An interview with Maryam Jadali, a relief worker and a military training instructor during the Sacred Defense - Part I

Memories from Abouzar Hospital and Red Crescent train

Faezeh Sasanikhah
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


Note: The first years of Maryam Jadali's youth was concurrent with the victory of the Islamic revolution and the breakout of the Iraqi eight-years imposed war against Iran, she has studied in the major of communications and is now active in cultural works.

The hearing of the voice of military march dragged this young girl to the war zone since the first days of the enemy's attack on the soil of our country. She carried out various activities during those years and this was a reason for the website of the Iranian Oral History to have an interview with her about that period; the memories which are multi-dimensional and cover various dimensions.  In addition to referring to the war in her memoirs, she also recalls the concern of the Islamic revolution in dealing with the poor.

In retelling her memoirs, the manager of Naqmeh No-Andish Publications and the head of the Board of Directors of the Cultural Artistic Association of Female Publishers in which more than eighty women are active takes us to the war zones in western and southern Iran during the Sacred Defense years, speaking about her activities in Tehran and Shiraz.   


*Where were you when the Iraqi imposed war against Iran started in 1980?

*We were living in Tehran. When Iraq attacked Iran, I was studying in the last grade of high school. I had graduated from high school but I had still relation with the school.


* To what year does the record of your presence in war fronts date back?

*To the very same days of the war's beginning. I and two of my friends, Tahmineh Ardekani with whom I had made friend during the revolution, and Batoul Taheri who was my classmate tried a lot to get a decree from the Red Crescent. We along with two other men, who were members of Qolhak's Cultural Center, were supposed to be dispatched to the front.


*Talk briefly about Qolhak's Cultural Center.

*First let me talk a little about my brother. My older brother was living in America and studying in an engineering major and a few days before the return of Imam Khomeini (may God bless his soul) to Iran,he had gone to France to meet with him. There, he had asked the Imam whether they should stay and continue studying or come back to the country. The Imam had stated that whatever you deemed to be wise, but if you stay and continue studying and do not have an independent country, will it be useful for you? And my brother came back to Iran during the revolution.

The cultural center was a gambling house before the victory of the Islamic revolution and located behind our house in Qolhak Street. We could see inside it from the roof. When it was a gambling house, some of the singers commuted there. After the victory of the Islamic revolution, my brother and a number of other pro-revolution students turned the gambling house into a cultural center and named it Qolhak Cultural Center.

They held classes such as recitation and exegesis of the Holy Quran, photography and filming, and many young people were coming to the center.  Wearing Hijab (veil) had not still become compulsory at that time, and some of the girls wore lace-like scarves and took part in the classes. I taught small suras of the Holy Quran as well as hadiths to the children and primary school pupils.

When the war broke out, the center's members were active round-the-clock and provided and sent the needs of the combatants to the fronts. Two weeks after the war broke out, two of the center's members were supposed to go to the western front and we were supposed to go with them.


*Had you already spent relief working courses?

*Yes, we had spent relief working courses taught by martyr Fayaz Bakhsh during the revolution as well as practical courses in Tehran's Amir Alam's Hospital and the Red Crescent. Thus, I was insisting on participation in the war fronts with self-confidence.


*Didn't you have any problem with the family regarding your presence in the war fronts?

*Yes, I had. It was very hard to convince the family. When I raised the issue that I wanted to go to the war zone, my mother said, "You are a young girl, how do you want to go?" I explained that we had decrees from the Red Crescent and would go along with the center's members. My mother was convinced but my father did not agree. During the revolution, he also expressed concern whenever we took part in the demonstrations. But at that time, he was reassured that my mother accompanied me.

My brother went to the fronts and came back. In order to convince my father, I said, "Dear father, Amir is now at front. He may be injured there. Don't you like that someone who knows relief working helps him? We have spent the course for such days". He raised his eyebrow and said, "Now, you can go."

We had no image of the front and thought it was famine there. Thus, we had taken lots of breads and dates. My father had come in front of Qolhak's Cultural Center to see me off on the day of our departure.

One of the men, who were supposed to come with us, had bent down to change the car's tire. Evidently, part of his back was seen. By seeing the scene, my father called me and said, "Sheida, let's come back home. No need to go!" Let me explain this that my name in the ID is Maryam but my family, friends and relatives call me Sheida. I said, "Why, father?" He said, "I don't deem it wise that you go!" Tahmineh and Batoul pulled me aside and said, "If Haji Jadali does not allow you to go, we cannot go too!" I again repeated the previous words for my father with another tone, and said, "Dear father, there are few forces in the war fronts and experienced people such as us are needed." Finally, through insisting and begging, I convinced my father and moved.


