To the memory of the soldiers who fell before my eyes in the first Persian Gulf War. From my Iran-Iraq war memoirs that has been published in a book titled "A Path To Nowhere" >>> Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9 -- Part 10 -- Part 11 -- Part 12 -- Part 13 -- Part 14 -- Part 15 -- Part 16 -- Part 17 --
Fall Of A Star
At around eleven o'clock in the morning of March 21, 1988 I was back from vacations to the war zone of Khuzestan. It was the first day of spring again and my second New Year’s Day in the war field. The spring of the south was already on its way. Everywhere in Khuzestan was carpeted with fresh vegetation that had grown not too long ago. I had just left a military vehicle and was walking through the tall grass to our former resting spot to stay a few hours with a soldier: Ghodrat Raheemee; whom I had appointed to take care of my platoon's belongings before I left for Tappeh Razmi.
To my surprise, two of my men were in the bunker with Ghodrat. They were not supposed to be there. We exchanged kisses and best wishes for the New Year.
"What are you guys doing here?" I asked curiously.
"We volunteered to join a platoon that is to attack Hill 85," responded Mohammad.
My dismay rose. Throughout my staying at the front line I had not allowed any of my soldiers to volunteer for such a mission. Whenever the company had asked me for volunteers, without conferring with soldiers I had responded I had nobody to volunteer for any mission.
"You fools;" I retorted, fuming with anger, "When you don't have me as your slave-driver you commit horrible stupidities; and this one is the worst of all. You must not volunteer for an aggression. They are lavishly wasting your lives in this war for their own political interests."
I went on reproving them almost in teas while they were silently staring at the ground before their feet. As soon as I halted they spoke.
"We volunteered for extra leave for the New Year, not for fighting," Mohammad tried to appease me.
"Good man; today is the New Year’s Day and you are still in the war field,” I responded calm and more reasonably, “So, you did not receive the promised vacation. As I see they have promised to give you extra time in the Nether World. It's not known whether you return alive from this aggression to go on a vacation. Probably, they promised to send your dead body on vacations. Nobody bargains at the price of his own life. After eight years of lies did you not see this was just one more lie? They have shown the bait to you, not the trap. You have been deceived, My Friends. Can't you fake that you are sick and avoid this mission?"
"It's too late now," answered Mohammad, "They have already begun it. We won't repeat it; we promise."
According to them, two nights earlier they had tried the attack under the command of Sergeant Siamak; but they had lost one another near Hill 85 and had come back in complete disarray.
The disorder could have been stirred on purpose. I knew many cases of purposeful disorder among the personnel who had been sent on similar missions. But this time the army had not let them go easily. According to Mohammad, Siamak and Neekvarz were planning another attack within the coming days. Meanwhile they were attending military training in Neekvarz’ company which was located in the nearby area.
A few months had passed my last meeting with Neekvarz. I had not met him since the only commanders meeting in which I was allowed to take part sometime in early winter. Now it was the first of the spring and I dearly missed him. Mohammad told me Neekvarz was with his company some two kilometers south of that spot. So, I decided to meet Neekvarz for the New Year’s greetings before I set out for Tappeh Razmi.
At around three I woke up from an afternoon nap and we drank tea together joking and laughing. Then, I left for Neekvarz’ company humming a song.
I climbed the hill that was located to the south of the bunker and descended to its foot facing south. There were few bunkers scattered around. One of my ex-soldiers, whose name I have forgotten and call him Siavash, was leaning against one of the bunker’s wall. Upon establishment of Neekvarz’ company he had asked me to transfer Siavash to his company to become his soldier in charge of the communications center.
"How are you Siavash?" I shouted with the joy of meeting him, for I always liked the man for his warm manners, "Damned you!"
As long as I remembered for the first time I saw Siavash without a smile. In a very cold manner he replied he was all right. He was so cold that we even did not kiss for the arrival of the New Year. I just shook his cold loose hand.
"Where is Neekvarz’ bunker?" I asked.
"On the other side of the hill, Sir!”
Siavash returned in an uninterested low tone. I became quite upset at his cold approach.
"You've grown very important Siavash, haven't you?" I said with the stinging tone of an officer, "Your approach is not appropriate!"
He made no response; but, he put his boots on to take me to Neekvarz’ bunker.
