Oral History Writing Know-how


Interview with Asghar Kazemi, author of several books about the imposed war  


Interviewer: Seyyed Qasem Yahosseini
Translated by: Mohammad-Baqer Khoshnevisan

 

 


He gathered his initial memoirs from war in Mordad 1367 (August 1988) in Dokooheh Garrison. This was the beginning of a job that was finally led to writing of the book "Dasteh-1"(Squad-1).
I interviewed Asghar Kazemi, the busy author of the books related to eight years of the Sacred Defense in his office and among a large bulk of writings and papers which had been set with a regular and good order. His 28 months presence in war fronts and his special viewpoint made him try to record the war events. The subjects that he had in mind about the imposed war turned into books in the field of Sacred Defense literature. "1904 Peak", "From London to Fav", "Khorramshahr in Iraqi Army Documents", and "Bamu" are examples of his efforts in those years.
We have conducted an interview with him about the methods of writing down war's oral history.

Q: As the first question, when were you dispatched to the war fronts and in which areas had you been during this period?

A: I went to the southern front for the first time in 1364 (1986). A special operation was supposed to be carried out in Juffair area towards Tigris which was cancelled. I had gone to the war front as a volunteer force (Basiji). I was said that a hard operation was on the way. I was transferred to the front of the war area behind Juffair. We were supposed to continue Badr Operation which had been previously defeated in order to retake the area. But the Operation was cancelled due to some reasons. From there I retuned to Dokoohe garrison and Division-27. I was in the war fronts some 28 months.

Then I took part in "V-al-fajr-8 Operation" in Fav area. In fact, the largeness of the area was very significant. I was very excited. I also took part in "Karbala-1 Operation" – recapturing the city of Mehran – and have many memoirs from that. Then, I was in Nouh Headquarters and a war engineer. During the great operations of "Karbal-4", "Karbala-5", the supplemented "Karbal-5" and "Karbal-8", I was in Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy. Then I came to combat and infantry battalions. I also took part in "Beitolmoqaddas-2 Operation" in Iraqi Kurdistan area and "Beitolmoqaddas-4" and the defense operation of "Shakh-e Shemiran". The last operation was "Qadir" carried out concurrent with "Mersad Operation" in Ahwaz. In the operation of Qadir which is not so famous, we stood against the large attack of the Iraqi army which planned to seize Pasgah Zeid area. In this attack, the Iraqis were going to capture Khorramshahr like the year 1359 (1981). They had to retreat when faced with the strong resistance of the Iranian combatants. And then after, the war was over and the peace events occurred.

Q: What was the name of the first book you published after the war?

A: I first started to gather war memoirs orally, and using cassette recorder in the Dokooheh Garrison (Mordad 1367, August 1988). Of course, when one of my local friends who was in the propaganda section of Division-27 understood that I was going to come back to Tehran, offered me to stay there and to end this unfinished work. And since I had enough time, I accepted.

Q: Did you have any experience in this regard?

A: No, my experience about hearing war memoirs was in relation with my first participation in Juffair combat area. I had not even taken part in military trainings. The operation had to be carried out immediately. I came to Dokooheh and after one week I was sent to Juffair combat area. Even I didn't know how to shoot. They told me "if you shoot a few times, you'll learn". However, they helped me. This problem forced me to use my fellow combatants' experiences. In those circumstances, there were times that we took some rest. And during this time, I asked those who had spent more times at fronts to tell me more about their memoirs. Of course, these experiences were more military ones. Sometimes, their memoirs were in a way that would make me praise them.

Q: Do you remember any of those memoirs that you would like to say now?

A: It was said in Juffair area that the forces should shoot RPG7. Until that time, I had not even touched a gun. And now I had to shoot RPG7. So I sought one of the old combatants of the Battalion named Abuzar. He shot very precisely. I asked him in what operations you have taken part? I asked different questions from him about half an hour and he tried to teach me the necessary things about this weapon. He tried to explain them like a story so that I could remember. It was from there that I got interested in such issues. The combatants had more leisure times in Dokooheh Garrison. It was a good opportunity for them to recount their memoirs. The war had been finished and some guys had not yet settled due to some reasons. So I seized this opportunity. I took a big cassette recorder with some old tapes and started our work. Everyday we interviewed about four or five hours in the morning and six or seven hours in the afternoon.

Q: Did you have special questions for asking?

A: Posing questions were spontaneous. Since I had combat experience, I knew about military issues and the circumstances of operations. In other words I had many things in mind. These caused me to pose questions from the war combatants. I asked many questions from everyone. For example, he listed the operations he had taken part in. And then, I went through more important issues and asked questions about each of the operations. The point that I am paying attention to it now is that I gave up important and critical operations like Fat'h-ul-mobin and Beit-ul-moqadds very simply to reach the second half of the war that is the operations I myself had taken part in. The reason was that I knew less from the first years of the war. So I didn't ask questions about this period.

Q: Usually, how long did your interviews from everyone take for recording the war events?

