hospital, two hours after the attack that the effects of the chemical bomb started to show on my body,” recollected Ali Reza.  “My whole body was burning.  My face, my eyes all felt like they were on fire and even my voice had changed to a rough, rasping sound.  My throat and mouth were burning.  When I got to the hospital, the medics took off my clothes and burned them.  My body was washed with soap and water and I was taken to a hospital ward.”

The Iranian military had not expected such large-scale gas attacks and found themselves in an impossible situation.  Without the necessary medical support and infrastructure, the army and civilian doctors improvised to cope with this emergency.

Buses, with the seats removed, were used as large ambulances ferrying wounded soldiers to any available hospital.  Men were packed into military cargo planes and taken to Tehran.  In a mass humanitarian rallying of support for the gas victims, military personnel, civilian doctors, volunteers of the Iranian Red Crescent and ordinary people cooperated to help the sick and wounded.

“It was on the flight to Mehrabad in Tehran, “ said Ali Reza “that I just couldn’t stop vomiting.  The vomit was green and smelled of the fish I had eaten for lunch.  I was taken to a hospital in Tehran, but I don’t remember much.  I got off the bus at the hospital and fell to the ground.”

Ali Reza was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in the Loghmaniddoleh hospital.  He was to spend three months in this hospital, where he was treated for skin burns, incapacitated lungs and loss of vision.  During his stay here, Ali Reza was visited by a United Nations team of experts lead by Dr. Manuel Dominguez, involved in an investigation into Iraq’s then-alleged use of chemical weapons against Iran.  Part of the UN team’s mandate was to interview victims in order to ultimately prove the use of chemical weapons in the conflict.  Ali Reza is mentioned in the final report.

Before the attack, Ali Reza was an athletic young man, a keen football player and weighed a muscular 60 kilograms.  Within days of being gassed, the young soldier was reduced to 43 kilograms, struggling with a voice that had changed completely as he gasped for breath.  His skin, darkened by the gas, was covered in excruciatingly painful burns.  His vision had gone.

Taking pity on the young man, one of the nurses spoke to him about his family.  The nurse wanted his family to know what had happened to him and to come and see him.

Ali Reza remembered with a deep sense of gratitude this angel of mercy who helped reach out to his family.  “Nurse Maryam was very kind to me,” he said, “she asked for my parents’ telephone number.  I had to tell her that in my village there were no telephones.  She used her own money to send a telegraph to one of my relatives to tell them I had been injured in a chemical weapons attack and to please come and see me.”

Two days later, Ali Reza’s father and his uncle arrived in Tehran.  His father had no knowledge of chemical weapons and didn’t know what to expect.  Nurse Maryam led him into the Intensive Care Unit, where Ali Reza was lying covered in an oxygen tent, a burnt shadow of his former self.

“This is your son,” said the nurse.

Mr. Yazdanpanah took one look at Ali Reza and said, “That’s impossible.  This is not my son.”

“I heard my father’s voice,” Ali Reza said, “then I called his name.  I heard him fall to the floor and start to cry.”

YP4There followed months of hospitalization and treatment, which continues even to this day.  Ali Reza has endured four cornea transplants and is on the waiting list for a lung transplant.  Every day is a struggle with breathing.  Between the time of the attack and today, Ali Reza has spent twelve years living near the Caspian Sea where the climate was considered better for his health.  But this no longer helps him and he has to live somewhere with easier access to a well-equipped hospital in case of emergency.  So he has returned full time to Tehran.

Life for Ali Reza is centred around daily medication intake and reliance on oxygen concentrator machines.  He carries a portable oxygen maker and at night uses a BiPAP machine to prevent his lungs from collapsing while he sleeps.  For Ali Reza, there is never such a thing as a good night’s sleep.  

Although the scars from the burns have healed, Ali Reza has had to come to terms with deeper, emotional pain.  “At first, I thought I would return to my old self,” he said.  “But the days of being a strong young man disappeared the day of the gas attack.  Those days will never return and I have accepted that now.”

Life was, indeed, never the same.  Chronic illness and repeated hospitalization have prevented Ali Reza from being able to hold down a permanent job.  Because of the embarrassment of continuous coughing in classes, he was unable to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered to war veterans.

