An interview with Tahereh Taheri

Memoirs from Holy War of Construction, relief working and Sanandaj schools

Faezeh Sasanikhah
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


Note: Tahereh Taheri has been an active lady since the beginning of the victory of the Islamic Revolution. She entered Jihad Sazandegi Department (Holy War of Construction) voluntarily, and after the breakout of the imposed war of Saddam’s army against the Islamic Republic of Iran went to the southern Iran for several times to help the injured people through Jihad by the Red Crescent train. She also has a record of cultural activities and teaching at Sanandaj Schools in her work program. In an interview with the website of Iranian Oral History, she has talked about her memoirs of those years.



*When did you enter Jihad Sazandegi?


*Since Imam Khomeini ordered to go and do whatever you can. I asked and found the Jihad in the province. At that time, Khuzestan was flooded and we were sent to help the flood-stricken.


*What was your education?

*I had a diploma, but I’d been trained courses like first aids and telecommunications.


*How was the situation after Khuzestan’s flood?

*Both the houses had been destroyed and several people had been drowned. We could not pass through some areas by car and went by helicopter. We could not do health work, and just took food stuff like breads, dates and canned goods. Their food was only oak in that area and the flood had destroyed the trees. We did not go house to house, we were based in the health center, or at schools, and informed people about it.

When we came back from Khuzestan, went to the Headquarters of Jihad Sazandegi. We had been trained relief working courses by Dr. Shams. We were sent to the hospital to find more skills. The hospital had been allocated for the people who had illnesses like tuberculosis, we spent necessary trainings there. Then, we were sent to areas of Dehdez and Izeh along with a number of physicians and relief workers. A female physician who was from Isfahan accompanied us. We went to the Health House of one of remote and deprived areas and were deployed there. It was noon and we did not want to disturb the villagers to provide food for us. We supplied some bread. I picked up the sides and rounds of bread to set aside. The female doctor said, “Go and bring them for the cows!” I said, “OK”. But when she was not in the mood, I put them under the table. The next we were hungry but had no food. We had not gone to the village till that day. We had no experience and had brought nothing with ourselves.  The doctor said, “What happened to the bread I asked you to take for the cows?” I went and brought them and said, “We are also cows!”

Once, we went to a village. We had to go up a hill to reach ourselves with medicines and other supplies. If someone had a skin disease was either cured by the doctor who was with us or he or she was given the address of a doctor in Tehran.  In travelling to such villages, once I remember that that we wanted to pass through a river but it had flooded. If we did not take care of ourselves, the water took us. We also carried medicines. We had no means of protection. I took an umbrella from someone and dipped it into the water to shield me. The umbrella was bent. The doctor who came with us went ahead. He had raised his trousers to his knees. He told me, "I go and you follow me. I'm sensitive to cold water. I may collapse and fall into the water. In the pocket of this sack, there is an ampoule that you have to immediately bring it out and pour it under your tongue." Thanks God no problem happened.


* In fact, the Jihad and you, the Jihadists had the first experiences of such trips and had not thought of the equipment and supplies you needed for these trips?

*Yes, it's correct. The Jihad did not know we should be given the facilities and we did not know ourselves too. It was because of the early experiences of Jihad, and we did not request the facilities since we had not had such trips before. We were there for a few days. The doctors examined the patients and we did the services we could and came back. We bought beans on our way for returning. To open the cans, we should use can opener, but opened them with the sharpness of the rock I found by the river.

When we returned to Tehran, Jihad sent a number of us to Damavand and a number of others to Varamin. We went to the Jihad of Varamin and settled in Teacher Training Center. Since the revolution had just begun, the center had been closed. There were two rooms at the door, one of which was for the guards, and the men were settled there and we were in another room. We stayed there at nights. Sometimes we came to Tehran and returned. We went to the villages of Varamin and the health centers.


* The Jihad had specific committees such as construction, agriculture, health and culture; did you choose the health department yourself or you were sent there in division?

*I chose myself.


*Did just the members of the Health Committee accompanied you?

*Yes, those who had spent necessary courses.


* Had a central department set up inside Tehran and you were divided on that basis?

*Yes and the forces were private. We had talked to the Health Center. Dr. Nasirian introduced Dr. Arab who was from one of the villages of Varamin to us. Also doctors were sent from Tehran for us.


*How was the situation of Varamin's villages?

*A number of villages had no water and supplied water from the surrounding areas. The Health Centre and health instructors trained the people how to use drinking water. We had no health education at first. We went out since early morning and visited the houses one by one. We reviewed the conditions of and brought the children for vaccination. The time passed very soon. We had a car too. A man named Tajik was our driver in the Jihad Sazandegi.


*What vaccines did you inject the children?

* First we asked what vaccines they had injected what vaccines they had not. Then, we noted the information. We went to many villages and injected the vaccines proper for three-month and older children.


