Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Post #197 - Effects of War, Pleasures of Peace

Continuing with the highlights of my 2006 trip to Iran, with the Fellowship of Reconciliation:

Before we left the center that works with victims of the Iran-Iraq War, I spoke with Dr. Rezvan Kahjeh Salehani, Director of the International Relations Office for the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs about the branches all over Iran that provide similar services of rehabilitation, counseling, medical follow-up and family aid.

He told me that chemical and biological agents used against Iranians by Saddam were originally supplied by countries like the United States (e.g. American Type Culture Collection, a Virginia company) and Germany. As Dr. Khateri (the center's director) had noted, despite international conventions to ban chemical weapons going back to the early 1800’s, “the demon [of WMD’s] is not dead, but only sleeping; we don’t know when it might be awakened.”

Delegate Melissa Van (of Peace Action/ New York) put it this way to some of her community back home: [For Iranians] “the idea of another war is not tasteful. It is horrible. Everybody I talked to lost family members in that war – brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews – the war was incredibly devastating to the country. There are 50,000 still suffering from the effect of the chemical weapons Iraq used during the war.”
Our visit was covered by Agence France Presse, European Pressphoto Agency, Reuters News Agency and the Associated Press, but we offered no public statement as a group.

South Tehran kuchehs
For our next appointment, we drove southward to the poorer part of Tehran, and walked half-a-mile through the narrow streets called kuchehs (often mistranslated as “alleys”). The kucheh is an ancient town-planning technique which conserves heat in the winter, provides shade in the summer, protects the pedestrian from the periodic duststorms that used to be quite common in the days before urban sprawl, and allowed for better defense against marauders, as a horseman was unable to turn his horse around in the close quarters of the narrower kuchehs. Another useful invention, still sometimes seen even today, is the baadgir (“wind-catcher”), a narrow tower that has been described as “a chimney in reverse” – a precursor to modern air conditioning, which helped keep the thick-walled abobe buildings cool in summer.

Learning a trade
Khaneye Salaamate ("house of peace") Naser Khosro, an NGO, had been established in what was once a city residence of a Persian prince. Now it houses a community organization that gives counseling and instruction to women who are single mothers and must support themselves and their children. Our group’s trip report for that day read: “The director, Mrs. Lida Bonakdaran, started this program nine years ago, using her own money to buy materials for handicrafts projects. She particularly tries to help these women develop business skills so that they can support their families. They learn practical skills such as rug weaving, making artificial flowers, sewing, and baking. Their products are sold in a cooperative, so that they will have a constant income.”
Our guide, Mr. Avali
Mr. Sadegh Avali, a City of Tehran official, showed us the preserved portions of the grand house that had existed, and walked with me as we toured the training facility. As always in Iran, we were offered tea and sweets before ending our visit.

The Tehran National Museum was notable for two reasons: its wonderful collection of art and artifacts from 5000 BC to the present, and its guard at the front gate – he bore one of only two firearms we saw while in Iran; the other being one held by a guard at the National Carpet Museum.

We flew to Shiraz, about 900 km south of Tehran in the center of Fars Province (which gave its name to the empire (Persia) that once ruled most of the world, in the same way that Rome became more than just a city-name). Kourosh I established the Achaemenid dynasty in this region in 553 BC.

Checking in at the Parseh Hotel, we noted the different and distinctive aroma of Shiraz – flower-gardens and fruit-trees that bloom in the desert of Fars province. It was a welcome change after the urban automotive pollution of Tehran.

Delegate Steven Fryburg (then-director of the Peace Museum in Akron, Ohio) wrote of our landing in Shiraz:

This dreamy desert city, which once greeted travelers on the Silk Road, welcomed us with a full moon and a mild desert breeze. 
Flowers near the tomb of Sa'adi (1195–1226)

“Before I could get on the bus, a young couple stopped me and asked where I was from...I explained that I was from the U.S.A., explained our delegation’s mission, and gave them my business card from the Peace Museum. Their first response was gratitude. They said that it was such a wonderful gesture for us to travel so far to meet them and to learn more about the Iranian people.
Our brief moment was cut short by someone calling from the bus to say that I needed to get on board. So I quickly pressed a couple of peace buttons into their hands and bid them ‘Khoda Hafez’ (May God protect you.). Riding the bus to the hotel, my mind drifted back to the couple at the airport, with so much of their lives ahead of them, and so much to offer the world. If we take time to get to know one another, how can we think of harming each other?”

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