Iran-Iraq War: A Path To Nowhere (21)


Manoucher Avaznia
by Manoucher Avaznia

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 -- Part 18 -- Part 19 -- Part 20 -- Part 21 -- Part 22

The Original Sin

On the herders' tongues, I wished I were song, for my herd and dog

When I passed borders, gazing at Zagross, behind the noon haze.

I wished I were dead, in that parched plain, near my bunker

Fallen; decaying; beside my friends, in my Khuzestan;

I wished flowers, grew so sweet, in my blown dust

After my mother, bitterly cried, her Joseph was lost.

I wished I dropped, last drops of tear, in my inferno

As were staring, into my storm, both eyes of my foe.

I wished I received, lashes of flogs, on head and shoulder

As screamed loud, of his innocence, mouth of poor beggar;

Or I felt the pain, of the tense whipping, on naked body

Of brave soldier, when he was fallen, captive; defenseless

Or I were the pain, of little bare feet, of those children

Who were going home, with their bags of books, around Shomelee

Before the sunset of the same day, I received a call from the front line that Ghaderee was back from hospitalization. He was staying in my former platoon for a few hours. I took the chance and walked to my former soldiers where I saw Ghaderee with two crutches under his arms. We spent sometime joking and howling to show our happiness with Ghaderee’s return while drinking tea as soldiers were renewing their request of being taken to the platoon of mortar. Meanwhile Ghaderee told me that he wanted to go back for more operations on his wounded limbs. He accompanied me to my platoon in the food truck and left for the battalion among my pleas that he should have left the war front that very night. That was the last time I saw the young man and my last words to him.

About an hour had passed Ghaderee’s leaving when Mirza and I were sitting on the bunker behind the embankment, enjoying the relatively mild evening smoking cigarettes, drinking tea, and playing a chess game whose chessmen had been made by used cartridge shells. We renewed our talk of the approaching Iraqi attack. Such an attack was inevitable. In our belief it was a link in the chain of consecutive attacks.

In the middle of our talk two small Iraqi planes: probably drone, appeared over Haghee's battalion and began to circle at a low altitude and speed. They flew over the four-barreled anti-aircraft machine gun for several minutes and vanished over Iraqi territories without opening fire or facing the ground fire of our forces. It was strange to see such a menace to be ignored like that. Our forces had grown so apathetic that Iraqis could easily pass the embankment and unleash an attack at their will.

"We are lost," Mirza would observe, "They did their reconnaissance of the anti-aircraft and will knock it out today or tomorrow."

We were still wondering about soldiers’ lack of reaction that the planes re-appeared and resumed circling as they had done before. This time they faced a heavy fire of rifles, machine guns, and even mortar shells of our ground forces. In the midst of the shooting mayhem a blaze sparkled from beneath one of the planes; an explosion occurred on the ground; and the anti-aircraft gun caught fire. A column of black smoke began to rise and the planes swooned in the western skies.

"Next time it will be our turn," Mirza said, agitated, "Probably they have gone to get new rockets to hit the platoon of mortar. Order the soldiers to have their rifles and the mortars at the ready."

Mirza sounded right. When a machine gun was so important to be bombed by air, so could the platoon of mortar be. The clenched fist of the battalion that lacked anti-aircraft defense system would make an easy target for precise aerial bombardment. Such an action would have deprived the whole battle line of a strong support of the mortar shells. Were they going to bomb us by air? With the alertness gained after the attack and the fact that other troops could take part in defending us, it seemed they would not send planes to target us. Nevertheless, I ordered rifles and mortars to be ready, but the sun had already set and the planes did not return. Instead, Iraqis began to mortar us with the shells that mainly exploded behind our position. Hoping they would stop soon, we did not respond immediately and kept preparing ourselves for a lengthy combat. But, they continued the shelling; and I ordered my soldiers to slowly respond to them with two pieces of mortar. They started launching their shells and thus the last combat of July 12, 1988 commenced.

Expecting this bombardment to be the prelude of a ground attack, everybody was awake and at work in my platoon. Two soldiers sat with me in the bunker by the telephone in constant contact with the battalion headquarters while Mirza had disappeared in a foxhole somewhere in the platoon. At around two o'clock in the morning, Jalalee called me on the phone for the last time. He was agitated and worried about Haghee's battalion. As he said, Haghee had rushed to his front line under Iraqi fire. According to him, Iraqi soldiers were moving closer to Haghee’s battalion; and so he loaded us with more responsibility.

