Mobilizing a City to Narrating an Event
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi
Author of books "War Brides" and "Farangis" recently has published "Panahgah'e Bi Panah". This book is story of a rocket attack on a bunker in Kermanshah by Saddam's Army that led to injury and martyrdom of 300 people of our compatriots. Book Launch of "Panahgah'e Bi Panah" was in Kermanshah and location of the bunker on Monday, February 20, 2017. The book launch made an excuse for newswriter of Iran oral history website to interview with Mahnaz Fattahi, author of the book, about its work and the way she wrote it.
First, talk about the book launch and please say where was it held and how was it?
The book launch was held in previous place of the bunker from 4 pm to 6 pm in the afternoon February 20, 2017. The building is in fact a reconstructed of a part of Sacred Defense history. The same bunker has been restored and a part, where is its upper floor, is now the Department of Preserving Relics of Sacred Defense. The book launce was held in the same shelter that had been bombarded and tanks to God because it was a good meeting and people welcomed it very well. Book narrators were present. An interesting point was presence of fire-fighting forces because we had also firefighter among book narrators. Officials received it too. The ceremony was very dramatic, there was broadcast voice of one of narrators, I had also a speech that I think it was effective.
A clip was played about the shelter. Children anthem was played on theme of the shelter; kids who like children of that bunker had bought new clothes for Eid and had gathered in the shelter and sang an anthem. The anthem was almost a show and symbolic work about war and life. The book was revealed and the narrators took some photos.
Morteza Sarhangi, founder of Office of Resistance Literature and Art, Heydar Imeni, Public Relations Manager of Sooreh Mehr Publication, Abdolhamid Gharedaghi, Manager of Sooreh Mehr Publication and Mohammad Ghasemipoor , director of Hozeh Honari's Office of Stability Culture and Studies of General Administration of Provinces and Parliament, were guests from Tehran that among them Morteza Sarhangi and Mohammed Ghasemipoor spoke.
Ghasemipoor explained about the book; about different parts of the book, the narrator and difficulties of the work. Mr. Sarhangi also talked about training interested people and working on undone subjects and that high quality works need funding and protecting authors. He said also that literature of war is regarded very serious in countries like Russia and they appreciate it very well. Bosnia and Herzegovina has established a foundation that introduces and preserves war-related events.
Giving much capacity and subject, our country must work on the sacred defense more than now. We have four or five provinces that are prepared for more study that Kermanshah is one of them. In Sacred Defense Literature, we must address, alongside military matters, the human side too. Like memories of Iraqi POWs in Iran and behavior of our officials with them whom I have met them directly. They met their families and their wives could stay a few days with them. They had the best feeding. These moments and scenes must be transferred to the audience. Mr. Sarhangi also stated that officials must fund authors of Sacred Defense in order to addressing the field without any other trouble. Kermanshah writers should be considered and supported by officials.
Photo Exhibition of the shelter martyrs, whom most of them were children, had been held. After the book launch those who were interested visited the shelter. Visiting the shelter with the narrator had shocking scenes. One said my place was here, one said the event happened, in fact, they remembered memories of those years.
I did not want to just speak when I went behind podium. I addressed some people who were in the hall and also introduced their story in a way as if I'm talking them. For example, I said dear Mr. Maleknegar who you are sitting here, at last photos of your wife was published in a book and you wished the same and now you are happy! One of the narrators had died and we broadcast her voice that it was my voice and her, and audiences were impressed highly because the lady had presented seven martyrs. Her four grandchildren, two daughters and son in law had died a martyr. I told Ms. Qorbani that you liked your voice be played here.
Selecting an accident of the war and dealing with it is a kind of entering oral history. Did you know at the beginning that you're working in field of oral history or your goal was simply addressing a memory, a subject which had engaged your mind, of the sacred defense in Kermanshah?
I wanted to tell this story. It was not story of a person but it was story of a place. My first view was that it would be done by help of one or two narrators and it would be something like a memory or story biography. But at the beginning of my project when I met different bureaus and organizations or even diverse people in order to select a narrator among them, I found that it is inevitable to enter oral history, that is I must select persons based on study and research and regarding that there was no perfect source about the shelter, I was forced to enter the area. For this reason, the book has been produced both from perspective of oral history and memory. That's part of it is about the original story and another part refers memories. In fact, it was not my view at first but at the early when I wanted to talk with the narrators, I myself chose the method consciously.
