Farangis, a Narration of the Brave women of Gilan Gharb

Interview and Compilation: Sara Reshadi Zadeh

Translated by: Mohammad Bagher Khoshnevisan


Note: Many authors have written about the memoirs of the eight-year Iraqi imposed war against Iran. The war had showed its bitter image not only in the western and southwestern cities and villages of Iran but also had forced men and women to defend their home. Mahnaz Fattahi is one of the writers who has narrated the braveries of Kurdish men and women through writing her memoirs and those of war witnesses in western fronts so that the history never forgets what days Iran has weathered during the war. 



At first, please introduce yourself and tell us where you were born.

* I am originally from Kermanshah, but was born in the city of Hamadan in 1968 and due to my father’s military career, we lived in different cities.


What happened that you become interested in writing novels and the area of war?

*We were in the town of Qasr-e Shirin during the war due to my father’s military career. I was in fifth grade of elementary school when the war began. As a child I witnessed the attack of Iraqi forces on Iran.

My father’s absence and being injured in the war and displacement from the city where we lived all provoked me to take my pen and write. At that time, I wrote my first article about the war. 

I was writing the war memoirs on a daily basis since the war started. At the peak of the war and air bombardment, my father was at war fronts regularly and since I was upset about my father’s absence and the status quo, I decided to start writing and my thinking of the sacred defense war became a sparkle for writing about war.


I was in the sixth grade of elementary school when I wrote my first work about the war, and at the age of 12, I sent my love quotes for Kayhan Bacheha magazine (special for children) and a cultural center. Contests were held in the areas of war and the sacred defense in these journals. After participating in the contests, one of my articles was printed in Kayhan Bacheha magazine. My two other works were also printed in Roshd magazine and I became a member of the center. At that time, I found out that I love to write.


Later, although I liked to become a physician, due to the restrictions of our living place, I continued my education in the field of French language and literature and this caused me to become familiar with the world literature.

My first professional writing was printed in 2010 under the heading “The Bitter Taste of Date”. It was in the form of a story and was selected by the press as the best work of the country.

In the beginning, I was writing more about children, but this book is about the scared defense, covering my own memories at a time when I was in the fifth grade of elementary school. The book was selected as the best seasonal book of the country and became a candidate for the Book of Islamic Republic; later it was selected as Parvin Etesami Biennial Award and when I saw that my work had been paid attention well, I published my second book under the heading "Another Ordibehesht".


This book is about the memories of a freed POW who was also my fellow town and had managed to escape from the Iraqi Suleimanieh Prison. I did this upon the order of the Islamic Revolution Literature Bureau and then, my other books entitled "Sepehr's Small Heart" and then "The book, Money-Box and Parole" were published. At present, I have published my last book entitled "Farangis". My other book titled "Open Shelter" is under publication. It is about the bombardment of Kermanshah.


Mrs. Fattahi, you said that "Open Shelter" which is under publication at present has been written on the basis of Kermanshah's bombardment; tell us more about this book and the city's pounding.

*"Open Haven" is one of my bitterest books and when I hear its name I find a special feeling.

To me, this book is one of the most valuable sacred defense books in our country which deals with the cruel bombardment of the Ba’athists. In this event, four hundred defenseless and innocent women and children were martyred in Kermanshah's Shirin Park shelter.


I suffered a lot to write this book since there was no source and reference even a small one about this huge event. More interestingly is that the information base of Kermanshah has been built on this place and at present it is the Sacred Defense Museum. I was forced to look for the relief workers, physicians and Basiji (volunteer) and police forces house to house in order to find the witnesses. It was hard and took a long time. For instance, I found some of the witnesses in Kish Island.   


When did this event happen and did you witness closely?

*When the event happened (March 16, 1988), I was in my house which was very close to Shirin Park. I remember that a missile hit our alley. I was hearing the voice of children and women and now after the passing of many years whenever I cross over the park, I hear the voice of those children who were shouting. Unfortunately, there is not even a single article about this incident. This book can be used as a main and initial reference for the writing of Shirin Park shelter.


