A Brief History of Chemical Weapons


Although chemical weapons have been described in ancient historic texts, it was during the First World War from 1914-1918 that they were used deliberately in conflict.  At Ypres, in 1915, gas attacks took place in the trenches leading to many painful deaths and to horrendous casualties.  It was at the end of the Great War that politicians and international organizations collaborated to see an end to the use of such weapons in combat.

In 1925, the Geneva Protocol was signed under the auspices of the League of Nations.  This Protocol was a significant step forward in prohibiting the use of asphyxiating, poisonous and other gases as well as other bacteriological forms of warfare.  Over 130 countries, including Iran and Iraq, signed the Geneva Protocol.  Unfortunately, the protocol had a limited effect, as it did not prohibit the stockpiling of either chemical or biological weapons.

In World War II, there is evidence that both the Allies and the Axis powers possessed chemical weapons.  The war came to an end with the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.  In the post-war period, a number of countries have continued to stockpile chemical and biological weapons.

In Iran’ recent history, it was during the war with Iraq from 1980-1988, that military personnel and civilians alike were exposed to chemical weapons used by Iraqi forces.  Although the first gas attack was recorded in 1983, most attacks occurred during the last two years of the Iran-Iraq War.

According to a report by UNMOVIC, Iraq deployed almost 1,800 tonnes of mustard gas, 140 tonnes of tabun, and 600 tonnes of sarin.  Of the approximately one million people exposed to mustard gas, 100,000 required medical care and today 75,000 continue to be chronically ill.

In 1992, after 12 years of negotiations in the so-called “Disarming Conference”, participating states delegations finally agreed on the text for inclusion in the Convention of Chemical Weapons.  In 1993, more than 130 countries signed the convention, which finally came into force on April 29th, 1997.

Sadly, chemical weapons continue to be used and stockpiled today.  But, here at the Tehran Peace Museum, you will find committed peace activists campaigning for an end to chemical weapons.