Oral History from Professor Morteza Nouraei Perspective/3

Oral History, Networked & Multifaceted Path

Recommendation for the second wave of the Holy Defense oral history

Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


According to the Iran Oral History website, the finale of the interview with Professor Morteza Nouraei is dedicated to the review of the oral history of the Revolution and the Holy Defense. Professor Morteza Nouraei has been at the fronts of the war and has been focusing on war as part of his oral history research activities. In this interview, we tried to outline the aspects of the recording and writing of the oral history of the Revolution and the war. It is hoped that the custodians in this field shall put his words into practice.


* The oral history of the Revolution and the War is qualitatively progressive in the overall course of oral history of Iran. Therefore, its crystal clear critique is very important. Do you agree?

Undoubtedly, the Revolution and the war have swept through the contemporary era, and it may even affect our socio-political and economic life for many years to come. So, at any rate that an event brings about changes and transformation in a society, that event will be live in the minds of the people longer. This is one aspect. On the other hand, due to the importance of the issue, several institutions have become the custodians of recording the events of the Revolution and the war. These two events have become active, both due to their nature and their supporters. In other words, any project that is currently underway requires financial and intellectual support. The Revolution and the war have also affected the fate of the Iranian society, so, much has been invested in them. Their pioneering in the oral history is undoubtedly the result on such supports. Fortunately, in these two areas, adequate support was provided and, if not so active, it was questionable. With regard to existing resources, it can be assumed that it is at least proportionate to investments and, in quantitative terms, is more or less consistent with the nature of the event and the amount of investment. What's going on in the content is another discussion.


* The collection of memories, archives and publications has grown so fast that we are faced with the accumulation of information. The custodians of the Holy Defense are trying to interview all the commanders and most of the soldiers and those who are effective in the war. As an oral history professor, do you think that it is necessary to talk to all commanders and soldiers? Because sometimes there are exaggerations and incomplete memories of the war that are revealed in the book review sessions.

The second part of your argument is that we are faced with the accumulation of incomplete and exaggerated information. This is logical. Because incomplete and exaggerated information can be a bogus of facts. But basically the accumulation of information is a national capital and does not occupy anybody’s space. If we have information records in any situation, they can be enriched at the required times and be beneficial. Hence, information accumulation is inherently good. I believe that this trend should continue, especially with regard to war and the Revolution. But a subtle turn or return is necessary. Now, there is more focus on elitism in the war and the Islamic Revolution. Addressing the elite is one of the pestilences of the oral history of the Holy Defense. Because the elites go to mysticism. Our elites were elated under special circumstances. An environment in which they had supporters. The brawls and designs of the commanders of war did not take place alone. Instead, they carried out these actions with the help of the infantry units. Interview with soldiers was the basis for the reconstruction of oral history in World War II, when the foundation of the contemporary oral history was formed. Otherwise, commanders have recorded themselves in conversations and communications. Oral history has to go beyond the formal boundaries. It is recommended that official systems as the custodians of the Holy Defense oral history move towards a more public approach. Hence, if the second wave of Holy Defense oral history is focused on the infantry forces - as the basic forces - it may be a new movement towards a review of the oral history of war. Because the infantry forces left no stone unturned. According to Shahid Ahmad Kazemi, originality is in the infantry forces. Or, on the other hand, in the event of the Revolution, how much attention has been paid to the high school students or others do? Rarely. However, if this incident is to be evaluated from all aspects and be used for further transparency in the future, all walks of the community should be addressed. So, at first, accumulation of information is a national capital, and second, we should walk towards correction of information and the route. There are, of course, solutions at the national level, and there is an oral history workshop every week in the country. This means correcting the path. Third, we must go back to the lower layers of the society involved in the war. That is, the very bottom of the social pyramid, bearing the burden of the Revolution and the Holy Defense.


* So you agree that everyone involved in the war should be interviewed. Just for the sake of accumulation of information.

This is a necessity. It's possible that there are no interviews about a specific war zone, and there is not even a single article in the newspaper or memorial in any news. But the same region, perhaps today, is also a strategic area. We were in the war zone, March of 1980 in the "Darnd-e Kabud area". Darband-e Kabud is at the elevations overlooking Mehran, a strait and a way in which we stood against the Iraqi forces. Who knows where Darband-e Kabud is and how many were martyred there? We were there along with about 10 to 20 Gendarmerie troops. The Gendarmerie troops were the basic infantry troops. Every day there was the heavy fire of the enemy. The Iraqi forces might have swept through Shour-e Shirin and even reach Mimak's heights. Forces’ replacement, logistics and supply were both different and hard. Hope that there will never be a war. But in such case, we have to protect the heights on the borders. So the information of each individual can be useful.


* Record the oral history of the commanders and warriors, liberators and paramedics is happening simultaneously. The first part is done by the Sepah and the army, and the second part is done by institutions like the Art Division. Interestingly, the memories of the lower layers of war are welcomed by people and the tendency of the people to study these works is greater.