“I admit I was a bit of a lazy student,” he said, “but I really liked going to school.  The problem was that I was always coughing in class.  I couldn’t help it, and each coughing bout went on for a long time.  It disturbed the other students and they didn’t like it.  Once I was coughing so badly, I was sent away from school in an ambulance.”

YP5Without a job, Ali Reza sank into depression and loneliness.  His condition meant that he had to rely on family members to help him complete basic every day tasks.  “The pressures of being an invalid in the family made life difficult and distressing for everyone,” he recalled.  

“For a long time,” he said, “my mother had to wash me.  I felt so ashamed.”

Now, Ali Reza is a new man, full of confidence, restored dignity and with a purpose to live.  At the Tehran Peace Museum, he has found support for chemical weapons victims and made new friends.  He has travelled to Japan and visited Hiroshima and shared his story with others who have had similar experiences.

“My medical condition is a part of me now,” he explained, “it has shaped me to become who I am.  I am a poster for my country.  I want to show myself to the world, to show the effects of these horrible weapons.  It is my wish that this will stop people from fighting, stop people’s first instinct to reach for weapons.  It is my mission, until my last breath, to share my story and hope people will understand it is important to live a life of peace.”

Ali Reza is a man on a mission.  His mission is to contribute in some way to achieving peace in this world.


Oral reflection by: Alireza Yazdanpanah
Farsi to English translation by Elaheh Pooyandeh
Written by Elizabeth Lewis


All Rights Reserved

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The oral History of CW victims in Tehran Peace Museum website

From now on, you can read the memories of the victims of CW here. These victims share their experiences as a victim of CW after being exposed to CW. But they also have message for people around the world, which is Peace and Friendship. They wish a world of in which, nobody suffers from the use of a prohibited weapon.

The oral history of these victims is not only a first-hand source of understanding the inhuman characteristic of CW, violence of war and its consequences, but they also can help the interested people, researches and students in their researches.

You can send us your feedback and ask your questions from these victims through our email address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

A Brief History of Chemical Weapons


Although chemical weapons have been described in ancient historic texts, it was during the First World War from 1914-1918 that they were used deliberately in conflict.  At Ypres, in 1915, gas attacks took place in the trenches leading to many painful deaths and to horrendous casualties.  It was at the end of the Great War that politicians and international organizations collaborated to see an end to the use of such weapons in combat.

In 1925, the Geneva Protocol was signed under the auspices of the League of Nations.  This Protocol was a significant step forward in prohibiting the use of asphyxiating, poisonous and other gases as well as other bacteriological forms of warfare.  Over 130 countries, including Iran and Iraq, signed the Geneva Protocol.  Unfortunately, the protocol had a limited effect, as it did not prohibit the stockpiling of either chemical or biological weapons.

In World War II, there is evidence that both the Allies and the Axis powers possessed chemical weapons.  The war came to an end with the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.  In the post-war period, a number of countries have continued to stockpile chemical and biological weapons.

In Iran’ recent history, it was during the war with Iraq from 1980-1988, that military personnel and civilians alike were exposed to chemical weapons used by Iraqi forces.  Although the first gas attack was recorded in 1983, most attacks occurred during the last two years of the Iran-Iraq War.

According to a report by UNMOVIC, Iraq deployed almost 1,800 tonnes of mustard gas, 140 tonnes of tabun, and 600 tonnes of sarin.  Of the approximately one million people exposed to mustard gas, 100,000 required medical care and today 75,000 continue to be chronically ill.

In 1992, after 12 years of negotiations in the so-called “Disarming Conference”, participating states delegations finally agreed on the text for inclusion in the Convention of Chemical Weapons.  In 1993, more than 130 countries signed the convention, which finally came into force on April 29th, 1997.

Sadly, chemical weapons continue to be used and stockpiled today.  But, here at the Tehran Peace Museum, you will find committed peace activists campaigning for an end to chemical weapons.

