An Interview with Brigadier General Naser Arasteh

Naser Arasteh


Interviewer: Muhammad Ali Mujahid/ Ahmad Nouri Farsangi

Note:
Brigadier general Naser Arasteh is one of the noble figures of the army in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Because of his close acquaintance with martyr Sayad Shirazi, he has many memories of Shirazi and his companions in Kordestan, during the Holy Defense.

Could you tell us about the way in which one can pass on the knowledge of war to the present and next generations?

It was in 1994 that martyr Sayad Shirazi started to wonder that it would be so unfortunate if the history, memory, and findings of the war- whether scientific achievements, military achievements or spiritual, religious, and cultural ones- stay locked forever in people’s hearts and gets lost after they die. He decided that it would be much better if we could pass on these values to the present and next generations. A few things were done in organizations affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards and the army. But it was not really passing on this knowledge, because, this science of warfare only cover one aspect of this body of knowledge. This war had many aspects including the science of warfare, a particular understanding of spirituality, a specific body of literature of the Holy Defense, a culture of poetry, a particular sense of aesthetics, and many other features which the science of warfare could not capture. The science of warfare is about the tactics in squads, battalions, brigades, and army leadership in war. To achieve this goal, Sayad decided to bring together a group of people who had the knowledge and experience to help recreate the war.

Did you wish to recreate war scenes to conduct the history of war in order to make it accessible to the next generation?
Yes I did. The great martyr Sayad Shirazi was determined to do two important things:
1. To document the history of war in the form of a collection.
2. To record the findings of the war while its generation is still alive.
We started this project in a mosque. I believe it was the grand mosque of Gholhak. The Basijis of the neighborhood would get together and Martyr Sayad would start talking about the time before the revolution, the time the revolution was still an infant and, the role of the military in those days and the war. There were problems in his way. The problems were partly due to the egocentric people who did not want martyr Sayad to pursue his goals. There were also other problems which eventually stopped him from continuing this work at the mosque. Perhaps, it was God's blessing that there was no choice but to take the matter to an academic military center, the University of Imam Ali. If this had not happened, perhaps the process of passing the knowledge to the youth would have been much delayed.
Anyway, considering the problems, martyr Sayad said that it should be possible to do this project in the military. The problems outside were not there in the military. So, he went to his grace, the righteous Supreme Leader and discussed his plan. He told his grace that he wanted to form a committee called "the Council of Ma’aref-e-Jang" . The name of the committee was Sayad's idea. He did not address anything such as the science of the war or the tactics of the war. His grace (his handwriting is available in the records of war) stated:" These are beneficial activities for the army of the Islamic Republic." In addition, Sayad received a humble amount of money from his grace. Sayad believed that this committee should not be dependent upon the army or the Sepah or General Headquarters of Armed Forces, so that it can function more freely. In fact, his grace agreed to Sayad's proposal so that the researchers could be free from the influence and supervision of anyone but his grace. Martyr Sayad started his work with a room which functioned as a small military base, with the least equipment possible. In the beginning there was only him. He then gradually took in other staff such as, Hessam Hashemi and Amir Riahi who, were recently retired then.  
It is interesting to know that first when martyr Sayad started this project he said that he wanted to work only for God and therefore, he did not want to pay anyone because no one paid him anything. He said that God will reward them. Therefore he said that:
1. The work done must be only in the path of God.
2.  He did not want the staff to leave their jobs. Because, they all had other fulltime posts at that point.
3. They would pursue their work with the least equipment possible.
They would pay from their own pockets as far as possible. They would dedicate their weekends to this project. On Sundays, an hour and half before the working hours started, they would hold their classes at Afsari University. One should understand and value the endeavor and sacrifice the members made to make this project work. 
They did not compromise their service to the army for this project. Even if they had to go on missions, they would go on Thursday afternoons and would be back on Friday afternoons so that they would be present at their service on Saturday mornings. The members and their families, cope up with such hard working conditions so that they would not have to compromise their service to the army and the council would remain independent.