A: Of course, in that area there was every kind of forces, from experienced and old ones to new forces. I usually interviewed everyone four or five hours. I wrote the name of the person on the tape. I don't remember but I think I also wrote the year I had interviewed.

Q: Didn't you have any problem with having the interview done with a recorder which was on?

A: In the period when the UN Resolution was accepted, the guys had become bored somehow. I think twenty or thirty days had passed. All of them had a grudge and wanted to tell out their grievances. So they said whatever they had in their mind. If I was a professional interviewer, I could record the most precise military and individual details of those combatants. The war had been finished, and these guys had enough time to explain their memoirs. 

Q: were your questions about military issues or merely telling memoirs?

A: That time I regarded the war as a military issue and my viewpoint was completely a military one. My questions were posed around military issues and the circumstances of defense and resistance during these eight years. For example, I was absent in one period of the war, and since I was going to make clear the hidden corners of the war for myself, my questions were about those days that I hadn't taken part. This incident happened to me in "Beit-ul-moqaadas-3 Operation". Our responsibility was to defend the operation. One of our battalions was sent to do the operation. I just saw these guys. But in an interview, I met one of these guys. I knew exactly what he said, because all the steps he had gone during the night, I had gone the next day. The day before that, we had progressed in the canal the he was talking about. We also had even retreated. I remember the hard retreat situation. I released the wireless device so that I could reach back.

Q: Did the guys just talk about victories or they also spoke about the bitterness and failures of the war?
 

A: There was every kind. But since the atmosphere of the war propaganda was dominant, they liked to talk about victories and successes. The content of the talks was both in the form of sloganeering and realism and actually a combination of all these. It was in fact a kind of heartfelt enthusiasm of the combatants which caused excitement. It was necessary at that time to be boosted such morale in them. I remember a combatant who had poem on his lips that began like this: “My heart is flapping / it is going to Karbala”. These words had such an effect on his heart that he told me: “I have read this poem again and again and cries with it.”  It means this poem had been with him for a long time.

Q: How were the inner feelings of those whom you interviewed?

A: They were very bored and upset when the Resolution was accepted. They sobbed many times while I was interviewing and I had to turn the recorder off. Well, in those conditions, they remembered the martyrs and friends who were not among us anymore or a wounded or a martyr whom they couldn't transfer to the back of the war zone. Their reaction was this while telling these issues. As if there was a heavy burden on their shoulders.

Q: What was your reaction in this regard as a fellow combatant?

A: I would turn the recorder off. Sometimes, I became silent. I put my hand on his shoulder and sympathized with him. Sometimes we had a common feeling. I also was crying too. For example someone talked about Beit-ul-moqaddas-2 Operation and passing a canal that I talked about before. When they had to retreat, one of the combatants was not pleased to put his feet on a martyr. So he got out of the canal and came back under the direct fire of the enemy. When he was speaking about this scene, he was sobbing loudly. I had felt closely the mood he talked about.

Q: What was your reaction in order to calm them?

A: Nothing, I just remained silent. I had nothing to say. It was natural that they reached to the initial calmness after sometime. Because they had faced with such issues many times over and over and it wasn't new for them.

Q: Did you finish an interview in one day or you needed more time?

A: If it took more than five hours, it was left for the next meeting. But most interviews were conducted during one day. Because they had five or six hours free time and I could easily talk to them.

Q: Were just two of you present during the interview or there were other persons too?

A: We tried to conduct two-person interviews. The war guys had issues that they didn't want to say. They didn't want anybody knew about them in order not to become hypocrisy. They kept the memoirs hidden in their hearts. I recorded as much as ten years many tapes in that golden period. I don't remember how much it took, but I know that it was started early Mordad (late July) and finished in the middle of Mehr (October). I recorded eight hours a day, four hours in the morning, and four hours in the afternoon for two months.

Q: Where are these tapes now?

A: They were in the Propaganda section of the Division at that time. I have referred to it in the introduction of "Squad 1". One chapter of the book is the result of the efforts of those years.

Q: Did you receive any money for the interviews?

A: No, this was my main job. And I just received the Basij salary which was 2400 Tomans.

Q: Did you conduct the interviews alone or you had colleagues?

A: In fact, there was a department named "Recording War Events" in "Division-27 ". We were a six-person team that worked there.

Q: Had you ever asked the same questions from several people simultaneously? (It means an interview with several people about a singular subject)

A: No, because of the reason that I mentioned above. They didn't want to tell their memoirs at the presence of others. A few guys never accepted to be interviewed. One of the members of Malek-e Ashtar Battalion was always escaping from me. He was never convinced to let me do the interview and record his memoirs.

Q: What arrangements did you use for convincing them to tell their memoirs?

A: The person in charge of recording war events office was one of my old friends. He taught me some methods. I asked them to recount their memoirs by talking to them. We told them that these memoirs should remain for the history. We reminded them the importance of recording war events in the history. We would tell them “now that the war has finished, we should inform others about what had happened at war fronts”. We are like the Prophet's grand daughter Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her). Like Zainab, we should not let the issues being kept hidden and buried in the history. We emphasized on religious matters of Ashura. The guys had a grudge and wanted to talk with someone and relieve themselves. If I had memoirs, I recounted them. Then the talking continued feverishly. He spoke about his memoirs. I spoke too. And if I was not well-informed about that operation we would pass it.

