Violence, memory and dealing with the past in Iraq: the example of the survivors of the Anfal-operations in Kurdistan
After the fall of the Ba’ath-regime Iraqi society is facing the legacy of decades of violence with victims of past crimes claiming for certainty, justice and compensation. At the same time, Iraq is shattered by new and escalating violence from occupation forces, militias and terrorist groups. With ongoing violence from multiple actors, the former dividing line between followers and opponents of the Ba’ath-regime is shifting towards a deep fragmentation of Iraqi society along ethnic-national, regional and religious lines. For all different factions, the victim hood of past and current violence is significant for legitimating their claims to power within the new Iraq, none of them being ready to delegate the ownership of the process of dealing with the past - and thus the power of interpreting it - to the national level. A national process of negotiating the past seems out of sight. Victims of past crimes feel increasingly marginalized in regard to their needs of assistance and the social and political acknowledgement of their specific experience of extreme violence.
My research will focus on the experience and situation of the victims and survivors of the so called Anfal-operations (a vast military campaign of the Iraqi regime against rural areas in Kurdistan in 1988). The project will look at the construction and transformation of the individual and collective memory of this event and its representation in regional and national discourses as well the victims’ expectations to justice and compensation and an institutionalized process of dealing with the past. Based on the example of the Anfal victims the research will look into the preconditions, constraints and opportunities s for a national process of dealing with the past in Iraq under conditions of occupation, ongoing violence and conflict. It will contribute to a broader debate on the correlation between extreme violence, construction of memory and political transformation. The research will refer to psychological trauma and memory research as well as sociological and historical memory research and take into account experiences of transformation and reconciliation processes in other post-conflict situations such as South Africa, Rwanda, Bosnia.