Saving Private Zero


Saving Private Zero
by Jahanshah Javid

When the Iran-Iraq war broke out in September 1980, I was in Shiraz visiting my father's relatives -- and picking corn mornings til afternoons in a farm managed by the newly-formed Jahad Sazandegi (Development Jihad) [See: "Shiraz"].

I had returned to Iran a couple of months earlier to be a part of the revolution after four years of high school, mostly in the U.S. In a matter of weeks I started praying (even though I had grown up in a secular Iranian-American family) and grown a beard (well, tried to: All my facial hair seemed to grow under my chin and I had almost no moustache). And I had gotten rid of my taghooti name and was proudly calling myself Mohammad [see: "Call me"].

So it was only natural that as soon as I heard the news on the radio that the Iraqis had crossed the border into Khorramshahr, I was ready to do anything I could to protect my homeland and the Islamic Revolution. My distant cousin and childhood friend Afsaneh and I literally ran to the blood bank on the main boulevard in Shiraz and donated blood for the already high number of civilian and military victims.

Shortly thereafter I was in Tehran, living with my aunts and uncle in my late grandfather's house. Every morning around 4, I would walk 15-20 minutes down the empty Shahriati Blvd (Jadeh Shemiran) in darkness to the local mosque where "military training" classes had been organized for volunteers.

Our trainer was an officer of the Shah's army who wanted to pass on his knowledge of warfare in this time of national crisis. You could tell just by his moustache that he was no fan of the new religious rulers, but was there purely for nationalistic reasons. Saving Iran from invaders was a number one priority.

The training did not go beyond simple physical exercises. I was among 20 or 30 volunteers and all we did was jumping jacks for an hour or so and learn how to turn right and left in military formation. There were no weapons involved and yet we felt we were doing something important, that some day we might actually go into combat against the invaders.

I'm not sure how long these early morning exercises lasted. A few weeks? I don't remember why I stopped going. I always had this great desire to be a part of the revolutionary forces but at the same time I felt I was not accepted as one of "them". Perhaps I was trying too hard to change who I was but was never really trusted by the revolutionary masses.

At the time my aunt Laleh Bakhtiar had translated and published several books by Ali Shariati in English. She would give me the books for free so I could sell them on the sidewalk alongside other unemployed idealists in front of Tehran University. I thought I had a pretty good product since no one had seen Shariati books in English. Lots of people stopped and browsed them out of curiosity but not many actually bought them. My best-seller was in fact a thesis in Persian on temporary marriage in Islam written by a Japanese woman.

A few months later in March 1981, Aunt Laleh lined up a job for me. A real job. The Iranian state news agency, Pars (later named Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA) needed translators. Auntie and I went to the head office on the corner of Yousefabad and Vali Asr and met Mr. Arbabi. He was one of the managers who had survived the post-Shah purges and was running the English section. My only asset was knowing English and even though I had no experience in news or translation, I was hired on the spot. There was a war going on and the state news agency was the only source for all the international news services. They needed people like me.

I met my first wife Narges (Zahra) Pirani there. I was 19 and she -- one of the typists in our section -- was 20. We got married less than 5 months after my arrival at the news agency.

I must add that one of the reasons I joined the agency was that I had discovered I could not leave Iran. Why would I want to leave my beloved Islamic Republic in a time of war? I had gotten in touch with my high school sweetheart in the U.S. through letters and phone calls. I wanted to go back and be with her. I was willing to throw away all my zeal for the revolution and concern for the occupied motherland for love. [see: "Wild at heart"]

The long-distance love affair soon fizzled, but I was still determined to leave the country. I went down to the foreign ministry with my American passport to get an exit visa. As I stood in line, I pretended I didn't know any Persian, thinking perhaps that would have bettered my chances. A couple of guys in front of me actually joked in Persian that they had never seen a bearded American before ("Amrikaie e rishoo ta hala nadideh boodeem!").

When my turn came, I went inside the office and showed the man my American passport. He looked at me and said, very matter-of-factly, that as far as the Iranian government was concerned I was Iranian and could not leave the country before completing 2 years of military service like every other male citizen.