Q: Have you ever had any case that the interviewee had asked you to turn the recorder off in order to tell you something privately?

A:  Yes, sometimes when they didn't want to disclose one's family characteristic, or to retell defeating aspects of war operations, this situation took place. They asked me to turn the recorder off
.
Q: Did you have any red line for your interviews that if they revoked, you had returned them to the main path? 

A: There was nothing special. There were a lot of people who were willing to tell their memoirs and the team of recording memoirs and I were the busiest people in those days. Although we didn't have special military ceremonies in the early mornings, the guys would start their job from early in the morning after breakfast till noon. Then we had a brief rest, prayers, and again working.
Q: Where did you go after leaving Dokooheh?

A: Dokooheh Garrison was being evacuated. Some two months had passed from the acceptance of the UN Resolution and the peace situation. Just two battalions had stayed for defense line and for interviewing; I sought combat and infantry battalions like Zolfaqar, destruction and other units. However, I could have used experienced and old commanders who were in the headquarters, but it wasn't made possible. Then I noticed that my job was finishing. So, I came to settle, but the head of Propaganda Section who was aware of my capability, told me, "come to Tehran and serve as a Basiji there." I had done this job at fronts and received Basiji salary. I didn't know whether I would be able to continue my cooperation in Tehran. However, I came back to Tehran and started working in the bureau of "Art and Resistance".

Q: Which year did you start your working in the bureau of "Art and Resistance"?

A: I started working sporadically in Tehran in 1367 (1988) and gathered memoirs.

Q: In what method did you start gathering memoirs in Tehran?

A: I was given the address of war combatants. I would find them and record their memoirs. I did these for the department of "Recording Events Unit of Division-27" whose garrison was located in Vali-e-Asr Garrison of Tehran (Sepah Square).They had provided a reporters’ tape recorder and doing the job was easier. In Tehran, I could interview not more than two or three hours because they were engaged with other problems of daily life. The impediments of employment, education and … would not let to conduct more interviews. Sometimes we could get two hours a day in one week and were able to gather about 10 hours of interview.

Q: Have you ever thought to gather your experiences orderly and introduce them in a written form? 

A: I took notes of good subjects that remained in mind. In 1375 (1996), I followed those events of 1367 (1988) to understand why I didn't take notice of that event.

Q: Did you read books on the principles of writing the oral history or the methods of interviewing and like these?

A: I didn’t have enough time to read such books. I had learned them experientially. When working situation became hard in Tehran, lots of my meetings were cancelled although many arrangements had been done before. I felt the necessity of a new situation. 

Q: When did you start your job in Literature Bureau? 

A: It was 1370 or 71 (1991 or 1992). Some of my fellow combatants in wartime were cooperating with this Bureau. The Bureau had started working too. It was located in the yard in front of Andisheh Hall and Mortza Sarhangi was in charge of it.

A prefabricated house was the headquarters of the Bureau which had been decorated in the atmosphere of war. It was an artistic and cultural environment where good war works came out of it. I became familiar with Morteza Sarhangi in this Bureau. I brought him up the subject of "Squad 1" in those early days. Of course, I was going to entitle it "Golestani Kindergarten" but he offered me the title of "Squad1". Later I found that years of experience in journalism caused him to choose this title. It was in 1370 or 1371(1991 or 1992) that he mentioned to me the necessity of writing "Squad1". He insisted me to author "Squad1" and not to seek other things. 

Q: What was the name of the first book authored and published from you?

A: My first book was "Peak 1904". It was published in the Propaganda and Publication Unit of the Revolutionary Guards. "Peak 1904" is Kanimanga peak which is located in the Iraqi soil. In 1362 (1983) Mohammad Rasoolollah Division-27 had an operation around and over this mountain so that each battalion was operating in one of its peaks. 

Q: Were your interviews in the form of oral history or you were looking for finding documents or papers to?o

A: It was oral history. When I conducted an interview, I compared it with previous ones. If in some cases, the interviewee had not acted desirably, I first tried to find that person and conducted complementary interviews. For the first time, I dared to include operational maps into oral history.
I was once studying in Polytechnic University in engineering and since about 1365 (1986) I was working in the headquarters of the Revolutionary Guards Navy. There, I became familiar with map and the accessories for drawing a map. Thus, I could compare the maps of war areas to the combatants’ memoirs. But drawing them with computer helped me too.

This book is about 400 pages and was published in 1375-6 (1996-7). This book’s story is long. This book was supposed to be published in 1372 (1993) but it was not. There were some reasons. They said that I had written about retreat and things like this. The Revolutionary Guards was not willing such writings to be published. Such issues still existed in that prevailing atmosphere. Cultural institutes were not willing to concentrate on such matters. But in terms of the story, the book is full of pure stories and interesting chases and escapes. The guys of six battalions of Division-27 hid between the enemy’s and domestic lines. Many of them have been wounded. They had also hidden inside the canebrakes. Interesting events happened. I spend several years on this subject

Q: What was the name of the first book that you wrote?
 
