Da (Mother) 85

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni
Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman


Da (Mother) 85

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman

Persian Version (2008)

Sooreh Mehr Publishing House

English Version (2014)

Mazda Publishers




We went over the bridge and from a place on Behruz Alley or Arya the truck entered a military compound and stopped in front of a building. It looked to me like one of the naval headquarters’ buildings. We got out of the car and entered the hallway. Metal plaques on the doors identified the offices: Logistics, Command…. The head of the group stopped in front of a door and said, “Wait here.” He went into the room. I heard him presenting our passes one by one. He came out, turned to me, and asked, “You’re the Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni?”

I was amazed he knew my name. “On my ID, my name is Zohreh, but my real name is Zahra,” I explained.

“They won’t need a copy of your ID. Come in for a minute,” he said. I entered with him. There was a soldier in civilian clothes behind the desk. He asked, “Zahra Hoseyni, that’s you?”


“Wait outside,” he said.

I sat beside Zohreh on a bench in the hallway. The young soldier came out and said, “Stay here until they give you permission to enter.” Then he went away. I had butterflies in my stomach. I looked myself over. I was dusty and shabby looking. I got up and went into the yard to shake off my clothes. I beat my chador against a column to get the dirt off. Then I went back inside and waited. There were lots of soldiers and runners going back and forth. I was on the verge of getting what I wanted. I had heard so much about the War Room and was curious to see what went on there. Were they really at work on the war? If they were, why were we in the situation we were in? What was it like in the War Room? There was probably a large round table in the middle with freshly minted colonels sitting around it and stacks of maps and equipment. I got more nervous the longer I waited. After all the sarcasm about how it was useless for me to go, I was afraid to come back empty-handed. People wouldn’t take me seriously after that. This made me so jittery that the things I had planned to say were slowly slipping from my mind.

I called on God to help me tell them about the pain we were going through, about the injustices inflicted on the boys at the front lines. These boys without weapons, without aid, without food—how long could they hold out? We waited behind the door about three quarters of an hour. Finally, a soldier opened the door and said, “Come in, please.”

I got up. I was in a strange state. There were butterflies in my stomach. I said to Zohreh, “Stay here until I come out.”

“You have to convince them we need weapons badly. Tell them to send reinforcements from other cities. Don’t forget to mention the state of the dead and conditions at the front lines,” she said.

“Pray for me,” I said and went in.

Another door opened, and I entered the War Room. No one noticed me at first. I looked around the room. I was shocked by what I saw. The War Room was not what I had imagined. It was a large room lit by a fluorescent light. The walls were papered with maps, and there were two people sitting by radio sets at the end of the room listening to the scratchy voices coming from them and taking notes. Then they showed the notes to officers sitting in chairs or standing around a table. Nearer to the door several uniformed people and civilians were seated on the floor around some carpeting, talking to one another. A couple of them seemed very young. The rest appeared over fifty. I was surprised at how young the commanders were. It appeared that one of the older men was not doing that well; his face was pale and he was shaking visibly. I guessed he must be Colonel Rezavi. I had heard that he had recently come down with typhoid and was in bad shape. The poor thing was forced to stay at the front with a fever in command of his troops. They said he had close cooperation with the army. I felt ashamed, standing in front of all these men, but it hadn’t been easy getting here so I couldn’t waste the opportunity. I sensed if I didn’t make my presence known, they would go on working without noticing me. “Hello,” I said in a loud voice.

The sound of a woman’s voice made all of them turn their heads toward the door and stare at me. Then a colonel, who was older than the rest and was leaning on the table, said, “Hello, dear, welcome.”

I removed my shoes and stepped on the carpeting. The same colonel asked, “Tell me, dear, what is it that you want?”

Hearing the word “dear” made me choke up. His tone was affectionate and fatherly. I got the sense they had told him I was coming. I entered and, with a lump in my throat, started, “I came here to….”

I couldn’t continue and had to wait a few moments for the lump to go away. The strain in my voice and my hesitation made them more attentive. I began again, “The truth is I’ve come to talk about conditions in Khorramshahr. I don’t know how much you know what it’s like for the people. What it’s like at the front. I want to tell you about it. The people have had it. They are losing their homes, their possessions, what they’ve worked for all their lives. The forces at the front—there are so few of them. They don’t have an ounce of strength left to fight. As is well known, they’re short on weapons and equipment. It’s gotten to the point the boys are firing bullets at tanks. Tell me: Is it possible to stop a tank with a G3?”

“How do you know the situation at the front?” the colonel asked.

“I went and saw for myself what’s going on,” I said.

“You went and fought?” he asked.

“No. I didn’t fight. I brought food, water, and munitions. I went to help with the wounded. I’m an aid worker. My father told me about the front.”

