Saturday, April 05, 2003

Why don’t Iraqis come to welcome Coalition Forces!

Recently the German architect Karl Offer who had made a business trip to Baghdad twenty years ago revealed that underneath of one of Saddam's castles, they have built a safe shelter for him and his family that is even impervious to atomic bombs as powerful as the one that demolished Hiroshima. Yet before the secrets of Saddam's worth- two hundred million dollars- shelter were disclosed by this German architect, everyone knew about the existence of such shelters, what nobody know was how safe and impervious could be such shelters.
Now the question is why didn't the people who participated in building such a shelter or knew about it ever asked themselves that if an atomic bomb is to be dropped on Iraq, what would Saddam and his family and close relatives do once they come out of this shelter? Has Saddam himself an answer for this question? Does he know what the Japanese Emperor who survived the atomic bomb dropped on his country 56 years ago did? Except that he went to the radio station and read his note of surrender to Allies?

Four hundred years ago, when Esmail Safavid, the king of Iran attacked Ottoman Empire with his well-equipped army and encountered the enemy in a place close to the scenes of war now being waged in the north of Iraq, he knew nothing about the invention of cannons. And naturally with the first shot of those new military inventions, his army was defeated and dispersed and the powerful and popular king of Iran died of grief soon after. These nights Saddam is most probably sitting in front of TV watching CNN and knows all about new American and Western military artilleries. He had his first encounter with them eleven years ago when he was forced to accept defeat.
In modern democracies, the most that can happen to a ruling government is that it is either defeated in the next election or resigns, a fate that is awaiting George Bush and Tony Blair in case of their defeat. However, in countries such as Iraq, the situation is different. Saddam Hussein must either go to caves like Mola Omar, Taliban leader, or experience what Milesovich is going through now or follow the fate of Hitler, Mussolini and Chaoshesko.
But war is not really the war of leaders hidden in their safe offices and shelters. The reality of war is only disclosed to those who shoot, kill and are killed, whose houses are demolished and their beloved die or are paralyzed for the rest of their life.

George Bush has repeatedly said that the people of Iraq will be liberated soon while Saddam Hussein appears on Baghdad's TV and tells the people of Iraq that victory is close and they should consider this war as Jahad (holy war) and be proud of getting killed. Both messages are apparently broadcasted for the people of Iraq and for the same audience, but the people who are supposed to be liberated as promised by Bush and Blair, have said in thousands different ways that they do not want this freedom and they feel better under that dictatorship, for they are at least familiar with the latter, but they are afraid of the freedom and democracy that Bush and Blair promise them because they know nothing about it.

When did the people of Iraq whose likes we have seen in different wars waged in the East have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the sweetness and enchantments of this freedom and democracy offered by Bush and Blair? What they have seen since the beginning of their history has just been dynasties of dictators sitting in their castles by the shores of Tigris - who accidentally were usually treated well by Westerners. The latter sold the former military artilleries and bought oil from them and until recently came to visit them who in turn spread red carpet under their feet. Thus it is not strange if these people have become fatalist and have come to believe that so this must be their share of life and there should always be a dictator to defend them and to make foreigners to either kneel before them or respect them.
In the land where the war of Iraq is waged today and military tanks and cannons readily shoot their bombs, the same state of affairs has been going on since seven thousands years ago, from Hammurabi to Saddam Hussein. In every corner of Mesopotamia – the land in-between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates – called Republic of Iraq since fifty years ago - archeologists have discovered ancient civilizations that have only one thing in common: tyranny of their dictators. Even the modern world has not altered that fate.
The present siege of Baghdad is the eleventh one that this city is experiencing in her history. All the super powers of the world have visited this region at least once and America is the last one of them. Sixty years ago it was the Royal Army of Britain pouring chemical bombs on the Iraqi people.
In 1285, when besieging Baghadad, Mongols killed hundred thousand of its population that did not exceed tow hundred thousands at that time - it is like if 1.5 million people die in the present war. And as though all this massacre and demolition were not enough, on entering the city, they killed another thirty thousands together with the Caliph as a punishment.

