As I’m sipping on my cold and fresh infusion surrounded by splendour and beauty in one of my favourite cafes in Tehran, I’m listening to Mohammad talk about the case of world war 3 if Trump is to be the next American president. He seems to have a point. There’s already a huge war going on in the Middle East, the world powers don’t seem to be getting along and Trump is crazy enough to do just about anything.
In a different time, and a different location, I’m standing only a few meters away from the Iraqi border. There’s no one at sight but me and 4 other friends with whom I’ve made sure to dedicate a time of our trip to this side of Khuzestan.
We’re in Shalamche، the closest border to Iraq’s Basra, which was one of the most influential cities during the war. The sky is clear and a blanket of silence has covered the whole field. Thousands lost their lives here and some of the most important missions took place right at this border. Broken cars, tanks, and sand bags attest vigorous and merciless days when flames and smoke covered today’s blue sky and nightmarish sounds of shootings and bombs drowned the cries of dying soldiers.
Right where I’m standing could be where someone took his last breath or shared his last words with a friend. And watching an old man and woman walk up to the memorial testifies that they’ve lost a son here and probably never found the body again.
For someone who was born after the war, it’s not that easy to really comprehend things at full. What I got was a pile of films and stories of war from my parents from the days when Tehran was being bombed. How my aunt went into labour at night and they had to take her to the hospital in absolute darkness with the fear that the smallest light would raise the chance of a bomb coming their way or how all the neighbours would come over to grandma’s basement to take shelter because it was easier for them to be together rather than alone. That was really it. There were books and school which obviously always emphasized on anything war-related. But I had always thought there’s only a thin line between actual facts and propaganda. And I knew I was being exploited to both. So I had to see things for myself.
That’s why we’re here. We have driven the extra mile so we could get a closer sense of everything. So we can understand things a little better and hopefully be grateful for what we have. I cannot deny the contradictions that pass through my mind. I’m standing on sand hills, watching the Iraqi flag sway in the wind behind the fences and contemplating over what’s currently happening on the other side. These people living on the other side of this fence don’t even look that different to us. If it weren’t for our different languages, it would be really hard to distinguish us from one another. We seem to be getting along just fine, so what had us ripping each others’ throats back then? Where were all the international communities when Iraq invaded Iran without formal warning and used chemical weapons? Where was the United Nations to pass sanctions when the world backed Saddam in everything he did and then threw him away when he was a lost cause?
The war is a dark spot in the mind of us Iranians. Even those of us who never really saw it. Knowing that the world turned its back on us while the West and many Arab countries helped Saddam with loans and equipments, makes us furious. What’s worse, is that nothing has changed!! International conventions and rules are lame jokes that apply to those who are not on your side. No matter how much they support terrorism. Because in the end, it’s the media that really decides who’s the victim.
Us tracing the war in Khuzestan didn’t end here. It’s hard to travel around the province and not witness the war. It’s well alive and visible. Khuzestan hasn’t even changed that much. The locals feel betrayed as they’ve been the ones fighting in the front line but getting the least attention after the war. They sure have a good reason. Walking around Khorramshahr which was captured by Iraq for almost 2 years feels like the war only ended yesterday. We had seen pictures of Khorramshahr in ruins, palm trees on fire and heard the sound of that guy on the radio when he announces the liberation of Khorramshahr. But for a city that gained mythical status amongst the Iranian population after the war, this didn’t seem like the state it should be in after 28 years.
Nothing came out of 8 years of war between Iran and Iraq. Almost a million died. Despite the invasion, Iran got back all the land that was lost. There was no change in borders. No compensation either. What remains are those still in bed after almost 28 years. Others with oxygen masks and a ton of other health problems caused by the use of mustard gas. Bodies that are still to be found and stories that seem to unveil year by year. Children raised without fathers, mothers who still wait for someone to knock on the door and tell them they’ve found what’s left of their sons and yet things continue like always. This time not in this land and not on this side of the border. But somewhere else, everything is repeating itself.
Our whole trip around war torn Khuzestan caused a lot of thinking and I found myself a lot more interested to do further reading on the subject. But despite everything, when I stood on that sand hill watching over the fences, I was grateful for one thing and one thing only. Iran is not all roses. There’s beauty, glory and a lot of other stuff but at times things are messed up. But for a country situated in a war zone and surrounded by groups that want our heads chopped in the first chance they get, us young girls standing alone only a few meters away from the border is something. I give great credit to the men and women who ensure our safety and make Iran one of the safest countries in the world. And I salut to all the men who gave their lives so I could stand on this part of land and still call it home.
- Direct trains from Tehran to Khorramshahr run regularly.
- For visiting Shalamche we hired a driver and I believe there’s no other way.
- There’s no restriction in visiting Shalamche. No specific dress-code or anything, but you’d want to be obviously respectful in a place where thousands were murdered.