Which military operations did martyr Sayad want to recreate?
He wanted to recreate the military operations of which he was the operational commander. He believed that it was better if other commanders could recreate the operations they lead. Therefore, they recreated the operations Fath-al-Mobin, Tarigh-al-Ghods, Muharram and Kordestan which were lead by him. We also recreated the operation Thamin-al-A'ema.
 
Were these information taught in military academies?
In Imam Ali military academy, martyr Sayad conducted a course called "the role of leadership" which he personally taught. He conducted this course in light of Hadiths, Quranic verses and intellectual assistance of great clergies including Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. In addition, he conducted a course called "forty Hadiths for students" which was consisted of forty Hadiths on management and comand. The selection of these Hadiths took place with the assistance of Hujjat-al-Islam Ishtihari. It should be noted that in provoking the Hadiths originated from the infallibles and Quranic verses, he always consulted the great clergies of the time to insure the authenticity of the Hadiths. 
Most importantly, he applied all the things he taught, in his post as a commander. As this project continued, many commanders were retired and had much more time for contributing to the project. One should never doubt their sincerity. They were ready to sacrifice everything for this project. I can give you examples of the things they gave up in this path. In addition, all along, they were barely paid for what they did. For instance, after returning from an operation field, they would receive something as little as a thousand Toman bank note which was blessed by his grace, the great Supreme Leader. They would take the bank note, rest it on their eyes and kiss it, which is the sign of showing high respect for something. In other words, neither the Sepahis nor the army members received any money for their contribution in the project. The situation is no different now. As I mentioned, with the increasing number of retired members, martyr Sayad was surrounded by the people who had invaluable information and lots of time to dedicate to the project. Sayad came up with a new idea: to conduct two day or three day camps for the students in the fields of operations. This idea was put into action after the initial survey.  The army stated that it will send the students to camps to learn about the war just as I send them to learn skydiving. The council of Ma’aref-e-Jang was responsible for policy making, assigning instructors, instructing and implementation. In the beginning, only the students from the Imam Ali military academy went to these camps. Sayad’s whish was that one day the students from all universities affiliated with the Armed Forces would go to these camps, attend the classes and see the operation field. He also wished that graduate students and the ones attending the program called “the leadership of the General Headquarters”, would one day be able to use this opportunity in line with their needs. But his martyrdom did not give him the chance to do so. He also wished that all these findings would be documented in form of books; oral documents, technical documents, analysis of military operations, the epic and spiritual aspects of Jihad. We insisted to document all this data in form of books. However, I believe he could not do it because of two reasons: 1. His humbleness 2. Lack of time
I really do not know if he saw his martyrdom coming; if he knew that he would not be around much longer. He used to say that, we could do all those things later, that we had to add to our collection while we still had the chance and, that others could document all these findings afterwards. Till his last day alive, he didn’t agree to conduct a book. We can now see why he did so. If we had tried to publish a book, we could never collect this amount of data.