"Divert your mortars toward Haghee’s battalion and protect it to your last shell,” Major Jalalee told me, "Don’t forget Captain Haghee expects you to save his battalion.”

“I do my best, Sir,” I said in return.

Jalalee’s new order indicated the seriousness of the situations. To carry his order out, I ordered three pieces of mortars to protect Haghee’s battalion, whose specification we had, and one to keep shooting against the Iraqi mortar that was bombing us ever since the beginning of the combat. With this order, the fire exchange intensified on both sides. I left the bunker to better see the scene of combat.

In the trench made in the earth behind my bunker, I sat down and looking around. Two Iraqi illuminations had covered northern portions of Haghee's battalion where seemed to be the place they intended to unleash their attack. An Iraqi long-range rocket-launcher was pounding our artillery positions of 105mm cannons with thirty-six rockets at a time. The rockets used to pass over our head and set a vast area on fire. Iraqi tanks were shooting against our tank positions; a long-range cannon was bombing Fakkeh Three-way. Safe from these, our mortaring against the Iraqi mortar position seemed to have no effect.

The first victim of the intensive firing was our telephone line that cut off our telephone communications with the battalion. We had to resort to radio communications. Using wireless was a dangerous alternative. Iraqis could easily receive our signals and figure out our exact location. We were left with no other choice and exchanged a few messages.

While the long range shelling was going on, the infantry combat started at Haghee's battalion on the Sush-Ammareh Road. A few Iraqi rifles showered the embankment and machine gun fire followed. Red tracers would come all the way to the middle of the empty zone between the old embankment and the front line.

A short time later a mortar shell passed over me and exploded in a depression behind my bunker. This shell was dead accurate. No doubt, the radio signals were betraying our location. The next shell whistled in a minute and I ducked in the trench. The whistling stopped over my head and the shell exploded with a deafening sound a few meters before the embankment, leveling the trench, and covering me with earth. Only my hands and head were clear of debris. I dug myself out. A fit of fear overtook me; and I started searching for a shelter. A groove, a few paces to the north of the bunker, seemed to be a safer place to protect me from shrapnel. But as I lay among the thorny brambles I decided our own bunker was the safest place to hide. I stood on my feet and ran to the bunker.

The two soldiers were sitting by the wireless. They had taken off their shirts, though still sweating in the sweltering heat. The lantern had added to the heat. Disheartened, I took off my shirt and lay on it with my feet toward the entrance thinking there would be no escape from the combat. I regretted my delay in joining the NLA. Better to be killed fighting for peace for my people and homeland.

"Death on this front is a big disgrace for myself and my family," I reflected.

I changed the course of my thoughts. If I were to die, it would be better to die with peace of mind. Anguish of agitation and regret seemed as painful as real torture. I cast my anxieties away, felt lightened in heart, and slept peacefully.

The length of the time I had slept was not known to me. Suddenly a shell whistled over my head and I woke up. Fancying it was my lot; I sat up expecting the shell to land on the roof of the bunker. This did not happen. Instead, a powerful explosion stormed the entrance; I was shaken; and the lantern went out. The front room was demolished and a thick hot dust filled the living room. Extraordinarily, the iron beam above my head had not come down. Shaken by the flow, I was dazed and numb believing I was dead. I expected my spirit to rise and leave my cooling body for somewhere in Heaven or Hell. Certainly, as an unbeliever in the context of religion my place would be the center of the Hell with its devouring flames.

But, if I were still alive, this very bunker could have become my hell before I died. A thought was telling me the sandbags and boards of the ruined room might have been on a fire that would quickly spread to the rest of the bunker. Many soldiers had burned to death in their bunkers; dread of burning stirred me to action. I pulled my feet; and they moved at my will. I could not believe I was still alive as I could see the debris and a small flame burning outside the bunker. To avoid being pierced by objects, I cautiously crouched toward the entrance; found a hole and pushed myself out gasping for fresh air. Soldiers followed suit at my instruction and the fire spread to the living room as well.