Even when I joined the news agency a month later, one of the first things I did was write a letter to my bosses requesting to become a correspondent in Washington DC. I don't think anyone bothered to respond. I mean, it was so silly of me to expect to be sent abroad with no experience.

So that was that. I was stuck in Iran. My attention turned to the revolution again and the thought of leaving the country went away.

In early spring, 1982, all males in my age group were ordered to report for military service. By that time I was prepared to go without hesitation. I was newly married and had a job that few could (or were willing to) carry out with such dedication. It was not easy to find people with good English skills who were willing to work for the state news agency. Still, I had to AND wanted to leave and fight the Iraqis.

My first choice was to do my military service with the Revolutionary Guards. But I was not Muslim enough for them. I was rejected after one simple question: How is vozoo (abulation) performed? I did it every day before prayers so I should have known, right? Well, I was so nervous I made a mistake. I said I pour water on my left arm and then the right. Actually, it's the other way around (remember: everything in Islam is right and then left. Even when you enter a bathroom, you must put the right foot forward before the left.)

So I joined the regular army instead. I went to the former Eshratabad barracks with thousands of others and was given papers to show up for military duty within days. I informed my boss and colleagues at the news agency, got a khaki uniform and boots from a store in a row of specialized tailors near Maydan Hassanabad (if I'm not mistaken), got a "nomreh 2" crew cut at our corner barber shop in Dardasht Ave in east Tehran and kissed my already pregnant wife goodbye.

For the first three months every soldier was put through military training. I was posted at the "Sefr Yek" (Zero One) barracks in Afsarieh in southeast Tehran. My fellow platoon members were all high school dropouts from Azarbaijan Province. I had been placed with them because my American high school diploma had been evaluated by the education ministry as an equivalent of 11th grade in the Iranian system. So we were all formally labeled "Sarbaz Sefr" (Zero Soldier).

Our platoon leader was a gray-haired, moustached, non-comissioned officer. On the first day he called me to his office and asked all sorts of questions about my life and family. My grandiose name had caught his attention and he couldn't figure out what I was doing there. To him, I should have been far away at some college abroad or hiding from the war under the protection of rich relatives. I told him honestly that I was happy to be there to serve my country.

Soon I was given the most important position in the platoon: the "Anbardar" in charge of military supplies and rations. It was nothing that special. I still had to go through all the drills and carry out all the grueling duties like my fellow soldiers, with whom I became close friends. These Azari guys were so kind and bighearted. They never caused me any trouble, despite the fact that we came from very different backgrounds. In the late afternoons, after the military drills, we would gather around one of bunk beds and they would recite Persian and Turkish/Azari poetry from the heart. Their favorite, of course, was Shahriar.

I don't remember too much of the actual military training. It was a time of war and everything, but I don't think we actually fired a gun more than 2 or 3 times in the entire 3 months we were there. I do remember one day being taken by bus to "Maydan e Mashgh" (Firing Range) in the eastern outskirts of Tehran. We were handed Shah-era German-made G-3 automatic rifles to shoot at stationary targets. The damn gun weighed a ton and the blast from each pull of the trigger scared the hell out of me. I should have known right then that I am no man of war, but as in many other situations in my life, I was totally oblivious to reality. I hadn't the slightest doubt I was going to go to war.

On Thursday afternoons all local soldiers were given a day pass to be with their family. It was nice to go home and be with my wife and in-laws. A couple of times my wife begged me to talk to the managers at the news agency, where she still worked. She didn't want me to go to the war front and thought perhaps I could get a position away from danger. I would scold her and tell her to never mention it again to me or anyone else. I was a soldier and had a duty to serve -- end of story.

Finally the three months of training was over. One day we were all ordered to line up in front of our platoon building. One by one the name of each soldier and his destination was read out loud. Everyone was sent to a barrack near the war zone in Khuzestan or Kurdistan. Everyone but me. My name was the last to be called and I remember distinctly how bewildered I was. I was assigned to join the army transport division in Shiraz. Shiraz?! What the hell?

I took the bus to Shiraz and went to the commanding general's office at the barracks. I'll never forget his sarcastic expression. All he said was that I had been ordered to report to the news agency in Tehran. So I didn't even spend a day in the stupid barracks hundreds of miles away from the battlefield, let alone fight the invading army.