How much was the work's method and pattern based on memory writing and oral history?
I separated them, it means I addressed one part in form of oral history and offer it as a distinct part regarding with documents of the book. Almost I had a general and research view on the work and I separated a part as memory. Outline part is oral history. Of course, I should say that I do not separate memory from oral history. It is narrative of the story and most of my documents are people who I spoke with them; the local trustful, Red Crescent, firefighting, etc. These are documents. People who were present at the event and narrated their memories; it is based on reality and part of the research are the same people.
How do you find your interview people?
I hardly find them. No bureau and organization had correct data about the people and their names and even those offices that were in charge of this task didn't have a correct source. Believe it or not, but I accessed people through searching house by house and office by office, and people of Kermanshah really helped me. People who I referred them came forward like arms and introduced me to other people.
Did you do your interviews purposive or the subject narrated the story based on what they remembered?
It was purposive. I wanted to turn their look at the way of building the shelter, living there, the bombard day and even that how the people who were inside the shelter entered it and story after bombing. After these years, they had sporadic talks about the case, I ordered them. As they had found the narrative should be finish in a point.
Explain about methods of data collection. Did you take people in place of the event or you stimulate them to talk by photo or collective conversation?
I work in different ways. There was not used just one method for all. For example, Mr. Maleknegar was shopkeeper, but due to he was not willing to cooperate in any way, I went and sat in front of his fruit shop and we talked about the incident. It means for most of people I had to go before them in their job place.
There was an alley that had presented several martyrs, when I identified first house, the woman helped me and brought other women to his house too and we talked with them there. Sometimes we prepared situation for some people to come Hozeh Honari or office. Some also did not have suitable situation to go their home, you know that they are deprived and needy families, because of that we brought some of them to the office and wanted them documents but they didn't have.
I had to myself search for documents. For example, for finding photos before the shelter bombard or at the time of bombing, I checked three days archive of Kermanshah Broadcasting. For some works I had to contact with their bureaus, like the narrators who were in firefighting or Army Hospital No. 520 or Red Crescent; I met them in the same office atmosphere. Of course, for some bureaus for guard it was question that why we were addressing the story after about thirty years and were asking such questions, why I was walking around the bunker?!
Difficulties and obstacles were extremely high, such as not accompaniment of family, in fact I met many families of martyrs, but they were not willing to cooperate. However, method was in the way that having in hand a letter from Hozeh Honari, whether we went bureaus or approached people house by house. One or two local people helped us too and even shop of one of them became a meeting place for doing some of the interviews. Because the shopkeeper understood conditions and importance of the project, he accompanied us.
I am a memory writer. I have written my memories since childhood, I have written memories of the war too, but it is impossible wrote a book without research. For example, for "Farangis", which is memory narrative, I talked with about 30 people. I read history of that territory, understood customs of that city, listened lullabies of its people in order to understand and learn them, it means I did research to see space and then write. For my own memories, I surely read history of the war and reread it because I would like do my works scientifically and walk atmospheres through a clear vision.
As I realized your desired narrators are divided into two types, one the people who were in the bunker and other those who went there for helping, is it right?
Yes, exactly. That's why I went to Red Crescent and firefighting. When I started my project I didn't want to narrate it by someone who had been inside the bunker. Perhaps like a camera that is omniscient, I intended the bunker be narrated by omniscient and its comprehensive view; one who had been inside the shelter, one who his/her house had been next to the bunker, the neighborhood fruiterer and the first person who had been found there had been a bombard. How did they enter the bunker, how did they rescue the wounded, what was going in Army Hospital No. 520 and how had it admitted 300 people?
How many groups of people were inside the shelter? The bunker had had three exits, a door had been destroyed completely, one side had been opened and people had abled go out and there had been a ventilator that people who had been on its way had been ablated due to the rocket stroke there. How did women see the story? And men? What do children inside the shelter remember about the story and how did they see it? How was the bunker before bombing? The shelter originally was a place for playing and fun of the kids and they had sweet times there. They had bought clothes for Eid, showed together their Eid Sabzeh and talked each other. As the film begins from birth of a bunker and that how it is made. The narrative is in people's view too and that how matters had happened in the shelter until day after the bombing and what happens after the bombing?