At about four o’clock in the morning, Iraqis stopped their shelling. My soldiers were launching their last shells. Everything in our bunker was on fire. My books, clothes, rifles, wireless set, telephone, blankets, and cartridges were burning in the twisting flames that had filled the area with a yellow light; and for the last time, Major Jalalee spoke to me on the adjacent communications center wireless. Perhaps, he had seen my burning bunker and wanted to ascertain I was still alive to receive his last order.

"Some soldiers of Haghee's battalion are coming toward you," he said in a very agitated tone, "Order them to go back to their own positions. If they disobey your order, kill them all. Shoot them all. Auxiliary forces are on their way to the front."

He cut off the short coversation without mentioning what had happened to Haghee, or when and from which axes the auxiliary forces would arrive the combat scene.

In every army retreating soldiers face the fate of being massacred by the fire of their own forces; but what Jalalee said about auxiliary forces seemed to be a lie to exhort us to fight. I passed the order to my soldiers emphasizing it had been issued by Jalalee.

"How can we shoot our compatriots?"

Two soldiers said, bewildered by the order.

"What have I told them?" I was coming to my wits. I had passed a bloody order like a dutiful officer. I hated to be a dutiful officer; I hated to be an officer. I would disobey this order whatever the price.

"The order is issued by battalion’s commander;” I said, “But if you see any of those soldiers, tell them to return to their positions. If they don't take your advice, let them go anywhere they want. Or, let them join you. Don't shoot at them. Don’t forget, do not shoot at them."

Thirty men isolated from major units, we were vulnerable to any attack in the platoon of mortar. Joining a neighboring unit would have strengthened both of us, but we had no order to do so. If I had ordered my soldiers to join Assadi's company, I would have been responsible for the outcome of the combat. I would have made a scapegoat for the officers who would blame me for the likely fiasco. I also knew that our remaining in the platoon would have cost our lives. How could I tell my soldiers to join Assadi's company without directly ordering them?

I decided to get away from my unit as a fit of fear was assailing me; very much hoping my soldiers would notice my absence and fled the platoon. I walked toward the neighboring communications center. As I reached there, the platoon of rocket located northeast of our position, was showered with small arms volley. Iraqi forces had already crossed the front line and had advanced several kilometers into our territories. Few minutes later the guns stopped shooting and the platoon fell. From there, the invasion could either go straight to the headquarters of the battalion or it could be diverted toward us.

With Jalalee’s last order about our routed soldiers, our concern for not shooting at them, his promise of auxiliary forces, and what happened in the platoon of rocket the situation grew very complicated. Lack of communication made it even more complex. In the darkness of the night we did not know who the forces around us were. Iranians or Iraqis? Upon whom we were to open fire and which forces to let in? Were they the promised auxiliary forces? We were baffled: the most adverse situation a military unit might ever encounter. Assadi's company seemed to be the only place still controlled by our own forces. It was the safest and the nearest place my soldiers could go once they noticed my absence.

I made my way southward towards Assadi’s company hoping to see my men there. At the entrance the sentry ordered me to stop. I stopped and introduced myself.

"Shoot! Don't listen to him!"

It was Lieutenant Ghezzee. Jalalee’s death order was to be carried out against me. As I was expecting a volley of hot bullets to pierce my body I heard a voice in darkness.

"Come on in Sir,” the sentry told me, “This mother … talks nonsense."

The soldier went on. This soldier was disobeying the military order like myself. Perhaps, he had heard my last order to my soldiers. Perhaps, there was an unwritten convention among soldiers to save their compatriots’ lives by bypassing the brass orders. This was the least they could for one another.

Returned from the brink of my grave, I thanked the sentry and arrived with the communications center’s soldiers. Now I was dressed in an undershirt, a pair of pants, a pair of boots, and a helmet. I saw some of my soldiers who had arrived there before me, presumably realizing my intention. Ghezzee who was totally disheartened was begging soldiers to carry out his orders. At my approach he forgot that he had just ordered his soldier to kill me; and asked me to help commanding a portion of his company.

"I'm just a conscript lieutenant, Sir;" I told him, hinting at how staff officers sometimes reminded me of my position, "Without uniform if I order your soldiers, they will shoot me simply because they don't know me."

