The Fourth Online Meeting of Iranian Oral History

Iranian Oral History beyond Borders – 4

Sepideh Kholoosian
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Note: Dr. Abolfazl Hasanabadi, Dr. Morteza Rasouli Pour, and Dr. Abolhasani participated in the fourth meeting out of the series of meetings on oral history in Iran held online on Saturday 11th of Dey 1400 (January 1, 2022) hosted by Mrs. Mosafa. In the meeting set up in the History Hallway of the Clubhouse, they talked about “Iranian Oral History beyond Borders”. In continuation of the meeting, the host asked Dr. Hasanabadi to sum up the discussion.

The host: One of the interviewees asked Mr. Rasoulipour to comment on Mr. Dehbashi's works. Given Mr. Dehbashi's non-historical background in historiography, do you endorse his work in the field of oral history?

       Rasouli Pour: In my workshops, I criticized and reviewed his works in person. Dr. Ismaili was also present in that meeting and I expressed his faults. Of course, to say that his faults and wrong does not mean to ignore the good aspects of his work. Mr. Dehbashi himself said there that I had just done such a work and that I hadn't already experienced it. Of course, Mr. Dehbashi has been so clever that he has mentioned some of the conversations with the responsibility of others. For example, in an interview with Mr. Dariush Homayoun, Mr. Majid Tafreshi was the interviewer. Dr. Tafreshi is an expert and has been able to have a good conversation. So I approve of it. What he did also helped us to get to know him better, and my advice was that he should read more about the contemporary history of Iran; because even in the interview with Mr. Nasr, Dariush Homayoun, Mr. Azarbarzin, and Mr. Alikhani, some of the problems must be mentioned. There, in each of these books, I have described some things that came to my mind.

       Dr. Tafreshi is also present in this room and maybe they can explain it better. I think Mr. Dehbashi himself does not have many claims in this case and he is fair enough to accept the criticism. The question of whether or not I approve of him is somewhat incomplete. Because everything that is done is like written sources and there may be points of view in them. If I had interviewed, it would have been different, if Mr. Tafreshi had interviewed, it would have been different, and now I have used these books a lot. But when I saw Dr. Nasr's note, I was sorry about it. If we now object to Dr. Nasr's statements, Dr. Nasr himself has already doubted the authenticity of this interview. So how can we criticize this? We have a duty as a moral principle and professional ethics require us to provide the final text to the interviewee; maybe he has an explanation. We can do our best to follow the historical sequence, consolidate the discussion, and make shifts in the work. Regarding the drawbacks of the work, we must first say that the interviewee himself has fully accepted this as it is; But when we do not see such a thing in some interviews, problems arise.

Abolhassani: I am correcting one point, and that is that Harvard has provided these works in full. All of this is complete right now on the Telegram channel and the website called Oral History of Iran at Harvard University by Mr. Habib Lajevardi. The most recent file they uploaded was both text and audio on December 29, 2021, less than two weeks ago. All interview sessions at Harvard are uploaded and usable.

       The point we made in the discussion about compilation is that we were in the country when the book of the month of history and geography was at its peak and we were writing book reviews, the friends who were involved said that if we published this review, some university professor would work with us. It does not work anymore. While all of this requires critique rather than an introduction, some introduce very brief and useless oral history weekly. these are should be criticized and these criticisms should be published in specialized journals, but because of these conditions that prevail in the oral history of Iran and I do not want to go into details, many do not cooperate and I can honestly say that in some areas of history Oral and historiographical, a kind of mafia has been created based on oral data.

        We have three forms of rules and standards that Dr. Hassaneabadi can also comment on in the discussion of publication. One is the question and answer in writing and oral form. Another form is that they should homogenize a single narrative. But what is worthwhile and not paying attention to is doing historical research using all kinds of interviews and oral history data, which we do not do. Such sample works have already been done, such as the student movement that Mr. Nikbakht did and used a wide range of interviews. In my opinion, the works that Harvard has now conducted from these 134 interviews, and the text and audio are all available, should be used as a basis for the rest of the coworkers to use them in historical research on new subjects after verification and finding complementary documents.

