An interview with Dr. Ebrahim Fayaz about the media presence of a phenomenon called Ahangaran
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Publish Date: 21 April 2017

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Dr. Fayaz looks at Ahangaran from a different angle. Unlike most of us, he doesn’t think that times are getting worse and worse. He says: "In the early years after the war, it was harder to talk about these things. We had just ended a war that everyone had tried to make a ghoul out of. But nowadays Iranian combatants shoulder the responsibility of our Revolution’s thoughts and aspirations, hundreds of kilometers away from our border. They are fighting against the US by proxy in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.” He says that the fuss created by ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s pseudo-revolutionaries will be silenced and the true model of Islam’s combatants will remain; the real combatants which are the fruits of Imam Khomeini’s revolution. In our pleasant conversation, he talked about his memories from the war and also warned that this security mustn’t fool anyone.

Ø When and where did you meet Ahangaran?

It’s been a long time since last I saw him and I’d really like to meet him again. I met him in the Jazayeri mosque and at the fronts when we were young. I knew him since his early days of fame. He had recorded a Noha in the Susangerd mosque in which he mentioned all martyrs by name with his strange melancholic voice. It was amazing.

Ahangaran is a sophisticated phenomenon. He belongs to the generation pre-war generation. In his book "memories”, he said that he studied Shariati’s books, which Hussein Alamolhoda had given him. All of those who were martyred in Hoveyzeh had studied Shariati’s books. I’m from the same generation and we were the same.

Before the Revolution, it was all about Marxism. Shariati managed to blow it completely out of the water and familiarized the youth with the Islamic intellectual sphere. We were religious and were always confronted with questions like: "Is Islam in agreement with science? Is resurrection scientifically possible? Can we prove God’s existence through science?” Marxists used to spread such questions, believing that in order to be accepted, everything had to be proven by science. When Shariati appeared, he turned the page and changed the ruling discourse. So we didn’t need to pursue such discussions any more.

Thus Islamic ideology gained ground and defeated Marxism, leaving the way open for the Marja, Imam Khomeini, to gain ground.

In his book, Ahangaran spoke of his pre-revolutionary activities. It reminded me of my uncle who used to bring notes on Shariati’s writings home. He gave me the book "Yes Brother, that’s the Way it Was!” in 1976 and asked me to drop it in a well after reading it, because if SAVAK should find it, we would have been in deep trouble. But I thought it was a pity to throw it away so I just hid it under a barrel we had in our yard. When Ahangaran mentioned Shariati’s books, he reminded me of those days, of the martyrs of Hoveyzeh who created an epic in the history of war. Phrases such as "The martyr is heart of history” which were used a lot in the early days of war, were influenced by that era and by Shariati’s books. Later on, other phrases would also become well-known.

The Islam that Shariati had advocated to confront Marxism was still effective in the early years of war. We had no weapons then but M1 and G3 guns, and we used to the seek shelter under ruins.

When the war began, they didn’t allow us to go and fight; they asked us to stay in the "Islamic Association of Students’” office and continue our activities there. We trained people in the mosque and had to stay and train those who were going to the fronts. If we had left for the war, no one would have been there to train the new recruits.

What Ahangaran said in his book, I can feel in my bones. One good point is that he doesn’t hide the facts such as his studying Shariati’s books or performing on the stage with Hussein Panahi. He tells his story honestly and frankly, and such a character is hard to find these days.

One can make a movie out of this book because he explains everything with such detail that one can picture those days perfectly. When he talks about an explosion in the city’s armory, he mentions how the locks on the doors of houses and shops were dented in the blast. When he explains the events, it’s like you’re standing in the middle of the scene, in the vanguard in 1980 and witnessing everything with your own eyes. He adopted a realist-idealist style in his book which is usually hard to pull off. In most of their wartime memories people talked in an ideal fashion. But those who were against the ceasefire just revealed the realistic aspect of the war.

Ahangaran is still himself, the same man he was in ‘80 and ‘81 in Susangerd, Hoveyzeh and Ahvaz, when he used to come to the fronts on the nights before operations and performed for the combatants. He is the same guy. There was no arrogance about him.

Ø What was the effect of Ahangaran’s songs at the fronts?

