Revising a Conversation

Narrating was made of suffering

Nastaran Poursalehi
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


The second from the right: Dr. Hossein Ardestani

It is not narrating one or two days. Story is story of eight years of attendance; Keeping pace with; experiencing bites and sweets. There they both taught and learned. At that time, all skills were applicable together. Sometimes they harked and sometimes did lip reading. They kept up with commander unarmed, and sometimes they didn't arrive at the attendance in war alleyways. Sometimes they laugh at others and sometimes others at them. They were not reporter, writer, and war analyst, but they knew twist of getting information from commander well just like a reporter and they exhibited their writing projection in field of operations reports. They weren't nonplused and appeared as a war analyst in decision making of commanders, and only fought with their own weapon of recorder and against Iraqi army.

In summer 2012, following a great deal of coordination, I entered Center for Sacred Defense Documents and Research for the first time in order to converse with Dr. Hossein Ardestani. I arrived at building of the center around 3 p.m. Entrance of the building was semi-dark and the salon had been surrounded by heavy silence. After entering doctor Ardestani's room and facing his calm face, my initial excitement diminished. As if he was a light on a heavy space outside his room. He answered my questions in this almost two hours conversation with at most patience and passing through his memory alleyways. What you will read is result of the conversation that now oral history website of Iran is reminder of it.


Explain about start of your work as a narrator.

The war department of Political Bureau of IRGC recorded history and events of the war. In this department, gradually some people became members of IRGC and appeared as narrators in various operations alongside commanders. I also became a member of war department of the political bureau of IRGC in 1982 and then, as a narrator, along with commanders, I recorded issues of decision-making, performing operations and their field observations, mostly in Khatam-al Anbiya (PBUH) Headquarters which was central headquarters of IRGC and headquarters of Najaf and Karbala.



Do you need to pass special trainings for being a narrator?
Yes, the war department held training courses for new forces.

Tell us about these trainings.
At first, about importance, limitations and difficulties of work, differences of commanders culturally and morally, gave explanations to newcomers so that narrators would justify that when they were with a commander to be able to anticipate his behavior and, in the best, perform their duties. Part of the training was about mechanism of recording war events; for example, that a narrator, from moment he was connected to a commander, had to look for his commander all hours of day, except when the commander slept and rested; wherever he went, he also go, anywhere he sit down, sit down, everywhere he get on a car he did too, and participated in all sessions, and recorded all talks. To record, we have been taught that the most important thing is meeting. A commander participates in higher meetings or at a meeting with battalion commanders, headquarters units, deputies and provincial officials. In all these cases, the narrator would number his cassette titled "Session" and for example, at the beginning of tape he told session No. 12 was held with presence of these people and in this place at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 11, 1981, until identity of the tape would be clear in tape itself. The narrator also had to write notes that were not recordable. Some of the tapes were also titled "with commanding"; that is, commander had even a short visit it had to be recorded and titled; title of another tape was "lecture"; for example, when a commander spoke for Basij community, his speech should be recorded with title of lecture including history, place, and community of audience. Another type title was "interview". These interviews were taken place at the beginning of entrance of narrator to the headquarters or division, by narrator with commanders, successors, chiefs of staff and assistants about purpose, plan, divisions, preparations of division, restrictions, obstacles and plans of division. We numbered interviews. Each interview tape was separated, even if it included only one interview. One time also after operations, the same interviews were conducted on topic of commander's summation of operation, weaknesses and strengths, reasons for failures and achievements in order to make clear ambiguities from accumulated points and their complete report in Tehran to be compiled.


Who did you interview with?
I interviewed, for example, with brothers like Aziz Jafari, Mohsen Rezaee and Gholamali Rashid after operations. My interview with Mr. Rashid after Operation Kheibar lasted eight hours, and it will be published in form of a book.


Who did teach narrators?
These trainings were empirical and were carried out by those who came to the front earlier than us for narrating. They had prepared a small pamphlet about interviews and how to write events and their recording and also difficulties of narrating and provided for newcomers.