A major argument in oral history is the production of archives. So, the size of the audience of books should not be our scale. If a book is published, it is subsequent to the archives we have. The whole idea of ​​oral historians is to strengthen the national archives to have various and multiple studies of one interview. Our fundamental effort shall be archive production. But when we focus on concept, we look at the market. However, we must focus on the activities of the researchers in archives. Of the 7,000 oral history books published in two years, at least we expect to have 50 cubic meters of documents in the archive. If they have, they deserve a national award. But when the archives are not complete, I do not know how they evaluate their works! The long-term assessment is the judgment of the future researchers on such documents and interviews. Historians say a society that holds the future judgments is a successful society. What can we do when we do not have something to judge? We insist that the Holy Defense investment centers, at least gradually move towards archiving, where ultimately, by 2021 we will have a significant amount of archiving. Books come and go. One day, they are showcased and the next day they disappears. So, our scale is not the oral history market for the sake of oral history.


* This is the difference between a publisher's perspective and that of a historical researcher.

All the institutes that work in the field of war history are somehow state-owned and work with national capital. It is not right to focus only on the books. National capital is for long-term investment, not short-term.


* You mean that the archive should precede publication. Publication should not be a necessity immediately after the interview.

Undoubtedly. One of the problems with our administrative system in oral history is that all and most managers expect the book to come out. The book is just a recitation. But availability of a few cubic meters of archive, or several thousand hours of interviews, and listening to oral history voices or sounds of the past to the public is very important. Now, in some international archives, they have made sensitive plans for World War II. Students hear the narrators talking about their city during the war with a touch of their own city on the map. The new generation is not a book and written literature generation. These are the virtual world generation and they are more interested in listening. The same can be done for Iran. Soldiers of each region talk and students use this topic. All of these actions rely on archives. The scholarly thought of the Holy Defense or the Revolution are far more sustainable than reading books written on a taste.


* I do not know whether it can be claimed that “Da” is the first spark of oral history of war or not. But definitely, before “Da”, there was not any other bestselling and popular book of the War. We do not want to discuss whether "Da" is a memory or oral history. But after the release of "Da" - for various reasons - the stream of memoir recording and oral history of the war became stronger.

There is no doubt that the oral history of the war accelerated over a decade ago. But it's not about “Da”. It is due to its nature. This is an activity that oral history researchers have begun in the country and the Art Division is part of this process. It's not right to put a book in focus. The “Da” book found a good platform and placed the platform at the disposal of others. Many wrote books based on this model, and they did well. “Da” provided a positive context and created a wave of influx into the oral history market. This is the source of happiness. But there were negative issues on the side. That is, anything came to the market under the flag of Oral History. Oral history is the future history. That is, regardless of the type of emotional productions or oral memoirs, we must go to targeted and documentary productions, with references and credibility, so that we can verify them for the future. If out of 100 books, two good books of oral history are published, we will open a good path to the future historian.


* Previously you said that the oral history of the war culminated due to its nature. Do you mean that the need was felt at a certain time?

As a historian, I say that some information appears at the time of maturity. The maturity period of holy defense lasted from 1987 to 2007, and now the minds are in a state of wanting to express memories and feel the need and the danger. Because these memories may fade. There are excitements that soldiers may have during the course of their lives come to reverse results or other results. Such events force them to talk about it again. Of course, this movement existed before the 2000s. Saeed Fakhrzadeh interviewed the soldiers in the 1980s, and various people recorded the memories of the war in the 90's. But now the spring of oral history has come. The existence of numerous scholars, the existence of training workshops on oral history and economic conditions have provided a conducive platform for the creation of a platform for oral memoirs and history.


* So, about any historical event - even the Modafean Haram[1] - should we wait until the time is right for recording memories?

No. Oral history is the twin of any event. If the story of the war in Iran has come to the light of production after 20 years is because of lack of conducive circumstances at the time. Ordinary oral historians believe that we must record the memoirs along with the events. We know that the basis of oral history is "mind" and "memory," and anyway it may fade in time.


* To publish the memoirs of the martyrs of Modafean Haram, interviews are conducted with families and their companions and related memories are collected. Is this an oral history methodology? This question arises because dialogue with the main character is not possible.

Yes. Sometimes in oral history, the person himself, witnesses an event or hears about it and states the event as a mediator. The length of oral history is approximately 180 years. That is, a person can narrate up to three generations before himself. So, based on the memories, memoirs might be written. In time, the researcher will have the opportunity to obtain written documents to make comparison and compatibility studies with the oral history available. This is oral history. I think if the memoirs are gathered at the same time that an event occurs its essence is maintained.


* Discussion have been made on the “Difference Between Oral Memory and Oral History," but it still remains an important topic for oral historians. I want to talk about the two areas of information gathering and production of oral memory and oral history. Is the method of collecting information and interviewing different in these two areas?

