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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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


balali1

  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.”

 

balali2

  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.

 

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  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.”

 

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  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.  

 

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  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)


1965-2014

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  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.”

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   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.”

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   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.

 

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  Ahmad guiding school children around the Tehran Peace

  Museum, June 2012. (Photo courtesy of Tehran Peace

  Museum)

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.

 

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  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.

 

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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

 

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.

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