Involvement in Oral History will Prompt Promotion of Historical Documents.

Kazem Faramarzi

Interviewer: Fatemeh Nourvand

Head of National Documents Center and Library of Holy Defense Research Institute:

According to Iranian Oral History Website, National Documents Center and Library of Holy Defense Research Institute has held workshops attended by the leading oral history experts and professors for promotion of interview skills in historiography with the method of oral history since 2010. In this regard, we have interviewed Colonel Kazem Faramarzi, the Head of National Documents Center and Library of Holy Defense Research Institute about the reasons and circumstances of holding such workshops in the provinces.

Q: Colonel Faramarzi, please explain how the oral history workshops were set up by National Documents Center and Library of Holy Defense Research Institute?
A: The main approach of the center's activities and responsibilities is focused on the documents of Holy Defense. Significant and valuable activities have been carried out for the collection of the documents of the eight-year imposed war. These documents have been compiled in audio and visual forms. But they are not enough for the narration of important historical events. In view of the fact that the considerable part of the war's events have been remained in the mind of the people and the war combatants of that period, and since the experts believe that the memoirs of the narrators of the imposed war should be documented, we have tried to put more emphasis on the issue of oral history of Holy Defense.
One of the priorities of the research center in 2007 and 2008 was to put emphasis on the issue of oral history of Holy Defense. When executive orders were issued to the General Office of Holy Defense Values, Archives and Publications Foundation in the provinces, we took the first step and concurrently, held the first oral history workshop in the Hozeh Honari (Arts Center) attended by oral history experts and professors. This workshop was the source of the operational involvement in the issue of the oral history of Holy Defense. In view of our performance in the area of oral history in 2007 and 2008, we found out in an interview in 2010 that the interviewer would play the major role. He or she enters this area as a historian or a researcher. The interviewer should attain a targeted interview and eventually ends his or her work through transferring the subjects which have documented function.
Thus, we thought of the issue of training in this field and started to hold workshops for the oral history of Holy Defense since late 2010 with the first one held in Kerman Province.
The feedback of the oral history workshop in Khorasan Razavi Province persuaded us to continue to hold them in other provinces. So far, these workshops have also been held in the provinces of Eastern Azerbaijan, Fars, Semnan, Khuzestan, Gilan and Northern Khorasan.

Q: Could you explain us about the atmosphere of oral history workshops in the provinces? What do you do from 8 AM to 5 PM?
A: The oral history workshops are held in two parts. In the first part, the oral history experts and professors introduce their subjects. They talk about the techniques and skills of interviewing and how to record memoirs by oral history.  The peak of the workshop is in the evening when the session of Q&A is held given the backgrounds brought up for the participants in the morning. The experts and those who take part in this session believe that evening sessions have the main advantage, because the participants present their ideas which sometimes surprise the professors who understand what great capacities are in the provinces. These capacities can be trusted according to which we can predict a bright future for recording oral history in the provinces.

Q: How has been the impact and reflection of holding Holy Defense Oral History workshops?
A: Our operational and research field in the process of collecting the oral documents of the eight-year imposed war is the whole country. There are tens of thousands of people who can be interviewed. One of the ways for keeping the current of oral history alive in the provinces is to launch oral history workshops. When such workshops are held in the provinces, a coordination and familiarity is created among those who are interested and the ones who are active in this field.
If these workshops have the ability to approach together those families who are active in oral history in the provinces, it will have an important and influential function. They lessen the distance between the oral history experts residing in Tehran with those of other provinces.

Q: Do you continue to hold these workshops in the provinces or they are held just periodically and symbolically?
A: I believe that policy of the National Center for Documents is to pay more attention to the provincial activities since the feedback has been very positive. In view of the high costs of holding oral history workshops in Tehran and inviting the interested people from other provinces to come here, we saw better to travel to other provinces along with the leading oral history experts like Alireza Kamari, Mohsen Ghaniyari, Foruzfar and Hojjatoleslam Saeed Fakhrzadeh.  An expert of university professor in the field of oral history from the considered province also takes part in the workshop for showing the provincial capacities.

Q: Have the provinces, in which oral history workshops are held so far, carried out any activity about the province's oral history?
A: The whole provinces were present during Holy Defense and there has always been this concern how the legacy of this presence is transferred to the next generation. Before holding any workshop, we first observe the oral history of that province in order to find out what activities have so far been carried out so that we can follow them more systematically.  In addition to teaching on the sideline of the workshops, our experts become familiar with the plans done about oral history of Holy Defense in that province and in the same session, try to remove the problems by presenting solutions. I am of the view that the beginning of the job is hard and if the primary needs of the provinces regarding the techniques of interviewing are solved, their dependence on Tehran will become lesser. But their main problems are removed in the very first stages of contacting with Tehran's experts and professors.

