Meeting on oral history of Islamic Revolution of Iran – 2

Oral history should contribute to recognize our history

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.
In the first part of the full report of the meeting, you read the texts of the speeches by Gholam Reza Azizi, the Head of the Research Center of the National Library and Archives of Islamic Republic of Iran as well as the meeting’s head, Morteza Mirdar, the Deputy of Oral History of the National Library and Archives of Islamic Republic of Iran, and Mohsen Kazemi, an author and a history researcher.


Oral history is a collective work

In continuation of the meeting on oral history of the Islamic revolution of Iran, Morteza Rasouli Pour, a history writer and researcher said, “I have a problem between the two words of history and its being oral. We say oral history. Unfortunately, in most of such meetings, we have had less discussion and understanding of history. On this basis, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of the victory of the Islamic revolution, let me say that the trainees of oral history have less recognition of Iranian history. First, I myself and then the others have no recognition of Iranian history. That is why the produced products are not so hot. I do not mean that the work (oral history) of Harvard University is far superior, no not at all. It also does not so hot in another way. We have not recognized history well. So have contemporary history.

If we look at the issue from this angle, two main developments happened in Iranian contemporary history which caused us to recognize the events that had happened before them well: one is Shahrivar 1320 in the Iranian solar calendar corresponding to August 1941, and the other is the Islamic revolution. In the years after August 1941, many documents were released for 12 years and in the shadow the relative atmosphere created in the society. For instance, Hossein Kei Ostowan did great things in this period. He cooperated with Mirza Hasan Roshdieh, the sixth term representative of the Iranian Majlis (parliament). He had a role in the Constituent Assembly and was the editor of Muzaffar daily. He owned many documents. Later, SAVAK (Shah’s secret police) stormed his house in the years 1957 and 1958 and I do not know what happened to the documents. During the revolution, what did we know from the trial of Dr. Mosaddegh? If someone has studied the note of the late Jalil Bozorg Mehr, he or she knows that he hid the speeches of Dr. Mosaddegh, the documents of the appeals sessions and the court hearings in the garden of his house with much difficulty and found the opportunity to make them public in 1979. Or about the event of the 16th of Azar (7th of December), after the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979, the late Dr. Mustafa Chamran write his own report who was the eyewitness of the event. Later, in the meetings held by the National Front in 1979, the late Dr. Abdolhossain Khalili who was the Dean of the Technical College found the opportunity to describe the details of the event; we had almost no correct information of such events.

I said these as examples. The second case was the late Dr. Ali Naqi Shayan Far of whom I was aware. He explained that when the event of the Shah’s escape took place on 16th of December 1953, how Dr. Mosaddegh left a mission to Brigadier General to go and seal off the palace. He explained what we obtained there and found out that who was Dr. Ernest Brown. We did not know who Dr. Ardesh J. was. The information was provided for us in light of the freedom of documents in the Islamic revolution. From this viewpoint, I have a practical look at the Islamic revolution in order to say what benefits it had for our better understanding of the events and our concept toward the past developments.

Ali Naqi Shayan Far explained when even the members of the Pahlavi’s family had a request from the Shah, they asked Ernest Brown to say this or that request to him. It is very interesting. He says that among the documents found in the palace, we saw pornographic photos, and when we informed Dr. Mosaddegh of this, he said, “Set them aside. It is very shameful”. Later, against Dr. Mosaddegh in the court, Azmoodeh said that you ordered on 17th of August not to swear at the Shah in the morning military ceremonies anymore and to swear at the flag. In response, Mosaddegh says that I am not going to overthrow at all. My view is something else. This is another proof that it can be said that Dr. Mosaddegh like our generation was not ready to reveal unethical things, because his focus was on the country on the whole.   