Operation Kheibar was one of the toughest operations. You had to be there to understand what I mean. There was a heavy raid on us while we were 3 kilometers away from the vanguard. I don’t know how many bombs and shells were exploding around us. It was like the land was sown with them. Blood was spilt everywhere. I can never forget that day. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon and the bodies of our martyrs were sent back, but the Iraqis’ corpses were still there. About a million mosquitos were buzzing and flying around. We didn’t have enough people to fight then, as only a few people were resisting, doing the work of an entire battalion, so Iraqis couldn’t break the line, and that bought us enough time to collect the corpses. A guy among us started to complain and nag, so one of us told him: "Don’t you remember Ahangaran’s song before the operation? He said "O army of lord of the time, get ready! For an immense battle.” This is the battle he was talking about.” The guy calmed down. The context of his song perfectly fit the operation and its aftermath. Habibollah Moallemi’s poem, Ahangaran’s voice and the melody fit the situation we were going through. I can still remember it clearly.

I wish someone had extracted the notes of those songs. Each night these two (Ahangaran and Mo’alemi) got together at Habib’s farm and worked on the poems’ melodies. Whenever a noha or song was performed on the night before each operation, it was like that melody was created solely for that specific geographical location and operation. It was because of their pure souls and feelings. Most soldiers weren’t even aware that Ahangaran went to the Jazayeri mosque to say his prayers. Whenever he went there, a throng of people gathered around him to take pictures or have a chat. He didn’t enjoy it much, but still he did what they asked of him when they insisted. A lot of things changed during and after the war, but Ahangaran remained the same.

Ø What do you mean by "a lot changed but he remained the same”?

Before Operation Fath ol-Mobin, when we were fighting, there was no city behind us but a vast field called "Dasht-e- Abbas” which had been liberated. After Khorramshahr’s liberation, the atmosphere changed. I mean after our defeat in Operation Ramazan, the page was completely turned. It was hard to believe, because operations Kheibar and Fath ol-Mobin progressed rapidly in 2 or 3 days to our benefit. operation Beit ol-Moqaddas also brought us success in a few days. In Operation Ramazan, we were defeated and everyone wondered why. The same happened the following year in Operation Badr. We didn’t achieve what we had aimed for. In operation Kheibar, Majnoon island was liberated, but the Nosrat military base, led by Ali Hashemi and his comrades, sacrificed a lot for that purpose. Later when Ahvaz saw peace, the city atmosphere changed.

People later on returned to the city and the quiet spiritual city became crowded again, so when I saw Ahvaz, after operation Kheibar I was annoyed. I hated the new Ahvaz. Before Operation Beit ol-Moqaddas, the combatants and their families lived in the city, but later the people who had evacuated the city returned. Everything changed and never again did Ahvaz support the war the way it did before. We used to be bombarded each night in Ahvaz and it was hard to live in. Those who didn’t leave the city had to fight in Ahvaz University’s Bahonar St. even. At that time I felt the city had a soul, but later the Ahvaz that supported the war was no more. The same happened in Khorramshahr and Abadan. The situation wasn’t good and morale at the fronts decreased. Some people believed that the war only concerned Khorramshahr and when it was liberated, they asked why we were still fighting.

Eventually some combatants left the fronts and returned to their cities. We had to retreat. We lost Faw and then the Imam accepted Resolution 598. Ahangaran remained through three periods of war and didn’t give up on what he was doing. Years later when I saw him at Tehran University, he was the same man I knew before.

Ø Can we call Ahangaran a "media” in sociologic and cultural terms?

Ahangaran’s first songs such as "Peace be upon you! O martyrs of Khuzestan” were related to the events happening in Susangerd at that time. Our combatants gathered in the ruins and fought. We didn’t have any serious battles until ‘81 when Bostan was liberated. Before then we didn’t make any serious moves.

Bani Sadr was still the president and most of Ahangaran’s songs were about the poor condition of our combatants. Even the melody of the songs fit the era. It was about soldiers who were fighting in deplorable conditions, bare-handed. I remember once we had rice for lunch in Susangerd, and I saw a large worm in my plat. I took it out and continued eating the rest. Those days we but still resisted despite the poor condition we were in.

After Operation Beit ol-Moqaddas, the theme of his songs and nohas gained an epic dimension. In this aspect, I can say that Ahangaran is a media, considering the concepts he produced both inside and outside of war zones for people.