Chemical Weapons Eyewitness Accounts

 Eyewitness Accounts

War-Veterans-2 Women-2

War Veterans


Professionals youth
Professionals Youth

Chemical Weapons Eyewitness Accounts (2)

 Eyewitness Accounts

War-Veterans Women

War Veterans




Professionals youth
Professionals Youth

Chemical Weapons Eyewitness Accounts (3)






Hamid Salehi





Professor Mahdi Balali-Mood 





 Ahmad Zangiabadi




Young Reporters at The TPM





 Ali  Asgaari





Hassan Hassan-Tabar





      Jahanshah Sadeqi





Hassan Hassani Saadi






Faride Shafe'i






 AliReza YazdanPanah

Ali Asgaari


Ali Asgaari


“In war, if a bullet hits you, it will either kill you or wound you.  The physical effects normally don’t last forever.  But the effects of chemical weapons cause problems for generations.  The world needs to know more about these weapons.”


Wounded in a chemical weapons attack in 1988 on Iran’s western front during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Ali Asgaari talks about his injuries, his medical treatment and the social stigma incurred by his wounds.


Ali Asgari1

  Ali Asgaari at the Tehran Peace Museum,

  April 2014

Driven by pride in his country and a sense of responsibility to his fellow Iranians, Ali Asgaari joined up as a volunteer soldier to fight in the Iran-Iraq War.  The year was 1983.  He was 17 years old.  After five years of loyal service, during which he received some brutal injuries, Ali had recovered and found himself in the mountainous region of Suleymania Province, south of Halabja, on Iran’s western border.


It was shortly after the Iranian New Year festival of Now Ruz, early in the morning on the 25th of March 1988.  It was the day Iraqi fighter jets dropped a mustard gas bomb within 10 metres of the position where he and his comrades were huddled.  It was a day Ali Asgaari will never forget.  


In less than two hours after the attack, Ali had been rushed to the decontamination zone at the Rajensi medical post.  With the exception of some slight burning on his skin, Ali was at this point still unaffected by the mustard gas.  When he saw the medical staff dressed in specialized suits and gas masks, he was amused by what he thought were strange and unnecessary outfits.


“We laughed at all those people,” Ali says, “to us they just looked crazy.  We shouted at them, ‘Look at us.  We just came from a chemical war zone.  We are all ok – see how we are dressed!’  We had no idea what had happened to us.”


It didn’t take long for the effects of the chemical weapons to start.  Severe vomiting, burning skin and blurred vision afflicted Ali, and he soon lost consciousness.  Suffering from third degree burns, Ali was again evacuated by air to the Feiz Hospital in Esfahan.


Ali Asgari 2
   Ali as young volunteer soldier

“The treatment at Feiz was crude and painful,” Ali remembers.  “The doctors gave us baths and scrubbed us with rough exfoliating gloves.  Then they cut off our blisters with a surgical knife.  It was absolute torture.  It has left me with terrible scars on my body.”


At this point, Ali’s family in Tehran took matters into their own hands.  Ali’s brother hired a private ambulance and drove to Esfahan to collect Ali and bring him back to Tehran.


“My brother had no clear plan,” Ali says, “we arrived at Tehran’sLabbafiNejad hospital in the early hours of the morning without any referral papers… nothing.  But my brother begged the doctors to admit me and they did.”


In Tehran, Ali underwent two months of concentrated treatment for his burns.  Daily baths in sterilized water and antiseptic followed by careful application of silver sulfadiazine burn-ointment soon helped Ali’s skin to improve.  To maintain privacy, female nurses were not permitted to assist the soldiers in this process and Ali’s his childhood friends came from his village to help him.


One later bout of septicemia resulted in him being placed in an isolation room.  Even as he describes the torturous treatment, Ali manages to maintain his insuppressiblesense of humour.


Ali Asgari3
   Ali (bottom row, second from left) with comrades

“I was in the isolation room covered in a plastic tent,” Ali laughs, “when my family came to see me they had to look at me through a window.  I felt like a fish in an aquarium!”


Ali’s hands were severely burned and the debridement – the surgical removal of dead or damaged skin – and initial treatment was excruciatingly painful for him.


“My hands were in a really bad state,” he recalls with what seems like a misplaced grin, “and the treatment was excruciating.  There was this big, tough nurse helping me and I begged her to stop.  I am ashamed to say I even cursed in front of her.  She told me that if she stopped the doctors would have to amputate my hands.  I told her to cut off my hands.  You know what she did?  She got the doctors to send for my father to lay down the law!”

ali asgari 4

Map of Suleymania Province, courtesy of Google Maps.  The red dot marks where the chemical

bomb was dropped near Ali.