*What were your main problems?

* They had no water. They had to supply water from the well. Also they did not have the electricity sometimes too.


*Were the houses made from mud and straw?

*They were made both from mud and straw and bricks. The houses in some palaces had been built only from mud and straw.


*To how many villages did you go?

*We had covered 90 villages of Varamin and went by car. We usually brought the doctors on Fridays. Then later, we gradually started health education. We trained them what to do and not to do.


*Were you in charge of Health Committee?

*Yes. Of course, it was called Medical Committee at first but later renamed to Health Committee. In the meeting held in Tehran, except me, those who were in charge of health committees were male. Earlier, Dr. Arab was in charge of the Health Committee. Later, he handed over this responsibility to me. In a meeting, without coordination with me, Dr. Nasiri said, “we have selected Mrs. Taheri as a health instructor in order to work with other instructors.” I was surprised. I didn’t know what to say. Then, I told him, “You had told me nothing!” He said, “I said nothing intentionally. If I did your answer was negative.” A number of people were members of the committee. 


*How old were the members?

*All of them were younger than me. I was 26. But they were between 20 to 22 years old. I told the guys, “I do not say what to wear or not. But I want you to be clean, because we go to give them health training. Thus we have to be clean in the first place.” I did not mention anything about hijab (veil), because it was the beginning of the revolution and hijab had not become compulsory yet. I just said, “I myself go with this type (Chador). We had a goal in this revolution.” The next time that we wanted to divide the members to which village they should go, I saw that some of the girls had worn chador. My hijab was chador from the very beginning, but the health could not be shown through hijab. When I went to the villages, I did not wear dark dresses, because I said we were going to villages, and were models for the villagers and want to train them. They should see that the color of clothes is bright but clean. Dirt does not appear in clothes with dark colors. I went with Manto (an Iranian dress for women) and headscarf.


*Given the villagers lived in deprived areas, didn't they resist against the trainings?

*We had no problem in this regard and they welcomed. When we went for vaccination, the children followed us. They accompanied us house to house, calling us as Khaleh (aunt). We treated the children very well. We did not order and did not say, "Sit down, go in and …" instead we said, "If you don't push each other, we will do the work for you." Sometimes, we got something for them.


*This went back to your behavior that did not look from top …

* We did not have such behavior at all. If we wanted to behave like this, they would not accept us. We wanted to work in a Jihadi and revolutionary manner. Sometimes families invited us to be their guests, but since we did not know their condition, did not agree. Of course, some children had established friendly relationship with us.


*Did they recommend you these things in the Jihad before moving to Varamin or elsewhere?

No. Since the jihad had just begun its work, it had still no experience in these fields. Everyone was starting from zero. Of course, we were reminded of each other in private. We had gone somewhere the people of whom had not seen the car and we should try to attract the children there.


*Have the children been malnourished?

* Yes. It was clear from their faces. Some were very thin and their eyes had been puffed-up. We identified the people in the villages and tried to find them the next time we went there. Sometimes they said that their mother or father did not like to say that their child had a problem. We went and knock the door, asking them to visit the doctor if they had a problem. We went to the house of these people and said: "The doctor has come, if you want, I will send your child to the doctor sooner." We talked so softly so that they come with pleasure.


*When you saw them in this situation, didn’t you collect dresses, supplies and other necessities for them from Tehran?

*No. we reported such things to the Jihad. For example, we said that they were suffering from cultural poverty. They were trying to solve these problems and referred the matter to the relevant committees. Since I was interested in artistic work, we set up a series of flowering training sessions for ladies, and then when the war broke out we left the Jihad.


*Wasn't it hard for you to tolerate the conditions of the villages and the use of limited facilities?

* We tolerated. A woman named Mina ... she was the only daughter of her family and was eighteen or nineteen years old. She had been grown up in certain circumstances and the family was not happy at all that she came. One time, her family came to Varamin and brought her a lot of food.


*Didn't you have any problem with your family for going to Varamin?

*No. My father was very religious, but did not disagree on my cooperation with the Jihad at all. 


*How much was your working time?

*We had no working time. We started work at eight o'clock, and sometimes we came back at four or five o'clock, because we received no salary. Later they gave us money. We saved a lot. We tried not to impose money on the Jihad.

On Fridays, we took doctors to the brick factories of the town of Gharechak to cure the patients. We had learnt how to read a prescription. If we had a problem, we asked the doctors and then gave the medicines to the villagers. Once I remember that one of the guys had forgotten to take the medicines, I laid down in the car as a patient, and the driver moved toward Tehran by sounding the siren and reached the medicines within less than one hour.


*How did the committees' meetings take place in the Jihad Sazandegi?

