Memories for All Seasons 4

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A glass wall exists between the people in Austria who have just been informed of wars via media and those who have experienced the plights of war themselves.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: Vienna. October 2011. After 30 years, still the same streets, the same people, the same peace and tranquility, and the freezing cold. Still you can hear the music wafting through open windows. I’m going to see my friend, Paul Hertel, a composer. I’d like him to perform a piece of music in memory of those old days. But as I pass the Austrian Parliament on the way to his home, music yields to far-off cries that once pealed all over the city.

SOUNDBITE [German], Unknown man: “It seems that the war is in remote lands. If it was possible … the so-called democratic states and the so-called human rights supporters and those peace organizations … nothing! Really nothing!”

SOUNDBITE [German], Paul Hertel, Composer of the Green Ashes: “Austria had become ridiculously a place for happy people. All we knew about war was through reading history books or listening to the elderly. We used to follow the stories about wars in other countries through the media. So there was a glass wall between those caught in the throes of wars and those who used to see wars via TV.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [German], Kristian Krowitziger, Reporter and Documentary Filmmaker, O.R.F. Channel: “I’d like to say it once more: The Austrian people felt the real sense of that war for the first time when the first group of the Iranian injured came to Vienna. It was just that time when they could comprehend the gravity of the situation.”

SOUNDBITE [German], News Reader: We, the Austrian people, think about the war once in a while, especially when we saw the victims of the war face to face. It’s more than a year since we saw airplanes land at Vinenna Airport bringing the injured of the horrible war between Iran and Iraq for treatment.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Michael Marburger, Urologist: “We were the first group who received the injured while we didn’t know what their problems were. Even those who had come with the injured didn’t know. To cap it all, their health was getting worse gradually. The main reason was that their lungs had been damaged.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “When the first injured group arrived in Vienna I took a reporter, who was my friend, with me to the plane along with Professor Freilinger. The reporter was Mr. Roland Schmidle.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Roland Schmidle, Reporter: “What color was the gas?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “He filmed all the injured and interviewed them as much as possible. He also conducted an interview with Professor Freilinger. There the Professor said that they were chemically injured. That’s while the whole world was trying to say that they were not injured chemically. Mr. Schmidle who was working for the Austrian TV was not allowed to broadcast the program. But he broadcast the program containing all the interviews with the injured, Professor Freilinger and me on the plane, without permission. So for the first time, the issues about the chemically injured were broadcast internationally.”

SOUNDBITE [German], News Reader: “This is the jumbo jet that brought 33 chemically injured veterans from Tehran to Vienna last night. At the first sight, they are 33 persons sharing the same pain lying on the floor of the plane.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Kristian Krowitziger, Reporter and Documentary Filmmaker, O.R.F. Channel: “The only things that films, TV channels and newspaper fail to present are smells. They hide behind pictures; the smell of ammunition.”

Narration: Whenever I was approaching a plane carrying chemically injured veterans, my nose used to get prepared for a smell; a smell that I can still feel after all those years, as I remember the scenes. Many times, I got on a plane that took me to far-flung places, without flying, to a land of lonely men. Unconscious of the outside world, they were breathing their last.

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Palizban, Injured Veteran in Vienna: “It was one of the bitterest memories of my whole life. They brought chemically injured veterans to Vienna. All of them died. They were nineteen. Their corpses were taken back to Iran one by one. It was a very hard time for me when I was in Vienna for treatment. It was very difficult to lose my friends.”

A.K.H Hospital, Where the Chemical Injured were hospitalized in

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [German], News Reader: “Unfortunately, when the people of the world are preparing themselves for carnivals, news about war has been the main headlines. Today we would like to pose a question of whether or not Iraq has used mustard gas in the war. Baghdad has denied charges that it has used poisonous gases against Iran in the war. The Iraqi authorities claim that those chemically injured veterans taken to Vienna are those workers survived the explosion in one of the Iranian poisonous gas factory.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Dr. Markus Perner, Writer and Researcher: “Well, I can remember that during the Iran-Iraq war which broke out in 1981 and lasted till 1988 Iran used to be blamed as the country that began the war and not as a country that was defending itself. Iran was usually described negatively.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Due to the special condition Austria has been involved in, we ask both Iran and Iraq to respect international war laws, especially those related to the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “He asked both countries not to use chemical bombs. Both countries.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Michael Marburger, Urologist: “Freilinger was with us when a group came from The Hague. They were still dubious about the use of mustard gas. But because the issue was something new it attracted international attention.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Freilinger, War Surgeon in Vienna: “At that time, I didn’t know which side had used mustard gas. For many of my colleagues it was horrible to go to a country that had used mustard gas. But I thought I had to detect which country had used those poisonous gases. Maybe Iran had dropped those bombs. Who knew? Two weeks later, I said goodbye to my family and flew to Tehran. Eight days later, they took me to Khorramshahr. It is a city in the south, isn’t it?

Yes.

It was dangerous to carry two bottles of poison. The senior pilot was a man called Pollak. I told him that I had poured the content of a chemical bomb in two bottles and I was going to take them to Vienna. He put his hands on his head and said, “Oh my God! I fear that they may go off inside the plane.” I answered, “It’s too late. Now we’re in the air.”

The die has been cast.

It was very silly to say that thing at that moment.”

