The Second National Conference on Oral History of Holy Defense-6

Solutions to Approach Details in Oral History Interviews

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. First to fourth parts of the report included inaugural and beginning lectures of the conference and the fifth part was report one panel of the conference titled: "Theoretical Basics and History of Holy Defense's Oral History".

As the panel continued, Morteza Ghazi presented his article entitled "Solutions for Getting Details in Oral History Interviews on Holy Defense". He said, "What we did in the Office for Studies of Cultural Front of Islamic Revolution is titled "oral history of cultural front of Islamic Revolution", which includes popular, cultural, artistic, and the war support activities during the holy defense. Two cases and two specific projects were examined: one was activities of educational instructor who worked in cultural front of the revolution during the holy defense, including support for the war, burying martyrs, carol, cultural activities, theater, and a detailed list of programs in schools. In the first years of the revolution, issue of fighting against Monafeqin (hypocrites) in schools and headings like this were discussed, which were generally cultural and artistic, and the teachers dealt with students. The next project, which has been defined and evaluated, is issue of informing project of martyrdom. When the martyrs' pure bodies of a martyr or some martyrs were brought to a city, a group was obliged to carry out all programs from giving news of martyrdom to performing carol, marching, providing placard and drawing martyr image; I focused on specific project of news of martyrdom. The solutions I present are entirely based on personal experience. We talked with executives of the project, participated in various workshops, and present for you their conclusion in this article in two parts. First part is called "Past Continuous, Simple Past" and the second part is "Role Intersection".

I give the first part this way; sometimes, due to doing routine and repetitive work by the interviewees or the narrator for a long time, they cannot express details. They express many of their memories in past continuous tense. They say we were analyzing, we were reading book in the class, we were going to prayers, etc. they cannot say once we went and it happened. Most of their memories are shaped generally. There are a lot of memories without time and space. It means something has happened to an individual but he/she cannot determine its time. How can we cause this person to go from these generalities, from what he/she has experienced over the years, to details? In order to say once I went and it happened. Nature of the two projects I mentioned was formed in this way. Suppose a person who gave news of martyrdom; it is very good for us as interviewers to ask one who informed news of a martyrdom, what happened after informing first news of martyrdom? And he/she says that I went there, informed the news and that happened, and then we ask about the second and third news. One who has informed news of martyrdom for six years, how does it stay in his/her mind what was the first and second news? Their memories are generally memories that do not have time and space, and we needed a ruler to make them temporal and having space, and got to details. In fact, we led them to transmit their memories from past continuous to simple past and partial memories; because partial and in detailed memories can make oral history, otherwise general memories will never provide a history.

I present experiences that I have had in interview field in a slide. When I talk to kids in workshops, I give them a key and tell: key of camera angle. I say when something happens to an individual you can put your camera in different places. That camera can stand in front of the person and record everything that is in front of the camera, that is suppose he says we went to garrison of Meghadad, bought ticket, got on the train and went to Andimeshk; here, the camera only records the movements and behaviors of that person, his relations with other persons and other places and phenomena which happen around him, but the same camera must go to a moment when the person is expressing his memory and sees what was happening in his mind. How did he decide? What did he think of? What belief had led him there? What was his feeling at that moment? Loves, hates, hopes? Suppose were you afraid or not when you were going to the front? But the camera shouldn't be confined to this. The camera must be risen and be able to take from Longshot angle and reveal atmosphere of action and behavior of the person toward the phenomenon which is the war in political, economic, social, cultural and security space. In my opinion, if we can set angle of camera to the researcher, he can guide the narrator toward details.

