Kobra Ahmadi War Memories

Memoirs of Basiji Women during the War

Interview and Arrangement: Faezeh Sasani khah
Translated by: Zahra Hosseinian


The early years of Kobra Ahmadi, who has been involved in cultural and social activities for many years, coincided with the victory of the Islamic Revolution and the beginning of the war imposed by Saddam's army against Iran.

Hearing the war march, led this young Basiji woman to the war support headquarters from the very first days when the enemy launched invasion. A reporter for the Iranian Oral History website interviewed with her to talk about the role of women behind the front lines. In recounting her memories, Ahmadi acquaints us with the kindness and empathy of the people of this land.

The CEO of Ghadr Alavi Charitable Institution, who has been working for years in the field of elimination of deprivation, skills training, empowerment and job-creation for female-headed household, considers these activities to be the result of her experience of attending the war support headquarters and other activities at that time.


When did you start working for the logistics and support of the front?

My activities go back to before the war. I was 14 years old at the time of the victory of the Islamic Revolution, and my husband and I moved with the wave of revolution and participated in demonstrations. After the victory of the revolution, I joined the Basij. We worked in the Abuzar base at District-16, Tehran, included Javadiyeh, Naziabad, Yaghchiabad, Hezar Dastgah, Chaharsad Dastgah, and the surrounding area.

With the outbreak of the war, we started sewing sheets and underwear for fighters at home. I do remember that at the first stage, in October or early November 1980, I was informed through Abuzar base that a large amount of sheets was needed, and we did not have the equipment and facilities to be able to sew them. I spoke with people whom I knew in our neighborhood and asked them to bring their sewing machines to our house so we could do it in a focused way, that is to say, two people cut the fabrics and the others begin to sew.

We should prepare a thousand sheets in two days. Friends brought five sewing machines, but we did not have a cutting table or proper scissors to make the cuts. It wasn’t thinkable that all the sheets were made with just several people in two days.


When saying you used a sewing machine, electric sewing machines come to mind of our generation and the new generations, while at that time most of the machines were manual. How was it possible to prepare the sheets in two days with manual sewing machines?

It was very difficult. Incidentally, three of the sewing machines were manual and the other two were electric. There was a lot of power outages at that time, when we didn’t have electricity, those who sewed with manual ones, continued to work, but others who had electric ones, began spinning the balance wheel which had no handle, in order to continue sewing. In fact, they spun the balance wheel in a very difficult way in order to continue sewing. There is no handle for those sewing machines to which the alternator is attached.


What did you do other than prepare the sheets?

By outbreak of the war our first activity was joining to the cooperative Basij and the IRGC. We visited the families of the fighters for a short time, then left it to other people. The private contributions were also sent to the fronts from local bases such as, mosques and Husseiniyahs, where we found out what the shortcomings were. The IRGC-related bases, of course, were more involved in deployment issues; on the other hand, these contributions had to be segregated and organized. Some items were not useful on the front and had to be removed or we had to check the expiration date of the medications. We realized, little by little, that we needed a centralized base to organize and separate private contributions, and that home-based activities were not enough, so we set up a support headquarters in the south of Tehran. I think it was probably about three or four months after the war when a cohesive base was formed.


What was your responsibility?

I was active in District-16 in 1980, and have been in charge of the Khaniabadno base in District-19 since 1981. Those days there were no social networks like now, and many people didn’t even have a telephone at home, but they often went to mosques and Basij bases. There was a good relationship between the locals and everyone knew what was going on and what was being done. The news circulated orally. We were not looking for troops, they themselves came voluntarily. It was also a special situation. You see, we now have a special situation in the country because of Covid-19 pandemic; well, that time we were in war. Todays you can see how these jihadist forces are working, it was different then. Of course, it should be mentioned that all people weren’t involved in the war, no, it was not like that; those people were really involved in the war who ran the support bases and their husband and sons were on the front. These women found each other in religious meetings, mosques and other bases and were very active. My husband was a military man and I had a child.


How were your activities at the War Support Headquarters?

