Another FOR Civilian Diplomacy Delegation left the United States for Iran, on November 5th. Today, Monday, November 8th, the delegation of 11 U.S. peacemakers visited the Peace Museum of Tehran. The following reflection from John Schuchardt shares highlights of their experience at the museum.
We have been able to have a few conversations with Iranians in the streets, usually including observations such as “I like Americans but I don’t like that your government is taking severe measures.”
Today a man spoke, probably for most of humanity, when he said, “I would love to live in a world where people don’t kill each other.”
The Tehran Peace Museum is set in the environs of a large, beautiful park, with a large statue of peace in honor of the victims of chemical weapons used by Iraq in it’s desperate 8 year war with Iran, a war which is estimated to have killed 500,000 on each side.
The Museum itself is a new, beautiful round, one story building, with a large white image of the symbol for peace in Farsi in the park grounds in the front. We were most warmly welcomed by Dr. Shahriar Khateri, a leading member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Iranian Physicians for Social Responsibility. He directs the Museum where he works with a large number of veteran survivors of chemical weapons. One of these former soldiers presented each of us with a bouquet of roses. The generosity of their welcome and embrace of us continued throughout our gathering, with serving us bottles of water, cups of tea, a plate of banana, orange and apple fruit, and gifts all the books mentioned following.
Peace delegation to Iran gathering at the beginning of their journey.
To help inform the world and to work most effectively with civilian and soldier survivors, Dr. Khateri founded the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support. He was also the co-author of a major compilation of United Nations documents 1984-1988 covering, Iraq’s Use of Chemical Weapons Against Iran and a booklet of text and photographs of the effects on humans of these chemicals.
We viewed the large panel exhibits describing dates and places of chemical attacks, together with photographs and then met around a large table, joined by 8 veteran survivors. Each of these survivors spoke sparingly of their 24 and more years of health effects, pain, and suffering, including blindness. As they spoke we realized how their voices have been silenced, as one of the results of U.S. embargo and isolation of Iran. They have been making tireless efforts to build international solidarity and to speak to the world. Two years ago, survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki visited and have engaged in mutual and cooperative joint efforts towards the abolition of all weapons of mass destruction.
Habib Ahmadzadeh, one of Iran’s most popular writers joined us and presented us with his novel, Chess With the Doomsday Machine. He also showed on a large screen an inspiring and joy-filled film of the extraordinary celebration he organized on the river border of Iraq and Iran, the Arvand Rood. Bringing children from both sides together on Friendship Boat, an exchange of gifts and a children’s party was celebrated, the film then being shown widely on Iranian T.V., and many copies of it sent to Iraq. All of us were presented with a 5 disc recording of the entire event, of which we saw only 15 minutes of clips.
Another major Iranian figure, himself a sufferer from chemical weapons, participated: Ahmad Nateghi. After the war he studied journalism and photography and is leading writer, filmmaker, and photojournalist in Iran today. He presented us with his book Voice of Silence and a second major work containing many of his photographs The Open Wound. We could not take in the enormity of all that was being shared, but all were given these books with which to heal our own ignorance and help to carry these urgent cries back to the U.S. and internationally.
Several women volunteers and artists also participated in our meeting, who contribute vital work to the Society and the Museum. Jess Richardson was able to make a successful connection with the art instructor to find his Iranian connection to build the Bridge of Hearts between the U.S. and Iran.
I told the veterans of the letter from the Veterans for Peace (VFP) National Office, signed by Dennis Lane, explaining that I was representing our entire VFP national membership to express our “esteem, friendship and commitment to peace” toward all the people of Iran. On our return to Tehran, November 17th, this letter will be presented, together with VFP hat and button.
I did present to Dr. Khateri and the Museum a silver dollar from 1923 explaining the history of the U.S. popular revulsion against World War I, which had claimed so many millions of victims, and many victims of chemical weapons: the Congress passed and the President signed the Kellogg-Briand Treaty making war a crime. And the silver dollar was redesigned, so that the styilized imperial eagle with spread wings, holding arrows and olive branch, was changed to a stately naturalistic eagle standing on a rock, holding only an olive branch, with the sun’s rays shining behind and the word PEACE inscribed below. Dr. Khateri requested a written history of this which will go with the silver dollar into their display case.
This report is entirely inadequate to convey our heart to heart meeting, what each of us spoke of longing for peace and our growing friendship with Iran, and even more inadequate to convey the testimonies the suffering and pain carried by our hosts. We were told, “Our understanding of peace is totally different than yours, because we have always been confronting war. The understanding of peace is entirely different when the bombs are dropping on you.” This was an important, truth-filled reminder to us Americans.
We enjoyed the taking of many photographs before our departure. In closing, Dr. Khateri and Ahmed Nateghi proposed our collaboration on a special book to be printed in the U.S. containing chapters on all the weapons of mass destruction recently used against humans: 1) chemical weapons; 2) depleted uranium; 3) Agent Orange; 4) nuclear weapons. It is my hope that VFP, FOR, AFSC and others might quickly unite around this project, bringing together in one book the best and most concise of the work that has been done on all these weapons.
With gratitude and trust, John Schuchardt