Interview with Zahra Tabatabai, an active student during the Sacred Defense era

The Efforts of Female Students in the War Support Headquarters

Interviewed and Compiled: Faezeh Sasanikhah
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Note: From the first days of the Ba'athist's invasion, mosques, husseiniyahs, and even houses became important centers for the service of the fighters. These days, women and girls volunteered in the War Support Headquarters to collect public donations, sew clothes for fighters, making jam, do cultural works, and so on.

Zahra Sadat Tabatabai is one of the women who actively participated in the War Support Headquarters of Tehran's 14th district with the beginning of the imposed war, and during this time she went to war zones twice. Activities in the War Support Headquarters, presence in the war zones of the west and south of the country, as well as the martyrdom of her husband, caused the reporter of the Iranian Oral History website to come to her and talk to her about her memories from that time. She has a master's degree in geopolitics and is a teacher. While expressing her memories, she talked about her concerns about the new generation.

When did you start working for the Logistics and Support Headquarters of the front?

I started my activities from the very beginning of the imposed war. I was born in 1968 and I was almost 14 or 15 years old at that time. I mostly cooperated with the support staff of Musa Ibn Ja'far (PBUH) Mosque, located in District 14, Shahid Ayatollah Saeedi Street, and the base of Shahid Ayatollah Saeedi, which was located in the alley next to the mosque. My mother was one of the active women at the base, and I went there too. Most of the women there sewed clothes for the fighters or repaired their clothes. A woman named Ms. Saeedi was very active and was mostly responsible for distributing the clothes and such works. They assigned us to sew clothes that had a simple design or to package ready-made cans. These women sew hats, jackets, gloves, etc. for the fighters stationed on the western fronts of the country, and they did things like that. Like the current faithful aid to Corona, it was then given to the front. Early on, I would write letters to combatants and put them in envelopes and put them in packages. I still have the letters we sent to the fighters. Sometimes, women were taken by bus from the front of the mosque to the garden, which was near to Shahr-e Rey city, to wash the clothes and blankets of the wounded. A river flowed through the garden, where the clothes and blankets of the wounded brought from the front were washed in, repaired, and disinfected. Again, we packed them all neatly and orderly with special plastics and sent them to the front.

Apart from those two bases, in the house of Ms. Jamshidi, the mother of martyr Jamshidi, which was located near the mosque of Musa Ibn Jafar (PBUH), they cooked jam, packed nuts, and did various tasks according to each season. Of course, Ms. Jamshidi also worked at the base.

What age group were the women who collaborated with the headquarters of Musa Ibn Ja'far (PBUH) Mosque?

The age of women ranged from 14 to 15 years old to older women.

How many women were there?

I can't say exactly how many they were, because some people did the work in their homes, like now when some people pick up the cloth to sew the masks, prepare them at home and send to the main place. I think thirty people were constantly present in the mosque and the base. Sometimes this number became less and more for various reasons. The issue of the marriage of the troops or the martyrdom of their family members or other issues was involved. The presence of women was usually very colorful. I do not remember ever having these bases empty.

■Apart from working in the mosque, did you also work in a school?

Too much. Schools were the center of our activities at the time. The educators were very active. Most days we stayed at school until late in the evening doing cultural work. From a month before the Fajr decade, we were planning how to make an exhibition. Our facilities were not like today to choose designs from the Internet. With very few facilities, what an exhibition we were building in the big prayer hall of the school that you should have seen. We sang songs and performed in the theater, and during the Fajr decade, we decorated and even painted classrooms.

At school, we announced that we would fast tomorrow and donate our food money to the front. Even a student who could not help financially tried to encourage the fighters by writing a letter. You may not believe it until we were late for school, then we would get ready quickly and go to the mosque. Sometimes it was held the ceremony at the base or we went to the mourning group of Al-Aimeh and Mahdieh in Tehran. There was a blood transfusion center in Mahdieh and we gave blood to the wounded.  Of course, in many places, such as Friday prayers, blood transfusion centers were established, especially during the years when the war intensified. In addition to all this, we went to visit the families of the martyrs and to the sanatorium for the disabled in Sarullah.

■Doesn't all this activity hurt your education?