It started with sewing sheets and then underwear for the fighters, but then our activities changed according to the different seasons. We made pickles, jams and sharbat, and in order to boost the fighters’ spirit, we did epic things such as, sewing flags and headbands for the fighters and sending people’s letters to them. In the winter, when the troops were dispatched, we cooked Aush reshteh, which was distributed among the fighters in the buses. Gradually, fabrics were brought from the IRGC, and we sewed uniforms for the warriors. A number of women sewed uniforms at home and then brought. Some women, who didn’t have child or any problems, were sent to war zones, such as Ahvaz or Dokuheh, where they helped in the laundry. Gradually, the activities of logistic headquarters were expanded, that is, all necessities of the front were provided by them except for the military equipment. Things were not as plentiful as now during that period - even in spite of the high prices - the goods were provided with quota and coupons. The coupon goods barely provided even a month of people's lives, but granting private contributions to the fronts was significant. I have a memory of those days that I won’t forget for the rest of my life. I literally realized the true meaning of devotion, and still can't control myself when I remember. It may not be tangible to you, but, at the time, sugar wasn’t easily available to the public. By coupon, they gave each person 400 grams sugar per month, and we had to use it within a month, in such way that was possible for us. This amount of sugar was enough for daily consumption, not for making sharbat or jam. After the Ramadan operation in 1982, in the summer when it was very hot, we announced that we wanted to cook lemon-beebrush sharbat for sending to the front. We collected one hundred grams, one hundred grams of sugar to cook, in order to make ten large cauldrons of sharbat. One day, when we were working in the Hosseiniyah - where later became a large support headquarters - people were coming and going and brought needed things. A very old crouching woman, who had worn a chador and put her hand behind her back, approached and carried a bottle of lemon juice in which there was only a little lemon juice. "I had nothing else." she said panting, "I just brought this to say, God, I also devote anything I have." And all the women became very upset.

That day, all the time I thought that thanks to the blessing of two spoons lemon juice which this lady had given, we were able to collect very good donations and cook ten cauldrons of concentrated lemon-beebrush sharbat and send them to the front.


How many women worked with you at the base?

If we summarize, about 25 women. Some cooperated in shift, and the base was often not closed.


What age group were the women who worked with you?

I think we had from 5 years old children to 70 years old women.


How many days a week did you go to the war support headquarters?

We went to the support headquarters every day. It was not like we were there on special days. Every now and then, we’re in the support headquarters and sometimes we had to go to the Abuzar base to coordinate some things or go to the warehouse, which was located at Takhti Street. The private contributions gathered in the bases and neighborhoods were transferred to the warehouse, where they were organized, separated, and sent to the front, by men. We went there once or twice a week to share our experiences with others.


What time did your work start and end at the headquarters?

It depended on the time of the operation, when we worked 24-hours; otherwise, 12 hours a day.


Didn’t your spouse have a problem with this condition?

My husband was often on the front lines and had no problem with my activities.


The hypocrites were very active in the cities at that time, did you not face them?

We did. We were threatened so much. Of course, this dated back to 1979. The hypocrites forcibly usurped a private property in District 16 at 1979. The owner not only was able to confront with them, but he was afraid of. One Friday, along with a number of young Basij who were in my own age, we entered the building and ended their siege.

After we took out that property from their siege, the owner gave it to us by consent. We and those hypocrites were at the same neighborhood and knew each other. Before that, they disliked and threatened us, but after that incident, their enmity with us became public and they were constantly looking for an opportunity to hit us. One or two of our man members were martyred in this struggles. Our house was at the corner of an alley, and they regularly wrote threatening letters, then wrapped up a stone with it, and then threw it inside our house. The window glasses of the upstairs were constantly cracked because of these stones. That's why I didn’t dare to send my children out alone. I always had to take them out with myself. We always went out with ablution and I was waiting for martyrdom at any moment.

The IRGC had discovered one of hypocrites’ houses in where a photo of me and a number of friends, who were working with us, was found and that showed we were in their terror list. I don’t know, of course, what their plan was, but I think the assassination of the women was removed from their plan because there was no terror after that. It seemed they didn’t want to get women involved in order not to hurt the people's feelings, but their threats and harassment continued.


Did you have any cultural or incentive programs for the women who worked with you?

We didn’t have enough time at all; at the other hand, no one expected any award or encouragement. Everyone felt obliged to serve.


How did you manage your personal life so that you could engage in social activities?

