19 November 2013
Anbar Jaberi (72), the mother of martyr Nematollah Jaberi, has waited 23 years for news of her son. She lives with her daughter and grandchild in Ilam province, on the Iraq border. She goes out onto the moors with her grandchild every day—to think of her son, she says, and of her former nomadic life.
The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) was one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century. Casualty figures are highly uncertain, though the numbers of dead on both sides ran into the hundreds of thousands. In Iran, people who were killed in the conflict were declared martyrs for their country, and therefore for Islam. Over 10,000 Iranian soldiers were reported missing in action, without a corpse being identified. Although numbers of bodies have been found over the years, and returned to Iran, the fate of more than half of the missing soldiers is still unclear.
I became interested in the stories of the mothers of missing soldiers. After more than 20 years, many are still waiting for a body to be returned; some believe their sons may not have been killed, but were kept prisoner and may one day come home. Most of these mothers are now between 70 and 80 years old. They live in hope of seeing their sons again, or finally having a body that they may bury, so that they may face their own deaths in tranquility. Some visit monuments to unknown martyrs at weekends or have private shrines, where they whisper conversations with their sons.