Friday, September 30, 2022

Finding Real Heroes in Old War Photos

What Saeed Sadeqi shot thousands of times during the Iraqi imposed war on Iran in the 1980s were not bullets, but photographs. Three decades on, he now has a specific goal: to find as many war heroes in his old photos as possible.

Saeed Sadeqi, the Iranian photographer who closely covered the 8-year war that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had waged against Iran in the 1980s, has launched a new project to find the fighters in the photos of the battlefield.

Since starting the project six years ago, Sadeqi has found at least 30 veterans of war.

Sadeqi printed copies of hundreds of the photographs shot during his 70-month stay in the battlefield, namely from the occupation of Khorramshahr in southwestern Iran in 1980 to the end of the war in 1988. He has distributed the photos among friends and ordinary people to find the veterans.

He was interested in knowing where the former soldiers are today, whether they are alive or have been martyred or disappeared, and if anybody is still waiting for them. To this end, he set up a Telegram channel named “A Photographer’s Quest”.

What follows is Shahrvand newspaper’s interview with Sadeqi about his career and the project.

Finding Real Heroes in Old War Photos
Photo by Saeed Sadeqi

Q: What did make you search for these people after so many years?

A: When I now look at the hundreds of photos I took during the war, I realize how young the fighters were in the war. It struck me to find them and make a bridge between their past and present to revive the memories of the eight-year war. So, six years ago, we started the project with the help of media and street billboards. I frame the photo of each fighter after finding him, and go to visit him wherever he may be.

Q: Tell us about their reactions to the photos taken during the war?

A: Each one has his own reaction. Some burst out laughing, while some break down and weep. Some of them say the photo has revived joy in their family life. This reminds them that a lot of people had been waiting for them when they were in the battleground. The photos reveal their reality.

Q: How long were you in the battlefield?

A: I arrived in Abadan just two days after the first attack by Iraq under Saddam. I was 24, working as a photographer of a mainstream Iranian newspaper. Abadan was empty. I remember the enemy was launching airstrikes on the city targeting innocent families. Whoever could afford had left the city for Tehran or Shiraz. Tehran’s hotels were packed. I stayed in the war zone for 70 months from Khorramshahr to Kurdistan.

Finding Real Heroes in Old War Photos
Photo by Saeed Sadeqi

Q: Tell us about the photos you took in Halabja and Khormaleh.

A: I printed the photos I had taken during the chemical attack on Kurdistan and had them installed in a main square of Halabja. I stayed there for several days. After a while, some people happened to recognize some of their relatives in the photos. People’s reactions were interesting. I experienced some strange events during my stay in the battlefield. People fell on the ground with a sort of white foaming at the mouth. I didn’t know that they were target of a chemical attack. I took them to the nearby hospitals. Later I found out the issue.

Q: Have you ever met any of the injured you had saved in Halabja?

A: I found three of them in Halabja. I visited them. One of them was a mother of several children.

Q: What is your real feeling?

A: The life is what it is. I don’t really know what to say. When I went to the war zone, I was young and saw everything from the prism of art. But step by step, I witnessed so many tragic events and lost my earlier feelings. I came to the conclusion that war is totally different from what we have in mind. These photos show you the real face of war. They force the historians to write the realities. War, regardless of its outcome, bears only one fruit: burning and ruining humanity. War has no winner and these photos reveal its real nature.

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