Their Kurdistan and ours
Dariush Zand, communist medic
On September 12 2015, the Iranian revolutionary, Dariush Zand (‘Dr Said’), died in exile in Paris, following a short illness. Many of us who survived the terrible wars and the cold winters of Iranian Kurdistan in the 1980s no doubt owe our lives to his dedication, medical skills and determination to help his patients, most of whom were peshmerga fighters from the Fedayeen (Minority) and other leftwing groups. Having said that, whenever the conditions allowed, Dariush also treated locals and Kurdish peasants.
Dr Said was very popular both in Baghcheh, where, together with Mastoureh Ahmadzadeh (another medic and a member of the central committee of the Fedayeen), he had set up a clinic, and later in another base near the village of Vardeh, where he used an adjoining peasant house for his medical consultations. Those of us who were lucky to be present in both bases benefited from his skills directly, when he dealt with our illnesses and wounds, as well as indirectly, when the villagers brought eggs, fruit and on rare occasions chickens in gratitude.
However, Dr Said is remembered for the way he treated peshmergas injured in the unequal and often desperate battles with Revolutionary Guards and the army of Iran’s Islamic Republic. Throughout his stay in Kurdistan (he had left a lucrative medical practice, along with his wife and daughters, in Tehran) he had no access to a proper operating theatre, limited medical supplies and few surgical tools. Yet, as he kept reminding us, he was determined to “fight as a communist” by saving comrades’ lives.
He had a particular dislike for nationalist organisations and was scathing about the misogynist, feudal attitudes of leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party. He stayed for a few months in the Fedayeen’s (Minority) military base near Vardeh, which was primarily used for setting up a radio station. Occasionally, when he had no patients, he would help me with technical tasks related to the radio, emphasising that he expected similar cooperation next time he had to do a surgical operation! Unfortunately I was too squeamish to help with any medical/surgical procedure. In the base he undertook every duty - from labourer (our term for those cleaning up the base) to cook and dishwasher - with enthusiasm and good humour, often jokingly reminding us during meal times that his skills had earned us a better meal.
Comrade Zand has written about some of the horrific shootings, deaths and injuries we witnessed during those years. One particular moving event from his memoirs, currently available on several Farsi websites, is a reminder of how the issue of independence from foreign powers was so important to us. He recalls the arrival in our base of a number of Rahe Kargar comrades on a snowy winter evening. During their journey, they had lost their way in the mountains, mistaking reflections in the snow as light from a village. Despite all their efforts two of their comrades had tragically died from hypothermia. Three who survived had appalling injuries in their hands and feet. Their fingers and toes had been frozen and the doctor was talking of the danger of gangrene.
He needed a clean room (we found one in a peasant’s house), hot water, alcohol, bandages and (home-made) surgical equipment. The comrades had been told by French doctors (equivalent of today’s Médecins Sans Frontières) there was nothing that could be done in Kurdistan, and so the injured should travel to Iraq, in the meantime taking aspirin to reduce the pain. Unfortunately by the time they arrived in Darveh the infection was too deep and our doctor had no alternative but to amputate some of their fingers and toes. After the operation he was very proud of his work and after a couple of glasses of alcohol (not usually permitted in our code of conduct, but available for rare occasions) he talked once more of communist principles, of our duty to rely on our own resources. He admired the comrades’ refusal to seek help in Baghdad and he was glad the operation had at least saved their limbs.
It was an honour to be at the same base at Dr Said and I will always remember his humility, his good humour and occasional outbursts of frustration when too many Kurdish war songs were played on the base’s only audio player.
Last week, I was reading about the lobbying of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the corridors of power in Washington - they were seeking increased military intervention from the United Sates. I could not help thinking how far the Kurdish left has fallen.