3rd part of “The 12th Conference on Iranian Oral History”

Engineering-Combat Unit of military units should not be neglected in oral history

Maryam Assadi Jafari
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


In an article entitled “Crossing with popular support and offices”, Hosseinali Mohammadi stressed, “Every one of the members of the Jihad Sazandegi (construction) Unit even a loader driver should not be forgotten in oral history. We should also follow up our craftsmen including welders, metalworkers and mechanics. Our intention in oral history should not target just those who have been present in the war fronts, but oral history must also start from the factories, and the members of the engineering-combat unit of military units should not be ignored.”


According to the website of Oral History, “The 12th Nationwide Conference on Iranian Oral History” with the aim of “explaining about relevance and necessity, recognizing the role and recovery of oral history priorities in the area of Jihad Sazandegi (holy war of construction), industry, engineering and logistics in Scared Defense” was held in Saeb Hall of the Literature and Humanities College of Isfahan University on 18th of December 2019. It was organized by Association of Iranian Oral History, Isfahan University, the Office of Veterans Affairs, the Ministry of Jihad of Construction, and Isfahan Steel Company.


In the 3rd part of the conference, Dr. Asghar Montazer al-Gha’em, Dr. Morteza Rasouli Pour, and Dr. Bahman Zeinali chaired the meeting. At first, Dr. Rasouli Pour said, “Since I myself have played a role in such conferences more or less, I know to what extent the organizing and preparations for such conferences are difficult. I really congratulate the Isfahan University, because the History Group of Isfahan University among all Iranian universities is a pioneer in its interest in oral history and we know that the first students who have compile their PhD theses in the area of oral history and local history.”


Part of Jihad Sazandegi documents are squashed


The first article titled “Application of oral history of Jihad Sazandegi in producing an atlas: Experiences and approaches, obstacles and solutions” was presented by Abdollah Azimi. He first referred to the impact of the dissolution of Jihad Sazandegi on forgetting the measures carried out by the jihadists during the war and said, “Regarding the significance of the atlas, I should say that the first important thing is to prevent the distortion of history. In a sense, history is embedded and meant in the context of geography, and science in the context of history. When geography is lost, history is lost as well. The second most important reason for atlas is the recording of experiences for the new jihadi generation. Atlas and oral history help jihadist groups not to start from zero and move along the path of experiences obtained through jihad. A third reason for the importance of atlas is the proper transfer of experience and using it when needed. That is, one can talk about engineering in war at engineering universities. At present, this is not possible at the universities of engineering, because the person who did it is lost. The one who built Be’that Bridge is still alive but lost and is not invited to the universities. They even do not know why the bridge was built within the width of 900 meters instead of the river’s 600 meters width? How did they drown the pipes?


Iraq till the last day thought some crazy people were drowning the pipes in the river, and they didn't think they were building bridges there, and they couldn't hit it until the end of the war. This should be explained by its main sources. When geography is lost, this experience is not transmitted. If the jihad were transferred with the same structure and identity, post-flood and earthquake reconstructions would not have taken too long. The overall goal of atlas is to provide a database of the activities carried out by the combat engineering of the war. It has also a number of minor goals such as creating basic roles along with supplementary information, preventing forgetfulness of information about conducting combat engineering operations, and preventing possible distortions of the influential events of history, recording combat engineering activities, before and after military operations from the northwest to the southernmost point in the Persian Gulf, preventing from the distortion of the engineering history of  the jihad war in the future and paying attention to registering of events, documentation and the controlling the collected information. In previous researches, we concluded that oral history alone is not applicable, does not tell us the whole truth and does not give us the transferring of experiences and a sense of engineering. Sometimes, we in researches asked one question from some people and each gave one answer some of which were completely contradictory with each other. The reason was that they told a lie but thirty years have passed from the event and they have grown old and their memory does not help them. 


In the area of documents, we first reviewed all of the documents and put them on the map. We listed their activities and interviewed the one who had done it. We knew what we wanted from him or her and if he or she said something wrong, we guided him or her and came back to the main point. We had 4 questions in total. The first and third questions came out of the documents. What event, by what battalion, where and in what timeframe has it been made? We focused more on oral history in the second and fourth factory. 


