Tehran Peace Museum is a vibrant hub of peacemaking and education
By Linda Pentz Gunter
The fact that there is a Tehran Peace Museum seems like an important thing to know right now. Despite the bellicose, all capital letters Twitter rhetoric of the man inflicted on us to run the United States, there are many ordinary people in Iran who want peace.
That peace has been put in greater jeopardy, not only by a man who refuses to look in the mirror (or the history books) when accusing Iran of “DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH.” It has been undermined by the White House decision to withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal — officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA, forged under the Obama administration, created the greatest likelihood to date that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons.
On the face of it, given the Trump administration’s hostile stance toward Iran, you would think this White House would be all for the JCPOA. But for Trump’s friends in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — for whom he does a devoted puppet dance second only to the one he performs for Russia — the JCPOA was not enough. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and therefore the Trump regime, would like to see Iran collapse, even destroyed. We should probably mention Israel in the same breath here as well, although why Israel would want to see a nuclear armed Iran is as illogical as Trump’s decision to effectively encourage it.
Consequently, not only has the US Trump administration withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, it has now begun the imposition of harsh sanctions on a country already struggling economically. Those sanctions will hurt the people who have the least the most. But Trump is willing to starve children just to undo an Obama policy and make a point, even though undoing it actually runs contrary to what Trump says he wants: a nuclear weapons-free Iran.
In the middle of this perpetual nightmare, the Tehran Peace Museum holds a very special place.
The Museum was founded and is run by many individuals who are themselves victims of war, and specifically of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. Iraq used chemical weapons during that conflict, in particular nerve agents and mustard gas. One of the countries that aided Iraq in acquiring and deploying those chemical weapons was the United States. Iran suffered more than 50,000 casualties as a result of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons.
Several of those people now work, or volunteer at the Tehran Peace Museum. The head of the volunteer guides at the museum, Hasan Hasani Sadi, was exposed twice to mustard gas in 1984 and ’85 on the southern front of the Iran-Iraq border. He suffers severe lung and eye lesions. Several of the volunteers he leads are similar victims of chemical warfare. One, Ahmad Zangiabadi, suffered respiratory collapse and died in a Tehran hospital in November 2014.
The museum’s director, MohammadReza Taghipoor Moghadam, is a double amputee, injured in Khoramshahr in 1982.
These people understand war. They have lived it. And they want to see an end to it. Permanently. The Trump administration is certainly not helping.
The US sanctions against Iran undermine that goal, says Dr. Leila Moein, a member of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and an associate of the museum. “The withdrawal of America can greatly harm peace in the Middle East,” she said, “firstly due to the economic harm to Iran and consequently to the neighboring countries of Iran. Then, economic tensions will eventually lead to political tension. And finally, America’s conspiracy with Saudi Arabia could lead to hostile relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia.”
The JCPOA, she says, “was a rare event in recent years that made peace between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the European Union. It was the face of peace. But the United States closed the door of peace on Iran.”
The idea for the Tehran Peace Museum — whose slogan is “Peace is more than the absence of war” — came about, says the museum’s website, “with a conversation between the founders of the Tehran-based Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support (SCWVS) and a coordinator for the International Network of Museums for Peace in 2005, along with a visit by SCWVS members to Hiroshima. It was at Hiroshima, that the Iranian delegation began to understand the parallels between those victims and their own suffering due to the use of chemical weapons.”
The long version of the museum’s slogan is “Real peace comes from our heart (inner peace) and leads to peaceful relations in the family and community and among nations. Let’s inspire others with non-violence every day. Let’s be messengers of peace in every interaction.”
Explains Moein: “It means that peace doesn’t just focus on nonviolent relations among governments. The cease-fire after the war or the avoidance of war are just two kinds of peace.
“First of all, you have to look at the root of peace. This is in our heart, where kindness, happiness and forgiveness are made. Humans must grow peace in their hearts. After that they can exchange peacefully with others. Here, peace enters the next stage — relationships between people. For example colleagues that work in a company, or our contact with shopkeepers and so on.
“After that, these peaceful relations can be extended to the behavior of societies and beyond states.
“Peace is not just lack of fighting between states. It starts with each of us. Peace comes from our heart (inner peace) and leads to peaceful relations in the family and community and among nations. Let’s inspire others with non-violence every day.”
The Museum attracts a broad variety of visitors to its vibrant, interactive education center, conferences, workshops, and exhibitions. It also has a library and a documentary studio that continues to capture stories about the victims of warfare. In addition to the general public, the museum also hosts visiting dignitaries and foreign guests including ambassadors, UN representatives, writers and doctors.
In keeping with its mantra that war does not end when peace comes, the museum also draws attention to the legacy of war. In particular, it educates visitors about how, decades after the Iran-Iraq conflict ended, tens of thousands of chemical weapons victims still suffer from chronic ill health. The museum includes information on other similar attacks, including the use of Agent Orange by American forces in Vietnam.
“Iraqi veterans have visited the museum several times and recounted a lot of memories of the war,” Moein said. “They talked about the domination of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, who expelled Iraqi men from their homes and captured their families in order to force them to go to war. We also have an Iraqi narrator who volunteers at the Peace Museum and who fled the Iraqi army as a refugee to Iran.”
Through its teachings and educational programs, the museum tries to bring hope to younger generations. This past June, a “Children and Peaceful Dreams” art exhibition was held at a Tehran gallery, a collaboration between Hadis Early Childhood Education Centre and the Tehran Peace Museum. All of the artists were aged six. After hearing an explanation of the concept of peace from their school teachers, the children used their imaginations to depict it.
Also in June, the museum held a mediation course, in conjunction with Berghof Foundation and Allame Tabatabei University, to train mediators to act in different types of conflicts.
At the end of June, a new exhibition of paintings, the Scent of Almond, memorialized the June 28, 1987 chemical weapons attack on Sardasht when Iraq used mustard gas bombs, the first time in history that chemical weapons were used against civilians. A Tehran court subsequently ordered the US to pay $600 million in compensation to the victims of Sardasht due to US involvement in Iraq’s acquisition and use of chemical weapons.
Needless so say, that sum was never paid. Nor were the many other cities that were destroyed and hit by chemical weapons, including Zarde and Deyreh, ever compensated
The Trump administration would do well to remember the US backed atrocities of places like Sardasht (not to mention its facilitation of the Saudi bombing of Yemen and Syria — although one should note that Iran is of course engaged in the Syrian war on the side of the Assad government and with the support of Russia) before it unleashes another tirade accusing Iran of being the world’s “leading sponsor of terrorism.”
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