A talk with Morteza Sarhangi, For the publication of the three volume anthology of Synopsis of What Happened

Morteza Sarhangi

Interviewer: Maryam Mir Shakkak

There is no one in the Holy Defense Literature circles who does not know Morteza Sarhangi. He is one of the most successful figures in imposed war literature; He is the narrator and reporter of war events, analyzes the war literature as an expert and, works as the director of the Bureau for Literature and Art of Resistance at Arts Center (Hozeh-ye Honari). The best and the most widely read works in war literature, particularly in recent years, are the outcome of the work done by Sarhangi and his good staff. Sarhangi works with patience and precision and deeply believes in his job; and this matter has made him concentrated on the literature of the time that is one most honorable period of Iran’s history. This interview with Sarhangi is about the 3-volume anthology of Synopsis of What Happened  which is a collection of Iraqi memoirs gathered by him. We thank him and the opportunity he gave us for this interview.


Mr. Sarhangi, why the memoirs of the Iraqi army members?
Well, they were our immediate enemy in Iraq’s war.

Are you suggesting that we had mediated enemies as well?
Yes, many. We had prisoners from 15 different countries; Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and so on and so forth.

You mean there were soldiers from these nationalities in Iraqi army fighting for Iraq?
Of course. If they were not fighting for Iraq, then why would they be in Iran’s prisons? 

So, this was actually the Middle East’s war against Iran.
Even wider. It was the Third World War in a limited geopolitical region. There were five main powers whose support for each country in war could secure that country’s victory. However, this is not what happened in Iran.

You actually chose to record the memoirs of the Iraqi army members, in order to provide an opportunity for the memoirs of soldiers belonging to other nationalities whose memories could get lost forever, to be presented.
It was not my intention to do so. However, at the course of this project, this happened.

Tell us about the criteria of your selections.
In the first round I chose memoirs which had a strong structure and dramatic content. Meaning, I wanted for each piece of memory to have all the elements of a memoir so that it can stand independently from the rest of the collection.
I have closely studied these memoirs. The narratives Iraqi prisoners have offered, present a positive image of Iranian forces. If Iraqis had such awareness, then why did they get into war with us in the first place?
This might lead to a rather long discussion. First one should identify the constituents of Iraqi army. Iraq had a powerful army. Many of army people graduated from Western and Eastern military universities. Some of them realized, in the early years of war, that they were being played. Some realized this, in the middle of the war and some never understood what was happening. Saddam used to call this war the great Battle of Qadisiyyah and the army would call it: the great lie.
When they were captivated by the Iranian forces, they saw how the Iranians were treating them and started to doubt the previous accounts of Iranians propagated byBa’ath. This very dual conception of Iranians made them contemplate. On one hand, Iraqis were Muslims. They could see the difference between Iranian’s manner and their own. The long course of their captivity gave them time to think and choose for themselves.

In some memoirs we find the term "Warriors of Islam". Did the followers of Besat really refer to Iranians with these two words?
Yes, they did. When they were fighting in their army they called us Iranians. Even in some of their official communications, we can find the sentence "Iranians are coming."  However, when these very army men were captivated and transferred to Iran, they conformed to our literature and dialect and called us the warriors of Islam. These very two words have been translated from the original text. I have remained faithful to the original text.  

These memoirs have been translated. Having a similar tone, the same terms occur in every single piece. This can make the audience distrustful. One way or the other, these memoirs are written by different people and they should have different narration styles and tones. It seems that the translator has tried to homogenize the tone of these memoirs.
 This collection was not translated by a single translator. Rather, five different people who are among the best Arabic-Farsi translators have translated this collection. These five translators were: Muhammad Nabi Ibrahimi, Muhammad Hossein Zavvar Ka’be, Hamid Muhammadi who was a prisoner in Iraq for many years, Abdul Rasul Reza Gah and Muhammad Hassan Mugheiseh.
It is the soldiers who write the memoirs of war all around the world. The tone and the style of soldiers are pretty much the same. Military and regional terminologies and their shared experiences, makes the audience feel that these memoirs are homogenized. These memoirs have general common features but they tell different stories. I tried to select the memoirs in which there is at least one confrontation between an Iraqi soldier and an Iranian one. Such conflicts are points at which drama is born. These are the moments which can disclose the secrets of war.