With such a history behind them, it is not surprising that contrary to the earlier anticipation of Americans, not only the people of Iraq did not welcome the coalition forces, but they used the arms distributed among them to resist these forces. And if on the day that they learn about Saddam Hussein's death or flight, they pour into the streets to welcome English and American Forces, it would be mostly out of horror, a code of conduct that they showed many times before toward the victorious invaders.
As Jamal, a Iraqi medical doctor living in London says, the people of Iraq can not even believe that Russia, France and Germany are opposing the war just for their sake. Instead they rather believe that foreigners all come to rob their god given wealth and when they seem to disagree with each other it is not really over the war, but the division of the booty and none of them are really concerned with human lives.

Let us not forget that in Iraq, Iran, Syria and many other countries of the region, contact with foreigners –whether embassy stuff or journalists who painstakingly obtain their visa of entry - is still a great sin and those who take such a risk should be prepared to be taken to an unknown dark place with their eyes shut, to be interrogated that 'why they have talked to a foreigner?' In these countries, only a few known selected people have the right to talk to foreigners and even the stuff of their embassies abroad can not socialize with their hosts without permission.
The root of such terror, whether among dictators or ordinary people goes back to thousands years ago when foreigners always appeared as invaders, robbing and killing them. This has been the dominant state of affairs until half a century ago. Now if Bush and Blair wish the people of Iraq to believe them, they should first introduce themselves to them by showing them how they have helped the other parts of the world that they invaded to prosper and flourish. The people of Afghanistan have still received nothing from the last war of the so-called New World Order.

Until then, the people who unlike Saddam Hussein have no shelter, will take refugee to undergrounds and mountains and barren lands and like that Japanese soldier who fearing Allies, lived in an island for twenty five years, it will take them a long time to believe that the world has changed. If it ever does change.

After that Kaveh Left…

(Tribute To Kaveh Golestan)

BBC Persian

In the autumn of 1978 and at the culmination of events that led to Islamic Revolution, a group of Time journalists came to Tehran under the supervision of Burnett. They had already chosen Kaveh to work with them before coming to Tehran. During the week they spent in Iran, I came to know young Kaveh, who showed an incredible interest in journalism and camera was an excuse for him to be present and broadcast exact professional information without letting his personal interests and tastes to interfere.
All through the revolution Kaveh was everywhere with his camera producing unforgettable pictures such as those of a young man sitting where his brother's blood was shed, hitting his head with a flower, of funerals, of soldiers fighting with people in the once called 24 Esfand and now called Revolution square, of Behesht Zahra graveyard that had turned to Tehran Hyde Park corner during the last months of Shah's military government.

With his camera, Kaveh Golestan achieved what thousand articles and reports could accomplish, until the day when we received a card that was in fact an entrance permit into the leadership camp of the Revolution. On the following day, Ayatollah Khomeini was returning to Tehran and Kaveh nearly fell from the street light post and if it were not for children of the revolution grabbing him he would have lost his life. Kaveh's pictures witnessed the revolution and found their way into highly esteemed news agencies abroad and in Iran they were published in the weekly magazine Tehran Mosavar.
After the victory of the revolution and establishment of Islamic republic, Kaveh Golestan appeared on the scenes of civil wars waged in Kurdistan, Turkmen Sahra, Ahvaz and Abadan with exceptional enthusiasm and later of Iran-Iraq war fronts. And each time he returned with hundreds stories and helped the reporters to write their reports on the scenes that not many people dared to approach. In his profession, he was unfamiliar with such emotions as fear.
During the last month of Shah's regime, he lost his camera once and that was when we were summoned to Baghshah for an interrogation by an officer who told us that there was going to be a military coup on the next day and we were all going to be killed. With a kind of sincerity originating from his professionalism, Kaveh Golestan asked whether he could take pictures of the coming event.

Such incidents often happened during the last nine years that we worked for BBC as freelance journalists, and he lost his camera twice again and his films were exposed to light many times, so much so that he gradually got used to such treatments and constant interrogations.
Kaveh's power of discernment seemed sometimes incredible. Like a day in 1995 when he was filming three young girls brought to the office of Islamic News Agency for an interview with journalists on the charge of killing three Christian priests. While looking through his camera, Kaveh had everyone under his eyes. He showed me a man and whispered in my ears, 'He is the boss; I wish he would let us take a few pictures of him.' A few years later when all the media were looking for a picture of Said Emami, the ex-deputy of the Ministry of Information arrested on the charge of plotting the murder of Parvaneh and Darius Frouhar, Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, I remembered that day and thought if Kaveh had succeeded in taking those pictures on that day, how useful they could be now.