In the twilight of the approaching dawn there were many soldiers coming toward our embankment from the headquarters in the east. They might have been the promised auxiliary forces; but when they began shooting at the embankment, we realized they were the Iraqi forces who had just captured the headquarters and were tightening their noose around us from the east: our rear. Our soldiers, who were defending both the rear and the front embankments, responded to their shooting with a barrage of machine gun fire and barred their advance. The invaders dug behind some artificial mounds and did not move.

All of a sudden, about two-dozen soldiers appeared from the north and swarmed the platoon of mortar. They might have been some of Haghee's retreating soldiers who had faced the Iraqis and had hastily come back to join the embankment. They passed the platoon of mortar and continued their way toward the infantry embankment; and faced a heavy fire of two machine guns that were shooting towards the rear. Probably, they lost a few men and backed to the platoon of mortar and commenced hailing us with bullets and R.P.G.7 grenades. These men were Iraqis, also, making the closest enemy contact forces to us.

Our soldiers responded to them and made them stop and dig in and make the northern flank of the besieging forces. Within minutes they resumed showering the line with their rifles. This time the response was fierce. Mortar shells were added to our gun and machine gun shots. Our soldiers diverted their 81mm mortar toward them and launched a few shells. The first two shells landed in the middle of the group and they ran away to join the forces that had besieged us on the northeast. Two more mortar shells chased them farther. Partially reinforced, those who had taken the trenches in the east advanced several paces; but in face of our heavy fire retreated to their former positions.

By six o'clock in the morning it had grown very warm. The fight had stopped. Soldiers had lay behind embankment or mounds on both sides. A convoy of thirteen Iraqi trucks and buses appeared on the Shush-Ammareh Road, moving into Iranian territories. They stopped before our eyes and fresh forces streamed out of them to assist their comrades in the field. In the meantime an Iraqi helicopter appeared in the same area. I expected it to begin to attack us with air-to-ground rockets to create the first crack in our defense line. Instead, it gave some orders on a loudspeaker and returned to the Iraqi-held areas of the west; and vanished a few minutes later.

Despite the arrival of the Iraqis new forces that had considerably strengthened their power, the weather was too warm for a laborious attack. The combat began to quell. Apprehension about leaving my position assailed me. I walked back to my platoon without calling anyone as two soldiers from Ghezzee's company were following me. On the way, unexpectedly, I encountered some of my soldiers and understood the platoon had not been completely evacuated at the time it had been mortared. My soldiers told me Pooyan was killed and another soldier was so seriously injured that they had not been able to carry him along; and I made haste.

In a depression near my still smoldering bunker, I found Serjeek: an Armanian man from Esfahan, wounded and calling for help in a faint voice. He had a big injury in his neck, a small wound in his cheek, a cut in his arm, and a frighteningly pale and swollen face. The only help I could offer was keeping him in good spirits. I sat down in front of him asking how he had got the injuries.

"My neck and arm were hit by Iraqi bullets,” Serjeek responded, “The wound on my cheek was caused by a mortar shrapnel. The shell was exploded in the platoon. I crawled up to this point. But Pooyan was shot dead."

"Your injuries are not deep," I said assuring him he would survive, "I'll send you to the hospital right away."

Half a dozen of my soldiers had surrounded us as I stood up. One of them was Serjeek’s friend. As I called the ambulance driver, he sat down beside the wounded man and started to cry: ruining his morale. The time of making a decisive decision had arrived and that foolishness had to come to an abrupt end. I took a step towards the crying man, not caring about the gun he carried and the fact that we were in the midst of combat, with my fist in the air.

"Get up you fool!" I shouted out the words that I seldom used even at the war fronts, "Get lost before I smash your bones."

Jumping to his feet, he shied away and I called the driver who came from Azarbaijan.

“This is the time you must show your friendship,” I said firmly, “Sejeek’s life is in your hand. Save it. Don't drive northward. Iraqis have the ground and the Shush-Ammareh Road has fallen. Go south; follow the embankment. Our own forces still have control there."

We helped Serjeek onto the ambulance; shook the determined driver’s hand and wished him good luck. In a minute the ambulance reached Ghezzee's company and I resumed the inspection of my vacated platoon without calling anyone to follow me. Indeed, I wanted them to leave me for the company that was safer than the isolated and deserted platoon of mortar. Everyone grasped my intention and left except one soldier from Ghezzee's company. Gun in hand and a few steps ahead of me, he was walking fast, shouting, and blinded with rage.

