Iran’s National Service

Benjamin Zand explores the foggy realm of Iran’s National Service and its effect on the people of Iran

There is one question that plagues the minds of Iran’s population of male youths; Artesh or Pasdaran? Since conscription became mandatory in 1925 and the Islamic Revolution prevailed, National Service and its military organisations have been an all too constant chain around the ankles of Iran’s ambitious youths.

At an age where most people’s worries consist of parties and waist-lines, the majority of youths in Iran have more urgent matters at hand. Women are currently exempt from compulsory national service, but very few men have this option.

Their options are very restricted, and should be considered more outcomes than options. In the majority of cases, the government will choose conscripts’ destinations depending on qualifications, previous jobs and family members.The Artesh is Iran’s traditional army, with an info-structure similar to that of many armies around the world. It is said to be considerably more popular amongst the anti-government portion of Iran’s population. The Pasdaran on the other hand, is the ‘Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution’ and has close links with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ’s government. This path can often secure a good life for conscripts, but requires a minimum of 6-months as a member of the non-active military group the Basij, a group the Iranian government claim has over 20 million members and one that is often labelled terrorist by the West.

PhD student Keyvan Nayyeri, who recently served in the Artesh, admits he did not want to join the Pasdaran amid fears he would be labelled a terrorist by the West, but claims it is a lot easier to fulfil your time there.

Whilst awaiting conscription, Nayyeri blogged of wanting “to run faster and faster to get free, to see the world (but could not because of his military duties)”.  Job prospects are limited without completing National Service, and passports are often unobtainable. Nayyeri confirmed this by admitting he had to turn down many opportunities world-wide due to having not completed National Service, and said the end of his conscription would be like a birthday, offering him a new lease on life.

Nearly two years after the completion of his military service, Nayyeri, who now studies in Texas, America, states that his views ‘have completely changed’.  He claims that the service acts as a platform for young men to learn how to accept ‘social difficulties and problems in life’ in a country that otherwise has no means of doing this. Nayyeri goes on to say ‘as far as I can remember, almost everyone in my friends who hasn’t served (in the army) hasn’t been able to succeed in life’. Nayyeri admits though, that the length of service is harsh.

But it seems the government may have begun to take notice. In June 2009 the government announced they reduced the length of service, “The military service has been cut by two months in normal cases and by one month in underprivileged areas,” Brigadier General Moussa Kamali said.

“In the areas that (military) operations are being carried out, the term was 17 months… it has now been cut to 16 ” added Kamali, who is chief conscription officer of the armed forces. Military service for conscripts with a PhD fell 10 months and for master and bachelor graduates their time is 8 and 6 months lesser respectively.  Although this could act as an incentive for people to further their knowledge, it is unlikely to cement over their desire to completely eradicate compulsory service.  People could once pay off conscription for around $2000 (£1250), but this was removed in 2001 to result in only more frustration.

There are cases where men are exempt from their military duties, but exemptions are only accepted to men under certain circumstances. Being a single father, an only child, or the only son in your family are some of the circumstances which will result in exemption, with students and Iranians living abroad being exempt until they finish or return.

The country’s opinions on conscription seem to be spilt, with two groups emerging. The first being those who are involved with the military; this group believing that service is essential in developing youths into men, and they hold their experiences as evidence. The second, consisting mainly of youngsters who are yet to serve their national service, believe that they are throwing their ‘best years’ away, and these have their chained ambitions as evidence. Iran’s national service remains a very interesting and confusing topic, and it is obvious things can be lost due to its existence, but there are also things to be gained… most importantly a passport and a job.