The phrase “Happily ever after” is often berated or sadly missed as the naive “fairy-tale ending” – often by adults unhappy with the ending they have settled upon.
As a parent I understand that “They lived happily ever after” is simply grown-up speech for, “The story’s over. Go to sleep.”
I received this by email from some of my Iranian friends and thought I would share it here. You can view the article with full links here: http://www.merip.org/blisters-sanction
by Shahriar Khateri , Narges Bajoghli | published November 25, 2012 – 1:03pm
Shahriar Khateri is an Iranian veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. Exposed to chemical warfare agents during the fighting, Khateri became a doctor at war’s end, and since 1997 he has been involved in caring for chemical weapons survivors. He now heads the only non-governmental organization in Iran that advocates effectively on behalf of survivors of chemical warfare from Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. He is also one of the founders of the Tehran Peace Museum. This article is written in his voice.
Narges Bajoghli is a Ph.D. student in anthropology at New York University. She is director of the documentary film, The Skin That Burns (2012), about survivors of chemical warfare in Iran. She has been researching the topic for eight years.
It was February 1987, at the front lines near Khorramshahr, in the south of Iran along the Iraqi border. We had been engaged in heavy battles for over a week. Our troops had penetrated fortified Iraqi positions, and the Iraqis were making us pay: Artillery and mortar shells rained down on us with a vengeance, as did bombs from Iraqi planes.
It was hell. Dead bodies, both Iranian and Iraqi, were scattered across the field. The bodies were strewn like broken dolls over the war-ravaged landscape, resting on their sides, with limbs folded in awkward positions and heads blown off. The faces were frozen in expressions of fear, of pain — and, at times, of relief. The smell of blood and sweat was overwhelming. It’s a smell that has never left me after all these years…it has permeated me through my pores.
I was scared, but still proud of myself for managing to join the army as a volunteer at the age of 15. I felt brave and strong.
But in the midst of all that death, I thought of my mother, knowing how much she must be worrying. My brother, after recovering from his chemical burns, had returned to the war front, only to be killed months afterward. My mother was never able to bury him and find comfort in mourning at his grave. His body is missing to this day.
She begged me not to go to the front. “It’s enough that I’ve lost one son,” she cried. But I didn’t listen, wanting to follow in the footsteps of my hero brother. On that day in 1987, I was sure she was listening to news of the offensive and crying again, not knowing if her sole remaining son was alive or dead.
“Gas! Gas!” Soldiers began screaming in terror. I saw the ominous cloud drifting toward our trenches and my nostrils immediately caught its strange odor.
Our commanders shouted: “Put on your gas masks. Be quick!” I donned my gas mask that very second and ran with the other soldiers in the opposite direction from the approaching poisonous vapor. It was difficult to breathe while running with the mask on. I felt that I might suffocate, but the other soldiers pushed me along. We were lucky — the wind changed direction and blew the gas cloud away from us. Looking back on it now, I know what a big miracle that was. We would have lost many more comrades if the wind hadn’t changed direction.
A few in our battalion were positioned exactly in the middle of the gas attack zone. I tried to return to the site to help them, but my commanders would not allow it. I removed my gas mask and felt my eyes burning for the first time. Around me, others were coughing violently and some fainted. I overheard on an officer’s radio that we had sustained heavy casualties: The gas killed many instantaneously. Others had critical injuries.
Well into the night, I received pieces of bad news: Some of my closest buddies had been killed in the attack. I started weeping but had to suppress the tears. My eyes were burning. I tried to scream, but it was too difficult to breathe.
My lungs were on fire from the gas.
Starting in 1981, and picking up steam a couple years later, Iraq fired countless chemical warheads at Iranian soldiers and at people in Iraqi Kurdish towns, as part of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Today, 24 years on, Iran is home to the world’s largest population of chemical weapons survivors, a significant proportion of whom are chronically ill.
The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war was the longest conventional war of the twentieth century and one of the bloodiest. For the first time since World War I, armies slugged it out in trenches. There were more than a million casualties, combining those on both sides.
