Discussing the Historiography of the Revolution with Hedāyatollah Behbūdi

Hedāyatollah Behbūdi

Not long ago, in one of the special episodes on history in the TV show Hezār-o Yek Shab aired during the days commemorating the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Hedāyatollah Behbūdi and Ja`far Golshan, as experts, discussed the historiography of the Islamic Revolution. Their discussion might more or less be regarded as a report on the status quo of the historiography of the Revolution. From the perspective of oral history, reading the said discussion had its merits; therefore, the website of the Iranian Oral History took it upon itself to transcribe the discussion. It should here be noted that once transcribed, the result was modified by Mr. Behbūdi before it was published on the website.

Golshan: we are to discuss a topic long abandoned with our dear guest on the eve of the anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution. The historiography of the Revolution is one of the major theoretical themes in the field of research, and if it is attended to properly, we could reap the many benefits and results. It could serve as a milestone in the way of future historical researches. We are discussing this tonight with Mr. Hedāyatollah Behbūdi, who has been the head of the Bureau for the Islamic Revolution Literature at the Iranian Arts Center (Hoze Honari) for more than two decades. There have so far been many works published, whether biographies, researches, or even chronologies by the said bureau under his supervision. He has furthermore carried out many historical researches, especially with the topic of the Islamic Revolution. In a word, he has been researching the Revolution for quite some time now and is thus a prominent researcher in the field. Mr. Behbūdi, we are so pleased to have you here in our programme.

Behbūdi: In the Name of Allah. I would like to say hello to the audience.

Golshan: Before I get into any discussion with Mr. Behbūdi, I would like to clear out two concepts: historiography and history writing. There does exist a subtle difference between the two in the field of history, and the field of history owes its dynamism to this meticulousness. I now ask Mr. Behbūdi whether it is possible for us to consider any special historiography for the Islamic Revolution. And if so, what are the major trends of such a historiography?

Behbūdi: What you are proposing has a background, and that is historicism. I believe that no historical period or generation is above historicism, and it is precisely this belief which leads them all to write and research about history, albeit for one in a simplified manner and for another in the form of a science. I have elsewhere underlined this as well, and I believe it is useful to know that the historiography of the Islamic revolution may from a perspective be divided into three periods, with the first period being the 60s and starting sometime after the victory of the revolution. There are many translated sources and other writings by ambassadors and journalists who represented their news media and witnessed the events and those politicians who in their own homelands got first-hand news of the events. These people wrote the first writings on the Revolution, and their writings were later translated and considered in Iran.

Golshan: So you say that our first writings on the Revolution were imported from other countries?

Behbūdi: Yes. We were in fact but the consumers of sources authored by others. Yes, there existed some domestic sources, but those were few. One might say that Hāj Mehdi`s unsaid words was an exception in the field of oral history, and this was also the case for the first volume of the book by Seyyed Hamid Rohāni. There were furthermore few local historiographies on Esfahān and other cities. Then we have the 70s which was the decade right after the Imposed War when we were beginning to realize that not much had been done regarding a major event such as the Revolution. This decade witnessed the emergence of a new historical genre: oral history. The said genre began to extensively collect and publish the memories of witnesses and the individuals who were around during the Revolution. The advent of this available and fast-growing genre led to equilibrium in the production of translated works in the 60s and the production of domestic sources in the 70s. The final years of the 70s witnessed the opening of documentary archives. Archival organizations, abiding by their own rules, provided the researchers directly or indirectly with the necessary sources. For instance, with the release of the documents of the Center for the Historical Documents Survey, the Islamic Revolution Document Center, the Institute for Political Researches and Studies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Office`s Center for Documentation, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and other organizations such as the Iranian Institute for Contemporary History and the National Archives Organization; the field of historiography found itself bouncing forward. In the 80s, the production of domestic sources was scaled up to be higher than the production of translated works. We may now consider a fourth period: the period during which we are tapping into historiography and researching history. This period opens up new horizons which shall later be discussed.

