Iran

A Letter to the Sa’d Family

This short story was written by Habib Ahmadzadeh, who I wrote about yesterday. This story is based on his experience in the Iran-Iraq War. He has asked me to share his writings with you and would like to hear your responses. Leave your thoughts in the comments and I will share them with Habib.
A Letter to the Sa’d Family

By  Habib Ahmadzadeh

The first finder or finders of this letter are kindly requested to deliver its contents in any way possible to the family of “Saad Abd al-Jabbar,” a member of the 23rd Battalion of the Special Republican Guard Forces of Iraq; the letter is from the forces under control of the Third Army of Basra.
Esteemed Family of Soldier Saad:
Greetings,
I don’t know whether writing and sending this letter is the right thing or proper under the circumstances, but whatever the case it seemed necessary in my view to write the letter and entrust it to your son, and in this unorthodox way have it reach you.  The subject of the letter is the mysterious manner in which I became acquainted with your son.  Eleven years have passed, and this enigmatic acquaintance has to be explained somehow to you; I feel compelled, then, in order to eliminate any doubt or misunderstanding on your part as regards the lamentable incident, to write you an exact and detailed account of how we met and the circumstances surrounding our meeting.

Right now your son Saad is beside me and no doubt is waiting for me to finish the letter so he can be the bearer of the facts to you.

This is the last time we will see each other, and certainly it will be our last goodbye!  I know that it would be best to be brief and get to the point.

The incident began around ten years ago: the morning of 28 September 1981 to be exact.  That was the first time I saw your son.  During the morning of that day I was returning from the banks of the Karun River to our back lines.  Major operations had taken place in the sector the night before.  The operations were intended to break the siege of our city.  By morning we had fought our way to the area around the river.

This was the first time during the one-year siege of the city that our forces were able to recapture the sector.  Delighted to take part in these pivotal operations and wanting to make a record of my participation, I had brought with me an expensive camera, but the intensity of the fighting did not allow me to use it.

Until this moment everything that could have happened took place as they did in other operations; with the leaden skies of pre-dawn, fresh forces took the place of the tired fighters and everyone but me took advantage of the cover of night to return.  I had the urge to tour the newly liberated areas to see what befell the region.  Having gone around the minefield, I came upon the road made with packed sand that the Iraqis had constructed to join up with the asphalt road.  I followed the sand road until it came to the intersection of the two roads.  I was now face to face with a causeway that I had hoped to reach for a year so I could use it to go on leave.

The road still hadn’t been clears of mines, booby traps, and barbed wire; nevertheless it was a freeway to me.
As I walked along the road, I remember clearly that the sun was rising.  I let out several loud cries and, without paying attention to the surroundings, started to prance around, happily waving my weapon up and down.  I was overjoyed.  At that time I was sixteen, about two years younger than your son was at the time.

This marked the beginning of the actual incident.  I didn’t know what had had hit me, but for a moment I turned and was suddenly stunned, and, automatically assuming a defensive position, I dove quickly to the ground.  I must admit was terrified; the whole time I was on the asphalt road, an Iraqi soldier was sitting watching me from behind, and I had absolutely no idea.

In an incredibly short time I scrambled behind the shoulder of the road and released the safety on the weapon.  All the while I was wondering why he hadn’t taken aim at me from behind.  This was the context for the consolation thought that he was totally alone having been abandoned in the newly liberated territory and now wanted to surrender.

The sum of these thoughts gave me the nerve to try to get behind him.  After hesitating briefly, I ran to the other side of the hill and was about to shout “Hands up!” in Persian.  Now that you have the letter, of course, everything to an extent will be obvious.

That’s right: I came face to face with your son’s corpse, which had been put on the ground in a kneeling position; his neck and both wrists had been tied from behind to the crossroad sign with the kind of telephone wire they use in the desert.  Blood had pooled under his feet.

