Background

When the Foundation commenced its Oral History of Iran program in 1982, it was the first of its kind in Iranian studies and a pioneer in source material preparation for the study of Iranian history based on structured interviews with participants and witnesses. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 had resulted in an exodus of the nation’s leading figures, not only in politics and government, but also in business, finance, industry, education and the arts. It seemed to us at the Foundation for Iranian Studies a most important and challenging task to set about recording the memoirs of these individuals.

Interviews cover a wide range of issues. In certain cases, topics of special interest have determined the choice of the interviewees. This includes the revolution, Shah’s military policy, SAVAK, the Rastakhiz Party, US-Iranian relations, the Confederation of Iranian Students, the women’s movement, religious minorities, the Shiraz Art Festival. In other cases, the interviews were led by the personalities of the individual actors involved in the shaping of the events constituting contemporary Iranian history. Priority has been given to men and women whose experiences have not been previously recorded in books and articles or in other oral history programs, though this rule has not been allowed to hamper the collection of important information or insight not previously recorded.

Production of oral history memoirs of value rests on a number of prerequisites. A primary requirement of good oral history production is a belief on the part of the program directors, the interviewers and interviewees that individual experience is inherently important. In societies where individual experience is valued only as it serves the collective, or where destiny or the will of some higher authority is held as the final arbiter of human existence, oral memoirs, if contemplated at all, are likely to be considered antisocial, if not subversive and heretical. Thus, individuals experiences are excluded from the construction of the collective culture.

Another requirement is the freedom of the interviewer and interviewee to speak honestly and openly without fear of reprisal. Unfortunate as it may be, In the 1980s and after the only place where recollections of Iranians could be openly relayed and safely recorded for the sake of historical study was outside their own country. The memoirs recorded in this collection, therefore, are records of events, personalities, and developments in a wide variety of fields in twentieth-century Iran, seen from the vantage point of life in exile. English historian C. V. Wedgwood once wrote, “History is lived forward but it is written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only.” In the case of those interviewed for the Oral History of Iran Program, knowing the end involves recollections that are bound to be colored by the intense and complex experiences and emotions of the subjects.

The spontaneous and personal character of oral history allows this intensity to be captured in a way rarely achieved in other fields of social science. The Foundation’s program has taken care to preserve it in the texture of what it has recorded and transcribed by remaining faithful to the oral quality of the interviews. On the other hand, it has also tried to achieve an objective balance by recording a wide variety of experience, testimony and opinion, as witnessed in the pages of this catalog. The transcripts prove a fascinating read. They provide colorful anecdotes the likes of which are often absent from articles and books. Moreover, they provide information that often fills the gaps found in other scholarly endeavors. They also have their share of trivia. That is why the collection is particularly useful to students who are familiar with Iranian history.

Contributors

Gholam Reza Afkhami Program Coordinator/Interviewer
Mahnaz Afkhami Director/Interviewer
Maryam Aminzadeh Auditor
Mehdi Amin-Razavi Indexer
Ardeshir Aqevli Auditor/Interviewer/Transcriber
Ezzat Aqevli Administrator/Auditor
Shusha Assar (Guppy) Interviewer
Habib Bahar Auditor
William Burr Interviewer
Sima Dabir-Ashtiyani Interviewer/Transcriber
Farah Ebrahimi Interviewer
Akbar E`temad Program Adviser/Interviewer
Shirin Farkhan Typist
Tanya Farmanfarmaiyan Interviewer
Farrokh Ghaffari Program Adviser/Interviewer
Shahla Haeri Interviewer
Mohammad Haqqi Auditor/Editor
Mahmud Hatef Transcriber
Hormoz Hekmat Editor/Interviewer
Vida Javid Typist
Maryam Mafi Auditor
Homayun Majd Interviewer
Farzaneh Milani Interviewer
Ahmad Mirzadeh Interviewer
Hamid Nafisi Interviewer
Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr Archivist/Interviewer
Behruz Nikzat Interviewer
Fereshteh Nura’i Interviewer/Transcriber
Ahmad Qoreyshi Program Adviser/Interviewer
Ahmad Salari Auditor
Shirin Sami`i Interviewer/Transcriber
Maryam Shamlu Interviewer
Pari Yahya’i Transcriber/Typist
Naser Yeganeh Program Adviser/Editor
Farangis Yeganegi Interviewer
Sepehr Zabih Interviewer
Vida Zari-Nejad Typist
Ziya’i, Hosein Interviewer
Zonis, Marvin Interviewer

The above did not participate in the Oral History Program concurrently. Transcription, typing and auditing of interviews marked with (*) in this catalog were done at the Oral History Office of Columbia University. The Transcription and typing of other English language interviews were done at the Oral History Center of the University of Connecticut.