Interview with Shahla Panahi, Author of "Comrade Like Rasoul"

Memory-writing is like making rosary

Faeze Sassanikhah
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Shahla Panahi is one of writers in field of memory-writing. He was graduated in field of communication, and collects and writes memories of Holy Shrine Defender martyrs. His activity in this area became an excuse so that Iranian Oral History Website talks with him about book of "Comrade like Rasoul" as well as methods of research and interview in writing his works.


When did you start memory-writing and how did you become interested in this field?
I loved and read the sacred defense books. For example, I read book of "Alley of Painters" two times in a short time. I felt it was the sweetest type of memory-writing. The book was written in a way that I would keep up with the narrator.

I really liked writing and practiced it so much. I repeatedly read a text which I wrote and amended it. The first collection of memory that I wrote and unfortunately was remained unfinished was memories of martyr Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan. After became acquaintance with the martyr's family, an intimate relationship had been created between martyr Ahmad Roshan's mother and I. I asked her to review memories of martyr Mostafa. Of course, my goal was not to publish a book. When she narrated memories of the martyr, I wrote them, and then she read them. After reading my writings, she told me: "You wrote very well as if you had seen what happened in Mustafa's childhood." His encouragement made me to pay more attention to writing and focus more on it....


How did you get acquainted with martyr Mohammad Hassan (Rasoul) Khalili, and how was it suggested you to write memories about him?
I was researching about life of martyr Reza Kargar Barzi in April 2015. I had an interview with a friend of the martyr who introduced me martyr Khalili. He was in charge of a higher rank of martyr Khalili. He said that one of our martyrs lives in Tehran and spoke about some of characteristics of martyr Khalili and his expertise in military destruction. He said: "I wish to do something about him."


Did you interview with narrators yourself?
For all my books, I do interviews myself.

How many people did you interview with for writing "Comrade Like Rasoul"? How much did it last?
I interviewed with about 30 people at around 60 hours. Selected people were comrades, colleagues, university classmates, and the martyr family. For example, I interviewed with the first coach of martyr Khalili, who had become familiar in middle school, in Basij and martyr Gharahi base, and also interviewed with his last commander. His friends were very wide and I could do good interviews. I even spoke with his friends at elementary, middle school and also his friends at a Heyat (a Shia congregation) in Rey.


Did you have any problem during interview with the narrators?
My biggest problem was coordination with the martyr comrades. Because it was height of the war in Syria and time of Aleppo's release. They went mission and had many missions. One of the major problems was also that I started interview with one of comrades, and it would remain unfinished until he went to Syria and returned. Sometimes it took one or two months.

How many meetings did you have with each narrator?
My method is that in the first session I allow narrator to talk about him/herself and his relationship with that martyr, in order to understand how is his relationship with martyr, and whether memory that he/she defines is a memory that he/she him/herself experienced it or heard from someone. Unfortunately, one of damages of our work is that some people narrate memories of others. For this reason, at the first session, I give narrator opportunity to say more about him/herself and martyr. Some interviews for this book were completed in one or two sessions, but they had important and short memories.

Some interviews, especially interviews with those friends of the martyr who lived in Tehran's Shahid Mahallati street, needed more time because of being neighbors and proximity of their tastes and beliefs and much greetings, which sometimes lasted to four sessions. In fact, interview time depended on type and amount of memory that narrator had of martyr. About Shahid Khalili's family also my first acquaintance was with his brother.


Was not it difficult to coordinate with family and hold interviews with family? Because you went to them when a long time has not been passed since martyr Khalili's martyrdom, and usually in this situation family isn't in a good mood, and retelling personal memories needs to get trust and pay attention to delicate points. How was formed process of making trust?

It was martyr's help and kindness. I met Rasoul's family before the first anniversary of his martyrdom. In the first meeting that I spoke with his brother and mother cassette player was off. I tried to open friendship in order to eliminate formal atmosphere. I thought I should give family a chance to trust me, in addition to being more acquainted. As you know, one of problems we have in interview is that sometimes interviewer him/herself decides and says this memory is important or not. Therefore, I should have treated in a way that the martyr's mother to express all that is related to Rasoul. For next meetings I wanted her to review memories and write important points that came to mind on a paper. One of important events and milestones of this work was good cooperation of martyr's mother with me. She had created a notebook and dedicated it to this work. The next meeting I went, she said, "I had forgotten to narrate this subject for you" and she narrated it. A friendly communication made me to interview easier and to have a better time with this family.


So, how many hours did you interview with the martyr family?
I think about twenty hours with his father, mother and other members of his family.

What method do you use during interview?
I guarantee narrator I am thirsty to hear her/his talk. Then I get confident with some partial and general questions. One of my ways in interview is that I put a gap between first and second or second and third sessions. During this time, I ask interviewee to think in order to remember new memories. It always happens and he/she says that a new memory is remembered or completes a previous memory.


