Note: 16th of August every year is marked as a special day in the history of the eight-year Iraqi imposed war against Iran. On this day in 1990, the Iranian combatants who had been taken as captives came back to Iran. With hands free of arms but with hearts armed with faith and resistance, they preserved the privacy of their own defense even more than the war years. One way of respecting their resistance and remembering the sweet moments of freedom is to refer to their memoirs. The website of Iranian Oral History has reviewed four books about the account of freed POWs in order to commemorate that special day in 26 years ago.
Four years suffering, four years resistance
Some people read books from the beginning till the end without having a peep into middle pages or the end of the book. Those who have less toleration, look at the end of the book first. There are also people who turn the pages, looking at the first, middle and ending pages in order to get a general view. If you are among the third group, this book will attract you. As soon as you take a quick look at the book, you will cry out. Captivity is very hard and this hardness can be felt in the short sentences bedside the photos at the end of the book. These photos may be able to accompany you with the book; "I am alive”
"I am alive” has been a boisterous book. Many of them have spoken, many criticisms have been written on it, and it has been republished for more than 150 times. All of these make difficult to talk about it.
It is not easy to criticize it without taking a glance at the criticisms, without considering the admirations and without considering the book’s republication. But sometimes we should view independently. The text has been written with this view.
Let’s start with this title, "I am alive”. Someone is alive. He could have died but has survived. Survival accompanies the audience with the narrator. It is a very good title. It has been explained under the book’s title, "The memories of captivity period penned by Masoumeh Abad”. There is a white image of the barbed wire exactly between the book’s title and its description. There is no need for scrutiny, also no need for having high intelligence. Barbed wire in all the culture has just one sign; captivity. The people of the world countries are familiar with this sign and now it has been put above "Memoirs of captivity period”. It is the rights choice.
The main background of the cover is an image form a young girl; "Masoumeh Abad”. Masoumeh Abad is the member of the fourth term of Tehran’s City Council. As journalists say, this name has the news value of "popularity”. The news value invites the audience to open the book. The image in the book’s cover is the same photo registered by the International Red Cross in al-Rashid Hospital and was sent to Iran on 13th of May 1982. Letters of Masoumeh Abad on the envelopes of the Red Cross forms the back cover design. These sentences are seen on one of these letters: "I am alive. Baghdad’s al-Rashid Hospital.”
The text of the favorable review of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei with his own hand script has been published in the book’s second page. This text encourages another group to study the book.
"I am alive” has the whole elements needed for attracting the audience ranging from the text written by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution to the suffering of captivity, the narrator’s popularity and even good advertisement.
The book narrates the captivity times, but we cannot ignore before this period. Thus, it has been compiled in seven chapters: "Childhood”, "youth”, "Revolution”, "War and Captivity”, "Baghdad’s al-Rashid Hospital”, "Waiting”, "Mosul Camp and Amber”. The eighth chapter consists of the images and documents.
"Childhood” is the first chapter of the book narrating the life of Masoumeh Abad. It narrates the story of her childhood, about a house with playful children, about the customs of the people of Abadan.
It can be realized from the very beginning that the narrator has not considered it sufficient just to merely telling the memoirs, but the memoirs has been intertwined with a beautiful prose in the necessary parts.
The second chapter is the chapter of "youth”; the chapter of puberty, the chapter of unanswered questions that the teen Masoumeh was searching for their answers, the chapter of insatiable thirst for knowing, the chapter of headaches, the chapter of familiarity with sewing and getting away from childhood while rays of it have still remained.
The youth days have tied to the "Revolution" chapter, to studying in high school, reading banned books, exchanging the speeches of Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul), being fired from the school, the victory of the revolution, activity in Fat'h Center and the beginning of the war.