         Maybe, like Harvard, as its name implies, it's kind of like publishing a raw and initial interview that I said was hurt by its person-centeredness. Now, according to the third form I presented, those 134 interviews should be used in historical research along with other documents. We, the oral practitioners, practitioners of oral history, or whatever you call it, must be up to date and see the latest developments and changes and productions. A year and a half ago, the documentary Coup d'etat 53 was released, most of which is based on the same oral history interviews and research that Mr. Amirani conducted. This documentary invalidated many of the comments. As the discussion of the coup d'état of 28 August and the undeniable role of Britain in this coup, the secrecy affairs that the British were doing up to this hour, the remarkable silence that was on this issue both inside and outside the country, and in my opinion, knowing America a main guilty, was very meaningful. In this valuable documentary, which was done on the Hashour channel and Cinema Tajrubeh, it can be said that these are new works, and as the books are reviewed, these documentaries and these sample works should also be considered and used.

       Regarding this coup d'etat, many interviews have been reconstructed based on written documents. Friends who saw it can confirm the interview that was done but the file itself is not available. It was the text and now they have come up with it and reconstructed the interview exactly as it was done. So Harvard oral history, or examples of it that are person-centered and published in raw form, should be the basis for important historical research.

In the continuation of the program, the host invited Dr. Majid Tafreshi to talk about the topic of the meeting.

        Tafreshi: All friends are aware of the subject of oral history and have done very well, both at home and abroad. I recently had a long lecture at Kharazmi University, the text of which was published in the Oral History Quarterly entitled The Challenges and Opportunities of Oral History. I borrowed a title from my dear friend, Professor Kaveh Bayat, for my words: "The Dangers of Memories with an extension to the book Mokhber-ol-Saltaneh." You see, in the two cases that you cited as examples, both in Mr. Dehbashi's oral history project and in the Harvard project, as they said, both of these are important and valuable works, and their existence is certainly hundreds of times better than their absence. In my opinion, the fact that there are some objections should not undermine the essence of the issue in any way. But in both cases, many issues need to be addressed.

       I first became acquainted with Harvard's oral history 32 years ago when it first came to be known as Mr. Habib Lajevardi. Whether inside or outside, I contacted Mr. Lajevardi and was in constant contact with him. I have read almost the whole collection. Regarding the point made by Dr. Abolhassani, all the content is available on the site, I must say that not all the content. This is because the interviews for which the interviewee for any reason restricted his release only after his death or even a few years later, do not yet exist, and naturally only those are released which are prohibited by contract between the interviewer and the interviewee. Its legality has been removed or did not exist from the beginning. Of course, there are not many, but there are.

        The second thing about the Harvard collection is that it is not homogeneous. That is, the dialogues are distanced from each other because they are outsourced and given to different people to do so. Some of those were unemployed graduates, hired journalists, or even students who worked while studying. The names of the interviewees are also available, such as Ms. Shahla Haeri, Mr. Vali Nasr or Mr. Zia Sadeghi, and others. These, too, are not on the same level in terms of the weight of the interviewee, the weight the interviewee, the emotional connection between them, and the necessary study that is sometimes not done enough about the interviewee and has not been able to use this opportunity as they should and perhaps. I have given a clear example in every detail of the critique of Mr. Bayat's work. Because I was much more interested in the subject than Mr. Bayat, later I worked on it more. However, they have written and published.

The plot was about Mr. Habib Lajevardi's interview with Amir-Timur Kalali, which also happened to be my favorite subject. If you read Harvard's interview with Amir-Timur Kalali, who was caught up in his 90 and else in the United States and made an interview, you see an illiterate old man who talked about everything in general and little content and nonsense. Many of these general statements may not be accurate, but they do not pay attention. This man has a setback and his claim is that his family has ruled in Khorasan of Iran since Safavid, Nader Shah, and even from Timurid times, and he and his family, namely the Kalali tribe of Timurid have been dominant in the Khorasan and Rey regions. Amir-Timur Kalali was the chairman of the Khorasan Scientific Association. He was a member of parliament during the constitutional period and after the constitution. From before the Qajar period until after that and until 28 August, he was a minister for two terms in Mossadegh's cabinet, one of the most important figures in the local and central history of Iran. His daughter was the wife of the President of Pakistan and the like. But when at the age of 90 he is asked general questions and the interviewer, who is Mr. Habib Lajevardi himself, does not know anything about him, the interview becomes a disaster. That is, a plot that has no historical value and it is ineffectiveness.