*We met with the person in charge of our own committee and the head of our committee had meetings with other committees. At that time, we did not have to report our works successively. Later, the works found more orders. The reports were not written. We brought up our needs orally or reported our function.


*Where were you on the day the war started?

* In the beginning of the war, when Tehran was attacked, we were coming down the stairs of the Jihad building to go to Varamin. The guys told me, “Tehran was attacked!” In order to calm down the atmosphere, I said, “No. there is nothing. Don’t be so lazy! Let’s go.” We moved toward Varamin by a Jeep. On our way, the news announced that Iraq had attacked Iran. When we arrived in Varamin, the weather was getting dark. I told the guys, “Let’s so to the Telecommunication Department and inform your families that you are all right.” We went there but saw that it was closed. 

A few days after the beginning of the war, we went to southern Iran by the Red Crescent train. Except us, the nurses were also present. The train had an operation room, a room for nurses, pharmacy and a doctor. It was very interesting for us. The railway station in Qom was very crowded. The people had come for seeing off. They were sending “Salavat” or peace and mercy on the Prophet of Islam and his immaculate family, distributing Noqls (a kind of pastry) and passing the trains form under the holy book of Qur’an. We were informed on the way that the cities of Ahwaz and Dezful had been strongly attacked. The train’s kitchen said, “We have no food for cooking. We are supposed to buy lambs and slaughter, so that the cooks can make food.”  We who were very revolutionary said, “It is not right! Some people are fighting at the war fronts and we eat lambs?” So we disagreed.

The weather had not still become dark near Dezful. One side of our train was a train that was heading toward Tehran. The other side was a train full of ammunition, which went to Ahwaz, and the sound of the firing was heard. All three trains had stopped. A number of the forces of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) were in the train. They asked the passengers to get off. Everybody did so. They said, “Lie down on the ground!” The color of my clothes was clear. I saw that if I lied down, my clothes would become dirty. Then I thought if the surrounding area was attacked, it would make no difference; one side of the train was carrying ammunition and the other side fuel. If they were exploded, we all would be killed, then why should I make my clothes dirty? So, I did not lie down! One of the IRGC forces said, “Mrs. Taheri …” I said, “Mr. It makes no difference!” He started laughing. The situation calmed down a little and I saw that one of the doctors had sheltered under the ammunition train and the other one under the fuel train!  

We arrived in Dezful at 10 PM. Again the sound of firing was heard. They said, “Get off and sleep in the railway station and then we continue moving in the morning.” We slept in the hall of Dezful Railway Station. When we woke up in the morning, we saw that we had been sleeping close to the WC door. We moved toward Ahwaz in the morning and settled there. We had no injured inside the train and went to a hospital which was 15 kilometers far from the city, in addition to the beds, the corridors of the hospital was full of injured people. We helped them until evening. The body of an injured woman had been infected and the nurses did not help her. But one of the girls, who was not religious in appearance, looked after him. We thanked him so much.          


*Were the inured civilian or military?

*Most of them were civilians. The next day, the first injured was brought to the train; a young unconscious man. We were there until the two-story beds of the train’s hospital were filled and returned to Tehran. We delivered the injured in different cities. There was a man among the injured who had lost his two occasion, on behalf of a mosque in Iran Street, we also went to a center in Ahwaz  in Nowrooz of the year 1360 solar hijri (March 1981) in which men and women gathered and washed or sewed the bed sheets and clothes of the war combatants.


*The forces who gathered there were all from Tehran or also Ahwaz?

*We had gone from Tehran by two buses but there were also forces form Ahwaz and other cities.


*You also went to Sanandaj for a while. Why did you go there?

*We went there to do cultural works. The friends needed forces in the Education Department, and I went; because I had worked with the adults for one year before the revolution and was a member of campaign against illiteracy. At that time, the person in charge of Sanandaj’s Education Department was Mr. Khani. I went to Mr. Momeni and then was introduced there. I went to Sanandaj on behalf of Tehran’s Education Department for three years.


*How did you go?

*I had no mentality on the first day that I wanted to travel there. I went there alone by a bus. I arrived in the bus terminal and the bus was going to move at 11 o’clock. The passengers inside the bus were all men and had worn Kurdish dress. Except me, another woman was in the bus who was also a Kurd. They had said that it was very dangerous to drive from Hamedan to on. We were worried a little, because the anti-revolutionary groups blocked the roads and emptied the buses.

The driver stopped when we arrived in Dehgolan and said, “The bus does not move from here. We must wait until morning and when the road is purged and the weather becomes clear, you can go.” The IRGC forces were operating there against anti-revolutionary forces. The IRGC allowed us to move in the morning. There, I got a taxi and went to Sanadaj’s Education Department. Then, I went to dormitory, to Mrs. Rsatar. 


*Who were there except you and Mrs. Rastar?

