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Saturday 20 December  
Zahed Haftlang

The State We're In - Two Enemies, One Heart

On air: 26 May 2012 2:00 (Photo: RNW)

More about:

The State We're In, 26 May 2012. It’s been 30 years since May 24, 1982 - known as Martyrs’ Day in Iraq. But in Iran, it’s celebrated as the day that the city of Khorramshahr was liberated - a major turning point in the Iran-Iraq war.

During that conflict, two soldiers - one Iraqi and one Iranian - met on the battlefield. The Iranian saves the Iraqi’s life, risking his own in the process. Nearly 20 years later, and on the other side of the world, sheer coincidence brings the two men together again in a life-saving drama. Also on the show, a man in Amsterdam sees a WWII photograph and suddenly recalls how close he was to being sent to a concentration camp.

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Listen to 'Two Enemies, One Heart'

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Zahed Haftlang enlisted in the Iranian Basij regiment when he was 12
Zahed Haftlang enlisted in the Iranian Basij regiment when he was 12
Khorramshahr, 1982 - listen in new player

Naja Aboud didn’t want to join the Iraqi army.

But in 1982 he got conscripted and had to leave his wife and son behind.

Just after arriving at the Iranian city of Khorramshahr, he got badly wounded, and took shelter in a bunker full of the dead and dying.

Then he saw a light coming towards him. He thought it was an angel. But it was an Iranian soldier.


Rescued by the enemy - listen in new player

Zahed Haftlang ran away from home to join the Iranian army and became a medic. After Iran won the Battle of Khorramshahr, his orders were to search each bunker. Iranian forces were killing prisoners on sight.

But when he came across the wounded Iraqi soldier, he decided to save the man’s life – even though it meant risking his own. Yet getting him to the field hospital was an ordeal. Another Iranian soldier wanted to kill Naja... and when they finally got to the hospital, the doctor initially refused to treat him.

Zahed Haftlang with his wife Maryam, daughter Setayash and son Niayesh, 2011
Zahed Haftlang with his wife Maryam, daughter Setayash and son Niayesh, 2011
Vancouver, 2000 - listen in new player

Naja was operated on and his life was saved – all because an enemy soldier rescued him. The two men had one last emotional meeting, before having to go their separate ways. That was in 1982. Naja spent 17 years as a prisoner of war in Iran. Zahed also became a prisoner of war. Both men lost their families. Naja eventually moved to Vancouver, Canada.

Then 18 years later, Zahed was working as a merchant marine. He was depressed and suicidal. He jumped ship – at the port of Vancouver. Through sheer coincidence, the two men find themselves in a waiting room together. They start talking...

Naja and Zahed tell host Jonathan Groubert about their astounding reunion, and how they both saved each other’s lives.

'Two Enemies, One Heart' took seven months to produce. Read 'Making Two Enemies, One Heart'

Read more about Naja and Zahed's story: Blood Brothers by Timothy Taylor

BBC World Service article - Documenting a Tale of Two Soldiers

The Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture (VAST)

Carel Wiemers, 7-8 years old
Carel Wiemers, 7-8 years old
Why him and not me? - listen in new player

Carel Wiemers in the Netherlands had almost forgotten his childhood friend Hans - until he saw a picture of him in an exhibition featuring children who were sent to concentration camps.

Then Carel realized he was there the day the Nazis came for Hans and his family and how - had it not been for the breathtaking courage of Hans’s mother, he’d have been sent to the camps, too. View photos.

  • Carel Wiemers in a 1943 advertisment for vitamin pills, which were used to compensate for the lack of food during the war.<br>&copy; Carel Wiemers -
  • From left, Adolf Sal Louis (Dolfje) Swabe (born 23 January 1933), Hans’s father Louis Adolf Swabe and Henri (Hans) Swabe (born 1st June 1935)<br>&copy; Yad Vashem -


Anonymous 4 March 2013 - 2:03pm / Iraque

Reading this I couldn't help crying not only because it is touching but because it brought back painful memories and all the sufferings we went through .It was a brutal and fruitless war between Iraquies and Iranians who have been neighbours from the beginning of time and had nothig against each other .Although this story had a happy ending but it brought lots of tears to our eyes we Iraquies who suffered most .Thanks for bringing it up .it is so releiving

Anonymous 22 September 2012 - 8:03pm / USA

This was one of those stories I started to listen while driving, and before I knew it, I was so completely absorbed and moved that I had to pull over to the side of the road and listen to the end in rapt attention. I cried at the end, and it has stayed with me all day long. What a incredible story and morality tale for our time. Thank you for this broadcast--and thank you to our two heros who remind us of the humanity that lies in us all.

Anonymous 2 June 2012 - 7:12pm / Canada

I am a veteran of the same war, and I could not stop my tears. I am deeply saddened by the tragedy of war, and I am touched by the face of humanity that these two brave souls bring us. Thank you for the wonderful story.

Jen Mac 1 June 2012 - 6:24am / United States

The story of the two soldiers was absolutely wonderful. So inspiring and heartwarming; it made me cry and smile at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed listening, thank you.

Stephen 30 May 2012 - 4:17pm / Australia

This story is truly amazing and life affirming. It touched my heart and restored my faith in humanity. Amid the madness of yet another vicious and senseless war one man extends his empathy (at the same time as putting his own life in peril) toward his ENEMY and shines a light on how wonderful we can be to each other.

user avatar
Greg Kelly 31 May 2012 - 10:04am / Netherlands

We got this response to Two Enemies, One Heart and with his permission, will now post it here. Makes you glad you do this kind of work:

Dear TWSI management and staff,
In all my 74 years, I've never been as astonished, or more profoundly moved, by anything I've heard or read than I was today, by your program Two Enemies, One Heart.  Deepest thanks and admiration to all who had a part in developing and broadcasting this exceptional program.  It is especially appropriate, in my view, that this story appeared in the U.S.
on our Memorial Day weekend. No doubt the power of this remarkable and well-told story moved listeners of all ages, from all walks of life, but it resonated especially with me, an Army veteran of the Vietnam war.  I earnestly hope that Two Enemies, One Heart will be broadcast in the U.S.
every future Memorial Day, and also in other countries on days when the public is called not only to remember the horrors of war, but to reflect on the capacity of individuals, even under terrible circumstances, for acts of tenderness, mercy and peace.  Again, thank you. 
Gene Theroux

Anonymous 30 May 2012 - 2:53am / Iran

I have enjoyed this program. What a beautiful touching story. Thanks so much for bringing it to us the listener. I have left Iran after the war and have been following the news and was concerned about the life of both Iranian and Iraqis.

Thanks again,

It brought tears to my eyes.

F. Vafai

user avatar
Greg Kelly 30 May 2012 - 3:55pm / Netherlands

Thank you so very much, F. Vafai. If you feel you have a story you'd like to share with us, you can contact me directly (and privately) at Your response means a lot to us. Thanks for getting in touch. All the best, Greg.

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