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Martyrs are sometimes women

Women behind the front play an important role in a large proportion of Iranian novels, written on the Iran and Iraq-war (1980-1988). But their martyrdom is an uncommon theme. Saeedeh Shahnahpur will give a lecture on this subject on 16 February.

It was without doubt one of the dirtiest wars of recent decades: the war between Iran and Iraq. In the years of the conflict, Saddam Hussein’s army used poison gas widely, and cities on both sides of the border were reduced to rubble by the bombing. By the time the smoke above the battlefield eventually lifted in 1988, the war had claimed more than 1.6 million lives.  

Women’s unrevealed sacrifices

‘When the Iran-Iraq War ended, Iranian authors began to write about women and their sacrifice and participation in defending the country. Although much attention in novels is given to women’s task behind the front (e.g. medicating the wounded soldiers), their martyrdom is uncommon theme,’ Saeedeh Shahnahpur explains. She will give a public lecture on the subject on 16 February, as part of the What’s New lecture series organised by Islam institute LUCIS.

Wartime and post-war novels

During the period of the war, Iranian literature almost always followed a fixed plot. A young man from a simple background would feel called to serve his fatherland, and would leave for the front full of conviction. There, he would make the ultimate sacrifice for his country – he would become a martyr. He died without fear, and accepted his fate with open arms. What is striking is that despite the growth in the number of Iranian female writers after the revolution of 1979, women’s martyrdom is absent in their works, and they mainly deal with the social and economic impacts of the war on women. Furthermore, only a few of these women were honoured after the war in the Museum of Martyrs in Tehran.

Esmāʻil Fasih

Esmāʻil Fasih (1935–2009) is the exception to the rule, because he highlights the martyrdom of Iranian women in three of his post-war novels. Shahnahpur wrote her dissertation on Fasih’s Winter of 1983 (zemestan-e 62) which is regarded to be the best example of Persian war novel. Many Iranian women died in the devastated cities just as their fathers, husbands and sons had died on the frontline. It makes Fasih a revolutionary in his choice of subjects, and hence he balances on the edge of what was acceptable in Iranian society.