Regarding the logistics-engineering documents obstacles, I should say that the documents have not been scanned completely and there is still no easy access to them. Secondly, especially in the provinces, given thirty years have passed since then and they have been stripped of the government’s credentials, some of the documents have been burnt, squashed or thrown away. Thus, the defect of documents and destruction of some of them is part of our problem. There is strictness in presentation of documents after their destruction. Is it possible to obtain the available documents easily! Except the General Office of Isargaran (veterans’ affairs) which gave us their documents, we corresponded with all the organizations which have the war documents since 20009 but nowhere gave us any documents.”  


After the end of the article‘s presentation, Rasouli Pour addressed Abdollah Azimi and said, “His sensitiveness and sympathy toward the provision the Jihad Atlas is admirable. However, there may be aspects and errors in the article. But I saw the positive aspects of the article in the origin of matter and leave the rest of the subject to my friends. Then, Dr. Nouraee continued, “This conference is an opportunity for the younger people to explain about their concern. But a number of points were raise by him that if it is not annotated immediately. It is possible that it has been seen as a principle among the listeners. In the issue of interview, you mentioned that when the interviewee said something wrong, you guided him or her. Did you intervene in the interviews? Or you directed him or her toward your considered field? You cannot correct it while interviewing.” Also, Dr. Zainali referred to Abdoallah Azimi’s concern on providing the Atlas of Jihad, and emphasized, “This article was a report on the activities carried out about the atlas. It should be noted, however, that a research activity in the area of oral history requires the information should be raw and pure, and then if we were willing to analyze and criticize it, then we would refer to it.”


The need for a comprehensive attention of oral history to combat engineering


The second article titled “Crossing with popular support and offices” was presented by Hosseinali Mohammadi. He said, “Certainly, engineering in war has played an important role in achieving the goals of an operation. So, we should pay attention to it through oral history and preserve it to be recorded in our history.  Oral history should be involved in Jihad Sazandegi and war engineering. Jihad or Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) have not been the only organs active in war engineering. The ministries, craftsmen and the ordinary people also backed the war in order to help the combatants to move across the barriers. We reviewed two subjects: one the narrators and the other the subjects in the area of narrators and those who must be targeted by us in oral history so that we can find out all aspects of a move by Jihad Sazandegi including “Serat Engineering Headquarters” which was directly responsible for war engineering and was under IRGC supervision. The engineers and designers who gone to the war fronts from universities or the people who were at the service of Jihad Sazandegi or worked in Serat Headquarters, each of them was a subject who should be the target of oral history. Every one of the members of Jihad Sazandegi even a loader driver should not be forgotten. We should follow our craftsmen including welders, metal workers and mechanics even the truck drivers. In one of these operations, 1200 trucks were dispatched to the front from Isfahan in just one day. Who and how collected them? A Basiji named Martyr Kamal who was the then Deputy Head of Isfahan’s Intelligence Department drove by motorbike and collected all trucks of the city and sent to the operational area. Having access to how these trucks arrived in the war zone and the organizing of such great move within 24 hours should be considered in oral history. Like a combatant who was fighting in the frontline, a worker in factories and industrial centers related to war engineering made parts. The equipment related to Be’that or Kheibar bridges had been predicted and built in the factories before the beginning of the operation. Our goal in oral history should not be just those who had been on the fronts, but oral history should also start from the factories and the members of the combat-engineering unit of military units should not be neglected.