Several paces to the north of my bunker, Pooyan was dead: fallen on his side. The young man whose smile never disappeared had fallen silent. You thought a clear stream of energy and life that ran in the gorges of Kordestan had come to standstill in the rotten marshes of war. A volley had torn his chest. A few paces farther north a brown-skinned Iraqi soldier in green fatigues was fallen. My soldiers’ bullets had pierced his body. Obviously, the man who had been born and raised in the fertile lands of Tigris and Euphrates had been led to the same rotten marsh that the young man of Kordestan had been led to. The rotten marsh of war did not recognize any difference between those who were trapped in its quagmire.

Ghezzee’s soldier approached the Iraqi’s body and fired a few bullets at it. What kind of madness could justify that action? Perhaps, he wanted to be sure the man was indeed dead; though, I thought he was even blind to the sunshine that was scorching everywhere in those moments. The enraged are always blind.

"He's dead,” I said, “Don't shoot at him," I went on.

He inspected the dead man’s pockets; took his watch for himself, and handed an identity card to me. His name was on it with his picture. I do not fully recall the name, however a shadow of “Hassan” is still in my mind. His father and grandfather’s names that follow the first names in Iraq I do not remember. The name of his unit; though, still lingers with me. It was “Haras Jomhooreyya”: the Iraqi strongest army of “the Republican Guards”. I left the card on the body to be identified by those who found him.

Ghezzee’s soldier walked back to his company with his share of loot and I was left alone with my apprehensive and shaken heart, trying to make certain none of my men was left behind dead or wounded. I walked along the embankment, peering into bunkers that once were my soldiers’ house of laughter, smoking hooka, playing chess, and other amusements.

Everything was gloomy. Man’s soul had forsaken the land. Some things were in their proper places while others were destroyed and vandalized. Bunkers were still carpeted with military blankets; backpacks were still hanging from ceilings and walls; and the water tank was still full of water. There was nobody in the platoon except the two fallen enemies, sharing the common fate of dying in one another's hand on the same land that they had fought over.

"What are you looking for in this cursed platoon?" I asked myself, "There is no soul here. This is a plague-stricken town."

Thus, I reached the northern most flank of my platoon where our mortars located. Mortars were deep in the ground as a result of over seven hundred shells they had launched all night long. A big pile of empty ammunition boxes was sitting beside them: a sign of my soldiers’ hard labor. I started my way back to the company. On my way I took a gas mask from one of the bunkers and walked to the water tank where I washed my hands and face, filled a canteen with water, ready to go south to Assadi’s company. A voice of agony struck me as I stood up. It came from the eastern side of the embankment. I listened carefully.

"It's a man moaning,” I told myself, “It is not hearing error. It can be one of mine!"

With a dread of becoming a target of a volley and keen to ascertain that none of my men was left behind, I stepped behind the eastern embankment where the mortar shell had landed among soldiers that morning. There were four Iraqis in green fatigues lain on the ground. Two had fallen on one another with broken limbs, unable to move. There was an R.P.G.7 grenade-launcher beneath them. Two others, red in their blood, were stretched out on their backs motionless. Dead?

I took the grenade launcher to throw away while I noticed their eyes were following me. All of them were alive. One of the stretched out men was a tall handsome soldier who was watching every movement of mine. Perhaps, he expected me to kill him or utter an insult. Killing and insulting wounded and captured enemy was a tradition of war, as aged as history. As a soldier he knew the bloody tradition well. Perhaps, he thought I was one of many false images one sees before he takes his last breath.

Staring at those black eyes, I felt the real misery. This man was a victim like Pooyan and myself. We were called enemies; but we did not know one another and had no enmity. We were brutally tearing one another's chests and hearts in defense of the boundaries that our politicians sought their capricious ways, arms dealers their profits, and our commanders their honors. Long dulled to feelings, this butchery made me feel as miserable as the wounded man. I wanted to tell him that neither he nor I was triumphant; that I was suffering like him from our common misery: the war. We were fighting to prove what? To gain what, to serve whom? How many like him had fallen by the shells that were launched at my order? How many like Pooyan had fallen by the bullets and the shells they had launched on us? How much suffering had we inflicted on one another? Is it possible to measure human suffering by numbers and scales? A soldier must not ask this kind of questions. He is not allowed to ask them, leave alone trying to find answers for them.

