Significance and Function of Oral History in Documenting Organizational Knowledge and History – 3

Sepideh Kholoosian
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


Note: Dr. Abolfazl Hasanabadi, Dr. Habibollah Esmaeeli and Dr. Mehdi Abolhasani participated in the fifth meeting out of the series of meetings on oral history in Iran hosted by Mrs. Mosafa. In the meeting set up in the History Hallway of the Clubhouse, they talked about “the significance and function of oral history in documenting organizational knowledge and history”.


Forouzandeh: I listened to the words and experiences about the oil history and have worked in this regard. It should be said that the organizational history in Iran is not very young but it is juvenile. Some managers do this to make history, and some do so with the concern of recording organizational experiences or knowledge management. For example, in petrochemical sector, it happened that we see the organizational experience and memories of managers simultaneously. In the petrochemical sector, which is the main sector, the National Company of National Petrochemical Industries and Amirkabir Petrochemical, worked well in the technical sector. 

In some departments, such as Bank Melli, we had a meeting a few years ago, when Mr. Hemmati was the head, to conduct research; but due to the scattered archives, it was almost unlikely to cooperate and working on it was costly. This is very costly because you just have to bring together the historians.

My best experience in this field is the history of Iranian oil. This project was conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Petroleum, during which we conducted 160 interviews, which were not for chronology, but for the analytical history of the projects of the subset of the quadruple companies. For the first time, we opened the oil archive closet with great effort. We even wanted to quit in the middle of work. However, based on the trust that was created, we got some archives from BP[1] and we also got the amount that could be received from the sites. The photographs and documents section of the museum was, unfortunately, mostly illegible; That is, there was no description in them. The project includes two volumes of analytical history and two volumes of chronology, a free PDF that has had nearly 4300 impressions; because the book could not be sold. We are now in the second editing phase and introducing the people.

In Iran, our main problem in organizational history is that the managers talk with many mistakes in interviews. My experience in the National Oil Company, Tehran Cement, Iran Petrochemical Company, Amirkabir Petrochemical Company, Iranian Offshore Oil Company, etc. is a strange thing that says the managers explain wrongly. When we transcribe the tapes and adapt them to other managers, we see that the archive also contradicts what has been said and what is being said is wrong.

The documents we have, the statistics, are exactly the opposite of what the managers said. For example, you might get a general overview of the management of Bank X with three years of management, and understand the trends well, but his talk is about projects that he says, "I did." It must be matched with the documents that the "I" is wrong. Based on what I have experienced and can be criticized and violated, I say that most projects do not belong to one manager; except for the managers who, for example, have been in office for twelve or fourteen years and a project has begun in their own time and completed in their own time. All projects belong to the whole structure and should be viewed structurally. If we do not view it structurally, we will be in trouble and the managers complain that these statements are false and baseless, and the same thing happened with Tehran Cement and the Petrochemical Company.

I represented a foreign drilling company, mostly because of my connections abroad, and gained experience in oil and energy management. Then, at the beginning of Mr. Zanganeh's new term, we proposed the Oil History Project, whose records, including books and articles, can be searched. In this 7-year project, we at the Oil Ministry, the history of oil and petrochemicals and the offshore discovery have made an effort to transfer only 25% of our experience to the staff; whether in the archival sections, or in the oral history section, or in the section of writing the history of the companies I mentioned. The effects of this work, like the "History of Iran's Oil Industry" which has now been translated, are out.

Given that the BP documents were cited after the coup against Mossadeq, and that this is the first time that the endorsements of the Oil Company - that is, the board of directors - have been issued, the foreign companies also showed interest and commented because they did not have these narratives. We now intend to review it on the basis of Iranian figures and documents, not the ones that they or OPEC have. Note that the statistics of the National Oil Company, both before and after the revolution, differ from those of BP and OPEC, which are references for themselves, which is a generality.

Aside from the cost, which is staggering and unbearable, our problem is what the managers say. Apart from the oral history of Ali Akbar Moe’infar and Sadat, which is completely acceptable and has no problem, I have a lot of problems with Mr. Gharazi, for example. In the book that was published, though small, he could explain much more. The questioner asked few questions and Mr. Gharazi answered very generally. The interviewee must be given the approval of the original interviewee. Like the minister, like the ban governor, etc… the approvals and speeches and many issues of his past and present times that he has distanced himself from should be shown and then bring him to sit in front of the camera or microphone; because many events and figures are transferred. We tried this on former petrochemical managers like Bayat, Moghadam, etc., which was very good. We showed them their own interviews, photos and statistics, and then turned on the microphone so they wouldn't make a mistake. We are all human beings and there is a possibility of error in us. These interviews are typed and edited, turned into books, and then criticized by others why the project manager has not overseen to re-examine the words again.

Office memories and experiences can also be used for lower managers. For example, in Bank Melli, we have someone like Majid Yektaee who has written a book. He was eighty years old. When we found him, he said, "Do I remember everything? Show me my time." And we did the same. But unfortunately we did not succeed; because many documents had been moved.

