Meeting on oral history of Islamic Revolution of Iran – 1

Two viewpoints regarding the hidden angles of oral history of revolution

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


A meeting on the oral history of the Islamic Revolution of Iran was held in Dr. Parham Hall of the National Library and Archives of Islamic Republic of Iran on Monday 21st of January 2019, Iranian Oral History website reported.

The Head of the Research Center of the National Library and Archives of Islamic Republic of Iran, Gholam Reza Azizi was the head of the meeting. He said, “The life of oral history in Iran dates back to after the victory of the Islamic Revolution. It means that oral history was a phenomenon which grew up and flourished with the occurrence of the Islamic Revolution and is now passing its maturity period. It is correct that the first project was Mr. Lajevardi’s project (Harvard Oral History) which carried out outside Iran, but it both was done by the Iranians and the interviews were conducted with the Iranians and was also about Iran. It can be said that that it was an Iranian project whose only capital and behind-the-scene hands were foreigners.

We are on the verge of the fortieth anniversary of the victory of the Islamic revolution this year. The subject we have selected for you today and the speakers are supposed to speak about it, has a little amphibology. Is the revolution itself centered on or oral history? Do we want to present the oral history of the revolution or the connection of the revolution with oral history? Perhaps, this amphibology has been created intentionally so that the speakers can express their opinions a little more broadly.


Reviewing of social developments

The Deputy of Oral History of the National Library and Archives of Islamic Republic of Iran, Morteza Mirdar was the first speaker. He said, “Do we now have to say that the continuity of the oral history of the revolution is the same that Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul) identified for us as a calendar? June 6 is the origin of the victory of the Islamic revolution and the Islamic movement. Well, this is correct in one sense in terms of the calendar. There were a few social and political movements with religious motivations before the 6th of June. But, June 6 is the origin of the rest of developments in our society. This great social and political development has a cultural attachment in terms of continuity that we should look for it in the past. When we say “Islamic revolution”, the adjective “Islamic” indicates that the religion, religious scholars and Ulema, theologians and those whose attachment to religion is high were the source of change. It does not mean that rest had no role. They created the social movement mostly. 

If we want to talk about the Islamic revolution in the same approach, the works that have been released so far inside and outside the country, the works that have been carried out by the entire institutions inside the country are insignificant and weak against the event that has happened. The works done by our group is usually elitism. The history of the descendant or the history of the destitute and the history of the deprived have not been achieved. At present, consider our social movements in this period more like a miner. We are following the political aspect of the work. We have to review the social developments of the Islamic revolution and open the various dimensions of a society. This means that today we have the approach of political history in oral history rather than social history. I am of the view that there are friends who are working hard in the area of the Islamic Revolution, and it is true that they selected somehow the pioneers of the movement, but we are not supposed to continue such things. For instance, I ask a question in social discussion: in the social atmosphere of that time, Imam Khomeini talks about (God bless his soul) backwardness in Qom, how much have we come and inside the Qom society and the seminaries and investigated what this current has been? The imam who always tries to be patient and accompanies rest of the people, in a place where he wants to read Al-Shiqshiqiyya Sermon (One of the best sermons in Nahj al-Balagha, touches upon the developments in Qom Seminary. And now where do we have these in historiography and oral history of the revolution? Nowhere. Or the message of the Imam regarding the clerical charter in 1988 says that in 15th of Khordad (June 6) which was the origin of the beginning of Islamic development, the thing which was worse than the Shah's bullets, were those who were nagging. The nagger was not a young cleric. The Imam was not informed of the nagging of the young cleric. Thus, the people who are nagging do not agree with such social movement and certainly, there were people whose voices were heard by the Imam. Or the Imam says that a few religionists accompanied the people in the streets and accused of infidelity and espionage. This is our past; a man, who is sensitive toward social developments of a society, is political. It is said that the clergies are political, and they consider it equal to dependence and the Imam broke all of these without being dependent to a current. He created a new identity. Who are these? We miss these in our work, in the history of seminaries and in the history of the Islamic revolution which we are on the verge of its fortieth anniversary and are supposed to put the origin of the history of the revolution as the approach of oral history. Or the westernized current. Both the backwardness and westernized currents are important for the Imam; what have we done concerning the westernized current? There are people whom we can write their memories, say and criticize. We could not find the historical data of these general concepts in these instances; historical data means that we do not generalize merely. We must express the work in various social aspects. So I think that we and all of institutions are following the political aspects of the memories with a surface work.

We in oral history have to pay attention to the depth of social developments certainly and on the other hand, should deal with the history of the people who took part in student movement, clerical movement or bazar movement or other places. We see that on the verge of the revolution, many moves took place. Different people, who express the memories of the days of the revolution, have just one general thing in their mind. They could not express in the sense of calendar, day by day or in details which has its own particular reasons. We in the history of the Islamic revolution pay more attention to political aspects of the current of the revolution rather than social development; it means that the whole strata of the society have participated in this great social movement which led to the victory of the Islamic revolution. Our approach has a kind of elitism. We in the past said that history is the history of the elected and the elite and now, we ourselves are heading toward that direction instead of expressing social moves.  For example, we had 18,000 political prisoners before the revolution. Where are they now? We in the fortieth anniversary of the Islamic revolution have to pay attention to all the hidden and secret angles of this great Islamic movement.”  