* Did you finally arrive at the war fronts after the attempts to convince your father?

*Hardly! The girls spent the night in Qazvin's Red Crescent and the men were deployed somewhere else. The next morning, the two men came after us. Inside the car, we talked about how we could serve.

In Kermanshah, we went to a seminary whose head was Haj Seyed Javad Alam-ol Hoda. I think he is now has an office in Tehran in Ziba (Shahid Mashhadi Rahim) street. He also has a seminary. The seminary had been closed and the volunteer forces had been gathered in the campus. We were told there, "We need no force!" We became very upset. We had come a long way and heard disappointing words. We thought they would return us to Tehran. Among them, I saw a young woman who had worn a complete hijab. When we became more familiar with each other, I found out that her name was Farideh Haji Khani. She had come there through the health department of Sepah Bank along with two other physicians.


*Was there any woman from the city of Kermanshah among the volunteers? Did they do special works for helping the fronts?

*Most of the present forces in the mosque were indigenous forces and a few of the women had come from Kermanshah. There was a storehouse in Kermanshah inside which food stuffs had been stored for the fronts. Most part of the storehouse was full of dry breads and nuts and part of it was clothes. We help them pack the nuts.


*Did they finally return you to Tehran?

*No, Ayatollah Alam-ol Hoda talked to us, asking us the amount of our physical information, and said, "By the way, we need your help." The weather had become dark. The mosque's servant guided us to the upstairs. The anti-aircraft cannons started firing. We were tired and hungry. In the darkness, a big tray of food was pushed inside the room and we started eating. We were there at that night and the next morning, drove toward the war zone with a military vehicle whose driver was an old man. The driver stopped in the middle of the way and camouflaged the car with our help. Mortars were hit around the car. We were very worried whether we reached safe or not. We prayed God not to be injured in the beginning and at least do something in the front, and then there would be no problem if anything happened. On our way, we saw soldiers coming back. They were looking at us surprisingly where the three women going?!


*What was your feeling there?

*we willed to each other and at the same time reviewed relief working courses. Finally, we arrived at Sar Pol-e Zahab. The people had evacuated there. We went toward the health office. The enemy forces had bombarded the surrounding areas and there was no wall around the yard.


*What was the first scene you faced with?

*There was the body of a young tall man inside the yard. He had been martyred. His face was bloody and the head had been bandaged. I saw a martyr for the first time. We did not think we saw such scenes so soon. I along with my friend Tahmineh Ardekani went to Behesht Zahra Cemetery amid the revolution, took a tape recorder, and recorded the voices and slogans but we had not seen any martyr or nobody had been martyred in front of us.

All were commuting and their clothes had been soiled and covered with blood. We asked them what we could do. They said, "Do everything you know." The clinic's floor was soiled. The beds were short and made of metal and we had to try a lot for helping the wounded. We did our best on that day.


*Was the casualty high?

*Mrs. Doctor Kiaee who later married Mr. Tehrani, was the first woman that I saw was helping in the war zone. I also saw another girl named Marzieh who had worn a Kurdish dress who was from Kermanshah's Kerend.


*Were you deployed there?

*No, we were there for a few hours. Then, we were said that there was no security here and that you could not stay this night; because Iraq had attacked and it was a high risk. They returned us to Kermanshah again.


*Did you come back to Sar Pol-e Zahab the next morning again?

*No, this time, we were taken to Abouzar Barracks. It was almost within the rifle range of the enemy, but it had better situation. The hospital's building was located in the middle of the yard and other hospital related sections in the surrounding buildings.


*Wasn't the presence of girls in a war zone and a manly environment hard?

*Yes. A woman named Rasouli was in charge of the hospital. She reminded us some points. For instance, the injured were soldiers, and far from their families and that they were workless and had been bedridden in the hospital at present. Visit them for taking care of them but do not stop above them, don't ask unnecessary questions such as where and why have you been injured. When you finish your work, leave there quickly.

