Journey to Iran -- Peace Pigramage Update
REPORT: July 26, 2007
Sorry it's been a few days since our last report, but sometimes it's hard to get to an Internet cafe or phone that takes our calling cards when you're on the road.
Yesterday we were in Isfahan, surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world. One and a half million trees for one and a half million people, a lovely river that runs through the center of town with picturesque bridges, endless parks and the stunningly beautiful Iman Square, the second largest such public space in the world.
It was also in Isfahan that we had perhaps our most significant meeting to date, with three veterans of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988. We met in our hotel lobby with Habib Ahmadzadeh, a former Naval officer who fought through the entire war; Mohamad Reiza-Sharafoddin, who fought for four years; and Ahmad ali Pakdaman, a disabled eight-year veteran who lost his Father during the war when a U.S. warship, the USS Vincennes, shot down a civilian Iranian airplane.
The meeting was particularly poignant because two of our delegation members are also veterans: Tom Palumbo of Norfolk, Va., a member of Veterans for Peace; and Geoff Millard of Washington, D.C., member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace.
The shooting down of the Iranian "air bus" happened shortly after then-President Khatami had spoken before the Untied Nations, calling for more dialog between the countries of the world. M. Ahmadzadeh took it upon himself to write an e-mail to the captain of the Vincennes, trying to open a dialog. He also wrote 700 other U.S. Naval officers, suggesting that if members of the various militaries could talk directly to each other, then perhaps that could lessen the chances of war. He told us that 27 officers responded to his e-mail. Mr. Ahmadzadeh has written a book, translated into English, with his letter and some of the replies. He presented copies of the book, titled "The War Involved City Stories" to each member of our delegation, and included hand written poems for each member. His second book, "Chess with the Doomsday Machine," will soon be published in the U.S.. Mr. Ahmadzadeh said he planned to dedicate it to the People's Peace Delegation to Iran.
Mr. Reiza-Sharafoddin began making films as a student during the war, alternating stretches at his university with four years of military service. He is now working on a film about Mr. Ahmadzadeh's attempts to get a reply from the captain of the Vincennes. The war cost both sides more than 500,000 people, but it was fought entirely on Iranian soil, meaning there was incredible devastation of whole Iranian cities and towns.
Mr. Pakdaman, was also a student when the war broke out. His home city of Abadan was besieged for more than a year. He lost one eye, but kept fighting. He was also injured when Iraqi troops gassed the city. Later he was severely injured, losing his right arm, resulting in his being captured. After 30 months in prison camp- in Iraq, he was released in a prisoner exchange. That's when his father flew in from neighboring Dubai to see him. On the way back to Dubai, the air bus was hit. Mr. Pakdaman, missing one eye and one arm, volunteered to return to battle. The U.S. government said it was an accident and paid some compensation to the families of the nearly 300 people killed -- and then Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush gave the Vincennes captains seven medals for "bravery." "We were very surprised, "Mr. Ahmadzadeh. "It would be like giving Osama bin Laden a medal for attacking the World Trade Center." To date, the Vincnenes captain hasn't responded to Mr. Ahmadzadeh's letter.
Following these presentations, our tour guide translated into Farsi a statement the delegation had hammered out the night before in preparation for the meeting. It reads:
"The purpose of the People's Peace Delegation to Iran is, in some small way, to try and prevent a war between the United States and Iran. Terrible things happen in war, such as the shooting down of the Iran Air Bus by U.S. forces. We would like to express our deepest sympathy with the families of the martyrs of that tragedy, and we pledge to return home and promote an environment in which such tragedies will never reoccur."
Our meeting ended with warm handshakes, exchanges of e-mail addresses and a group photo of the five veterans, Iranian and U.S.. - end -