Oral memory path is linear. While the course of oral history is a network and multifaceted route. That is, in an interview of oral memoirs, a question is followed by the path of a person’s life. They might expand their memories in the line of the talk. They might talk about their primary school, high school, and various stages of his life, or you might go back to an individual’s life on a certain topic. But during the interview, you do not document. Secondly, oral memory is an individual experience. While oral history is a collective experience. In an oral history interview, the interviewer defines the questions to lead the interview toward socialization. For example, you are interviewing me about the war or the Revolution. You ask me if there are other classmates or companions you can talk to? By doing so, in fact, you have moved the interview towards the collective experience. Because you have the documents of other classmates. In this way you create a hall and lead an individual experience from oral memory to collective experience and oral history. The essence of history is a collective experience, not an individual one. The essence of memory is individual experience, not collective. But oral history is intermediate and leads individual experience towards collective experience.


* So books such as "Nouredin the son of Iran", as the observation of one individual in the war is an oral memoir. But if these memories are intertwined with collective memories it becomes oral history.

In oral history just like oral memoirs, you may interview an individual. However, oral history is challenging and you channel through to collective experiences. In an oral memoir that I read, someone had said: "Mossadegh himself, said this in my ear." This is a personal memory and experience, not oral history. If you are the sole witness of an event, it is questionable, because there is no reference for it; unless couple of others confirm your words. Because history does not occur until it is repeated. The news frequency is a source of trust. When there is no frequency in your interview and the individual experience does not move towards a collective one, this is not oral history, but oral memory.


* Then, an active dialogue helps bring oral memory closer to oral history.

Exactly. Active interview means that both the interviewee and the interviewer help the narrator's mind to go geometrically and provide multifaceted information. So when the mind is chartered, you have various entry points. Suppose we are talking about an operation. You ask questions so much that the linear path of the narrator's mind goes to geometry and networking. This is oral history. In oral memory you might also ask questions. But there is no pressure and insistence that we take the mind of another person elsewhere. The active interview brings the interviewee's mind to places that he has forgotten. While in oral memory, there is no pressure for this.


* Are there any differences in the field of compilation?

Compilation is the thought that governs the interview from the beginning. Unless the mind is archival and wants to fill the archive. Interview is audio and must be transcribed. In many oral memory recordings, you may ask the interviewer for more details. This is what we do in oral history. We may need citations for both oral memories and oral history. But the turning point in the oral memory is personal documents. But what is in oral history relates to the collective.


* There is still one question on the compilation style. Is a book like "Mahtab Khein[2]", in which the questions and answers are published accordingly, an oral history? Or, is a book published in a narrative prose an oral history material?

One of the steps in moving toward oral history is that the questions are usually printed in the end of the book so that we can see what questions were asked? As in "Mahtab Khein" did. It is more logical in building trust. In "Noureddin the Son of Iran", you read the refinements of a writer's mind. While in the "Mahtab Khein" you see the question and expect to read the appropriate answer, or even think that it would be better if another question was asked instead. "Mahtab Khein" gives readers the opportunity of repetitive reading. While in other books, the reader has one choice and that is to read the author's narration. Of course both are oral memories, but "Mahtab Khein" is more documentary and has benefited from references and historical documentation.


* Can a particular framework be considered for oral history compilation?

In general, yes. Written documents support oral history. The collective experience and challenging interviews are also other characteristics of oral history.


* Can the public interest in narrative books alter the path of war oral history?

Although the interest of the audience is also part of the dialogue of the present with the past within the framework of history, but if the focus is merely placed on narrations then we shall expect romantic novels. While this is not all we expect. When you go to popular productions, you move towards regular works. The origin of the story is forgotten that why we have targeted oral history, what we expect from it, and what comes out!


* Some of the institutions active in the field of oral history use the "interview room" to record memories. Explain the effects and damage.

The interviewee should feel comfortable in the interview space and should not be cliché. When the name of the interview room comes up, surely the responses of the interviewee are in line with the interview and answers what you are interested in. The result is not reliable. For this reason, I do not believe in the interview room. The results of the interview in these two spaces seem not to be the same. Perhaps the institutions, instead of going to the interviewee, have done this to make themselves more comfortable.


* Are there any aspects of war that have not been addressed? For example, the oral history of engineering in the war is one subject that remains untouched.

There seems to be a lot of subjects, but we are more focused on popular issues. That is, the topics we like and we want to say that the war has been this way. But if we assume that there was even a slight level of fear in fear in the war, this is a topic that has not been addressed. Or the negative feelings of the war, which is fear and hope. We addressed hope but not fear. For example, in the oral history of the war and the interviews conducted with the nurses we understood that the most important aspect of aid work during war was to maintain the forces in the battlefield; even if they are injured. Since, exit from the battlefield had negative impacts including on the spirit of other soldiers. Oral History custodian organizations should address the neglected aspects of war in a systematic and structural manner.


[1] Defenders of the Shrine

[2] Blood Moonlight

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