I had very little rest. I spent less time for myself. This is my routine now and I have become accustomed to it. If I have two hours of good sleep at 24-hours, it’ll be enough for me and I won’t be bothered. I have a lot of social activity right now, but this is not a reason not to deal with household chores. After the war was over, I began working in cultural programs and for eight years I was representative of Shahrak Shahid Mahallati in the Women's Affairs Office of the IRGC. And I carried out cultural work for the youth and teenagers, for example we held pilgrimage, recreational, and sports camps, as well as Rahian-e Noor. I worked in the student Basij for four years and in the cultural Basij for two years, and now, I’m in charge of Qadr Alavi Charitable Institute for fourteen years, helping women heads of households. All these are done by planning. For me, home and family is prior. If I can’t make a good and cohesive relationship with my sons and daughter-in-laws and grandchildren, and isn’t able to create a happy environment in our home and won’t be an effective person in the house, my social activities is worthless. So, if we had a lot of work outside the house during those years, it was not like that not to care to our home; the house and the family had their own place. My first child was born in 1978 and by the end of the war I had three children. As much as possible, I took the kids with me to the war support headquarters, and so did the others. They turned the flap of pockets we sewed on uniforms. They did it pleasing, and even counted how many flaps they turned. Apart from being at the headquarters, I had to go to a number of other places. I had a friend, named Ms. Rezvan Mozdarani, with whom coordinated the tasks. Sometimes I took care of the children and she visited the base or other places, and vice versa. Most of the times our spouse were on missions.


Didn’t you go to the war zones during the war?

I myself sent many women, but I didn’t go to war zones. I had a small child, my husband was on the front line and I was in charge of taking care of the children and not allowed to go to war zones. Until my husband was supposed to be sent to Kurdistan on a one-year mission in 1984 or 1985. I insisted him that, "I’ll come with you." He didn’t agree and kept saying: "The situation in Kurdistan is very different from Ahvaz." Ahvaz, however, was only threatened by bombing. But in Kurdistan, everything was different. We were in the center of enemy’s base and we did not know the enemy. The enemy came under the name of Komala and Democrats and they came from all over the country and even abroad and concentrated there. There were many issues there that made it very difficult to identify the enemy. On the battlefield, you faced the enemy, but the Kurdistan wasn’t like that. During the day, s/he greeted warmly with you, but at night, did whatever damage s/he wanted. For this reason, my husband was not satisfied with me going with him. In short, I made a lot of vows, and at the end I told him, "Either we’ll come or you’ll not go." Anyway, he finally gave in and we left for Urmia.

You might say that West Azerbaijan has nothing to do with Kurdistan, but it was close to the Kurdish parts of Mahabad, Divandare and those areas. I don’t remember the Urmia checkpoint was still in the hands of the Komala or had just been liberated, when we went to Urmia. However, the city of Urmia was still not immune to a number of cases and various issues arose for individuals there.


Why did you insist on going with your spouse?

I knew we needed to be there. On the other hand, the absence of my husband really bothered me. We were also in danger in Tehran, so the danger didn’t mean anything to me.


What did you do in Urmia?

For I worked in the Abuzar base, was given some responsibility for our branch in Urmia. They advised us no to reside in company-provided houses, in order not to be identified. So we rented a house in the city. When I went out to do shopping I couldn’t make myself understood, therefore they learnt we came from Tehran and are strangers. Everyone thought that we were sent there because of our work. Because everyone spoke Turkish, any newcomer was quickly identified and they realized that s/he isn’t a native.


Had your husband told the neighbors what his job was?

Believe me, I don’t know.


What did you do there?

I didn’t work there like in Tehran. Wherever my husband was sent on mission, I accompanied him. When there was a need to get help of a woman for solving a problem, I was called and I went. For example, among the Komala there were young girls who wore khaki uniforms and for arresting them they needed female troop. Due to some dangers, the IRGC didn’t want troops was sent from Tehran. This rarely happened, and if they wanted to use someone, they usually call people over the age of fifty, not young ones.


Do you have any memory from being there?

It is better not to say anything about my memories of there. You know, I always say that the most oppressed martyrs in our history are the martyrs of Kurdistan who were martyred at that time. Because there was the Sunni-Shiite debate and the unity between them and many other issues. Some Kurdish wanted to separate Kurdistan from the country and to establish an autonomous government. The warriors were martyred there in the most oppressed way, and we were never allowed to say how they were martyred. They, in fact, were not shot, but were taken captive and tortured. Animal hoofs were tied on their soles or their bodies were ironed or dismembered. They tortured them in such way to die over time. When I remember what happened there, I felt heavy-hearted. It would be great not to talk about it at all. These martyrs are supposed to remain oppressed through the history, until, God willing, the advent of Imam Mahdi (AS). I have memoirs of the war support headquarters in Tehran as much as you want, but I don’t like to share my memories of here, in fact, I have no sweet memories from here at all.


