Live History: A Study of Forty Years Oral History of the Islamic Revolution and the Holy Defense-1

Flourishing and the culmination of oral history in Iran

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


According to the Oral History website of Iran, the first session of the "Live History: A Review of the Forty Years Oral History of the Islamic Revolution and the Holy Defense" was held with the presence of Gholamreza Azizi and Morteza Rasoolipour, on the morning of Tuesday, 29 January 2019, in the Hall of Qasr Shirin Islamic Revolutionary Museum and Holy Defense held.

"As the discussion is the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution and oral history, I would point out that the phenomenon of oral history in Iran is a phenomenon that results from the Islamic Revolution, and developed very fast after the Holy Defense," said Gholamreza Azizi, director of the Institute of Iranian Documents and National Library at the meeting.

We have interviews before the Islamic Revolution that have been held in conversation and with the subject of history, but for the reason which I’ll point out, these interviews shall not be perceived as oral history. The discussion have been on history, but it was not for the purpose of historiography; therefore, they shall not be perceived oral history. There are even interviews that people had before the revolution, and had narrated the memories of their own past, they cannot be included in oral history too. It was practically after the Islamic Revolution that several groups began to speak; a group who had left Iran for whatever reason, had to flee for any reason, those who had done things and knew that if they stayed, their deeds will be rewarded and preferred to escape and the group that did not know if what would happen if they stay. These groups were quickly absorbed by non-revolutionary movements. There was such a process in place even before. In the project of the Harvard University, interviews were conducted with the Soviet fugitives. It seems that the main objective in this project, instead of enlightenment and historiography, was to vacuum information for those fugitives who prior to leaving the country had a role and position in the government and to use intelligence as it was done with the Soviet fugitives before and it wasn’t the first project in Harvard University. Regardless of the goal and purpose of this project, what is important to us is that this was the first oral history project in its contemporary concept.

There were several groups in Iran, who also had secret information. The opposition groups who had begun a secret campaign against the Shah's regime before the Imam Khomeini uprising in 1963. They had information that had not been recorded anywhere; information for writing the history of the revolution and writing the history of the opposition groups that followed Imam Khomeini (PUH). These were pieces of unrecorded information which required recording through oral history projects. Of course, there were other groups which favored armed struggle with the Shah's regime. These information should also be extracted too. These groups had access to information that was not recorded anywhere. The documentation on this information was one-sided, biased, and general, and we had to deal with a lot of information, and the need to record this information was felt.

Two days ago, there was a meeting with those who were present at the incident of Amol as members of the gendarmerie, the army and the police, and had witnessed the truth. One or two books have been published overseas and a few inside the country on Amal's public uprising, but in these discussions, when the eyewitnesses were talking, new unrecorded information came to light. This feature of information that has not been recorded, or is recorded falsely, resulted in the start of oral history projects after the Revolution and their rapid development. The phenomena of the Holy Defense and fight of the warriors in the fronts and prisoners of war, where we were again dealing with secret information and unilateralism which made oral history even more valuable. I believe, oral history, in this sense, flourished with the Islamic Revolution and climbed to the peak with the Holy Defense. A peak that is irritating for some who claim that this trend and all the content produced as oral history has not been verified and some are only memoirs; despite the fact that oral history is a mutual dialogue and more importantly is a firsthand historical resource which has to develop, verified and recorded but this is not happening; Is the volume of content produced effective? We will discuss this later but we have named them the reflections of oral history; reflections that echo now and have not necessarily maintained their originality and are not comprehensive and representative. The features of oral history content produced through these interviews is negotiable.

On the issue of transforming memoirs to history I should point out that a veteran or an eyewitness, recites what he/she has seen. In memoirs, for instance when I’m trying to remember a memory I categorize and narrate the parts that are important to me. This is where the interviewer makes the effort to extract the information that is important to others as well. It means that memoires hide in secret layers. Of course memory helps us to forget catastrophes and fades the memory of incidents that cause pain and grief. Hence, it is necessary for an active and competent interviewer to be present who is well acquainted with the spirit of the interviewee to extract those parts of the memory that go beyond the individual and family and is more useful to others. Well! The information is extracted; now, how is it going to be presented?