There followed two years of complex skin-grafting procedures and plastic surgery to heal Ali’s hands.


“The doctors grafted skin from my leg,” says Ali, “and stitched this skin onto the wounds on my hands, covering them with layers of dressings.  It was complicated and very painful.  I couldn’t bend or stretch my hands or fingers.  For a long time, my hands were in splints.  My hands felt like large pieces of leather.”


Describing the discomfort of his wounds Ali tells us how difficult life was for the first few years after the chemical attack.


ali asgari 5
   Ali (right) with comrades in Suleymania Province

“I hardly ever left the house,” Ali recalls, “and sat in front of the air conditioner in nothing but my underwear.  Clothes would cause my skin to itch and I would scratch and cause more scarring.  For the first six months of being at home, I couldn’t use my hands for risk of infection.  I had to get help to go to the bathroom.  It was so embarrassing.  No grown man should have to do that.”


In the immediate aftermath of the chemical attacks, doctors focused almost exclusively on Ali’s burns and the damage to his lungs and eyes were left largely ignored.


Ali has severe breathing problems and any kind of physical exertion is difficult.  A walk of more than 100 metres exhausts him and he has a constant heavy cough.


“I cough all the time,” Ali says, “and I have trouble with a lot of phlegm.  I have to cough it up all the time.  It is most unpleasant, especially for people around me.  But my eyes have given me more trouble than my lungs.”


Ali suffered from typical temporary blindness after the attacks, but it was only after he was discharged from hospital after his skin treatment that Ali and the doctors noticed that the sclera – the white part of the eye – began to change colour to yellow and grey.  His eyes were red and inflamed and he began to feel pain and burning.


ali asgari 6
  Ali being treated for chemical weapons burns, 1988

Ali visited a number of ophthalmologists in the years following the gas attacks, but none of them made any connections between his eye problems and the mustard gas.  It was not, in fact, until 1992, when Ali enrolled in the ShahidBeheshti University in Tehran to study economics that his eye problems worsened considerably and he was introduced to a doctor who understood the consequences of chemical weapons on the eye.


“I finally found the doctor I really needed in Professor Mohammad Ali Javadi,” Ali says with a great sense of pride.  “Professor Javadi treated me for two years and operated on my eyes to cauterize the tear ducts to keep the water inside my eyes. It helped a little, but I still had problems.”


Professor Javadifinally recommended Alito go and see Dr. KhosroJadidi, the pioneering eye surgeon who had already carried out stem cell transplants on many chemical weapons survivors.  In the year 2000, Ali underwent stem cell surgery to improve his vision.


“Dr. Jadidi took some healthy conjunctiva tissue from my brother’s eye,” Ali says, “and transplanted it into my eyes.  For gas attack victims, stem cells do not function properly and so they cannot regenerate.  For my brother, it was no problem at all.”


The success of the stem cell surgery meant that Ali could become a candidate for corneal transplants.  He has already had one successful cornea transplant on his left eye and is on the waiting list for a cornea transplant to his right eye.


While Ali continues to struggle with lung and eye problems, he relates that one of the most difficult challenges for recovering chemical weapons victims is the social stigma brought about by public ignorance of their injuries.


“Not everyone looks at you and sees a war hero,” says Ali.


With shoulders drooped and a sense of despondency, Ali continues to relate the perspectives of soldiers wounded on active duty by mustard gas.


ali asgari 7
  Ali being treated with silver sulfadiazine burn ointment,
  April 1988

“I cough a lot because of my lung injures,” says Ali, “and so it is really difficult to be in public places like cinemas or theatres or at speeches.  Once I start to cough, it is difficult to stop and people in public have no patience for it.  People are disgusted by my need to spit up phlegm and ask me to leave.  It is embarrassing for me, and of course for my wife and family.”


Ali’s constant train-like coughing was one of the reasons he dropped out of university.  


“The other students in the classhad no patience with my coughing,” Ali recalls.  “It was especially difficult in the wintertime.  My chest would hurt and I would need to cough.  Usually, I had to get up and leave the class.”


