A report from the 10th Expert Meeting of Iran’s Oral History

Oral history has a popular nature


Fatemeh Moradi
Translated by Mohammad Baqer Khoshnevisan

2016-2-14


Note: According to the website of Iranian Oral History, the 10th Expert Meeting of Iran’s Oral History titled “The Oral History of Iranian Islamic Revolution 1963-1979” was held in Tehran’s Artistic Bureau on 27th of January 2016. The meeting was hosted by the Institute for Studies of Iranian Contemporary History with cooperation of the Association for Iranian Oral History.

 

Opening and first session

The 10th Expert Meeting of Iran’s Oral History started with the recitation of the holy Quran and anthem of the Islamic Republic. Then, the organizer of the plan Seyed Mohammad Mir Kazemi while welcoming the participants said, “The first meeting of oral history was held in Isfahan in 2013 and the 9th one entitled “Oral History of Self-Sacrifice and Martyrdom “held last year hosted by the Martyr Foundation. Now, the 10th Meeting of the Oral History of Islamic Revolution is holding with the joint cooperation of the Association for Oral History and the Institute for Studies of Contemporary History.”

Mirkazemi added, “The Institute for Studies of Contemporary History is an important center for the events and historiography of the Islamic revolution. Dr. Mussa Faqih Haqani, the Scientific Secretary of the conference is the Head of the Institute for Studies of Contemporary History who has many compilations in the area of the history of the Islamic revolution and oral history.” Among his works, mention can be made of “The History of Political Developments in Iran”, “Pahlavi Dynasty as Narrated by Pahlavi”, and “Iranian Contemporary History from Safavid Era to Islamic Revolution".

 

Institute deals with history of the latest 200 years

In continuation of the meeting, Dr. Haqani, the Scientific Secretary of the conference explained about 10th Expert Meeting of Iran’s Oral History10th, saying, “The Institute for Studies of Iranian Contemporary History is an active center in the area of the historiography of the revolution but is not the administrator of the historiography of the Islamic revolution. However, it tries to research about the history of Iran during the past 200 years in political and cultural areas. The Association for Oral History with the cooperation of the Institute for Studies of Iranian Contemporary History has resorted to hold oral history conference since a year ago. Why oral history? Because oral history is a serious documentation of historiography in registering events and various centers inside and outside Iran are active in the area of Iran and Islamic revolution and numerous sources have been released in this area.”  

 

Oral history articles to be welcomed

Dr. Haqani, the Scientific Secretary of the conference added, “The oral history of Iran’s Islamic revolution includes two currents, one which narrates by those who have been toppled, and the other by those who toppled the Pahlavi regime; reports exist from both currents which should be criticized and studied, because each of the currents narrates from their own view and they must be criticized and reviewed in order to reach logical results.  The oral history conference was held in nine subjects and thirty articles were sent for it and we welcome more articles in the area of oral history till the end of the Iranian New Year on 21st of March 2016.”

Then, writer and researcher Dr. Yaqub Tavakoli spoke about the historiography of the revolution in view of the oral and written memoirs of the Pahlavi statesmen. He said, “There are attitudes and views ruling over the resources and history of the Pahlavi history which consider the occurrence of the Islamic revolution as a tragedy. This is evident in the books “Response to History” by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and “I and My Brother” by Ashraf Pahlavi and the memoirs collected by Lajevardi in Harvard University.”

He added, “None of the statesmen of Pahlavi era do not consider a negative role for themselves and they are after to accuse someone. In the book “Response to History”, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi refers to foreign enemies in occurrence of the Islamic revolution, but Ashraf Pahlavi thinks that the Americans were involved in providing the grounds for the Islamic revolution. Fereydoon Howeida in his book “Fall” introduces the person of Shah as the main factor of the fall, saying “The Shah was so corrupt which there is no need to look for someone else. On the other hand, Jahangir Tafazolli defends the Shah, blaming his insiders for the fall of Pahlavi regime. Ali Amini in his memoirs considers the National Front as the factor of the Shah’s fall. At the same time, Abdolmajid Majidi the Chief of the Organization of Planning and Budget of the Pahlavi regime in his memoirs released by Harvard University blames the increase of oil prices and economic splurge for Shah’s fall.” 

Tavakoli said, “None of these works have considered any role for the people of Iran who played a major role in the victory of the Islamic revolution. For using the resources, the researchers should pay attention to the ruling atmosphere on them.”