It was strange to see such a big change in Siavash in a few months after he had left me; though my haughtiness did not let me ask him more about the cause of the change: something that I was not good at. I fancied if I asked more about him, he would have grown even more arrogant. I decided to let Neekvarz know about his arrogance and ask Neekvarz to penalize him however in Nowrooz.
"Please hurry up! I have to go to the front in half an hour," I went on.
A few paces from Siavash's bunker two soldiers were in a blue truck; one wore a curly black beard and I took him for a Politico-Ideology agent.
"What's your relation to Neekvarz?" The bearded soldier asked me.
I took his irrelevant question an intervention of an audacious man and attributed Siavash’s cold approach to their presence.
"I'm his friend," I replied imperatively. "What is your business?"
"Nothing, Sir! I am sorry," he returned taken aback, embarrassed and shy.
These said I walked ahead in a swift pace, Siavash lagging behind me. As we had walked tens of paces, the soldier in the black beard called Siavash aback. Siavash went to him leaving me with a certainty that he was going to ask Siavash about my identity in order to report something against me. This, I did not care very much about. There was no place more dangerous than the first front of fire in the whole military legal system.
After a short talk Siavash started to amble towards me while I was growing tired of his nonchalance.
"Hey Siavash," I yelled, "I've told you I have no time to waste. If you don't want to come, just show me the way. I go by myself."
"Okay, Sir!" he muttered, his eyes fixed to the ground.
I had already reached the crest of the hill that Siavash had pointed at.
"Why have you grown so lazy and impudent?" I inquired without waiting for a response or looking at the man who was following me and began to descend the hill.
"Where are you going, Sir?" Siavash unexpectedly asked.
I stopped, half turned aback looking at him amazed at what seemed a game that he was playing with me.
"Apparently I was talking to a pair of deaf ears,” I returned aloud, “I want to meet Neekvarz before I go to the front. Do you not understand me?"
"Neekvarz’ bunker is not there, Sir!"
"Why are you fool taking me there then?" I was angry to the verge of insanity thinking about throwing a rock at the young man or giving him the rudest words I knew.
He made no response staring at the ground before his feet and, at once, burst into tears, making me to walk back to him.
"Neekvarz is martyred, Sir;" he sobbed and sat down.
His shocking words came with so much velocity on my skull that drove me out of the mood of a proudly arrogant officer. Now, I began to understand the reason behind Siavash’s different demeanor. I could not speak. I just sat on the ground staring at the Moshtagh heights standing still in the western horizons. Smoking a cigarette seemed the only thing that I could do. I drew my cigarettes pack, lit one, devoured the smoke deep into my lungs and lost myself in the Moshtagh.
"This morning at around ten he was killed,” Siavash went on, “They couldn't find his body until this afternoon. You were just late, Sir. He was taken to his hometown an hour ago."
Misery of the soldiers who had lost their commander was seeping out of Siavash’s heart to his face. It was the helplessness of the one who saw his commander as strength, shelter, and hope.
"Two nights ago twenty soldiers under Siamak were dispatched to attack Hill 85,” he resumed, “Lack of discipline caused their mission to fail. Yesterday Colonel Barber (26) accused Neekvarz of ineptitude and ordered him and Siamak to further reconnoiter the area for another attack. This morning at dawn Neekvarz told me he had dreamed he would be killed. After praying to Allah he said “farewell forever.
After they had advanced a couple of kilometers in the area between the two battle lines an Iraqi mortar shell targeted them. Neekvarz was killed on the spot by shrapnel in his heart. Siamak had heard him saying “Ashhad-o Anna La Ellaha Ella Lah; Ashhado Anna Mohammadan Rasool Allah: I truly testify that there is no god except Allah; I truly testify that Mohammad is the Messenger of Allah”, before he collapsed. Siamak was injured on one hand, chest, and face.
He had recently become engaged to his cousin: his uncle’s daughter who is a university student at Ferdowsee University in Mashhad. They were to marry a few days later on his next vacation."
Siavash's story and my cigarette came to an end. Getting to my feet, I took him in my arms and kissed him on both cheeks.
"Be brave Siavash!" I said.
