This documentary portrays the pain and suffering of the innocent people who were affected by chemical weapons in the Iraq-Iran war, and who have been brought to Vienna for treatment.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: Halabja; a city that had fallen into a deep sleep. 23 years later, a city on the other side of the world, I decided to make a movie to connect all these distant places to each other. I wanted to know what the Viennese, at least the educated ones, thought of those events.
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:0
Narration: The footage we were looking for couldn’t be filmed in the city’s main streets and squares. In the heart of those lights and bright buildings, events of thirty years ago seemed insignificant. We had to step on dark streets where the pedestrians could hide their identities.
SOUNDBITE [German], Host of Program: “Welcome to the program, Mr. Tillman Sauls. Without accusing each side of the war, how Iran or Iraq could get mustard gas bomb?”
SOUNDBITE [German],Mr. Tillman Sauls:“Two German companies, that is, Karl Kolb and Pilot Plant are accused of sending Iraq pesticide facilities.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Kristian Krowitziger, Reporter and Documentary Filmmaker, O.R.F. Channel: “You cannot do an interview with those who manufactured chemical weapons. They’re behind the scenes and therefore never give us an interview. So you cannot evaluate the psychological impacts of making those weapons on them. But the person who used a “paper weapon” so easily, that is, the one who gave orders to use banned weapons must be blamed. Such a person, hide himself behind an amalgam of abstract things to justify his act. So a group of people have been involved in this war crime. And I think none of them can stand the psychological ramifications of that horrible act.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Paul Hertel, Composer: “They give you something and you put it in the cannon and fire it without knowing about the consequences. That thing falls in a far-off land.”
Narration: That far-off land could be Mashhad. I was there to see two old friends of mine.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Researcher: “Can you still remember him?
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Ahmad Fakhar, Injured Veteran: “Can you remember me? I’m not sure if he …”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Researcher: “on the plane, you we were not beside each other. He was sitting on the right side of the plane. And you, I think, were in the middle. Where were you at the time of the bombardment?”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Ahmad Fakhar, Injured Veteran: “We were all together.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Researcher: “Where were you?”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Ahmad Fakhar, Injured Veteran: “There were about eight helicopters bringing Iraqi prisoners of war. Then we were going to get on the choppers when two Iraqi reconnaissance aircraft appeared and dropped bombs. One of those bombs fell into water and we were happy about it. Fifty minutes later seven aircraft bombarded the area heavily.”
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Ahmad Fakhar, Injured Veteran: “The injured were taken by a cargo plane. They were crying in pain. There was a man called Alborzi, seemingly from Qaenat.
Alborzi. His stopped crying. I got scared.
How old were you at that time?
I was 16 years old.
I got into a panic thinking that I was the next one to die. I got many bad blisters. I was very homesick. I was frightened because all my friends were dying one by one.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Researcher: “Thank God, now you have such a lovely boy. What’s your name? Omid”
Narration: All those memories boiled down to a name which had to be repeated over and over again if it was to be heard.
SOUNDBITE [German], Kristian Krowitziger, Reporter and Documentary Filmmaker, O.R.F. Channel: “It’s said that clandestine trading of such bombs are on the increase. The question is not, from where such bombs can be obtained? But, is there anyone who dares to break the law and use such bombs? A cursory look at history will suffice to show you that there have always been such criminals. And it’s not unlikely that there will be such criminals in the future too.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Dr. Markus Perner, Writer and Researcher: “Well, mustard gas bomb, as you have seen, can have terrible consequences. But as for atomic bombs, their fatal and devastating consequences last much longer. With those stockpiles of nuclear weapons across the world I don’t think that even such weapons are banned. When a nuclear bomb drops, the luckiest people are those who burn to death at once. Many people will die after weeks, months and years as we get away from the area.”
Narration: After a long time, I was in Vienna again, trying to fill the temporal gap, in the silence of this graveyard.
SOUNDBITE [German], Paul Hertel, Composer: “According to Beethoven, those who listen to his music must become better human beings. That was one of his reasons to compose music. But can such an aim be achieved?”
Narration: The only thing I could do was to embark on long journeys; from Vienna to Mashhad; from Mashhad to Vienna; and from there to the heart of past events.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Ahmad Fakhar, Injured Veteran: “This photo was taken about two weeks after the chemical attack because my eyes were closed for few days after the attack. This photo dates back to the first time I could open my eyes. I could see then. For a while, I couldn’t able to see.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Freilinger, War Surgeon in Vienna: “This is Professor Marburger. I don’t know this guy. Oh, this is the one I was talking about.
Let me see.
Do you know him?
Is he dead?
He’s alive. It’s wonderful.
I took these photos one week ago.
Are you sure?
Yes, I did an interview with him.
Is this the same person you were talking about?
Yes, this is he.
Did he himself give you the photo?
