The Second National Conference on Oral History of Holy Defense -4

Why Is Oral History of the War Important?

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


As reported by Iranian Oral History Website, the second national conference on oral history of holy defense was held in Ahle Ghalam Hall of NLAI on March 3, 2019.  In the first part of report of the conference, you read speeches of the Second Brigadier General Pasdar (IRGC's officer) Gholamreza Alamati, head of the Organization of Holy Defense Documents and Proofs and secretary of the conference, Basiji Sardar (General) brigadier, Bahman Kargar, head of the Foundation for Preservation of Relics and Publishing Values of Holy Defense, and head of NLAI Ashraf Boroujerdi; in the second part you read words of Rear admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council; and in the third part you read lecture of Morteza Nouraee, a professor at the University of Isfahan and an expert in field of oral history.


Four important steps

At the continuance of the conference, Abolfazl Hassanabadi, director of the Astan Quds Razavi Documents and Press Center said, "according to my 10 year experience in field of oral history of the war and holy defense, I see that some people say about oral history that it has how and why discussion, or issue of reality or truth. I like much to emphasize this issue because it is one of the neglected topics in field of oral history. Description, elaboration, explanation and understanding are quadruple stages in oral history that we have addressed them less, and it is time to reach higher stages that are understood, and theorizing in oral history.

Oral history field has been raised as an important tool for warfare documentation after World War II. Many of the major wars in the world have been documented by oral history. Perhaps if you now check out the written documents and photos of the war archives, you can say that the third source in field of reviewing history of the war has been oral history, and its resources have been made available. Another discussion in oral history is that why is oral history of the war important? It is topic of giving identity and seeking identity and understanding of the past, and that we can say a lot of topics that are not usually presented in written documents through using oral history. Many of the topics that arise in oral history are views and attitudes or fields that are less seen and not presented in written documents; especially when community of official historiography doesn't like to see some domains or is not willing to be arisen for some reasons. Oral history is a very important tool for making documentary. If we want to present another point in oral history of the war summarily it is that oral history is a systematic and continuous effort to identify subjects, collecting, recognition, and way of research. These four steps are of great importance. That oral history we conduct in Iran is now in which stage is a discussion that I like to further explain at the following. Another debate that matters in field of oral history is issue of reality or truth in oral history. One of the less important topics in oral history is that what is difference between reality and truth in oral history? In a discussion that was now arisen in field of collective oral history, it was said that, surely, all those who narrate in oral history say whatever they have seen. What one has seen includes what extent of truth? Does it include it at all? What we are now facing in field of oral history of the war is a series of facts we record about truth of the war. How much they are right and how much they cover subject is another issue. There is the fact that we have not yet addressed much of this issue in oral history of the war. It is unclear to what extent of a lot of conducted oral history interviews in Iran, and all narratives on the war to cover and to what extent we can enter into discussion of understanding or analysis in field of oral history through them.



The first stage in oral history is description and elaboration. Many oral history projects have been conducted on this basis. That is, you ask a lot of questions from people in different categories and collect information based on answers; you ask the questions either individually from one person or in form of a project about history of an army or history of an operation in a thematic way. What is now, at best, is based on a description and elaboration of oral history of the war. We must be careful that all aspects of the subject are examined and individuals are selected from different categories and scope of history and geography of the issue are considered. When we put all these together, we present description and elaboration. A higher level of this discussion is explanation and recognition in oral history. Now it's felt that we need to arrive at explanation and recognition in oral history of the war. There is the question that where do we want to reach with bulk of oral history interviews? What is going to be achieved? Now if we account, at least perhaps over 200,000 hours have been interviewed in history of the war; what are we going to extract? And what was the ultimate goal of doing these interviews? To what extent have we moved base on recognizing the subject? Do the questions we have made lead us to know that subject or not? In oral history projects, we have addressed a little issue of monitoring and evaluating that provide infrastructure of knowledge. Now one of missing links of oral history of the War in Iran is issue of secondary assessment and monitoring that is usually not done. We are at the best looking for collecting, description and elaboration. The other topic I want to emphasize here is issue of understanding and interpretation. One step above explanation and recognition is understanding and then interpretation. The question that has been raised over the last 10 years in field of oral history in the world is whether we can seeking interpretation in oral history or not. This is one of the main issues, and many believe that oral history should merely seek out collecting and not seeking for understanding and interpretation; because it causes your current individual view influences upon 30 years ago that the war occurred and today's view to be interweaved reality of 30 years ago. Until a period, many were disagreed with the fact that it is not correct to create this basis in oral history, but the issue has been arisen in the latest 10 years very seriously in the world; that we consider someone's perspective according to a place and science that one now has. As a person who has a vision and attitude today, it's imperative his/her view to be recorded. This issue helps the reader in understanding and interpretation too, though it is only related to a part of the subject.