The fourth chapter is about "War and Captivity", about the activity of a young girl in Mahdi Mow'oud Mosque and being a relief worker in Red Crescent Hospital which suddenly she was taken as captive in Mahshahr-Abadan Road: "We couldn't say anything. We just look around ourselves. How many tanks! How many military vehicles! I asked the driver what has happened. He said: we were taken as captives."
"Baghdad's al-Rashid Hospital", "Waiting" and "Mosul Camp and Amber" are the titles of the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of the book. These parts are not just chapters of a book but they have formed a chapter of four Iranian captive girls. Each of these chapters consists of many memories and events. Theses memoirs have happened and been described delightfully. Thus, they cannot be criticized. Four years of captivity cannot be described very easily. The describing of the moments the book's narrator could write a letter for her family after two years is not easy: "After taking a photo, it was my turn to write a letter. How could I write that expresses this long time of being uninformed to mean in two words? And to whom and to what address? Where is my house? Has any house remained intact? Has anyone survived? I remembered that I have brought the third note I had promised to Salman to Iraq and this note became the operation code of a general. I fulfilled my promise and for the third time but with a two-year interval, I wrote two words:
-I am alive…Baghdad's al-Rashid Hospital."
Only the book's narrator can describe this period; the description of the captivity of a girl from a traditional family and the feeling she and her family have: "I felt sorry for my brothers more than myself. When they realized that we were the captives of the enemy, how much they suffered. I was not important, I felt sorry for my family. Who wants to inform my mother of my captivity? What was the reaction of my father? What did Karim and Salman do? Rahim did not stand to hear the news of my captivity."
"I am alive" has also an eighth chapter; "Images and Documents". The will of Ahmad Abad, the narrator's brother is also in this chapter. The main point is that the typed text of the martyr's will has been put beside his hand script image. We wish the typed texts of the letters she wrote for her family during captivity would exist or at least the typed text of one her letter was put beside the narrator's hand script in order to remove the audience's sense of curiosity.
"I am alive" narrates the hard period of captivity; a period which brings suffering and even its nightmares have not released the Iranian captive girls.
But this book is not just about suffering. It narrates resistance and even in some parts we can laugh: "I still was not ready to put my hands behind my head. In desert, they were looking for a wire or rope to tie up my hands. But the hands of the brothers were open. I told Javad, "The hands of the brothers are open. Why do they want to tie up our hands? He translated this sentence and the Iraqi officer said, "Iranian women are more dangerous that the Iranian men. That from their view, two Iranian girls were so awe-inspiring and dangerous; I felt more pride and resistance."
Abad has described the captivity period well. The book's prose is simple and at the same time elegant. The audience is accompanied by the narrator. They believe in her and this is because of the sense of intimacy the narrator has created. She talks about the customs, intimacy, fear and even the magnificence of freedom. All of these reasons cause the book to turn into one of successful books in the area of oral history. Abad has written a book out of a two-word sentence jus as she could write a two-word letter in captivity: "I am alive."
Oral history of people of Gilan on captivity period
Now that many years have passed since the sacred defense time and sometimes we become worried that the memoirs and events and even the details of the war may be forgotten and … the oral memoirs of those who have experienced this period. The Basijis (voluntary forces), the members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the army forces, the soldiers and the commanders all can play an important role in remembering what has happened during this time. Knowing this, the Department of Resistance Culture and Studies of Gilan's Art Center has started compiling a collection entitled "Oral history of Gilan's freed POWs". "The captivity we made for ourselves" and "Letters for a stone" are the titles two volumes of the collection the first of which is allocated to the memories of Seyed Yousef Seyed Modalal Kar and the second to Akbar Esmi.
Promptly and without marginalization, "The captivity we made for ourselves" begins from the very moments the book's narrator, Seyed Yousef Seyed Modalal Kar along with other combatants has been laid siege by the Iraqis. Therefore, the title of the chapter is "Under Siege”. The book is about the captivity period in which the narrator sometimes talks about pre-captivity memoirs. The book explains about the things happened for the narrator or other captives during more than four years of captivity such as tortures, homesickness, resistance, and the sense of the moment of freedom.
