Memories of The Isfahan Girl of the Days of Revolution

Interviewed by Maede Shahnazari
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


I am Zahra Karbasi, born in 1937; my ancestors were clergymen and prominent Marjas of Isfahan, and our great-grandfather is buried in his own house near Hakim Mosque. I married in 1952, when I was only 14 years old. I had given three children to birth until 1956, and I lost my first two children due to illness, after a few years. I went to a Maktab which head by a rigid religious woman, as if she said she had not gone to a public bathroom for several years after Kashf-e Hijab. She never wrote even one line in the few years that I was her student, and she was not satisfied with her teaching. Her brother wrote examples for us on small papers, and she only read them. I learned to read from her, and my father would also give me books about religious sciences, and told me to read them when he slept; when I felt he was sleeping, I no longer read, but he would notice and say, “Read! I even hear in my dreams.” My father did not get identity booklet for my brothers lest they would be taken for military service. At that time, many traditional families did these actions to evade military service and somehow for defiance. Later, my uncle got identity booklets for them. My maternal family was educated, and a few of them had lived in France, but my paternal family was traditional, and, of course, people of knowledge. My father believed in me very much, and encouraged me to read historical and religious and literary books in my childhood. My mother stressed much that I would not do anything like extract water from a well at minor age, but my father would say, “No, this kid has the power.” I was four years old when I read Qur’an well under my father training. Every morning, my father taught me Qur'an, and gave me about five rials that days so that I memorize Qur'an suras such as Zāriyāt, Wāqi’a, and short suras.

My husband was a tradesman who did not take count on women at all and had no connection with the clergy, nor even with laymen. He just cared for his career. Every day he opened his shop and worked and came back. He wasn't a bad man, but living with him was not bad but not good eighter. We had a cold life. After I became independent financially through teaching, I did not get divorced, but I separated from her, and with the help of my mother and two loans, I bought myself a house on Robat Street for 350,000 Rials. One day, I collected my belongings, brought my children, rented a car, and got out of his house. He became fully thunderstruck. My new house had no facilities, and I oneself should do everything. Nobody would help me, and my husband visited us sometimes to see the children. I always say to myself that if I hadn't been married in this way this and at that age, maybe I could work a lot more and be more helpful, because I had both physical ability and mental ability, and had also a good family prestige and support. My husband died about 15 years ago.

I started studying at Akaber (adult school) in 1968, and within six years, I spent 12 grades. In the first week I passed grades one, two and three, and teachers sent me to the next grade. Until Nowruz in that year I got the grade six certificate, and in the grade six, I started teaching instead of my teacher who was pregnant.

In 1966, I got a diploma, and after two years that I couldn’t enter the university due to age restrictions, I finally succeeded enter the university in the field of philosophy. After a while, I changed my major and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at Isfahan State University. At the same time, I was also a teacher and I had already been called to teach the Quran at Noorbakhsh School. After a while, grade four teacher went from there and I worked instead of her (or him). I was also a tutor and afforded our life. Colonel Noorbakhsh had ordered my colleague and I leave the school because we had been betrayed that we were talking politically in class, and it was not good for the school. I said, “Ok! I have nothing to say, but wherever I go, I say Colonel Noorbakhsh fired me.” That's why the colonel agreed to stay in school and said, “Don't disgrace us.” I had also learned English at the Iran-United Kingdom Society.

After a while, Ms. Daris, the principal of Rahmat School, which was an English school and her husband was my relative, contacted me and asked me to go to their school to teach the Quran because they had heard about my teaching. I agreed. They also paid a good salary in comparison to the Islamic School of Noorbakhsh. In this school where students put hands together in christian style in the morning and praised God, it eventually became the first school in Isfahan in the Qur'an credit. Neither the district administration was happy nor the principal was satisfied. I had to take my minor daughter and son to Rahmat School with myself. The school janitor and his wife, Armenian old man and old woman, helped a lot to take care of my children.

One day, father of one of my colleagues, that it happened to be head of one of departments of Education Bureau, asked me about whether I was a permanent employee. I was not permanent, and before that, my request for be a permanent employee had not been approved. After that, I was informed that there would be a teacher training course for the people of Najafabad in Najafabad, where I could become a permanent employee.

When The teachers' community was formed, about 400 teachers, each representing one school, gathered at one place and held elections. So, 12 people were elected to the central council of the Teachers Society. Two other ladies —younger than me and one of them was Ms. Hessei— and I, entered the central council, and nine others were men, including Mr. Parvaresh, Nilforoushan brothers (who have still Imam Sadiq's school in Isfahan), Mr. Zehtab, Mr. Telegini, and martyr Khalifa Soltani. Indeed, all were unique.

