Interview with Ms. Sharifi;

Memoirs of a School Principal from the Sacred Defense Era (1)

Management of a school in a military garrison to the management of students under tents in the forest

Interviewed and compiled: Faezeh Sassanikhah
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Note: Kafieh Sharifi was born in 1959 in Naftshahr, one of the areas of Qasr Shirin, and has served in the educational system for 31 years. Part of these years coincided with the imposed war.

Sharifi, who is living in Ilam and working for the Gol Narges Al-Mohammad Charitable Foundation, which she founded, has valuable experience and memory in managing the school during the imposed war. A reporter for the Iranian Oral History website interviewed her to talk about those years.

Where were you when the war began?

To answer this question, I have to look back a little. I first heard the sound of war bullets being fired in late May 1980. We were asleep at home one night when the sound of gunfire came. We were living in of the governmental-leased houses of the oil company and overlooked exactly where the military forces were shooting. Naftshahr was an oil-rich region, it had an oil pump, and there are many famous oil wells there, such as Masjed Soleyman, etc. The enemy was shooting exactly these areas. We left the house. Thank God, nothing special happened that night and the only artillery was fired on this area, and after a quarter, twenty minutes of heavy fire on the city calmed down everywhere. This was the fire by Iraq against the oil-rich region. Before we know it, this is the beginning of a multilateral war; As soon as these movements started and a few nights later, after finishing the school year, we decided to leave the city with our relatives and go there as in previous years when we used to go Kermanshah or Ilam in the summers. We left the city and came to Ilam. However, because I was a teacher, they announced that we should go back to school for the exams in September; we held one or two exams there.

In fact, before the announcement of the main date of the war, there were movements on the border of Iraq. Naftshahr was very close to Iraq. There were hills in the city from where we could see exactly the parts of Mendali and Khanaqin of Iraq and the movement of people by using a camera. As children, we used to go to the border on the thirteenth day and see people there. Given that it was an oil-rich city and had a lot of border in common with Iraq. It was a very sensitive and strategic region for Iran and Iraq due to the existence of many oil wells that still exist. The Kermanshah’s oil pump and the refinery were fed by the Naftshar’s oil pump that was considered geographically an underground reserve for Iran. I have to explain that most of the inhabitants of the city were non-natives who worked in tankers and were employees of the oil company. In fact, there were several people in charge who were non-natives, a number of workers who worked in the oil company, and a number of people whose jobs were livestock or self-employed. My father, as an instance, owned a fruit shop. Those who worked for the oil company had very good financial conditions and had a special summer and winter every year. In Naftshahr, those who were employees or officials of the oil company were given government-leased houses; They did not even rent a house and had houses in Kermanshah, Tehran, and Islamabad. That is, Naftshahr was just their workplace, otherwise, their income would have been spent elsewhere and they would have invested elsewhere. Other people like us were at a low income. Anyway, for a while, I was able to provide the income for my family. Many did not even have this income. For example, as a teacher, they gave me a governmental-leased house to bring my family there. We were in that house until the war began.

In the second week of September, my colleagues and I went to Naftshahr to take exams, but they announced that we would leave the city because the city was under artillery fire. In the last days of September, I returned there again with my mother and brother. After the beginning of the war- that is September 22 in 1980, I was preparing students’ exams in a school where I was the principal there. Immediately, mortars and artillery were fired into the city. It was clear from the heavy fire and especially shooting, that they were very close. There, we sent my brother into a bulwark in front of our house, but my mother and I were inside. The bulwark was under fire repeatedly; the mortars also fell into the yard.  After a hard time, the fire subsided a bit. As the Iraqi artillery fire intensified on the same area of Naftshahr, we went out at night. A military vehicle came and picked us up. My brother and I and a few other people from Naftshahr got on board and went to Somar. The distance from Somar to Naftshahr is very short, about twenty minutes, but on the way, the enemy shot one of the car's wheels and the car was punctured. From there we went to Somar by car. We stayed in Somar until 12 o'clock at night to find a car. We arrived in Ilam at around 2 midnight in a car, which I think was a truck.

Two days later, I wanted to go to Naftshahr again. I went to the west of Gilan to go to Naftshahr, but the enemy's fire was too much and they prevented us from leaving. I went to Kermanshah and introduced myself to Kermanshah educational system; those who were teachers and came from those areas had to introduce themselves to determine their workplace.

Did you live in Ilam after leaving Naftshahr?

Yes. We were a big family, I had eight sisters and two brothers. My older brother passed away in 1981. One of my sisters was married and lived in Ilam before the victory of the Revolution. The distance from Somar to Ilam was much closer than the distance from Somar to Kermanshah, and my other sister lived in Kermanshah. Because I was the main decision-maker in the family, we decided to move the children to Ilam on a night when the Naftshahr was in a very chaotic situation. I went to Kermanshah from Ilam and introduced myself to the educational system.

■Which school did you transfer to teach in Kermanshah?

Exactly in October 1980, I became the director of a school in the Sarab-e Nilufar area of Kermanshah, which is now a recreational and beautiful area. It was a military zone at the time and was known as Sarab-e Nilufar garrison. The school was located in the middle of the garrison and was active in both middle and high school. We were very uncomfortable at school; however, it was a military zone and had no courtyard. An officer named Colonel Jafari was in charge there. God bless him. He was later martyred. He helped us a lot. He ordered the schoolyard to be enclosed with the sacks they brought so that it could not be seen from the outside. However, it was a military zone and had no courtyard.

Several other teachers and I managed that school. It was a war zone. Residents and students of the suburbs of the garrison had migrated from Sarpol-e-Zahab, Qasr-e-Shirin, Naftshahr, etc. We also came from war zones.



■Please explain the difficulties of managing the school in these war situations and the students who were culturally different!