In the early days of my experiencing the war it was hard for me to hear about the death of a friend; but now I could coolly console someone else on a tragedy that grave. I had come a long way in my soldier life and probably there was no path of return for me.
"I expected to kiss both you and Neekvarz for the New Year’s Day,” I told Siavash, “I am sorry that I have to greet you in sadness. Give my apologies to the bearded soldier. I took him for a Politico-Ideology agent."
Siavash gave me a sad smile and we parted. I started walking down the hill towards my soldiers’ bunker, repeating an Arabic poem that once a professor had recited to us: "I see that my steps are spilling my blood." Those steps had already spilled a poet's blood; and this time they had spilled a writer’s blood. Thus on the New Year’s Day of the Iranian year of 1367 Second Lieutenant Manouchehr Neekvarz’ joined the long line of the martyrs who had lost their lives in the war of Islam against Infidelity to provide the Islamic Republic with more fuel to promote its political cause.
One hour later I embarked a truck bound for Tappeh Razmi. At sunset I was in Sharafzadeh’s tent, sharing our grief, forgetting it was our New Year’s Day.
Now, almost two decades has passed that Iranian New Year’s Day. I have revisited that day’s event a few times as I have been preparing these memoirs. I strongly believe Neekvarz’ body was lain in the blue pickup truck that was parked beside Siavash’s bunker and the whole story of leading me away from that truck was staged by Siavash and the other two soldiers in order not to let me see Neekvarz’ dead body. Even I believe my own soldiers in the resting spot were fully aware of Neekvarz’ death, nevertheless they did not transfer the news to me. Iranians are adamant to giving the news of people’s death to their relatives and friends.
In my mind Neekvarz’ story complemented that of Mahdi Elhamee’s. Somehow I found a connection between Mahdi and Neekvarz’ runaway leftist friend in the sugar refinery plant. I felt his leftist friend had died in Mahdi’s body many years earlier and the party of the trio was completed in that New Year’s Days as the Earth had completed a full circle around the Sun. The Mojahed, Mahdi, and Maouchehr Neekvarz had joined ranks. It was in this way that the factory owner and his political leaders had taken a full bloody vengeance through repression and war.
Despite their ideological and allegiance differences and the fact that they were coming from different places of Iran and in different places they had lost their lives, these men represented my idealistic young generation that somehow had gone through all the sufferings, difficulties, and endeavors of those who had defied all odds and had brought down the monarchy in 1979.
Mostly, this generation came from lower and middle class Iranians and ran fervor of justice and freedom for the most poor and the most vulnerable of the land. All of them had modern educations; none of them belonged to the groups of traditional religious people who believed in the supremacy of the clerics; all of them were independent thinkers and people of action; and because of the same characteristics the religious government could not tolerate them. Indeed, all three of them were targeted by the same means of repression and were paying for their ideals: Neekvarz was a young freedom-loving Moslem without political allegiance, Mahdi was a leftist man with tendencies toward Chereekhaye Fadaee Khalgh, and Neekvarz’ Mojahed friend had his ties to the Mojahedin Organization.
Mahdi was coming from Village of Raz in suburbs of Bojnord. In the happy summer of 1979 when post-revolutionary freedoms had fully bloomed and every kind of thought and idea was respected and debated everywhere, at a night party I had the opportunity to know this strong grape-loving young man through some friends. At that time he was a second year student at the Teachers College in Mashhad. As our friendship grew I called him “Gooreel Angooree: Gorilla The Grape-Lover” after a television cartoon program.
Originally, many Teachers Colleges had been founded under the Shah to educate the high school graduates who intended to teach students at intermediate level: a three-year-program between elementary school and high school that had been adopted from the French education system and had been introduced to Iran in 1971 upon conclusion of my elementary school. The whole Teachers College program had been designed for two years and the graduates would be hired by the Ministry of Education and immediately would start their teaching careers.
To attract more young people to the program, the male graduates would be exempted from military service if they served four years in their teaching jobs after they graduated. Before the completion of the four-year-service if they quit the teaching job or were evicted from teaching, they had to serve their two-year compulsory military service.
Generally, the college was useful for the students who for different reasons, mostly financial reasons, failed to enter universities and nevertheless they were interested in undertaking those types of higher educations that could yield faster and more reliable jobs in the market. It, also, satisfied the great demand for teachers arisen from the booming generation of children that had begun a decade before. As a result of the incentives some of my high school classmates had entered that Teachers College.
