My job is not writing narratives

Conversation with Maryam Shanaki, compiler of Holy Defense Oral History

Translated by: Adeleh Hajimirzaie


Mrs. Maryam Shanaki is one of oral history pioneers in Iran-Iraq eight-year War. She went to Abadan in 1981-82 with her tape recorder and began recording oral memoirs of the girls who had remained in Abadan. This work was the initial step of women oral history compilation in eight-year Holy Defense. Accordingly, it has special status in women oral history during the imposed war. "The Bureau for the Literature and Art of Resistance" published a part of Maryam Shanaki efforts in a book under the title of In the Khoramshahr Alleys in the winter of 1992. This book drew the attention of readers and its fourth edition reprinted in June 2007.

Maryam Shanaki is also a pioneer in producing and compiling the oral history of Iranian female P.O.Ws in Iraqi Camps and one of the first people who recorded the Iranian female P.O.Ws oral memoirs. In this regard, "The Bureau for the Literature and Art of Resistance" has published two books by her under the titles of An Opening to Sky and Looking them in the Eyes in 1993 and 1996 respectively.

Maryam Shanaki was born in 1971 in Tabriz. She has Accounting Diploma. Now she is married to Mr. Hassan Ahmadi. Her husband is one of good writers of Holy Defense. They have three children, two sons (Saber & Ehsan) and a daughter (Asma). Here you read her written interview with us:


Q: What are your memoirs of the first years of Iran- Iraq War?


A: In those days, I was living in Tehran. My hearings about the war events and battles were the same as the other people, I never thought that one day I may go to Khoramshahr but later I could go there   several times.


Q: Were you familiar with oral history studies at that time?


A: In those days, I had just finished high school. I was not familiar with history, studies… but I had a feeling that as many our tales and myth have defined and remained orally through the generations, we should start something like this. In those day publishing of these books were not so easy and many people especially publishers were not so interested.


Q: What did make you to take the tape recorder, go to the Iranian soldier, and record their memoires, was it your own decision?


A: It was in 1981, during the Fajr Decade ceremonies. A group of Revolutionary Guards of Khoramshahr were about to hold a ceremony for the martyrs’ families. I had gone to Abadan with a group of artists. Many of Khoramshahr people had gathered there. Suddenly, we turned on our small tape recorder and listened to the Khoramshahr women’s tragic words.


Q: Please tell about your first memoir of Oral History recording.


A: My first professional interview was for the book of In the Khoramshahr Alleys that I mentioned it before. I accomplished these interviews in Abadan.


Q: Did you have any particular problem, because of being a woman?


A: I have to mention that my husband, Mr. Ahmadi, has done most of soldiers’ interviews. He toiled for this work very much and I am sure that if I were to do it, we had more problems and could not do the job.


Q: How did you choose your interview subjects in 1981-82?


A: At that time, I did not intend to compile a book. This was my husband's suggestion and if I did this work, it was with his suggestion and pursuit; he believed in this job and wanted to transmit the imposed war events to the future generations.


Q: Please tell us, if you have any memoirs of Behruz Moradi.


A:  My husband has lot of memoirs about Behruz Moradi. He narrated them several times. Behruz Moradi was a strange person. He was a soldier, teacher, photographer, painter, and student. His writings were comfortable, friendly, and pleasant. Moradi has affected on some of my husband's books such as Red Mirror and A Man in Mirror. Let me tell a memoir, because my husband has interviewed with Behruz Moradi. They had very friendly and close relationship. My husband had to meet him whenever he was going to War Zones. Sometimes he would see Behruz where he never expected to meet him, for example, in Mahshahr. Once Hassan told me, "I was alone and very sad, I liked to find familiar person, I was in deep thought that I spotted the building at my right side and saw someone in pray. He was Behruz!" He did strange works during Khorramshahr conflict. Behrouz and Morteza Ghorbani departure for reconnaissance collecting all the memoirs by my husband happened then in different places. Unfortunately, many of these interviews were lost or did not find the chance for publication for some reasons. Perhaps one of reason was that Behrouz Moradi was modest and liked to be unknown. He always wanted to remain an anonymous soldier, even he liked to be buried unknown. He was a thoughtful man. Even after the liberation of Khorramshahr, whenever he had time, instead of going on vacation, he would try to find MIAs in the ruined streets and alleys of Khorramshahr, maybe to bring a family out of worry. He was a good photographer, and took beautiful photos. We have some memoirs of this honorable martyr who narrated for us about Minoo Island after the liberation of Khorramshahr, for example about digging trenches, and keeping poultry there. Future generations of this land will discover Moradi later. Sorry, I forgot to tell that this part of these dialogues mentioned in the book of In Khorramshahr Alleys. They are about the time that Iraqis were in Khorramshahr. My husband has done them in Abadan.