Fortunately, no. Because I love to study and I am still studying for the doctoral entrance exam.

Did not attending the sanatorium or the funeral of the martyrs have a negative effect on your morale?

Yes. It hard for me when we went to the sanatoriums and the veterans, or when we attended the martyrs' funeral in Tehran, there was a heavy atmosphere, but our friendly gathering was full of enthusiasm and laughter. I even remember that when we went to the University of Tehran for Friday prayers, we, the guys of the Musa Ibn Jafar (PBUM) Mosque, sat near the University of Tehran Mosque, and everyone who came to the Friday prayers knew us. Our upbringing instructors also came there, and this process continued until the later years when I became a teacher. We talked there, we lined up our plans, and we were was happy together and full of conversation and laughter.                          

■How long did these activities last?

These activities continued until the end of 1982 when I got married and migrated from Tehran to one of the cities of Tehran.

Did you continue working after marriage and emigrating from Tehran?

I was not familiar with the environment there and did not go out much; especially since it was the cold season of the year and the winters at that time were very different from the winters now. Of course, my husband's mother was going to a mosque called Vali Asr Mosque (if I am not mistaken) and I used to was there too, but I was not active as much as in Tehran. I mostly sewed at home.

From there, some were also sent to the front and sent aid to the front by car one after another. My wife (Hossein Sheibani) was a guard and went and came to the front until she was martyred in the Khyber operation in 1984. I was almost four months pregnant at the time and returned to my father's house.

■When did you start your activities again?

I started working in the mosque and on the same base as soon as I was pregnant. My son was born in August 1984 but died ten days later.

■Were all your activities behind the front?

No. I went to the war zone on the southern front once and to the west once.

■Which front did you go to first?

I went to the south for the first time in 1985 with the forces of Malik Ashtar base. My mother would not let me go at first, because she was worried something would happen to me there. "I would not let my daughter go there," she said, "What can we do if she is captured?" She even joked: "I will tell the IRGC (Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps) that Zahra wants to leave without permission." As my husband had just been missed in war, I was not in a good mood and I had just given birth and I had some problems, she was not satisfied.

In short, my friends were able to satisfy my mother by crying and requesting repeatedly, so that she prepared my bag and let me go. On the day of deployment, we came to Malik Ashtar base, but one of the officials there said, "We will not take Ms. Tabatabai to the front!" Everything I begged and cried was useless.

■What was the situation on the southern front?

Some cities in Khuzestan, such as Khorramshahr, Hoveyzeh, and Bustan, were almost destroyed totally and the palm trees were barren. The situation was very strange and no one could stay there.  It was much worse than Beirut, which some time ago was burned to the ground. by an explosion that took place in the port of this city. Families migrated from the cities and only a small number of military families were there.

Hoveyzeh today is not at all comparable to what we saw then. Bostan and Susangard had just been occupied by the enemy, and I remember that only one shrine remained and the rest of the buildings had been razed to the ground. When we talk about those years, maybe the younger generation today thinks we are defining a myth. I always tell my students you can not imagine what was going on there.

The buses stopped in Hoveyzeh to perform ablutions and pray. There was an earthen place and it had special mosquitoes that were circling all around us. At the same time, there were lights that went out to strike and the brothers shouted: "Get on! Get on." Until we got in the car, the IRGC vehicles were shot repeatedly. First, the sisters got on the buses, and then the brothers got on. Those who were standing started to support the buses until we got away from that area. The spies had reported that IRGC forces had come to the area.

Where did you settle and what activities did you do?

We stayed in Ahvaz for a while and settled in the base of Martyr Alam al-Huda and we also cooperated with the Red Crescent. We separated the medicine, blankets, clothes, food, etc. that were sent to the war zones by the people of different cities. We separated old and unusable items and arranged and packed usable items. Another of our tasks was to control the expiration date of the drugs. We separated the drugs that could still be used to send to hospitals. We went to Dezful for a while and we were in Vahdati hunting base, which was not our place of residence, and we went to visit the families of the fighters. We were mostly doing relief works, packing, washing, sewing, and repairing the warriors' clothes.

■How long have you been on the southern front?

For one or two months.

Do you have any special memories of that trip?