Formal and informal readings

The second speaker of the meeting was Mohsen Kazemi, author and history researcher. He said, “The subject of the meeting is oral history of the Islamic revolution. As Mr. Azizi pointed out, which should be centered? Oral history? Islamic revolution? Or oral history of the Islamic revolution? In my opinion, we can look at the issue from two angles and that is whether we should look at oral history for the Islamic revolution in terms an outcome or a process. Regarding the outcome, we must see what has been the function of the institutions, organizations and centers, and criticize and review them. But if we look in terms of a process, we should see where the ornament point of this oral history is? And what developments and process have gone through during this procedure? And what is the goal and destination? These can be discussed in the debate of process.

Oral history by itself, started four decades late in Iran, but it hastily progressed and today we hear different voices from around Iran the sound of which is loud about oral history. In Iran, oral history has two categories; one is the Islamic revolution and the other the sacred defense. The most facilities and mobilized mechanisms have been used for the two categories and many institutions and organizations regarded this as their duty and responsibility and went ahead; but has oral history has stopped in the war and the Islamic revolution? We can say that it has stopped, because other works that have been carried out are not so deep to say that it has shaken other artistic, economic and guild currents. Things have been done but comparing with the revolution and war are very more limited; the works done by Dr. Ali Asghar Saeedi in the field of economic oral history; the oral history done by Mr. Mohammad Hashsem Akbariani concerning literature and the oral history of arts or oral history of music about which things have been done on a case-by- case basis, but has not been discusses in the form of a current.

Now this question arises why the Islamic revolution has been able to influence oral history to this current extent and have also an impact on oral history; in other words, why has it been able to play such a role? The reason is that we must accept that a fundamental change has been carried out in the social and political history of oral and that is the revolution which we later define its Islamic suffix in Iran’s sovereignty. Has this revolution had a series of influential factors and has started from a point or has had background factors and then has it come to an end with 22nd of Bahman 1357 (11th of February 1979) or we have still remained as revolutionaries? These are the discussions that oral history deals with them through entering the minds of the owners of memories and power owners. But what kind of revolution has it been, is a basic question that the oral history has not been able to enter it proficiently or the oral historians discuss about it. In the small work Mr. Ramin Jahanbagloo did about Hossain Nasr and in the work done by Mr. Dariush Shaygan, they move toward intellectual discussions. I mean that we have not worked seriously on the history of the thought of revolution in the form of oral history and its performance is limited too. By referring to experts, we must question, criticize and interpret the subject that what kind of revolution has it been?

What can be concluded from the outcome is that the oral history of the Islamic revolution has been struggling in our territorial limitation and has not been able to allow the groups, organizations and political parties to be included. Because the historical movement that we depicted and supposed for it is a horizontal line and this line has an ideological border and since we have lowered the upper limit of this ideological border and this line, many groups and organizations went out of the line. What has been formed under the oral history of the Islamic revolution, in our territorial limitation goes back basically to the Muslim fighters, in a way that the responsibility of the National Library and Archives of Islamic Republic of Iran, the Art Center and the Institute for Iranian Contemporary History and other centers working in this field is to compile the memoirs and oral history of the Muslim fighters, why? Because the revolution itself has the Islamic term formally and other groups and organizations find no room to discuss anymore. This does not mean that such issues are not dealt with outside Iran, but we have not paid attention to these in a scope which we are called as sovereign and try to keep oral history in the same borders that I mentioned. In a way that today our attention and trust in history have lessened and credibility toward what we say, write and publish among the public opinion, has decreased. We know that the origin of the Islamic revolution is not just the year 1342 (1963). Historical subjects and phenomena are interconnected like a chain and affect each other like domino tiles. We have also incidents, events and groups which have been active before 1963. We should know that the revolution is the product of a modern atmosphere by itself and in this modern atmosphere, many schools, organizations and groups have played a role or divulged thoughts and then later either have vanished from the political scene or part of them have managed to keep themselves. If we take a look, there were many groups or organization which were active against the Pahlavi regime ranging from the 53-person group, Tudeh Party, Fadaiyan Islam (Devotees of Islam), People's Fedai Guerrillas, Ranjbaran Organization, Islamic Nations Party, the groups of Badr, Mansooroon, Twohid and so on and all of them were active in this revolutionary process and managed to have a share in the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979 through strategic unity. Where are the status of these groups and organizations, the thoughts and ideologies? Where of the history are they seen? We as a forty-year sovereign have certainly achieved greatness, but can we talk about all of these things? Or are we still in captivity of tight circles? If we cannot deal with and criticize and review them, others will do this for us, or we make the people, the main owners of thoughts hesitate and will refer to other sources. Finally, they will find the fact, but we really neglected in this field as a sovereign. In the fortieth anniversary of the victory of the Islamic revolution, we should accept the fact that all of the groups, organizations with all of thoughts, ideologies and beliefs were involved in the victory of the revolution and all of these came forward in a global context. The global context should also be explained so that we can describe, explain and analyze the history of the Islamic revolution. To me, at preset, we have shortage of thought; it means that we have not done a thoughtful work at least in the form of oral history. I hope we can provide the possibility and capacity to hear more voices, see and read other readings of the history of the revolution, and do not read history only in its formal form; informal readings can also be heard.”                                      

To be continued...

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