Explain about difficulties of narrating work.
Narrating was not an accepted and structural work. In the fronts, commanding posts, deputy of operation, dispensary deputy, deputy of cooperation, and even janitor of division and headquarter had a definite position, but for narrator as a member of headquarter organization no task had been determined. All members of camp and division were under supervision of commander except for narrators. Narrators were managed from Tehran. Position of narrators was not within unit and, therefore, commanders could not dictate them, as narrator was from IRGC's political office and should be present everywhere. Narrator did not even have a room. The first time he went to the front, he put his personal belongings and tapes in a corner of headquarter. The most important difficulty of work was begun from here where narrator did not have a place in structure of headquarter and division. Second, these people were very serious and pursuing, and everywhere with commander; this got bored commanders, for example, sometimes commander said I have a personal work and I should be alone, but narrator was concerned about his duty. That was why it was cumbersome for commander. On the other hand, if narrator acted in a way other than that, content would lose. On the other hand, commander also had right. However, if they told narrator two or three times that don't come with me or don't participate at the meeting, he would be upset. Sometimes it was a matter of conflict. There were tensions between commanders and narrators from top-level commanders to low levels. Finally, narrator should back down. Sometimes it happened that narrators could not work with some of commanders and replaced them in headquarters and troops. Of course, most of commanders accepted narrators for their knowledge of conditions. For example, when a narrator accompanied a commander, he transferred commander current news and information on society and politics. In relationship between commander and narrator, commanders repeatedly left narrators behind in operations. This happened for me; in Operation Valfajr Moghadamati, martyr Kharazi left me behind in operational scene. I did not know where to go and what should do. Many times, due to this, connect loop of recording operations went out of hands of narrators. Other point about hardships of narrating was contempt. Narrators were humiliated by some commanders. Jokingly they told narrator to record the most trivial issues or didn't allow him to enter in some places. Many people were worried about narrator's writings about themselves. All these factors led narrator to face a lot of difficulties. That's why many of narrators did not stand and left the job and joined battalions....


Was there any concern for narrators in recording events?

There was not a concern about losing information. Because they were all categorized, and since 1982, there was a coordinator in units that collected tapes from narrators and transferred them to central command in order not to be lost. But another part of hardships of work was in meetings that some disputes were arisen. For example, conflicts that occasionally occurred between the army and IRGC, or a meeting went out of the ordinary situation, and nobody wanted to record the disagreements. So if it wasn’t possible to record, narrator should write the whole session. They didn't have a word on writing, because they knew narrators were everywhere. Sometimes it was not possible to record and write. Narrator should listen to all of them and memorized and write all in the first opportunity. Sometimes narrator could activate his recording, but could not write due to environment. For example, we had gone with Mr. Rezaee to Al-Faw. We had to be in a canal at a height not exceeding one meter. It was not possible even sit in that place. They used candles to provide light. You could not write anything at all. We also kept recorder on under fire and bombardment of aircrafts, and we talked in tape to rationalization talks of commanders and codes they gave us.


How was level of confidence of narrators to commanders?

Commander's trust rooted in support of senior commanders. For example, if Mr. Rezaee was to go somewhere by helicopter and helicopter capacity was five persons, he first asked narrator to accompany him. While sometimes main officials could not ride and complained. Another point was that narrators came from IRGC and the IRGC itself accredited them.


Did disagreement arise at the height of operations?

Yes, but its roots were different.


Can you give an example?

