Mohammad Rezaei

Mohammad Rezaei: His Journey from War to Mayors for Peace

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Mohammad in Taleeie Front, May 1982

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Mohammad (in right) and his comrade, 1984

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Mohammad among friends in Tehran Clinic after exposure

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Mohammad in sitting volleyball team of Mahallat, 1996

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Written by Elizabeth Lewis

 

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