I have been teaching since 1976. I graduated from elementary school with a very high-grade point average. At that time, I was told that you had to go to an elementary school in Naftshahr and teach the fifth grade. This was very easy for me, considering that I used to have a private class and teach a few grades in the summer due to the poor financial situation of my family since I was in the sixth grade of the old educational system. In Naftshahr, everyone was the same as me. I knew what families the students were from and what their conditions were, but I was taken to a school in Sarab-e Nilufar where everyone was struggling with many problems. The houses were all the military-leased gamily housing units. As an instance, 3 families lived with all the different characteristics they had in 3 rooms of a flat in that military town. There was not any house with many rooms. The Rooms were 18, 12, and 9 meters.  The large family lived in an 18-meter room. A family of two or three lived in a 9-meter room. Those who were related to each other lived with their relatives. In some places, people from different cultural backgrounds lived together. Many people would argue with each other for everything and bring the problem into the school and the parents would come and get help from us. I had to go to town and talk to them. The distance from the town to the garrison was nothing. We used to walk. When I went to Sarab-e Nilufar, I was living in Kermanshah early. The distance from there to Kermanshah was 20 minutes; there was a very bad road. It was a military road and the garrison was in the middle of the road. Considering the conditions there, we finally decided to stay in the area for a few nights with a few colleagues and take care of the immigrants' problems and solve them. They gave us a room and said you could live here. The situation was very difficult, but we also enjoyed working in that state of war and helping people with cultural problems. Except for one person, we were all single. It was a great privilege to be able to stay there without having to worry too much about housework. I had all the hours of fun with the students and I was guided by their conditions; not only me but all my colleagues were tolerant of the students in this situation. They tried to get along with the students during break times. In military garrison, the military zone is usually independent and has a separate school. They trained teachers for themselves. While we were teaching at that school, the children of the militants also came and studied. The school was run in two shifts; we, girls, were one shift and the boys were another shift; one shift for girls and one shift for boys.

The school was like a villa. It had 8 classes, which was enough for us. It had a manager room and a deputy room. These classes were enough for the students. There was the number of low numbers of children in the garrison was. After starting of war, the families of the soldiers had left. Rarely, as an instance, we have 10 students from the children of the military, and the rest were all war migrants.

What were the differences between the families?

They brought, as an instance, water to them by tanker; one washed dishes, one washed clothes, and other works; everyone did something. They would quarrel over this issue and even quarrel with each other and many other issues would arise. One, as an instance, said it was my turn, the other said it was my turn. They had a lot of problems in the town.

Was the school in the firing range of the Iraqi attacks?

The roar of the planes bombing Kermanshah could be heard, but despite the fact that Sarab-e Nilufar was a garrison, there were no attacks. After a year and a half in the middle of the garrison, Mr. Ashrafi Esfahani, the Friday prayer Imam of Kermanshah, may God have mercy on him, told them to build schools inside the town; A very large school was built and we moved there.

Did you work with the war support staff while managing the school?

Sometimes they came from the war support headquarters and asked us for some information. We also provided them with any information we had. They assessed the situation of war migrants to see what the shortcomings and problems were. Some assistance was provided to families under the supervision of the school, and some were delivered to them through the town. Another part was brought through the lecturers that came. I had a cousin who was later martyred. At that time, he was active in the Kermanshah jihad. Usually, I would give the information I had to my cousin and he would deliver the supplies to the school, town, or garrison anyway.

If they needed help from headquarter, they would get help from us and we would advise the students to go there for help. The town was so large that they provided what the people needed. In the beginning, there was no shop in the town, people went to Kermanshah to even get their necessities, but little by little, it expanded, and the departments that involved in the war and could work sent representatives there to take care of the victims.

What were the women doing at the war support Headquarters?

The women were knitting or packing food, and so on. Students who were unemployed for a shift went there to help. Inside the school, we collected a lot of donations through colleagues and students and gave them to the staff of the war support headquarters to be sent to the fronts. There was a lot of fighting on the western fronts; as an instance, the Abu Dharr garrison in Sar-e Pol-e Zahab was one of the most important garrisons where aid was usually taken and distributed.

■The families in the town were poor and war-torn, how did you collect money from them or non-cash assistance for the front?

By God, they were families who came to Sarab-e Nilufar area without any equipment and handed over all their belongings to war support headquarters. They even came out of Qasr Shirin and Sar-e Pol-e Zahab areas at night. My brother, as an instance, worked in the finance department of Qasr Shirin. she had been walking for two days and nights to reach a place where they rented vehicles to reach Kermanshah. He had not brought any tools with him. The families had come from their homes with these conditions, but when the need arose, they gave the ones they had been given as gifts to the war support headquarter. Some, as an instance, gave blankets called military blankets, all of which were uniform and dark in color; these were given to the front. As an instance, at a wedding party that was invited by the school forces, we became aware that the enemy bombed an area. One of the ladies came and said to me, “ I want to give something to the front." Shee had 3 bracelets in his hand, which of course they were not gold. Maybe they had a low price. She took them out of her hand and gave them to me and said: "This is my only asset. I have nothing else!" I was very sad for her, I kissed her and said, “My mother! My dear! Keep them! If the front needs, they will tell you."She said: "I want you to give this 5 Rial to the fighters, even if it is worth 5 Rial (Iranian currency."

We put a box in the schoolyard to collect money from and everyone wanted to help the front. Even if the student had 10 Rial to buy food, he would say, "This is my property" and help the front. Students were always given free food through the garrison. "These children should not have a problem," said Colonel Jafari. All she cared about was that the children would have no problem with this war in the future, that they would learn their lessons and be made. What made me with all the problems I had in life were the years I lived in Sarab-e Nilufar.


To be continued… 


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