Golshan: I understand that you mean there are three sources: imported or translated works, oral history, and then archival books. After three decades of gathering sources on the Revolution, we can now review these historiographies and take into account the historiography of the Revolution. But, is there such an ambience among the researchers for them to consider the historiography of the Revolution?

Behbūdi: well, you see we are pushing through a process of trial and error. From the perspective of historiography, rather than relying on the predecessors and those forces who dabbed in historiography even before the Revolution, we tend to rely far more on those that began their work after the revolution. That was why I believe that the process of trial and error is coming to an end, marking the beginning of a professional era in the field of historiography.

Golshan: And that would be criticizing, analyzing, and examining our writings.
Behbūdi: Yes, that`s right.

Golshan: What you mentioned earlier made me wonder. In the first decade, we have those works which were translated from non-Persian sources into Persian. This may lead to the impression that we had no domestic way of analyzing the Islamic Revolution, and there was mostly an approach imported from other countries. Did this not influence our understanding and analysis of the Revolution?

Behbūdi: Well what you propose is one of the long-lasting shortcomings of historiography. In order to uncover the basics of the Revolution, we have for years dealt with theories complied in other countries and then imported into Iran through translation. Some have tried to identify the causes of the Revolution by applying these theories when amazingly enough western academics are after these many years revising these theories and have concluded that what has so far been proposed falls short of explaining that great event which took place in Iran. You may well know that for long we applied theories such as Nikki Keddie`s multi-urbanism in Iran's Revolution or Theda Skocpol`s views regarding the Islamic Revolution or other theories such as uneven development. We have never been able to develop a domestic theory which would originate in our own country and would in line with our national beliefs take into consideration our national traditions. There have been many general views proposed. We may well assume that this was a divine revolution; no loyalist to the Revolution would ever oppose such a view, yet this true view should be made scientific and presented in the form of a tangible theory that could well be proposed. We cannot ratify theorization about the Revolution with these general views. There now exists a foreign theory which is based on uninterpretability. One of the western academics believes that the Revolution is not interpretable; i.e. it rejects all written about it so far. Yes, we still suffer from such a shortcoming; therefore, advocates, theorists, and scholars of the Revolution had better change this by proceeding to develop a theory of the Revolution based upon its domestic origins.

Golshan: Then you say that the westerners, those who do not write in Persian, increasingly approach the Revolution with a new perspective or from a new angle and try to better fathom the Revolution and all its aspects. In other words, they now feel that it is a significant phenomenon, so there exists a need to review what has been observed before. Now if you wish to continue with this discussion, the topic of oral history as you proposed, let us presume that these reviewer perspectives by which we can analyze a new aspect every day, have a re-analysis, and approach the subject from a new scientific angle are political sociology, economic sociology or other fields such as history or psychology. Does there exist such a mentality among researchers to approach the Islamic Revolution from these perspectives?

Behbūdi: I believe that we are yet to be there. We have so far successfully pushed past the stage of developing the preliminary sources.

Golshan: Meaning that the data necessary for researching the Revolution has been published.

Behbūdi: It so appears, and anyone who wishes to employ these elements may have them well at his/her disposal. Now it is time for the specialists of the aforementioned fields to gather around and employ these elements and apply different perspectives. I believe that we are yet to be there.


Golshan: You're right! So you believe that oral history outweighs the written one should we study the works released in post-revolution Iran except those which took an analytic approach to the Islamic revolution. Is it possible to say that the oral history and the documents have forced the research on the Islamic revolution to move in a certain direction?

Behboudi: look! It is a possibility raised by some. The reason is that most of these works have been released by the government-run organizations which are said to advance their own understanding of the revolution. To be fair, they are not limited in number while our access to foreign works is limited. You know, almost all the books released by overseas centers working on oral history – both European and American ones- are available in Iran. I mean they are either printed or easily accessed. Moreover, they have been and are cited widely, and there is no problem in this regard. Even if the false claim that we are looking from a specific angle is accepted, that does not mean that we are deprived of these books. Therefore, it is the references on hand that facilitate the study of the Islamic revolution.

Golshan: You seem to have implied that works translated into Persian are regularly revised and updated. They also look at this issue from different angles and present new views. Is it true about the oral history and documents? Can we determine their weak points? What about their strong points?

