From: Witness

Salam Father

One Iraqis bid to learn why his father died re-unites him with his family and birthplace.

Filmmakers: Salam Ziusudras and Max Walker

At midnight on April 12, 2007, at his home in suburban Perth, 31-year-old Salam Zuisudras receives a phone call from Iraq.

He is told that the remains of his father have been found in a mass grave in central Iraq. Why and how they ended up there, nobody knows.

His father vanished when Salam was just five years old 

When Salam was just five years old his father simply vanished. That is all Salam knows about him.

The rest is a mystery, hidden, too difficult to talk about. But now a thousand questions scream for answers.

“I was still at university when I was told of my father’s body find in Iraq,” Salam explains.

“Even though my father was missing for about three decades, at the back of my mind I always hoped that one day he’d turn up at the door.

“But after hearing the dreadful news I decided that I had to go and look for him myself.”

What happened to his father? What did he do? Who was he? And is this the reason why Salam and his family have, for the last 26 years, lived as refugees?

“Having the opportunity to work in Iraq and meet this very special family has been a privilege to say the least. I hope this film moves people in the way they’ve moved me”

Max Walker, director of Salam Father

With just sketchy details from his mother who pleads with him to forget about it all, Salam embarks on the journey of his life – desperate for answers.

From Australia to Sweden and then to Iraq, a world of underground politics, intelligence organisations, friendships and betrayals begins to reveal itself.

Salam’s father is more than Salam ever imagined he would be.

In 1982, when Saddam Hussein was in power, Mey, Salam’s mother, was thrown out of her house and her country by Iraqi security forces about a month after Salam’s father disappeared.

She was left with nothing but her three children – the eldest being five-year-old Salam.

Mey’s first country of refuge was the very one Iraq was then at war with – Iran.

About 20 years later their search for a permanent home finally ended when they stepped off a boat in Australia.

To find out what caused these events Salam’s mother could only give him one lead: There was an old friend of his father’s who now lives in Sweden.

Salam and his mother look at old pictures to find out what happened in the past

Salam flies to Stockholm and learns his father was an educated, respected and prominent member of his community.

But it is the news that his father held a prominent position in the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) that shocks Salam the most.

Saddam had outlawed the Communist Party and any member was considered an enemy of Iraq.

Spies and informants were commonplace. Salam’s Swedish contact believes Salam’s father was betrayed by a colleague who secretly worked for Saddam’s regime.

The only place to learn the truth, however, is in Iraq.

The journey to the land of his birth reveals more than Salam could have hoped for. A visit to relatives he cannot remember takes him to a treasure chest.

“It was fear that motivated me to investigate a horrible past, confront my insecurities, and question why”

Salam Ziusudras, main character in and director of Salam Father

His father, it turns out, did not have everything taken by Saddam’s regime.

Boxes of photos and Super 8 footage shot by his father (who Salam learns was a keen filmmaker) have been kept in a relative’s garage for a quarter of a century.

He finally begins to understand who he is and where he has come from.

Outside war continues to rage. But Salam must still search for answers – why was his father killed?

Salam finds many theories. Could it be politics or was it that his father was Kurdish?

Another theory is that his father had Iranian roots or was he simply a victim of greed and corruption?

So many questions, so much to discover, but it is the family that he has re-united with that prove to be the biggest revelation.

Salam’s mum, Mey, returns with Salam to Iraq and re-connects with a family she has not seen for over a quarter of a century.

“It [Salam Father] will forever change the way you think of Iraq”

Max Walker, director of Salam Father

There is so much healing to do and so much love to catch up on – all in the midst of war zone.

And Salam, while searching for his father, actually finds a family.

“Personally Salam Father is a story of one man. However if looked at as a whole, it is the story of Iraq,” Salam says.

“Probably this was the most important reason that made me tell this story. The personal responsibility that I felt towards my family, the social group that I represented, and the ethnic group I belonged to, was at the end what made me make Salam Father under the harshest of circumstances.”

Salam Father aired from January 17, 2010.