Interview with Minoo Khani on “War to Holy Defense”

Interviews that are talks of today

Recognizing the history close to oral history

Arrangement: Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian



The book "War to Sacred Defense; Text & Sub-text" contains twenty conversations about the social effects of war and its reflection on the works of artists curated by Dr. Minoo Khani, has been recently published (November 2019) in 221 pages, by Homay Art. Print. The book contains interviews with Habib Ahmadzadeh, Emadeddin Afroogh, Mahmoud Ekramifar, Davood Amirian, Hedayatollah Behboodi, Ebrahim Hatamikia, Ahmad Reza Darvish, Ahmad Dehghan, Mohammad Hassan Rajabi, Mohsen Rezaie, Farhad Sasani, Hessam Eddin Seraj, Morteza Sarhangi, Mohammadreza Sangari, Ibrahim Fayaz, Abdoljabar Kakaie, Alireza Kamari, Mohammad Sadegh Koushaki and Ali Akbar Velayati. Read the interview of the Iranian Oral History Website reporters with the creator of the book below.


*How did the content of the book came to life?

This book contains interviews that I did for my doctoral dissertation. The title of my thesis is "Reflections of war on post 1981 paintings in Iran", after the Iraq's imposed war against Iran. I wanted to focus on the paintings in Iran affected by war; however, it required some infrastructures. My French teacher, Dr. Christophe Bale, believed that I should have a sociological approach on the Iraq war against Iran and analyze the paintings accordingly. The reason being that he had been in Iran twice and stayed here four or five years every time. In addition to his deep knowledge of contemporary Iranian literature, he was well acquainted with the Iranian war literature and the Office of Literature and Art of the Department of Art Resistance and has read many war memoirs and even has some of these books in his library. Hence, he believed that the war was a special social phenomenon for the Iranians. Another point was that he believed that Iranian artists have an informed approach to the war and this social phenomenon and represented it in their works. So, the infrastructure for criticizing and studying war paintings had to address these two aspects. He recommended that I should interview a wide range of artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, and even war commanders and those who were somehow involved in the war, and ask these two basic questions. Well, I started my project with these people first instead of focusing on the paintings. I conducted over twenty interviews in 2009 and 2010. One or two interviews remained for the following years. For example, the interview with Mr. Ahmad Reza Darvish took place in 2012.



*Were you satisfied with the results?

Yes, because I was looking for people who had done works on war particularly artists. I was able to talk to prominent people, and because I was searching for the answer to my second question, “why do artists deal with the phenomenon of war?” And "why do they make war the subject to their art work?” I interviewed the leading artists and writers in this field. Of course, theater actors and graphic designers are absent in this series, but I interviewed poets, authors, memoir writers, filmmakers and even Mr. Hessamuddin Seraj who was not directly present in the front, and Mohssen Nafar with whom the music of war came to life in 1980s. In addition, I interviewed some politicians, such as Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati and commanders such as Mr. Mohsen Rezai or Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Koushaki, a political science professor at the university.

*How did you decide to publish the interviews in a book?

From the beginning, I was advised to be more serious about these interviews. After graduation, I was given the opportunity to publish them. I first approached two institutions related to the Holy Defense art and literature, but since theater artists and graphic designers were not included in my work, they refused to publish; but I believed and still believe that no other interviews could or should be added to these series. Because these interviews were conducted in 2009 and 2010, and adding new interviews to the series was not professional, as today's social situation is very different from that of ten years ago. So the interviewees are in a different situation, and the interviews would have been very different. I also believe that being asked the same questions from the same people now, the answers would be different. However, some experts that I consulted believed that these interviews have unique characteristics which necessitate their publication; the fact that “the content is still fresh and can be the argument of today” meaning that they are useful. Some interviews reflect issues that have never been argued by these people. In other words, these interviews fostered the grounds for new arguments; arguments that are still relevant today.

*You said that for the doctoral dissertation, you create some infrastructures for the interviews. Why Interview? Did your university advisor suggest using this template? The interviewees might have been able to submit written answers to your questions or present relevant articles.

Interview is a research method. In French academic research, field studies are very important; either interviews or development of questionnaires. Since the intent is to produce something that didn't exist before. This is an important aspect in research and might serve as a means to promote studies which my result in science production. I realized that these two questions, “Whether Iran war has transformed into a social phenomenon?” and “Why artists base their art work on the war?” were not addressed in the books. It necessitated that I take action.

