He spared his 'enemy's' life in a long-ago war. Today they are close friends.

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Aaron Schachter: This next story brings new meaning to the expression, “It’s a small world.” It’s the story of two men: one Iraqi, the other Iranian. They first met decades ago during the Iran-Iraq war. I’ll let Ann Shin tell the rest of the story. Her documentary film about these two men is called “My Enemy, My Brother.”

 

Ann Shin: During the Iran-Iraq war, which happened in the 1980s, there were two fellows on either side. Neither of them wanted to be in the war, but there was Zahed, who was a child soldier at the time, and Najah. Zahed was on the Iranian side, Najah was on the Iraqi side. Zahed happened to find Najah injured--critically injured--in a bunker and he was supposed to shoot him. But when he saw a photo of Najah’s wife and son in his pocket, he couldn’t bring himself to shoot him. So, he took the risk upon himself to keep him alive. So, Zahed risked his own life to keep Najah alive for three days. And finally, when that battle was over and a truce was called, he was able to get Najah to a hospital. So, as a child soldier, he saved Najah’s life.

 

Schachter: Okay, so the war goes on for a lot longer. Najah becomes a prisoner of war, he’s in jail for a decade--

 

Shin: Seventeen years he was a prisoner of war.

 

Schachter: Seventeen years...

 

Shin: It was much longer than the war itself.

 

Schachter: Right, he was just released in 2000. So, what happens to each of them then as the war comes to an end?

 

Shin: Ironically, they both lead parallel lives, unbeknownst to one another. Zahed also was a prisoner of war. Zahed lost his first love during the war, and when Najah was released as a PoW, he couldn’t find his wife and son anymore, they had gone missing. They were both at a loss. Najah happened to have a brother and sister in Canada who took it upon themselves to bring Najah from Iraq to Canada, and so they sponsored him and got him over to Canada. Zahed, in the meantime, became a merchant marine. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and couldn’t hold a job down. So, he was at sea a lot, and during that time he got into an argument and he smashed something in the ship he was on and the captain said, “You are going to be jailed once you get back home,” and Zahed could not bear the idea of being in a prison cell again. And so, he jumped ship in Vancouver. He was very depressed and suicidal at that time, and he was at a halfway house with other roommates, and he attempted suicide, and his roommate said, “You should go to this counseling center, Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture, VAST. You really need help.” And so, Zahed went there, and when he went there, he saw someone in the waiting room who he didn’t recognize, they just sat there and struck up a conversation.

 

[Excerpt from the documentary]

 

Shin: And the other fellow goes, “Oh, so were you in the war, too?” and he goes, “Yeah. Yeah, I was in the battle of Khorramshahr,” and he goes, “Yeah, I was there, too. In fact, in that battle, there was a soldier who was too young to even have a beard, this boy, he saved my life.”

 

[Excerpt from the documentary]

 

Shin: Zahed goes, “Do you have a line of stitches across the top of your belly, on the back of your head?” He points to the part of the head. “You should have some stitches here. It was under your helmet; you had an injury. You’re missing four teeth in the top of your mouth.” Najah goes, “How do you know this? You talked to my brother.” And Zahed goes, “No! No, me, I’m the one who saved you!”

 

[Excerpt from the documentary]

 

Shin: And these two men started shouting and they were so emotional, and the counselors at the center thought, “Oh no, there’s a fight breaking out in the waiting room!” But, in fact, they just realized, that after 20 years, they were meeting again in Vancouver, B.C. after having last seen one another on the battlefield, and they happened to meet here again.

 

Schachter: You know, I feel kind of silly because I probably should’ve seen this coming, otherwise why would you make a documentary about it? But I was just watching it and screaming, “No way! No way!”

 

Shin: I know! If I made this as a dramatic, people would be like, “Yeah, scratch that scene. It’s a bit unrealistic.”

 

Schachter: Right. “That can’t happen.”

 

Shin: No, yeah, exactly. But yeah, it’s quite unreal. And they’ve become blood brothers ever since. They’re really supportive. Zahed recently had to undergo surgery to remove shrapnel from his throat that had been lodged there for 31 years since the war, and Najah was at his bedside. It was a very emotional time. Najah was saying, “You are my angel. You saved me 20 years ago. Now, whatever I can do for you is nothing.” Just to see his compatriot--well, he calls him his compatriot now--

 

Schachter: Well, they’re both Canadian, right?

 

Shin: They’re both Canadian now, yeah.

 

Schachter: So, they are compatriots. You’re making this into a feature-length movie, right?

 

Shin: Yes. We’re still following Najah and Zahed in what we hope will become a feature film. It’s actually really inspiring to keep a relationship going with these fellows. Najah and Zahed both have somehow transformed that pain and the trauma they suffered from the war, because it was a really brutal one, as you know, and they’ve transformed it into something positive, and it’s really inspirational.

 

Schachter: Ann Shin is a documentary filmmaker. Her new film is called, “My Enemy, My Brother.” Thanks Ann for sharing this really incredible story with us today.

 

Shin: Thanks so much for having me on your show.