Another speaker of the 10th Expert Meeting of Iran’s Oral History was Mohammad Reza Kaeeni, writer and researcher who presented his article under the heading “Memoirs and Dangers in Area of Oral History”. He said, “Oral history is considered as the main pillar of historiography in the world and our country. The reality is that the collection of oral history has its own difficulties. In collecting the memoirs of the late Ayatollah Taleqani a prominent figure of the Islamic revolution, we with the cooperation of one of the children of Ayatollah Taleqani were busy studying, reviewing and conducting interviews about him for two decades. During the interviews, we witnessed two approaches, one was the groups of Mujahedin-e Khalq and Freedom Movement who were trying to hide the face of Ayatollah Taleqani’s opposition to arrogant powers and highlight his nationalistic face, and the second one was the clergies and the individuals inside the government who introduce him as an international figure and sensitive to the issues of the Islamic world and anti-arrogant. Both groups have representatives, presenting two different narrations which sometimes cause the history to be distorted.”

The next speaker was Syrous Sa’dvandian, a researcher in Iran’s social and political history. The title of his article was “Memoirs and Dangers in Oral History”, speaking about verbal harms in the area of oral history and referred to the role of modern technology like tablets and cell phones and their impact on oral history.

 

History is like sea and needs skilled swimmer

The next speaker was Mussa Najafi, a writer and researcher and the Head of the Research Center of Political Thought and Islamic Civilization. The title of his article was “A Brief Look at Oral History and Memoirs Written by the Pahlavis”. He said, “Oral history is categorized in the area of narrative history and the narrative history is as follows: oral history, memory-writing and documents. The status of oral history is different in the incidents and events. Oral history has three important components: 1- interviewer, 2- interviewee, and 3- the concluded text which is among the important pillars. In oral history interviews, I faced with the individuals who were clergies and ordinary people at the time of the occurrence of an event but were Source of Emulation at the time of interview."

Elsewhere in his remarks, Najafi said, "The raw narrations collected during an incident, are faced with analysis in the next stage. Thus, oral history is the first step; the analytical part of this method is weaker. The humans are closer to reality; they see the details, but the details play a minor role in history and are far. They see the generalities and this is important. There are points in oral history interview which do not exist in memory-writing; for instance, in an interview with a narrator, the tone of the narrator about individuals is different. History is like sea, it has greatness; swimming looks easy, but a skilled swimmer is not drowned in the sea."

At the end of the first meeting of the 10th Expert Meeting of Iran’s Oral History titled “The Oral History of Islamic Revolution 1963-1979”, Mirkazemi said, "Those who want to know more about the history of the revolution must study the biography of the founder of the Islamic revolution Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul) and the Leader of the Islamic revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei."

 

2nd session

The second session of the 10th Expert Meeting of Iran’s Oral History was held with the chairmanship of Alireza Kamari, history writer and researcher, an expert in the area of oral history and the Head of the Research Department of the Office of Resistance Literature and Art of the Art Bureau as well as Morteza Rasouli Pour, writer and researcher and the Head of the Oral History Department of the Institute for Studies of Iranian Contemporary History.

The first speaker of the second meeting was Dr. Ali Asghar Saeedi, a researcher and an associated professor in the Social Science College of Tehran University who presented his article entitled "Economic Oral History: The Historical Analysis of Economic Action".

Saeedi said, "Oral history is growing in our community but its role in economic discussions is downplayed, while in western research, it plays a major role in the areas of economy, and immigration."

He added, "In this article, I tried to show the role of oral history in clarifying or disputing the issues whose analysis seems to be ending; because these narrations can make clear some vague economic subjects in the economic history of Iran. Therefore, I used industrialists, merchants, economic technocrats, entrepreneurs and private sector investors. In the issue of Iranian Chamber of Commerce, the post-revolution researches show that a dispute had existed between the merchants in the chamber, and the Industries Chamber was established since 1963 and grew, and all the discussions have been released in the memoirs collected by Lajevardi in Harvard University. Based on these documents, we found out how the SAVAK (Shah's secret police) had played role in choosing the board of directors of a factory."

He also added, "The article deals with the clarifying of the role and characteristics of family business firms in Iran and the status of non-economic and economic activists including businessmen and industrialists."