A: “From London to Fav” was the work of the guys of the Literature and Art of Resistance Bureau. It has about sixty pages and its 25 pages are my own memoirs. There were also two other combatants. The book’s subject is about twenty days of operation in Fav area that I took part in personally. A part of “Squad-1” is also rooted in such issues.

Q: Who was that person who had come from London and was martyred? 

A: The book has been fully met the character of “Amir Homayoun Sarrafi”. Of course he had less relation to Hamzeh Battalion. Because when he arrived in front as one of this battalion, he was martyred. The memoirs of high school friendships and the memory of my first attendance in Fav war zone were with him. 

Q: How much is the share of the Sacred Defense’s oral history in “From London to Fav”?
A: The book is about the memoirs that I myself have had from war zones. I wrote it six or seven times. I didn’t know how to write. Because most of the times, I conduct interviews. So I realized that writing is a different and separate matter. Being less experience caused me not to be able to work on the character of “Amir Homayoun Sarafi” and to introduce him. I tried more to introduce the Faw area. While military centers can give full details of the geopolitics of Faw area. I had to cover the issue of why he left his family and despite being a Civil Engineer, came to the war front and finally was martyred in 31 Farvardin 1365 (20 April 1986). 

Q: Talk about the title of your third book and its content. 

A: It is entitled “Khoramshahr in Iraqi Army Documents” which was published in 500 pages by Hozeh Honari. The climax of my militarism is very clear in this book. Intelligence & Operation is the peak of military works. One of the duties of Intelligence & Operation guys is to review the enemy’s documents and papers that are seized by friendly forces in the bastions. However, it is very complicated and difficult job.
At that time I could get access to a number of these documents. One of my friends in the Intelligence section of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Ground Forces helped me to have access to them. They were around 130 documents. When I got them, I didn’t know what to do with them. First I took copies from the documents and then we translated them and put one step forward

Q: What period of war do they belong to? 

A: They belong to the period of “the occupation to liberation of Khoramshahr”. A friend who was captured and released after the war translated the documents. Then we started to compile them, which was very difficult. Until that time, I hadn’t seen compiling the documents. I hadn’t seen even one paper of document from our own army. A series of documents had propaganda aspects that I recognized easily. I arranged the documents on the basis of the date. When it was arranged, I had to put them in the dates that have been set and specified. The period of preoccupation was related to the time of occupation and the circumstances of Beit-ul-moqaddas Operation and the liberation of Khorramshahr. The papers of Khorramshahr occupation found different sorting including the enemy’s propaganda activities during the occupation, the demolition of the city and its looting. By studying the documents and consulting with Alireza Kamere’i, I made a significant progress in my work. He had published more than forty books about the memoirs of Iraqi POWs in the years 1374-1375 (1995-1996). So, he had a very good experience and ability in this regard. As you know, interrogating POWs is one of the most important tasks of Intelligence & Operation Unit. One of other friends, who helped a lot about the documents, was Mr. Hadj Hossein Allah Karam (an experienced in Intelligence & Operation Unit of the Sacred Defense period). When I showed him these documents, he wrote marginal notes on them. In fact, he assumed the responsibility of clarifying the documents. Therefore, other hidden aspects were made clear. The work was approaching to its end. I should say that this book was the result of an expertise team work. If I had started to work in an office, I could never do this work. It took about two years 1372-1374 (1993-1995) the book became ready. It was at this time that my mother lost her life. I presented the book to my mother. It is clear in the printed issue.
I found from the documents that the monument of Unknown Soldier which was built and opened in Baghdad had been constructed with the soil of Iran's war zone and Khorramshahr. I asked about this from experienced and expert people including Mr. Riyahi who was working in the propaganda sections of the war so that I could remove my ambiguity as much as possible. I intended to give comprehensive information to the reader about the occupation and liberation period of Khorramshahr.

Q: why hasn't the book reprinted despite the lapse of ten years form the book's 1st publication?

A: Fortunately, the book is reprinted this year and after technical stages, it will come to the market.

Q: I meant why the book with this great importance hadn't been reprinted during the past ten years?

A: Maybe the reason is that the readers who like to read documentary books are less. It is an experts’ book. So it has limited readers. This was my first book that was reprinted.

Q: Your next book is Bamu. Let’s talk about it.