Iraqi troops carried out the first extensive chemical attack on Iran in March 1981, with shells containing tons of sulfur mustard and nerve agents. Later, with the help of West Germany, Iraq began to manufacture mustard gas and nerve agents in large amounts. Following several requests from the Iranian government, the “international community” sent three official investigative teams to Iran starting in March 1984, but only after helicopters built by the Germans, Soviets and French had dumped still more tons of poison on Iranian soil.
In March 1984, the UN secretary-general, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, ordered an investigation that exposed Iraq as a violator of the 1925 Geneva Protocol outlawing the use of poisonous gas in wars. Member states ignored the finding. Two more official investigations took place: one in February-March 1986 and another in April 1987. Again, the international community disregarded the results.
Companies from Great Britain, France, West Germany, Spain, the United States, India, Egypt and other countries were involved in selling and providing material to Iraq for the chemical weapons. To date, no company has been prosecuted for its involvement in this trade.
Chemical attacks on residential areas occurred more than 30 times in Iran, as well as in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja, where more than 5,000 civilians were killed.
Various chemical agents were used on soldiers and civilians across the span of seven years. Most nerve agents have fatal consequences for human beings and cause damage to the environment as well. Due to the effects of mustard gas on DNA, survivors face long-term afflictions of the respiratory organs, eyes and skin. Chronic lung, eye and skin ailments are common among those exposed. There can also be further complications, such as cancers and immune system, psychological and genetic disorders. The severity of these conditions depends on the route and duration of exposure, as well as the individual’s powers of bodily resistance. Each year, more and more of the chemically wounded die, their lungs finally collapsing after years of excruciating labored breathing and coughing.
To compound this situation, there is very little medical knowledge about how to treat victims of chemical warfare (or, for that matter, of depleted uranium).
It is October 2012 at Tehran’s Medical Research Center for Veterans, where I work. There is a light rain. I am in the office working on a report about the health effects of mustard gas, which I am to present at a conference the next week in Europe. My cell phone rings and I see an unfamiliar number on the screen.
A man with a hoarse voice asks for me.
He introduces himself and I am shocked. It is Ali, one of the survivors of the chemical gas attack on that fateful day in 1987. He and I were soldiers in the same platoon. I remember him being badly injured. We had remained in contact for some time, but I had lost touch with him many years ago.
“We need your help, doctor,” he rasps over the phone. “You remember how my eyes were damaged by mustard gas in that attack? I’ve had several surgeries, including a cornea transplant. My doctor has prescribed special medication to prevent rejection of the transplant. But the medicine is no longer available in the drug stores and my doctor says that I’ll go blind unless I can get my hands on that medicine soon. And do you remember our commander, Reza, who was hospitalized for two months after the gas attack?”
“Of course I remember him. I know he suffered from serious lung damage. What’s happened to him?” I ask.
“He has to use oxygen daily and several inhalers to survive, but the main inhaler that helps him breath is from the same company that makes my medicine. The pharmacies have said that they no longer have these foreign-produced medications, because the sanctions restrict them from being imported to Iran. We thought of you, doctor, and were hoping you could find a way for us to get the medicine we need.”
My heart breaks as he speaks in his tired voice.
“I will do my best, Ali,” I muster. “I promise to find the medications and send them to you. You will get better soon. Say hello to Reza.” I quickly hang up the phone.
I feel ashamed because I know I cannot help them. It is not only Reza and Ali whose lives are in danger because of the shortage of medicine in Iran now; there are many thousands of survivors of chemical weapons, both civilians and veterans, who have the same problems.
And, as a physician, I know that it is not only survivors of chemical warfare in Iran who face these difficulties, but patients suffering from cancer and other terminal diseases as well. Their medicines are no longer available due to the sanctions. The sanctions themselves do not prohibit importation of medicine, but the reality is that Iranian pharmaceutical companies and the Health Ministry cannot purchase it because of strict restrictions on Iran’s Central Bank and the fact that SWIFT, the body that handles global banking transactions, has cut Iranian banks out of its system. Even those Iranian companies that have, so far, managed to circumvent the sanctions by transferring money via a middleman bank are now finding that most of their orders are rejected.