Oral history became prevalent in Iran due to a number of reasons; the first of which was the nationalist sentiments people and revolutionary officials shared. They had obtained a long-yearned-for jewel and did their best to keep it safe. According to the statistics released by the Foundation of Martyrs and Veteran Affairs, 5500 Iranians sacrificed their lives for the revolution between 1953 and 1979 while 220000 Iranians lost their lives during the Iraqi-imposed war. I mean we paid a heavy toll for safeguarding the revolution. Such a revolution for which enormous sacrifices are made should be recorded in history. The easiest genre which facilitated the realization of this objective was oral history. Both people and officials welcomed this genre warmly. Of course, there were obstacles which were removed. They came and recited their memories. At present, we have a considerable volume of such works. Naturally, the expansion of any work is accompanied by the emergence of shortcomings which grow in proportion to the expansion. Adequate pathological studies have been conducted. Up to now, a number of academic meetings have been convened to study the oral history and address its weak as well as strong points. Anyhow, oral history is based on "I", the narrator's "I" and looks at events from a single angle. This is not favorable in itself, but it is one of the pieces of Islamic revolution jigsaw puzzle. Therefore, we consider oral history to be a source of historiography and a step leading to it.

Golshan: A question came to my mind right now. Oral history is assumed to have involved only the first and second-rate players of the revolution. I mean (only) those who were actively involved had the opportunity to have their memories published. I think an extensive study of the revolution requires the participation of players and observers of third, fourth, fifth, and even lower tiers.

Behboudi: You are now pointing to the second failure. The first one arose from our negligence in theorizing about the Islamic revolution and the second one from our negligence to address the social history of this period. You're right. We failed to address the lower tiers of society while we addressed the great men, great days and great accomplishments of revolution. Once a friend of mine told me that you have published two voluminous books on a small group which came to existence due to armed activity in early 1970s and disappeared a few years after the victory of revolution while you have failed to study a large social tire of cultural, economic, and even sociological significance. We have failed to address our social history and lower tires of the society.

What about the documents section? I mean its strong and weak points?
Behboudi: Writers of history can never claim to have all the documents at the ready. There is always some shortcomings, some weak points. But now we have access to an unprecedentedly large volume of documents. I mean the measures recently taken by Mr. Rasoul Ja'farian in the Parliament Library were fabulous. He put most of the documents on the Internet. Most of the manuscripts once hardly-available are now on the Internet. After receiving the documents of Iranian constitution revolution from the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive, the National Library followed suit and put them on the Internet, too.

What he did was an incredible achievement!

Behboudi: Unfortunately, I received the sad news of his resignation yesterday. I wish it to be rejected and him to keep on serving as the head of the library. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Center for Documents and Diplomatic History does its best to offer the documents, but its hardware would be out of order. They have good intentions, indeed. Some people would not approve of the head of Islamic Revolution Documents Center because of his political tendencies, but Mr. Husseinian treats the researchers humanely. You know, I am just naming the entities with which I have cooperated. Moreover, a hard-to-access place like the Ministry of Intelligence has publicized the documents it had collected in its Center of Historical Documents Studies for the past ten or fifteen years.

Golshan: SAVAK?

Behboudi: Yes, SAVAK (The National Intelligence and Security Organization). Put the pieces together and complete the jigsaw puzzle; the research is welcomed! However, there is always something to regret for!

Golshan: Have you ever identified a specific shortcoming while doing such an extensive research? For instance, a document which should have been publicized or something like that?

Behboudi: That's a hard question!

Golshan: Is there an area whose issues have not been completely exposed? Say, the social issues of the revolution!

Behboudi: I can't categorize them. However, I have to name the presidential documents. If you remember, the Office of President began publishing the documents and some 25-30 remarkable books came into print. However, this came to a sudden standstill just due to change of management.

Golshan: Do you mean that change of management led to the standstill?

Behboudi: Yes. The question is why this happened. We were told that there are valuable documents there and simply became deprived of them! Such things make me say that there is always something to regret for! I feel a dire need for the documents which are left unused! There are some shortcomings I hope to be eliminated.