How did you continue the project after the martyrdom of Sayad?
The project would have been naturally canceled if it was not for a couple of reasons:
1. Martyr Sayad’s spiritual presence in the project.
2. The nobility of his goal.
3. The special support of his grace; the Supreme Leader kissed Sayadi’s coffin. This was something which was unprecedented and never happened again. This incident is certainly very significant.
He spent all his time to collect data as much as possible. The findings will still be useful for years. Actually, regarding conducting books, he had other concerns as well. He said that it was still not the time to reveal some of the findings and it was still not wise to publish some of the data. We used to report such findings to the Supreme Leader.
Martyr Sayad Shirazi spent more time on conducting the courses than all of us. His family said that he did not sleep the night before his classes in Imam Ali military academy which means that he spent both Friday nights and Saturday nights on each class despite his heavy responsibilities in the General Headquarter. We still owe much to him. The project developed gradually. We decided to make the camping workshops longer than three days.
At his burial, the commander in chief, Shirazi, the head of the Office of the Supreme Leader, told General Salehi:” His grace does not want the classes to be canceled.”  This shows how much Sayad and his project meant to his grace, the Supreme Leader.
The classes were to be held on the same week at Imam Ali military academy. We were all mourning at the funeral; from Hessam Hashemi to me, we were all in great grief. On top of everything, it was the time of Muharram. General Hessam Hashemi played Sayadi’s talk for everyone to listen. General Hussein Sayeedi and his fellow combatants who were all there, crying and mourning for him, held the classes in that very week as if nothing had happened. The camps had to be immediately organized. All these great men went and organized the camps. But still the committee had no supervisor. It was as if martyr Sayadi’s was still alive and running the place. The chief General of the time sent a letter to his grace who wrote a letter in response which asserted that General Naser Arasteh should take control over the council of Ma’aref-e-Jang while remaining at his current post in the organization. Back then, after martyr Sayad, I was the successor of the commander in chief of the army. Now, all because of Sayad’s nobility and sincerity, we were able to conduct books from all the data that were collected.
For a while, we could not even handle ourselves financially. We did not even have enough stationary, petrol and such things. I gathered colleagues around and told them that we all loved martyr Sayad that, we had no money and I would appreciate it if they could bring us equipment from outside the council and cope up with the situation. I even told them that it was appreciated if they could take financial responsibility for the books they wanted to publish only if they would include the name of the council. With what I believed was the characteristics of a sane person, I thought no sane person would cope with such hard circumstances. Despite my prediction, I saw people showing up and continue working the next day. Since, those people are still in the council, I do not see a problem in mentioning their names: commander Zolfaghari, General Moshiri, Genral Shakiba, and General Riahi. I asked them why they showed up when, I could not even cover their transportation expenses, nor could I give them any salary. They asked me to just let them continue their work in the office because all the archives were there and it was impossible to work at home. These dear retired fellow generals continued working and financing themselves. At those times when their salary rate was really low, it was only the love of martyr Sayad and his dream which kept them going.
Anyhow, there were expenses, especially for organizing the camps. We wrote a letter to his grace. It was with his order that the council of Ma’aref-e-Jang was revived. Regarding the classes, the army came to believe in their fruitfulness. The army strengthened and supported the camps. It has now been about five years that the course of Ma'aref-e-Jang has become compulsory in all military academies including Farabi, Navy, Air force, and Army. Students from all military academies go to camps collectively. His grace especially encourages this.  
The interesting part is that dear fellow retired army members, being in their 60s or 70s, from all over Iran, participate in these camps. From Shiraz, Zahedan and Mashhad, about 80 veterans, despite their age, get on trains and buses to go to the field along with the young ones and get together. They wear boots and uniforms just like the young students. They stay with the students from the morning collective prayer to the night prayer, in the hot desert, under sharp rays of the sun and teach them.
Let me share with you a memory of the stamina of these veterans. One day, at class, General Qavidel, had a hard attack on the podium. They sent him to the hospital. The same thing happened to professor Mofid and professor Bakhtiari who had an open heart surgery. Now, regardless of their health they are still teaching the students.
We dispatched the students to Muharram operation field. We decided to split the time of the class between the operational commander of Muharram operation and the division commander. Now, imagine these two commanders were consisted of someone who was a squad leader in the beginning and is now a retired as a second brigadier general, and who was then a mere soldier in the headquarters, has been a retired brigadier general for twenty years. We did not expect them to act professionally in dividing the time of the class. However, they both acted as if they were really in war. The commander of Muharram operation summoned division commanders. As he was standing on top of a hill, these commanders who were all pretty old by then ran up the hill as the students were watching them, as if they were young students. They could hardly climb up the hills. Some were shaking while running. I felt extremely bad for them and asked the operational commander if he could just go down the hill instead. He refused my offer by saying that he could not have a good view from down the hills and he would not be able to divide the field between his commanders. The interesting part is that while there was no real division, the division commander said that I had not been fair to his division by not giving him enough time. The other commander raised his hand and objected. Then the first one asked me to let his division not to participate in the operation. In the end, the commander of the operational headquarters examined the situation and announced that he has decided not to change his orders and everyone obeyed. They argued as if it was a serious army staff discussion.
I was standing there amazed. I never thought I was somebody. I was merely a humble servant in Ma’aref-e-Jang committee. I mean I simply serve the committee of martyr Sayad. I was the apprentice of all these masters. But I realized that they had all forgotten their positions and age conditions for a moment. They expressed their role so convincing that the audience would feel he was in the middle of a serious operation. With their permission, I explained to the students: “what you are witnessing was not planned before hand. This was a true return of these commanders to the army of the Holy Defense. Observe how they had become one with their military selves that they can vanish a twenty something year gap. This means that an army person would follow his military disciplines and mindset till he dies. Do not let the age and the white hair color of these commanders deceive you. If we have to go to war again, if our nation goes under attack, with a gesture from the supreme commander of armed forces, they would all join the army immediately.” I told the students: “These veterans capture the true meaning of waiting for the Major Occultation of Imam Zaman.” I told the exact same thing to his grace, the Supreme Leader. I told him that these old retired generals worked harder than young students in the camp. After the students went to sleep, I and the generals had meeting to criticize the past day and review next day’s schedule. No veteran would sleep before the midnight. I would go to sleep around 3 AM to sum up the discussion. I used to tell his grace that if these veterans were to work in a governmental organization and were to be paid according to their expertise, education level and the amount of work they do on camps, they should have been paid a hundred thousand Tomans per day which means that for a twelve day camp, we at least had to pay them 600 thousand to one million Tomans. The condition was so hard that some of them passed away during the camps. General Amrollah Shahbazi, may peace be upon him, and General A’inian were seriously injured and passed away. I will never forget general brigadier Panah Khosrow was giving a lecture for the students and I was standing behind him, when he suddenly fell into my arms and immediately passed away. I told the students that many cedars die standing. I reported such instances to his grace. After the camp, we would only give them the amount of money his grace had determined and blessed personally. If I ever allowed myself to give them such small amount of money, it was only because his grace had say prayers for that money. They would also overlook their position and accept the money wholeheartedly because of the same reason. His grace suggested the same thing again: to pass on this spirit to the young ones. He would also thank them in the letters.      
His grace, through a letter, ordered me to thank all the generals for their cooperation. Then he said: “Do all you can to pass on this military spirit, honor, strength and epic to the next generation.” He never really emphasized on teaching the disciplines of war. He even once said that the students learn the techniques in universities and repeat them in command courses and army staff. But, this spirit is what cannot be found in books. 
 
