Rarely have I gone to conferences as the Second International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin which has provided such an assortment of diverse individuals, from differing nations, with strikingly common problems.
The only thing many Americans know about Iran is the Carter Hostage Crisis, the Islamic fundamentalist-controlled government, various human rights violations as with the suppression of the Baha’i Faith, and the most recent nuclear scare tactics designed to continue funding of the military-industrial complex.
It was a breath of fresh air to meet a delegation of medical delegates from Iran attending the Hanoi conference and providing unique information regarding similar medical conditions between Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange and conditions currently found in Iran. With the Iranian delegation was Dr. Shahriar Khateri (M.D.) who is associated with Iranian Physicians for Social Responsibility, Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support,and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
While Americans tend to have short memories, many of us remember that President Reagan supported Saddam Hussein’s regime and his war against Iran to the point we were furnishing Iraq with weapons upon request, including stockpiles from our chemical arsenal. Elson Boles pointed out in a recent article — supported by New York Times, Central Intelligence Agency, and Defense Intelligent Agency documents — that the Reagan White House was prepared to do “anything” to keep Iran from winning the conflict with Iraq.
When Saddam began gassing the Kurds of Northern Iraq, Reagan and America turned a deaf ear to the plight of the ethnic Kurds numbering about 4 million, sympathetic to Iran, and possessing differing culture and language from the rest of Iraq. The previous administration, and now current administration, feel these same peoples must remain part of a nation they have been attempting to separate from for generations.
Humans Rights Watch estimated that as many as 500,000 Kurds died from chemical weapons attacks during Reagan’s watch. That sacrifice was of no importance until the second President Bush realized he could capitalize off those deaths as if we had nothing to do with them. Dr. Adil Karem aptly put it, “Bush used this event for his own benefit.”
During America’s support of Saddam Hussein, over 3,000 tons of chemical agents were used against Iranian military and civilian forces, exposing over one million people, killing over 7,000 outright, and creating over 100,000 severe disabilities.
This was the motivating factor for Dr. Khateri to attend this particular conference:
“This tragedy was a horrifying epic in the annals of modern warfare, inflicting enormous suffering that continues to the present day in the form of latent illness among tens of thousands of survivors. The many thousand Iranians who died from exposure to chemical weapons and the many more survivors whose suffering is continuing into the present and die in silence, deserve to be recognized by the world community…now, more than 20 years after the end of the war, about 70,000 Iranians are registered to receive care for chronic effects from chemical weapons injuries. Of that number 10,000 are civilians. An additional 25,000 civilians are estimated to be currently affected but are not included in the national registry…”
I learned there was a strong bond between the Iranian victims of chemical weapons, some provided by the United States, and the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange of which the United States denies any responsibility. Both sides are working for the mutual benefit of the other and seek active ways to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again.
For additional information on the groups Dr. Khateri belongs to or the programs for chemical weapons victims in Iran, contact the Tehran Peace Museum, 19615-616 Tehran, Iran or the e-mail Dr. Shahriar Khateri here: [email protected]