SABAH (100)

Memoirs of Sabah Vatankhah

Interviewed and Compiled by Fatemeh Doustkami
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


SABAH (100)

Memoirs of Sabah Vatankhah

Interviewed and Compiled by Fatemeh Doustkami

Translated by Natalie Haghverdian

Published by Soore Mehr Publishing Co.

Persian Version 2019



One of those days Maryam came and said that tomorrow at ten in the morning, a minibus from army will be here and will take Khorramshahr army members to the city to see it. I hugged her from joy and kissed her face. I couldn’t believe that our dreams had come true. That night took long as a year!

We got into the bus which had come in front of Taleghani hospital. Mr. Azarnia and one two male members of Khorramshahr army, me, Maryam, Nooshin and Bandari sisters, Maryam Banouie and a number of other individuals. We were around twenty people and set out to Khorramshahr. I felt like going to Karbala for pilgrimage. I was crying unconsciously. Everybody was in the same state as me.

We moved from Taleghani hospital and reached Kout Sheikh. As the bridge had been raided, we went around and through the palm groves of Haffar. We passed the floating bridge and entered the city. After the governor’s square, we got off in Chehel Metri Avenue.

On the route, Mr. Azarnia said that the city is still polluted from substance and explosive devices and we should not get out of the asphalt and the main road and we shouldn’t touch anything. As he explained the Iraqis had placed mines on all parts of the city when they had found out that they are losing the control of the city.

At first look, the city was destructed and it was death as if nobody had been there for years. There was no place untouched. Everywhere we looked, there was a sign of explosion and quiver. It had been a war and we shouldn’t expect something else but I don’t know why it was hard for me to accept this situation. The tears didn’t let me see my wounded and injured city well. We went into Welfare buildings. The Iraqis had placed a high number of 220 litres barrels inside the building and around it. The barrels were full of cocktail Molotov and they had been wired together. One of the army members explained that these are explosive traps and your feet and hands shouldn’t touch them by no means.

The shop shutters were full of holes and had been misshaped. Door to some houses had been dislocated and had fallen aside. The ceiling of some houses had fallen and small and big holes had been shaped inside the walls following the hitting of cannon and mortar bomb bullets. It was as if the city had become small and shrinked. I saw the destructed dome of Jame mosque from far away and my heart dropped. I could see my heart beating.

Everybody was in his/her own condition. We all had whispers; whispers together with tears. When I walked into the yard of the mosque, all the memories of the mosque, and prior to the fall of Khorramshahr, appeared in front of my eyes. It was as if I could hear the voice of Khosro’s mother, my mother and other members of the kitchen who were actively and hastily busy cooking and preparing food for public and fighters. I could hear the nagging of fighters and their shouts saying turn off, turn off when they saw someone lighting a cigarette at night.

The mosque was crowded. The mosque had hugged a number of fighters like a kind mother. Their excitement and reverberation among them gave us life. I went towards the pillar inside the bedchamber of the mosque; the same pillar I leaned on to rest at nights. I looked at it and touched it and kissed it … in my dreams, the mosque was full of friends and comrades that were not among us anymore. I was experiencing sweet and bitter moments.

We walked out of the mosque and passed Safa bazaar, Morabae Hosseynieh and Haydari Hosseynieh. We entered Ferdowsi Avenue via Enghelab Avenue. The situation at Ferdowsi Avenue was better and the buildings were less destructed. The Iraqis had used the buildings as trenches. This meant that they had used tall buildings such as Bank Melli building as watchtower and also to camouflage themselves.

The rest of the districts had been flattened by bulldozers by Iraqis; there were no signs of homes and living of the people. The Iraqis had ruined the houses and living of people like crazy. They had dragged the refrigerator and stove to the middle of the yard. All the beddings and all the clothes and utensils inside the cupboard and closets had been thrown inside the yard and streets. The more we progressed the more surprise we became seeing the craziness of the Iraqis.

Near Ahmad Zadeh square and Ferdowsi Avenue, we noticed that the Iraqis have blocked the entrance of the streets using iron girders. We couldn’t understand how they had been able to fold the iron girders and shape them like skeins. They had closed the entrance to all streets so that no vehicle could move and enter. In each one meter distance, they had placed a sign written “Mine”. All the city was covered in mines so that if Iran can take control of the city, they won’t survive the mines.

There was no sign of Irandokht high school in Milanian. I remembered the history stories on the attack of Mongols to Iran. It was not obvious what ethnicity they had that they had violently destroyed the city.

One could see Santap and Customs from Ahmad Zadeh square. I longed to see our house but it was not possible. The army members were saying that all parts of Santap had been mined and there is no possibility to go there. All I could see from that distance, was a pile of soil. They had fully flattened our district with bulldozers. When I saw that only a pile of soil has been left of our house, I sighed. I hadn’t even taken a photo to remind me of our house. All our past, all our memories of that house was buried in the ground. Maryam who knew that we were living in Santap district asked: “Where is your house Sabbah?” I said in a crying voice: “I don’t know anymore! It should be under one of these signs saying mines.”

In the middle of all those chaos, Seyed Ma’touk court had remained untouched. We passed Moghbel square. We went towards auntie Maryam’s street. I couldn’t believe. There was no sign of their house. The Iraqis had turned the house completely down. The yard of auntie Maryam’s house was very beautiful. The mosaics on the ground were yellow and there was a beautiful blue pool in the middle of the yard.

