Photo Essay: The War is Still Alive

Fatemeh Behboudi


Three decades have passed since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, but many mothers are still waiting for the return of the remains of lost sons who perished during the war.

Many veterans who managed to survive spend their days with the psychosomatic pains caused by chemical and biological warfare. Every day their every breath has been accompanied by tears, screams, and dreams of death. Thirty years have passed since the end of the war, but children and many people in the border towns of Iran are still the victims of buried land mines in the soil, and their dreams have died with them.

Thirty years and counting since the end of the war, but war-torn cities remain torn and have not revived, have not been restored to their former glory. And the inhabitants of these sad cities have not seen a return to vitality and life.

Thirty years have gone but the children and families of martyrs still travel to locations where their fathers and children were martyred. Still, martyr families are looking for even a small part of the bodies of their martyrs or whatever remains from that amid the devastation.

Who has said that the war is over? The war is alive. Even after 30 years.

I was an infant in the middle of the Iran-Iraq War. The war began in 1980 with the invasion of Iraq to the international border of Iran. More than 220,000 Iranian soldiers were killed and more than 800,000 injured. About three million people from both countries were killed and wounded in this bloody war, a war that is known as the greatest classic battle of the 20th century. It lasted eight years and eventually ended in 1988 with Iran adopting UN Resolution 598.

The war (for the government and media) ended, but then the real war began for the people. The hidden wounds of the war show up increasingly.

And as I opened my eyes and ears in childhood, I was surrounded by a sense of fear, the sounds of emergency sirens and of bombs and the news about martyrs. They were all in front of me and all the memories of my childhood were full of these sorrowful scenes. From then until today, I have always heard a common name in all Iranian homes: Saddam Hussein.

He was, of course, the Iraqi dictator ultimately responsible for all the carnage. People have always talked about him and how his crimes had destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The talk that never stopped and can still be heard in many Iranian homes. And this turned into a question for me: why this war remains so fresh on the minds of millions and why Saddam is not yet forgotten?

The Iran-Iraq war and its traces, its consequences and victims, became my most important concern and subjects in photography. I was able to get much closer to the victims of the war with my camera. I saw the old wounds of war as alive as ever – the wounds that had not healed.

“War is still Alive” is the title of a long and (ongoing) documentary project that I have been working on for six years. My first story was “Mothers of Patience”, a story about the lives of mothers of Iranian martyrs who have been waiting for a son’s body to be found and returned for proper burial. This initial project was the first effort to look deeper into the war and its victims.

How did the victims of the war spend their best years of life with the deep pain of war?

What bothered me the most was that they never returned to their normal lives after the war and most of the victims could never be the same people that they were before. The suffering of the victims of war has become a profound pain for me, and it has made me more resolute to carry out further post-war projects.

With this project, I want to show the effects of war on different generations, how It can influence the life of an individual … a family, a community, a nation, a region and how it left wounds and deep pains on survivors for decades.

I live in Iran and every day we are expecting a new war in my country or nearby, because of threats from the U.S. and some neighboring countries.

Can you imagine that waiting for a new war is more difficult than real war? It can seem so.

With the continuation of this long-term project in Iran and in the Middle East, I want my photos to be the voices of people who have been sacrificed to war and have been forgotten. I hope that one day, politicians and warlords can hear the lost voice of the people.

Fatemeh Behboudi

is a

Contributor for Panorama.