In the past 10 years, issue of understanding and interpretation in oral history has been much discussed. Many believe that if oral history enters into issue of understanding and interpretation, it can help in identifying some issues and a kind of directing. Perhaps the current discussion of theory in oral history is conducted based on this understanding and interpretation. There is a link circle among description and explanation and understanding which is archive. That view we have from oral history of the war in Iran is based on compiling published books. But to what extent have these books been compiled on basis of initial interviews? To what extent have had compilation play role? How far has it been manipulated? In the current situation, it seems that many books which are written in field of oral history of the war are manipulated largely. The original text is not very strong and may be manipulated for various reasons. We, oral practitioners, believe that speech is preferred to writing, if so we must know that we now emphasize writing. We do not know now that the three steps I have mentioned are conducted in compilation or not at the interview stage. The oral history texts that we now want are not available and when they are not available, there is no potentiality to see how well these steps are followed. Some policies in relation to interviewer and editor are also influential in the three mentioned phases. The fact is that we should have a serious view at issue initial interviews of oral history and their compilation. Many oral history interviews are never published, or if you have 100,000 hours interview, ten thousand hours will be published. Secondly, there it is intended to raise issue of cognition in compilation, or we can follow these three steps in the interviews through circuiting in oral history interviews, based on our new attitudes toward conducting interviews; of course, it depends on individual's social position, personality and his/her stand. I strongly recommend that oral history interview be taken much more seriously. Issue of oral history theory is generally based on books and interviews are not taken seriously. If we continue print and publishing in this way, perhaps 80 percent of oral history interviews will never be available to be used by people. Our link cycle in this regard is archive. In oral history interviews you should be surely careful about getting information so that you can extract complete data for using and not for printing. In our current situation, we focus on compilation. Editors make changes to the text for rationalization that have not been paid much attention to them at the interview stage. Inshallah, this topic will be considered much more seriously in the future."



Initial approach

In the course of the conference, Second Brigadier-General Gholam Reza Alamati, head of the Organization of Holy Defense Documents and Proofs and secretary of the conference with PhD degree in Strategic Defense Management, presented his article named, "Comparative Comparison of Common Approaches in Oral History". He stated "oral history of the holy defense is not something separate from oral history of Iran. Oral history of the sacred defense is an Islamic period and a golden card that we all need to explain it very well and dissect its details in accordance with orders of the Supreme Leader to present its spiritual benefits to the people. This is something that should happen in this field. As the Supreme Leader stated, our dignity and security depends on eight years of the holy defense, which we should be able to give our society the product and subsequent generations use it by dissecting all particles of its cells. What I want to present in this article is, in principle, a comparative comparison of common approaches of oral history. If we want to have a quick look at what has happened, you see that what is considered in our current situation is that we must finally try to keep oral history of those who during the holy defense were somehow on the front and behind the front, whether warriors and the popular force, and use them as a lasting document. This is one of the issues that many friends are paying attention to it today. Many of us are looking for getting oral memories so that something that may be forgotten or the first-hand resources that may be lost to be preserved and the subject not to be lost. That is, what should be taken into consideration today is to get and preserve oral history, and, essentially, those who are active in field of oral history should pay attention to this."