In response to your question that these individuals might have answered in writing or presented articles that they had previously written I must say that these people had nothing prepared on these topics. The second issue is that most of them are not writers. Besides, the events during in an interview never occur in written texts. These individuals might have reflected their point of view in writing but it would fulfill my research needs. Hence, I had to go with interviews. Particularly that I was studying abroad and spent half of my time here and half in France; these people might have never taken the time to respond to my questions. I conducted my interviews during my stays in Iran. Some of these interviews were reflected in my dissertation as required; of course not in the form of interview; the remaining volume was left to be published today.

On the other hand, considering my media experience I was certain that I can’t rely on peoples’ promise to answer my questions in writing and realization of this research required constant follow up which was not possible for me. Besides, having submitted the two questions and received answers in writing, their point of views would have never been so live and vivid. They would have included issues in their written response which would have created other questions for me; the same that goes on in an interview. It means that the key questions were presented to these individuals and further technical questions were asked as per each individual’s expertise. It means that interview revealed more results.

*How did you select these twenty individuals?

The main criteria of selection was their involvement in the Holy Defense. Considering my limited media experience in the field of Holy Defense Art, I knew these artists and writers. I started with the best; those who were directly involved in the war and created literary or art works later on this issue; considering that my professor recommended a wide range of individuals, I included politicians, commanders and even university professors. Also, at the beginning, my intention was not to interview twenty people but those who were somehow involved in the war. The field work should continue to a point that you feel you have covered all grounds. So, when these twenty interviews were conducted, I felt that I have enough content to address these questions and stopped. Maybe that is why the theater and graphic design are not included.

*You successfully interviewed prominent figures for your topic…

Sometimes it is not easy to interview individuals that you know well. They feel that during such interviews they might reveal arguments that they prefer to keep to themselves. However, since I knew these people and they trusted that I will truthfully reflect their true intentions, I managed to interview them successfully. Honesty is the key in recording oral memoirs and interviews; I make sincere effort to reflect arguments accordingly. This was my approach during all my years of media work. I even try to maintain the tone of the interview; the same applies here. I stayed loyal to their tone and tried to create proper content structure. On the other hand, since my dissertation was for a French university, most of these individuals preferred to have someone conduct the interviews whom they were familiar with and trusted. It was an opportunity to prepare a written document containing arguments raised in Iran even if it was in the form of a dissertation archived in the university library. This very fact, facilitated my work. For instance, the interviews with Mohssen Rezaie and Mr. Velayati were very difficult to arrange. I had my media colleagues to assist but when I started the interview, I felt I was welcomed.

*It seems that authors have a larger presence in this series?

It is because writers were pioneers in the war. We know that writers had the key role in creating the symbols and signs of the Holy Defense which were later applied in the cinema and visual arts. Hence, literature and memoirs are the foundations of every work. These individuals, through presence in the fronts and creation of their works have much to say and I believed it would be a quality added to my dissertation. It is why their presence is felt more; the fact is that they were solder-authors; it means that they had the quality to create art works. These interviews have the experience of fighting in the fronts and now are involved in memoir writing or cinema. Ibrahim Hatamikia says: “I went to fight but I figured I can’t hold a gun, so I put down my gun and took the camera. This answers the second question; they had the experience of being in the war which had led them to creating relevant art works.

*These interviews are used to create your doctrine dissertation; now that a book is published independently, what does it have to offer to the audience? 

As I said, I had two key questions, but I asked more personal and technical questions in between. For instance, I asked Mr. Ahmad Dehagh the reason of his involvement in war literature. From Mr. Abdoljabbar Kakai about his poems of war which he still creates. In 2002 and 2003, over five hundred martyrs were transferred from Mehrabad airport to Revolution Square. Mr. Kakai wrote a poem and I wrote a note based on that. The arguments Mr. Kakai offered in this interview is very useful for those interested to study war poems. The arguments of Mr. Hatami Kia and Darvish are useful in cinema studies. Even if research is conducted about Mr. Dehghan and his writing experience, I believe his words about his work of war are very efficient. Also, in some parts, the interview process has come close to oral history and might be used in academic studies in the future; for those who would want to know the people of this era and our contemporary society.

*So, they moved towards memoirs during the interview…

Not only they moved towards memoirs but I steered them with my questions. Except for one, the other interviewees have been in the war even for a short while. For instance, Mr. Hessameldin Seraj, has not been in the war but he has visited the fronts regularly. The Art Division, would gather artists and provide them with the opportunity of trips to the fronts and war zones. They were impressed by the ambiance and created works accordingly. Or Mr. Chalipa, whose interviews is not included here, since painters were not included in this book and their interviews were used in my dissertation, said: “we used to travel for these visits and the commanders and soldiers used to gather in the Art Division and share their memories. The artists would create arts based on these stories.