       But you compare it with the daily memoirs that Mr. Teymouri had during Mossadegh's time and that Mr. Rasoulipour published. I have read it several years ago and seen other documents, and I have realized the importance and different dimensions and the scope and depth of this man. So when I put this aside, I'm sorry about the interview with Amir-Timur Kalali published by Harvard. But ordinary people, who do not all have access to Mr. Rasoulipour's books and have not seen his unpublished documents, read the Harvard interview and think that the interviewee is a disabled old man, a liar, and a boaster, and makes a claim about everyone. So they make judgments based on that book. This is a matter of concern.

      Of course, this collection of books also has brilliant interviews. For example, an interview with Ebtehaj, which the Ebtehaj family later compiled and published before Harvard wanted to do anything. Or, to some extent, the interview with Mr. Muzaffar Baqaei, which Mr. Tolouei published, and not as much as Ebtehaj, but he published it with his efforts, although in fact, it is the same as the Harvard interview. Some of the people they spoke to did not speak for the right reasons. For example, if I am not mistaken, I remember hearing from Mr. Lajevardi himself, Dr. Shahabi, or someone else who said at the conference that during the interviews with Mr. Hussein's Azmodeh and Mr. Eskandar Azmodeh, they were constantly worried because of Mossadegh's tendencies, interviewers like Mr. Sadeghi and Mr. Lajevardi and others will be interviewed and interrogated. Therefore, they have not told his words correctly and in many places, they have not trusted, and as a kind of coercion that has been offered to them, they have made weak interviews that can be imagined to be less valuable than the reader of this collection expects.

          Another issue, which exists in both the Harvard and Mr. Dehbashi collections, is that sometimes the interviewee prepares for the interview. That is, he prepares files, documents, and whatever he has and gives them to the interviewer to complete the story. This makes the job easier for the interviewer. Especially if the interviewer doesn’t have enough knowledge and has not done proper research, these cases will move his work forward. But the problem is that, from then on, the interviewee controls the issue. That is, the conversation moves in the direction of the interviewee. A clear example of this can be seen in Mr. Erfane Ghaniefard's interview with Mr. Parviz Sabeti. According to Ms. Thatcher, she has lied and, by saving the truth and by exaggerating, has delivered to her things that are very dubious in the form of a collection that you think it is the art of the interviewee. But it is an interviewee project that he does, and he's talked to people by an assumption before, and his life has been in that direction. So naturally, it is a book that, while in some respects it has its values, overall it is a fake work of art that is misleading and contains so much truth and falsehood that you do not know which one to trust, and that is worrying.

      In any case, the issue of mastery over the life of the interviewee and the study of it is very important, and I must say that I have worked with Mr. Dehbashi as a spiritual supporter before this project. Because at the beginning they wanted to talk to Arshia Zahedi and Dariush Homayoun, but neither of them was willing to be interviewed. I did not know Mr. Homayoun either, but Mr. Zahedi refused to speak unless I interviewed him. When my friends mentioned my name, Mr. Zahedi agreed to be interviewed, and since he and Mr. Homayoun had a family relationship, Mr. Homayoun's decision depended on Mr. Zahedi's decision. It was a chance for me to do this conversation. I knew both in detail. I knew Mr. Zahedi closely and had researched him for months. Each of our conversations lasted 18 hours, which was very detailed, and Mr. Dehbashi's content role in both cases was even less than one percent.

      Although he finally published the work in their name, this is a moral and professional discussion that has no place here; but I provided 99% of the content is my work. That one percent is that Mr. Dehbashi, who was standing aside during the conversation, suddenly asked something; these are personal behavior [in publishing a book]. But Mr. Homayounۥs words are much better than Mr. Zahediۥs. The reason was simple; he was an orderly man and had an academic and systematic mind and could be talked to. The conversation with him went very well, but Mr. Zahedi had a confused mind and very easily turned the discussion into an argument and it was difficult to control the discussion.

      I do not believe that in oral history we should act like a tape recorder and sit down so that the other person can say whatever he wants. On the contrary, I do not believe that oral history is like an interrogation and we sit down with the interviewee and ask him whatever we like. The boundary between this recording or interrogation in oral history is shaky and dangerous. That is, you cannot hear what you want, nor can you just be silent and listen to what he likes [to say]. Each of these leads to the ruin of the interview. All my friends have experienced and know it. Oral history is a subject that, while having its value and status, can by no means be considered the only source and the only reference of historiography. This disregard for oral history in the distant past and the only reliable source for imagining it now is both dangerous to the subject of historiography and should be avoided.


The end


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