Once I was going to Ahvaz. I got off at a station to look around but the train left and I was left alone in the Lorestan Mountains. The next train was scheduled to arrive the next day, so I went to a nearby village, which didn’t have any roads. The villagers collected donations for the front and played Ahangaran’s songs from a loudspeaker. The one responsible for collecting the donation had only one fine leg, and the villagers used to give him whatever they could afford, some wheat, 10-toman coins, snacks, etc… I went to Andimeshk by freight train, and there I took a taxi and went to Ahvaz.

What I’m trying to say is that Ahangaran wasn’t only at the fronts. His songs were played everywhere, whether they were collecting charity and donations, recruiting forces, at the funerals of martyrs or anything related to the war. He was a widespread and popular media that existed everywhere. I think we need to work on his poems, songs and also the time and the situation they were made. As long as he’s alive he can be very helpful.

Ø Even people who were born during or after the war, but had no active presence in the war, are familiar with Ahangaran. How can Ahangaran-and others who were working in the same field- attract people’s attention toward war, defense, martyrdom and such topics?

It’s mostly related to the type of music. This music is based on feelings. They had no professional musician helping them. It was only Ahangaran and Habibollah and the farm. They worked on the melodies of their songs all night, so it was result of their purity and feelings. We should pay attention to the melodies of their nohas.

Another point is that southerners are warm, kind and emotional people. I don’t know how well you know them. Whenever I go to Bushehr, Bandar Abbas or Ahvaz, I never get tired. People are really kind. People from Shushtar and Dezful are even kinder. The combination of Lor and Southern blood has made them kind and warm-hearted. Music has influenced both their manner and language. Ahangaran is like that.

Ø You say so because you’re from the south?

Right, it may be for that reason too. Ahangaran has a "southerner’s” throat. Their voices are warm and melancholic. That’s why he can still sing. You should go to Bushehr and see how music flows in people and their voices. They’re so kind and warm and when they don’t see this kindness in others, they become surprised. I came to Tehran in 1981 and I was stunned and kept wondering why people weren’t kind. It was strange for me. In the south even school teachers are kind. If you live in that atmosphere, with a war on, and you have access to fine poems, what will happen? There was a big difference between the war in the cold west and in the warm south.

What made Ahangaran the man he was, was his music and his southern emotions and feeling. Feelings that intertwined with Lor culture in Shushtar and Dezful, combined with the war. We mustn’t neglect his great voice either.

No one can replace Ahangaran. Kuweitipour’s songs always pitied our soldiers, as if he was mourning them. But Ahangaran’s songs were epic. He had the help of a great poet too and they were good partners.

Ahangaran performed on Muharram nights in Ahvaz’s Mosalla. His songs helped create a state of unity among Arab and Persian speakers of Khuzestan. He provided a great service for Persian language in Khuzestan, and for its cultural integrity.

African music was transferred to Bandar Abbas back when they had business deals. When this music reached Bushehr, they gave it an Iranian kick and then southern music, inspired by African music, was born. This type of music spread in Khuzestan. When Ahangaran sings, he does it in a southerner style.

In Kazeroon, we play the sorna (a musical instrument that resembles a hornpipe) and drum during the evenings of Muharram. At first only the sorna is played and later drum beats are added, which turns it into epic music. They play it from 4 to 8 in the evening, and it is during this performance that they recount the events of Ashura…

Ø Like a symphony?

Yes, exactly like a symphony. In the end, they recall the battle and martyrdom of Imam Hussein, and that is when the last beat of the drum is hit. This piece is repeated 4 or 5 times a night.

Ø They perform this music without singing a single verse?

Yes, it’s a tradition in Kazeroon. If you spend one evening of Muharram in Kazeroon, you’ll feel like you’re standing in Karbala at noon, on the day of Ashura. When noon passes on the day of Ashura, a heavy silence covers Kazeroon and nearby villages. Then they hold the Sham-e-Ghariban ceremony which makes you feel like all the weight of the world is on your shoulders. That’s the atmosphere Ahangaran created his songs in. Ahangaran played an important cultural role in the south. I would also say that he had a hand in solving some issues between Persians and Arabs in the region.

