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The Idea of Iraq - Twenty Years of Iraqi History since the Fall of Saddam Hussein through the Lens of the Iraq Chamber of the Hamburg Administrative Court
In the decade of the so-called ‘European Refugee Crisis’ from 2011 to 2020, Iraqi refugees filed over 200.000 pleas for asylum at the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). At this first contact with the German administration, Iraqi asylum seekers must not only lay out their own identity in oder to obtain a refugee status, but also the circumstances of why they fled Iraq, and why they cannot go back. A third of them has to make their case again at the regional courts, after their initial pleas are rejected. And while these procedures often reveal tragic personal fates, the refugees’ testimonies also offer a unique view on the recent history of Iraq and this specific group of Iraqi emigrants’ idea about their home country.
This project takes an in-depth look at that critical junction, where the identity of individual Iraqis and arguably the history of an entire nation meet the German asylum framework. Utilising a global intellectual history approach to contemporary Iraqi history, as well as the framework of migration studies literature, this project investigates the historical ‘idea of Iraq’ in the testimonies of Iraqi asylum seekers at the Hamburg Administrative Court from 2011 to 2021. Accounting for these refugees’ legal immigration testimonies in historical research not only acknowledges the personal tragedies, but also offers a unique view into Iraq’s troubled past, as they highlight some of the most impactful episodes of the country’s most recent history. The analysis of the anonymised court files is executed along three interconnected core themes: 1) The framings of the refugees’ own identity; 2) the reconstruction of the episodes of violence through the perception of threat and persecution that caused the individual acts of emigration; 3) the framing of the national history of Iraq as its perception as a (failed) nation/state.
The broad argument of the project is that the experience of migration and the encounter with the German bureaucracy uniquely shape the refugees’ idea of Iraq. Investigating the circumstances and motivations of the large scale Iraqi refugee movements through their own accounts thus not only gives the disenfranchised group of Iraqi emigrants a voice in framing their individual predicament and in writing their own national history. A comprehensive understanding on how the refugee experience shapes their idea of Iraq ultimately helps navigate their journey through the immigration and assimilation process.
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