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The Wergeld of Iran's Afghan Soldiers

August 14, 2018
Seerat Shayagan
6 min read
The Wergeld of Iran's Afghan Soldiers

Abdul Hameed was an Afghan militant who was killed in Syria while fighting ISIS. His family lives in the poor suburb area of the Dashti Barchi area in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. A muddy, half-made house, with only two rooms on the ground floor and a ceiling made of wood and mud, is what the the family of seven calls home. The dwelling lacks proper electricity and water supplies. When Hameed’s wife found out that he had been killed in Syria, she left, abandoning both her daughter and her home. 

Hameed was one of the 10 members of the Afghan army who had decided to walk the path of danger in hope of a better life for his daughter and family. Unhappy with the circumstances under which they served the Afghan National Defence Forces, these disenchanted Shia soldiers coordinated with one another to join another group – one that would ensure a better salary and benefits. Afghanistan pays its soldiers about US$200 a month, but those who serve under Iran’s Fatemiyoun Brigade earn at least US$700 a month. Moreover, life in Iran is much better than Afghanistan. Afghan immigrants who fight in Syria are granted a residence permit and provided with a legal base to live in Iran – a very tempting prospect. 

Hameed came to his father with the excuse of going to Iran for work, and initially secured his father’s blessing. After a while he rang his father from Iran, seeking permission to go to Syria. “I said, ‘I’m not allowing you to go,’" his father, Abdul Hussain, told IranWire in Kabul. “He said he had already enrolled and that there was no way back.” But the would-be fighter couldn’t explain to his father that he had enrolled, that Fatemiyoun had recruited him, how he had been militarily trained, and how he was now being dispatched to fight in the Syrian war. Hameed’s first two-month tour in Syria began without any of these questions being answered. He had no contact with his father during his time in the battlefield. 

Then Hameed’s second brother, Abdul Waheed, was also sent to Syria. The brothers had more contact with each other during this time than with their father. But Hameed was not as lucky as Waheed. Their father, Hussain, was sitting in his little stall one day when his brother-in-law came to visit him. He said he wanted Hussain to come along with him to his house to deal with a financial problem he was having with his partner, and to act as a mediator. Hussain explained to IranWire: “I said to him that I don’t think it’s true. ...I went to Reza’s home and my doubt came true. He said, ‘Hameed is wounded.’ I said, ‘No, that’s not the case. Tell me the truth. Hameed must have been martyred because you would have said to me right away if he was wounded.’ They confirmed that, yes, God has taken Hameed away. His mother fainted.” 

The main desire for Hussain now was to be able to see the torn-apart face of his son for the last time. The Iranian government had no regulations regarding the handing over of a fighter’s body to anyone without a father’s permission, and had no interest in deporting the dead bodies of Fatemiyoun fighters to Afghanistan – where the media is free and could cause great scandal. The officials in Iran told Hameed’s brother that without the presence of his parents, or an authorized lawyer, a soldier’s body would not be handed over to anyone. Hameed was kept in the morgue for 17 days . “We had to go ourselves,” Hussain recalled. “First, we hired a lawyer. The officials told the lawyer that the father needs to call them directly so [that] the officials [can] hear my voice in order to be able to release the body. The officials were near the body when they called me, and I told them to hand over the body and not to bother us anymore.” 

As the body was being transferred, the family was also trying to secure the journey of Hameed’s mother, father and three-year-old daughter to Iran. Hussain faxed copies of his passport and national ID card, together with those of his wife, to Tehran. The Tehran office coordinated with Mashhad, and Mashhad coordinated with the Iranian embassy in Kabul. The three members of the family were granted visas in 12 days in order to make their journey to Iran. When Hussain arrived on the 25th day after his son’s death, Hameed had already been buried. The desire for his father, mother and baby girl to see his face for the last time was buried too.

His mourning father explained: “We went to Iran with the hope for our needs to be addressed too. Some said the Islamic Republic of Iran provides homes, carpets and dishes for those who have given a member martyr. They are given salaries. I said that I have lost a son and spent Afs 40,000 (over US$600) [each] to arrive in Iran.” Hussain says that Revolutionary Guards officials provided him with only two months' salary from the Mujahideen Support Trust for his son’s two-month service in Syria – about eight million toman in total (about US$1,900) – which was not enough to even cover their journey. When Hameed’s father tried to follow up on the support process for the families of Fatemiyoun fighters, he contacted a Revolutionary Guards commander. Hussain remembers: “I went to his office and said, ‘He [Hameed] has left a kid behind him. I’m indebted.’ The commander said, ‘There is no law to help any further. The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay his salary.’ They paid his two months’ salary and said, ‘If you stay in Iran, we will ensure you get your residence permit. We will pay you one million toman (about $237) monthly.’ They also paid three million for his burial, which costed fourteen million.”

Hussain wished to stay in Iran, but he had left four other children in Afghanistan and moving them to Iran was not an easy option, particularly after losing his son. He was also not sure how long Iran was going to provide the monthly salary and whether it would be enough to feed the family of seven. 

Official figures from Fatemiyoun commanders suggest that over 2,000 fighters have been killed in Syria and about 8,000 have been wounded. Hameed’s parents are aware of the heavy casualties, and they are now worried about their second son. Hussain says that Waheed keeps promising to return home, but that he never fulfils this promise. Hussain doesn’t want to provide food for his own children from the wergeld [blood money] of their brother. With all the misery, there is still something that gives Hussain some resilience: his belief that his son, Hameed, was martyred defending Muslims and the religion of Islam. He pauses here, however, and tells us again that he doesn’t want to lose Abdul Waheed: “If they give the whole of Iran and Afghanistan to me, it wouldn’t [be] worth one piece of hair of my son.”



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