Session on “Debris and Yell: A Reflection on Oral History of Kermanshah Earthquake”-3

Oral History and Oral Historiography

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by: Fazel Shizard


According to Iranian Oral History Website, the session on "Debris and Yell: A Reflection on Oral History of Kermanshah Earthquake" was held in Dr. Parham Hall in Islamic Republic of Iran's Documents of the National Library and Archives Center on Tuesday's morning, January 15, 2019. In the first part of this session's report, you read the statements of Sabah Khosravizadeh, the session's administrator and the expert of the Documents of the National Library and Archives, and Sabah Ghanbari, member of the project and compilation of oral history of earthquake in Kermanshah and the first speaker of the session. In the second part of the session, Iraj Varfinezhad, another member of the project and compilation of oral history of earthquake in Kermanshah detailed the experiences of himself and his colleague in carrying out the project. The third and final part of the report is dedicated to question and answer that was made after the speeches of member of the project and compilation of Kermanshah's earthquake oral history.


Analysis at the time of event

Narjes Javidi from the National Audit Office of the National Library and Archives was one of those who attended in the session. Referring to Sabah Ghanbari's words about history, he said: "You say that the events of our time are considered history, but in my view they are historical data. That is, historians can collect the data, but it needs time for getting an analysis and a result and put together a few similar things. If we put together the interviews of Manjil[1] earthquakes, Bam[2] and Sarpol-e Zahab earthquakes, we can get some tips that are more usable. History is not the gathering of these events, but the use that is made of these historical data in the present. This is the benefit that historian brings to society, not just to gather data; I mean in general terms, both history and oral history. If the results are not the result of retelling of events, then history will not work. If we gathered the data several times about how much people were sad, how much organizations confused and what happened, they won't work; we should look at these together in a historical way, and the result we get is the result of our historical work. "

In response to Narjes Javidi, Iraj Varfinezhad said: We have two categories, oral history and oral historiography. Oral history is what you say, collecting historical data, away from any critique, analysis, and evaluation. It is that, what narrator tell we gather, integrate and edit it, but do not enter into a scholarly work. This is oral history, and of course, this is very important, why? Because it can be used both in the present time and the future, and when it uses in the present time, it is oral historiography. Historiography means passing from a stage where only data is collected. When we put together earthquake data, for example, we dismiss the doubt in earthquake with scientific reasoning and entanglement, and enter the domain of oral historiography. It can happen in the present time, other documents may come out in the future and in a complementary form, but it does not mean that it cannot happen in its own time. "

Sabah Ghanbari replied to Narjes Javidi: "I think that we agree at least at one point, that the historian should pay attention to what happens in time, But the state of disagreement is that this happened in time and there is data, but there is still no historical work, and I disagree here with you and consider this view to continue the industrialist view. In this view, the data that is gathered must be kept out of use for a long time. The next documents should come out. It must take time. I say that this kind of look leads to neglect of the major in present events. If we do not consider this, we cannot do a good analysis at the time. My question to you is what is wrong. We are going to gather and analyze the data, even if it's a mistake. At least, we analyzed it in the present time, and then we have the opportunity to edit until ten years, we correct them; either right or wrong, but at least, we have not lost the dynamic mind of historian. This the wrong thing that we have also in compilation of oral history. Dr. Zargarinezhad posed one of the errors in the method, saying that many historians gather lots of historical data and create hundreds or thousands of historical data without any analysis. Suddenly researcher find himself faced with lots of gathered data; how do they formulate them? Here, tiredness prevail researcher, and s/he does not have the dynamic mentality that was taking place during the recording. I agree with Dr. Zargarinezhad and believe if we have this data, we will analyze, even if it is a mistake. Some believe the data, which is made in oral history, is raw and must be compared with official texts and other data, and then become real. I do not believe it, how should we trust this official data and say that this is history and do not trust the data of that public person.  In my opinion, we are not facing with raw data in oral history too. Incidentally, it's the same history, but according to all the way in history and the official words of the ministry must be criticized first, this is also in oral history."