I went back to Tehran and discovered my wife and boss at the news agency had conspired behind my back to get me transfered. They had convinced Kamal Kharrazi, then head of the news agency and the War Information Headquarters, that my skills were vital and I should be based there for the rest of my military service. [see my military ID cards for the first year and a half and last six months of service]

A couple of times I did threaten to leave the agency and join the war as a volunteer, especially when fighting flared up. But my boss Hossein Nasiri would smile and say something like "Aziz toro cheh beh jang?" (Hey kid! You're no fighter!), which would annoy the hell out of me. But he was right. I did go near the war fronts on a few occasions as a translator for visiting foreign reporters. Sounds of machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, mortars, rockets and artillery fire, not to mention the sight of charred bodies of iraqi soldiers, made me realize what a goddamn coward I was.

I'm certainly happy to be alive. But it kills me to think about the hundreds of thousands who were not so lucky -- especially my Azari friends.


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Azarin Sadegh

Dear so sad,

by Azarin Sadegh on

I invite you to read this excellent essay written by our dear Nazy Kaviani. It is one of the most beautifully written pieces about Iran-Iraq war that I've ever read:


I am sure any mother who has lost her child in that war would find a bit of herself in this moving piece.



To Anonymouse69

by amirkabear4u on

You wrote;

JJ aren't you concern about those theives out there to steal your identity?

but when they try to use this ID they get cought before they know it!! No one trust an IRI ID. 



JJ aren't you concern about those theives out there

by Anonymous69 (not verified) on

To steal you identity? You posted all your information on your service ID card :)
Thanks for sharing your nostalgic story.


JJ: thank you for

by so sad (not verified) on

JJ: thank you for sharing

JJ: thank you for sharing your story. I'm sure the memory of those charred bodies will forever haunt you. Your life was spared so you can be a voice for those who lost their lives in vain for a megalomaniac like Khomeini.

You have no idea how lucky you are, and more importantly, how lucky your family is to have you around because the pain of not having you alive would have changed all of their lives...

I dedicate this to my mother and all the mothers who lost their sons in the senseless Iraq-Iran war of


What flavors do a mother’s tears come in?
What about her heartbroken grief,
Her sobs and cries of pain and anguish,
The pain for a child lost that sears her soul,
For a child she nursed and cared for - for years.
What flavors do a mother’s tears come in?

Salty, I imagine is the taste of a mother’s tears,
As they gush from her soul through her eyes,
And the torrents of tears flow over her lips.
But is there a Moslem flavor, and a Christian one?
Is there a Shiite flavor and a Sunni one?
Is there a Hutu flavor and a Tutsi one?

Does her heartbroken grief at the loss of a child,
Her piercing wailing cries, come in different brands?
Does it feel differently? Does it hurt differently?
If she is Irish Catholic, or Irish Protestant?
If she is Hindu or Sikh; if she is rich or poor?
If she is Ethiopian or Eritrean; or white, black, brown or yellow?
Or Somali, Sudanese, or Yemeni?
If she is Iraqi or American; Palestinian or Israeli?

What flavors do a mother’s tears come in?
Do they have different shapes or different colors?
If she is from one group or the other?
What flavors do her grief and pain come in?

War! Oh bringer of pain and sorrow,
That time struggles to heal, even if only incompletely,

War you squanderer of precious lives!
Lives lost never to be recovered again!!



You owe your life to your

by perry (not verified) on

You owe your life to your ex-wife. You should also apologize to her and your daughter for your dishonesty. You knew you were in love with someone else but you went ahead and married her anyways.

persian westender

Pleased to read

by persian westender on

Not only because i went through the same experience partly, but because it sounds honest.



با آرزوی ِ موفقیت

Anonymous (not verified)

جناب ِ JJ جان٫

سپاس ِ فراوان از اینکه غریبگان را از خود دانسته و گوشه ای از دوران صفر بودن ِ خود را با ما در میان گذاشته اید. . .اما .. و. . واقعأ از شوخئ بگذریم . .رفتن ایران شما در زمانی که همه سعی میکردند از مملکت فرار کنند نشون دهنده اینه که چه با سادگی و بی ریائی میخواستید زندگی ئی برای خود درست کنید. . .در ضمن این نوشته جزئی شما. . یک تو دهنی بزرگ هست برای کسانی که از زندگی واقعی یک نفر خبر ندارند و با چشم های بسته قضاوت میکنند و بعدش هم شایعه راه می اندازند. . .
با آرزوی ِ موفقیت برای ِ شما . .