What had made the book different is the narration of Seyed Yousef Modalal Kar from the unintentional mistakes of some of the captives which led to the punishment of the whole captives.
In part of his memoirs, Modalal Kar emphasizes that the captives in the camp were thumped by the "spies” and "the individuals who hit us hard unknowingly.
"The captivity we made for ourselves” is the fifth volume of the oral history collection of Gilan’s freed POWs. Some of the titles of the chapters of this volume are "Under siege”, "Ramadi Camp”, "The camp’s regulations”, "Protest”, "The imposter”, "Mirage of freedom”, "Ducks behind barbed wires” and "The last night of the camp”.
Unlike "The captivity we made for ourselves”, "Letters for a stone” does not begin from the war and captivity period. The first chapter is about the days of training in rest home and studying in the high school which links to the course of military training quietly. Then it is the turn of fighting in the front and Karbala 2 Operation in which the book’s narrator along with a number of other combatants were taken as captives. The memoirs of captivity period are expressed with the subjects such as homesickness, torture, hunger strike in the camp, pilgrimage of Najaf and Karbala and return to Iran. The narrator of the memoirs sometimes talks about pre-captivity times.
"The difficult days of training”, "The countryman who slapped us”, "Whistleblowing”, "Pilgrimage in captivity”, "Swap” are some of the titles of the book’s chapters.
Similarities that should be noted
The two volumes of the oral history collection of the freed POWs of Gilan (the city of Rasht) have similarities in some chapters. One of such similarities is waiting for freedom while two years have passed since ceasefire about which "Letters for a stone” says, "Two years have passed since ceasefire, but there was still no news of the captives’ swap.” In this regard, "The captivity we made for ourselves” says, "Two years have passed since ceasefire but there was still no news of freedom.”
The issue of the illness of Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul) and his demise is another similarity of the two books. In this regard, "Letters for a stone” writes, "It was one of the days of June 1989 all of whom were worried. It was a while that the news of the Imam’s illness was spread across the camp.”
The issue is expressed in "The captivity we made for ourselves” in this way, "Like the past days, everything was swamped with repetition and routineness on 3rd of June 1989. The only thing that had worried the entire camp was the illness of the Imam.”
This similarity of literature is also seen in the issue reaching to Iranian border about which the book "The captivity we made for ourselves” says, "Seeing the hoisted flag of Iran had exalted everyone.”
For narrating this story, an almost similar words have been used in "Letters for a stone”, "All were watching the flag which had been hoisted along the way we were looking…”
Although issues such as torture in captivity, hearing the news of the Imam’s passing away, waiting for reaching home, or sense of joy for entering the Iranian soil are among the joint events of freed POWs, such joint memoirs can be described differently. The point that should be noticed particularly in a volume of a collection is that if an audience meets a collection, the studying of the entire volumes will be attractive and new for him or her.
However, the volumes have all the characteristics of the books of a collection. The cover of the books’ design is in a way that shows the similarity of the topics in the books. The interior pages of the two books have been set on the basis of a method. Both books end with the parts of index, documents and images. Some parts of the text have been selected for the back cover. Unlike some collections in which the introduction of the publisher and author published only in the first volume, the fifth and sixth volumes of the oral history of Gilan’s freed POWs have the introductions written by Gilan’s Art Center and the author.
In his introduction, the author of "The captivity we made for ourselves” refers to memoirs of Seyed Yousef Seyed Modalal Kar, saying that the memoirs are of great importance due to "feature of geography of the place of captivity and its strategic report” and "the narrator’s impartial character”.
There are memoirs in both books the description of which do not add anything to the events of the eight-year sacred defense. Such memoirs reveal merely some angles of the captivity period about which have not been spoken, but the audience are aware of them.
