In this documentary a photographer recalls his memories of the liberation of the Iranian city of Khorramshahr after 578 days of occupation by the Iraqi army during the Iraq-Iran war.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
On screen: All of the images presented in this documentary were taken by the battle of Khorramshahr's photographers.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer: “Khuzestan always had an active and dynamic image in my mind. The kind of ardor inherent in southerners and the people of Khuzestan were appealing to me. And I loved to see the region in person. Unfortunately I came here when the Iraq war had broken out.War tore apart Khuzestan. The province had important ports for import and export. It was an oil-rich economic zone.
Look at the passion for life. Look how cheerful people are. Busy living their lives. Imagine a mortar shell landing here all of a sudden.”
Narration: And it did and September 22 1980 and without so much as a formal warning Saddam ordered an invasion of Iran from Equestrian and Borders the setting off in all out war that would last for 8 years and send hundreds of thousands to their deaths. The go to capture and Iran's Khuzestan province. First stop Khoramshahr Iran's most important support on the Persian Gulf population over 20,0000.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer: “A lot of people had set out for Ahvaz from neighboring cities such as Khorramshahr, Abadan, Soosangerd, Howeizeh, and so on. Some were running away. Others were…In a nutshell, it was a strange, extraordinary movement of crowds.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Resident of Khoramshahr: “It was around September 23 when we were informed that Iraqi tanks had advanced within a few kilometers of Khorramshahr. They were advancing on Khorramshahr from Shalamche using the dirt road. At the same time, they were advancing on the Khorramshahr-Ahvaz road.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer: “In 1980, when the war began, one of my friends said to me, “Come and take photos or make films” or do what we call documentary film making today. Because I knew photography, he wanted me to take pictures of or film what was happening. We found ourselves a vehicle and drove to Khuzestan.”
Narration: After 34 days of Street Fighter is city Celtic Iraqi troops what ensued was 19 months of occupation they started nothing and no-one soon the city practically became a ghost town with the exception of the Iraqi army occupies.
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SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer: “I have photos showing ordinary people in plain clothes who have taken up arms fighting, resisting.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Soldier: “We didn’t engage them as efficiently as we could have because we’d never seen any tanks, nor any rangers, commandos, and foreign-supplied weapons. We couldn’t believe that this war was actually happening and sucking us into it deeper and deeper by the minute.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Soldier: “I mean we had nothing. We’d already used up all our RPG rockets.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer: “Resistance and defending the city is done by the people of that city. Even the soldiers who come to fight are part of the people. I was a photographer and a cameraman. I used to visit the fighters. Sometimes some were not in the mood. It was a sign that somebody had been martyred. And since they were not a certain group of people I couldn’t say who had been killed. I had to guess. But sometimes it wasn’t true and I saw the person entering. You may not believe but I didn’t dare ask who had lost his life today.”
Narration:It was devastated by the loading Iraqi troops other major urban centers such as Abadan an Ahwaz were also left in ruins but nowhere nearly as bad as or Khoramshahr Iran went on the offensive.
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Iraqi Voice: “Announcement No.99 From Major General, Chief of staff of the armed forces, to inform that Iranian invading forces in Khorramshahr were totally gone.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Iraqi Officer: “Very victims and too much houses…some of them are still there”
SOUNDBITE [English] Reporter: “That is from into Khormshahr we can get for the moment, its Pretty clear that Iraqis do control the port and the good part of the town but the whole area still is very much in contention and only represents one stepping stone which looks like still that drone its conflict.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer: “It was a frequent issue; we heard the news of the martyrdom of our friends and fellow fighters inside trenches. … They were missed a lot at lunch time or dinner. We could see the empty place of a certain person feeling cross and sad.
When people heard the name of Khorramshahr you could see a certain feeling, a kind of anger and rage in their eyes. They were anxiously waiting, counting the moments to be deployed to Khorramshahr and liberate the city. I was watching their photos today. It’s clear they’ve braced for a great feat.”
Narration: Iran went into offensive and Ayatollah Khomini orders Iranian military and the residence of Khoramshahr men and women with lost everything they had far to the mail to recapture the city. The operation for the liberation of Khoramshahr was codenamed Operation Bitol moghadas.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Saeed Poor Darab, Commander Hamzeh 21 Division: “In the next few seconds, the order for the start of the operation will be issued, and the Islamic Republic’s forces, including those of the IRGC, the Basij Volunteer Force, and those of the army, will continue moving southward to the City of Blood.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer: “Saddam Hussain had turned Khorramshahr into an iron castle. It should be explained in the situation. You should watch the documentaries. He had deployed thousands of tanks around Khorramshahr. That’s why it was impossible to attack the city from the opposite front. Iranian soldiers had to move around.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Soldier: “We have arrived in Khorramshahr from Shalamcheh's side.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer:“The main operation for the liberation of Khorramshahr began in three phases. Phase 1 included crossing the river and advancing to the Husseiniyeh Stop.