I have asked from myself this question many times why nobody pays attention to such incidents. Law says that civilian shelters should not be attacked but this happened in Kermanshah, and if this book is identified to the world, then the view of the people of the world will be changed toward the sacred defense.   



In the position of a writer, has Farangis been able to transfer to the audience the content you had in mind?


When I chose this subject, I was after several goals one of the most important of which was to show the braveries and innocence of the people of this area that thanks God, I achieved this.

Then, I wanted to show others a great and important matter that is the role of women as it is deserved. So, together with the writing of Farangis's memoirs, I researched a lot and conducted interviews with many people. On the other hand, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution had stressed that the woman's memoirs should be registered and I felt this responsibility to do this.


It was important for me that the thirty-year memoirs of this woman were written in a book and thanks God, it had a good feedback in the region.



You referred to a good point, Mrs. Fattahi. The story revolves around a woman and you are a female writer. I want to know to what extent you have been able to be logical and not involved in identification with the narrator?


*In view of my experience, I knew that during the interview, I had to be involved in identification. In view of the works I did in this field and the studies I carried out on the scared defense, I saw in some of my writings that the writer should involve to some extent himself or herself or his or her in the book's subject. But as I already said, my main and initial goal was to write about the memoirs of Farangis and the realities of her life. That is why I started researching. I regularly said to myself that I have the role of registering the memories of this woman and tried to be impartial.



The name of the book is Farangis and the main character of the book is a woman with same name. But you in this book narrate a story; what is your summing up?

*In order to choose a title for the book, I tried to introduce a worthy name. When the Supreme Leader came to the area of Gilan Gharb, he visited Farangis who is a symbol of resistance in our area and in a speech stated, "There is a lady in your town who could defeat the enemy. Keep this icon for you and your town."

In view of the Leader's statements, I became more resolute in my decision. When the name of Farangis is called, everybody knows that it means Faranngis Heidar Pour, a woman who resisted with an axe.

With this thinking that Farangis is not an ordinary woman and the Leader's emphasis, I concluded that Farangis has become part of the history of this land and her name can be the symbol of the resistance of the men and women of this area.


The main character of the story is a woman named Farangis and the story revolves around women. Where is the position of men in this story and what is their role?  

*In this book, Farangis speaks and expresses her memories. But in every moment of the book, you face with the history of the sacred defense, especially in the section of defense you face with the area's men and see how Gilan Gharb turned into a resistance area by them.

I tried to introduce the great characters of the combatants and popular forces in this book in a way that it would be interesting even for the people of Gilan Gharb. For instance, I introduced martyr Hossein Basiri and martyr Hassan Beigi in this book and in general, it can be said that they are symbols of the braveries of the people in this area and all of them played a major role in the sacred defense.

I mean that you only do not read the memoirs of Farangis, but you are reviewing the life of every single man and woman of the area. So we should not think that Farangis is a womanly book and the role of men is weak.

We see in this book that the brothers of Farangis are introduced one by one and the story of their life is narrated. Moreover, one of the story's champions is a man who was very skilled and would eventually be martyred.   


What is your about the book's cover design? Has it been able to convince you and establish relation with the content?

*In view of the fact that the village where Farangis was living, leveled to the ground many times, she has no photo of that time or her childhood or teenage years. The only photo I saw from Farangis was the one she had taken in her trip to Mashhad. This photo was used as part of the book's cover along with a recent photo from her. Farangis, however was not satisfied and said it was flat. Nevertheless, I had suggested that another photo from her with traditional clothes were used for the cover which symbolized the bravery and arrogance of Farangis.


Why that photo was not used?

*I don't know. We suggested, and argued that it showed the indigenous atmosphere of the birthplace and was considered the symbol of the Kurds of the region, but the authorities did not agree.


As the writer of this book, what are the ups and downs of the book from your viewpoint?

*Well, the book must be read well. Some people call and tell me that some of the words need to be explained. For non-indigenous people, it needs some explanations. But in general, to me it is a good book. However, in further publications, the cover design should be changed.