The event that caused a great service after the revolution was that the documents were freed. It is worth mentioning that we know the Pahlavi period better through interviewing former dignitaries. It means that the officials of the former regime knew the weak points of the Pahlavi regime better. Take a look at the memoirs of Khosrow Shahi, Yeganeh and Alikhani; they explain about the problems, shortcomings, possibilities and bottlenecks, and describe the characteristics of the Shah to us, and what was their understanding of the society and political and economic changes? Do we have any work more valuable than the one for example Jamshid Amoozegar has done in his book? There are lots of information inside them. However, wrong things have also been intertwined and many problems have been shouldered to others. All of these are available in the memories and we have enjoyed more from the works which have remained for us and from reading the interviews and memories they have written. If those who were in the revolutionary courts in 1979 paid attention to this, I mean of they had good and correct recognition of both Sharia and religious issues and the Pahlavi period and allowed people like Howeida expressed his memoirs and recognition of that period, we would be able to recognize that period better. Thus, we can obtain much information from the memoirs of Amini, Sharif Emami, Alam, Yeganeh, Abolhasan Ebtehaj, Alikhani, Mr. Nasr, General Mobaser, Fardoust and so on. Another part was those who looked at the Pahlavi regime from the outside angle. They were the fighters whose memoirs had a supplementary aspect, but the inner recognition of the Pahlavi regime was the same information they gave it to us. The point that I should refer to here regarding the history of the Islamic revolution and what has been carried out in oral history is that as Mr. Kazemi and Mr. Azizi mentioned correctly, we have not had something named oral history in the concept used today, but there were records of collecting the information of former dignitaries and some of them can be seen in the journals of Armaghan and Yaghma and the memoirs of Vahid. These were good and valuable works which had been done, but many of them did not have the nature of conversation. When we were involved in this work, the revolution had been faced with the issue of the war and we had no opportunity to do this. Perhaps, I and Mrs. Shafiqeh Nik Nafs and more or less other persons were among the first ones who started working on oral history in Iran immediately after the termination of the war. As they mentioned correctly, the record of this work was in Harvard University and until that time, three or four works had been carried out. One of them was the interviews conducted by Mr. Azar Nour with Iraj Eskandari. Also, the memories of Mr. Amini were released and republished in Iran in 1991. There was also another prominent work with conversation format, namely what has been produced is not a conversation and that is the memoirs of Haj Mehdi Araqi which has precedence over other things. When he was in Paris and had gone to meet Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul), Mohammad Torkaman and some his friends had an interview with him which is readable and valuable.

When we were involved in this story, did not know well that oral history is a collective work. At present, some people do this individually which cannot be very effective. Of course, I don’t mean that the works carried out in the west are great ones, but I call a character named Steven Sackur who talks to BBC. You see how his interview is alive, coherent and tight and has no bashfulness, but this is the result of the work of fifty persons; there is a studying group from outside who reinforce him. I really have not seen an interview like the one conducted by Sackur with Ilan Pappe in criticizing the Israeli Zionist system. The information obtained in criticizing the regime was very strong for us. We think that if everyone has a recorder, can do this, but it is not true. Interview is the process of a group work and this should be strengthened with different individuals so that a good interview is obtained. This is the subject to which we have to pay attention and if a historic work is supposed to be carried out – because oral history does not have a meaning apart from history – it should contribute to recognize our history. History is not the assembling of a series of narrations or legends; an evaluation should be beside it. In response to the question raised by the audience, the concept of history is formed on the basis of the needs of every period. It should be noted that the collection of a series of information is not merely historiography and the interviewers should have basic questions. What we see in the published works is a composition and combination of memory-writing and oral history; it means that parts of them are the memoirs of the persons and part of it, is responding to the questions which the interviewer has. The interviewer has to study and this should be boosted. There is no flimsy information in them which do not solve any problem and it just a waste of time; they should be set aside and this is an important point. If you summarize some of these books, you see what the main points of these memories and interviews are. The articles of a person named Voltaire who wrote the history of Louis XIV wars refer to this point. He can be considered one of the prominent figures of the idea in oral history. As far as I know, he is the one who for the first time points out that the deprived and lower classes have not been even seen in historical writings; who write their history? In an article for the people of encyclopedia, he wrote, “You have no words to tell us except one Berber was substituted another Berber in Sihun and Jihun bank. What’s the use of this?” This also refers to what I mentioned for you.   


We must set aside bias in oral history

In continuation of the meeting on the oral history of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Mohammad Hossain Asghar Nia, a member of the Strategic Council of Islamic Azad University talked about the survivors of 7th of Tir 1360 (28th of June 1981) and those who were present in the meeting. He said, “we one hundred people were present  in an incident which was named as the third revolution; 22nd of Bahman (11th of February) is the first revolution, the second one is the seizure of the den of espionage and 7th of Tir is the third revolution. But nobody followed the incident, as they did not follow the incident of 8th of Shahrivar 1360 (30th of August 1981).  I am from the city of Rasht. A job is prevailed every week, every month or every season there. We are dealing with history in such a way. We have to set aside bias in oral history.  We always do such things in the last moments; for example, the TV has nothing to do with me, but when the 7th of Tir happens, they come to me. Our advisors and friends here know the privacy of the experts and this is very important. We chanted the slogan “Independence, Freedom and Islamic Republic”. It’s fair to say that we achieved the independence and nobody makes a decision for us with whom we should have relation and with whom we should not. But you who have sat there, be a little free. There were people in the university who had a role in the revolution. There were also other groups. Who had a role after the revolution? Who are the servants and traitors of the revolution? Continue your work. The human beings must express their thoughts continuously, reasonably and documented.”


To be continued …


Meeting on oral history of Islamic Revolution of Iran – 1: Two viewpoints regarding the hidden angles of oral history of revolution



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