There were strange mosquitoes there. One morning when we woke up, we saw that a friend's eyes were so swollen that she could not open them at all. We brought a mirror and said look at yourself. she could not leave the barracks for several days.



■When did you travel to the West Front?

I think it was November or December 1986 that we went to Kurdistan with the help of the people. I remember that the mother of martyr Fesharaki also came with us. Our base was located in Oshnoyeh and was named Hazrat Zainab (peace be upon her), which was established by the mother of Martyr Rasooli and operated under the supervision of the IRGC. Oshnoyeh is now part of West Azerbaijan, but at that time it was part of Kurdistan. Of course, the base was changeable, sometimes we went to Baneh and other cities. We would go to different cities and come back. We were out most days and went to the base at night to sleep.

With the conditions that Kurdistan had we left the barracks with special conditions. Because of the crimes of Komola and the Democrats, we were strongly advised not to let anyone out, especially women, from five o'clock onwards. The locals themselves did not leave the house after that hour.

■What were your plans there?

We had different programs there. When we were at the base, we sewed, repairing the clothes and packing the equipment, washing the food dishes of the fighters, and sending them back to the kitchen. The air was very cold and the oil was quickly iced into the dishes due to the cold weather. We disobeyed the families of the martyrs of the same areas. We visited the fighters whose trenches were at the top of the mountain and were knee-deep in snow, and we brought them tools such as oil and oil burner.

What effect did your presence, the presence of ladies, have on the fighters in those war zones?

Our presence was very important and effective and motivate the fighters. The cold annoyed them a lot. It was not like now, big boilers and heaters and things like that, we had an oil heater which was not useful in a severe blizzard and the wind that was blowing all time and; the comrades were shaking until morning. Think! when warriors fighting in these heights, and they saw women come there to help the warriors, it had a great positive effect on their mood and morale. Of course, the fighters were in high spirits and were upset and even ashamed of how we got there if we were ashamed of them. In the trenches, we saw a young man warming himself with an oil heater that might only make him warm for a few minutes. In the Kurdistan region, due to the mountainous nature, the car could not go there, and we mostly walked and carried things with mules and horses. Russia (former the Soviet Union) supplied Iraq with a Super Étendard warplane. I remember that the fighters jokingly put a plaque on the neck of one of the donkeys with the words " Super Étendard of Iran" written on it!

■How was the mood and morale of the martyrs' families?

The mood of the martyrs' families was excellent. We visited Shiite and Sunni families. Most of the people were Sunnis, and I even saw Sunni fighters. There was a lot of religious pressure on people. For example, a woman had become a Shiite, but she said, "I even try to dissimulate  my religious for my parents." Once we went to the house of a Basiji veteran who had her arm amputated. When we asked her what had happened to him, she said: I was a Sunni and then I became a Shiite. "They threatened me for a while and finally secretly put a grenade in my closet, which exploded!" One of the good memories I have of those days is that the Kurdish-speaking people were very kind and hospitable, and they would bring a tray of sugar at the reception and put sugar in front of each of us. I was a Sunni and then I became a Shiite. "I was threatened for a while and finally secretly put a grenade in my closet, which exploded!" One of the good memories I have of those days is that the Kurdish-speaking people were very kind and hospitable, and they would bring a tray of sugar at the reception and put sugar in front of each of us.

Wasn't difficult for women to attend in the war zone?

It was hard, but I really loved it.

How long did this trip take?

I think one or two months.

Did you not feel homesick in the war zone for your family?

No, I kept telling my father that I wished I was a man and that I was fighting the enemy along with warriors. Being a woman had its problems for us. I wanted to fight the enemy on the front line. I had received military training at the Malik Ashtar base. I had spent the whole course working with different weapons so that we could use them if necessary. I had spent very difficult courses in Manzaria and in the riffle range. In these courses, we climbed the rope and descended the cliff, we passed through the rappel ropes or under the barbed wire.

Were you motivated to do more activity when you returned to Tehran?

Yes. When we saw the fighters, we were a hundred times better and we wanted to serve more in the war zone. Everything we did there was not over and we did not want to go back. Even last year, when we went to help the flood-stricken people of Pol-e Dokhtar, when we wanted to return to Tehran, even though it was not our city and country, we did not want to come and we wanted to stay and work.