In continuation, Dr. Morteza Mirdar, a PhD student in history in Qazvin University and the Deputy Head of Oral History Department of the Islamic Revolution Document Center presented his article under the heading "Criticizing of the book Wisdom and Politics: Memoirs of Dr. Seyed Hossain Nasr" co-authored by Javad Arbani. The book "Wisdom and Politics" narrated by Seyed Hossain Nasr, Farah Pahlavi's Head of Office is one of the books in the area of oral history criticized by Morteza Mirdar and Javad Arbani.

Mirdar said, "Hossain Nasr was a statesman in the Pahlavi era. He was the grandson of Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri who went to America for education with the support of his family. He continued his education in the field of physics. After graduation in the United States, he became of the professor of Tehran University at the age 25. He had various educational and scientific posts during the Pahlavi era and eventually was appointed as Farah Pahlavi's Head of Office. He got familiar with the individuals like Allamah Tabatabaee, Mohammad Kazem Nasr, and Ayatollah Motahari which continued until the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979. He went to America before the Islamic revolution and taught in George Washington University.  He publishes his memoirs titled "Wisdom and Politics" upon the offer of Hossain Dehbashi, the Head of Oral and Visual Collection of Contemporary Iran."

He added, "In his narrations, Nasr has gotten into narcissism; for example, he has praised himself with regard to culture, and in the page 137 of the book, he describes the viewpoint of Farah Pahlavi toward himself this way: Nobody like me has knowledge and culture."

Mirdar added, "After the publication of "Wisdom and Politics", Nasr claimed that some of his words have been distorted. The books which are published in oral history area in the Islamic revolution Document Center should have the signature of the narrator so that the book's shortcomings should not be up to the interviewer or compiler."

In continuation of the second meeting, Dr. Shifteh Nik Nafs, writer and researcher and a member of the oral History Department of the Iran's National Archive presented her article under the heading "The Influence of art of play in occurrence of Islamic revolution".

 

Dr. Nik Nafs refers to the evolution of theatre in Iran and said, "Nassereddin Shah established the first theater in Iran, and there were informative economic and political topics in part of the theater of that period; in a way that when the Majlis (parliament) was bombarded during Qajar, the Akhovat Theater was also bombarded. Most plays were performed with non-Iranian writers or western-translated works until 1340s (1960s) and a non-Iranian atmosphere existed in the plays. The first translated play was "Misanthropic Report". With the creation of open political atmosphere in 1320s in Iran, and the activities of the parties and political groups, the theater became an arena for politics. A person named Abdolhossain Noushin who had educated in France and Russia was a member of Tudeh Party and a theatre-goer. His troupe performed plays like a party group."

He added, "The cultural aspects have been paid more attention than political ones in performing plays. After the August 19 coup, Shahin Sarkissian had the most influence on Iranian theater, and the artists were looking for Iranian identity in 1330s and 1340s. Artistic schools such as "Saqakhaneh Art" was raised inspired by the image of martyrs and …"

Nik Nafs Said, "We in 1340s face with the emergence of the state Sangelaj Theater which did perform political plays, and for criticizing the country's economic situation, some plays were performed for criticizing the poverty which later turned into movies like the "Cow" which later turned into a cinematic work by Dariush Mehrjouee."

In continuation of the second meeting, Rasouli Pour the Head of the Oral History department of the Institute for Studies of Iranian Contemporary History and a member of the Board of Directors of Oral History Association criticized the article of Dr. Saeedi titled "Economic Oral History: The Historical Analysis of Economic Action", and said, "Capitalism in Iran in the past decades and the beginning of 1320s was based on religious capitalism. Dr. Saeedi has paid more attention to qualitative and economic aspects in his article, but in oral history of the statesmen and capitalists, no separation has happened."

In evaluating Saeedi's article, writer and researcher Alireza Kamari said, "Dr. Saeedi's article has shown well the relation of economy with culture and politics."

Also in evaluating Mirdar's article entitled "Criticizing of the book Wisdom and Politics: Memoirs of Dr. Seyed Hossain Nasr", he said, "In oral history interview, my role as narrator is very bold and Dr. Nasr cannot be criticized for making me bold; because egoism in oral history shows that the person is in the center."

Kamari also evaluated Nik Nafs's article "The Influence of art of play in occurrence of Islamic revolution". He said, "Dr. Nik Nafs has referred well to the evolution of theatre in Iran from constitutional movement to student theatre. Various books have been published in the area of the revolution's art of play, but Dr. Nik Nafs has not paid attention to them; he has also paid no attention to popular theater performed in mosques and schools."