*There many people who had come from Kermanshah, Qazvin, Isfahan and other cities. Each floor had two units, two bedrooms and one kitchen. About twelve people were living in these rooms. It was summer at that time. The schools had not been opened yet and we played with the children. They were studying in secondary course. We sang revolutionary songs together.  


*Didn’t you have any problem by being dispatched to Sanandaj?

*No. once my mother came to Sanandaj. But I sometimes came to Tehran and visit my family.


*Did you know that anti-revolutionary groups such as Komoleh and Democrat were active there?

*Yes, the teachers’ dorm was in a garrison. Earlier, the anti-revolutionary groups had killed 150 people in front of the garrison. The two floors down the dorm had been allocated to the married couples and three other floors to the singles.


*How was the situation of Sanandaj’s Education Department?

*The Education Department there had been disbanded to purge a few. When they wanted to open there, they had many problems in replacing the forces. One day, the anti-revolutionary grouplets had come to the school and written anti-revolutionary slogans on the doors and the walls and everywhere. The school’s janitor had informed to the Education Department and they had asked him not to open the school until 10 AM in order to paint everywhere and give new notebooks. Then, the classes started.


*What were your plans before the schools were opened?

*Some trained painting to the students and on the whole we had creational program. We had gone there to teach the students after the classes were opened. We tried to associate with the children.   


*Did this happen?

* The children were good. But something had happened. The school’s principal and deputy who were among grouplets against the system had been fired and replaced by non-indigenous people but the deputy of our school was native. The fathers or brothers of most of these children were in the mountains and had the right to ask questions because they were affected by their families. The first day that I went to the class, I was supposed to teach social sciences. I greeted with them. One of them said, “Why have come to our class? Our teachers have been kicked out!” I paused for a moment and then said, “Hey guys, now we talk about it”. I led the discussion to the lesson and class and said, “If I have a problem, I will correct myself and if I did not correct myself, you can inform the school’s office.”  

We treated the children very softly in a way that the same girl who said why I had come to the class had made friend with me and talked to each other. One of the students whose family did want to allow her to come to school the next year begged me to speak with her family and persuade them to continue with her lesson. I had a student whose mother had died. We went to her house. We went with concern, because we knew that his brother and his father were the grouplets. They called us "Josh" which means a mercenary. We went for my student’s satisfaction. They were very surprised as soon as they saw us. We went forward and expressed our condolences. They welcomed and directed us into the house. It was very attractive for my student that her principal and teacher had come to visit her. Later she became friend with us. Or I had gone to the home of another student who had already lost my mother, she was in the first grade of secondary school, she had a sister who was younger than herself and had a brother who was older than herself. The responsibility of the home was with the student.


*How was the situation of the city?

*Sometimes, they called the school and threatened us that we kill you mercenaries! The Education Department had recommended us that” nobody has the right to be in the street from evening to on. We had to be in the dorm before the evening. One or times, our work lasted until the night and we got off the car with fear. Even once, the city was bombarded and many people of Sanandaj left the city but we stayed. One time, I told a car’s driver, “You are a very good man.” He said, “No.” I said, “Yes, in this situation, you have not left the city and move the people.” He said, “I do this for money.” I said, “Only money cannot keep you under the bombardment in the city. How much money is worth? "He silenced for a moment and then asked, “Am I really a good man?” I said, “Yes. You both obtain a lawful income and move the people of your city.” We became friends and established relations with the people. 

The brother of that girl who was my student in the secondary school and had lost her mother was at first a member of anti-revolutionary grouplets. After my visiting, he left the grouplet. Later, his sister came and saw me. Her family knew me. Her brother was admitted in the university but dismissed due to his record of being a member of anti-revolutionary grouplets. His sister came and talked to me to persuade them to accept him. I did so and his problem was solved. He went to the university to continue education.  They thanked me a lot. Even one day I invited the parents of the students. I talked to and thanked them for their efforts for their children. None of the schools’ staff even the native teachers did not participate in the meeting. Fearing from the fierce reaction of the fathers, they did not come, but the meeting was so influential that the teachers came to the meeting one by one.


*Were your experiences in the Jihad useful for you?

“No. It was a very different work. Some of these students and people in the city thought that we had come to dismiss them and reject them, or would like to separate them from their religion. Later, they saw that we had nothing to do with them from this aspect. We had come to say that a revolution had happened and should think of protecting the country. Thus, they accepted us. Many things were changed comparing the very first days we arrived there. We participated in their Friday Prayers. We brought the children to camps. We were working on the subject of unity between Sunni and Shia, avoiding the issues which might lead to difference. In their mosques, we tried to say prayers with them and took part in their celebrations. The last year that I was there, we went to the villages and all of the students of one of my classes were boys. They accepted me very soon and called me as Khaleh or aunt. I was there until 1985.


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