A grief squeezed my heart. A storm mounted within me. The depth of the catastrophe went far beyond my ability to weep, though I was not the same jaded soldier any more. I took the grenade-launcher and left the wounded men behind, walking toward Assadi’s company. As I was walking, an Iraqi left an eastern mound; took few steps forward; and shot two bullets at me. They passed over my head arousing an instinct of response. Grabbing a dusty gun, perhaps that of Pooyan’s, I aimed at the man while standing on my feet, not caring I made a perfect target for him, and pulled the trigger. My first bullet missed him, falling a few paces shorter than the target. He took one step aback and I shot again. This one missed him too; though it was closer to the target.

"This is another enemy that you don't know!" I ridiculed my shooting.

Taking the rifle by the butt, I threw it away in shame.

"Damn you! Leave me alone! The world is better if you fall silent," I muttered while walking along without taking any protective measure whatsoever. My heart’s inferno was too hot for the bullet that might have pierced my body. The Iraqi did not make any attempt to shoot at me again; neither did his comrades. They could see me walking with my head and shoulders standing above the embankment, making the best target for any mediocre shooter. It was just enough they leaned their elbow on the earth and with few guns targeted me with great precision. What was going inside them? Why did they not shoot this unprotected lone soul? Was I their enemy?

Once in the company, I told Ghezzee that our shells had killed four Iraqi soldiers, lest in the situations that we could offer no help the dutiful lieutenant sent someone to kill the wounded men. That was my grave concern.

By then, there were some activities under way in the curved embankment. Two jeeps with personnel from Haghee's battalion were slipping toward Assadi’s company. Ghezzee did not order his soldiers to shoot them. Did commanders understand that they were to shoot conscript personnel only? Later, Zeerakee joined Assadi’s company with no incident; and officers met in Ghezzee’s bunker. Ghezzee asked me to join the meeting, but I escaped the meeting and sat in a corner with a canteen full of water in my hand. Without shirt and rank, nobody except those who knew my face could recognize was an officer; however, no more anybody cared about anyone. There, for the last time I had a short eye contact with Mirza who was stealthily walking southward with no rank on his uniform.

Also, I saw some of my former soldiers from Zeerakee’s company joining Assadi’s company.

There, also, the idea of joining the NLA revived in me. I thought about deserting from that very place and at that very moment. Iraqis had occupied our area and knew minutes of the information they might have attained from me. My soldiers had evacuated the battlefront. No longer my information could be used to harm them. Pooyan had fallen and I had lost my guide to Kordestan. If I escaped death after this fiasco, it was not known whether I would be let go free by the army to try to join the NLA. I saw a long period of imprisonment sitting at the end of this operations; an execution was possible: some had to be sacrificed to save the order. Could I have saved my skin from the Iraqis who had surrounded us from west, north, and the east? It was not known.

The idea was persuasive. It was just enough to hide myself from soldiers to see what I could do next. Where to hide? There were four times more soldiers crammed in that small area between the two embankments. Over four hundred pairs of eyes were watching me trying to hide myself, though I should have done something in that chaotic situation before order was restored. Under the pretext of needing to urinate, I went to the west of the western embankment and sat by a shallow canal that stretched toward the Iraqi side waiting to see the outcome of the officers meeting. I did not wait too long before I heard:

"Gentlemen, please be quiet".

It was Zeerakee, the highest-ranking officer in the field, speaking on Assadi's loudspeakers. A heavy silence fell on the crowd.

"In the name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful,” Zeerakee went on, “We are surrounded on three sides by enemy forces and have no contact with our commanders to receive orders. The officers’ meeting has decided on a southward retreat. Gentlemen, begin to move southward!"

Soldiers started to move and I waited in my place. I gulped some warm water and was drenched in perspirations. Keeping out of sight was crucially important. If the retreating soldiers saw me, they might have shot me. An impulse was urging me to take advantage of the short opportunity and start walking in the canal towards Iraqi fortifications in the west. I restrained the impulse and lay in my place while I could hear my heat-beats. I decided to pretend I was unaware of soldiers’ leaving if I got caught.\

Eventually, lines of retreating soldiers with backpacks and guns came to my sight a kilometer south. If that were the head of the line, the last soldiers should have left Ghezzee’s bunker by then. I stood up and furtively looked behind the embankment. The last commanding jeep was just driving off. My excitement surged and I started to walk westward behind the embankment. It was around nine in the morning and the scorching sun of Khuzestan was shining brightly.