Souri خانم ِ گل٫

آخه نازنین آدم که با این سرعت جا خالی نِمی کنه. مبادله نظر کردن که هَمش با
به به . . و چه چه کردن نیست . .این حقیر معمولأ خواننده مقاله ها هست و واقعأ لذت می بَرم که می بینم روبروی آقایان ِ عزیز می ایستی . . خیلی ازشون عذر می خوام. .روی ِ همشون رو با بحث های منطقی کم میکنی . .از قدیم گفته اند . .بیدی نباش که با این بادها به لرزی . . یا به این راحتی جات رو خالی نکن . .لبخند جانم . .


Welcome to the Couch...

by eroonman on

...BS! I was stationed at "Sefr Yek" (Zero One) barracks in Afsarieh in southeast Tehran, and you were never there. This is just another romantic story...

Just joking, seriously though, very nice piece, I loved it.

So, now that you are single did you ever look up the American love of your life? You should. That would wrap up the story nicer.

To all of you doubters, haters, and conspiracy theorists, this piece should prove that JJ is in fact contrary to your claims, a human being. To some of us, he is superhuman.


An uncensored self portrait

by samsam1111 on

is in itself an affirmation of courage.We may not  agree on all the message but We shall commend the integrity of the honest messenger.


nice one

by IRANdokht on

Thanks for sharing your great story JJ jan.

The level of details you can recall is just amazing. I can't even recall the name of my boss 5-6 years ago!

I often wondered why some people had come back to Iran during those days... It sounds like "idealism and a whole lot of love" was the answer. Sorry it didn't trun out as you guys expected.


David ET

Dear Mr. Javid

by David ET on

Thank you for sharing the memoir of your life during the early revolution years. By reading stories like yours, some can find answers to some of the why questions that they raised on Bakhtiar blog ..!

Our ideologies, religions, words etc...may reflect a different presentation to the outside world but it takes some soul searching and deeper looks in the mirrors to see how we each might act when put in totally new situations. The small decisions of the present are always good indications of the large ones that we each might face in the future.

The question is how much each and everyone of us have really changed since those days? There is a little bit of everything good and bad inside all of us and every moment of our lives we have a choice to make. Some of the current leaders of the Islamic Republic were former political prisoners during Shah's regime but they have became dictators when in power and when it came to implementing or defending their own views.

It is often not what we think we stand for, but how we behave when in power and that my friend, is the ultimate challenge...

wishing you the best in this journey.. 



Sepaas JJ

by 11101932 (not verified) on

Dear JJ,
A touching realistic life story. I can see doing exactly what you did. To rush to the defense of my beloved homeland, although I truly despise war. The only time that one is justified to take up arm is in self-defense. And defending Iran was indeed an honorable thing to do. It shows that you had decency running in your veins from a very early age.
Thanks for sharing and gratitude for not being butchered like so many precious lives on both sides --victims of Saddam's evil doing and the tenacious ambitious misguided mullahs who tried to use the occasion to annex Karbala.


Dear Kouroush Sassanian

by ThePope on

Thanks for the info., but believe me, I'm an expert on this specific riffle, G3. I have an unexplainable passion for this riffle...

To make a long story short, originaly it was designed in Germany, redesigned in France as prototype(s) and completed in Spain (with their help)... The original G3 was never produced in Iran... But rather the G3A3 which is the famous version that we all know... 4 different models are (were) produced in Iran, which my favorite is the bullpup Dio G3 which kind of resembles Americain rifles.


JJ, then you deprive registered people's right

by Souri on

for the sake of protecting them from offensive words ? I ask you publicly here to delete my account and delete all my contribution as to articles and blogs. I don't see their purpose, as I can't tolerate this way of pushing people to stay anonymous. I can never be a fish nor a chicken because I respect myself and refuse to fall in this trap.
Sorry I disturbed your blog, I would rather to talk privately, but you are too busy for this.