For example, commander said don't come here, I want to be alone. Narrator said I cannot and I must come. In those times, there was a conflict. Commander continued his way and went. Narrator could not go. Also, for example, in February 29, 1984, at about 8 p.m., Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani with Mr. Mohammadi Iraqi, Gholamali Rashid, Mohsen Rezaee, Rahim Safavi, and I, as a narrator, had a meeting in a small space in headquarters of Najaf (IRGC) in place of Nosrat command. The operation was in trouble. Mr. Hashemi spoke with Mr. Iraqi and I had put recorder in middle of the meeting, but it was not turned on. Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani thought recorder was on, picked it up, and threw it a little thither. I was a 25 years old young. In those hard working conditions, the highest rank of commanding of the war treated me in this way! I could manage my spirit very hard, but during war and revolution, capacities of people had been increased. I also could manage myself. Without having to look at them, I brought recorder again and put it against myself. In less than four minutes when they started the meeting again, I put the recorder in the middle and turned it on. He and other commanders smiled. To do this, a lot of perseverance was needed because we were obliged to record information. In another situation, political figures, or those who were in friendship, came to Mr. Rezaee. Unspoken rule was that these conversations not to be recorded. One time Mr. Jalal ad-Din Farsi came to see him. I just stared at them at a far distance and did lip-reading in order to find out what they were talking about, I wrote its framework and then I asked in an opportunity what was exchanged between you and Mr. Farsi?


Did they answer your questions in such situations?

They told easily nothing! Sometimes they referred to a point. Eventually, we did neglect and pursued about a point that we were ambiguous to see what the case was.


Do you have a challenge with commanders during an operation?

In the toughest circumstances, I felt that if I got involved, my work would be disrupted. That's why I tried to prevent this happen. I believed that I should be silent and tolerant. On the other hand, while working in command was easier than division, pressure of that level of work at commander was also transferred to narrator. Stress was high and result of operation was also affecting narrator. Also, when operation escalated, it would be difficult for a narrator to gather and manage information in that volume. Indeed, in Iranian history field research has not been made with such difficulty. As after recording information, a narrator who was present in operation that in terms of education was maximum student and did not have an authoring experience, had to write a report in Tehran for three or four months, with a volume of sometimes 500 pages.


With which commanders did you spend your narrating course?

Most of presence in the front I was with Mohsen Rezaee, Rahim Safavi, Gholamali Rashid and Aziz Jafari.


In which operations?

I've experienced many operations. Such as Valfajr Moghadamati, Valfajr-1, Valfajr-2, Valfajr-3, Valfajr-8, Kheibar, Badr, Karbala-4, Karbala-5, Karbala-10, Nasr-8 and Beit ol-Moqaddas-2.


Did difference of operations and their style affect your narrating style?

 Altogether no, but some of commanders made us deeper. For example, Gholamali Rashid spent more time for talking with narrators. We took points from his words. This would make our minds more open. In fact, narrator after a few visits in commands could establish a good relationship with commander and in this way would be respected by all; for example, Hossein Kharrazi, before his martyrdom due to event of Operation Valfajr Moghadamati that deliberately left me behind, several times he cuddled me and said with his sweet Esfahani accent: "political man, I ask you pardon me surely! In fact, our work changed because of being in presence of different commanders. That operations were small and large was not very effective.


Was there a certain disadvantage in process of the war narrating?

After Operation Badr in February 1985, we decided there always to be a narrator in Khatami-Al-Anbiya (PBUH) Headquarter in order to take part in discussions and decisions. Before that, narrator, after operation, left the command to compile report, and for this reason, a lot of information was lost; this was a great weakness; while, after Badr operation, because of presence of narrator, all issues of Khatam Headquarter have been recorded.


Isn't it boring continuous presence of a narrator in the headquarter?

Narrators were replaced; it means a narrator after operation closed his discussion. Meanwhile, another narrator went from Tehran and stayed with him for a week to receive all information. Then narrator firstly returned to Tehran to complete his report. For example, during Operation Valfajr-8, ten days before the operation, narrator returned to Tehran, and I went instead of him. He wrote to the eve of the operation and I recorded events of performing the operation, and, until two months after end of the operation, I stayed in command to complete information.


Replacing narrators in an operation, in terms of difference in view at events, did not affect style of writing reports?