But what did the combat-engineering of a unit do? The thing that should be done at the same moment of the night of the operation and perhaps, Jihad Sazandegi did not think of it. That is, the initiative at that time is at the hands of someone who is at war right now and the scientific-academic and research centers associated with this status should be considered as our narrators. Since I have referred to the issue of crossing in this article, I have mostly outlined examples of bridges. One of the bridges in the history of war to which nothing was referred was "Hezar Dastan Bridge" built on Bahmanshir River before the Operation Samen al-A'emmeh. Martyr Mustafa Hezar Dastan saw how many casualties we had to suffer for the crossing of the combatants from Bahmanshir and how difficult it was for the troops to cross it. When they wanted to return the injured back, it was possible that the boat was hit. He thought how to build the bridge. Martyr Hezar Dastan has an interview which can be an oral history by itself. What has remained from the martyr is this, and can be used. There were also others. The late Aboudarda who died less than a year ago was a mechanic who was along with martyr Hezar Dastan. Fortunately, Mr. Hashemi has collected and released his memoirs. Martyr Hezar Dastan mentions that we designed and performed this bridge. But how did you perform it? Aboudarda says, "I had been sitting. Hezar Dastan was testing from night to morning. He had put a water container and tested with 10 soda bottles to see how he could hold the bridge on water with a barrel so that the vehicles could cross over. He first put some empty soda bottles on water but to no avail. Then, he filled the bottles with water and again was not successful. He then filled a number of bottles and emptied a number of others. At any rate, he finally concluded how much water the barrels needed to be to hold the bridge on water so that the vehicles could cross over it. We obtained these from the heart of the late Aboudarda through oral history. In oral history, there are not just the commanders of Serat Headquarters and Jihad; there are also other forces who may not be paid attention to. Another issue that should be addressed as a topic for oral history is a moving bridge to which has been referred nowhere in the war. After the Operation Ramadhan and the flooding happened in Shalamcheh area, an operation named Lahafdoozi or quilting was supposed to be carried out. The guys themselves had named it. For crossing, they made an appliance with gunny and net so that the combatants did not sink in quagmire and cross easily. Another part of it was the water-filled canals. How could the combatants and vehicles pass through the canals? No one had any thought. I had an interview with one of the guys named Barati. He himself is a simple worker and makes machine parts in Shahpour Street in Isfahan and has no name and address anywhere. He said: I was in Jihad Headquarters. I saw for a moment, a big ant carrying something two to three times its own weight. It came to my mind to learn this lesson. I asked how many times of its volume the bulldozer could lift. They said it could lift maximum 50 tons. He said: We have to build a bridge that can put the bulldozer on the canal. And then, after he and the guys cross the canal, it can pick up the bridge and put it on another canal. After the bridge’s designing, he was said that it was impossible. He dared to say: allow me to use the irons and facilities and if it turns out well, then use it, and if not, I’ll pay for it. They agreed. He came to Isfahan and took a dozen of metalworkers, welders and part makers to the war zone and they built the bridge within three days. It was tested and they succeeded. Of course, the bridge was built but no operation was carried out. But at any rate, it was an initiation on the ground and Kheibar Bridge is the third issue that should be addressed through oral history. The bridge was one of the strangest moves happened in the history of the war in the world. One of the narrators of the bridge says: When I said that we want to build an unlimited columnless bridge, all engineers in Tehran laughed and I sacred to say the place. You know that Kheibar Bridge is the Nosrat Headquarters and they had to observe security issues.  All metalworkers, welders, and even those have separated from the units and divisions should be addressed in oral history of Kheibar Bridge. In Tehran, these forces were trained how to install the bridge and came back. All of them were brought in full security so that nobody understood. This is one of the issues that should be addressed in oral history. In the end, let's remember "Martyr Seyed Mohsen Safavi" the Commander of the Serat Headquarters and "Behrooz Poursharifi" the Commander of the Jihad Logistics Headquarters and other craftsmen who operated the bridge. " 


The final articles entitled “Historical course: Structures and process of producing oral history works of war engineering of Jihad Sazandegi” and “Bridge, strategic crossing” were presented by Hosseinali Haghi and Morteza Narimani respectively.


“The 12th Nationwide Conference on Iranian Oral History” with the aim of “explaining about relevance and necessity, recognizing the role and recovery of oral history priorities in the area of Jihad Sazandegi (holy war of construction), industry, engineering and logistics in Scared Defense” was held in Saeb Hall of the Literature and Humanities College of Isfahan University on 18th of December 2019. It was organized by Association of Iranian Oral History, Isfahan University, the Office of Veterans Affairs, the Ministry of Jihad of Construction, and Isfahan Steel Company.


To be continued...


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