Honesty can open the door for understanding

by Mehdi on

It takes true courage to be honest. But it is worth it, isn't it? It's rewarding. Courage is portrayed in novels as a soldier in battle. In a truly sacred battle this would be true but I am yet to find a truly sacred battle in all of history! When you look back at Iran-Iraq war, was it really valuable to get involved? It was a fake war, carefully maintained at a rate by the western imperialism in order to impoverish both countries. There was no winning allowed. It achieved its purpose of destroying both countries and taking away civil rights from people. So what's the honor in such a war? I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. You did the right thing! :)

Jahanshah Javid

Souri jan

by Jahanshah Javid on

The issue of comments from anonymous and registered users has been discussed many times. If you leave comments, people will respond back, and sometimes they are not nice. Sometimes they are rude and offensive. We try our best to avoid these and delete where possible. But in the end, we all need to a) be polite and respectful and b) become thick-sckinned and ignore stupid, hateful comments.


Dear JJ, I'm still waiting your reply..

by Souri on

Did you get my email ?

Kouroush Sassanian


by Kouroush Sassanian on

The G3 was originally designed and made in West Germany, however, the G3 or Jea Ceh in Iran were made in Iran under license by Heckler & Koch [kokh]. Turkey and Pakistan also make the G3 - all part of CENTO or the green belt!

I recall speaking to a doctor at a MASH unit near Khoramshar about the wounded and wounds.  He indicated the Iraqis did call the Jea Ceh as toop!

JJ Jan:

I did not mean to take over your blog!




JJ, thanks for sharing

by ThePope on

Amazing story. It's good to hear your story WITH YOUR OWN WORDS. By writting this piece you have clarified a lot of things for many of us who had heard rumors about your past. Many people who don't like you, have wrote and blogged about your past in a way to protray you negatively. Once again, thank you for writting this article, through your writing, one can see your sincerity and patriotism.

Your story has so many similarities with my experience serving in the military. Me too, I left North America and returned to Iran to serve and I ended up being a MP for 3 years... In my case, apart from an Iranian name, I did not know much about the Iranian culture, society or language. Not only I couldn't write or read (at all), I couldn't talk or understand Presian (farsi) well. I was the "subject" since the very first day I wore my uniform and joined the military police force. I can still remember my nick name, "......amerikayee". They never trusted me either because I grew up abroad... I had to go through interrogation with e'telaat, baazressi, rokneh 2 and even aghidati...for them to be sure that I was not a jaasus. My unit commander use to tease me often about leaving North America to come to Iran to serve in the military. But overall, believe it or not, for me it was a great experience with lots of laughter, fun and unforgettable weird memories...

p.s.: Dear JJ, I know you have a lot of things on your mind and you probably forgot but the G3 rifle (toop dasti, like the Iraqis called it during the war) it's not Americain made but rather german (west).


Touching story!

by Jaleho on

Reminds me of my cousin. Exactly your age, and the passion of youth similarly brought him back from France to the war front. All the family objection and effort to change the mind of their only son who had just proudly started medical school in France couldn't prevail. The poor soul didn't last more than months. 

It is great that turn of events saved your life from being wasted. On the bright side, you hopefully learned to savor life a touch better than most other people :-)




Thank You!

by PedramMoallemian on

Thanks for sharing Jahanshah. I have been struggling for three years in trying to put all my memories of the first 5 years of the revolution in one book and know how difficult it can get. Particularly since mine were rather interesting ones, not unlike yourself. But I have been stuck for a few weeks (again) and am going to use your post to jump start my own writing or re-writing. Thanks again.

Pedram Moallemian, Los Angeles

bajenaghe naghi

jj jan

by bajenaghe naghi on

you are a vatan doost and a very brave man. never doubt that. 

I enjoyed reading your story. the more of your personal stories i read the more i like you as a human being. 



by Saraamin on

Well , i never thought of you like this , i imagined you someone like Masood Behnood  !how could you believe them?i mean the islamists ...dont get me wrong im asking , im not accusing , I were born couple of years after revolution and my family has been always out of political conflicts , so I cant imagine how was the ambient !but we have couple of stanford/oxford scholares who jumped out of the plane at the time of revolution and they did what they had thought good and now all of them left the country because there is no good anyway !