There is no written rule on how the oral history has to be; there are multiple trends. When there is no consensus on a rule or guideline, criticism is of no effect. There are some fundamental rules and it is argued that an oral history project shall meet the minimum standards. Once an active interview is conducted by an individual who is well acquainted with the spirit of the interviewee and all questions are raised properly, then it comes to the content publications. We have several genera for such projects. For instance, Mr. Lajevardi (Harvard project) claims that he copies the content of the conversation and publishes it as a book; this is documentary and the content is raw with no processing. Do you want to criticize that this is not oral history? He claims this is the raw content of the interview. Sometimes the CDs of the interview is included for the audience to listen. In fact, you have made no modifications in the interview; although the CD might be altered too. Sometimes a literary genera is given to the interview. I want to maintain the raw content but there are names that are not known to the audience. For instance, who knows who Sh.M.R is? And efforts is made to clarify. Sometimes we come across historical events that there are doubts of its origin or there are other narrations of it in other sources. Other sources do of do not conform the story. In one project, a commander had claimed that he was in charge of the west army in a certain date but there was no documented order or letter to verify that. A picture was found in a file with a note in the back saying “the visit of brother … the commander of the west” and it was dated. This had suffice for some. At the beginning of the Holy Defense, there was no process of documented letters to be issued. They would just appoint someone somewhere. Some were not even ordered to go. They felt it was their duty and had joined the forces. Iraq invaded Abadan and Khoramshahr and these individuals had travelled by bus to the zone to defend their country.

The trend might be to write for the youth; to promote the spirit of martyrdom and devotion and to narrate the truths of war in the fronts in a simple language for the age group of 12 to 17 and inclusion of proofs and documents is not very interesting. I write a historical novel. I write the history; I don’t lie and alter but the hero and the evil are two main characters of such historical novels. Ups and downs are the essential components of historical novels. We have to drag the audience. If I, as a documentary content provider, am to criticize the work of a novelist I would say that in “my” opinion your method is wrong. Well! In your opinion my method is wrong. I believe that the documentary method is very good. Well! In your opinion documentary is good; but this is “your” opinion. We have to have scales; one is the audience and the other is historiography. In historiography, I don’t have to write a history pleasant to everyone. We have late Zabihollah Mansouri who would write and transform a ten page book to 450 pages. Everyone would read and enjoy. He attracted many to history by his non-historical novels and we are grateful. How many of you have read the History of Iran by Cambridge University? It is a professional work. It is written for the students and professors of history. Those interested can benefit from it but they don’t since the prose is very dry. Hence, each historical project has its audience and this is not a scale to measure its authenticity or quality. We have to know, whom we are writing for. And why we are writing it? And those organizations working with certain groups such as youth they have to adopt methods and proses that is interesting to them. The Supreme Leader addresses the actors of Rahian Noor[1] and says that your job is different from a tour guide. You have to be very careful. You have a sacred duty. You have to tell the truth. We failed in Karbala 4 operation and victory was gained in Karbala 5. We have to transfer this information truthfully to the next generations. If the truth or whole story of the Holy Defense is not said by those organizations that have this critical mission then the youth will hear about it from those who care less about the Holy Defense and the phenomenon will be narrated in a way to present others as liars and they become the good guys and we become the bad ones. The truth has to be presented in scientific language for the students since they inquire and have active mind.

The prose for university students and for high school student varies and none is preferred to the other. I will not have an audience in high school with a content full of footnotes. It won’t be an interesting book for them. Each book has to be reviewed and evaluated based on it prose and methodology. If it is a documentary we might argue that it has diverted from its origin.”

Azizi also said: “There is not much evidence to prove that oral history with its contemporary concept has been present before the revolution. There have been interviews conducted by some magazines but they don’t comply with this concept of oral history. Oral history is the outcome of the Islamic Revolution. It originated with the Islamic Revolution and flourished with the Holy Defense. These two phenomenon affected the oral history or Iran. Even the project that Mr. Lajevardi conducted in the United Kingdom was the result of the Islamic Revolution. Even the projects undertaken by the lefties were the result of the Islamic Revolution. Even the Holy Defense originates from the Islamic Revolution. Hence the oral history of Iran, whether pro or con both originate from the Islamic Revolution.”


To be continued….


[1] Tours arranged for students to visit war stricken zones. 

Number of Visits: 2818


Full Name:

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