Like all higher education institutions in Iran after the revolution, Teachers Colleges became centers of free political debates, arguments, and activities all across the country. As a general trend the pro-clerical students were losing more followers in higher education institutions than anywhere else: the trend that the ruling government did not like. Sensitivity was especially high about Teachers Colleges that were to train the teachers who were to teach the younger generation of students that the government intended to lay its foundations upon.
After graduation Mahdi was sent to his own hometown of Raz to teach: the job he had done properly and within one year he had been promoted to the position of the school principal. As a principal Mahdi had accommodated a newly recruited teacher graduated from the same Teachers College. This person was nobody except a highly religious high school classmate of mine.
Through that man I used to receive plenty of information about Islam, the general backwardness of Iran, the connection between our backwardness and colonialism, Western counties free hand in Iranian affairs, different schools of thought in the world and their differences from Islam, necessity of going back to our own roots for any salvation, and the upcoming revolution and its leadership, and many other topics. In general, because of his vast connections with religious people, my former classmate was deeply aware of the day’s politics. Because of the same beliefs and thoughts and prowess, he had arisen my deep admiration. I even can say I regarded him as my mentor to such an extent that I always quoted him in my debates. Also, I was fully aware that he was under the eyes and harassment of SAVAK and its agents both at school and outside the schoolyard. These contributed to creating even a great respect in me for that man who was more interested in his own hobbies of social, political, religious studies and activities than his formal academic education.
Sometime in winter 1981 after the massive purgation of government employees especially teachers and replacing them with less-qualified teachers or student-teachers, I saw Mahdi Elhamee who told me he had been purged from school and his teaching job altogether. He told me that my former classmate had reported that Mahdi had taught a leftist magazine “The Azarakhsh: The Lightening”, at school. This was the accusation Mahdi denied as the magazine belonged to the Tudeh Party that he disliked, adding that the magazine had been taught by a temporary teacher without his knowledge and permission; and the temporary teacher had acknowledged the matter to the Education Board of the City. At the end, Mahdi asked me to talk to my former classmate in his behalf and ask him to reverse his opinion and decision about his purgation.
For me it was understandable that my former classmate to cooperate with the Islamic Government and to have a hand in the process of purgation; but if his knowledge about Mahdi came from the short teaching period in his school sounded unrealistic. They had spent, at least one year, at the same Teachers College in Mashhad. It was most likely that they knew one another from college days. Especially that those days free atmosphere had caused many people to explicitly speak about their beliefs and thoughts. This sounded the most realistic reason for them to be fully aware of one another’s ideological and political stance.
As a matter of accident one day I saw my former classmate in the street and passed Mahdi’s information and message. Like almost all of those who had accessed higher positions, he received me in a cold manner and simply said: “there is more than what he says”. His approach was cold enough to tell me not to repeat my request.
Late September 1981 had come to Bojnord. It was grapes season again. We had a big box of fresh ripe grapes at home. Mahdi was visiting me. He asked for grapes. As I was joking with his title, I washed a few bunches of grapes and we ate them together. This time he had a shorter hair and wore a white shirt. I learned that he had been decisively purged from school and since he was not politically active he was not in jail, however he had to spend his two-year military service. Those days he was spending last days of his military training and he was on leave.
That day I could not take my eyes off Mahdi whom I did not deeply like. Somehow, he was more quiet than speaking; he was looking around as he was after something lost. He was not laughing; neither was reacting to my joking. I thought he was enjoying his grapes and thoughtfulness; and so I stopped disturbing his calm by my irritating jokes until he left.
Sometime before twelve o’clock of a cloudy day of either late fall of 1981 or early winter of 1982, I was approaching the Worker Square on the slushy muddy Besh Ghardash Street that had been re-named Chamran after Dr. Mostafa Chamran who had lost his life at war with Iraq. I saw a crowd of nearly two dozen countrymen carrying a coffin on their shoulders to a minibus terminal located up in the street singing: “Karballa, Karballa, …”.
The picture on the coffin was Mahdi’s and on the coffin I read: “Shaheed Mahdi Elhamee: Martyr Mahdi Elhamee”.