Among the documents in the oil museum, we see that many cartons have still remained unused. Because it is mostly in English and its classification have yet to be completed. So you cannot write, for example, the period of Mr. Tabatabaee's tenure over the Abadan Refinery, but you have to look at the documents.

For the conversations made especially by senior executives in oral history, a re-examination is crucial. If we want to say the trends in general, there will be no problem. It consists of five sentences or propositions and two paragraphs. Memoirs and life that are written become a total of twelve or fourteen pages. But in those parts where it is the course of the interviewee and he or she wants to explain, we must give the information of the course to him or her, which unfortunately I have seen in some places this does not happen.


In continuation, Monfared asked Mr. Khodadaiyan to continue the discussion since his words are also related to the Ministry of Petroleum.

Khodadaiyan: On the occasion of approaching the centennial of oil, it was decided in the Ministry of Petroleum complex that a discussion of oil industry museums is formed. The topic of paying attention to oral history subjects began somehow with a focus on industrial heritage, and the question began with the fact that there were many technologies and facilities that were used over time, both serially and in parallel, and their working methods were in catalogs and booklets, but the people who worked with them had limited access to them at the time.

The group that my colleagues and I are proud to serve in is “the Center for Historical Documents and Research”, which operates under the management and museums and the Documents Center and is overseen by the Ministry of Petroleum. I would like to return to the very precise and clear and quintet questions brought up by Dr. Hasanabadi, and specifically about the characteristics of the oil industry, to point out that this industry has a series of features and at the same time a series of problems, which I will summarize them.
Regarding the features of the oil industry in comparison with other industries or other commercial activities, the first point is that the scope of oil influence is both beyond the production process and the products it produces and beyond the geographical area in which it operates. This feature has led us to see the influence of the oil industry in the economic, political, social and cultural sectors, which has usually been seen a political debate. There is also a critical look at the issue of what harmful effects the political influence of oil has had on the country, which is beyond the scope of this meeting.
The second feature is that in the formation of industry, a phenomenon called "Company Cities" has been created. The Company Cities have certain features that are different from many of the demographic areas known as social colonies, and this difference has led to a number of requirements and backgrounds for thinking about them.
The third feature of the oil industry is the length of service of employees in the oil industry. Most friends may not be aware that the oil industry pension law is different from the national pension law, and that the male employees up to the age of 60 and women up to the age of 55 must work in the industry. Imagine a person like me who has entered the oil industry at the age of 16 and sees his 60th birthday if God wants, will leave the industry with 40 or so years of service; whether he is a minister, a middle manager or an employee, or has witnessed a significant period of time in the oil industry. This is very valuable and useful for us in the discussion of documentation.
The last feature that may be considered as one of the problems of the oil industry is that a large part of the documents of the Ministry of Petroleum are outside the collection of the ministry. That is, we saw a period when the General Directorate was a subset of the economy and finance, and then went to the Foreign Ministry and other places. So a big part is spent in a non-governmental organization, whether in private sector or in the organizations and institutions. The Continuation of these problems is the discussion of documents in the oil industry.
Most departments and collections review documents for annihilation, and unfortunately the relevant commission is called the "Annihilation Commission." It is as if we have a series of annoying papers that we want to get rid of, and a commission is formed to put them out of action as soon as possible and to make room for the next issues. These problems made the issue of oral history and paying attention to organizational experiences and memory and organizational history on our agenda.

We do not yet have knowledge management in the oil industry in this area and we just wanted to document this organizational memory and organizational history and prepare it to do museum projects; because before 1395 (2016), no specific trustee was introduced in the field of oral history of the country and the decision of the cabinet remained in these issues, it caused taste to be involved.
in the field of oral history, many works have been done about the research of oil history, but many works have been made into books and projects, only because I have been in contact with such and such a director of public relations that I have been able to use the financial credit of that collection and reach a conclusion that neither benefits my hereafter nor my world. It means that it is something that is left to archive. Of course, it is natural that in the meantime, valuable works have been done, including the done by Mr. Forouzandeh, which, unfortunately, are very few in numbers. As you know, the ministry complex has four main companies and a large number of subsidiaries, and has the same number of public relations, head of public relations and licenses that can outsource and document the discussion of knowledge management and finally reject the financial document. Since there was no specific trustee and no one to edit these, we have unfortunately faced a large amount of bookmaking called oral history.
The next issue is the statistical issue that Dr. Hasanabadi said. With a company population of about 60,000 and a fixed-term contract, we have a volume of nearly 100,000 people employed, in addition to about 67,000 retirees in the oil complex. From this complex, the documents center has received 435 interviews so far (two-hour interviews that have been about 870 or 880 hours and we have kept these). The backup we bring on paper is for storage only and we have no insistence and haste to publish it. In response to the question that Dr. Hasanabadi asked whether the oral history should be published at all or not, I think it is better for the archival centers to be archives and provide information to good researchers who come and work in this field.


To be continued …


[1] British Petroleum, a British multinational oil and gas company headquartered in London


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