Can you in another article explain it for me and my generation what did you think ?you havent been a hippie i suppose ...what was your reasons ?please.

Thanks & Gesundheit 

Azarin Sadegh

A great memoir!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear JJ,

I think the idea of writing your memoir would be a great idea, as you are going to help so many people like me (and Tahirih) to heal the wounds of that revolution that always seemed like a black curse.

Honestly, if I had never known you, i would have remained in my dark hatred. And I am very thankful to you for this!

So if you could write in detail about that period (to tell us how you changed and why you changed and how one day you woke up in the morning and you realized that you were not the same person as the night before, etc..), I am sure you could humanize this image that has become the image of evil in the minds of so many in the West. It could be a real humanitarian work for you and I am sure you could enlighten many of us with the discovery of compassion within the darkest sides of their being.

(Plus- selfishly - you're going to help me so much with my novel and writing about one of my main characters going islamist!..:-))

It is the last sentence of The Black Book by Pamuk (that I really, really love!):

"...Because nothing is as surprising as life. Except for writing. Except for writing. Yes, of course, except for writing, the only consolation."  

I am sure as surprising as your past seems to us, writing about it is going to surprise you even more!


PS: BTW, on the day you took this picture were you really mad or you were pretending to be mad? 

Kaveh Nouraee


by Kaveh Nouraee on

Great Story. Thanks for sharing.

Kouroush Sassanian

For JJ

by Kouroush Sassanian on

Sarbaz, sarbaz, went the rifle, the messenger sped,

And dead he fell as calm as he slept.

Tofangdar, steal through the bushes, and snatch


From your enemy the cries of first blood;
A button, a loop, or that luminous patch on his coat
tear it away, as you thrust your bayonet under his skin,


Soukhtam, Soukhtam, I staggered, and sunk in my sangar,


When I gazed on the face of that fallen,

For he looked so like you, as he lay on his back,

A tear stopped midstream on his left cheek, Frozen as his heart, As his last smile

That my heart rose upon me closing my eyes with images of you,


Atash, Atash, bury my brother,  bury him there, by the light of the moon!


Atash, Atash, wash him, kiss his lips, wrap him by the light of the moon!

War is a virtue-weakness a sin,
Load again, Peyadeh, Peyadeh.


Dear JJ avoiding war and destruction is not being coward.

by Tahirih on

Thank you for sharing your memories and past with us. To be honest with you I used to get very upset with fellow Iranians who had the same background as you and did support IRI. Even more upset if they did change their views of them and returned to the safety of their new adopted countries. But I have to tell you that knowing you through this site, reading and getting involved with has changed it.

I believe we are all here on this planet for a reason and we all have a destiny to fulfill. You may think you were a coward then , but to me your passion for freedom for all is the most worthwhile and courageous act. You were predestined to do this, not killed and buried in Iran.




Great article

by Former Sepah Danesh (not verified) on

Dear JJ,
Really enjoyed reading your article. Great description of the days of early 80's and the feelings around you. This would be a great chapter in your upcoming book. Thanks for sharing.


I always love your honesty

by manesh on

You've wrote a few pieces here over time and in all of them you tell about what was happening in your life with honesty. We all have shortcomings and things we would've done differently in hindsight. But, to be honest is the first step in understanding what happened. It is also very courageous.

This is a lesson for all of us.

Thank you.  

ebi amirhosseini

Private Jahanshah Sepass !

by ebi amirhosseini on

JJ Jaan,you brought back a lot of memories of those horrifying days,months & years of the Iraqi invasion! you're not alone, a lot of us went through mostly similar situations of trying to save the motherland in our own way like donating blood,trying to go the war front & so on;but still feel that we didn't do enough.Iranians owe a great deal to all those brave men like your Azari friends,who watered the front lines with their blood.Regardless of different colores of their uniforms in training days; they unified it with the red colore of their blood shed in the battlefields to save their motherland!.We who outlived them need to keep their memory alive,no matter how sad sometimes it might be!.

 We shouldn't also forget thousands of civilians who lost their lives .


Rooheshaan Shaad,Yaadeshaan Geraami.

Let's all pray together for peace.