An Oral History Workshop

Women and Oral History of War

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


From Right: Fatemeh Dadashian, Saeed Fakhrzadeh, Ali-Asghar Saeedi


According to Iran Oral History Site, oral history technical meeting of oral history work group titled "Women and oral history of war" was held Tuesday evening, 4 October 2016 in Parham hall of the National Archives building. In this meeting held by Iranian History Association, Fatemeh Dadashian, associate professor of Amir Kabir University and active in the field of the Holy Defense, Hojatol Islam Saied Fakhrzadeh, in charge of Oral History Branch of the Office of the Islamic Revolution Literature, Ali Asghar Saidi, associate professor, Hossein Foroutan Nejad, active in the commission of war prisoners and missing persons, colonel Abdollah Ismaili, in charge of collecting the documents of the Holy Defense and Oral History in the Foundation for Preservation of the Documents and Values of the Sacred Defense, Davoud Amini, Member of National Archives and Faezeh Tavakoli, expert and historian, rendered their speeches.


Issues of War Immigrants

Ms. Dadashian said: “We thank God for being blessed with security. Security is health and human beings do not treasure their health; however, once sickness comes around, they think of their healthy life. The generation that experienced and witnessed war maintains its defense, today. They don’t wish to see their cities stricken by war once again. Fortunately in light of the policies as defined by the Supreme Leader and the Government of Policy and Hope, the elite and informed people of this country, we now enjoy security. Once security is compromised, women are the most vulnerable group of the society. I believe that women have been involved in wars either directly or indirectly. Those who took weapons and fought or those who were active behind the scenes and those who sent their spouses and children; all made sacrifices. We were young at the beginning of the revolution and perhaps we didn’t understand its philosophy understand it well, gradually, when the war progressed, we felt a nascent revolution needs protection and that protection should be based on faith and hope. Those who have strong beliefs are usually pioneers in defending systems and that’s how military and aid courses were held in every school, mosque, and university and district hall.”

She added: “I was a student of Poly Technique University which was named Amir Kabir Industrial University after the revolution; our university was very political and we were involved in social issues and we mostly mainstreamed events; in an article I wrote in “Shargh” I made a reference to it. After the victory of the revolution, we received our first training from martyr Chamran in Bagh-e Shah garrison which is now called Hor garrison. At the time there were provisions and war had not started. We were students and we had a status and respect, some families respected their students at the level of a minister. We received Rescue Cards. We received medical and military trainings for couple of months. At the same time, Workers’ Committee movement was formed and we were following launch of industry after revolution at the university. As in October of 78, by the decree of Imam, Workers’ Strike Committee was established in the mosque of Tehran Poly Technique University and we encouraged strikes among different classes of the society and disrupted economy and it was the oil industry which was affected by these strikes and it was crippled; and as we were interacting with workers, war started and in November of 1980 I went to Ahwaz. One of my sisters, late Fatemeh Khabazan, started our journey to Ahwaz in a bus transporting soldiers; the bus was set off by martyr Ali Taheri. He brought us to the bus and gave necessary orders to the driver. It was one in the morning that we arrived to the area. Ahwaz was in total black out; however, there was high psychological security. Along with martyr Hossein Najian, we set off from the war logistics headquarters in a car covered in mud towards KianPars district which was a wealthy and developing settlement. There was a building under construction which was totally secured. There were other women in the basemen from different cities and one of them received us. The next morning we went to the war logistics headquarters set up by Mr. Salman Pour and other members of Jihad. The main task of this headquarter which was later called “trench-makers without trench” was, in fact, to select specialized forces from among workers.

Martyr Mohammad Tarhchi was Poly Specialized which liberated Abadan. He identified the context of the area and collected some seashells to prevent subsidence and passage of heavy objects. Martyr Hossein Najian and Mohammad Tarhchi were in charge of the logistics headquarters. People in Ahwaz were very happy that we could do things for the city and arrange the affairs of the immigrants and manage warfare. The fact is that Iraqis had marched up to the railroad in Ahwaz and we were witness to the displacement of people in the city; in an area that was the economic heart of Iran and there were prosperous cities around it. Now, Chabahar has to be the main commercial zone in the country but it isn’t because marine economy was never taken up in Iran and during war people were displaced from developed cities such as Abadan and Khoramshahr.”