A: As I mentioned, Intelligence & Operation has three sides. One side is to review the enemy's documents whose example is found in "Khorramshahr in Iraqi Army Documents". Another side is to interrogate Iraqi POWs and to use their news and information. In this regard, we can refer to the books published by Morteza Sarhangi. And the third side which is in fact the most important side is to recognize the enemy's areas and influencing their soil. When I started writing Bamu, less work has been formed in this regard. The works were inside unrelated texts in the form of short memoirs. I mean maybe someone who had been in reconnaissance patrol had told memoirs in other books that had stayed hidden
.
In order to understand that reconnaissance, recognizing the full situation of the area's military geography was needed which was of course a difficult task. The content of the book for a reader who needed to have a complete knowledge on the area's geography was not very clear. This problem was not taken seriously. "Khoramshahr in Iraqi Army Documents" gave this courage to me to enter this stage. Bamu owes to the subjects of the years 1367-1368 (1988-1989) that I had them in short notes in my incomplete works archive. Bamu is located in the north of Ghasr-e Shirin and Sar-e Pol-e Zahab and I knew it is a hidden matter from an undone operation.
The book was the result of some 700 pages of very heavy intelligence work and six months of continuous intelligence-operation work of several divisions deployed there. Intelligence-Operation guys had carried out six months of continuous recognition work in the strategic area of Bamu altitudes, the critical and hidden area of Baghdad front in the spring of 1362 (1983). Though, it wasn’t led to military operations, the combatant guys could receive very everlasting information.

Q: How many people cooperated with you in writing Bamu?

A: I interviewed some ten combatants who were there. I gathered the memoirs and information. The names of these ten persons in the order of their bulk of interviews are as follow:
Ahmad Ostad Bagher, 2nd brigadier general Hossein Allah Karam, 2nd brigadier general Mohammad Djavan-Bakht, 2nd brigadier general Ahmad Koushaki, 2nd brigadier general Mostafa Mowlavi, 2nd brigadier general Moharram Qasemi, 2nd brigadier general Ja'afar Jahrooti Zadeh, Hossein Demirchi, The martyred Lieutenant general Ali Sayyad Shirazi and Mehdiqoli Rezaee.
Later I sorted the memoirs according to the subject. Then I thought to put them side by side in order to proceed to a single subject from different aspects and directions. If someone had forgotten something about each part of the subject, others completed his work.

Q: Did you interview with these ten people or you provided the information in written?
A: I interviewed them. On the whole, the interviews became about 50 hours. Interview with Ahmad Ostad Bagher was the longest, 18 hours. Apart from oral history, we got assistance from some documents. Our concentration was on oral history, but we got good documents. One of the strong and sturdy narrators of this book, who helped us a lot, was Martyr Madjid Zad. Although we missed him, his handwritings shed a special light on it. He had written all of his daily life. The way I could find it was also interesting. He was martyred some two months after the recognition of Bamu area in “V-al-Fajr 4 Operation” in Kanimanga. About two third of the book’s compilation had been finished. We decided to meet the family of this martyr. When we referred there, they gave us the martyr’s handwritings and notes. When we read them, a new world was opened in front of us. Since the operation was not carried out, the only existing documents in the Revolutionary Guards Archive were only two or three information papers, which were incomplete. We got them by coordinating the Intelligence-Operation Section of Division-27 which has been included in the book completely. We needed more details in order to increase the attractiveness of our work as much as possible. The notes of Martyr Madjid Zad gave us the details. Due to our knowledge on the subject and our operational research, there was no ambiguous point in this written document which was updated regularly. From the beginning of the book, chapter to chapter and without any ambiguity, the notes have been brought with documentary and proven documents and papers and has helped us a lot so that we could explain the days and dates of recognition-patrol operations. In addition to the notes in the martyr’s house, we could find interesting and precise pictures from the war zone that were in the martyr’s own album and had been taken by himself. Maybe, his family didn’t know the importance of these military pictures that were perhaps regarded classified.

Q: How had the notes been written?

A: They had been written very briefly in a small pocket notebook. For example, it had been written, “We went with Ali.” We didn’t know which Ali he meant, but we did clarification. We had found that in such and such a day, so and so a person had been with the martyr. When we put together the memoirs of these friends, the puzzle was completed.

Q: You mean that the whole book subject formed on the basis of interviews and oral history of ten persons and the daily notes of Martyr Madjid Zad?

A: Yes, plus five or six documents that the Intelligence-Operation section of Division-27 gave us. It was included more than 700 pages. The compilation and collection of them took four years. It was completed in 1378 and published in 1379 (1999). I would like to say something about the maps of Bamu operational area. In “1904 Peak”, I had almost no experience in the issue of the maps and we had felt the importance of the operations’ maps in the wartime. Fortunately, there is a room in the Intelligence-Operation section of every division named Map and Calque Unit. We should turn the incomplete intelligence heard from the combatants into useful information and transferred to the reader. As a pen plays a critical role for a writer, compass and map is an important and critical principle for a recognition-patrol force. We tried to work very carefully on Bamu’s maps. According to this principle, we were very careful in drawing, compiling and printing them. Fortunately the book’s maps were printed folding and colored.  Almost full details have been explained in the colored maps. I myself presented the maps and unlike the army’s maps, I drew them in a way that no less or much point is seen in it. Therefore, I have included in the book’s maps everything the reader needs to know. There is a map in almost every 50 pages. It took about 11 months to draw the maps and my friends in Computer Unit did a hard work for drawing them.

Q: Who helped you more in publishing Bamu?