In Urmia, did you have any activities in logistics?

No, no, I didn’t at all. Because we were identified, there was no base for public activity, like Tehran. Even when we were going to go to Mahabad, had to leave at 8 in the morning and return before 5 in the afternoon. Except within these hours, the road was unsafe and there was no intercity traffic. That region is mountainous and the Basij and IRGC guarded the road. They deployed on the heights and watched out the road, so that no one waited in ambush at roads and people could come and go in safe. In spite of all those watch, our troops were ambushed by the enemy.


How long have you been in Urmia?

I stayed there for six or seven months until something went wrong and I returned to Tehran. We had a Paykan with which went on a mission. The car had many technical defects and it was so worn-out that if I am asked now to drive from here to the Shahr-e-Rey and the shrine of Hazrat Abdul Azim with such a car and return, I’ll say that this car is not safe. One of its problems was that if it shut off, you couldn’t start it. Even we went to the gas station, did not turn it off, lest we couldn’t start it again. Imagine that, in winter and snow, the car kept shutting down on the road and I had to get off and push forward it for a long distance. Sometimes I slipped and couldn’t push it forward to be started. One Friday, we left Urmia for Mahabad at 8 am to carry out a mission. I had two children with us then. An operation was to be carried out there that would lead to the cleansing of the Mahabad, and we had gone there for that mission. My husband hadn’t wore a military uniform, but he’d worn an American jacket, and it was clear from his bearded face that he was a revolutionary, and I’d also worn chador and hijab scarf.

The car shut off at the entrance of Mahabad city. Whatever it was started, and whatever the people pushed it, was useless. Everyone understood that we were strangers and travelers, and each of them gave a solution. ‘I’m a mechanic,’ a young man told us, ‘let’s push the car toward my garage to see what I can do.’ They took the car to a very large garage. My husband didn’t get off. After the car entered the garage, the young man pulled the shutters down and locked it! My heart sank! Thousand thoughts came to my mind, to what reason this guy pulled down the shutter and locked it? Has our mission been leaked out? God, what is going to happen here?! In Mahabad, It was very difficult to distinguish military personnel, Komala, and corpsman from ordinary people. All the people carried bandolier and the city was in a state of war. The young man went to the back of garage to bring his tools and said to my husband, ‘Start, do this, do that.’ I kept saying to myself that he is distracting us until auxiliaries arrives. Maybe he thinks he can't handle the two of us.

The children slept in the rare seat. Not a word was exchanged between me and my husband. From all the moments of my life, if I want to define the meaning of fear, I can point to that moments. I was so scared that I focused all my attention on what should I do if anything happens here. I imagined that what reaction should I show if the head of my kids and my husband were cut off in front of me? What should I do if I am raped in front of my husband? I kept calling Hazrat Zahra, peace be upon her, in my mind and was thinking what should I do and how should I manage this situation? I was thinking about this things and fear had taken over my whole body. You know, I was not afraid of death, God knows, it was just a matter of my own dignity, and that bothered me a lot. Even now, my slogan is the slogan of the martyrs, and I always say that we are alive so that we do not rest, we are waves that our comfort is in our absence. If we want to be comfortable, we don’t exist as if we’ve dead. Slowly the tremor started from my toes, went up and reached my knees. I had put my hands on my legs and held them tightly so that my husband didn’t notice my trembling, but slowly the tremors came up and my teeth began chattering. The only thing my husband said to me was, ‘do you get cold?’ I told him, ‘Yeah,’ in order not to think I’ve scared, while I didn’t get cold. My husband took out his jacket and threw it over my shoulders. Those moments lasted a lifetime for me. I don’t know how long it took to repair the car, until my husband started the car and it worked. Then the young man raised the garage shutter and said, ‘sorry, because it was Friday and it was almost noon, I didn’t want a customer to come, so I closed the garage. Let's go home for lunch.’

After this experience, which was very bitter and difficult for me, I convinced that my husband stay there and I return. After this incident, I all wondered what I would have done if the things I had imagined in my mind had come true! In April, my kids and I returned to Tehran with a wounded, and my husband returned three or four months after the end of his mission.