Amir Kabir University professor continued war immigrants’ discussion and stated: “Food supply was a major issue specially organizing local resources to calm down a huge population of people who were in dire psychological state. It is embarrassing to see a grown man approaching with his family and asking for food or when our friends were riding on a truck to distribute food and they were offended. There were serious issues that we had to deal with and they were annoying us but in fact the effort at the time was beyond individual will; i.e. the great will to forces that wanted to help and soldiers who were competing in war to prove they are better than others. Those in logistics headquarters were competing to be better than others; everyone was trying to cover more families or take care of more children. I started working in Ramshahr immigrants’ settlement. The settlement was supported by Tehran and other cities. Besides distribution of various aid items, cultural and psychological aspects were also important. There were families who had lost their loved ones. We were trained and based on the capacity that we had acquired we turned some buildings and hotels into aid delivery centers and hospitals.

I remember martyr Ms. Khelghati who was from Dezful and worked in the radio station. She was very helpful since she knew the area very well; I had the honor of working with her. I remember my trip to Dezful; a city where people were soldiers and had suffered tremendously during the King, revolution and the war and I remember that 9- meter missiles and bigger ones were always aimed at Dezful. There are many cellars in the city and there were shelters made way back. We spent the first night in Dezful along with Ms. Khelghati in one cellar with a lot of rats. Before that I was afraid of rats. Imagine rats walking on your feet; it’s disgusting. But missiles are worse that rats and if we had surfaced, we would have been killed by missiles. Dezful experienced hell that night and the damage was significant. Once the tension settled down, we witnessed the worse scenes in Dezful the next morning. The worst of them being three kids killed along with their parents and relatives. A three year old girl with wounded hand and leg, a five year old boy and his older sister who was just ten; I personally took them to Ahwaz. The girl was hospitalized; she was crying a lot. Couple of days later, we had to decide where to send these kids? I’ll never forget that the older sister was begging us not to separate them.”

Dadashian then referred to resistive economy and said: “It was during Cultural Revolution that we were informed that we can choose any engineering or other field of study. The examples are Ms. Ebtekar and late Ms. Somayeh Mashini who were my classmates and Mr. Ebadi who was in charge of Youth Organization during Reform Government. Many used this opportunity but I insisted that I have to be accepted. I graduated from Manchester University in Britain. I was always socially active. I’m not a veteran and I never used any benefits of the kind. There is nothing in my service card. I studied every step and never made it to associate professor over a night; I was training expert; I was a trainer and now I’m an associate professor. One of my friends wrote about liberation of Abadan in “Shargh” and it encouraged me to write about it. It is not only being in the battlefield; but during eight years of war, we were everywhere; active in science and at university. My husband was Deputy to Mr. Gharazi. The country, with minimum budget, was spending 3 billion on war and administrating the whole country with 2 billion. It was managed by managers that never asked for raise and never involved their families as beneficiaries in any system. We have to revive the memory of these people to understand how the country survived under those difficult circumstances. There are still people in managerial levels who are committed to these beliefs and pursue the issues of war prisoners and families of martyrs. Unfortunately, these issues are now laced with luxury. I recommend that in our oral history endeavor, we have to show that how our people lived with minimums. Indeed, the emphasis of the Supreme Leader on Resistive Economy will open opportunities for us to move and assess our capacity. I’m the Chairman of Iran & Belgium Association. Once, the world had a discriminatory approach toward us; however, our memories will help us to have an informed interaction with the world today. International interaction in necessary and we have to build and promote it.”

Then Ms. Tavakoli presented the figures presenting the number of martyrs in the war especially women and said: “4363 women were martyred during the Holy Defense who were mostly killed in bomb or missile strikes. 22808 female rescuers and 2276 female physicians were deployed to war zones. We have over 5 female veterans and 3 thousand suffer over 25 percent injury.”



