“The real treasure lies in the testimonies of the survivors who still have wisdom – and learning – and experience – to impart.”
Wednesday April 29th is the United Nations designated Day of Remembrance for Chemical Weapons Victims, which was observed today at the Tehran Peace Museum (TPM). The ceremony, which was organized entirely by the museum’s young cohort of volunteers, included a number of distinguished guests, chemical weapons survivors and their families, staff and friends of the museum.
The theme of this year’s event was to reflect on the 100 years since the first gas attacks at Ypres in Belgium during the First World War, the chemical weapons attacks during the Iran-Iraq War and the achievements made in the realm of disarmament and finding solutions for future world peace.
The ceremony began with the reading of the UN Secretary General’s message for this day of remembrance by Mr. Mohammad Moghadam representing UNIC in Tehran.
Following the SG’s statement, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Gary Lewis, delivered his own message. The Resident Coordinator recognized the unique aspect of the Tehran Peace Museum as a “living museum,” where the survivors themselves are the real treasures of the museum sharing their experiences about exposure to chemical weapons.
“Let these brave and bold survivors be your guides,” Mr. Lewis encouraged guests, “and listen to them. For you will hear for yourself what is different when a chemical bomb explodes. You will hear how the victims felt. You will hear about how they cope with life now – over 30 years later – with wounds still unhealed.”
“But we are not just learning about history here,” continued Mr. Lewis. Referring to the role of the survivors in the museum, the Resident Coordinator added, “For these same survivors who teach us history through their own eyes, will challenge us to use our new knowledge to consider alternatives to conflict and war.”
Also addressing assembled guests was a representative of Mr. Mohammad Ali Shahidi Mahallati, Vice President of Islamic Republic of Iran and head of the Martyrs and Veterans Affairs Foundation, who read a statement making reference to the forgotten victims of the gas attacks on Sardasht and Halabja.
“I am also proud of Iran’s role as one of the pioneers of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” he added. “And, I request all signatories of this important convention to honour their commitments and convey messages of peace to the world.”
Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Mr. AhmetÜzümcü, delivered a video address and spoke about the successful work of the OPCW and the 120 state parties who have worked towards almost 87% eradication of chemical weapons stockpiles. Mr. Üzümcü concluded his message by urging a renewal of resolve and dedication for the political will to complete the destruction of all stockpiles of chemical weapons as well as developing a global norm against chemical weapons within schools and public consciousness.
Guests were also addressed by one of the survivors and volunteer guides at the TPM, Mr. Hassan Hassani Sa’di, who had recently traveled to Ypres to participate in the centenary commemoration of the first gas attacks there in April 1915.
Focusing on using the past to seek solutions for peace in the present and future, Mr. Sa’di said, “We survivors feel it is our responsibility to educate people about the atrocities of chemical weapons. We talk about how war has scarred our generation, but we also share the responsibility in building peace for the future.”
Mr. Sa’di, who was exposed to chemical weapons opposite Al Faw in 1986, continued his address by sharing the many peace education initiatives conducted by the Tehran Peace Museum including the youth programme, Young Reporters, the Voices of Peace oral history project, the Mayors for Peace and partnerships with the United Nations, local sporting and arts celebrities, physicians from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and the museum’s close collaboration with the OPCW.
In observation of this special occasion, the TPM commemorated two survivors and volunteers who had recently passed away. Mr. Ahmad Zangiabadi, who was exposed to sulphur mustard gas on the Majnoon Islands in 1985, and Mr. Jahanshah Sadeghi, a military paramedic exposed to a large-scale mustard gas attack at his field hospital in Soomar in 1986, were remembered for their valour, their kindness and their dedication to creating a peaceful world for all.
The ceremony was concluded by the laying of flowers in front of the Chemical Weapons Victims Monument in the Park-e Shahr.
To see photos of the event click here.