My mind goes to the US presidential debates in the preceding weeks. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney were in a race to promise the most “crippling” sanctions on Iran. And all I wish to do is to ask them: Maybe the “international community” has said it is “legal” to cripple a population to this extent. But is it moral? Is it right?
And it really is never too late, to post this one. I did the photography February this year. It was a great filmmaking collaboration with Nana D (also vocalist on the track). On set Nana is a regular trooper, flipping from directing to performing with ease, all while battling chicken pox.
We shot on Canon E0S 600D using vintage Canon FD lenses, a Samyang 8mm and a Nissan Micra as a dolly.
We had a great time shooting and editing this video, with Nana doing the lion’s share of the edit (barring my strongly opinionated interventions) and me handling the grade.
I’d urge anybody who can to take the time to read through this article:
Really enjoyed working with Nana D to grade his video. There were some challenges working with 5D h264 footage and matching the locations (shot in Spain and Norbury South London would you believe), especially since I was limited to working evenings on this personal project.
Anyway here’s the link: Enjoy
I will be doing some more work with Nana in 2012 so watch out!
It is perceived as a truism that 9/11 changed the world. Yet while the savagery and shock value of those attacks cannot be denied it is worth asking whether the world, or to be more precise, US/NATO foreign policy changed as a result of the attacks.
Such a question is not only worthwhile, it is perhaps urgent, especially as we are still embroiled in two wars: Iraq and Afghanisthan which are commonly justified in light of the 9/11 attacks. Indeed Noah Feldman in a 2003 Ted talk stated, “No-9/11, no war in Iraq”.
It might therefore be useful to examine the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan prior to 9/11.
Between the first Gulf War in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 Iraq was held under sanctions and the enforcement of No-Fly-Zones involved the regular bombing by Britain, the US and France (France withdrew support after the extension of the No-Fly-Zones beyond their original remit) of Iraqi military and infrastructure. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/events/crisis_in_the_gulf/forces_and_firepower/244364.stm
Far more deadly were the sanctions which led the United Nation Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq to resign his post in 1998 with the subsequent explanation:
“ I often have to explain why I resigned from the United Nations after a 30 year career, why I took on the all powerful states of the UN Security Council; and why after five years I continue to serve the well being of the people of Iraq. In reality there was no choice, and there remains no choice. You all would have done the same had you been occupying my seat as head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq.
I was driven to resignation because I refused to continue to take Security Council orders, the same Security Council that had imposed and sustained genocidal sanctions on the innocent of Iraq. I did not want to be complicit. I wanted to be free to speak out publicly about this crime.
And above all, my innate sense of justice was and still is outraged by the violence that UN sanctions have brought upon, and continues to bring upon, the lives of children, families – the extended families, the loved ones of Iraq. There is no justification for killing the young people of Iraq, not the aged, not the sick, not the rich, not the poor.
Some will tell you that the leadership is punishing the Iraqi people. That is not my perception, or experience from living in Baghdad. And were that to be the case – how can that possibly justify further punishment, in fact collective punishment, by the United Nations? I don’t think so. And international law has no provision for the disproportionate and murderous consequences of the ongoing UN embargo – for well over 12 long years.
A Unicef from the period of the “Oil for Food” program showed a doubling of the child mortality rate (http://www.casi.org.uk/info/unicef/990816qa.html)
Even if one dismisses Denis Halliday’s statement as “melodramatic” (I do not) and blames deaths from sanctions on Saddam Hussein (Saddam is responsible for his own actions, we are responsible for ours,and the sanctions were our decisions, not Saddam’s), a situation of siege in the Medieval sense of cutting of external supplies as well as a continued bombing campaign can hardly be defined as “peace”.
To put it another way, were a foreign power preventing the delivery of food and medicines to the UK or United States while simultaneously bombing air-defence and aircraft in those nation’s own airspace how would we define it? As peace or as war?
At one of the 2003 protests against the invasion of Iraq I remember being struck by the fact that even the protesters were speaking of an imminent war rather than the escalation of a conflict which had been going on for more than a decade.
For many it is seen as George W Bush’s war, but much of the early stages of the conflict were carried out under Bill Clinton. There are parallels with “Bush’s” Missile Defence policy, which actually shows examples of ongoing research from 1977. Essentially Saddam was defanged before being overthrown.