I couldn’t go on. At the mention of my father, the tears started flowing. I fought them back and I continued, “My father was not military, but stood like a man before the enemy for five days until he was martyred. He didn’t retreat. My brother escaped from a hospital in Tehran and fought here for two days before he was also martyred.” I hiked up my chador and held out my arms and said, “I buried both with these two hands. Now there’s only me and my sister. Like everybody else, we help in any way we can—burying the dead or seeing to the wounded. But I’ve seen soldiers running about, not knowing what to do. Why don’t you get them organized, give them weapons? They’re waiting for orders from above. So give them some so they can go and fight. I’ve spoken to a number of them who say that some commanders have run away. How should we fight, then? Why should we? Gentlemen, many of us know the person who calls himself president is a traitor. Banisadr and many of the bigwigs around him are traitors. Those of you who’ve remained have to do something. You’re the commanders. We don’t have the power to change things, and we don’t know what else to do.”

I looked up several times to see if they were listening. Most of them were shaking their heads in sorrow. It seemed like some were in shock, staring at me with tears in their eyes. Others were whispering, which heartened me. So I went on, “We have been waiting for the army from Quchan. When will it get here? They keep promising the front-line fighters that reinforcements are on the way. So where are they? If there are no reinforcements, at least give us women weapons so we can defend our homes.” One of the two men bent over a map looked up and asked, “You mean there are still women in the city?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “And a lot more than a few. I’m sure if they were to get their hands on weapons, they wouldn’t have a problem going to the front.”

Some of them responded by saying, “Bravo! Bravo!”

That made me mad. It seemed like they were just trying to pacify a child. “Look,” I said, “I’ve come here to tell you about this so you’ll tell the upper ranks. No one listens to what we say. No one knows who we are, but everybody respects you as the commander.”

Although I was bursting with more to say, I realized I had stopped.

Then the colonel said, “The presence of sisters like you is good for our

morale. If it weren’t for you, many tasks would be neglected.”

Another man said, “God bless your father! Bravo! I mean it.”

The colonel continued, “Daughter, you may be young, but you’re fearless and you speak very well. Your analysis is quite good. But you’ve got to realize this is not the time and place for such talk. We know a lot about what’s happening ourselves, but in today’s conditions, it’s not right. You can’t say everything you want with impunity. You’ve got to watch it. We’re all friends here, but in other places such talk might cause problems for you.”

I said, “What I said was not untrue. I’m telling you what I saw. I’m not making anything up.”

“I know you’re right,” he said, “but you can’t say everything. We’ve got to maintain our solidarity. What you say will cause dissent and duplicity.”

“You mean,” I asked, “I should close my eyes when I see treachery? Isn’t treachery itself the cause of dissension? That’s worse.”

He insisted that I shouldn’t speak so openly about Banisadr’s treachery, but I wouldn’t give in on this one point. “Even if they put me in front of a firing squad,” I said, “I’m going to stand by what I say. He won’t let the army defend Khorramshahr. We’re not blind. We see how the soldiers are serving their country, but we also see the traitors. We know who they are and won’t stop saying so. You should go to the front yourselves and see how the army, the guards, and the civilian forces are fighting side by side. Any self-respecting people realized they must stay and defend the city. Some don’t even know which end of a rifle is up, how to load it; but they’ve gone to the front anyway and become target practice for the enemy. Come to the city and see the soldiers running about, not knowing what to do. Major Sharif Nasab stands in front of the mosque and talks till he’s blue in the face, but some soldiers don’t listen to him, because they have to get orders from their own commanders. It’s like talking to the wall.”

“God willing, things will be straightened out. You should pray for that. We will do what we can. We’ll be around to support you and won’t hesitate to do whatever we can. Where is your family now?”

“I sent them out of town a few days back.”

In the end I said, “So long as there are people in the city, you here can do something. The higher ups may be traitors, but you have the backing of the people. You should use this to try to bring some order to the situation.”

The colonel along with a few others said, “Will do.”

I didn’t know what else to say, then, but goodbye and left the room. I was still trembling. I never thought I could say as much as I did. Although I had to stop a few times to choke back the tears, I thought that my voice was forceful and clear.

As soon as I emerged, Zohreh came running over and asked, “What happened? Why is your face so red? Did you tell them what you had wanted? What did they say?”

“Yeah, but let me tell you later.”

Zohreh took my hand and sat me in a chair. Then she brought me some water. We waited there for the young soldier to come. Gradually I calmed down and told Zohreh the story. She said, “Thank the Lord. I hope they take it seriously and do something.”

Even if they don’t, I thought, saying what I said was more important than remaining silent.

On the way back to the mosque the soldiers made a few stops. “We have to follow up on a few things,” they explained. I said nothing, not wanting anyone to pester me with questions about what was said.

I didn’t even want anyone to see me with my face red like that. I prayed to God I wouldn’t see Ebrahimi.

It was dark when we reached the mosque. After getting some dinner, I went to Jannatabad.

The next day when Ebrahimi saw me, he said laughingly, “Word is you made a shambles of the War Room.”

“Who told you?” I asked.

“It’s not important how information gets to me. What’s important is that I get information.”


End of Chapter Nineteen


To be continued …


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