Narrators were different depending on their subjective ability, their ability to analyze, to understand, and clearsightness. Also, repetition of presence in scenes of battle was effective in strengthening them. For example, in the first course, writing a not very rich report by narrator was normal, but in following periods, deeper reports were written. In addition, there was little difference in writing between narratives because of common trainings.



Tell bitter and sweet memories of your own narrating era.

I have a phrase about narrating in this sense: "narrating was made of suffering." This work was accompanied by many tribulations, and narrator sometimes faced with commander disrespect and inhibition to follow up his work. For example, I faced with many problems along with martyr Hossein Kharazi in Operation Valfajr Moghadamati in Imam Hussein's 14th Division, but in other operations, I was keep up more comfortable with commanders and insisted on my duties. Of course, in general, my mood was not consistent with narrating. Because I did not have an option and I should be passive. While in my childhood, my spirit was being active and playing a role. Because of the same spirit, after Operation Al-Faw I decided to abandon narrating, but for some reasons, I remained in this work till end of the war. Valfajr Moghadamati and when Hossein Kharrazi left me behind is my most bitter memory. I had to go back, to IRGC's 7th Headquarters of Najaf Ashraf, where Ahmad Kazemi commanded it. He was talking on Portable Transceiver wirelessly and sometimes slept due to much exhaustion. Mohsen Rokhsattalab was narrator of that command. I told him let's go back, but he disagreed. He had to remain with his commander until the last minute. Therefore, since the region was not secure, and at any moment it was possible Iraqis seized the region, I took all his apes and notes. My other memory is related to Operation Valfajr 3. In this operation, I was narrator of Aziz Jafari, commander of IRGC's Najaf Headquarter. Operation Valfajr 3, unlike its limited extent lasted 20 days, which was due to standing of Iraqi battalion under command of Jasem on heights of Kale Ghandi. Saddam talked to Jasem on the phone and cheered him up. They even brought Jasem's wife on the line, talking to him and saying that we want your resistance. After eight days, I felt that acceleration of events was less and I could see also through around. I went out of the headquarter to look at around of heights and road. I wanted to be informed of outside events with my own eyes instead of portable transceiver and telephone. I stood aside of Mehran-Dehloran road. Iraqi aircraft had come down as much as cockpit was seen, and strafed a van which had been stayed aside of the road. It was hard for me to see this scene because it was a sign of our weakness in weapons, which was due to sanctions against Iran. My other memory comes back to 1983 and Operation Kheibar. In this operation, I was with Mr. Rezaee in the main and central headquarters. Martyr Mehdi Bakeri had a meeting with Mohsen Rezaee, Shamkhani, Rahim Safavi and Morteza Ghorbani in headquarters of Najaf (central). Bakeri said: "God has said, we will help those who are believers, but not those who retreat from the front of enemy!" Ghorbani took the sentence. As he had gone from the island to depth of the operation, and since no one could go to support him so that he would go to bridge of Al-Azir and Al-Amarah-Basra Road, east of Tigris, he was forced to retreat. That's why he told: I did not get back from the front of the enemy. Members of the meeting, especially Gholamali Rashid, said: "Mahdi's meaning wasn't you. In the same operation, Hamid Bakeri and Morteza Yaghchian resisted Iraqi army and died a martyr on bridge of Shahitat on the southern island of Hawizeh Marshes. Their bodies were remained there. The guys tried to give body of Hamid Bakeri back, but Mehdi disagreed and said: "you should not go to bring Hamid unless you bring all martyrs. This scene happened in another kind in Operation Badr. In this operation, I was narrator of Aziz Jafari and Bashardoost. Operation Badr was one of the most sensitive operations. Siffin Line was broken and on the Axis division 31 of Ashura, Mehdi Bakeri, with other division troops were surrounded in semicircle of eastern Tigris. The siege had been tight. Many of the guys had died a martyr. Aziz Jafari, Bashardoost, Gholamali Rashid and Rahim Safavi called Bakeri to return, but Mehdi refused. Mustafa Molavi, who was with him in the battle, said: "Mr. Mehdi! Martyrdom is both great and easy, but it's hard to resist against limitations. As if you've chosen the easier way. As much as we beg you come back, the army become without commander, you do not accept. You should not consider yourself a regular warrior. You are commander and the army needs you. After the insistence, Mahdi Bakeri said to bring a boat. He got on. As the boat moved Mahdi Bakeri said stop. He took his card and identification card from his pocket and went with other warriors to continue resistance. There, a shot hit his head and died a martyr. When they put his body in a boat, Iraqis destroyed the boat too edgeways Tigris. After his martyrdom I told Mehdi said in last year meeting: "believer does not escape infidel. He stood against infidels until he became martyr.