SOUNDBITE [German], News Reader: “One year has passed since the arrival of the first group of chemically injured veterans in Vienna. Now Professor Freilinger from the University of Vienna is in charge of the research team. Last year, Professor Freilinger was a member of the UN Research Committee to see if Iraq had used poisonous gases in the war. He could prove the use of chemical bombs by the Iraqi regime after a thorough investigation.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Narration: Four years after Professor Freilinger proved the use of chemical bombs by Iraq, the Austrian media were still insisting on their previous stand.

SOUNDBITE [German], News Reader: “War and then sports are subjects we’re going to talk about in half an hour. And unfortunately, we start with war. Iran transferred tens of victims of poisonous gases to European hospital through Vienna. All of them were from a village called Halabja.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Reporter: “It’s not still clear which side of the war is responsible for the chemical attack on Halabja; Iran or Iraq?”

SOUNDBITE [German], Dr. Markus Perner, Writer and Researcher: “Sad to say, the media do everything, they can manipulate people the way they like. And people are less conscious of it today. The media form your feelings and concerns. You, like other people just follow them. The reports on the war were very brief and we couldn’t understand what was going on there. But now after thirty years, it’s quite clear for me what that war was and what was happening at that time.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Sasan Chakkoshian, Lung Expert: “One of those right decisions at that time was to take the injured to European countries including Austria. As you said, a number of them came here so that people could believe that they had been exposed to poisonous gases.”

SOUNDBITE [German], News Reader: “Haman Omar is 35 and the same gas has claimed the lives of his wife and two children; his whole family. Beside him is lying Rahmat Mal, a 28-year-old student. He says, “Everywhere was on fire and scenes of horror movies were in front of our eyes.” He says, “Saddam is killing us with such hatred as if he’s killing insects.””

Narration: When I was standing beside the beds of the injured I was silent trying to contain my emotions as if I didn’t care much about seeing those scenes. But as soon as I stepped out of the hospital those suppressed emotions would overwhelmed me. I can remember one of them, who used to walk quickly in the hospital saying, “I feel well. I’ve been taken here by mistake. I must not be here.” and I believed him. Two days later, he died coughing up parts of his lung.

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Hessam Nahvani, Dermatologist, Vienna: “They were laughing and playing jokes even to the last day of their lives. The process of dying was very quick for them.”

Narration: After the death of the first chemically injured veteran in Vienna, the Iranian living in Austria held a street demonstration to show the Austrian people what the media were trying to hide.

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Zahra Richard, Austrian Muslim: “We decided to carry him to the airport in procession but we were not allowed. They said that according to the law, the body had to be carried directly to the airport. So we made a coffin out of cartons and pieces of wood and put the Iranian flag on it.”

SOUNDBITE [German], a Protester: “Chemical bombs and poisonous gases are being dropped on innocent women and children. What is happening in Iran today can happen all over the world tomorrow. And everyone with a heart of gold”

TIME CODE: 20:00_26:45

SOUNDBITE [German], a Protester: “The International Red Cross must condemn Iraq and its allies for violating international resolutions.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Kristian Krowitziger, Reporter and Documentary Filmmaker, O.R.F. Channel: “Iran and Iraq are far from here. The fact that a war has broken out there is not an important issue for people living here. It attracts no one’s attention.”

SOUNDBITE [German], News Reader: “The gas Iraq has used against Iran is called mustard gas. Iran has sent the victims of this disaster to Europe, especially Vienna for treatment by air. Currently, the UN experts are in the front line to see what kind of gas has been used, where, and by whom. Just a few minutes before the program began, we were informed that one of those Iranian injured veterans hospitalized last weekend, has died an agonizing death. But now, Europeans are facing the fatal consequences of those gases in their own countries.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Kristian Krowitziger, Reporter and Documentary Filmmaker, O.R.F. Channel: “Anyway, now all people know what happened at that time. They know how the war broke out. The war that began thirty years ago was recorded among other wars in history.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Elizabeth Schill, Art Restoration Engineer: “You talked about the mustard gas injured. The other day, I came across a photo which I’ll never forgive: a man was lying in bed.”

SOUNDBITE [German], Unknown man: “You have seen it from near, from a short distance. You have seen the injured; you have seen pain and sorrow with or without camera in your hand. But you have never been in the front line. So you cannot comprehend the circumstances as much as those who were there; those who put their lives in their hands and felt every moment of the war; those who were in the front line and never thought that they would survive the war.”

Narration: Without a doubt, from that distance everything looked differently. After the demonstration, in the afternoon I found myself in the middle of a lake far away from shore. No one was there on shore. Silence had fallen upon the lake and the only thing you could hear was the pleasant sound of water.

SOUNDBITE [German], Unknown man: “In Germany, I was working with a cameraman, terribly sensitive; a man who would pass out by seeing blood. He was as large as an elephant but if he happened to cut his fingers he would die out of fear. Ironically, this guy had been a cameraman of a documentary about an operation in which a surgeon had been performing surgery on guts for hours. I asked him, “How could you managed to film the operation?” he answered, “I saw the operation through the camera’s lens.””

Narration: Vienna, October 2011. After about thirty years, the same streets, the same people, and the same peace and tranquility, still, you can hear the music wafting through open windows. 

   

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