The session continued by the speech of Hojatol Islam Fakhrzadeh who has been recording memoirs both concerning the Islamic Revolution and the Iraq imposed war against Iran where he said: “After high school I continued my education in the religious school and once I joined the war it was for advocacy. Then, Sepah had started military chronology. They had trained narrators who were travelling with the commanders and recording their every move and every word. Another aspect was the advocacy and cultural activities and they were recording memoirs of solders in the battlefield. They had distributed notebooks among soldiers so that they can write their memoirs. At the time writing memoir was not common and these notebooks were not used; later I realized that others were going out with recorders and record their memories. However, once the soldiers were telling their memories there was no documents to prove when the incident had occurred; in which garrison or in which operation. In a meeting I stated that these recordings cannot be used as evidence. In 1983, I was mostly involved in chronology. At the beginning the soldiers were not cooperating feeling that it might be perceived as bragging. I told them that they have seen things that we would like to record them. I used to visit them during and after the operation, in the hospitals in an effort to collect information. We also prepared notebooks and gave it to the families of the martyrs so that they can write about their martyr. Around 40 thousand notebooks were distributed and collected. I also used to visit Iraqi prisoners and trying to resolve their issues in the camps so that they will talk about their memories. I used to visit people in the area and war immigrants who had problems. I conducted around 4 to 5 thousand hours of interview with war prisoners about the time they moved into enemy lines and they were taken hostage until the time they returned.”

He considered that the role of women in recounting memories to be crucial and said: “Nurses were those who assisted the injured under bomb strikes behind the lines. Support and laundry and tailoring were other sections built with the love of women. There were women from Gilan Gharb, Kermanshah, Abadan and Khoramshahr were fighting and we would hear the news of their martyrdom. People of war stricken cities were resisting. Some peasants prepared mild and cheese and yogurt and would bring it for the soldiers and receive a little payment to manage their lives. War stricken people who would travel to other cities were always worried about their boys and girls that poverty might cause problems. Spouses of the veterans had crucial role and suffered a lot and this suffering is not over. Education was another important work which could have been very important after war and during development phase.”



He recounted a memory of Colonel Mohabi’s spouse: “Colonel Mohebi was killed in an accident before revolution. His family blamed the Pahlavi regime and migrated from the country and returned after the revolution and devoted their wealth to revolution and war. Ms. Mohebi consents to his son joining the war and after he was martyred, she didn’t cry. Even when they took her to Khoramshahr, where her son was killed, she didn’t cry. When they asked her about it she gave her purse to the person asking the question and she goes on a walk. She returns after a while and takes the purse back and asks the holder: “Are you upset that I took my purse back?” The person responds: “Why would I? It wasn’t mine in the first place.” She says: It’s the same thing. My son was given to me in trust. So, I’m glad that I took care of that trust and returned it to its rightful owner.”


Effect of Women’s Memoirs

Dr. Ali Asghar Saidi stated couple of notes and concluded: “When women narrate their stories, they recount their experiences and feeling which is has a positive impact on people and themselves.”

The important notes are:

“*Verification of the narratives is not important; some memories might be lies or exaggerations or even forgotten during time; the important point is that the incident has occurred at some point in life. Historians are very of documents but they don’t realize that all these verified documents were narratives at the beginning. The important point in verifying these narratives is that scientists should reach a consensus and the more narratives are available then it would be more informed consensus since they can be cross referenced; which is missing about the Iraq imposed was against Iran since there is little record of women’s memoirs.

*The Iraq imposed war against Iran was a full scale war. Homogenization or resolving conflict of interest is all up to managers and leaders. In this war, conflict of interest and homogenization were in the interest of the nation and everyone sacrificed their benefit in favor of that of the nation. In the martyrs’ families, the spouse has to sacrifice her benefits in the name of the warriors, martyrs and the war. 