In 1978, we organized a strike in the Teachers Society; as teachers and students would not attend the classroom, I remember we had a meeting in one of the schools under management of Nilforoushan. The then deputy of Isfahan’s SAVAK, attended the meeting and called us one by one and talked to us publicly; he said whatever privileges you want, we will give you, just open schools, but none of us voted to break the strike.

I remember the other two ladies did not attend— due to limitations for women— many meetings, which were generally held at night and in Takht-e Foulad cemetery. But because I was independent and my husband did not know about my activities at all, sometimes I attended meetings alone, and there was no the least sexism. Although they told me, "You ladies don't take risks, because if they arrest us, there's less to worry about, but if you women will be arrested, we can't do anything, and don't be so fearless." Still, when I remember that era, my hands freeze from the fear and risk I experienced. If we had been arrested, we would not have had a happy ending.

The school where I worked as an education expert during the strike was on Ordibehesht Street. I don't remember name of the school, but it was for natural sciences, and because I had learned new methods of teaching in English School and had a bachelor's degree in psychology, I worked there in the management office. That school was next-door to Education Bureau, and Mr. Kamali was the director of the administration, who held a long meeting with teachers inside the same bureau, and complained, “They shut down the school under my control,” which meant the same school I had closed.

Of course, a number of schools remained open, and the group that advocated the Regime had meetings every night and worked. They once had an important meeting at a school in Ahmedabad, and I was told from the Teachers Society that we wanted to find out what was going on in this meeting. I voluntarily participated in the meeting because they didn't know me in that neighborhood, and I realized that they were going to no longer give oil, which was the only heating system of that era in schools, to schools that went on strike. We teachers went to school, but we didn't teach. I came and informed this boycott, and from that day we started rationing and storing oil in the schools.

I remember that the day the Shah left, people gathered at the Sayyid Mosque. There they turned on the TV. An unveiled woman was newscaster. People started yelling that tell this woman to wear her Chador. I was surprised by this emotional move there and I thought a lot.

When Imam Khomeini went from Tehran to Qom, my partner and I went to Qom. It was a bit hard to meet Imam. They even checked our shoes. We stayed that night in Qom and visited Imam again next day, and then returned to Isfahan.



At the beginning of the revolution, I was introduced to Ms. Dabbagh by Dr. Soroush, and in her presence we discussed women's issues and the social participation of revolutionary women. There was a lot of revolutionary passionate at that time, and we worked very hard for the Revolution.

After the revolution, the Teachers Society and Mr. Telegini first appointed me as manager of a school near Darvazeh Tehran, which was a middle school, and the previous principal was unveiled, and in order to respect her dignity they retired her. This woman was also one of my distant relatives, and she had offered me to replace her. I didn't have experience, and it was hard for me to accept that responsibility, but I finally accepted it, and in a short time, I wrote and coordinated plans for two schools. After that, I became the principal of Ferdows School, or former Shahdokht, which had about 1,300 students. Every morning, leftist groups like Rah-e Kargar (The Worker’s Way) and they gathered about 3o to 40 students, installed a bulletin board, and started speaking. These meetings resulted in quarrel in other schools, but in my school, because I personally participated in the mittings and controlled the space, nothing immoral happened, and the only school where there was no roughhouse despite the heated revolutionary arguments was this school under my management.

I remember once the students came and told me that one of our classmates had celebrated his birthday and invited us too, and they asked my opinion. I also said, “Go, but I come too.” I went and participated, and neither told anything to make them upset, nor allow them to do an unconventional behavior.

At the same Ferdows School, I had a sharp disagreement with the head of the district Education Bureau because of his narrow-mindedness. It is not moral to name him, but it got to the point where I requested a be transferred to Shahinshahr. The Education Bureau was behind Ferdows School, and I stayed and worked at noon. I was at school when one of the students came crying and said, “Mrs. Karbasi, a man followed me and said why isn’t your headscarf at your forehead, and now took me and beat.” She was very scared. The room for the assistants was behind my office. I opened the door and told her to go in, and I close the door. I saw the head of the bureau come in. He said, "Where is this girl who just entered school?" He insisted me betray her. I couldn't also disgrace the girl who need my help, and I didn't also consider this method proper. On the other hand, nothing could be done at that moment because people gossiped the daughter. Next day I was called to go to the bureau. I went to there. They said at the office, “Write I disagree with Hijab.” I also said, “I don't oppose the hijab. I even have a picture of my four-year-old in Chador tied with a button underneath. I disagree with your approach. This is not how we encourage someone to wear the hijab, especially in a situation that this issue is very new for our girls. Even if a student comes unveiled, I will not stop her; I will talk to her and say my reason.”  They way in which most of my students veiled hijab. In the end, I gave the student's name and identity, but since she was from a wealthy family, there was no problem for her, but it got a lot of trouble for me.