So, reluctantly, Ali left university.  He then found a job at the Ministry of Economy, but the daily drive to work by motorbike and the city’s pollution caused more problems for his already overstrained eyes.  Pain and headaches would mean that on his return home from work each day, Ali would have to lie down in a dark room for several hours to relieve the stress.


Ali’s discoloured and scarred skin has also caused him much public humiliation.


“I have friends,” he says, “and members of my own family who won’t even shake my hand.  They are repulsed by my injuries.  People don’t understand what I’ve been through.  I once drank from a public water fountain.  I washed the cup and put it back, but the person next to me looked disgusted and refused to drink from the same glass.”


Ali explains that the public does not know what has happened to chemical weapons survivors, which results in little or no sympathy and disappointing prejudice.


“I have had to learn to cope with my appearance,” Ali says, “but the problem is how do I communicate with people about the way I look.  When I was going through my skin-grafting treatment my hands were in splints.  I got into a taxi and the woman next to me asked what had happened to my hands.  I told her a dog bit me!  How could I explain to her everything that had happened to me?”


ali asgari 8
  Ali shows the burns to his skin, April 1988

The holy month of Ramazan is a particularly difficult time for all chemical weapons victims.  Unable to fast due to their physical condition and the need to take constant medication, many survivors facethe unkind judgmental behavior of others, causing severe embarrassment and a loss of self-respect.


“Once, during Ramazan,” remembers Ali, “I was visiting a graveyard and began to feel ill.  I needed to drink some water, so went off somewhere discreet where I thought I wouldn’t be seen.  The mother of one of the soldiers killed in action saw me.  She was very angry and began to curse me for not fasting during Ramazan when all these other men had died for my freedom.  It was a very troubling experience.”

Ali now feels it is his responsibility to raise awareness about the medical treatment for chemical weapons victims.  Having suffered terribly and undergone extensive medical treatment himself, he is passionate about the need to share information about the treatment of gas attack survivors with the medical community at large.


“Survivors can’t just see a normal doctor when they get sick,” Ali explains.  “We have to see specialists for our lung, our eyes, and our skin.  If we go to an ordinary doctor when we have a cold or another illness, they do not understand our war injuries.  It is not that they are bad doctors.  Not at all!  Their lack of awareness of the needs of chemical weapons survivors causes them to prescribe the wrong medication and treatment.”


Finding the correct medication is a serious problem for chemical weapons survivors in Iran.  The UN Security Council Resolution 1696 has imposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy.  For chemical weapons survivors this means the inability to access necessary medication and equipment and when medicine is available, the price is often prohibitive.


“Some of our medication is manufactured in Iran,” Ali says, “but a lot of it is imported and because of the sanctions it is difficult to find and, of course, it is expensive.”


Ali is also convinced that not enough credence is given to the role of traditional medicine in helping survivors.  He feels that doctors should take herbal medicines into account when treating the whole patient, not just the symptoms of their injuries.


ali asgari 9
 Ali at Hiroshima Memorial Park in August 2014

“The whole body needs to be treated,” says Ali, “not just one part.  Everyone is unique and needs their particular prescription to suit their specific needs.  Traditional medicine practitioners look at a person’s whole body and treat the problem accordingly.  More people should adopt this approach.”


While Ali wishes to share his story with people outside of Iran to aid understanding of the plight of chemical weapons victims, he also stresses the need for Iranians to share their vast medical expertise with others.


“I think it is important,” Ali says, “that we in Iran share the medical knowledge and experience we have gained from treating gas attack victims.  We can share our understanding with other countries so that they can help to save the lives of other people too, no matter what country they live in.”


Ali ends his interview with a strong message.


“I want doctors and the medical community to understand that when you see a chemical weapons victim, you need a holistic approach to solving their medical problems.  It is not enough to just look at one organ in the body.  Doctors must heal the whole body, because after exposure to mustard gas, the whole body is damaged.”


Oral reflection by: Ali Asgaari
Farsi to English translation by Elaheh Pooyandeh
Written by Elizabeth Lewis


All Rights Reserved


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Young Reporters at The Tehran Peace Museum


Young Reporters at The Tehran Peace Museum


The Tehran Peace Museum’s new Young Reporters project brings the city’s teenagers to ask questions about war and chemical weapons, and also to write about peace.