Mrs. Fattahi, if the book is supposed to be translated one day, to what extent it can establish relation with international audience in your opinion?

*When I was writing this book, I was thinking it might become international and if it is translated it will find its status. Thus, I tried to write in a way that Farangis's tenderness and childhood attracts the audience and the power of Iran during the sacred defense is shown. In the position of a writer, I am sure that this great story has the ability to be brought up internationally.


What is your idea about the book's national status?

*If Farangis is identified and introduced well, it will be recognize in the community slowly and I see people who had read this book and say they have done this with tears.

I tried the content of the book to be intimate, fluent and attractive. Parts of the life of Farangis whether in childhood, youth or middle age were all attractive, and it was tried to establish relation with the young generation.

In part of the book, we read how Farangis was taken to and returned from Iraq and the resistance of an 18-year old woman which is so attractive that can absorb our young generation.


In your interviews with Farangis, certainly you had a specific standard. Tell us about these standards. What are you standards for selection of the questions and what subjects you wanted to ask?

*When we started the interview, I faced with a closed cultural atmosphere. I wanted to show Farangis and her life as it was. But she did not speak much and did not like to talk about many parts of her life. I tried to force her to speak by focusing on the main events of Farangis's life.

For instance, the childhood of Farangis was very important for me, because someone who can deal with problems so bravely, certainly he or she has had a difficult and attractive childhood. During her life, Farangis has weathered incidents like killing a soldier, building a house on a mountain, giving birth to a child with a knife in a minibus, and collecting the dead and injured while pregnant.

Nevertheless, despite her resistance, I could collect enough information from her. Farangis did not like to speak and in her opinion what she had not were normal ones. She said any woman with my position would do the same things.

The attempt of this woman for guarding her house and land is a symbol of keeping the values and ideals and it was very important for me that this point was highlighted in the book.


What sources did you use in your research?

*Some of the books were related to Gilan Gharb which I have brought their names at the end of the book. However, these sources were very limited for me who wanted to make more familiar with the town of Gilan Gharb and its different tribes. In this line, I went to visit two of the local researchers of Kermanshah like Mr. Keshavarz who gave me much information about the history of Gilan Gharb and its tribes.

Moreover, the people of Gilan Gharb in some of their weblogs load their documents, memoirs and I could use these documents and memoirs.


Where did live in the beginning of the war?

*We lived in Qasr-e Shirin.


Since you were living near the country's western borders, do you have any memory from those days?

*Yes, I have retold the memoirs in "The Bitter Taste of Date". I was a child on those days and had our own relaxation.

We heard voices from the borders but the people laughed and said, "Look, they were whistling". We did not know that the whistle was the voice of rockets.

We took a recorder to record the voice of the rockets whistling from far. Later when the voices were approaching the children scared and found out they were the bombs which hit the people.

I remember the first bombardment in Qasr-e Shirin which surprised the people. In general I have many memoires and at present I am writing them which will be published in my next book.


Since you are active in the area of oral history and memory-writing, how do you define these conceptions?

*Oral history is the one which is among the people. For example, when you read "Farangis", it seems as if you are hearing the eight-year sacred defense from the language of a woman who has narrated the war from its beginning to the end. Oral history is the same memoirs which has currently remained in the people's mind and should be registered in order to turn into oral history.


To you, what is our status in the area of oral history at present?

Today, we have had an increasing process both in terms of quality and quantity in oral history, and I hope this process could improve in the future.

When I was young, books with the theme of sacred defense were rarely published and we were careful what to say and to write. But in recent years, many books and memoirs have been written in this regard, showing the public's tendency towards scared defense memories.

About the war women, I told myself regularly why 35 years after the beginning of the war nobody has gone to find lady Farangis who has killed an Iraqi soldier and taken as captive another one? But now the memoirs of this woman have been registered. When I cross over her stone statue, I am not worried anymore, because I know that the people see this statue and know that it is the icon of resistance and are aware of her story and life.

I hope this process continues and other writers are also involved and every writer can publish a book about oral memoirs of the war especially in western Iran.


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