Both of these two solutions I say are related to one of the camera angles. For example, when a person narrates general words and says that we were going and doing educational task, we were performing theater, were practicing, were reporting news of martyrdom, were burying a martyr, etc., when he talks like this and cannot narrate details, one way is that to bring him to highlight points and special occasions; that is to say to an educational teacher, when you were performing theater whether did it happen that your main actor did not arrive at performance? Something would happen to him? What did you do at that moment? Now the person is looking for a highlight point in a duplicate space. I use the same example for news of martyrdom; was it possible your car crash when you announced news of martyrdom to families? For example, in response, he says we were going in Khorramabad so that our car was stuck in snow. This makes him to look for highlight and contrary to habit points. Another way is to connect events to specific times. For example, we think the person has no criterion for telling how a thing has fallen; we connect him with things that are temporal, hook him to the things that have time and space. For example, in Operation Karbala-5, martyrs were numerous, what did you do to announce news of martyrdom of these martyrs? In fact, we are using specific times that have happened in order to give indicators to general and duplicate occurrences. Or connecting events to specific places; did you always play theater at school? They might once perform it in city amphitheater. This difference in location can also lead the person to details. As well as about news of martyrdom we can say that did it always happen in Khorramabad? Did it occur to announce to a martyr family who had migrated to Shiraz and you had to leave the city?

There is another way to make memories partial and that is milestones. Sometimes, in a routine and repeated process, milestones occur, after which the narrator's treat to the event varies. Suppose they were performing an anthem and they never had an organ. In 1985, the group possessed an organ, and this led to a change in their cultural work; or they had been performing in the city until now and they now said that let's go to perform in the front; by doing so, procedure of their work to become different. For news of martyrdom also assume that a person enters the group with a particular potential, and type of informing also become different and offers a new way to do this task. Another way to make memories partial is different approaches. Suppose we had this issue in a particular case in Kashan's theater. One of educational instructors said that in a theater we held in 1985, we performed a certain kind of theater, and my approach to the holy defense theater was changed, and I experienced another kind of cultural work. This definition could lead us to details that what was this kind of theater? What details did it have? Another method is that when memories are memories of ordinary people and we cannot give them time and space, let's connect them to things that have time and place. Life of all of us has time and place. We know when did we propose? When did we get married? When did we become a parent? Whether you have theater performances at the same time as your child was born? Someone said it was my engagement ceremony and I was playing theater. With a long beard and a boot, I arrived by a motorcycle. That space suddenly becomes personal, because that person fully knows his personal life and connects it to those events. Another way is to connect it to specific people. For example, did you play theater for the city's Friday Prayer Imam or officials? As for news of martyrdom that for example did you announce news of martyrdom one of your close friends? Another way is to use lateral information. For example, we worked on memories of an educational teacher from Tabriz and we know that February 18 is a historical day for people of Tabriz; did you have theater performance on February 18 when people of Tabriz had a great demonstration during Pahlavi reign? These are lateral information. The fact that researcher must collect all information is a natural thing. But milestones that have happened in these circumstances can lead him to a certain memory. Khorramabad was bombarded on 1985 and many people die a martyr. They even say that the river was full of blood because they had washed the martyrs in river of Khorramabad.

The next solution is the marginal of routine events. That is, we always went for theater and caroled, and the margin could be that whether there was a personal happening for a member of your hymn group and he became forced to leave the group? As for news of martyrdom, the person that informed the news narrated for us that he was standing in a bakery and two ladies quarreled behind him. One told another Inshallah the fellow bring news of your death, and they meant the person had stood in line and heard what they were saying! Some words had been said behind his back, which could lead him toward memories in more details. The other way is cliché questions like the bitterest, hardest and sweetest problems, failures, successes, shortcomings, and so on; while these are clichés, but they can lead us to details. The narrator moods in different situations; a person has informed news of martyrdom for six years, he was very motivated in the first three years, but gradually some events happened that have made him torpid and motiveless. The narrator's moods during this period can be one of the ways by which we can approach details. Unusual events; for example, it was supposed to have a carol in those days and that program was canceled, how did you convince the kids to come back? Or car wasn't brought to appointment place. News of martyrdom is also like this; suppose you went to announce news of martyrdom, when you arrived, you saw that it was a wedding and party, what did you do at that moment? One of the most effective methods is to do interview in a place. The person is sitting at home and wouldn't like to talk at all. Take him to martyrs report headquarters of that city or take educational instructor to his school. To use ancillary such as document and photo, etc. For example, ask educational teacher that two of the students in this picture are looking at down and laughing, what was the story here? We must bring him to details. Or if it cannot narrate it, ask him to draw where they performed theater; we were here, the Marsh group was here, the Friday Prayer Imam stayed here; this could approach to the details. Or using memories of other people; I have been working at the Center for Holy Defense Document for several months and I am interviewing Mr. Ahangaran. He was at that time (the sacred defense) in different Commands and performed Noha. How should he know what he played there or what happened here? But I as a warrior who saw Mr. Ahangaran just once during the whole war, I remember what happened when Ahangaran came to the mosque.