Ahangaran is a legend who didn’t run for office and didn’t destroy his image. We must see him as a media phenomenon constantly influencing his surroundings. He was so influential in the war that people made melody of his songs to make other songs, sometimes even comical song. The songs were so well-known that people could even put comical poems in the melody. Same as what other poets such as Shahriar, did to Hafez poems. The combatants did the same for Ahangaran’s songs, which I believe to be very interesting.

Ahangaran’s songs, same as how people play symphonies in Kazeroon, all reflect Imam Hussein’s story. Ahangaran made use of Khuzestan’s rich musical heritage to achieve this undertaking. He’s a genius who managed to reproduce the culture of his time and spread it to the fronts and all over Iran, and it remains influential since the end of the war.

Ø Do you think we can find a mechanism to reproduce it? Say there’s a phenomenon with a great rate of success in the cultural field. Can we reproduce it by finding its characteristics?

Yes. Seyyed Morteza Avini was another example of this phenomenon. Avini did it in cinema and "Revayat-e-fath” and even in movies which were made after the war such as "City in the sky”. Of course it’s possible.

During Ahvaz’s difficult days, combatants used to move all over the city so that it would seem like a real crowded city. If the Iraqis had found that the city was abandoned, they would have attacked it. They even advanced up to Ahvaz’s Navard factory. Our only shelter around the city, were the hills of waste.

I mean whenever you want to talk about Ahangaran, you should consider the atmosphere of the South. As long as you’re not familiarized with this atmosphere, you can’t have a clear image of him. You can’t understand how they fought in Khorramshahr.

Hatami-kia (an Iranian movie director) has made many movies about the war. I don’t want to discuss the ups and downs of his career, but in order to familiarize yourself with the atmosphere just look at how he’s helped us.

25 years have passed since the war. We need a century to understand what actually took place since the war and in the years after it. The further we get; we have more freedom to reproduce that atmosphere.

When the war ended and we went to university, we bore a lot of hardship. They tried to stop us from studying. We ranked as the first, second and third students of our classes while others were barely passing the course. It was then that universities changed their mind about us. The atmosphere was very much against the war at Tehran University in 1989. The cultural environment related to war and the sacred defense slowly developed thereafter. After the war, even the government was against us. They ridiculed the combatants and praised themselves for services they didn’t provide.

Ø So you believe that the situation is changing for the better?

Yes, it has been the trend up to now and it will surely continue whether we are alive or not. We need to study up on phenomena such as Ahangaran and think about details of their lives. If we knew what had happened in Karbala with exact detail, we can form a better image of that time.

After the Resolution, Imam Khomeini published a message saying that the war has just begun. Now Wahhabism and Al-Qaeda are trying to copy Iranian combatants.

Ø You mean their headbands and chants of "Allah-o-Akbar”?

Yes, everything. But since these acts are not well-rooted, that fire of theirs will be put out soon and what will remain thereafter is their true essence. Even if other Iranians deny and oppose what we did during the war, later on when Western propaganda subsides, the ideology we fought for will spread in the region.

Ø 25 years after the war has ended, do you think what Ahangaran does is still necessary and useful?

As long as he’s alive, it’s necessary. It’s advertisement for a war that the Imam said had just begun. The songs of the Lebanese Hezbollah are inspired by the poems and Nohas of Ahangaran. Younger generations are many steps ahead of us, because they observed the corruption. A year after the war when I went to university, some people didn’t dare say their prayers inside the university. Some of them didn’t even want to tell others that they had fought at the fronts. They went outside of the university to say their prayers. Now you can see a great number of people at mosques inside universities.

Ø Sometimes we think that the situation was better in the past.

No that’s not right. Younger generations are better than we were. Having access to internet and satellite technology has given them a better insight at the West. Their generation is able to make a giant step forward. Ahangaran is still following his career. He will sing as long as he’s alive and his videos and voice will be broadcast.

It’s just the beginning. Now we’re not fighting at our borders. We’re fighting in Syria, in the borders of Lebanon with Zionists and in Gaza. No one would dare attack us. But it’s important that we don’t get fooled by this security and peace and not forget the epic atmosphere we once lived in. Americans always make movies about their wars to maintain their culture of war. This is something we mustn’t neglect either.

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