Of course, at that time, no one was without a headscarf, but according to words of head of the office, the girl's headscarf had been back a little. It got to a point where the Education Secretary General, who had previously opposed my request to transfer to Shahinshahr, said, “Now if you want to be transferred, go because this man doesn't want get on with you.”

After moving to Shahinshahr, I became a principal at Haft-e-Tir School. The day I went to school, I noticed even the Aftabe (a kind of pitcher used traditionally for purposes of hand washing, cleansing, and ablution) had been taken by the previous principal to the new school they had transferred. I contacted Mr. Telegini and explained the situation. He said, “I can't help much, but the Americans utensils who escaped are inside a caravansary near the University of Technology.” Then they gave me an address to go get the needy supplies. I took car myself, and went four times and came back and provided some closets for files, refrigerator, tables and benches and so on.

They were selling American stuff there, but I didn't buy anything for myself.

Previously, there was a vocational school called Iran in Narvan neighborhood in Isfahan that had been moved to a new place, and the headmaster had taken name of the school with himself to the new place, and the school had no name. Mr. Telegini handed over the school to me and asked, “What is name of the school?” I said, “Taleghani.” Later, name of the street where the school was also named Taleghani, from name of the same school that I designated. I also rebuilt this school from zero myself with American booties.

After the Revolution, Ali Akbar Parvaresh, who had become Director General of Education, invited me to Tehran for a seminar. We were taken to the Office of the Director General of Education who were Mr. Parvaresh. His office was a large hall and had beautiful and long velvet curtains. I drew curtains aside and saw the pigeons had come through the window hole, and behind these curtains it was so contaminated with pigeon droppings that curtains were no longer useless. When Mr. Parvaresh came, I objected him: “You men are one-dimensional, you just come and do administrative work and go, and don't care surrounding. How did you commute here, but didn't see what happened at the corner of this beautiful, clean room?” Mr. Parvaresh said, “God knows I didn’t see. Go and leave me.”

Three brothers of Nileforoush were other prominent members of the Teachers Society who were very noble and intellectual men, and had cultural activities. In the early days of the Revolution, they had three hours lectures in 10 days and dinners every year in Muharram, but only teachers were invited. They invited very sophisticated speakers, and they presented deep, non-idealistic intellectual discussions. One of the speakers was Dr. Beheshti's son. Another one was Dr. Soroush. Instead of music and even Madahi (eulogy) and Rawda Khwani (reading the Rozeh), they played Ney. There was a special atmosphere, turned off the lights, and lit the old kerosene lamp at the ceremony, and this made you have a sad feeling. It was a good Heyat, but unfortunately it gradually was weakened for some reason and was no longer held.

The teacher training schools were under supervision of martyr Khalifa Soltani. He once urged me to become headmaster of a school on Modarres Street. I said, “I was the principal of Ferdows School and I can't anymore.” Again, he insisted, I said, “I can't get my Chador below my chin like your other managers and work.” Shahid Khalifa Soltani said, “Well don't wear a Chador.” I didn’t go, and later he also died a martyr. My cousin is my colleague and had established a school in Canada where they taught Persian on holidays. He sent me a letter of invitation and I went on a trip. One day their teacher didn't come and my aunt's daughter said, “You go to the class,” and I agreed too.

To become a permanent employee, we needed to teach in deprived areas for a year; so, the Education Bureau asked me to go to a deprived village or area, but I could only go in the afternoon because I taught elsewhere. Eventually, they agreed to go to a boys' school in Dorcheh. Two months has been passed from the educational year that I entered the school, and the headmaster assigned me that class that didn't have teacher and allowed me to work according to my own method. I wore a hijab and I was older than the other teachers who came from Daneshsara (The House of Knowledge); so, I heard students say that this new aging teacher is very strict in class. I went to the class and took a spelling exam. Only three scored 10 and all were under ten. I noticed because the school had six fifth grades classes and five classes had teacher, these teachers had included all the students with good grades on their list, and one class consisted entirely of students with weak educational performance. I said the first day in class that hereafter everyone who got a grade of ten in spelling can play in the yard during the spelling class. By the end of the month, the spelling score of 19 of these was over eighteen, and of these thirty-five students, four or five were still in class. The deputy principal came one day and said, “Ms. Karbasi, why are all out of class?” I said, "I had said I have my own method," and the deputy left. Finally, at the end of the year, in my class only one student flunked, and next class had only five students got passing grades. These students had been flunked as much that sometimes I heard a masculine voice, and I thought deputy principal or the headmaster entered, but I realized they were students and their voice had become deep. A few years later, during our meetings with the families of the martyrs on behalf of the Education Bureau, at a mosque in Dorcheh, I saw a photo of half of the students in that class on the wall of the mosque. They had died a martyr. I still sometimes see mothers of some of my martyred students.

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