A: Actually, this book like “Khoramshahr in Iraqi Army Documents” was the result of a team work. If they refused to cooperate, the value and quality of the book would plummet. One of the most important persons was Engineer Ahmad Ostad Bagher that more than half of the book is about his memoirs. He expressed his memoirs very sweet and nice. I remembered that he was addressed as Sheikh in 1362 (1983), because he accepted every word with argument and discussion. He discussed even with senior commanders like Martyr Hemmat and Martyr Sayyad Shirazi. This issue has been mentioned in the book too. The presence of a person like Ostad Bagher who despite being very busy, spent a long time with high interest, and recounted the details in a documented and proven way, was very important. The narrators also cooperated with us. The editor Mohammad Mehdi Oqabi and Mohamamd Mehdi Pashak assumed the responsibility of rewriting the book.  Ali Takalloo was working on the maps for one year. The high quality of the job by these friends caused the final work to be an ideal quality. However, the book’s publication had also a high cost and because of its special audience, the reprint would be followed by special matters.

Q: I think this book has been selected as the best book of the year, isn’t it?

A: Yes. The “Foundation for Preservation of Monuments and Dissemination of the Values of Sacred Defense” selected it as the best book of the year in 1380 (2001) due to avoiding the use of the prevailing stereotypes, creating suitable atmosphere and presenting complementary acceptable information. The Guidance Ministry also gave it the prize for the best book of the year from the viewpoint of researches.

Q: The other book by you is the story of Qasr-e Shirin which you wrote it for children. Please tell us briefly about this book.

A: This book is the continuation the same recognitions of Bamu area which was published in thirty pages in 1382. The book’s language is easy and its narration is for the children. It is the story of a city surrounded by the enemy and was demolished. Another case is the strategic importance of Bazi deraz Altitudes and the other point is to present Qasr-e Shirin area as the passage of ancient wars
. 

Q: I think this work is a new experience for you in writing books for children.

A: Yes. It was my demand that the subjects about war issues, even the military ones, should be written in a way which is understandable for the ordinary people. War has contradiction with the people's daily life and is not touchable. It has an invisible atmosphere and its reflection in the community is not somehow that what it should be. In order to write a book about war, despite the need to have a strong military experience, the whole meanings of the book must be very easy to understand to attract more readers.
 
Q: You talked about a book entitled "Squad-1". Please explain about the work's stages from preparing to publication in full detail.
 

A: I began the work around the years 1380 (2001) or 1381 (2002). All the book's aspects were unknown for me. I had to be acquainted with the details. We were going to present all the recounting, memoirs, and information of one night of operation in 800 pages to the reader. When we were involved, it turned out that an 800- page book for such a work was less than what really needed.

Q: How many people were in this squad and to what battalion, brigade or division did it belong?

A: As I have referred in the book's introduction, it is about the story of "From London to Fav" and my high school classmate. One day we were the guest of the Artillery unit of Hamzeh Division. In that night, the guys spoke about the operation of Omm-ul-qasr Road, carried out on 24 Bahman 1364 (15 March 1986) – some two weeks before our party. It was a spiritual night in that empty tent and in that spiritual atmosphere. My friend Amir was very upset when he heard the memoirs.

Q: Who were the narrators of these memoirs? 

A: We didn't know them in name. Our main intention was to see our sport teacher, Mr. Kebriaee. He introduced us to the guys. They were telling their memoirs for the other friends from other companies and battalions. In the propaganda bureau of the battalion they showed us the pictures of the guys of that time in the photo album. Later, we used the same photo album for collecting and compiling the book's photos with this difference that we suffered eight months to gather it.
Q: To what division did the Squad belong?
A: The Squad belonged to the 1st company of Hamzeh Battalion of Division-27. This squad consisted of 29 people when it was involved in the clashes of 24 Bahman (March 15) which started at 10.20 PM. Seven were martyred in the first ten minutes and 14 of them till the end of the operation.

After the first company, the second and third companies continued to progress. During this period that took about 90 minutes, four others from squad one were martyred. Hamzeh Battalion was ordered to withdraw in the midnight hours. The withdrawal took until 4 or 5 AM. When they were evacuating the wounded, three other members of the squad were also martyred. After that night, four other members of this squad were martyred in other operations and from a 29-person squad, only 11 survived

Q: Can you tell us the names of these martyrs? 

A: Yes, the number of martyrs of the operation carried out in the night of 24 Bahman 1364 (15 March 1986) on the whole was 14 whose names are as follow:

Mohammad Amin Shirazi, Saeed Pour-karim, Amir Abbas Rahimi, Ali Rahimi, Hassan Razi, Mohammad Alian-nejadi, Masoud Ali-mohammad Pour-ahad, Arab Ali-qabel, Mohammamd Qamsari, Mehdi Kabir-zadeh, Mohsen Golestani, Akbar Madani, Soheil Mowlaee, and Gholamreza Nemati. Four other martyrs of Squad-1 who were martyred in other operations were Ahmad Ahmadi-zadeh (1366, 1987), Reza Ansari (1365, 1986), Madjid Javadian (1366, 1987) and Syrus Mehdipour (1365, 1986). 

