When I first met Zahed Haftlang and Najah Aboud in Vancouver back in 2012, they seemed like any other Middle Eastern immigrants settling into new lives: Zahed was working as a mechanic, while Najah ran a small furniture moving company. But when I sat down with them over cups of mint tea to listen to their story, I was moved to tears. I’ve been helping them tell it ever since.
Zahed Haftlang was only thirteen years when he joined Iran’s Basij regiment to fight in the Iran-Iraq War. It was the most brutal war of the latter 20th century - where more than 100,000 child soldiers were sent to the front lines and chemical weapons were used for the first time since World War I.
Zahed’s decision to save Najah during the war was fueled by compassion that required courage and determination, and entailed keeping Najah, his enemy, alive for three days with smuggled medical supplies. This one act changed the path of both their lives for decades to come.
Few people have the opportunity to live through a miraculous moment, but Najah and Zahed’s ongoing story continues to surprise and inspire. This short documentary follows their journey. And I have continued to document the two men as their story goes on. In the coming months, each plans to return to the Middle East to search for remnants of the life he left behind. Zahed wishes to see his father, who now has brain cancer. And having finally received his Canadian citizenship, Najah plans to go back to Iraq to search for his son and wife, whom he has not seen since leaving for the war.
To me, their story transcends the cascade of often negative news coverage coming out of the Middle East. Against the backdrop of conflict in the region, the story of Najah and Zahed is a surprising affirmation of humanity that cuts across political borders.