A hundred meters away some Persian words stunned me to a stop. I was so appalled that I did not clearly hear any word. Walking back and pretending I was not aware of soldiers' departure was the only idea that came to me. I walked back to my former place and lay on the ground again. The conversation came to my ears as a whisper of “where have they gone then?” The men passed behind the embankment and with them both danger and panic left me. I restarted my westward march as another dread began haunting me. If the Iraqis who had been fighting us caught me, they would have killed me. If they were kind enough to spare my life, they would have sent me to prisoners' camp and I would not have reached the NLA. I started to jog panting and perspiring. I passed through some circular barbwire in front of my former platoon: the same path that I had taken two months earlier in a nightly march.

Half way across I heard a jet fighter engine and remembered Jahanpour’s words about bombing deserters.

The plane flew quite close to me; I expected to be bombed every moment. There would have been a red light sparkling from its underneath and a rocket would have come straight at me; this I had seen when Iraqi plane bombed the four-barreled machine gun. I stopped in my place, looking at the approaching plane and my own bad luck.

“To hell with my life,” I told myself, “At least, I tried my best. I will keep doing what I am supposed to do under the pilot’s very eyes.”

I took my eyes off the plane that was coming from Iranian side and looked behind myself. I had gone half the way to the Iraqi positions. I almost had passed the small green mound that I had seen that night. The long line of the Iranian army that was forsaking the battle scene had reached the end of Assadi’s company.

"An army is withdrawing,” I told myself, “And you think the fighter is sent to kill you?"

I despised my dread and resumed jogging. The plane passed over my head and disappeared over Iraqi territories. Reassured in heart, I added to my speed steeped in sweat. Now my only concern was to reach the Iraqi embankment before falling to their other forces’ hands.

Some two hundred meters before the Iraqi mine field I heard a gunshot and stopped. To show I had heard him, I threw my helmet away and resumed walking shortly afterward. A short while later, I heard the second gunshot. Stopping in my place, I drank some water and cast my canteen and gas mask away. I beckoned to the sentry whom I could not yet see.

A soldier rose in the middle of the minefield and gestured to me to go southward. I followed his direction. Another soldier appeared on top of the hill and began to come down. He beckoned to me to go farther south. I did as I was instructed and reached a narrow path in the minefield and followed it.

Two men came close to me and beckoned me to stop. The sentry sat on his feet with his automatic gun clicked to fire position aimed at me. His comrade beckoned me to turn around. I did what I had been told; and he tied my wrists with a rope and searched my pockets for military documents. I had nothing in my pockets. Some fine dust from the trench that had been destroyed on me the previous night was still in my pockets.

"Araghi?" My inspector asked me.

I had sweated badly and said "yes".

Aragh means sweat in Persian and Arabic.


The fellow repeated his question with surprise.

Now I understood he was asking me if I were an Iraqi.

"No, no, I'm Iranian," I responded.

"Mojahedin?" he asked me.

"Yes, Mojahedin," I responded.

"Cigarette?" he asked.

"Yes please, if you have one," I answered.

He lit a cigarette, put it between my lips, and ushered me up the hill through the narrow path in the mine field that was full of barbwire traps, mines, circular barbwires a few meters high, and big containers of explosives. This field had been made to protect the Iraqi forces against human waves of Iranian Bassijis who enthusiastically went on them in the name of Allah. Even behind those fortifications, Iraqis were scared of the religious zeal of young Iranians.

We came to the top of the hill where I stopped to take a look at what I had left behind. The battle scene was filled with a haze of dust hanging over the curved embankment. I still recognized the location of my platoon and could imagine that smoke was still rising from my burning bunker. The last jeep was just turning around Hill 85. Far to the east a remote image of the gigantic Zagross was looming in its tranquility. Those mountains that I had always loved seemed proud, out of reach, romantic, and desirable.

"I'll come back to you with a present of peace, my beloved homeland," I told myself.

A strange inner call warned me at the end of my wish: it was the same old familiar call, ruthlessly honest.