Q: Why did you name this squad as "Golestan Kindergarten"?

A: This squad was known as "Student Squad". They were all between 16 and 19. Maybe, half of theses guys were high school students. These guys were together at front to study their lessons. Since they were very young, we named kindergarten after them and since their commander’s name was “Mohsen Golestani”, we named the name of this squad as "Golestani Kindergarten".
Those eleven persons who survived are: Hossein Ala’ee-nia, Behnam Bagheri, Ali Bibijan, Hamid-reza Ramezani, Asghar Ali Mohammad Pour-ahad, Hossein Fayyaz, Hossein Golestani, Mohsen Goodarzi, Asghar Lakabadi, Mehdi Maleki, and Mohamamd Javad Nasiri-pour.

Q: Finding these names is very difficult after several years. Did you have access to any special source for finding these names? 

A: Our war was a popular one. In classic wars, the names of military personnel along with their specifications are registered precisely. But in this imposed war, the presence of voluntary forces (Basiji) was significant. They came and went in the periods between 45 days to three months or even more. On the other hand, their shifts between the companies, battalions and the divisions were very easy. They settled very easily from the previous company and introduced themselves to another new unit. And these shifts were never registered anywhere. However, some specifications were registered but not the details. Therefore, we had to lessen the percent of mistake and error as we worked on the basis of the oral history and today's memoirs of the guys. We had to find them and review their statistic and deployment situation. We knew some of them were surely the members of Squad 1. We had to find them and get the information about other members. Up to two years we sought the people who were highly probable to be in Squad-1. Most of the times when we were introduced to him, he would say: "I wasn't the member of Squad1". Certainly, if you ask now from the combatant guys, they just remember the name of their own battalion. They don't know much about the details of their company or squad and this is natural. Only when a special incident is happened for them, they would remember the number of their squad or company. We needed precise details. So, we searched more than one year in this regard. We talked to persons and tried to convince them to accept that they were a member of "Squad-1", but they showed hesitation. At any rate, we reviewed all the possibilities one by one in order to reach a real conclusion. Something interesting happened at this time that made many things clear for us. We found the notebook of the paramedic of Squad 1, Syrus Mehdi-pour. He had registered the name and squads of the combatant guys in the notebook in order to provide the best services for them. We could find full details from this notebook. 

Q: How many persons had not been known fully before finding the notebook? 

A: A few people. Before finding the notebook, we carried out wide research and had almost reached to the main category. At the same time, the assistance of old forces was of great importance. The written, documentary statistic as well as linear deployment of the first squad was so important that was included in the book's introduction.

Q: On which of these 11 persons did you spend more time to find him and gather his memoirs?

A: Since these guys were among Basiji voluntary forces, they did not follow a regular and standard system. So, we sought to find them in the delegations of the related battalions and even through ad in the newspapers. I remembered we were looking for the Squad 1 wounded carrier Hamid Reza Ramezani for more than six months. We also gave his name to the newspapers and finally he contacted us. When he called, he said, "I was not a commander. Why are you looking for me?"  He had been surprised. He said, "You must look for the commander. I even had no gun". We justified him and he agreed. And by chance, one of the most interesting memoirs of the book is about a wounded carrier who had no gun, because he focused all his attention on friendly forces. We needed to have memoirs from the last moments of the Squad 1 martyrs and the moments they had been wounded and actually Ramezani's memoirs is one of the most stunning chapters of book.

Q: Had these remaining 11 persons been spread throughout the country and you had to travel different parts of Iran for finding them?

A: One of them Behnam Bagheri was from Dezful and the rest from Tehran. When we found the notebook and considered his name among these eleven persons as a certain case, we started to research and even gave his name to the newspapers. But we couldn't have access to him in this way. One of the other guys of the squad-1 told us that he had been injured. With the help of our colleagues in "The War Disabled Foundation", we found that he had been wounded during the operation. We found his address in Khuzestan Province through his records in the Foundation. We were surprised how he had corresponded with the War Disabled Foundation in Tehran from Khuzestan. Later we understood that he had been a university student in those years in Tehran and had been sent along with other students from Tehran to the war fronts, and because he was educated, he worked in the health department of the Division. And then he had entered the first squad incidentally. One of our colleagues named Ms. Sabouri interviewed him and recorded his memoirs. Its result was a chapter related to the memoirs of Behnam Bagheri.
Searching and founding him made us very glad. I knew the kind of memoirs by the paramedics of the sacred defense period. They have numerous sweet memoirs. This is the result of my one-decade activity in this regard. The “Qoqnoos” Chapter which is about Mr. Ramezani’s memoirs is in fact one of the most interesting parts of the book.

Q: Have you sorted the book's chapters based on the memoirs of Squad-1? 

A: This method that in compiling the book, we have allotted each chapter to one of the remaining guys of this squad is a principle. We interviewed these guys and compiled them after deleting the questions. 

Q: How much was the total time of the interviews? 

