A story of people victim of chemical weapons and struggling with the consequences long after the war has ended.
Zardeh is a village in Western Iran, nestled in a mountain dividing Iran for Iraq. On 22 July 1988, at the end of the Iraq-Iran war, the village was attacked by Iraqi aircrafts dropping chemical weapons containing nerve and mustard gas. Thirty years later, in December 2017, the village was severely damaged by an earthquake, making a couple of hundred villagers homeless and resettled in emergency containers. Most of them are survivors of the chemical attack.
On the morning of the chemical attack villagers and visitors were gathering at a local shrine for the celebration of Eid. Most of the 275 civilians killed that day were in the vicinity of the shrine. At the time of the attack, Zardeh had a population of approximately 1700, similar to the nowadays population.
Survivors of the attack remember very well the unusual yellow smoke and apple, garlic and flower smell the exploded bombs created. Few moments later birds started to fall out of the trees, people started to cry and eventually choke and, for the most affected, going in a state of total paralysis before dying.
The high laying water reserves of the village were also targeted so that the water was immediately contaminated while the released gas made slowly its way to the densely populated areas of the village lying beneath. People would rinse their face with water, making their condition even worse. Because of the isolated location of Zardeh and the blockage of most roads in these border areas, it took a very long time for victims to reach provincial hospitals or for medical aid to reach the village in the aftermath of the chemical attack.
For several years after the chemical attack it was impossible to do any agricultural activities and to keep livestock, which are the main ways of subsistence in these remote Kurdish villages.
Today, and for the past 30 years since the Iraqi chemical attack on the civilian population of Zardeh, most survivors that have been exposed to the deadly mustard and nerve gas are still in great need of medical care having developed chronic respiratory problems requiring daily use of oxygen cylinders, coughing, skin diseases, blindness and serious eye infections, burns, infertility in the years following the attack, and serious mental health problems.
Frequent severe dust and sand storms originating in the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq reach the village of Zardeh systematically, causing further respiratory and eye problems to an already vulnerable and affected population. Consequently, many try to leave for a friendlier environment, especially since the latest earthquake.
Iran has been a victim of chemical attacks during the Iran/Iraq war between 1980 and 1988. Chemical weapons have been widely used by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein against his own Kurdish civilian population and against Iran, first against soldiers in the trenches and as of 1987 against Iranian civilian populations like in Zardeh. An estimated 5000 to 10,000 soldiers and civilians have been killed by chemical attacks in Iran. More than 100,000 Iranians receive government compensation and specialized medical care for the wounds and illness inflicted by exposure to the deadly chemical weapons of mass destruction. Victims carry the legacy and consequences of exposure to chemicals more than thirty years after the conflict ended.