For those around you, was your commute to war a typical work? Didn't they say there is no place for women in war zones?

They were familiar with our mood little by little. Not only me were the families of many of the women who worked at the time familiar with their moods.

How long did your activity for the front last?

Almost until the last year of the war. In Operation Karbala 5 in 1986, we had many chemical casualties that hospitals did not receive them. For this reason, they prepared Azadi Stadium to treat these injured people and transferred them to a place where we went to help and did most of the support work.

In February 1988, which was the last month of the war, I entered the university to continue my studies, and there I was active in the university jihad. But most of my activities were still in the base of Fatemieh Dolab Mosque and Musa Ibn Jafar (PBUH) Mosque, or Malik Ashtar base. While studying at the university, I went to the school bunker and started teaching. In the second year of university, they implemented a plan at the university that those who want to become teachers should give a commitment, and I signed the commitment and became a teacher.

Why did you spend all this activity and energy supporting the war and the front?

All our activities were to defend and preserve Islam. In those days they said: "God, God, keep Khomeini until the revolution of Mahdi(PBUH). Reduce our lifetime and increase the lifetime of the leader." We really wanted Imam Khomeini to be alive for many years. We loved Imam Khomeini. Now, God willing, we will join the revolution of Imam Mahdi (PBUH) along with supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Some say our generation was a burnt generation, but I do not agree. Incidentally, we were perhaps the most active generation in Iran. I was not active as much as others, but the students were active in this way; They went to school, they were there to help, they were even sent to the front, they studied there and they got a diploma. My husband, who was martyred, sometimes took leave and helped her father, who was a farmer. My husband was farming, studying and going to the front and managing everything in an instant. With all my activities in the mosque and Malik Ashtar base, in addition to studying at the university, I went to the former Iran-American Center, which was located on Vesal Street near the University of Tehran, where I studied English and at the same time was a teacher. Read the diaries of the warriors and the families of the martyrs. But now today's generation is very fragile and passive. Parents now argue that we want our children not to suffer, and that is very bad.

You are a teacher and you are in touch with the new generation. During your teaching, did you try to pass on your experiences from the time of the Sacred Defense to them?

Yes, very much. I love young people and I have a good relationship with them. It is important for me to pass on the information we have from the time of the war and after the war to the next generations. These memories must be passed on to generations who have not seen the war. I would talk to the students in class or on different occasions in the prayer hall, and when I was in charge of the secretariat for defense, I would go to the students’ camps -who came to visit the war zone under the plan named Rahian e Nur tour, i.e. Light Passengers- and explain to them about the areas we had gone to. To transfer the memories of that time to the younger generation, I spent my narration courses in the Imam Hussein's (PBUH) army and I am an active narrator.

I also tried to include the transfer of experience in raising my children. After the martyrdom of my husband, I no longer wanted to get married, but almost 9 years after the martyrdom of my husband, in the early 1990s, with the encouragement of my mother and my husband's family, who wanted me to be in their family, I married my brother-in-law. Thank God we have two daughters and a son, who is also the name of my martyred husband. We tried very hard to acquaint them with that time. My husband, Haj Qasem Sheibani, is a chemical warfare veteran who was on the front until Operation Mursad. When there were no pilgrimages to the Rahian e Nur, my husband and I would drive our children to war zones, and their father would explain them to the children. They all have pictures of war zones from childhood until little by little the journey of the Rahian e Nur began.

My children have completely learned from the culture of that time. After the martyrdom of one of the nuclear martyrs, my first daughter, who was in her second year of high school at the time and was studying mathematics and physics, she came home one day and said, "My mother realized that there was a door in the garden of martyrdom. I want to study nuclear physics." Even though she could chose other engineering disciplines, she studied nuclear physics. After the martyrdom of Martyr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, she became more determined and despite being pregnant, she wants to continue his studies at the master of Art.

Thank you for taking the time to have an interview with the Iranian Oral History website

I also thank you, and remind you that the expression of these matters was at your request and I have not expressed these memories anywhere yet. At that time, I was just a drop in the ocean of pious people.

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