Saturday, April 14, 2012

Blood brothers and their shared destiny

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It's a cliche that truth is stranger than fiction, as demonstrated in this true story penned by Vancouver writer Timothy Taylor. Until I read this article, I thought of him as a novelist. This is the tale of two the strange destinies of two men. The interlinked fates of two ex-soldiers, one Iranian and one Iraqi, is a bizarre, fascinating and inspiring true story.

"Blood Brothers" was published originally in March 2011 and was later reprinted in Reader's Digest as the Editor's Choice in January 2012. On his website, Taylor thanks Vancouver Magazine Editor-in-Chief Gary Ross for assigning it to him, calls it "one of the most affecting stories" he's ever worked on, and expresses his "honour to be sharing it more widely."

Taylor interviews Iranian-born Zahed Haftlang in a car repair shop on East Esplanade in North Vancouver. Haftlang built this business after he arrived in Canada in 1999, a 31-year-old refugee and survivor.

One 0f fifteen siblings, he ran away from home at age twelve and volunteered as a soldier during the Iran-Iraq war. In the army, he became a paramedic. During the re-taking of the Iranian city of Kharramshahr in 1982, previously captured by Iraq, Haftlang was part of a group detailed to kill survivors after the battle.

For some reason, when conscripted Iraqi soldier Najah Aboud asked for mercy, he spared his life. Even though this meant going against orders and putting himself at risk, Paramedic Haftlang kept the Iraqi alive, got him to a field hospital and persuaded the medics to treat him. Having known one another only a few days, the two parted as brothers, wishing one another God's protection and assistance.

For the next seventeen years, Aboud remained a prisoner of war in Iran, where he learned the language of his captors. Finally freed, he decided to join his brother in Canada.

Haftlang fought on, was captured and spent time as a prisoner of war in Iraq. When he was freed, even though he was suffering from post-traumatic stress, he fell in love and had a child, then became a sailor. In Vancouver, he jumped ship after flying off the handle and getting in bad trouble with the ship's officer.

This is where the really astonishing part of the story begins. The denouement reads like a novel and offers a reminder that life is both simpler and more mysterious than we sometimes think.

Well-done, Timothy Taylor, for sharing this amazing story, which can be read here. And thanks to B, for giving me a copy of the article.

Kudos to VAST as well. Both men were helped by the Vancouver Association for the Survivors of Torture.

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