A: An exact statistic has been brought at the end of each chapter. Whatever a reader must know including audio documents, the date of the interviews, and the names of the photos' owners have been written at the end of each chapter orderly and precisely.

Q: How did you provide the oral history of the martyrs of "Squad 1"?

A: According to their notes. It was a small element from the whole war front. Since it was a student squad, fortunately pen and paper were always available for them. They wrote some remembering writings for each other. The notes and handwritings helped us a lot in presenting their personality. You read the environment of a tent in the war zone visibly in this book. The objects related to this matter, such as guarding signboards, diaries, some official documents, citations, letters to their families and all the other documents that existed, were quite helpful in present the matter more realistically. We even gathered and scanned the envelopes in a separate file. Actually, "Squad 1" is a combination of oral history and family archives, the family archives of the martyrs and the interviews with their families. We had the experience of Bamou and Madjizadbood. We could reach to some secret military photo albums of the district. And here also, we were quite precise in not losing any small detail of documents.

Q: Who sought more for interviewing among the martyrs' families? 

A: Most of these martyrs were very young. We preferred to have an interview with their parents especially their mothers, because the feature and behaviors of no son is hidden from his mother. Sometimes we interviewed their brothers or sisters. If a martyr was married, we interviewed his wife too. For example, there was an old man among the martyrs of Squad-1 named Ali Rahimi who had about 15 children, grand children and great grand children. We found a letter of him. Half of the letter was about saying hello to so and so and …. One of the book's most interesting interviews in the book is with this martyr's wife. We searched his life from different aspects and the result has been brought in the book.

Q: Did you interview the fellow-combatants and the friends of the martyrs either?


A: The friends of these martyrs were those who had been martyred a few or steps closer or farther or minutes sooner or later. Even the previous and subsequent companies and whatever we could find from these moments have been included in the book. We tried to recount the historic and timing atmosphere of that period as it deserves
.

Q: The first volume of this book is about recounting the memoirs of the day of the operation which basically include oral memoirs and the remaining documents from the martyrs of Squad-1. What will the second volume consist of?

A: The second volume will consist of recounting the documentaries of the day of the operation at this place and time which are based on more high ranking documents at the level of the brigade headquarters and the reserve battalion. All the units that I mentioned had role in the destiny of this squad. Even the smallest role by each level or unit has been reviewed in the second volume. We will retell everything that was carried out, such as commanding, helping, demolishing, mine removing, making mine fields and carrying the wounded and the martyrs. Every case including the method of assistance, artillery support, commanding headquarters and war room and everything related to the destiny of this squad and company is going to be appeared in this book but with this difference that in that period with maps, calques, air pictures, and radio information and now through written documents.

Q: Can you explain about radio information?

A: For the moments that these guys were clashing with the enemy, no document is better than radio documents for us. Recorded radio dialogues may be very few in the ranks of battalion and company, but it is more in the ranks of battalion and higher. However, taking air photos was not possible at the nights of operations. We just relied on these dialogues.   These are around four hours which are just related to the Division’s headquarters a copy of which was given to us by the “Center of War Studies and Research”. War reporter and the leading narrator, Ali Mojdehi who was the Division’s narrator in several important operations like Badr Operation along with Martyr Abbas Karimi, V-al-fajr-8 Operation along with Hadj Mohammad Kowsari, has been the narrator of this operation too that we also found him. We have documented them in the second volume given the air photos and radio talks.

Q: I’ve heard that you spent a long time for this four-hour recorded tape. Given the sound interference, how did you succeed to do this?
 

A: We spent about six months on this tape. Decoding the radio talks is itself a separate and heavy work. Sometimes, the two sides talked together three times within one minute. This meant that six persons talked together within one minute. We had to separate all the voices and recognize them.
The ranks higher than the narrator and the radio carrier of the headquarters Mohammad Tarazi and the commanders helped us and separated and recognized the voices. However, about thirty percent of these voices have yet to be known but we spent some six months for this seventy percent and we included the main points in the book.

Q: Did you have any assistance for doing this? 

A: Yes, Raheleh Sabouri has cooperated for this book for several years. She accompanied us in many works including interviewing the family of the martyrs. Of course, it is worth mentioning that this work like the previous ones was a team work. Of course, I, myself, left the work for about six months because of some personal problems. 

Q: I think an accident happened to you?

A: Yes, I had an intense collision in 1384 (2005), but thanks to God, since this work did not rely on a single person, continued. When I recovered, I again joined the group.

Q: Who is the book’s editor?

A: The rewriter and editor of the book is Mohammad Mehdi Oqabi. He has cooperated with us from the beginning. Mr. Kamareh’i and Mr. Sarhangi guided me a lot. Mr. Oqabi spent a long time for the literary writing of the book. Reading 800 pages bother the reader if it has small flaws. The book should contain fluent prose and precise signs so that it can attract the reader. At present almost half the second volume has been finished and although it is not possible to set a date for a research work but I hope the book will be published next year by the will of God.

 


Soureh Monthly Magazine/ No.36/ Jan, Feb, March 2008


 
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