*In collecting narratives, there is “truth building”. It means that behind the lines many things happened that writing these will shape the oral history of war. Women were those who suffered most in these incidents and destruction of houses and war strikes were like nightmare for them. The memoirs of Japanese women are similar to those of Iranian women in war since they were asked to take the role of men in the house which brings more hardship and less freedom. The nature of their relation changes and they have to play the role of father for their children. Women whose spouses, father or children were in the fronts were more concerned about the war and suffered more issues due to these changes. Martyrs are gone and their families have to preserve their memory, dignity and honor. This requires more sacrifice than those made by the martyrs in the battlefield.


Women as War Prisoners

Then Colonel Hossein Foroutan Nejad said: “I’ve been in the Commission of War Prisoners and Missing Persons for 15-16 years. In negotiations, I was in charge of Iraq desk and eventually Iran and Iraq department in the commission was delegated to me. There were never any mention of female prisoners; we had 23 female prisoners who were taken in 1980. Due to efforts made, they were released in 1983 except for two who were not in the road of Abadan to Ahwaz. They were rescue teams and if we look at their Red Cross overalls we will see that the digits show that they were there at the beginning of war.”

He also emphasized the importance of women’s role and said: “War was two sides of a coin. One side was the front line and the other side represented 39 thousand and 140 war prisoners and their spouses. Ms. Afraz who was titled “Mother of Prisoners” and was serving in the Red Crescent, was in charge of transferring the letters of Iranian prisoners to Iraq and those of Iraqi’s to Iran. According to our negotiations with the representatives of the Red Cross Committee in Geneva, 13 million and 107 thousand and 91 letters were exchanged among Iranian and Iraqi prisoners. The letters had two sides. On one side the letter was written and the response had to be written on the other side. In 83 it was announced that there is no living Iraqi prisoner in Iran and the same applied to Iraq and all are either missing persons or missing bodies; it was when bodies were exchanged.”

Then Colonel Ismaili, from the Holy Defense Document’s Organization who was appointed to collect Holy Defense documents and oral history following the degree of the Commander in Chief of Armed Forces said: “Foundation of Preserving Documents constitutes of multiple organizations including the clergy’s organization headed by Haj Agha Moslehi and Holey Defense Women’s Organization headed by Ms. Mojtahed Zadeh, who was advisor of the president during the previous government and in charge of collecting oral history of women in the Holy Defense. She should have been here. The last point is that about 10 million documents are transferred to the organization and soon public announcement will be made. These documents are important proof of women’s share in the Holy Defense.”

Davoud Amini, from National Archives raised questions and said: “I address my criticism to women that despite their presence in war, once it was over, they didn’t make efforts to explain their activities. There are discrepancies in the figures presented in this session and the one before. The number of martyrs was announced to be 7 thousand and in the written note it was stated to be 6 thousand and something and today Ms. Tavakoli said that it is around 4 thousand. These figures are important but different. The other point is that in the book “I’m Alive” Ms. Masoumeh Abad states that there were 4 female prisoners who were soon released; I believe this figure is correct and there is no proof that this figure ever reached 23. Also, there is the question if the memoirs collected during the war are verified against the documents of the Holy Defense? If there is a defined methodology to document oral history? The letters being exchanged; were copies ever made? Women of different books have shown that they are capable of creating good documents but there are few and only 60 percent of women who were involved have published anything.

Ms. Tavakoli responded Mr. Amini and stated: “Economy is governed by men and women have no share. She said that she has interviewed over 30 women active before and after the Revolution, from 2006 to 2010, and ten first editions are prepared but due to some names, none are published. Ms. Jalalvand wrote the biography of women prisoners which is not considered oral history.”

Colonel Foroutan Nejad added: Ms. Masoumeh Abad is right and in October 1980, four women were taken from Khoramshahr but this is when she was taken prisoner. When we talk about prisoners code in the Red Cross it means that the representative of Red Cross has seen these prisoners in the camps of Iraq otherwise they are not given numbers. The letters were stamped by Red Cross which means they are verified and the original is kept in National Archives. Some say that there were 72 thousand Iraqi prisoners but I insist there were 57 thousand because that’s what the evidence says.

The session was concluded with Q & A.

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