1. How many courses have been conducted after the martyrdom of Sayad Shirazi?
2. You said that you conduct these courses in the south of Iran. Why is that? The war was not limited to the south and it was spread to West and North West as well. Why did you limit the recreation of operations to south?
3. How many books have been published till now?
1. After the martyrdom of Sayad Shirazi, these courses, both the theoretic ones and the practical ones, were conducted annually. After 2005, the field based courses were expanded to the academic section affiliated with navy forces and air forces. Before 2005, the attendees were only the students from Imam Ali military academy. 
2. The answer to your second question is that the army provides us with this opportunity. In other words, they at most give us 15 days. We thought if we want to go to North, North West and South in 15 days, we will waist all our time on traveling and doing anything else would be practically impossible. We decided that if we were to choose among the operations, because of lack of time, we would choose operations such as Fath-al-Mobin, Tariq-al-Ghods and Beit-al-Muqadass which freed more than ten thousand square kilometers of Iran’s land each. We suggested them to extend the duration of camps to one month. But, because of the time the academic education of students take, we still have not been able to manage that.
However, during the recreation of the operations in South, we discussed the operations in West and North West in class. In the schedule of the lectures we included, instructors who wear operational commanders in North West. We have published more than 80 books in diverse subjects to cover the whole field of Ma'aref-e-Jang which martyr Sayad had in mind. He believed that memoirs, poetry and technical books about the operations should be considered as reference books for researchers. We also have included analytical books and critical books on the works done by other organizations about the Holy Defense.
Considering the fact that we do field research on all military operations, we seek those army men who can write and create valuable works on military matters. We even have log books such as What Happened in Shalamcheh, in Old Men's Class….

Translated by: Jairan Gahan


Talash Monthly, Issue 65, June 2010


 
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