Q: Is there anyone else other than you for recording the memoirs in 1981-82?

A: I do not remember anyone who has done this job. Although I have to mention here that, the companionship of Mrs. Farideh Zariv, wife of Nasser Palangi, the contemporary painter, was a big help for me in these dialogues. However, because of the cold reaction of people to this kind of works, we were not that much sure, if these dialogues were to be published. However, my husband was seriously pursuing the matter in a way that he was never disappointed or exhausted of the people's indifference and reactions. His pursuit made it possible to publish all these dialogues in the book of In Khorramshahr Alleys. Before presenting my manuscripts to Mr. Morteza Sarhangi, they had been at “Cultural Office” of “Abadan Martyr Foundation” to be decided for publication for months, and finally Mr. Ahmadi went there and took them back. They told us if they would agree to publish the interviews, we had to remove the names, something that Mr. Ahmadi would never agree with.

Therefore, these manuscripts remained in my desk for many years until by my husband’s suggestion we presented them to Mr. Sarhangi in “The Bureau for Literature and Art of Resistance”. Mr. Ahmadi insisted that the book should be published by my name. He believed that I had a great share in preparing it. I did not believe that and liked that he would finish the work he had started himself. Unfortunately, it did not happen and he did not accept it. I am very regretful about that. The reason that I accepted this interview is that I wanted to narrate what I had in mind in this regard after many years.

I think there is no way to assess the scale of women’s presence in Abadan and Khorramshahr. The women’s presence in war scenes in order to help the soldier in those days is indescribable. There is no other example of self-sacrificing like the one that Khorramshahr women did. Khorramshahr people never wanted to see their city occupied by Saddam soldiers, so they bravely resisted.


Q: How was the book compiled?


A: The compilation of the book was not a hard task. It was very sweet and pleasurable for someone who writes stories. We believed this work is for future generations and for the very reason we saved these manuscripts for about 12 years. As I told you before, my husband did most of the preparation and compilation job. For example, Mr. Mohammad Noorani’s interview conducted when he was hospitalized and at first, it was not easy to make him accept interviewing. However, seeing our persistence, he realized that Khorramshahr events during hard days of resistance should never be forgotten. Saleh Mousavi’s dialogue was done in Abadan when Abadan was under Iraqi’s artillery fire. At that time it was really hard to make contact with soldiers; therefore some parts of these dialogues were not completed; such as Farhad Dashti’s.


Q: If you wanted to write In Khorramshar Alleys today, how would it be?


A: The atmosphere of those days is not comparable with today. If I want to write it now, I think it is not nice as before. Khorramshahr people had different mood then. Several people have been inspired by this book for writing novels and stories and making movie. “Revolutionary Guards Corps” has published a thick book about Khorramshahr that there is no mention of my name and book, even once!


Q: Final words?


A: Let me answer your last question by continuing my words. The aim of compiling this book was to preserve the history of Khorramshahr resistance for the future generations. There are many other people who had roles in Khorramshahr battles but their names are not mentioned in this book. I really liked to continue this job but it seems to be so late. When we go back to those days, the honesty and sincerity in dialogues seem to be unrepeatable. One of the positive aspects of book is that those people were themselves- without any wane- in their words; they have expressed their real emotions. The 4th edition of this book has published but some photos related to the battles are replaced with other ones that are also taken by Mr. Ahmadi.

 I have two other books that are published by “The Bureau for Literature and Art of Resistance”. An Opening to Sky is based on my dialogues with Mrs. Masoumeh Abadi who had been captive in Iraq’s prisons for many years. This book is not memoirs; it’s like a story, which is based on my personal impression of the dialogues we had together and it did not satisfy me. The third book was Dr. Fatemeh Nahidi’s memoirs. She was a prisoner in Iraq too. This book was published under the title of: Looking them in the Eyes.

I believe if these interviews had been done in the first years of their release year, the result had to be better.

Also, I believe that today is the good time for writing novels and stories and publishing memoirs is not that much interesting. If we want to an everlasting work, it ought to be in artistic style, and my job was not writing narratives and will not be.


Soreie Mehr No 36, (22 December 2007-19 March 2008)

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