May 16, 2006

FOR’s Friendship Delegation to Iran: May 2006 - Report One: An Early Start to Peace-Making

BY FOR IRAN DELEGATIONNote: A story in last week’s LEO discussed a group of seven Louisvillians taking part in a Fellowship of Reconciliation peace mission to Iran. The following is part of the group’s first report, filed late last week. Please visit www.forusa.org to read more of the group’s updates. Our chance to connect with Iranian citizens began in Paris, while we waited for the connecting flight to Teheran. Most of the passengers waiting for the flight were Iranian citizens, and many gave a second look at the assembly of travelers wearing buttons that read “Peace Advocate” in Farsi, the language of Iran.It wasn’t long before a woman inquired about our trip, and asked if she could have a button, too. Once we boarded, an Iranian man named Hassan introduced himself. He asked about the purpose of the delegation.Hassan eagerly signed our book of messages of peace from Iranians and proudly placed one of our peace buttons on his chest. He thanked us for coming to his country, saying it was a wonderful gesture of peace.We arrived in Teheran on the evening of Tuesday, May 9, and went directly to our hotel for the night.Where daily life IS cultureThe next visit this morning was at the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization News Agency, which was founded in July 2004 by combining the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization with the Iranian Journeying and Tourism Organization. Our hosts were eight young women reporters and translators. Their work includes gathering news from tourist agents, Internet sources and other news sources and translating the material to make it available via the Internet to newspapers and tourism agencies in Iran.The reporters asked us a number of questions, some of which concerned our impressions of Iran. These were difficult to answer since we had just arrived the evening before. We were asked why we chose to come to Iran, and we answered that Iran has a distinguished history and culture, and this is mostly unknown to Americans.The reporters told us that there is little distinction to Iranians between culture and “daily life.” We replied that Americans, who have a relatively short history as Americans, also have some connection to their ethnic heritage.Meeting the victims of war and chemical attackOur final meeting today was at a rehabilitation center run by the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims’ Support. We were welcomed by Dr. Shahriar Khateri, the medical director of the center, and Mohammad Reza Soroush, the head of the nongovernmental organization (www.scwvs.org).More than 90,000 Iranians lost their lives during the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran (1980-1988). And many more Iranian soldiers and civilians sustained life-long medical injuries. We listened to the personal experience of one veteran who, at the age of 15, had volunteered for the military. An exploding landmine resulted in the loss of both his arms and made him blind. Another war veteran suffering from the effects of poison gas has impaired breathing, vision and a chronic, unrelenting skin rash. He said that Iranians and Americans are not enemies, and he expressed hope that the people of the United States can cooperate to build a peaceful future.Finally, Mazjar Teherani, the author of a book called “Way of Peace,” placed his hand on his heart and said he wished to send life energy to all the wounded and all who suffer. Members of our group made concluding remarks of support and heart-felt compassion. Contact the writers at www.forusa.org