SARDASHT, Iran — Maref Ismail Pur was due to be married in the autumn of 1992. At just 24 years old, he was planning ahead – herding sheep in the village of Kollase to save money for the celebrations later that year. It wasn’t until one evening that October that his dreams came crashing down.
“It was a few months after my engagement; I had planned to have my wedding that autumn after saving some money. We were herding the sheep in our usual place and we weren’t close to any military bases, then we decided to go back to the village,” he told Rudaw English from the city of Sardasht in West Azerbaijan province.
It was on the way home that he was thrown to the ground by a loud, “scary noise” ahead of him, where another shepherd has been walking.
“The animals ran away and there was sand all over in the air, I couldn’t see anything,” he said. It wasn’t until the other shepherd rushed to his aid that he realized something was wrong.
“The other shepherd got to me and tried to help me stand up but I fell. When I looked down, I saw that my right leg was blown off.”
The Geneva-based Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor documented a total 2,823 deaths and over 7,000 injuries from landmines and explosive remnants of war in Iran between 1988 and 2017. Though Iran has asked for international help tackling the mammoth task of demining its land, it has annually abstained from signing on to the United Nations treaty banning landmines.
Most of Iran’s estimated 16 million landmines lie in the Iranian provinces bordering Iraq – Ilam, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan, all of which except Khuzestan are Kurdish-majority provinces.
Pur was born to a poor family in Kolase, becoming a shepherd at a young age after his father died to provide for his family of seven siblings.
He was rushed to hospital after the explosion, two mines which had detonated as they made their way back to the village. He was shuttled between hospitals in an effort to pump blood into his mangled body, his left leg and arm also severely injured. In Saqqez, his right leg was amputated just below the knee.
“I was planning to get married but all my dreams were just gone. My fiancée was crying the whole time.”
Now with eight children, he sells fruit on a cart in the city centre to try and keep the family afloat.
” After I was released from the hospital, we didn’t have any income. Relatives or strangers would help us,” he said.
Pur, whose friend Mahmoud also lost a leg in a mine explosion, says work is difficult, and he is still plagued by leg pain, but has no choice but to continue working.
“My life was ruined the day I lost my leg; I haven’t had a good day since. I am asking the authorities and those accountable to help me and my family, either by providing us a place to stay or a monthly income.”
“I know tens of people in the area that are also victims of mine explosions and they weren’t compensated. Their situation is worse than mine.”
“A million thousand tomans ($40) is enough for us,” he added bitterly.