We should look very structurally for topics with a specific process. Work style of an educational instructor and a carol, way of explaining facilities, way of advertisement, way of training it, etc. can be listed and asked. Structural view is applicable for issue of martyrdom news too. The limitation of this work is also a very important issue. All these are techniques, but they may still not work well. If one memory in details to be extracted it is a boon for us. When there is nothing in hands of the interviewer, if he attains something small, it would be advantage.

The next issue is making memory and imaging memory. The narrator and interviewer should be sensitive that maybe a memory which is narrated to be witty and the narrator try to make the memory as his own or narrates what is like that. When we were working in Revayate Fath (narrative of conquer), "Hidden Half of the Moon" books had been published, some martyrs' comrades had tasted the Hidden Half of the Moon and said that our book should be like books of martyrs Bakeri, Hemmat and Chamran from this collection, and the first trilogy of Revayate Fath . Some took their books and said that why we are so rude in these books! Why our book is not like Chamran's book in hidden half of the moon collection? They tried to make their memories look like Chamran. Kingdom of every person existence is like a land with different roads in it, and I have named it roles. These roles intersect and we can draw map of kingdom of that person through intersection of these roles; whether in subject-oriented or in person-oriented works. A project was specifically about Mr. Mohammad Golriz, a singer of the war. We talked with him and the project was locked because he said that we would go and perform every day, you don't know how much we were doing! His memories wouldn't become partial and in details at all. We said let's separate the work to roles. He had various roles in the war; his role as a father for his children, a role as a warrior, role of husbandry, a role as a neighbor, role of kinship, role of friendship for his friends. We looked at the project as a case. We told him talk about marriage, children and fighting, etc. at first, and when they are formed, we would look at the person's life in terms of subject and match these roles. We matched the role of fighter with the role of student. For example, we asked him, did you go to the frontline during the student period too? Did you ever go to the classroom for the sake of your classmates? Did you do your student works when you were deployed to the front? Did you also bring college books to the front? These two roles are intersecting, and they may have memories in detail. I as interviewer have nothing and I have to go to different bases."

Then Amir Mohammad Abbassnejad, expert of the panel said, "Mr. Ghazi is almost one of those who if he starts a work ends it, and usually deals with things that have not been seen or seen less. It is very clear that this article you presented is your personal experience. Regardless of methodology and theories of oral history, what is attained in empirical and field work is more tangible for scholar. There were very good fine points in your article. If you develop and improve this article, it would be a manual of style for those who want to work on culture of behind the front (rear). The very important point you mentioned is issue of imagining memory and making memory that is seen in most memoirs of the war and unfortunately it has been increased."

Another expert at the panel, Hossein Foroutannejad, stated, "You expressed that for seeing details and leading the interview, we should change place and location where we talk to the interviewee, change utensil and equipment, and gather people around him; these measures make the work so hard. This is not going to everyone to be a leader and all is not going to write well like you; you should let us, the younger ones, to do it. I think the article was interesting and good one."

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