Golshan: As far as I know, you are the member of MAHTAB (Persian acronym for: The National Historiography and Documents Centers Coordination Association). Do the members of MAHTAB discuss the future publication of documents and consider new aspects of research on the Islamic revolution in their regular meetings? Is there a plan or not?

MAHTAB is its Persian acronym. It is, in fact, the association of historical research organizations and information and documents banks and presided by Dr. Salehi who also heads the National Library. As the head of MAHTAB, Dr. Salehi should talk about the association. But as a member, I state that we are now improving our relations and considering avenues of cooperation.

Golshan: As Islamic Revolution Studies Centers?

Behboudi: Yes, we researchers should cooperate with each other. As I told you, we should pass thorough this stage to find the opportunity to serve the society in the near future. It’s just a matter of time!


Golshan: You have for long been researching the Islamic Revolution. Were you to describe the status of documentary publication in the coming year, what would you propose? How should more documents be published? Will researching the Revolution acquire new depth, be armed with different perspectives, and be further enriched?

Behbūdi: I do not wish for more sources to be published; I wish for these sources to be processed.

Golshan: I have a feeling that the publication of documents shall continue.

Behbūdi: Yes, it shall. But imagine that the current deposit is enriched ten times more, yet it will be of no use if it sees no processing and leads to no more works.

Golshan: The Revolution spread into many regions in the country, regions which participated exuberantly in the Revolution. They had so felt the wave of the Revolution, with their locals taking an active role in the Revolution, rising up against the Pahlavi Regime. I have noticed that these events have been underplayed in the books so far published on the subject of the Revolution. There are cities about which a book is yet to be published. Do you consider these as voids? Do you believe that these are shortcomings?

Behbūdi: Well, you pointed out something important. I think that local historiographies on the subject of the Revolution have direct connection with the national identity of Iranians. This is all because of these reasons: the first is that the Revolution had a wide domain, spreading across the country as wide as the geography of Iran. We witness an event in major cities which would immediately repeat itself in a village. An event that occurred in a memorial service in a village in Māzandaran reoccurred in Mināb, in Hormozgān. We witness a similar event in a city in Kordestān and in Sistān Balūchestān. So the first reason is that the Revolution spread as wise as the geography of Iran. The second significance of local historiographies is indicative of the way our cities rely upon sources in order take proud in their past. You may have noticed that in any city, intellectuals feel proud of the history of their cities and attempt to base their works on the facts of their birthplaces and the regions they come from. This tendency towards the Revolution naturally exists in different cities and is strengthened with local historiographies. Local pride is only a form of national pride in miniature; national pride may further be enhanced and re-emphasized by national pride. What I wish to demonstrate here is that when put together, these issues depth and content; we see that the Islamic Revolution featured the national identity of Iranians. You well know that there live many tribes and clans in Iran and their management throughout the centuries was an art accomplished by sovereigns. Much has been invested to stir disunity among Iranian ethnicities and tribes. It was at last national unity that kept them loyal to their homeland and their religion, in particular. The Islamic Revolution, as we saw, was an embodiment of this.

Golshan: And even after that, during the War.

Behbūdi: The War was the apex of this. You well know that there was a time that there was much effort to endorse kings and sultans as a pillar of identity. Our history abounds with examples of this. The recent decades saw an attempt to replace this with race and then in a period language, the Persian language. However, the Revolution proved that thought, which in Iran manifests itself in Islam and Shiism, resembles a container that holds together race and language as well as different tribes and has a capacity to reshape them. From this perspective, local historiographies may well reveal our national identity in a country wherein all wishes and events are embodied by one color and voice in a region called the geography of Iran which is now extending into the Iranian Plateau. I wished to explain the significance of local historiography from this perspective.

Golshan: Has this subject been attended to as you would deem necessary (and I fully agree with you on that)?

Behbūdi: We spoke of a wish.

Golshan: Will it be attended to?

Behbūdi: Insha`Allah (God willing).

Golshan: Why do you think it has been postponed so far? Is it not interesting enough?