I recognized their house from the pile of soil and the rubbles in front of the house and mosaics and broken marble stones. I found a steel fruit picking knife which belonged to my auntie and took it as a piece of memory. The knife was on the pile of soil which had piled in the place of their kitchen. Aunt Baheyr’s house was nearby and they had done the same with their place too and there was no sign of the house left.

We were all crying. One of the members said: “We shouldn’t enter Khorramshahr with ablution any more. The blood of defenseless men and women and fighters have poured in all the streets and avenues of this city.

We cried more after these words. She/he was really right. We were supposed to go to Jannat Abad. A few minutes later when we reached Jannat Abad, we saw a strange scene. All red tankers of municipality and lots of private cars had been planted vertically in the ground. Meaning that the hoods and front tires of the cars were buried in the ground and the rear part of the cars were in the air. In the space between the cars, there were a few refrigerators planted in the ground. We felt bad of what they had done. We felt that they had tried to mock us.

Cars were planted on the opposite of Jannat Abad. In the back of Jannat Abad, besides the cars, a few hectares of area were covered with lots of metal pipes. The men said that these are for the defense of probable fight with Hali burns of Iranian forces. The damn people had destroyed the city so bad that it needed a lot of time to fix it. Saddam had left nothing for the people of Khorramshahr. We couldn’t even find the way to our homes.

We were passing one of the streets when we felt that the asphalt softened under our feet and turned into a sponge. Our feet went inside the asphalt when we were walking. The bottom of our shoes had become adhesive. We asked one of the members of the army accompanying us the reason that why the asphalt is like this below our feet? He said that big amounts of sugar and cube sugar had been stored in one of the houses in the city. When the Iraqis raided the city, a mortar bomb hit the house and has turned the sugars to syrup. The sugars have changed their appearance as time has passed by and have become what you see now.

I sighed. The days before the fall of the city, people had to look for probably one spoon of sugar. It was not obvious who had stored all those sugars in the house. For one instance I remembered the arguments I had on those days and my loud voice on some of the members of Board of Trustees of the mosque. They didn’t allow us deliver food and edible supplies to the fighters. I remember how much I argued on why you don’t let us get the public aid to the soldiers. I even remember that once I told one of them that you have kept those cheeses hoping that the war will end and you will sell them?!

It was around noon that they said we have to return. We returned to the hospital. For the coming few weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about Khorramshahr and the scenes I had seen from streets and avenues. Although we had been able to get our land back and we were very happy and thankful to God for that, but I didn’t have a good feeling towards the city I had seen. The Khorramshahr I had seen was impossible to return to the conditions it had prior to the war. The city had been really martyred, the land had been martyred, the tree had been martyred, the greenery had been martyred…

A few days later, finally the martyrs of Khorramshahr army were brought to the hospital. When one of the emergency ward members called and gave the news, I was in the ward. I ran towards the morgue quickly. God knew how much I had longed to pilgrimage the bodies of my fellow-citizens for long. The corpses were in the back of a pick-up and a small powder had been sprayed on them. The name of each one of them was written on a white paper and attached to their chests.

Before rushing to see the corpses, I had prepared myself for every possible scene. I remembered that once they had brought a martyr who had been left in the sun for two days. Lots of white and fat worms had been pouring out of his nose. Now that these corpses had been left under the hot sun of Shalamchech for twenty days, it was not obvious what had happened to them.

They transferred the corpses to the morgue. I took a shaking foot towards them. The first body I saw was the body of Ali Soleymani, Fereshteh’s brother. Contrary to what I had imagined, none of the corpses had any worms on them. Only their skin and body color had turned to brown. Ali was the only son of Soleymani family. I had seen him a lot prior to being martyred. He was a beautiful boy. He had big blue eyes with brownish hair. Once when Fereshteh had a task to do in Khorramshahr and we went to army headquarters together, he came and solved our problem. I saw him there.

Now only a sun burnt face had been left from that beautiful and charming face. No stench was coming from any of the martyrs. Only their body parts had been dried as if there had never been any muscle and flesh in their bodies. The situation of the corpses were strange to all. We were all waiting for twenty, thirty decomposed and disintegrated bodies. The other point which was almost common in all corpses was their way of martyrdom. All of them had been shot directly and not by quivers.

Although Khorramshahr had been liberated, but nobody commuted to the city and the martyrs couldn’t be buried there. Therefore we took the martyrs together with the spouses and families of the martyrs who were in Abadan, to Abadan graveyard for martyrs to be buried. At that time this was customary. Meaning that we buried the martyrs of Khorramshahr in Abadan graveyard for martyrs as loan (temporarily) so that when the city is liberated, we would take the bodies to Khorramshahr and bury them there[1].

I don’t remember much from the burial ceremony. The only scene I remember is the moment of burying martyr Esmaeil Khosravi, spouse of Robab Hoursi. I was sitting next to Robab Hoursi. She was pregnant. Although I was very worried for her but she was so patient and sober that I envied her calmness. Instead of her, her sister Sakineh was crying a lot and was restless. Robab had a bottle of tea rose perfume in her hand and scented her husband’s body before the burial.

After the burial of the martyrs, due to insecurity of the graveyard and the probability of attack, we left quickly and returned to the hospital. My heart was sad of the estranged funeral of the martyrs. At night during the Tavvasol Prayer we all cried and felt better.


To be continued …


[1] After the liberation of Khorramshahr and the people of Khorramshahr going there, when the families of the martyrs wanted to transfer the bodies of their loved ones from Abadan to Khorramshahr, Mr. Jami, the Friday prayer leader of Abadan, spoke to them and said that Let their martyrs stay there in Abadan and be the guests of the martyrs of Abadan. The families agreed.

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