It was at this point the weapon went limp in my hands; as I got closer I noticed that he or they had tied your son up so that the wounds on his neck and wrists made a horrible sight.  After the shock of seeing him like that wore off, I began to hear the sounds of exploding shells and mortar rounds that were coming every moment toward our sector.
I looked at his innocent face; his eyes were wide open and startled.  I don’t know why it occurred to me to take a picture of your son’s face, but I took it.  Maybe it was just because I wanted to use the camera.  As I was putting the camera back in my pack, the sound of explosions became more distinct and so did the barking of the stray dogs behind the Baathist lines; these dogs generally would whine every night before the operations.  This reminded me what would happen to your son’s corpse if it remained out there.

I looked into your son’s open eyes, and, to escape the urgings of my conscience, I said to him, “I know, but I swear to God if I had a shovel I would definitely bury you.”   Just like any other person who uses a big excuse to avoid doing something.
Then I got going trying to escape the explosions, which were increasing by the minute.  Would you believe it, but I hadn’t gone a hundred meters when I saw a large shovel buried up to the handle sticking out of a pile of dirt next to a bunker!  I stood still for a moment deeply undecided, but, having made an irrevocable promise to your son, I had no choice.  Despite all the unpleasantness, I managed to pull the shovel out and went back to him.  Showing him the shovel, I said, “Here’s the shovel,” and I began to dig in front of him.  I dug so close to him that after a bit a stream of blood appeared in the hole.  I would keep one eye on your son and one eye on the stream of blood, as I dug and move the shovel around lest it leave bloodstains on the heels of my boots.  I also would talk to your son, but to keep this letter short I can’t set down everything we spoke in it; besides the subjects are without doubt not worthy of your attention.

Briefly then: when the job was nearly over, it occurred to me to wonder, given my short life as gravedigger, whether I had oriented the hole properly, that is according to the direction of prayer or not.  But suddenly there was this immense explosion and the next thing I knew I was in the grave along with your son Saad on top of me.  I must admit that I was so scared that it beggars description.  Here I was in a sector with nobody from our side in it, in a grave face to face with the corpse.   I used all my might to push aside your son and climb out of the grave.  I realized that the situation came about as a result of an explosion that occurred behind your son.  When I looked closer I noticed that there was a stream of fresh blood flowing down his overcoat, and this made me realize he had taken several pieces of shrapnel in the head; he was positioned precisely between me and the explosion or, said in a better way, between me and death.

It was at this point that my interest in your son increased several times over.  I quickly finished digging the grave and was about to put Saad in it, when I figured that I shouldn’t allow his face to touch the ground; so I took his long coat off and covered his head with it.  As I was doing this, I noticed four spent cartridges inserted into his teeth, but there was no time to waste.  Having wrapped his head in the coat, I found his ID card and a letter in his pocket.  There was nothing else in the pocket.  I untied his hands and began to shovel dirt on him.  But as I shoveled it occurred to me that this alien being, who was far from his family, would be buried in a grave over which no one would recite the Qor’an; but there was nothing I could do but shovel earth on him.

Anyway, having marked the grave with that same signpost, I got away as fast as I could.  Later on, during my first leave away from the front, I had his picture developed and put it in my photo album.  From time to time, when leafing through the album, I would think of him as the corpse that saved my life, and despite the fact that I knew his name was Saad from the ID card, I still thought of him as an Iraqi soldier.

Years passed and the whole incident became only a memory in my mind until there was a minor incident.  I became acquainted with some fellow countrymen whose job it was to exchange the bodies of Iraqi soldiers for those of our own dead.  They exchanged the bodies on the border between the two countries.  I brought up the subject of Saad with them, and today was the day we had arranged for me to show them his grave.

When we were at the sight, I realized that one shouldn’t rely too much on the signpost to find the grave, but the place where the two roads crossed would be of some help.  After two excavations, we managed to dig your son up; possibly in the same condition that you will observe him in when this letter reaches you.  But the real reason why I writing you this letter, in fact, has nothing to do with these matters, but relates to the secret discovery that we made when we were digging him up.
When the fellows who were digging him up unwrapped the overcoat around his head, they looked at one another knowingly and said, “Another deserter!”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

Their experience in finding bodies told them, when the overcoat came off, that Saad was a deserter because the Iraqis would first execute deserters, then clamp the their jaws shut with four bullets in their teeth to serve as a warning to others.  After I explained the way in which Saad had been kneeling on the ground to them, they said that before execution, he had definitely been shot in the knees.  An examination of his knees confirmed the truth, which his clothing and flesh had kept hidden from me for eleven years.  I know that these facts are brutal and upsetting, especially since they concern your child.  But my emotional and psychological state is no less than yours.  During the last eleven years, time and time again I have traveled that road out of the city, and even when passing the crossroads it never crossed my mind to say a prayer for your son, for which I hope God will forgive me.