Football match between captives and Iraqis
He spent the training course in Shahid Pirzadeh Barracks in the city of Ardebil and was sent to the war fronts on 9th of February 1984. He was the assistant of someone who fires RPG-7 launcher in Kheibar and Badr operations. He was taken as captive on 15th of March 1985 in Badr Operation in Basra-Al-Amarah road. Bahram Zar'eian was a POW until August 1990 and came back to Iran 23rd of August. He is the narrator of the book "World Cup in Romadieh". The book explains about his memoirs from childhood to adolescence and front and captivity.
The book starts with a childish naughtiness and a satiric tone. "World Cup in Romadieh" has an intimate language and attracts the audience. The beginning chapters describe the childhood stories; playfulness, going to school, being beaten, and poverty but at the same time love and kindness between the family members, and all of these attract the audience.
When the revolution became victorious he was a teen. He went to a square in the town of Ardebil on 12th of February 1979; he clashed with the police, and in Mojasameh (current Shariati) Square, there was no trace of the Shah's statue and the people set on fire the house one of the supporters of the Pahlavi regime. The teen Bahram was thinking to escape but the soldiers backed the people.
With the beginning of the Iraqi imposed war against, like others he wanted to go to the war front. He went several times to a military base near his house in July 1982 and was active there for seven month unofficially. But he was too young to be sent to the front. He was just 15. Finally he managed to change his birthday date and was sent to the war fronts.
"World Cup in Romadieh" can be divided into three parts in general, childhood and adolescence period, front period and the period of the narrator's captivity. However, there is a small part about his freedom and return to Iran which can be relinquished due to its small volume.
The second part of the book in this supposed division starts when the narrator was injured which is tied to the third chapter namely captivity. He knew that at the time of bombardment, he had to lie down on the ground. He opened his legs so that if he was hit by a mortar, just one leg was cut. But when a mortar was hit beside him, he was injured. After a while, the Iraqis came and fired mercy shot at those who were still alive. He pretended that he had died and saved himself, but finally was taken as captive. The beginning of his captivity was accompanied by several slaps. Different kinds of tortures have been referred to in this book.
Like the books published on the subject of captivity, "World Cup in Romadieh" deals with the situation in the camps; bad food, hard physical conditions, illness, unsanitary conditions of the camps, even the spies who were among the captives. The conditions of the captives improved a little a short while after the Red Crescent staff arrived in autumn of 1985. They brought sport equipment such as badminton rocket, ping pong table, the ball of volleyball, the ball of football, and sport clothes. The ball of football was led to a match between the captives and the Iraqis in late autumn of 1985. The book’s title has been taken from this match in "Romadieh” camp in which win and lose is important as much as world cup matches.
The ninth chapter deals with the end of captivity in Iraq, "It was some time that the Iraqis’ behavior had been changed… they talked and laughed. They kept the doors open. The foods had been cooked better. Even some of them expressed their happiness that we were going to come back home.”
Although what has been published in the form of memoirs in this book is personal and a memory, it is not just a memory. Each of these memories describes parts of the narrator’s life; from childhood years, the victory of the revolution, people’s reaction, and their solidarity with army, presence in the war front, captivity and freedom. But the memoirs do not just retell his conditions, but also depict the country’s situation, war fronts and the captives in the camps of Saddam’s army. These features have turned it into a book in the area of oral history.
"World Cup in Romadieh” has ten chapters the final chapter of which is life in Iran; living beside the parents, sisters and brothers, employment, short words about marriage, children and their conditions.
As the book has started intimately, it will also come to an end intimately. The book’s feature is the same intimacy and its simple language in which the audience is taken to its atmosphere easily. It is so simple and intimate that looks like a story book.
In expressing his memoirs, the narrator has not exaggerated and has left the reader alone to judge about it which is another positive point of the book. The audience accepts the books more easily which respect his or her wisdom and understanding. The relatively unserious and satirical tone of the book should be added to these features. Another advantage of this book is the photos and footnotes. However, lack of list and index is the weak point of the book.