At first, we were offended a little, but later, we found out little by little that they were very correct reminding and we did the same. When we were not in the shift, we prepared the medicines, made packages of dressing and the likes. Tahmineh had brought a camera since she had come with two positions of assistant physician and reporter. Sometimes when we had nothing special to do, we went to the hospital's terrace. When a Chinook helicopter landed, he made a report. Since she was filming, could not speak simultaneously. I spoke instead of her and reported, "The helicopter landed, the injured were put down, they are being transferred to the hospital by trolleys, the brothers of relief worker are helping, and we need relief working forces here".


*In view of the fact that you were very young and did not have the experience of seeing such wounded people, didn't you pass out when seeing deep injuries?

*When I saw in TV a person was injected, I felt bad. But the situation was different in the war zone; I felt responsibility. I saw no case to feel regret. I and other forces did the job of relief working with self-confidence. However, one or two women did not do the injection. Even, in the relief working courses held later in Tehran, some of the women were afraid of injection. I did injection on myself in order to learn them.


*How was the situation of the hospital of Abouzar Barracks?

*The injured were brought to the hospital regularly. The Chinook helicopters landed on the hospital's grounds and the injured were put down. The helicopter's door was opened from behind. Inside the helicopter was like a big hall. We carried out first aids for the injured. Some of them were sent to other places with better facilities. We stayed up late at night and changed our posts with each other. It was a special situation. Around the barracks was bombed. There was electricity inside the building, but the glasses had been camouflaged so that no light was seen from outside. The anti-aircraft weapons were being fired and the sound of the helicopter blades which landed on the grounds was very terrible.


*Didn't you feel homesick and being far away from family in the war front?

*Yes, it is correct. I felt homesick of the family. Before the victory of the Islamic revolution, whenever we came back from a demonstration, we were in the family's hot and kind bosom and our parents paid special attention to us. Close and distant relatives were in our vicinity and this was an encouragement for us. But we were far from the family there. Most of the times when we went for demonstrations in Tehran, my mother accompanied me, not for taking care of me but she was willing to take part in the rallies. My father did not agree so much but my mother did.

Nevertheless, we were so busy that we did not notice the passage of time. It happened rarely that we did not have any injured and be workless even for half a day. Even sometimes, we became so hungry that did not know what we ate.

There was an old woman whose surname was Ojaqi. Her son was martyred in the war later. She opened the compotes hardly and took the fruit juice for the injured, and brought the fruits for us. She said, "You don't have enough time to eat something, at least eat these while standing."


*Do you have any memory from the injured?

*I remember that a soldier had been brought there whose both feet had been amputated and he was very upset and impatient. A sheet was thrown over him. He lifted it and looked at his feet. Another painful scene was that I saw a martyr there for the first time. I and Tahmineh opened the morgue's drawer for several times and looked at him to become sure that he has been martyred. We did not believe that he has been martyred. We were still hopeful and wanted to be proved for us.


*Were just the military injured brought to the hospital or the ordinary people referred to it?

*The city was empty. But one night, a young pregnant woman who had worn a beautiful local dress was brought to the hospital. It was the time of her childbirth. The personnel said, "We have no maternity ward here, we have no midwife!" everybody was worried and upset and liked to help her. They were looking for someone who knew how to assist a woman in childbirth. I and Tahmineh in our courses in Tehran had been learnt how to assist a woman in childbirth. We had thought to learn this knowledge which can be useful in a war or any other place. We had learned it in Hedayat State Hospital but had not done it ourselves. I told them that we knew how to do that but so far we had not born any infant. A nurse said, "I know how to do that, just help me." We were very worried but finally the infant came to this world sirens and darkness. We took a photo from him.

Those who had power had abandoned city and the rest had sheltered in the mountains. Certainly her family had been scattered. We were worried how this woman wanted to raise her child amid the war. Did she stay in the city or leave? I like to know a lot where that infant who was given birth in that situation is now and what he or she is doing?


*Did the personnel of the hospital treat you well?

*At first, we were treated coldly but later we made friend with each other.


*How long were you in western front?

*We were there for fifteen days and then came back to Tehran. In Tehran, we tried a lot to come back again to the fronts.


*Given that you had become familiar with the situation in western front, didn't you gather facilities?

*Ambulances were needed very much. We bought an ambulance very fast with the financial aid of one of my relatives whose father was a gold seller, and sent it to the war front within a week. A group was working in Jihad Sazandegi (the holy war of construction). They collected and separated medicines. We informed the close friends that medicines roll bandage, and other medical equipment was needed. We delivered them to the Jihad after their collection.


*Did you have any other activity?