The second phase involved closing in on Khorramshahr and proceeding to Shalamcheh. And the second phase included completing the siege of Khorramshahr and cutting the logistic communications of the Iraqi troops in Khorramshahr and the city of Basra in the Shalamcheh area, and eventually recapturing all of Khorramshahr.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Radio Presenter: “Carrying on with the world news on the Voice of America here in Washington. Incoming reports say intense fighting has broken out between Iranian and Iraqi troops near Khorramshahr, the only Iranian city still under Iraqi control.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer: “When I brought up my camera I could see some tracer bullets burning in front of me. I stepped back. I tried to take some photos from the trench and the shotgun that was constantly firing. It was showering the short bulwark with bullets, so that no one could cross. A bullet passed me by, it was a close call; I can hear the noise it made now that I recall that moment after so long.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Voice of Iranian Soldier:“These are those same mercenaries who were firing at us up until a few minutes ago.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Voice on Radio: “We are inside the city, and all those (Iraqi troops) in the city have surrendered to us. Over!”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer: “Those from Khorramshahr were so happy and excited because they’d returned to their city, to the place they’d had to leave with a heavy heart.
You could see in their eyes the humiliation with which they’d had to abandon their city but and the honor with which they were returning to it.
I don’t know. It looked like a celebration. It was such a festive atmosphere. There was so much joy and energy.
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
Well, they’d still not let anyone go inside because apparently the Operations Intel Center, hadn’t cleared the city for entry yet. It was then that I thought to myself I had to go inside the city no matter what the cost. And I somehow managed to escape their eyes and sneak in. I got in and walked all the way to the Grand Mosque.
When I entered the mosque, no one else had arrived yet. So I started snapping shots. The mosque was in perfect condition. There were no signs of mortar shells, no direct artillery or tank shells or the like. I didn’t see any.”
When I walked into the mosque, well I was very excited. I looked at the time and realized it was time to pray. I stood there and said my prayers. Halfway through my prayers, I heard a noise. Remember, I had been told, “Don’t go. The city hasn’t been cleared yet. The Iraqis are still in there. ” So naturally, I was scared that may be….and I wasn’t armed. I didn’t have a weapon. I only had my camera. So I tip-toed behind this door here, and gently stuck my head out to see. The man I saw was wearing the local costume. He was clad in black. He wasn’t one of our soldiers. But he was Iranian. Right behind him, an Iranian soldier came in rifle in hand.
I think it was in the afternoon, I returned there to a large crowd. The troops had all come together. The mosque itself and its surroundings were packed. Within hours, it became a base.
Iraqi troops started pounding this place in the afternoon. Shells started raining down. That dome, that big dome you see over there, was made of bricks. It bore holes made by direct tank shell fire. The pounding on the mosque and the surrounding areas happened in the afternoon. The scars left behind by the bullets and shrapnel and those that came later, are all from that afternoon.
There’s a famous photo you may have seen. An Iraqi soldier is carrying an injured teenage Iranian soldier on his shoulders. Four or five Iraqi soldiers are walking in front of them, their hands up in the air. They are his hostages but since the Iranian soldier is injured and cannot walk he mounts the Iraqi soldier’s shoulder and brings the hostages. See his morale, how has he come to think of a way to not let go of hostages and at the same time arrive home.
After the Grand Mosque, I came here. This bridge was a strategic spot in the battle for the liberation of Khorramshahr. It connected the north of Khorramshahr to its south. This was the last spot where the defenders of the city were positioned to prevent the Iraqi troops from reaching the southern areas. I walked here. It was strewn with all kinds of things; helmets, weapons, grenades, belts, boots and so on.
I walked here. It was strewn with all kinds of things; helmets, weapons, grenades, belts, boots and so on.
I snapped a few shots. Then, all of a sudden, I remembered that the weapon or grenade that I had seen there…the weapon was a G3 assault rifle and the grenade was one used by Iranian troops…I figured those had to be signs of our soldiers. Then under the dirt and tree leaves, I saw a uniform.
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:29
When I picked it up, I saw lots of rib cage bones, pieces of the backbone, and others fall to the ground. I turned the uniform up and I saw a name tag reading, “Private Ahmad Ahmadi”. I remember it vividly. X marks the spot. This is where I picked it up. I realized immediately those were the remains of one of the city defenders who’d been killed there.
Khorramshahr is part of country, of our home. It is a symbol of our Revolution, of our people. It had to be taken back. That’s the feeling I’ve always tried to convey through my work, in my pictures, in my films. I did it for history books. I photographed or filmed things that would be part of this country’s history forever. What happened was no small incident.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Radio Announcer: “Dear listeners! May I have your attention? Dear listeners! May I have your attention? Khorramshahr, the City of Blood, has been liberated!”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Reporter: “This is your heroic City of Blood. The soldiers of Islam liberated it in the past few minutes.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Reza Sharaf Aldin, War Photographer:“I remember Radio’s Baghdad’s host was saying that Iran has retaken only a few posts from Iraqi soldiers; a few posts, and that he said has been handed over to Iranians by Iraqis themselves to prevent damages as Iraqis plan to return. But as you can see the murals in this museum they had written on the walls we’re here to stay. They hadn’t come for a brief stay. Committees that visited Khorramshahr after the city was liberated testify that the city was an impenetrable castle.
One of the interesting places in Khorramshahr was the wide and vast premises of the city’s Customs Office. There were lots of cars parked here. They were imported cars that had been abandoned when the war broke out. Iraqi troops erected them like this to prevent helicopters from landing here. To prevent our paratroopers from landing here.
This is a picture that speaks a thousand words. I hope that my people protect and cherish this picture, these moments and these feelings, and for our enemies to take a look at this photo if they want to know what our nation is like.”