 

Third session

The third session of the 10th Expert Meeting of Iran’s Oral History was chaired by Dr. Morteza Nouraee, writer and researcher in the oral history area, local history, and methodology of history, the professor of the History Group of Isfahan University and a member of the Board of Directors of Iranian Oral History Association. 

 

Everyone in any condition has a share in expressing oral history

Dr. Nouraee said, "The heritage of narration is involved in the subject of oral history. Everyone at any time, place and condition has a share in expressing oral history; the conditions that the people have no interest in expressing memoirs have expired."

In the beginning of the third session, Dr. Javad Mansouri, a history researcher, pre-revolution campaigner and political prisoner, former Iranian ambassador to China and the Deputy Head of Islamic Revolution Document Center in Information Affairs presented his article under the heading "Oral History of Islamic Nations Party".

He said, "One of the important post-revolution subjects is the issue of oral history. However, there were people who wrote their memoirs and observations; but they did not record and compile their voices."   

Mansouri added, "I became a member of the Islamic Nations Party at the age of 17 or 18 and was detained by SAVAK in 1965. During my detention, I was committed to my own ideological principles. Although I was condemned, the principles of my line of thought and other friends did not change. After the victory of the Islamic revolution, I did not think of establishing another party since other parties were shaped. I worked as Iranian ambassador to Pakistan since 1992 and wrote and collected my memoirs."

He also said, "The release of my memoirs and oral history of the Islamic Nations Party became a reason for the publication of memories of my friends in the party such as "Memoirs of Ahmad", "Ahmad and Memoirs of Ezat Shahi (Motahari), and they have been welcomed."

 

Oral history have been able to disclose currents of Pahlavi regime

Elsewhere in his remarks, Mansouri said, "The issue of oral history has been raised in several Iranian universities like Isfahan, but it is unclear for a lot of people. Oral history has been able to disclose very well the corrupt and destructive currents of the Pahlavi regime."

In continuation of the third session of the oral history conference, Dr. Mohammad Javad Moradinia, writer and researcher, former Head of the Research Center of the National Library and Archives of Islamic republic of Iran, and the founder of the Oral History Department of the Institute for Preservation and Dissemination of Imam Khomeini Works presented his article under the heading "Oral History of Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul)".

He said, "The registration of the oral history was shaped around the thoughts, life, ideas and beliefs of Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul). Unfortunately, as long as he was alive, this did not happen. With the demise of Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul) in 1989, issues such as how the Imam was living or what was his thoughts. Unfortunately, the researchers missed the golden times of the Imam's life and some of the fellows of Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul) like martyr Motahari, martyr Beheshti and others have either been assassinated or like Ayatollah Taleqani had passed away. So, we lost many oral history resources of the times of Imam Khomeini's life." 

Moradinia also said, “The Institute for Preservation and Dissemination of Imam Khomeini Works after the passing away of the Imam provided a list of names of the individuals who were in relation with him such as the family, clergies and others. We could conduct 15,000 hours interviews with one thousand people. Now with the help of oral history, we could collect a rich collection for the use of researchers.”

In continuation of the third session, Morteza Qazi, writer and researcher, the holder of MA in Economics presented his article entitled “The Republic of Historiography of the Revolution: A Glance at Approaches and Methods of Popular Historiography of Islamic Revolution.”

He said, “The oral history of the cultural front of the Islamic revolution has been ignored from the viewpoint of the people who built the Islamic revolution. We should go after the people for historiography in the area of oral history.”

 He added, “The Islamic revolution shaped from the mosques and the plans of the cultural sections of the mosques like painting, calligraphy and visiting the families of the martyrs were influential. The first sparkles of oral history plan started in the Cultural Studies Front since 1380s. Our distinction in oral history is that we deal with the issues such as cultural approach in the mosques, history of villages and schools, revolutionary songs and others which others have not done.”

 

Fourth session

The fourth session of the 10th Expert Meeting of Iranian Oral History was chaired by Dr. Mohammad Hassan Raz Nahan, writer and researcher, and associate professor of the history group of khawrazmi University. The expert of this session was Mahdi Kamous, writer and researcher and the Director General of the Office of Studies of the Organization of Islamic Propaganda. 

In the beginning of the fourth session, Shokouh al-Sadat Sami’ee presented her article titled “The Lost Epic in History: Reviewing of Grounds and Consequences of the Event of January 1978 in Mashhad”.

She said, “The first development of the popular demonstrations in the final years of the Pahlavi rule happened in Qom on the 9th of January 1978. The clergies and people of Qom held a rally in protest to the publication of an article in Ettela’at daily against the late Imam. There is no doubt that the historical identity of any land will be achieved with the recognition of the events and identification of its statesmen and prominent figures.”

