An interview with Azam Posht Mahshadi about her most recent books

Men leave and take their memories

Faezeh Sasanikhah
M.B. Khoshnevisan


Azam Posht Mashhadi is an author and a memory-writer in the area of the Sacred Defense. She was born in 1981. So far, she has written 23 books and at present is in charge of the Resistance Office of the Art Center in Hormozgan Province. The publications of books such as “Men do not die in my frame” and “The wind catchers do look forward” became a pretext for the website of Iranian Oral History to have an interview with her.


*When did you start memory-writing in the area of the Sacred Defense?

*I started working as a correspondent when I was thirteen and managed to receive the degree of journalism from the Ministry of Guidance at the age of nineteen. I had always a feeling of curiosity toward those who taken part in the Iraqi impose war against Iran and liked to know what were the differences between them and other people. Concurrently, I started studying in the research branch of the Social Sciences major and this feeling of curiosity caused me to follow it up. The most important reason for this was the continuous connection with various social institutions like the Marty Foundation. The first book published from me was the collection of memories of the martyrs assassinated in Hormozgan Province. “Loving Swallows” included the memories of 23 martyrs of the Hormozgan Province one of whom was martyr Gholam Hossein Haqani, the respected martyr of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) who was martyred along with martyr Dr. Beheshti in Jomhoori (republican) Party. The book in fact reviewed the memoirs of the persons who had been recognized and martyred by Forghan and Monafeghin (MKO) terrorist grouplets. The book at its end dealt with the incident for flight no. 655 and its martyrs. I presented six books until the year 2007 when I worked in the Martyr Foundation using the space and possibility of having access to the information of the martyrs and war veterans as well as the oral memoirs of the people with whom I was in relation and interaction. The books consisted of four collections of memories and two collections of poetry.


*What helped you in the research field of Social Sciences in this connection?

*Although this field is not in direct connection with my career at present, the indexes and science to which a researcher needs in social, cultural and psychological areas caused me to choose a better path.


*To what extent is “Men do not die in my frame” based on memory-writing and to what extent on oral history?

*The important part of the works carried out by me is based on documentation. As you know, a memory is the engagement of a social and historical event with human emotions, and oral history is the main part of a special period. The work “Men do not die in my frame” is the human memoirs and living in a historic period, during the war period based on human and intuitive experiences. The memories have been narrated for the empirical view of the people who have lived with the considered martyr. So, I may say that one-third of work is history and the other two-third is the experiment-like narration of humans from another human. The book has 24 narrators ordered by Ravayat-e Fat’h (narration of victory) Institute. The interviews and information had been collected by the institute and it was delivered to me in 2015. There were some cases which needed additional interviews. I sent them to the institute and they referred to the narrators and completed the information and sent them back to me. 


*What about the book “The wind catchers do look forward”?

*It tends to narrate the life of a man with memoirs from his friends and comrades.


*How did you find the people who had memory for this work?

*Main part of the work was up to the researchers who were living in the town of Bandar Lengeh. The work was not so much in the area of oral history and memory-writing professionally and standardly as it should be. Thus, I went to the town for three or four times and conducted some 12 hours of additional interviews.


*How did you select and sift the information?  

*The most important part in writing a work was that it had to be documented. There is a subject regarding the martyrs and that is others talk about them and the narrator is hid among various narrators. Sometimes, a memory is quoted by several persons the most complete of which should be selected or the memory seen or heard by the person is more important. At the same time, the memory-writer should be watchful and accepts a narration which is closer to the event. The main point is that the one who quotes a memory either should have been present in that event or at least has heard it from a reliable source.


*What new experience did you gain in these two books?