Without distraction

Hooria Sa'idi, a scholar of the field of history continues about choosing cases:" In spite of all problems, in addition to the head of household, wife, husband and child, medics who were involved in event, were those who were under debris or on the debris chosen as case for your work?"

Varfinezhad said in response to this question: "Is your question that we should subjected to multiple cases?" Yes. We talked with two girls, one middle school student and one high school student who lost all their family members. They were fathered by their grandparents and their uncles. We also had a case who was 5 or 6 years old and we tried to hear his story. He spoke a bit, but some sentence that he mentioned was worthwhile. We did not interview with relief organizations, and we thought that we had justifiable reason. Because there were lots of relief organizations, it would be problematic if we entered this phase and did interview with an organization and did not do with another. On the other hand, we would have entered a more formal narration, perhaps a narration that any organization tried to confiscate relief in its own favor. Of course, we wanted to do the second phase of the project with their focus, but we still did not get the result to do it. "

"Anyone who is a driver of mechanical excavator may work for a crescent, but he is a person." said Saidi.

"At that time when we did interview, it was virtually impossible for us because of workload," said Varfinezhad.

"During this period, the area was completely politicized and there was a dominant security eye. We were afraid to step on some privacy and try to work without distraction." replied Ghanbari to Hooria Sa'idi.


How many persons were interviewed?

Then, Nader Parvaneh, director of Historian Publication said:" You started oral history on time, but you have to start documentation since that time on. People have a good look at the army, you should use militants. There were a lot of different cases, but it is important that whether you could cover all the cases. Another important point is that oral history should still be continued. If there is an earthquake in the Gilan-e Gharb[3]now, the people's opinion of this area about the cause of earthquake must be documented. However, you should audit and should be audited in publication."

In the following, Shafigheh Niknafs, the head of oral history group of the National Library and Archives of Iran, asked:" How many persons were interviewed?"

Niknafs said: "to solve the difficulty of translating interviewees’ Kurdish language to Persian, a bilingual book can be published. If we look at the time passed an incident, it's not mean that the incident is kept away, the most of reason is that the narrator or that person who provides historical data can be more realistic about the incident. The number of injuries you mentioned was the because of work that was very alive. If one or two years pass, many of these injuries will be reduced, like HAARP[4]. It was one of common issue in cyberspace at that time. "

Varfinezhad replied:" I agree that our interview has an emotional smell and color, but passing time through the accident is like two-edged sword. That rational space predominates to a large extent, but what we took is no longer said, because naturally some of the memories are lost. If we want to interview now, more than fifty percent of details that we received during our interviews will be reduced. Due to conservatism, some things can't be not said. You are right, and I fully accept it."

Ghanbari said in response to Shafigheh Niknafs:"There is a point about these interviews that our method was a sympathetic one, and they would like to speak with someone if they confided in it." This sympathy is no longer there. Now, if you get yourself ready with all knowledge and facilities for an interview, you cannot get enough information from them, because they no longer have a sense of sympathy don’t want to talk, but at that time they needed someone hear their words. I accept that it is harmful, but its benefit is more valuable than let time pass."


Session on "Debris and Yell: A Reflection on Oral History of Kermanshah Earthquake" -1

Session on "Debris and Yell: A Reflection on Oral History of Kermanshah Earthquake" -2


[1] It is a city in the Central District of Rudbar County, Gilan Province, Iran.

[2] it is a city and capital of Bam County, Kerman Province, Iran. At the 2006 census, its population was 73,823, in 19,572 families. The modern Iranian city of Bam surrounds the Bam citadel. Before the 2003 earthquake the official population count of the city was roughly 43,000. 

[3] It is the capital city of Gilan-e Gharb County, Kermanshah Province, Iran. Gilan-e Gharb is the second resistant city after Khoramshahr, which was the first resistant city during the Iran-Iraq war.

[4] The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program was initiated as an ionosphere research program jointly funded by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It was designed and built by BAE Advanced Technologies. 

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