When he made the documentary film, "Recording the Truth," on the subject of censorship in Iran (with the script written by Enayat Fani) shown in British channel four TV in 19991, he proved that he could be a competent documentary film producer too.
It was following the production of this film that together with one of the people interviewed, we were once again summoned for an interrogation. All through that night of interrogation, Kaveh's eyes were constantly looking for rare angles that the light and the empty room and the iron table and chair produced.

In a country where there is usually a great misunderstanding on behalf of the regime in regard to information, journalism can have many unforeseeable dangers, such as one's office door being broken repeatedly and one's house searched secretly every now and then. Each time that we were interrogated, we had to explain the distinction between information and counter-information and secret information so much so that it became like a routine for us, even though there were always individuals who finally realized the meaning of impartiality and neutrality in reflecting events. Kaveh's incredible honesty and simplicity and candidness made the officials think more realistically, even though his ID card as a journalist was confiscated and invalidated three times.
Once the incredible picture that he took from Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral found its way abroad despite the will of authorities and was published anonymously in Paris Match, a sad event as he couldn't record his brilliant work under his name in the world of photojournalism. The last time that he got into a serious trouble was when he produced a shocking documentary film on disabled children. It was easy to foresee that it would definitely provoke the harsh reaction of those who did not like such scenes to be revealed and considered it as an act against the regime.
What made him to seriously consider a change of career and living place was the students he trained. Five years ago, he exhibited their works in Farabi University and everybody saw how he had assiduously and patiently made such good photographers out of those enthusiastic young people with some of them not even possessing a professional camera. It seemed that he had perfectly taught them how to hunt events and become a part of them as he himself always did.
Last year during and after the war in Afghanistan he brought brilliant incredible photos that I was sure could win him an esteemed prize in the world of photo-journalism, such as Politzier that he had already won four years earlier.
Although he was always full of excitement and enthusiasm, never losing hope in resuming work, I saw him thrice in tears. The first time was in 1978 when Shahr Now (Tehran's prostitutes' corner) was put on fire. The year before that, he had taken photos of the women living and working there that he then compiled in an album and published some of them in Tehran Mosavar.
For taking those pictures, he had spent many days and nights in that district listening to the stories of the inhabitants of that forbidden land and suffering their suffering. He knew most of those women – some did not even have a real first and second name -and had given them a copy of their photos as he had promised which they had hung in their rooms.
The second time I saw him crying was when he brought his pictures of chemical bombardment of Halabcheh. Pictures of dead women holding their children in their arms, of a dead man staring at the sky as though waiting for a miracle and salvation to happen, of the street extending on both sides of dead people in different position and postures.
While showing his slides in a darkened room, he talked about each with tears in his eyes and at the end he started to cry quite fiercely. He had a humane presence on the scenes that he photographed and filmed, as though he was hidden behind each one of them with his signature being his humane look at events.
The last time I saw his tears was in the winter of 2000 when I was taken to the court from the prison. Together with Jim Mior, he was standing by the courtroom from early morning. It was as though he could not imagine his old colleague in prison uniform. I saw him sticking the camera to his face, with an eye looking into the camera and another eye crying. On that scandalous day, he brought his head near me and asked me sadly in a whispering voice, 'were you hurt a lot?'
Last week, together with a short note, he sent the pictures he took that day in the courtroom to the Persian department of BBC. He then left for Kurdistan together with Jim Moor and I did not have the chance to reply him. Now in my imagination I have to ask him, "did it hurt a lot?' Or I should ask Jim Moor who had been standing near him when the whole thing happened. Although I know what Kaveh's response could be: a smile and the sentence he always used to say: "This is our work, isn't it?"
An hour after the incredible death of Kaveh Golestan, John Simpson, BBC correspondent in north of Iraq talked about Kaveh's passionate enthusiasm for his profession in BBC news. He also mentioned the name of four other British journalists and photographers killed in Iraq war during the past two weeks.
For Iranians who do not possess many people like Kaveh Golestan, his death is more painful and tragic. Unless among his students that he was deprived to teach for a time, arises one who like Kaveh would look at the world and its rare scenes humanely and idealistically through his camera and press the button at exactly the right moment.
Moments like the one on that Wednesday morning near Soleimanieh where a mine exploded under his feet and after that Kaveh left us for good.