"You have committed the original sin and will never see this land again,” the call told me, “Take your last glimpse: your only legacy and souvenir."

I had left everything behind: my identity, home, kin, and history. Without Iran I was a wanderer with nowhere to love. A grief of nostalgia squeezed my heart. I had condemned myself to a life-long exile with my own decision and on my own feet. The way that I had gone had no return. I regretted leaving my homeland even for the cause of peace. I loved Iran better than everything in the world and had spent a large part of my youth life trying to understand its past and present.

I wished I had died like Pooyan in that hot plain of Khuzestan. I wished my flesh, bones, and soul had dissolved in the dunes of that wilderness, and on the wings of the dusty storms of September I had gone to the top of Zagross and was perpetuated in its innumerous canyons and hills. I wished the herders of Zagross sang their best love songs and played their flutes at the sight of the plants that grew in my dust. In that moment I was deprived of this romantic death as well as my own freedom. No more Zagross was a shelter of strength, endurance, and happiness. I saw it in mourning for the brave children of Iran who had generously bestowed their lives in its defense. I shared that grief with Zagross, while my within was lamenting for both Zagross and those men. Warm tears welled in my eyes. My heart wanted to explode and disperse its whole accumulated pain on that parched earth of Kkuzestan. You say Zagross was advising me despite all sufferings I must have stood strong as it had stood strong along our history.

"You must not show this stranger that you are too weak to endure the plight of exile," I told myself.

But the gentle and patient Iraqi realized that a storm was roaring within me.

"What happened?"

He gesticulated, saying something in Arabic that I could not understand.

"Nothing!” I responded, “I just wanted to take my farewell glimpse of my homeland," I murmured, as I knew he did not understand me either.

We started to descend the hill as I carried Zagross in me with a strong commitment to fight for peace in my homeland >>> Part 22

>>> 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 -- Part 18 -- Part 19 -- Part 20 -- Part 21 -- Part 22


Recently by Manoucher AvazniaCommentsDate
زیر و زبر
Nov 11, 2012
Nov 03, 2012
شیرین کار
Oct 21, 2012
more from Manoucher Avaznia
Manoucher Avaznia

عجب؛ چشم داری ز

Manoucher Avaznia

عجب؛ چشم داری ز بیگانگان؟

ستایند ترا آشکار و نهان؟

هنرهای نیک ترا بشمرند؟

غم نا خوشی تو شاید خورند؟

نه فرهنگ ما زاده دیگریست.

نه ما را ز بیگانگان کمتریست.

همه زندگانیم به کردار خویش

همه شادمانیم و غمخوار خویش.

به همراه هم راه دور آمدم

چه غمگین وگر با سرور آمدیم.

 ز بیگانه هرگز نداریم چشم

چه در بزم شادی چه در روز خشم

به نیروی هم باید این خانه ساخت

درخت بزرگی به دشتش نشاخت.

"هنر نزد ایرانیان است و بس"

که در آن نه کمتر نشیند زکس


Khejaletemun midid! Aziz

by Hajminator on

برو ای جوان خجالت بکش                          ‫به شکرانه بار ضعیفان بکش

که ‫کس ندارد کوتهی از قهرمانان خویش     وزان پهلوانان و یاران خویش


منوچهر عزیز



همه پهلوانان روی زمین                    منوچهر را خواندند آفرین‫

که پژوهنده در نامه هایه بیشمار       زَدَست‫ حرف از قهرمانان ایران تبار

از سپهداران و مهان و لشکر کشان      همه پهلوانان و ‫دلیران و آزادگان


هندونه زیر بغل

Khejaletemun midid! (not verified)

هندونه زیر بغل همدیگه میذارید؟

شاید بهتر باشه بگذارید غیره ایرانی‌‌ها ازمون تعریفهای اینطوری بکنند.

هنر نز‌د ایرانیان است و بس!

Manoucher Avaznia

هژمیناتور جان

Manoucher Avaznia

همه خلق ایران بود قهرمان

که از وصفشان قاصر است این زبان

به یاری ایمان و رنج و شکنج

شدستند مر آن خاک را پاسبان

همیشه چو کوهند در حفظ خاک

گواهش وطن از کران تا کران


‫با سپاس فراوان،


‫خنک شهر ایران و فرخ گوان    ‫که دارند در جمعشان قهرمانان و یلان