And a sweet memory

Victories in the war are not much sweet due to hardships, conflicts and martyrdoms, but Operation Valfajr-8 was really sweet. Because after operation Beit ol-Moqaddas, it was about four years that we had not won the Iraqi army; that is other victories were relative or of no strategic significance. In Valfajr-8, victory took place in full sense of the word. Fully destruction of Iraqi army, crossing Arvand and seizing port of Faw, were very sweet.


Do you have any memory of martyrdom of warriors and commanders?

Yes. I was responsible for portable transceiver from night to the morning of fifth day of Operation Karbala-5. It could not even miss a moment, and I was waiting for an opportunity to go to prayer. It was near dawn. I got out of trench. I sat down on tower to do Wudu. A warrior sat next to me to do Wudu with a kettle of water. I washed my face. I was purring water into my right hand that I heard voice of oh from that warrior, and then I saw he fell. I thought he was afraid of shootings. I went fast to pray and I just told the guys a warrior fell on the tower. I was not willing to help him because of my work and recording events. At about 8 a.m. the guys said he died a martyr, but I could not help him, even if I knew that he was shot due to intensity of operation and importance of my task.


Did it happen for you that a commander who you were his narrator to die a martyr in the same operation?

No, it was not for me.


How about other commanders who you were narrator?

Yes. In Operation Karbala-5, Hossein Kharrazi died a martyr. I was with him in Operation Valfajr Moghadamati. I was very impressed by this news. He was one of the first-class commanders, a thoughtful man, reasonable and charisma in the division. Also, Ali Fathi, Mohammad Reza Maleki and Hassan Jalali were my friends and narrators who died a martyr during the war.


Could you give commanders an expert opinion in operations?

We could do it, but it was not our organizational task. Because of information we had, we tried to help commanders in making decisions. Some narrators had this spirit, such as martyr Taghi Rezvani, who was with Hasan Bagheri. They were so intimate that martyr Bagheri told him to abandon narrating and to be with him in decision makings. I was not very interested in military dimensions. So I did not address analysis of pure operational issues. But in total, since 1983, relationship between commanders and narrators had been different. Narrators played role of commander trustee. For example, martyrs Ebrahim Hemmat and Ahmad Kazemi took narrators' news and filled their information vacuums with narrator information. There was a meeting in headquarter of 27th Mohammad Rasulullah Division in Qalajeh on September 1983. Martyr Hemmat was waiting outside before entering the meeting. As I left the command, he took my hand. After greetings, he got me full details of what happened in the last meeting and then entered. Generally we were friend with commanders and this friendship is still ongoing. For example, in 2009, we went to Kerman to visit Museum of War with Mr. Rokhsattalab. Brother Raufi, who was commander of Valiasr 7th Division, was governorate of Kerman in 2009. They called his phone and announced that Ardestani is here. When we entered, he stood. Tearing in his eyes, he said, "Seeing you remembered me all period of the war." In fact, recording, notebook and clearsightness of narrators were interested by commanders of the war and were memorable for them.


Weren't you armed during the war?

No, because we did not fight in front line.