*Among the books I have written in the area of the Sacred Defense, the life of Saeed Janbozorgi has a special characteristic. I felt that now I can do part of the things that I could not do in the past through recognizing him and being affected by his lifestyle for instance the experience of risking and accepting the untimely events. In terms of writing, I feared a lot since the day I accepted the project, because I had limited information about photography and in comparison with a photographer, I knew almost nothing. Moreover, writing about this martyred artist has become hard for me due to his personal characteristics. I had to write about an artist whose art had no similarity to my art in terms of structure and science, although Saeed Janbozorgi had an intrinsic art and that was the humanity which has been reminisced in the meaning and depth of his photos. In a point, I had to be myself and in another point a narrator. In general, this work was one of good works in the area of memory-writing and I can safely say it created a fundamental change in my prose and language. Regarding the book "The wind catchers do look forward" which published two or three months after "Men do not die in my frame", I should say that it narrates and retells in a simple way the memoirs of the people who established relation very simply and intimately. When I had gone to Bandar Lengeh for unveiling the book, Ayatollah Mohammad Javad Rokni, the Friday Prayer Leader of Bandar Lengeh and the representative of the Valie Faqih (supreme jurist) in the town whose memory has also been quoted in the book, said, "I have liked the simplicity of your language, you know how to transfer the memoirs from my language and how from the family's language and from the children's." In fact, I tried to keep the people's tone in the book. 


*What status has field and library research in your works?

*They are very important for me. If a memory-writer restricts himself or herself to the narration of the narrator, he or she has not paid attention to being forgotten with the lapse of time. History registers the biggest events very precisely and with details and the memory-writer should search this. In fact, my work introduces me whether I have worked through research or have written only on the basis of what has been heard and told by the narrator of the text.


*Do you have any new work for writing or publishing?

*I have several works; the storyline biography of one of the martyrs of Hormozgan province named Mussa Darvishi Nakhl Ebrahimi which will be published by Nashr-e Fatehan, and another work which is being rewritten by me is the memoirs of martyr Ahmad Khorrami Shhad, a commander of Ammar Battalion of the Division 27 of Mohammad Rasoullollah (SAWA). I am also writing another work which is based on ninety hours of interview with a chemical janbaz (a war veteran who is still suffering from chemical attacks by the Saddam army during the war). He went to the war front at the age of 14 and obtained many experiences till the end of the war and narrates many events. Mohammad Miri was the eyewitness of the downing of Iran's Airbus plane flight no. 655. He had been working in Navy of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) at that time. He had informed the news of the plane's explosion to the marine vessels and had helped in collecting the bodies of the martyrs.


*You were selected as the prominent artist of the revolution in Hormozgan Province in 2016. What was the reason for this?

*This should be asked form the authorities of the Art Centre. But I think that it was because of my resume and activities in the areas of the Islamic Revolution and Sacred Defense. Since 2011, I am both in charge of the Resistance Office of the Art Centre in Hormozgan Province and in addition to our province, cooperate with other provinces in the areas of oral history and memory-writing.


*As the Head of the Resistance Office of the Art Centre in Hormozgan Province, to what extent do you attach importance on collection of the activities of women during the Sacred Defense?

*We in this office have had a research in the area of the active women of the Islamic revolution which at present spends the final phase of verification. Mrs. Ensieh Behboudi is its author and researcher. In 2016, a work by me entitled "The Sun of Sunflowers" was published which is about the memories five active women in the Logistics Headquarters of the war. These women were the wives of IRGC commanders and general and have been active in cultural and social arenas since the victory of the Islamic revolution and during the Scared defense and even today.


*Have you ever done something about the activity of the unknown women of Hormozgan Province who have taken part in the war, behind the front and even in the frontline.  

*I have conducted interviews with the wives of the martyrs about the participation of women in supporting the Scared Defense, and another person writes them. I had also done some things regarding the women who were active behind the front. I have an administrative and non-official character. As a person who is doing cultural work in the area of women, I spend between seven to eight hours every week to interview the women who had been active in the area of war support and are unknown, have no relative with the families of the martyrs and war veterans and now have an ordinary life. Their houses during the war was the center for collection of clothes, food stuff and all of the materials which were useful in the war fronts ranging from sewing shirts and clothes for the war combatants to making jams and pickles which were finally prepared and sent to the fronts. I know people who prepared small receipts, receiving money and jewelry for the people and delivered them to the Logistics Headquarters of the Sacred Defense.    