Q: Successful talents in the area of history and oral history are discovered and recognized during the holding of the workshops in the provinces. Are the impacts and results of their performance supported by National Documents Center and Library of Holy Defense Research Institute?
A: Our approach in oral history is more person-oriented rather than subject-wise, because in person-oriented view, a person is concentrated on and this is possible and available. The subject-wise approach in oral history requires higher skill and practice in the interviewer. Unfortunately, the level of interview skills in the province is not acceptable. So, person-oriented approach is a prerequisite so that the interviewer attains necessary skills. We certainly finance the plans approved with this approach. We should grow the person-oriented approach in the oral history of the provinces because we can find one thousand people including military persons and civilians who played a role in the war in every province per capita, and use their valuable memoirs. This causes us to use the available sources which may disappear in the course of time. Time limits man and speed is of great importance more than anything else. The more the time is passed, the more we face historical bottlenecks because a significant part of those individuals, who are noticed by us, would become unavailable due to different reasons. One of the most obvious reasons is forgetfulness and the other is the passing away of the people which leaves less opportunity for us to record the events of the war. Many of the past oral history projects have been remained unfinished due to the passing away of the owner of the memoirs. 

Q: Given the current damages in oral history, have the oral history workshops in the provinces created a drive for recording the events of that province by oral history methodology?
A: Oral history is a way for receiving valid and well-founded documents. We often find out who is apt for telling memoirs given the collected documents. Some documents do not have historical value by themselves, but they make us move toward oral history. In fact, interview plays a major role in completing the documents and causes to increase the document's value. We have always stressed that the interview's complements are presented documentarily after the interview is conducted. Involvement in oral history prompts the promotion of documented activities and also creates a motivation in the person to collect documents directly and indirectly. Oral history is ambiguous for everybody at the beginning. The holding of oral history workshops causes these ambiguities to be removed through the recognition it creates and give boldness to the person to be involved in oral history.
When we for the first time went to the provinces to hold oral history workshops, faced with hesitation, but when the workshops were held and we came back to Tehran, the provinces insisted us to manage to hold these workshops again. We asked them to refer the organizations and institutions like Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Basij (voluntary forces), Red Crescent, the Artistic Department, and Jihad and so on in order to have enough info in recording their documents so that they can compile more complete and precise documents.

Q: In view of the step you have taken for promotion of oral history, how do you see the status of oral history and where is it going at present?
A: Oral history can be reviewed from two points of view. First, it is an inevitable necessity especially for the societies which want to honor their past and think of leaving a valuable treasury for posterity with this past. When the Iraqi imposed war against Iran started, no military and civilian organization was ready for the war. They did not even have a mechanism for recording of its events. Thus, they were deprived of having documents. If the document of time and place loses its own production, it won't worth anymore. Therefore, with the great extension of the information and documents of Holy Defense era, the only hope for us is oral history. Second, we are in the beginning of the move in this hard path. Although more than two decades have passed since the imposed war came to an end, the activities carried out for the oral history recording of the eight-year imposed war are slight. We are in the beginning of the work and face with many problems. If we enter with full intelligence that is to use the elite's scientific capacities and the findings of other societies in the area of oral history, and turn to training capacities, then we will advance.
Training is one of the main strategies of oral history. In this way, we can use the elements and secrets which brought victory for us. Being popular of the war was one of the main reasons behind the victory of our country during those years. Thus, oral history can find popular aspect and we should not merely mention the performance of the organizations. We can increase the collection of valuable information significantly by using young, effective and elite forces and those who are interested in the past.
One of the differences of our war with those of the world was its human aspects as well as its spiritual morale and faith.
At present, we have stopped in the first stages of oral history of Holy Defense. According to a professor, if we had chosen the bad choice, between bad and the worse, during the past one or two decades, we would have won. It means that if we conducted interviews imperfectly and recorded them, it would have been much better.  At least if the important historical data of a person had been recorded ten years ago, it would have had a better result than the present time.
Our emergence and maturity in oral history comes through movement. The best training is to take steps. The capacity of our elite in oral history is the same men who have conducted interviews without training, those who are now recognized as the leaders of interview. They have obtained the best techniques and training in the experiment field. However, at present, we do not confirm that inexperienced and untrained people are involved in this area, because there is no chance for trial and error after more than two decades when the war ended.
Oral history has become a pervasive current and has been created in all institutions and organizations. We are weak in organizational mechanisms and one of our vacuums is the lack of an info bank from the interviews conducted during the past two decades.  I mean what has resulted in the form of an interview can be searched and documented in a center. For example, the families of the martyrs are complaining that they have been asked for interviews for tens of times. So, such centers should reach the mutual understanding that they must exchange their documented information in oral history.

Translated by: Mohammad Baqar Khoshnevisan

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