*Can we assume that your book, in parts, contains the memoirs of these twenty individuals?

Not all. Mr. Mohssen Rezaie didn’t share his memories but those of other soldiers and commanders. Or Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati referred to the reactions of the west and Iran’s international stance during his tenure in the MFA.

*Do these interviews contain aspect of the oral history of war?

They most certainly have; covering both the interviewees and their surroundings. They hold key roles so their arguments have historical value.

*This is one aspect of oral history. Meaning that individuals share their observations or situation in an historical event. The other aspect is the dialogue during an interview. The fact that the narrator shares his analysis and understanding of the situation. Besides their observations, how much of the personal analysis and understanding of these individuals is included in the book?

This is a key aspect present that my professors and friends were encouraging me to publish the book. All these artists shared the reasons of their involvement in the literature and poetry and art of war which was very personal; issues that might have been shared in the past but never covered the reasons that was transformed into a social phenomenon in Iran based on which art works were created and how did it affect the society? These arguments never grow old. Mr. Sarhangi might have shared key notes about war literature but in this book he has specific focus on the issue arguing that any analysis and research on the war will create a clearer image of our situation at the time and we can’t move on without our past; at least the near past; events of the 1980s; the book is filled with such arguments. For instance when I asked Mr. Habib Ahmadzadeh: “Why do you write about war?” he replied: “As an author, I’m the torch holder in the Olympics; I have to run and bring the torch to another. When I transfer my experiences in my writing to the next generation, I’ve given them the torch. This literature might help to prevent one more bullet and one more death and improve our lives.” Hence, my two key questions collected both the experiences of these individuals and their point of views on the effects of this phenomenon on the society. While taking about a social phenomenon we steer the interviewer to reflect on the social aspects. It feels like people have shared their personal life experiences to prove the social effects of a phenomenon on the society as a whole.

*The positive aspect in your interviews is that you have mentioned time and place. Considering that you are a journalist, a title was expected for each interview but there is none; it might be that you didn’t want to have any assumptions. You have stated the name of the interviewee, which somehow reflects as a title. You have also included the exact questions and answers. These features bring these interviews closer to oral history. Based on all these and considering your profession as an art history professor, what is your definition of history and oral history?

You know that I’m not a theorist. I try to integrate my lessons learned in my teaching. The fact that “History is the light towards future” has been stated before me and will be in the future. History helps us to move forward well informed and by quality steps. Unlike others, I don’t go very far back in history. I believe that we shouldn’t look at the history from afar. I state this over and over in my classes that we have to know ourselves in our time. To know ourselves in our contemporary society is sufficient enough; but this does not mean that we have to forget the past. I have to know myself in my current social and cultural context. Most certainly this context brings me back to a history which I have to know. As a teacher or journalist I believe that I have to know the history closest to my time. I have to know about the history of past hundred or two hundred years and in my opinion, oral history is very effective in creating this knowledge.   

*So, in your opinion, near history is more important….

Yes. In art history and research lessons, I ask my students to study the past hundred years. There are many issues in the past that have not been touched or studied. If any time and energy has to be spent, invest it on near past.

*You have considered a value for the near past. Do you think that oral history is more relevant to the near past…

It most certainly is. What does oral history mean? I express my point of view which might be far from your opinion as the experts of oral history. Oral history records untold stories which are still alive in the memories of the individuals. When my students work on anecdotes in war images they focus on such pictures. These people have never spoken about their pictures. They were excited that a student is interested about it. Then my students tell me that the photographer has shared issues that have never been addressed. The oral memoir exists in the mid of those that have experienced which might vanish once they are gone; the life experience of an individual which might be transformed into a collective memory or knowledge. Hence, oral memory, immortalizes life experiences; in war or any other event. What creates history? How did we learn about different eras in history? Through the remaining arts. These relics helped us to understand their life. How would the future generations know us? How would the future generations know our current society? When decades in the future, the historians intend to write about Iran in 1980s or 1990s, they would reference academic researches but which one? Is the personal analysis of a researcher from art the basis of evaluation or the arguments of the creator of the art work? Which one is more valuable? Most certainly, the arguments of the artist. The other important issue is that once an artist dies, we would never know that why and how he has created his art and what have been his goal or in his mind. So, while the artist is alive we have to go to them and record their experiences. Maybe not his personal life but his professional experiences. This is independent from war. Recording the experiences of prominent and influential features helps us to have a better life and leave credible resources behind for the future generations.

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