I froze in my place. I wanted to cry; I wanted to scream “No, No”. He was too young to go under ground. The friends who had introduced us in the summer of 1979 were following the crowd. They asked me to go to Raz with them for the burial. I declined.
“I cannot endure it,” I said and cried.
The coffin and the crowd passed me toward the terminal and I was still frozen.
Friends buried their friend and met me in Bojnord, crest-fallen, in mourning. They let me know that Mehdi had fallen while taking his afternoon nap by tank shrapnel somewhere in the southern fronts. I have forgotten the name of the battlefront.
Before the re-opening of universities in 1983, one day as I was working on my land, the same former classmate of mine and another man who was introduced to me as an agriculture engineer arrived on my land. They had walked a long way up the streams to visit Darkash. Were they looking for another soul to send to war? They did not mention anything and I could not draw such a conclusion. Formally, I was still a student and exempt for military service. I was not a government employee to be purged and sent the war, however a few times they had asked me to introduce myself for the service and I had rejected under the same pretext of being a student.
The day was morose and windy. We did not talk very much. I did not want to disclose anything of what was going inside me and probably they did not want to share what was going inside them. No common bridge was linking our within: three strangers shared a few steps on a common way for a few breath-length. In few hours they had left on the same way that had led them to me I was left alone with my ax and shovel to look at the track that had taken us thus far.
My former classmate was riding the waves of a revolution whose main supporters were people like Neekvarz, Mahdi, and their Mojahed friends. He had grown important enough to make decision about other people’s jobs and perhaps their lives. As these were happening my mentor had lost the last grain of respect I had for him. In reality as the first club slammed the body of freedom, that statue of respect had started to shatter to pieces. Those who lustfully sought power and wealth had no appeal to me no matter what they wore; no matter what language they spoke; no matter behind what slogans they hid.
Unbelievably, those who were under the prosecution at the time of the Shah and had tasted the bitter taste of prosecution had turned to ruthless prosecutors of those who had fought alongside their ranks. Could I believe that my gentle classmate had turned to a person who made grave decisions? Whether I could or not, it was the fact of life. Who else can make these kinds of decisions except fanatic believers in power and despotism: religious or secular. For me, these narrow-minded power-seekers who spend all their faculties to paint the world and its vast diversity only as two warring camps of friends and foes, can do anything unheard of.
By the same token they had created such a system that was denying every kind of government opportunities and every type of privilege and benefit to its otherwise thinking youths while it was lavishly wasting their sweet life for the continuation of the futile war and consolidation of the bases of its power. They even fabricated wills or read memories of the victims’ friends in order to convince the audience that the fallen men believed in the righteousness of the new system and they had willingly lost their lives for their despotic ends. In this way, they were asking the audience to participate in the carnage of the war for the same purpose.
How many people like Neekvarz and Elhamee had been put in Kareemee’s hide and had been sold thus to the public? How many of them had been victimized by different pressure tactics to somehow join the army as staff or as conscript? Who was to clarify the fact that many of the victims of the war not only had no belief in the system but also they were its opponents and had merely fallen victims to it?
Definitely, by the Iranian standard of having the youngest population in the world and the fact that the government opponents, at some stages, could mobilize gatherings as large as half a million of young people, the number of these types of victims was considerably large. A comparison of the number of those who had lost their lives for the cause of the revolution before February 11, 1979 from religious ruling camp and those of its opponents’ clearly indicates a significant difference. At that stage the religious individuals who had fallen victim were minimal in comparison with the victims of the opponents. Hence, a large number of victims of the war were needed to overshadow the efforts and the status of the opponents. While there was no freedom of speech no one could take the side of the truth.
By each passing moment
We were mown
In our green youth
By sickles of lust
Merchants of our own kind;
Oblivious to the descended plague
And our plight,
Sought comfort of their fortunes
In our red deaths
Thus, the Iranian New Year of 1367 started. My steps had already dragged me to blood. Neekvarz’ death annulled the aggression against Hill 85. Mohammad and his colleague re-joined us in Tappeh Razmi where we pursued another schedule. Twenty soldiers from one of our platoons had to go to the front line every night. Once every three nights it was my soldiers’ turn. That night my soldiers went to the line under Ghaderee’s command >>> Part 17
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