Alamati then told, "my nub in this article is following two axes: person-oriented approach and another subject-oriented approach. Dr. Nouraee focused in his lecture on the same subject-oriented approach. We had about 3 to 4 million fighters, each of which had families, and if we wanted to multiply that number by its support number, eight years of the sacred defense have involved about 20 million Iranian among 36 million population of that time. Given this diversity and wideness, from the front to inside the houses and the rear, it's natural we want to keep all events and facets of the war. We need to move toward a side that do fact-checking upon the subject-oriented based on comprehended space from the person-oriented. In the same organization of Holy Defense Documents and Proofs, one of data that we have is 50,000 hours of recorded interviews. If we want to compare this with the subject-oriented interviews, all of our subject-oriented would be about 5000 hours. In a person-oriented approach, we see that our resources are getting out of reach and forgetting and in stage of exiting this world. It is natural that if we did not understand this, there might not have been much of these resources for us. According to broadness of the space, in this article I turned to the fact that we should definitely consider the person-oriented approach as initial approach of our oral history, and then to seek the subject-oriented in the midst of the person-oriented. The basis and context in which we can follow and pursue the subject-oriented oral history are subjects that people have to talk about. So if we want to do this, first of all, I suggest that we extend this scope to a context like geography of the sacred defense and geography of Iran. What is the way to do this? the background that we have in our own organizations and popular background. We have Sāzmān-e Basij-e Mostaz'afin (the Organization for Mobilization of the Oppressed) as a popular force that in the holy defense was deus ex machina of all our problems during the war. We are indebted to presence of these people in our victories. If you compare the second year of the war with its first year, you would notice presence of people and accepting calling of Imam Khomeini. In a 9-month period we came from 15,000 kilometers to 10,000 kilometers and began to liberate. While we could not do this within the last 9 months and it indicates public participation. My attention to this point is to be able to say that oral history should go among people. We have much potential in Basij. The Salehin (righteous) Circles and bases of Basij are one of foundations that can, without spending much money, with the very short training and very few tools they have, to be able to take oral history of the sacred defense from those who are next to them, their neighbors or their commanders, and to record it. If we do not do this, distortion, oblivion, or destruction would occur. The war must be narrated by people who themselves were asset of the war; it must be narrate by those who saw off their children and forgave everything for the war. Naturally, today, one has to speak who was in midst of the subject. It's natural that we will keep these as save. If you do not do this, distortion would occur and enemies would narrate. Finally, I sum up that in the two common oral history approaches, given our geographical domain and our national masses, the initial attention should be based on a person-oriented approach so that establish a context for subject-oriented oral history and future historiography."



Standard text

Then, article by Yadollah Izadi, head of oral history department of the Center for Holy Defense Research and Documents, and Yaghoub Panahi, author and researcher in field of oral history, was presented as "Methodological Framework of Oral History Projects of the War in the Center for Holy Defense Documents and Research". Izadi said, "In the first part, I want to present a history of formation of oral history in the Center for Holy Defense Research and Documents. I am sure that most of the participants in this meeting, despite all effective efforts that the center I came from have made in field of historiography of the war between Iran and Iraq and oral history, are not aware of it. I say for being informed and then I enter the main discussion.

After beginning of the war, inside IRGC which was emerged from the revolution, some events happened in the political office that became basis for participation in the war arena and collecting war-related documents. There was the argument that in order to avoid distortion of history, it is necessary to representatives of this office to be present, to observe events and incidents directly and collect information about them. Approximately two to three months after the war it realized and it became more systematic until Operation Tariqh al-Qods; it meant some people came along with commanders in the war room, saw portable transceiver conversations and commanders' decisions, and took notes. Since Tariqh al-Qods this work was completed in the sense that commanders believed that what is competence of people who come from Tehran to be in the war commanding room? Eventually a meeting was held and it was decided that some of the members would be present in the war and leading and commanding room and after an operation the relevant documents, such as operational plans, momentarily notes, cards, documents and Information to these people to create a place to collect documents. It was conducted in a different way suggested by Shahid Hasan Bagheri. He said if these people are trusted, they can come before an operation instead of coming during an operation. So, for Operation Fath ol-Mobin, some people stood along with IRGC commanders a long time ago, and being aware of decision-making and arguments during an operation and before it, and collected documents. Collection of these documents was gathered at the center, and one of the most unique documents center in geography of Iran was formed on the subject of Iraq's imposed war against Iran; part of these documents are related to Artesh (the army) and IRGC and other agencies such as Jahad-e-Sazandegi until Operation Badr. I mentioned it because in occurring historiography of the war between Iran and Iraq, the Center for Holy Defense Research and Documents is a unique center in terms of access to documents. Nearly 36,000 hours of recorded meetings, talks, operation guidance arguments, commanding and supplementary interviews with Artesh and IRGC's commanders have been gathered in archives of the Center for Holy Defense Documents and Research. Works are also compiled at the center, such as battle atlases, wartime chronology, and analytical books of the war that originate from these documents. The center has defined its mission in three main questions, which is capital of historical research of the Iran-Iraq war. The three main questions are why and how did the war begin? Why and how did the war continue? Why and how did the war end? "Why" is more about analytic aspect of the issue and "how" are the same events that have occurred from the beginning to the end of Iran-Iraq War.