Because I never had thought I would be writing this letter, I used the back of the forms describing the particulars of the body.  If I had been prepared, I would have included another letter and the picture that I had taken of your son’s body.  Perhaps what one of the disinterment fellows said is right: that it is better to let the truth remained buried under the ground; that way I would not be the cause of so much pain and discomfort to you.  There is also the added risk that the letter might fall into the wrong hands, which would prevent you even from taking possession of your son’s body.  But as you will see I have used this unorthodox method of sending you the letter and thereby decreased to an extent the chances of detection.

I have written my address at the bottom of the letter so that you can contact me in any way you see fit, and I can send you the picture of Saad and his last letter.  I don’t know how you feel about my hiding the letter in the broken bone of your son’s leg.  But this method of concealment perhaps might cause the original owners not notice it, and the letter and Saad will be buried together, preventing the truth from reaching you, his respected family.

Am I still grappling with myself about why I am writing this?  It’s only in these last lines that I will be able to express why.  Ten years ago the thought of writing such a letter would never have crossed my mind; but now that I have a child of my own, I can see that it is the absolute right of every family to know how their child spent his last minutes on earth.
The time for saying my last goodbyes to your son Saad have come.  I know that in the future whenever I leave the city and pass the crossroads, as I stare at his empty grave my heart again will feel that anguish, the familiar pain of an eleven-year acquaintance, which has but a few hours to go.

The fellows are complaining again about how long this letter is taking.  I entrust you and Saad to that same God who caused me to take a different path that day, who allowed me to see Saad and find a shovel, and now to uncover an eleven-year-old secret.  And, maybe, that same God will allow this letter to reach you.

9 replies »

  1. For people looking for more Iranian literature on Iran-Iraq war, I recommend two renowned and classic Persian novels on the issue, namely “Chess with the Doomsday Machine” written by Habib Ahmadzadeh and “Journey to Heading 270 Degrees” written by Ahmad Dehqan, both of which have been translated into English by Paul Sprachman (www.rci.rutgers.edu/~sprachma/) and published by Mazda Publishing, available in the US.

  2. That is an incredibly moving story and piece of writing. I would love to read more of his literature. I appreciate the perspective that the previous Iranian conflicts bring to current foreign relationships and unfortunately that awareness is sorely lacking in the United States. Keep up the good work Becca and keep meeting good people. PEACE.

    • Thank you for this wonderful work. We are connected in our humanity with our emotions. I cried along with Habib and Sa’d family… I wish you had included the picture in here. Is it possible to add it?

      • I don’t have any pictures of Habib as of yet, though there is one in the story that is linked in the related post about him on the blog. We are planning to meet with him again, so I will get one and try to add it, though I have had difficulty with uploading pictures sometimes depending on where I’m using the internet.

  3. I would love to see all of this. Like most people in this country I don’t have the opportunity to see for myself what is happening over there. The press is cutting back on people over there and have missed a lot even before they cut back.

    • I hope I can give you the next best thing by sharing stories, photos and videos (much of which I’ll be able to share when I have a more reliable internet connection). It’s unfortunate that it’s so difficult for Iranians and Americans to visit one another; it goes a long way in dispelling the myths the media feeds us in both countries. Hopefully we can move toward better relations and open up more person to person exchanges soon.