As it is appeared you did not have any references or sources on the book subject, how did you do your first step?
I search on the Internet. I went to the office of Preserving Relics and Values of Sacred Defense that is located in place of the shelter; where before was the bunker and it had been reconstructed and the upper floor is Kermanshah's Office of Preserving Relics and Values of Sacred Defense. Even going there was not effective for me and they also didn't have a picture about before the bombing. They didn't have exact data on the martyrs. As now Broadcasting or elsewhere that are working on this issue, call me and ask me number of individuals associated with the issue! I even they are make some films according to my book that's still in distribution stage.
How did you separate gathered data? Were all data usable?
Yes. We encounter in the book 35narrators, but I had interviewed about 100 people that whether I recorded their voice or we talked in a different situation. I was talking with people even when I was in car and through our dialogues they said that know such and such a person in such a neighborhood that such things happened for him/her. This means that a lot of people were narrators. I wanted to find that is it right in their view what I was narrating? And I saw that what my narrator had said was in consistent with their talks. I collect a lot of photos but were not usable or were duplicated.
Women account on the incident is dominant, is it for a special reason?
In shelters there were often women and children, men went there too, but number of women and children and especially children was higher, but on that day and conditions of repetitious bombarding the city, because the bombard was in the morning, so they prevented arrival of men, and even one of the man narrators who wanted enter they prevented him and said today is so busy. He quarreled with them and said: "Why don't you let me go inside the shelter?" They said, "Don't you feel shame in front of women in the bunker? You are a man!?" Then the same man because of not entering the bunker survived, and one of his ears was damaged and lost its hearing.
In your idea what is position of this book in oral history of our Sacred Defense? And what do you expect would happen after publication of this book?
The book is not memories of one person but is mobilizing a city for narrating a great event. The story of bombarding the shelter took place in March 16, 1988, just a day after Halabja chemical attack. In fact, it was a question for myself that why such a book should not be written earlier?
One of reasons is that because of extent of Halabja catastrophe, a catastrophe that took place following day in Kermanshah was faded. Many of the city reporters told that at the time we mobilized for Halabja disaster and Kermanshah people lived in the thirty years in innocence. I think the book has notable position and it should be addressed the main national disaster.
Unmilitary bunkers wouldn't be bombarded according international law and bombarding them is a crime. The issue had not been reflected at all during war. I do not know how much UN has been informed of the disaster and Inshallah it should be determined in future studies. 300 people wounded and died a martyr in the shelter and it is not a small disaster.
The place is in heart of my citizens and they welcomed the work and were impressed by that disaster and they are happy its book is going to be released. This book is not my book, but is a book of a city; given that it was a big disaster and has shocking narratives. One of them is the story of a woman who her two daughters, four grandchildren and a son in law died a martyr in the incident. I hope the book finds its place and I think it’s a worthy place.
"War brides" (your another work) had also not a single narrator and its subject is women and newly-married girls. What are similarities and differences of this book and "War Brides" In terms of method?
"Panahgah'e Bi Panah" is both research and memory, but "War Brides" is just memory. We selected eight brides, but the brides saw the war through three views. A bride who her husband died a martyr, a bride who her husband was untraceable and is still waiting for him and a bride who her husband had gone the war, had been captured and had returned. So their views are different and we addressed neglected damages of the bride.
Are you working on a new project?
I write my memories; I work for Office of Resistance Literature and Art. It includes from my birth till end of teenage, so it is end of the war. It has a child view; memories of a girl who is introduced through memories and lives in a border region. The war begins and problems that the girl is encountered in this way are expressed. He acts courageously, goes Basij and Red Crescent, learns how to use rifle and engages in stories, and, in fact, the war is introduced and all of these is my character.
How do you evaluate writing memory and oral history of Sacred Defense in Kermanshah?
Mr. Sarhangi aided a lot, but it has not worked about Kermanshah fitly. The war starts in our province and ends with Operation Mersad in our province. There are a lot subjects and works in fields of oral history, memory and story biography, but due to not effort and perseverance, and there is no accounted investment, the projects do not proceed well. It is about two or three years in Congress of Sardars and elsewhere try to do things and investment, but it is like a train that wants to move now and takes its first steps. Some books are produced too. Inshallah new interested recruits come, would be trained and work.
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