Bam: Past, Present, Future
[Please note that I knew little about Bam before this week, save for what my children learned about from their history books. My research today turned up many conflicting facts about dates and periods. I did my best to gather what I hope is correct information about the history of Bam]
The human toll in the devasting Iranian earthquake seems almost unfathomable. It's hard to comprehend so many people - over 20,000 - dying in one day, in one place.
Photos can show you the wreckage. They can show you the crumbled buildings, the flattened homes, the roads that have all but disappeared. You can see the human wreckage as well; tiny bodies wrapped in colorful blankets, laid out on the roadside awaiting burial. You see the anguished faces of men and women praying over the corpses of their relatives.
You look at these pictures and you try to imagine these people before the quake. You see a small child smiling, a mother cooking, a father working. At some point you stop looking at the photos. You stop watching the sweeping, panoramic shots of the devastion and turn off the tv, close the newspaper, shut down the computer. You go about your day and maybe you don't think about the quake and its victims again because it's too much. Your brain will not let you imagine the scope of so much death in one place, so many lives ruined and families lost.
While the human loss is a tragedy so enormous we may not want to think about it, their is the historical loss to ponder as well.
Bam was founded in a time so ancient, the years are accounted for with only three digits. Some of the structures in Bam dated back to the Sassanian period, from 224-637 AD. Imagine that. Structures made of nothing more than clay, straw, mud bricks and tree trunks withstood the rigors of so much time and now, in 2003, they are gone.
There was the Zoroastrian fire temple, which was the commercial center of Bam, as well as a site visited by many pilgrims during that time. Later, a mosque was built there, as well a the tomb of an astronomer.
Most of Bam was actually built during the Safavid period, from 1502-1722. In 1722, Bam was invaded by Afghans. In 1810, it was invaded again, this time by an army from Shiraz. Bam was then used as an army barracks and then abandoned sometime around 1850.
Look at this before (1975) and after (12/26/03) comparison of Bam from Getty Images to understand the magnitude of destruction.
The ancient citadel (over 2,000 years old) of Arg-e Bam and the ruins of the surrounding town is a tourist destination for those who are interested in viewing history. A deep moat that surrounds the citadel has kept it from being damaged. Inside the walls of Arge-e Bam were the original public bath, gym, garrison, stable, jail and the governor's house. [Many photos of historical Bam can be found here]
I was searching for photos of Bam while writing this and came across this one and thought, they are probably dead.
Despite our political differences with Iran, you cannot help but feel sorrow for these people. There are those who want to deny aid to the people of Bam simply because of the ideology of their government. We can't turn our backs on people in need on the basis that their leader is a hateful, dangerous man. If we can send doctors, food, medicine, clothing and comfort to those who need it and we don't, that makes us just as despicable as the Iranian government. And we are not like that.
Where to go if you want to help:
Iranian blogger Pedram has some poignant words as well as links to sites where you can donate money towards relief.
Mercy Corps has a list of ways that you can help the victims.
Also, Matthew Stinson has a news-filled, frequently updated post about the earthquake.