Four Iranian victims of chemical weapons used during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s joined Peace Boat's 94th voyage from Piraeus, Greece to Valencia, Spain. While onboard they shared their testimonies and Peace Boat participants learned about the effects of using such weapons and how their impact is still felt today. After the consequences of chemical weapon use during World War I, the 1925 Geneva Protocol was established which prohibited their use in war. However, the Iran-Iraq war saw Iraqi forces use chemical weapons not only towards military personnel but also civilians. Peace Boat participants learned that during the war, Iraq attacked Iran with chemical weapons more than 350 times, and used about 1,800 tonnes of mustard gas and 600 tonnes of sarin.
AliAkbar Fazli, Alireza Yazdanpanah, Asadollah Mohammadi and Mohammad Reza'ei were all exposed to chemical weapons during the war, and now all volunteer at the Tehran Peace Museum in the capital of Iran, where they educate visitors about the impact of chemical weapons and tell their stories of being exposed to them during the war. During one event onboard, Mahmoud Bonakdarnia, the coordinator and translator accompanying the group, explained to Peace Boat participants that there are different types of chemical weapons. He mentioned the chemical attack that took place on the Tokyo Metro in 1995 which used sarin. He explained that this was also used in the Iran-Iraq war, but more common was sulphur mustard (mustard gas), which particularly attacks the respiratory system, eyes and skin.
One of the survivors of chemical weapons used during that war was Yazdanpanah. He shared how at the age of 15 he volunteered as a solider in the war to defend his country. When exposed to an explosion of gas while serving, he did not know that he should have left the area as soon as possible, and remained there for two hours looking to help others. He did not immediately notice an effect on his body, but only after those two hours felt some pain in his eyes and started coughing a lot, which is when he realized something was wrong. It had been a mustard gas bomb. Since then, he has had his cornea replaced four times, still cannot see properly and experiences a lot of pain every day. He also spoke of difficulty breathing, and is currently waiting for a donation of a part of the respiratory system. "Most of my life has been spent in hospital or going to hospital and getting medicine. I cannot remember anything else," he explained. However, he added, "with all these difficulties, I am proud of what I did at that time to defend my country."
The chemical weapon survivors also had the chance to meet the three Hibakusha (survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings) and two second-generation Hibakusha onboard. The meeting gave opportunity for both parties to discuss being exposed to weapons, whether chemical or nuclear, during war and how this continues to impact their lives. The group from Tehran heard about the Hibakusha project onboard, through which Hibakusha travel the world giving their testimonies and calling for a ban on nuclear weapons. Hibakusha Tanaka Toshiko shared that she believes nuclear weapons and the impact of radiation are the worst influence from weapons, and highlighted that Japan has not learned from Hiroshima nor Nagasaki, nor from the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima in 2011. "We are appealing to the United Nations and calling for as many countries as possible to support the international treaty to ban nuclear weapons," she added. The UN negotiations to realize a ban began earlier this year and will continue in June at the UN headquarters in New York.
The discussion between Hibakusha and the chemical weapon survivors included Yazdanpanah saying he was very thankful to have the opportunity to meet the Hibakusha and encounter people who share similar hardships of the past. "Each one of us can go around the world as peace ambassadors to convey our message of peace. How we live our lives and the hardships we went through; we can demonstrate how cruel war is," he said. The importance of victims sharing the impact of weapons on humans was the evident theme of the meeting, with both Hibakusha and the chemical weapon survivors sharing that they provide their testimonies in the hope of preventing anyone from experiencing nuclear or chemical weapons again.