Did you really intend to reveal the hidden aspects of the war?
In the beginning I noted that there are two sides to war. When both sides are given voice and the chance to present themselves, this disclosure would take place automatically irrespective of our desire. If you pay close attention to the text, you would hear less about guns. These memoirs are mostly about the margins of the war and humanistic moments. Iraqi army men witnessed incidents which we did could not see. This is why those incidents are so valuable to us. They move a step us forward towards understanding our Defense. This is not a small thing.

I believe as time gap between an incident and recording grows, the things happened in between, influence the tone of the narration. Perhaps, when Ba’athi forces were distanced from the war, they adopted new approaches towards it. Their judgment might have changed by the time they were writing their memoirs. To what degree do you agree with this opinion? For example, it does not seem believable if an Iraqi describes our forces as smelling like a rosebud; or call wine, a disgusting thing; It just does not seem realistic.
True. These memoirs are written long after the events. Some of the narrators were even captivated by    

Many of the narrators of these memoirs were captivated later in Iraq's war with Kuwait and were transferred to Saudi Arabia from where they sought asylum in Iran. Amazing isn't it?
Iraqi armies who were captivated in Kuwait sought asylum in a country with which they were in war two years before. They must have seen something in Iran that they did not want to go back to their countries anymore. The time gap changed them a lot. These memoirs are not diaries of Iraqi soldiers fighting for their country. A piece of writing about the event is not written at the same time of the event. The pass of time has made army members more aware. That is why they can look at past events more retrospectively. They have had time to analyze, contemplate and come to conclusions. Living in Iran, provided the opportunity for Iraqi army members to look at their past critically.

You have stated in the introduction that you have selected these memoirs from 64 different books on Iraqis' memoirs translated and published in Iran. Could you tell us about these books? Which publishing houses published them? Who were the translators and so on and so forth?
Among these 64 books, only two of them contained face to face interviews with Iraqi army members. One of these books is published by Soroush publication in 1984. The rest of the memoirs which are published by Soureh Mehr publication, were written by the Iraqi army members themselves.

Mr. Sarhangi, did you suggest the format of the book or did Soureh Mehr? It is hard to read the book. The reader confuses the lines. The fact that your explanation of these memoirs are placed beneath the body of the memoirs, with a different color, makes the audience frequently move between the explanation and the text which distract the audience. 
The format was Mr. Kourosh Parsanejhad's idea. It is a traditional format in which the text is written in large font and the explanation is written in small font beneath the lines. It is an esteemed style. True that some do not like it. But, some people actually do like it. Well, a different book is published which promotes the visual sense of the reader.

It seems that this format affects the market for such a book.
I don't know. You must ask this from the distributers of Soureh Mehr.

Mr. Farhangi, I have no further questions. If there is anything you would like to add, please do.
I would say that memoirs are the first step towards understanding the war. There emerges a war and it ends. However, there is still much research to be done on the war. Memoirs make the representation of war possible. Where ever there has been a war, there is also a body literature of the memoirs of that war. Currently, there are three types of memoirs to help us understand our Defense.
First, there are the memoirs of our own warriors, then there are the memoirs of our own prisoners in Iraq, and third, there are the memoirs of Iraqi army members. These three edges of the triangle can give us the closest narrative of the truth of war. Iraqi army members are exceptional. I still have not seen a single country which has published its prisoner's memoirs.  
Thank you for your time Mr. Sarhangi.
Thank you for dedicating the time to read this three volume book, Memoirs about What Happned, about the Iraqi army members. When you take the time to read a book, you have right to inquire about it from the editor.

 Translated by: Jairan Gahan

Hamshahri Book magazine, Issue 7, P: 158.

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