*One of the issues in the area of war in southern Iran is the issue of the immigrants of the imposed war. What have you done about this area?

*Yes. I have a collection about the immigrants of the imposed war the research of which took one and a half year which refers to the memoirs of the first days of the war. In fact, it narrates the war's damages. The transcription of the interviews has already been carried out and is in compilation phase. Part of it is about the women who with the breakout of the imposed war were forced to leave their houses. These people have been forgotten. In fact, we have reviewed the first three days of war in the cities of Abadan and Khorramshahr, and the people have narrated about how they left their cities and came to Hormozgan Province as well as the events happened for them and the hardships they tolerated on their way. The immigrants of the imposed war began their life in the hot and humid weather of Hormozgan Province without any facilities like cooler. Unfortunately, what they recall now as bad memories is not that they didn't have welfare facilities such as a house, but it is the bitter view of the society at leaving their land ad becoming homeless in other cities. One of the memoirs which shocked and made me cry was about a woman who with the breakout of the war had lost her husband and had become homeless with a two-year old child and another baby in abdomen. She had walked for hours in those hard conditions till reaching a gas station. She had waited for a few days there in the hope of finding a car so that someone helped them. When she reached the city of Shiraz with much hardship, she slept with her child in the streets and alleys without any shelter or facility. One day she got ill, and with a little money that she had, bought an egg. She knocked the door of a house, asking the house owner to bake a boiled egg for them. Five minutes later, the female house owner brought and gave it to her, but it was a soft-boiled egg. That woman had sat there and started crying.”

Of course, this memory cannot be extended to the whole society, but some thought that the people of Khuzestan had escaped from their cities while it was not possible for them to stay. A few days after the start of the war, it was announced that the children and women had to leave the Khuzestan Province due to security reasons and not being captivated. These narrations should be brought up so that these people find out their mistakes. During the recent three or four months, I held some Night of Memory shows with the subject of memoirs of the immigrants of the impose war. They said, “The people called us war-stricken,” but I told them, “You are the neighbor of sun and sea.” This became a sparkle for me to collect the memoirs of the immigrants of the imposed war.


*Did your life and close familiarity with these people capture your attention toward the immigrants?

*I was born in 1981. My father and mother after marriage left for Bandar Abbas due to my father’s care. May father was from Tehran and my mother from Khuzestan. When the war broke out, my grandfather and grandmother along with my younger aunt came to Bandar Abbas from Khuzestan. Yes, perhaps one of the sparkles that made me go toward collecting the memoirs of the immigrants of the imposed war was my memoirs from visiting Abadan and Khorramshahr after the war. I was eight years old at that time. Although it was said that the city was not still safe, my father received a letter through one of his friends and we went there. When we reached, parts of the city had not still been purged and the people were not allowed to commute easily. No shop even a bakery was not open. The houses of my grandfather and uncle had been almost destroyed. A cannon shell had hit the ceiling and come out of the wall. An image that has remained in my mind is that I was thirsty and a woman gave me some water. I told my mother, “We had gone to Mahshahr and came back. Our house has razed to the ground and we came to this school.” That woman was pregnant and had seven sons and told my mother, “Pray for me that I give birth to a girl.” I remember all of these. Whenever I received the memoirs of the immigrants, I remembered those houses.

Now that I am thinking your question, I see that it is correct; my mentality in selecting and dealing with this subject has been effective and played a major role in paying attention to collecting memoirs of immigrants of the imposed war. 


*How many writers who work with you are women?

*All of them are women. In writing a book, the women are more meticulous and see the details which are very effective for reviewing the life of a human and showing it as a human model.


*At present, you are holding a workshop. Please talk about the goals of holding the workshop.