Afghanistan has also had the misfortune of ongoing warfare and interference by the Superpowers. In August 1979 the State Department “the United States’ larger interest…would be served by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan.” In 1980 the Soviets invaded and began, as former CIA veteran describes it, “their Vietnam”: of course it was the Afghans’ Vietnam too.
First the Mujaheddin against the Soviets backed by both Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan. John K. Cooley’s book “Unholy Wars: Afghanisthan, America and International Terrorism” gives a pretty detailed account of some of these activities which are also mentioned here: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1093
I remember clearly first reading of the Taliban in The Guardian during the 1990’s. As someone of Iranian origin I was shocked by the thought of a regime so oppressive that it drove millions to flee into Iran for sanctuary.
In the early 1998 the Taliban were negotiating with US firms while fighting a civil war http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/west_asia/37021.stm
1990’s Clinton was bombing Afghanisthan (and Sudan) with Cruise missiles, but the public was more interested in where he put his cigars. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/155252.stm
Clinton declared his War on Terrorism http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1998/aug/29/alqaida.terrorism?INTCMP=SRCH
As with Iraq, sanctions were enforced, though the country was by this time so poor there was little they could have afforded to buy anyway: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2000/dec/22/unitednations?INTCMP=SRC
Early in 2001 the Taliban and Northern Alliance prepared for renewed conflict (at that time backed by Iran and Russia): http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/apr/02/worlddispatch.lukeharding?INTCMP=SRCH
Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and of the foundersfounders of the medical charity Emergency (working in Afghanisthan from the 1990’s) wrote his thoughts from the days immediately following September the 11th 2001:
‘When CNN, at midnight Italian time, airs nighttime BAGLIORI from the sky of Kabul, the TV journalist asks live, “Has the American response already begun?”
For more than twenty years there have been explosions nearly every night in Kabul, but he ignores this because CNN never showed them to him.
In twenty years, nearly two-million Afghans were able to quietly die from bombs or mines, from cold or famine. Two-million dead are a minor detail which can be ignored by CNN, for many years they have not been worth media coverage. This time however, they are interested in what happens in Afghanisthan.”
With the official war in its tenth year in Afghanisthan, and the official war in Iraq having passed its eighth, and with unofficial, undeclared, and to the majority of our press uninteresting wars being fought across the globe, isn’t it time to stop repeating the same myth about the world changing after 9/11?
Notes: While researching for this piece I found that Kate Hudson of CND had written a similar piece which can be viewed here: http://www.cnduk.org/media/item/1258-did-9-11-change-the-world?
The postscript to Gil Scott Heron’s “Me and the Devil” is as poignant an epigram as he could ever need:
Standing in the ruins of another black mans life
Or flying through the valley
Separating day and night
I am am Death,
Cried the Vulture,
For the people of the light
Caron brought his raft
From the sea that sails on souls
And I saw the scavenger departing
Taking warm hearts to the cold
He knew the ghetto was a haven
For the meanest creature ever known
In a wilderness of heart break
In a desert of despair
Evil’s clarion of justice
Shrieks a cry of naked terror
Taking babies from their mamas
Leaving grief beyond compare
So if you see the vulture coming
Flying circles in your mind
Remember their is no escaping
For he will follow close behind
Only promise me a battle
For your soul and mind
Savorengo Ker, which means “the house of all” in Romanes, is an experimental housing project which took place in the Roma Gypsy camp Casilino 900 in Rome. It is the story of a simple and brave idea which became the symbol of emancipation for a marginalized community. The project was hosted at the Venice Architecture Biennale and was visited by Members of the European Parliament, reviewed by the international press and debated in academic centres around the world. But in Rome, where the house was built and presented, it met only hostility and unnecessary controversy. Now that house is no more.
This is part 1 of my 2005 short film “Amore e Credito” it was shot on the Z1 when that was the “hot” indy camera (yes that’s unbelievable to hear nowadays, but really the HDV seemed really exciting back then).
By the way there are English subtitles available if you don’t speak Italian – just click on the little triangle on the right hand side of the viewer.
I really appreciate youtube comments – criticism, praise or just queries/debate.