Behbūdi: The centre sucks in all energy; there would be a time before it would be fixed.

Golshan: So you say that Tehran is so special because it represented the centre in the Revolution?

Behbūdi: Not the centre, but the drum of the Capital city once struck, would produce a far louder sound in comparison to other cities.
Golshan: In retrospect, have there been enough sources produced for us to write local historiographies on the subject of the Islamic Revolution?

Behbūdi: You see, some major cities like Esfahān have done this. Tabriz is doing this, and as far as I know it has been carried out in Shiraz. Occasionally this task is carried out far more quickly and more exuberantly in smaller cities.

Golshan: In all the works published so far, has there been an attempt to publish the documents and write the oral history of smaller cities as well?

Behbūdi: No, they are dependent on larger cities. What I meant was that intellectuals in districts, smaller cities, and counties should pay attention to this matter, for their work is in fact the crème de la crème of the historiography of the Islamic Revolution.

Golshan: We are apparently in short of time. Do you think that regarding the history of the Revolution, there can be any points or concerns proposed which you find interesting?

Behbūdi: I have heard from some precursors that the historiography of the Islamic Revolution is yet to be adequately considered. But, considering all we said tonight and my first-hand observations during these past 20-25 years, I believe that we may not worry about the production of sources. We should be more concerned regarding other things such as imparting the knowledge of these facts into the next generation in the form of history; that is a task that the Ministry of Education has failed to accomplish and a task not taken seriously in our universities. Those who have a first-hand experience of the Revolution feel a particular form of affinity towards it. Those who have heard of the Revolution or have watched it on TV feel another form of affinity. These two are not the same. In essence, they are completely different, and there exists a wide gap between the two. I believe that we should worry about this gap and worry that the originality and clarity of this Event is not transmitted into the next generation. You see, being a Muslim differs from having a historical knowledge. We should not congratulate ourselves only because the next generation is going to be Muslim; we should worry whether it will share in the same historical memory of the first generation or not. Will it inherit the identity forged by the first generation? I worry about this and not producing sources.

Golshan: Could you explain our current status in producing analytic works?

Behbūdi: As I earlier in our discussion mentioned, it has so begun. You may well consider what Mr. Rasūl Ja`fariān did with the religious and political parties and movements of the years 1320 AP (1942) to 1357 AP (1979); it was a quintessential work. We have other similar examples.

Golshan: Another question just occurred to me. I believe that others might share in my concern. For some researchers researching the eight-year War holds more fascination than the Islamic Revolution. To tell the truth, the heroic deeds during the eight-year Sacred Defense, those memories, events, and valorous deeds are imbued with much ardor rarely felt in researching the Islamic Revolution. What is your view?

Behbūdi: Not only is it the case with research, but it also holds true in case of other fields such as literature, culture, and cinema wherein the Revolution is overshadowed by the War. Those who work in the field of the Revolution may only bemoan their jealousy and not speak of it as a bad event. Anyway, the Revolution is being overshadowed in all fields. Are there as many filmmakers in the field of the Revolution as there are on the subject of the War?

Golshan: No.

Behbūdi: Are there as many poets writing about the Revolution as there are poets portraying the War? I am not saying that this is a nuisance; I am saying that it should be fixed. If there was ever a war, it was all because there took place a revolution in the first place. So even if we are to consider one as the offshoot of the other, we should assign the central role to the Revolution. But, as you mentioned, the events of the War had such depth and at the same time appealed so much to the public opinion that it won the hearts of many viewers.

Golshan: Thank you very much, Mr. Behbūdi, and thank you our dear audience. There is yet much to discuss tonight. And if we had more time, there was yet much to discuss and ask; and I wish that this was the case. Yet, I feel we got to discuss the topic of the historiography of the Islamic Revolution adequately to the best of our abilities, and we got to analyze its different dimensions with Mr. Behbūdi. I hope that we continue with this discussion on the historiography and history writing of the Islamic Revolution further at another ample time in our future programs on history in the next year.

Translated by: Katayoun Davallou

Number of Visits: 9652


Full Name:

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