 *I am still learning in this area, but I transfer the experiences I have learnt in the area of memory-writing to the students and welcome their experiences. I ask them to write a memory. We hear it in the class and talk about the elements and other things. In fact, we in the class bring up all of the elements that we need in a historic work and memory.


 *How is the situation of registration of oral history and memory-writing in Hormozgan Province?

*I don’t want to transfer a negative view to you, but no other cultural institution except the Art Centre does not work in collecting and registering the memoirs seriously and professionally.


*What short-term and long-term goals are you following up in the Art Centre and the department you work? 

*One of our responsibilities in the area of memory-writing is the registration of the events and memoirs which are part of the characteristics of the memories of the Islamic revolution and the Sacred Defense. In the area of Islamic Revolution, we have a seven or eight-year megaproject and so far, almost 120 hours of audio and visual interview with the revolution's activists and campaigners have been recorded. In the area of the Scared Defense, we are also working on introducing the Battalion 422 of the Davison 41 of Sarallah in terms of organization and establishment, and the memories of the battalion's combatants. It is a large work that I hope the collection of information is finished soon. The memoirs of the wives of the freed POWs and the war veterans who are suffering from neurology and psychiatry is another big work which is considered among the long-term plans of the Resistance Office of the Art Centre in Hormozgan Province. The office's quick impact and short-term projects include the collection of the memoirs of the figures who have played a major role in the province's important events. For instance, one of the projects is to collect the memoirs of one of the survivors of the Sahand frigate who was present in the direct clash with the Americans in 1985. This year with God's hope, I will publish five or six books in various areas such as the memoirs of Navy commandos, memoirs of the mothers of martyrs and the POWs of the province and the immigrants of the imposed war.


*What are your concerns in the areas of memory-writing and oral history?

*My works have become nominees for prize of the Sacred Defense Book Year, and received many prizes. But although I am known across the country, unfortunately, I am not known in my own province. I try this does not happen for the young memory-writers anymore and the cultural authorities have more sympathy. Some authorities may have the concern of collecting memoirs outwardly, but It should be seen to what extent we have been successful in practice. In the era of Kashf-e Hijab (unveiling), a large number of the people of the province immigrated to Qatar and Emirates in order to keep their Hijab and beliefs. These memories should not be forgotten. Men leave and take their memories. My concern is that we must go to visit them as long as they are alive. Today, I am more concerned of collecting memoirs rather than writing. Everybody asks me to transcribe and write all of the interviews I have conducted. But I say this can be done by others; now it is time to interview. One of my wishes is that the province's cultural authorities have the concern of preserving and recording the memories of the Islamic revolution and the sacred Defense literally. If a memory is rich and intact, even a beginner writer can writer because the work is rich.                     

Although the area is welcomed by the audience in the country, some authorities do not pay necessary attention to it. They ignore an issue in collecting the memoirs and that is being documented of a work, and pay more attention to the things written superficially. It is not very important for them to what extent the final work is documented and to what extent its consequences can make the society involve in self-contradiction in the next hundred years. For instance, they ask us to write the memoirs of a martyr on the basis of a few documents existing from his will, the memories of the family and friends, and expect the work to be published as brief as a brochure. They do not think that many angles of the considered person should be brought up. When the book of martyr Mussa Darvishi Nakhl Ebrahimi was delivered to me it was as much as three to four brochures which had already been collected by the martyr's family or the Resistance Basij Base of Hormoz Island. I was asked to turn it into a book but I did not accept, and said, "I must interview the people who have lived with the martyr." The result was 59 hours of interview with them some of whom have now lost their lives. We artists should not allow the things imposed on us on the basis of the political requirements of some organizations involved in cultural planning cause us to ignore the existing facts and should not let them to be forgotten. Nevertheless, I am very glad for being in this path. During the first years of my work, when I read the books of the center under Mr. Morteza Sarhangi, asked myself whether I can become a Sacred Defense writer? And today I thank God that my field and art has rested in the path of the Islamic revolution and Sacred Defense through the Art Center.                                          


Thanks a lot for giving your time to Iranian Oral History Website.


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