With Iran’s school children getting a full three months for their summer vacation, many parents struggle to find things to keep their young people busy.  Part of the answer may be found in what a group of young teenagers from eight of Tehran’s public schools may have the answer.



  Young Reporters Group at Tehran Peace Museum. Standing

  (from left):Ms. Saidian, Ms. Gilani, Ali, Aryan, Ali Khateri,

  Ms Rashid (Saghar's mother), Ms. Babai.  Kneeling (from left):

  Mohammad Mahdi, Ms Pooyandeh, Saghar, Zahra, Yas

At the beginning of the summer holidays, the Tehran Peace Museum, in association with a number of teachers from local schools, began a pilot project called Young Reporters.


The main objective of the project is to encourage Iran’s younger generation to discover their history through interviewing those veterans who served in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) – some of whom were victims of chemical weapons attacks.


Ms. Kuniko Yamamura Babaei, supervisor of the museum’s Iran-Japan Cultural Exchange Project, initiated the idea for the youth programme following a similar example she witnessed at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.


“If it is only the old people who talk about their own stories,” says Ms. Babaei, “this will never be the answer for the younger generation.  They have their own questions to ask.  We can help young people to understand about peace by teaching them about war.”



  “We can help young

 people to understand

 about peace by teaching  

 them about war.”

As a result of the collaboration, a group of students have become actively involved in in the work of the Tehran Peace Museum and are interacting with the museum’s extended community of friends.


Overcoming stereotypical perceptions of how war veterans are perceived was the first step in “humanizing” this brutal and “imposed” war.


“Before I came to the museum,” says a young Mohammad Mahdi, “I had always thought that all war veterans were very religious – stern– unhappy people.  I got this image from watching movies and from what adults I know used to tell me.  But when I met the survivors, they were really friendly and laugh and joke just like ordinary people.  I now share their stories with my own family.”


The young students spend their time voluntarily at the museum and interview chemical weapons survivors from the war period.  They learn about the medical consequences of the attacks and become much more knowledgeable about the horrors of chemical weapons.  They report on the survivors’ dedication to creating a culture of positive peace.


 Young Reporters inspired by Mahatma Gandhi

“After I visited to the museum and after I met the guides,” says Aryan, “I think I really came to understand what the consequences of chemical weapons were and why these weapons should be forbidden.  I came to feel powerfully that it has to be a crime to use them.”


For the chemical weapons survivors it has also been a challenging project, which has brought them into greater contact with the youth of today.


 Hassan HassanSa’di, a war veteran who was the victim of a chemical weapons attack near Faw in 1986, is now a volunteer guide at the museum and an eager peace activist.


“You know, the young people ask us really difficult questions,” says Hassan, “things we had never really thought about before.  But we respect their perspectives and we have to think about what is important for them to know.”


“The young people change a lot after coming to the museum,” continues Hassan, “they are frightened of us at first.  But they soon overcome this and find out that we are friendly, after all.  They also realize we are a first hand source for vital information about chemical weapons.”


The students all agree that their perception of war and the veterans has changed entirely though spending time at the museum and their eager faces reflect a determination to share ideas about peace.


“After my first day here,” says Yas, “I explained everything to my parents.  We talked about war and how the absence of war is the first step to peace.”


As well as learning to become volunteer guides, the students have made video presentations about the museum and plan to write information leaflets specifically targeted towards the younger generation.  Following the Learning-by-Doing method of understanding, the students are implementing quizzes for young visitors to learn about peace.


  Young Reporters and chemical weapons survivors
  at entrance to the Tehran Peace Museum

“When you spend time here at the Tehran Peace Museum,” says 16 year old Ali Khateri, “you start not liking the images of war.  You learn that people here – those who have actually lived through war – are more interested in the concept of peace.”


The Young Reporters are an enthusiastic group of young people, keen to get involved and share their ideas about peace with others.  The project, although only in its early days of existence, has proved to be successful in raising awareness against weapons of mass destruction and listening to the young voices of peace.


Farsi to English translation by Elaheh Pooyandeh
Written by Elizabeth Lewis

All Rights Reserved


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