  4. Hello Habib, Rebecca + all to read,

    it is this kind of truth that heals, sadly you where not supported to self-express in time, so your suffering could of stopped sooner.

    this is the time for us to share, for I feel we all have part of the answer if we continue to talk + listen.

    sadly any one pursuing aggressive acts of any form trigger those folks in ill mindbody acts to go deeper into self destruction leaving negative acts on all life. whether our military or yours thinks it is the answer. it is not.

    programming is within us all + our human processes allows us to tune into ourself, self massage, etc. in cooperative exchange + become aware of how we can learn early signs to control + pursue our true human potentital.

    this letter is your awakening. you say you like Opra. mom liked Opra too as she suffered + in weak state would enjoy until I told her some ideasl such as how corporate hors are on this planet controlling governments, judicial, medical + all entities of live, many folks.

    what is that expression it is a person that is undeveloped ecologically + interpersonally + is many times unaware as I think probably Opra is, other wise her weight would not go up + down. the point is the money these folks make when we will work to change understandings, so people are held accountable for their corporate involvements.

    so example when people with money made from businesses of all types that ecologically destroy life unknowingly , we give them the benefit of the doubt, becuase programming passes on from all the good folks trying to survive with these srtong aggressive frequency’s across our planet + into the unknown.

    humans don’t mean to hurt other life. it is this programming that is so destructive. so i share with you to review this a little more. for as your feeling s for Oprah why? when she is involved with so many of these folks that think they are doing all they can do, yet blindly they are to the world governement that is here now + controlled by corporate hors.

    do they take reposnsibility to listen + to follow thru with healing? this is what you have to ask. + redirect your energy so we can focus together. not awaiting 10 years to let your feelings out by rather join in with good folks that also suffer from your story as your pain is felt by us all. many still are left blindly in it. we have a network + many, such as Rebecca’s awareness that helps me become aware.

    President Obama is led from corporate hors. as well many others. so we share our feelings but more important we live local. building local cooperatives so we can regain our own control of our self. so we can in peace with our human family live in harmony. some of us are fortunate, as you to of survived so we can sort out old story, programming + instinctly intuitive differente our self sensory observations vs belief. so we can observe + interact in the present.

    our planet’s energy + beyond, allows us to grow food on small farms. the corporate hors that put out the green biotech movement with Al Gore are wrong + Prof Miguel Altieri can show you if you google him in detail as he works to build small farms in agro-ecology. along with others.

    we can have energy efficiently , network + learn to develope our land use so our bioregions are read in true time, as we rehab/relocate/rebuild, so folks can go once again to like ecosystem that they can identify with from their cultural fragmented upbringing on this earth. considering the interference from some of the multinational corporations that are blinded as they pursue their greed. not seeing the ecological damage done.

    when I told mom to take another look at how Opra spent $500. per sheet for her personal bed, not to mention how she promotes people to make money. dah Opra don’t you ever stop to look at the negative effects left on other life + their habitats to do some of these businesses? I wanted to talk to Opra long ago for I felt bad for her being trapped in what she is in + really don’t realize how they control her strings, for she trys to do good but missing a lot of simple common sense. I didn’t have it either until I went thru terrible suffering + deaths of my loved ones. so yes it is really sad when all of us have left such terrible energy on this planet + beyond because we did not know how to deal responsibly with our true human potential. well folks I do now. mom actually had just passed on to me her sheet she patched when I was a little girl. she had continued to use it. as she struggled + the small amount of energy she would gain, then her religious belief would put her back or a doctor that would have misinformation or incomplete data, or seriously was feeding offher illnesses. + when i asked this doctors’s last boss about this, he said he punched him in the face. meanwhile poor mother lived in a lot of suffering by being programmed from others that would then save her life. cycles continued until yun wang helped us so, to taper off all her steroids that would blow her up + then taper her off the herbs that replaced the drugs.

    + as in most stories mom learn’t to late, + her life + death experiences are to be used as well all the other good folks that have suffered so, for us to redirect this energy into the best world yet. now is the time.

    point is we are an open book if you reach out + network + take a look at the harmony folks have as they had come to grips with their misuse, allowing religion to interfere in their ability to know themself, or their neighbor. religion is a story of the past you can carry but don’t let it consume you as you have. earth is for us to be recycled,naticwe american indians before they where enslaved always would lay out their dead to be recycled from nature.

    so I can give you empathy, I thankyou for sharing + I hope my words can motivate you to study more how we truly can self empower, selfsustain + network peace on this planet now. we have a few focus directed thoughts/acts you can review once our web page is up. we support computer as a tool only to support folks to go eye to eye + once again embrace our human family.