Yes, he himself showed me the photo. During the interview, he burst into tears. He said, “Professor Freilinger save my life.” He’s still alive.
How’s his life? How’s his condition?
He practically cannot see.
Is he still coughing? And are his eyes watering?
All the time.
He has two children. One daughter and one son.
Are they healthy?”
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Sasan Chakkoshian, Lung Expert: “Those exposed to chemical bombs suffer from intense pulmonary problems like difficulties in breathing and coughing, difficulties in breathing means difficulties in living.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Ahmad Fakhar, Injured Veteran: “A rumor spread that, “This man has been exposed to chemical agents. So he cannot father a child. If you want to marry him, you must know that this man is sterile.” To be honest, some declined my proposal of marriage out of fear.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Researcher: “His children are healthy.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Freilinger, War Surgeon in Vienna: “I was living in a country enjoying from a high level of medical sciences. And the country was not involved in any wars. We tried to make the remaining days of the injured a little bit pleasant as far as we could. I think they noticed it.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Sasan Chakkoshian, Lung Expert: “25 years have passed since those days and still there are many patients suffering from the effects of chemical bombs. Unfortunately, we cannot help them a lot.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Michael Marburger, Urologist: “Well, this is an issue that no one thinks about these days. You see what I mean? But the deterioration of their health in 48 hours would fill you with terror. I can remember that one or two of them were relatively healthy when they came here. After two days, they began to cough more and more till they died.”
Narration: About thirty years have passed since those days and still what I see is a reflection of those distant memories.
SOUNDBITE [German], Manfred Kouhler, Ancient Buildings Restoration Engineer: “One has to think about catastrophe in a way that its dark dimensions fade away so that he or she can begin anew.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Kristian Krowitziger, Reporter and Documentary Filmmaker, O.R.F. Channel: “There are numerous mysterious things in the war. I can remember that once a village in Slovenia was bombarded and we got there in ten minutes. The air was still full of dust particles. You could smell burnt gunpowder, ammunition and grenades. And 100 meters away children were still playing football.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Freilinger, War Surgeon in Vienna: “When you are satisfied with your life you can get along with other people well; you can endure the problems of your life. When you are really satisfied with your life you can have a positive effect on other people. What’s really important in life is to be optimistic. Optimism is very important.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Palizban, Injured Veteran: “He was very kind. Maybe that’s because of his bitter experience during WWII or when Vienna was under attack.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Freilinger, War Surgeon in Vienna: “I was just fifteen years old when I went to the front line. And I was arrested in Yugoslavia when I was seventeen.During WWII?
I was arrested in Yugoslavia but transferred to Belgrade. After I was released, I was 37 kilos. I caught many different diseases like malaria, typhoid, and a kidney infection. I had to drink saline for years. And then, I decided to become a doctor.”
TIME CODE: 20:21_27:12
Narration: I can remember the last day, the injured were in Austria. They were coming back home leaving behind a building full of memories. A building we didn’t like to leave even after their departure. We could sit there for hours and think about past events. And again, what we could not forget was the help of some people during that hard time, which offered a beacon of hope for a brighter future.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “Individuals helped us a lot but governments didn’t help us at all.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Reasearcher: “It was a memorable day for me. And I’d like to thank your wife for the entertainment.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Freilinger, War Surgeon in Vienna: “We’re happy that today we have a young guest, with grey beard but still black hair. Karimi, it’s so good to see you after all this time. During the hours we were together we could talk about the past. How nice it will be if we can spend more time with each other. We could stand those difficult days very well.”
Narration: Professor Freilinger was leaving Vienna, so it was a good excuse to see him again. It was very interesting for me that he had still a lot to say. And till the last moment, he was talking about those days incessantly.
SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Freilinger, War Surgeon in Vienna: “Those days were very sad, especially for us who got involved in the story. Every year, we had to deal with new cases. The first time I was in Tehran, I saw many dead bodies in a morgue. I saw bodies with burn, swollen skins. I ask, “Are they all the victims of the war?” and they said, “Yes.” They were innocent civilians. You must hurry. Otherwise, you cannot get off the train.”
Narration: Even when we got off the train, his eyes were still talking, talking about hours and days shocking and unforgettable for him as much as for us. I went to Purkersdorf to see a building that once was the residence of the injured. The old building has been reconstructed, and had a new facade. But the corridors had the same sense of place as they had thirty years ago. I could hear the voice of the injured echoing in the corridors.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Hushang Allah Yari, Psychologist: “As if it was just as recently as last week when we met each other and when the injured veterans came to Vienna.
As if it was not in the distance past, was it?
Narration: The last night at the injured veterans’ home we packed our things but none of us wanted to leave the place. Some of us got into the car. But others decided to walk the distance of 15 kilometers from Purkersdorf to Vienna. We set off. During the whole journey, we kept looking back. And lights were getting away and away from us.