Despite dangers of battle scene, why were you not armed?

Narrators, like commanders of the army, were in danger because they should be along with commander at all moments. Wherever commander went, Iraqi Army fired that area with artillery and mortar. For example, in Operation Valfajr Moghadamati, commanders Rezaee, Rahim Safavi and Rashid were in 3d headquarter of Sahebalzaman Division where Iraq bombarded there. A number of drivers and bodyguards of Mr. Rezaee died a martyr.


How many narrators were in the war?

There were about 200 narrators in the fronts, of which about 27-28 had been dispatched from IRGC's political office. There were also a number from Basij or, for example, about 20 from Mofid high-school had come for narrating.


How many documents and recorded tapes have been remained from narrators?

About 33,000 tapes, several million documents, 800 reports, 1,200 notebooks, 10,000 calks and other documents have been collected.


What happened for these documents?

A part of tapes has been written and posted on internal website of Center for Documents and Research of Sacred Defense which are accessible through search.


Are not they confidential?

Some are confidential. But we have categorized access to them for searchers.


Do writings and recorded tapes of narrators need to adapt?

No, because we put tapes of narrators as base.


Do you think narrator's experiences are usable for possibly future wars?

These experiences can be used right now in different parts of the country. The most important disadvantage of bureaucracy in Third World countries is lack of accumulation and accretion of decision making and process of evolution. Every manager begins to work at the start of his career, without regard to previous programs, and causes discontinuity. There should be a research system in each part that people at the position of wartime narrators can be connect loop of the system. For example, wherever a minister is present, his talks and interviews should be recorded by these persons and then be examined and formulated by a team. By doing so, by replacing ministers in different periods, he/she can end what he/she has done so far. Each minister holds about a one of twenty five of the country's decision-making body, and it needs to be helped by dozens of people, apart from his/her managers. By doing so, at the same time using previous experiences, system also becomes dynamic. For example, they have recently concluded in IRGC that why narrating has not been continued after the war? As a result, they asked me to prepare a plan for narrators to begin work again.


When was narrating set aside?

Simultaneously cease-fire and adoption of the resolution, work of narrating was ended....


Regarding your explanations, given advancement of technology in recent years, if a war occurs, is it narrating still necessary?

Yes, because no technology can replace narrators because narrators write history of a nation. Today, for the sake of their work, in the Center for Documents and Research of Sacred Defense, there is a detail of a historical incident that did not exist in previous wars, such as Iran-Russia War. For example, commander Jafari asked me to compile project of IRGC capabilities during the holy defense that it is mainly result from minds of narrators and their observations. If it was intended to extract this information only from documents, it was not possible.


How did you get from narrating to Center for Sacred Defense Documents and Research?

The center was initially in war part in political department of IRGC from 1981 to the middle of 1983. Since 1984, the Center for Political Assistance of commanding has been founded and the Center for War Studies and Research has been formed since early 1985. Narrators came to the center and continued to their work until end of the war. The Center for Studies moved a downward slope since 2000 and was nearly forgotten. In 2007, Sardar Jafari suggested change name of the center, but I resisted against this change. He wanted call this body "The Center for Documents of Sacred Defense" and get a national name so that could be revived. The word "Research" was also added and eventually was called "the Center for Sacred Defense Documents and Research".


What information is currently being prepared in this center?

All war-related information in the center are saving and editing, and then will be available at the national level for researchers.


Have some of these documents been published in form of a book?

In new targeting, recorded tapes are categorized in terms of subject, and a number of those that constitute an issue are published in as a book. Now a part of Operation Valfajr-8 data has been published with focus on narrator's interview with Mohsen Rezaee.


Define narrating the war in a sentence.

Value-based efforts for keeping people national heritage and help preserving historical memory of Islamic society and connecting Iran past with its future.


And finally what is a trait for a narrator in your view?

Honesty and truthfulness of a narrator is the most important pillar of historiograph who does not interfere personal opinion.

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