    we are an open book + all signs are in front of us if we don’t grab onto the greed + materialisnm so many flaunt.

    locally we live with democracy amongst our networks. the world as a whole yet to live democratically, so don’t become a sheep + ride on another’s wave. rather center + ground yourself + learn to discipline your own self sensory observations vs belief. ask yourself why you like what you do? build your path as you walk it into the opening.

    together we can redirect our energy + isolate this frequency of programmed aggressive thought that is very real on this planet. we have developed some ideals to live local more effectively in harmony + then once in this mindset mode we find space to look at ER triage issues locally + afar. + with this energy we look at it differently + come up with conflict resolution for solutions so folks can act on them, allowing more healing, more open space, more abundance of energy to redirect vs let sit in guilt.

    I may speak a different language then you, for I don’t have religious verbage in my cognitive memory bank like you do. as a small child when mother would take me to church, i would refuse + say these words make no sense. I’ve reviewed college’s assessment of world religion + I think if we want to be healthy + have peace within our self + with each other, respecting all life. we need to put religion as a story on our bookshelf + start addressing energy, from all avenues with good folks that live with it.

    we can have alternative hybrid energy to give us technology but not the way the green movement has. rather by living within 100 miles utilizing local resources, supporting local business. not buying anything from afar or trying to sell it. technology is out their with open source support. at a very small price. so if we stop supporting folks that are excessively wastful then we support our real exchanges locally.

    come talk more story, share music, with us when we get our channels open to receive your exchanges of needs + offerings. I feel this is a way for all to rid needs, desires + simply enjoy the world’s wonders + continue to explore + evolve as we part time work together so all can be free to explore local + beyond. for motion is our only known.

    if it is religious story you want then I suggest you go to another network for we deal with life now + via ecosystems we feel management is best done by studying plant sucession for all life. for we are also a living organism dependent on our ecological offerings. we don’t support living from a story of the past. if we all act responsibly, observing our moment + if don’t know what to do, network + take a look at what others are doing.

    we have a segment where when we don’t or can’t figure it out we use mime, music + motion to allow our sensors to balance + we usually define we where too much in our head throwing us off from our bodies natural desire to want to balance mind + body. when we stop interfereing + live boon with our environments as our only means of medicine, then we obtain solutions. the folks in Palestine have also used theater for self expression with success, for when older folks want them to pick up a weapon, they say no thanks, we have found another way to self express, etc.. + with good technical support we can open channels, not just to yada yad, but seriously use us a s a tool + build a local mindset where ever you choose to go. + please conserve energy + review where you own desires are right now. check how Howard Zinns book he wrote to update history for children + we learn the reality of whom seriously supports war.

    for folks ill we suggest natural means. their is a saying; food is better then medicine, energy is better then food, nothingness is better then energy.. so give it thought. western medicine folks that are good are trapped in a very bad system where corporate hor pharmaceutical + medical people feed off of sick people. the world has natural answers. Dr. Yun Wang in Seattle, a chinese traditional doctor has simple means for body to regain it’s own healing ability, him amongst many exist now to help us sharpen our dulled sensors we’ve created, from our bad choices.

    folks you are not alone in suffering. I thankyou for your story of truth Habib, please enjoy the path you take + think of us once in awhile + part time with your local coop you build with, network + share your needs + offerings so that we can together prioritize areas in need of awareness understanding. for we all have the choice to say to someone if can’t speak out local. even as here in U.S. to President Obama, we feel he has lost himself or maybe never found it. for his acts are not the direction to stop aggression.

    it is a dysfuntional system when the majority of folks as in the U.S. + elsewhere in the world wants to stop aggression yet his bill got passed for 91.3 billion, so this shows how the world government is controlled by corporations + Pres. Obama is being another puppet.

    awareness is here for those interested in building harmony for themself, their family + for our human family locally + afar. our attitude we can change, we may not get back to the land we want, but at least get some food, good sleep + network some of this which is common sense.

    Peace Habib, Rebecca + all, thankyou! kara

  5. It is amazing that in the madness of demonic influenced needless war, such acts of civility and human kindness can occur. God’d light comes through everywhere. Adriaan