Enemy soldiers, once adversaries, share a wholesome reunion in a waiting room after saving each other's lives 20 years earlier.
Times of crisis make for unlikely allies. The world is currently witnessing conflicts in Ukraine, Sudan and Hamas, to name a few. Interestingly, the story of two enemy soldiers reuniting in the present day can be some good news in such difficult times. Most people are familiar with the Iran-Iraqi war that began in 1980 and went on for eight years before ending. According to CBC News, it was the longest-fought conventional war of the 20th century, having at least a million casualties.
This was the case for Najah Aboud, hailing from Basra in Southern Iraq. He was a reluctant recruit who worked with the tank unit. He revealed to the IDEAS podcast that he held no hatred or animosity towards the enemy. Aboud stated that he didn't know a lot about Iran other than the fact that they were a neighboring country. He was aware that both countries enjoyed each other's music and that their people were very alike.
The tide of the war changed in 1982 when the Iraqi forces managed to capture the Iranian city of Khorramshahr, where they committed a lot of heinous crimes. Iran would then try to take back their city in an all-out attack where they planned to decimate the Iraqi invaders. Once the battle ensued, Aboud became gravely injured in the head, chest and back. He managed to crawl to the bunker, where he saw dead bodies from both sides and prepared for imminent death.
His movement into the bunker proved to be fateful as this was where he would run into Zahed Haftlang. Haftlang ran away from his abusive home in Tehran when he was just 13 years old. He joined the Iranian army as a medic. Just like Aboud, he felt no animosity towards the enemy. Once the Iranians captured Khorramshahr in May of 1982, Zahed was ordered to go and treat his wounded compatriots in the bunkers.
On going into the bunker, he heard someone groaning from pain in the dark. Hafltang turned his flashlight on and looked around to spot Aboud in the back of the bunker. Initially, the two men were deeply suspicious of each other. Haftlang was convinced that Aboud's body was booby-trapped, while Aboud thought that Haftlang would kill him.
Haftlang reached into Aboud's breast pocket and pulled out a photograph. "It was my girlfriend with her boy", shared Aboud in The New York Times documentary. Upon seeing this, Haftlang decided to save Aboud's life, even though such a thing would be a huge gamble on his own life. He managed to create an improvised I.V. for Aboud but eventually finished his medicine supply. Haftlang informed his fellow soldiers about what he was doing and they warned him that he would be executed if he was caught.
Despite overwhelming odds, Haftlang would not give up and took Aboud to a field hospital. The doctor initially refused to treat Aboud but eventually relented and performed an operation on Aboud. There was a language barrier between the two men, so they communicated with their eyes and gestures. Haftlang was eventually asked to leave, and Aboud was taken to a prisoner-of-war camp where he would suffer for 17 long years.
Aboud was even temporarily released but could not find his wife and son, so he went to Vancouver to rejoin his family. Hafltang's kind act was repaid harshly when his fiancée died in an Iraqi bombardment. To make matters worse, he was captured as a prisoner of war just an hour before a truce was called between the two nations. Hafltang eventually went back to Tehran in a very bad state of mind.
His family thought he was dead and had put up a grave for him. Seeing his own grave pushed him to become a professional thug. After some time, he went on to become a merchant marine but ran into trouble there as well. He fought with a religious officer and beat him up, almost killing him. Haftlang realized that he could potentially face charges and imprisonment and decided to jump ship, which coincidentally happened to be parked in North Vancouver.
Haftlang watched as the ship sailed away and bid adieu to any chance of returning to his homeland. He managed to survive but soon became quite depressed and decided to hang himself. Thankfully, he was saved at the absolute last minute when some housemates came in to rescue him. They sat him down and convinced him to get help at VAST, which dealt with trauma survivors, located in downtown Vancouver.
He was in the waiting room, reading magazines, when he saw another man enter the room. They were soon talking and Haftlang noticed that the stranger knew some Persian. He inquired how he knew the language and the man revealed that he did after being a prisoner of war. Hafltang revealed that he, too, was one. A few questions later, the men began shouting and hugging each other as they realized that they had been reunited.
People at the facility ran into the room, assuming that the men had started to fight each other. But when they heard the story, they too began embracing the men. The heartwarming proved to be a turning point for both of them. Haftlang's suicidal impulses went away. In a beautiful way, both men were there for each other at the lowest points of their lives. "We are like brothers now. And we are real brothers," said Aboud in a documentary for The New York Times.