Why did you come back with an injured person?

Once when we went on a mission and took the kids with us, it had snowed very hard and the road had been cleared. On the way back we saw some vulture flied at a certain point in the sky. ‘I think something is there.’ said my husband. I replied, ‘let’s go on our way. There’re many bears here. Maybe a bear is frozen and dead and they have targeted it!’ But my husband stopped and said to me, ‘I go to see what's going on there. You lock the doors and just have your mind on me. If I need help I’ll point to you to come, unless I'll come back.’ I looked at him until saw that he’s raised his hands and point at me. I got off of the car and walked towards him. On the ground I saw a motionless wounded man had lay down whom we didn’t know was a corpsman or a Komala, we only knew he was a human being. His right eye had been emptied and his whole body had been injured. We didn’t know if the vultures had emptied his eye or he had been tortured, and also we didn’t know if he was alive. My bag was with me. I had a small mirror in it, I took the mirror out and put it in front of his face. It was so cold. The mirror steamed up and we realized he was still alive.

I took off my chador and put him inside, and we barely brought him to the car and took him to Urmia Hospital. The injured was hospitalized for some time. As soon as he recovered, they wanted to transfer him to Tehran; therefore my children and I returned with him. We later found out that he was one of corpsmen who had been left him in the mountains after much and severe torture. The tortures had affected his psyche, and he could not remember what had happened to him, but he kept running and saying, ‘The Komala attacked.’ and punched the wall.


When you returned to Tehran, did you continue to work with the War Support Headquarters?

I worked there until the end of the eight years of sacred defense, but the nature of our activities changed. I think the first time Iraq attacked chemically, we had a lot of chemical wounded. I received first aid and military training and went there to help. The indoor hall of Azadi Stadium was used as a convalescent hospital for a large number of chemical self-sacrificing, because unfortunately all the injured couldn’t be hospitalized. The condition of the chemically injured was really painful. Their bodies had very large blisters, and some of them suffered shell-shocked in addition to chemical injures and needed to be quarantined and to receive special treatments. We had faced with a phenomenon of which we had no knowledge. Later we found out what harm these mustard gases do to a person. We did everything we could. It was not just bandaging or injecting, if necessary, we cleaned there or disinfect the equipment. Because it was the first time they had chemically attacked, we didn’t have enough facilities there. For example, protective clothing or nitrile gloves were not readily available, and we had to clean disposable gloves, put them in an autoclave machine, disinfect them, and reuse them. Sometimes we, the Basijis, made sacrifices and gave the facilities had been provided for us to the medical staff and we did not use them ourselves.

I was pregnant with my third child at that time, but I didn’t know and was working there. I felt sick but I thought it was due of the stuffy atmosphere of there. I don’t know do you notice the hoarse in my voice or not, when I talk to you? My lungs have suffered since then. If I catch a cold, my lungs become infected and it bothers me a lot until a very difficult treatment process ends and I return to a normal state. The doctor keeps saying that I shouldn’t catch a cold. And I say it happens involuntarily.


How long did it take to care for the chemically injured there?

I was there for three months.


Who cared for the children during this time?

As I mentioned earlier, me and my friend, Ms. Rezvan Mozdarani took care of children in turn. I had three sons in the last years of the war, and she had three sons too. We worked together for the eight years and was friend as well. Either I took care of her children or she took care of my kids.


Given that you were active in the War Support Headquarters from the beginning to the end of the war, did the type of planning make a difference over the years?

Anyhow, we started with trial and error. Only God supported us that the Iranian nation came out of this test proudly at that time. For eight years, our sacred defense was run by young people between the ages of 17 to 30, and we even had 13 or 14 years old.


How much did your experiences during your time at the War Support Headquarters help you manage the Ghadr Alavi Charity and other cultural and social activities?

It helped a lot. One of the most important achievements of that time was learning the crisis management. Usually, people lose their cool in a crisis and their mind is not ready to make an impromptu plan to manage this crisis properly. I always say that a crisis is like a storm that, when it arrives, destroys everything if we do not manage it properly; but if we manage it, we can overcome it with little damage; and I think our most important achievement since the era of sacred defense is crisis management and working in jihadi way. Another point is that we should not wait for someone to take our hand. I have a sisterly and motherly advice for our young people; I advise them to have more tolerance and less expectations, and to start on their own to solve problems and not wait for someone else.


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