“Sometimes I passed by there by my sheep and dogs, but there is nothing special to see. It’s just a pile of bricks”. This was how a local driver introduced me to the palace of the last king of the mighty Sassanid Dynasty, the last pre-Islamic kingdom of Iran. “We go there out of boredom as here no one sells, eats, or milks the sheep, but what else is there?” he added. However, seeing I keep asking questions of not only the palace but the very fact that why on earth they should raise sheep without using them, he proposed: “The public mini-bus doesn’t come often and sometimes randomly; get in my car.”
And that’s how I get to one of the least known parts of Iran to hear their unique story and beliefs.
‘This Land is Cursed’
Every now and then, our blue truck reached a small village with humble mostly stone-made houses. However, unlike other parts of the country, I couldn’t see many herds of animals in these areas. He explained: “This land is cursed; randomly people raise some just as a hobby, but you can’t use them in any way.”
The driver sounds uncomfortable to give more details, his eyes were tired and soulless when he started to talk about this, and I couldn’t ask anything more. Mountains over four thousand meters high were blocking the view beside the roads, oak forests were home to so many squirrels and birds who were jumping around, and while many rivers in Iran ran dry by lack of water, here the wild water was made it an ideal rafting playground.
I don’t know how long it took till the car halted at the very last village in that way. “Road meets the border!” I thought to myself, knowing that the next village is across these mountain ranges and in Iraq.
The driver didn’t turn off the engine; Instead, he just indicated the peak of the mountain and noted “There you go, that’s where Yazgird palace is located; enjoy!” He turned his car back and didn’t even ask for a fee. I didn’t know he came all this way just for me.
‘Where Have You Come From?’
“Tea?” inquired an Old man with a long white mustache that covered his mouth, and a crutch under his left arm; he was cleaning in front of his house with a broom and water. “Hi, come and drink a tea; Where have you come from?” completed his offer. I replied to his welcoming voice and greeted him back. A boy who could hardly move his hand and leg was playing with another disabled boy near his house. A few meters further on, another boy was running after a wheel, although he could hardly run and one of his hands was twice the size of the other.
Why is it like this, so many handicapped residents at first sight? I wondered.
“What brings you here?” asked the old man while pouring the tea from a kettle that he had beside the door, and took some cubes of sugar from the pocket of his dusty suit that probably was grey when he had just bought it, but now was more or less white.
“By destiny or chance, whichever you believe”, I answered.
‘You Are Not My Guest, but God’s’
“Destiny, destiny brings you here my younger brother” the old man replied. “You know something? You are not my guest, but God’s. I have the honor to have you in my house. But all that had brought you here were just by God’s demands.”
I smiled back and started to drink my tea. He broke the silence:
“Where do you come from?”
“From the other side of the country, Mashhad”, I answered.
The old man smiled and said:
“Oh, dear Mashhad, I always wanted to go there and visit the shrine of Imam Reza and pray, but I never had a chance so far”. He made a big sigh. Imam Reza’s shrine is the biggest Shiite shrine located in my home city about 2000 kilometers away from their village. However, I knew this part of the country most people believe in Sunni Islam which means they usually don’t visit these kinds of shrines or at least not raise it as a wish in their first talk with a stranger.
“You need to visit me back there then” I smiled. “I didn’t know here there are Shiite villages too?” I commented.
“No, we are not Shiite; we are followers of the Yaresan religion. But Imam Reza is part of our religion too,” he explained, leaving me with a shock from hearing about a religion that I had never even heard of before. Seeing my curiosity he continued:
“Imam Reza is a truly holy man, we love him; he had David’s soul” he added.
“David’s soul? What do you mean?”, I asked him in surprise.
“Oh, my son… it’s hard to explain, we believe the human soul moves from a body to the other after their death. David is one of our holy men, and his soul was the reincarnation of Michael, the archangel” he explained. ”Human beings go through a cycle of 1,001 incarnations. During this process, they may become more purified based on their actions”.
He explained all this, trying to help me digest the new knowledge.
‘I Never Shaved My Mustache in My Life and I Never Will’
I started to drink my tea; so did the old man. He needed to push his mustache up using four fingers, so he could make the tea reach his lips. “One should protect his words; that’s why I never shaved my mustache in my life, and I never will. I’ll sleep under the dirt with it.” he explained another part of their belief system with a smile.
“By the way, whoever I’ve seen in this village is handicapped. Is there any special reason or background?” I finally asked.
The old man put his empty cup back on the saucer, whispered, and stood up and went to his small kitchen without saying a word. He brought a few fruits and put them in a plastic bag:
“It’s a long tragic story, do you want to hear?” I nodded and he continued “Then let’s walk around, we can talk outside”.
An eagle was circling the Yazgerd fortress on the peak of the mountain. Adding the red sunset of that day was made it even easier to guess it used to be a very strong and enormous castle in its time.
“Have you heard of the chemical bombs that Iraq used during its war with us?”
‘The German Government, Then, Generously Supplied Saddam’s Regime with Chemical Weapons’
He broke my imagination from the last days of the Sassanid Empire and brought it to the last days of the eight years of war with Iraq. I’ve read the permanent protest sign in front of the German embassy in Tehran “The German government, then, generously supplied Saddam’s regime with chemical weapons…”. But this man has lived the history that I read so briefly, and I could see he feels limited by words to explain what he had experienced.
He told me of a time airplanes came…. Ooooooovaaaaaaaaaaaaah… and when they started dropping huge bombs, one just in the center of their small village and some in their farms… Pah, Pah, BOOOOMB!… and when they suddenly realize those were chemical bombs… “RUN… RUN, DON’T BREATH!!!” …MOOOOVE… and when one of the planes crashed and fell on his farm. BAM! He even told me of the time they captured one of the pilots and about his confession. “We were forced to come back without our chemical bombs, we should have dropped them somewhere else … and we didn’t want to fly far!” the pilot begged them. He told me that they could neither leave nor live there, chemical bombs had destroyed their fields. He told me how people drove their sheep and cows far away from the village to let them eat normal grass! Although they could not eat the meat nor drink its milk, because it would not be healthy.
‘War Hasn’t Finished Yet For Us’
“But how did this cause these children to become handicapped?” I asked.
“You don’t know about chemical bombs yet, do you?”He made a bitter smile. “War hasn’t finished yet for us, neither for our children. Births of more than half the children here begin with serious diseases. Chemical bombs are in our blood, in our land, we couldn’t emit it yet … we will not get out of it in this life, neither will our children nor maybe even our grandchildren!” he explained.
The sun had already set. The sounds of wolves could be heard around the area. The man asked me to stay the night in his place, and I had no way to decline. At his home, I played with his disabled son and thought of how history had dragged on for them this long. The next day, I’m not sure why, but I couldn’t convince myself to visit the palace which was still waiting on the peak. 7
“History is down here, why should I visit there?” I thought to myself: “After all, it’s just a pile of bricks”.