How do you select and screen collected information for this book?
Because I had the glory to do work of collecting memories of three martyrs, from the very beginning I made a law for myself; I made a table from years when friends of martyr or his family tell memories about them, to know whether or not I have memories before or after. In this way, I had a time sequence. I continually read all implemented interviews to see what I have not asked yet and I have to ask in next session. Perhaps, a question may have remained unresponsive in interview due to introduction of a new topic. I checked these and asked in next meeting. I had also defined a framework for writing the work. In many of books which I read, it was only referred to ethics of martyrs, but I also wished to mention their specialties too, which is why I pointed out in the table that Basij period and college was ended, and the first deployment had taken place. On this basis, I found out where were gaps and I completed them. After collecting all interviews, I realized that martyr Khalili had a very good relationship with all people around him, that is he was intimate with his friends as much as he was close to his mother.


Is all information told by others? Wasn't there any handwritten by the martyr?
Of course, there was a scattered collection of his memories too. When I wanted to write memories, I told his mother, "I want to know about all his life", so his family graciously gave me his manuscripts. When I read them I saw that Rasoul was very comfortable in his writings, so I tried to put myself in his place and write the book. He had done a very interesting work and wrote, even in one line, about personal memories or events that were important to him. For example, about martyr Muharram Tork, he wrote: "Muharram also went. We remained alone." Or he had recorded a memory about Basij.


How familiar are you with interview techniques?
For some time, I worked with a group in 27th Mohammad Rasulullah Division (PBUH) regarding martyrs of Meisam battalion. Our work was to research and collect resources. There was a partnership called Mr. Zamani who was in charge of investigation. He taught interview points very well, and I learned very well during the course how to do interview.

Have you had any library and field research for your works?
For memories of martyr Khalili no, but for memories of martyr Shirkhani yes. The work was in a way that I had to study. I studied about Rappel in memories of martyr Khalili. He was skillful in Rappel and I had to learn about it. I even went to Rapp class in a short course so that I could write about it. Rappel is technique of falling and climbing with a buffer cord, a rope that a person can fasten it in a height like a bridge in order to climb or down.


What are differences and similarities of the three books you wrote about three martyrs?
All three martyrs were from one unit and from sepāh-e qods (Quds Force), but they had different expertise. Their learning environment was similar and they had passed some courses with each other completely. But I recorded book of "Yaqub Eyes" includes memories about martyr Reza Kargar from view of his father, a father who while Reza corpse had given back but still expected to know how had been his son martyrdom?  Until in the last pages of the book one person comes and narrates how Reza died a martyr. But in book of Martyr Khalili, narrator is martyr himself and narrates his memories. It was completely different about martyr Kamal Shirkhani in book of "Chamrosh", it is a cut of memories. In the work narrators tell their memories and go.
I always felt that I could write about them if I went to Syria and in fact saw the events directly. But when I started, I saw I could address history and oral memories in another way too, because of the same timeline that I designed for myself. Again, I made a table for myself, and saw carefully documentaries related to the Syrian war which were numerous, even if it was short documentary.


Which part is difficulty of work of memory-writing?
It's hard to link contents. When interviews are implemented and juxtaposition, you see people have narrated some memories and gone; it's very important to infiltrate all contents through a same filter and juxtapose them. Sometimes I think that memory-writing is like making a rosary in a way that beads should be sequential, and distance between beads is low, and they cannot move around much. It needs to be a linkage among memories. It's hard to find a link between all contents.


How is your way to find out people who have memory?
Before an interview, I think about what and who I want to work on. I prepare myself for interview and conduct necessary research or studies. In cyberspace, I also investigate and identify face of that person or his/her friends, or go to grave of the martyr, and if his friends come there I find them. In case of Quds Force martyrs, the initial list to be provided by their workplace, and they introduce colleagues and comrades. When I interviewed with them, I asked could I interview with this person named Hussein and you talked about him? I found new people in this way.
In this work, there was also some certain bitterness for me and for some reasons I was prevented to work for four months and my problem was solved by invoking to the martyr. I went to grave of martyr Khalili and told him: "Mr. Rasoul, you made friendship for all your friends, I want you to be friendly with me and take my hand." Perhaps you do not believe that during three or four days the problem was solved and I started again.


Why did you choose among all martyrs of Islamic Revolution writing memories about Holy Shrine Defender martyrs?
I wish I would be one of defenders of Holy Shrine of al-Sayyida Zaynab. I did not have ability to fight in Syria as a military man, that's why I wanted to have a role in this situation. By writing these books and particularly paying attention to expertise of these martyrs, I tried to introduce them to society and future generations, and at the same time I would be soldier of Zaynab bint Ali. Writing these books is my role in this way.

Thank you for giving your time to Iranian Oral History Website.


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