She added, “Bust some events have been ingrained with the role of women; the spontaneous measure of the women of Mashhad on 7th of January 1978 was carried out in protest to the anniversary of Reza Shah’s hijab discarding. This measure caused self-esteem among the women and created a new identity in the historical, religious and social structure of the city.” 

Then Abolfat’h Mo’men, writer and researcher presented his article entitled “An Evaluation of Works of Local Oral History of Islamic Revolution”.

He said, “The local history of the Islamic revolution in the area of oral history is a new move. Although institutions such as the Islamic Revolution Document Center, the Art Bureau and the Institute for Preservation and Dissemination of Imam Khomeini Works take the lead in local history, less attention has been paid to local history, and in the writing of local history, challenging interviews are seen less.”

In continuation of the fourth session, Mohammad Nazar Zadeh, writer and researcher and the person in charge of the oral history department of the Document Center of Astan Quds Razavi presented his article under the name “Oral History of Religious-Political Groups in Mahshad and their Role in Islamic Revolution.”

He said, “My aim of writing this article was to review religious groups after the fall of Reza Shah in August 1941 and the grounds for their activity in the city of Mashhad. With the fall of Reza Shah, religious rituals were revived. Many attempts were also carried out for establishment of parties and religious and political groups and the setting up of religious schools. At the same time, anti-religious propaganda was prompted by Tudeh Party, the Bahaees, Kasravi and his followers and preoccupied religious people.” 

About religious groups, Nazar Zadeh said, “Due to the presence of Russian army in Mashhad and the ideological and political activities in the city, religious groups led by Mirza Ahmad Kafaee, held religious rituals very passionately; Ahmad Kafaee regarded the holding of religious rituals as the best way to stand against Tudeh Party.”

In continuation of the fourth session, Mahdi Kamous, the expert of the session evaluated the Samiee’s article “The Lost Epic in History: Reviewing of Grounds and Consequences of the Event of January 1978 in Mashhad”. He said, “The role of women in the event of January 1978 has been highlighted very much. We cannot consider the incident as a preliminary step for the shaping of Islamic revolution. Imam Khomeini considers the uprising of 5th of June 1963 as a preliminary step toward the Islamic revolution.”

He added, “Oral history is not the history of the elite, but it is a method for exploration.”

 

Closing session

In the closing session of the 10th Expert Meeting of Iranian Oral History, Dr. Mussa Faqih Haqani the Scientific Secretary of the conference and the head of the Institute for Iranian Contemporary History summed up the one-day meeting, saying, “Thirteen articles were presented in the 10th Expert Meeting of Iranian Oral History entitled “Oral History of the Islamic Revolution of Iran 1963-1979” each of which dealt with the event of the Islamic revolution from different aspects but our expectation in this area is high. The meeting could have been held in two days.”

At the end, Dr. Haqani thanked the presence of the judges and experts, and said, “The Institute for Iranian Contemporary History supports the plans in the area of oral history particularly in the area of religious groups.”



 
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Is oral history the words of people who have not been seen?

Some are of the view that oral history is useful because it is the words of people who have not been seen. It is meant by people who have not been seen, those who have not had any title or position. If we look at oral history from this point of view, it will be objected why the oral memories of famous people such as revolutionary leaders or war commanders are compiled.

Daily Notes of a Mother

Memories of Ashraf-al Sadat Sistani
They bring Javad's body in front of the house. His mother comes forward and says to lay him down and recite Ziarat Warith. His uncle recites Ziarat and then tells take him to the mosque which is in the middle of the street and pray the funeral prayer (Ṣalāt al-Janāzah) so that those who do not know what the funeral prayer is to learn it.

A Critique on Oral history of War Commanders

“Answering Historical Questions and Ambiguities Instead of Individual-Organizational Identification”
“Oral history of Commanders” is reviewed with the assumption that in the field of war historiography, applying this method is narrated in an advancing “new” way, with the aim of war historiography, emphasizing role of commanders in creation of its situations and details.
A cut from memoirs of Jalil Taeffi

Escaping with camera

We were in the garden of one of my friends in "Siss" on 26th of Dey 1357 (January 16, 1979). We had gone for fun. It was there that we heard the news of Shah's escape from the local people. They said that the radio had announced. As soon as I heard this news, I took a donkey and went on its back.