*We taught the courses and relief working and assistant physician. I held one of such courses in Sepah Bank for the sake of the woman who had come from the bank. Also, I went to the high school where I studied, telling the students about the situation in the war fronts and my memoirs. Most of the times, I faced with this question, "Jadali! Doesn't your family have any problem with your front?"

When I went to the school, I felt very well. I taught to the students who were one or two years younger than me. I taught first aids and working with G3 and M1 guns. Before I started teaching, I tried to use hadiths and the ayahs of the Holy Quran. After theoretical training, I took the students to the shooting field for practical training. The MKO terrorist outfit known as hypocrites was very active at that time, attracting the youth. Sometimes after the end of the class, the students said, "Mrs. Jadali, some persons who have come for training are members of the MKO outfit, introducing themselves as militias and members of the military branch of the outfit." Of course, they were less in number.

It is worth mentioning that it is correct that the students welcomed my job, but sometimes, some of the teachers believed that no need to do such works. But in a war situation, the women should learn how to work with a gun in order to defend their country in a special situation.


*Did you have any plan for the girls who were attracted by the MKO or the Fadaee Guerillas?

*The grounds were not prepared for me. I just did not learn some tips to them at the time of individual military training, because everyone had to open and close her gun by herself. In the groups that I set up, I was trying not to involve anyone from these grouplets. However, at that time, they had their own prestige and class, speaking about their membership proudly.


*How did you go to the war zone for the second time?

*For the second time, we went to the south by a Red Crescent train. This time, a paramedic from Amir Alam Hospital named Azar Roshdi Pourash was added to our group. She was the colleague of one of my close friends and liked to come to the front.


*Explain briefly about the Red Crescent train.

*The Red Crescent train was white on which the red logo of the Red Crescent had been carved. Like a hospital, there were different wards inside it even an operating room. It had five large wards inside each of which some 30 injured were placed and the beds were double-decked. There were two rows of beds in two sides of the train. There were also sections in which the personnel rested.

In addition of the Red Crescent relief workers, a number of the members of Jihad Sazandegi as well as the forces of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) were also present in the train. A few women had come from the Jihad with some of whom I made familiar. I remember Tahereh Taheri and Azam Khasteh Far. We had worn white dresses and in order not attract any attention, we changed our clothes.


*What was the difference of Mahshahr in the south toward which you were going with the western front?

*The type of our activities was different in Mahshahr. There was a mobile hospital inside the train, while there were fixed hospitals in the western front. If something threatened us inside the train, we had access to nowhere, but in the west, despite insecurity in the roads, the ambulances were ready and transferred the injured to other cities immediately.


*Given that you had no injured when you were going to the south, did you do anything special in the train?

*The train was brand-new and used for the first time. Plastic covers had been covered on the beds. We opened the covers with difficulty. We took the medical equipment out of the packs, putting them in proper place. This took time.


*Was the train stopped just for the transferring of the injured to Tehran or health services were also presented?

*During the stop, health services were presented. Emergency operations were carried out in the train. First aids such as stitching were also carried out, but we had no room for keeping the injured and they were transferred to other places.

If there was an operation, the number of the injured increased, and it happened sometimes that we did not sleep for two nights. Sometimes, there were few injured. We had various kinds of injured ranging from soldiers, clergies, Basijis (volunteer forces), IRGC members, army forces and so on. Sometimes, the number of the injured was so high that it was announced that capacity of the train was full. A paramedic had a camera, filming from inside the train, the injured and the activity of the physicians and relief workers. We had the responsibility of taking care of the injured who got in the train in Mahshahr. We did everything we could like injection, bandaging and giving medicines to the injured.

Most of the injured entered the train with soiled and bloody head and face. We washed their face with gauze, water and a special container for bandaging. Of course, male relief workers and physicians were also deployed in the train. They did what we could not.

When the train was coming back, before reaching to Tehran, a number of the injured were taken to the cities with better medical facilities and a number of others were transferred to Tehran hospitals. The ambulances stopped beside the train in order to take some of the injured to nearby cities and some others were transferred to Tehran hospitals.


*How long were you with the Red Crescent train in Mahshahr?

*We were there for fifteen days too. We went and came back every now and then. The train usually stopped for fifteen days. We did not have to beg to take us. The number of people in the train was fixed. In addition to the nurses who had been moved, Mr. Momeni and Tahereh Taheri were among the fixed ones. They were the members of the Jihad Sazandegi. After the victory of the revolution, they went to the villages around the town of Varamin and helped the villagers.


To be continued…


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