About 10 to 12 years ago, the center, which is a document center, encountered a fundamental ambiguity in document and historiographical investigations, that these documents do not express all internal aspects and factors of the warfare. Parts of the incident or inner layers of the incident are not well described in documents; therefore, it entered field of oral history of the Iran-Iraq war. What that became basis of work in the center was oral history of commanders, with the assumption that there are other organizations that understand the great domain and base of this pyramid, that is oral history, in proper sense of narrative of the masses. Inside the center, attention is to apex of the pyramid; because of access, type of mission, type of document, and because of its type of function. So they started oral history interview with a group of commanders. Since this was formed in IRGC, we mostly expected IRGC's commanders, but they also talked to Artesh commanders too in outputs as much as possible and they accessed its commanders.

Izadi continued, "because of type of oral narratives or oral history that is related to commanders, the center has a specific definition about doers. Two categories of qualifications are defined that one of them is general qualifications. Those who hold oral history for a subject naturally need to have minimal general qualifications, and what are defined in academic field, such as definition of an interview, its aspects and characteristics, conversion, acceptance of documents, and the like. Oral history doers in the center are usually either narrators of the war (those who were present at the scene of the war) or those who themselves were commander. That is, in some Commands in which we hold oral history, oral history doers are ranks of commanding of the same Command. Therefore, there should be accuracy and sensitivity about doers. One of features of oral history in the center is that subject is document-based. Perhaps one of the main areas to be considered is that document research to be conducted before entrance and performing oral history, which is the main, most ponderous, and most qualitative part of the work. Because a material or text that is being prepared is based on that narrative, that is, there is much accuracy in terms of authenticity, originality and being documented; examples are two to three works that were presented here today as works of the center. Type of designing subject and main questions are taken from texts engaged in scene of event, or even some narratives have been used, in combination or in an annex way, such as detailed conversations at the time of the event, or as appendix of narratives. We use necessary tools and equipment enough during interviews. That is, there is no narrative without an operational map. Usually, without referring to documents, narratives are expressed in form of memories, but in the center they are not narrated this way. That is, documents and operational plans of works, maps, correspondences, and even simple manuscripts are examined. We are faced with two to three very serious issues in compilation. Because our narrators are special people, their oral skills are very important in type of compilation; for example there is a commander who has a very pure Isfahani accent and uses specific terms of that area. Part of alteration and correcting text, making fluent, rationalization, and clarification ambiguity of the text goes back to kind of dialect that the commander has. A command speaks Azeri and dictates some terms that are not understood by general people; in editing we want to do in the text, we must observe these considerations to bring the text closer to a standard text. At our center, along with text of oral history published in form of a book, audio and video excerpts should be selected so that reader gets acquainted with kind of narratives of someone such as Mr. Morteza Ghorbani, and understand he has a pure Esfahani accent or that a commander has a pure Azeri accent; it means to recognize type of his oral narration partly in order to establish a better relationship with him."

Gholamreza Azizi, director of Document Research Institute of NLAI concluded, "In speeches of all four speakers (Morteza Nouraee, Abolfazl Hassanabadi, Gholamreza Alamati, Yadollah Izadi), these keywords were used: Reality, Understanding, Analysis, Authenticity, and Truth. These were points that almost the four speakers addressed them from four different perspectives and four different subjects. Apparently, as Dr. Nouraee said, discussion of co-narrative and collective memory is one of the ways that can bring us closer to the truth."

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