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Memories and Archives of Revolution: Kurdistan and Palestine

Panel XI-12, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
How does one document, analyze, historicize, and understand peoples and nations that are constantly being displaced, attacked, eliminated, disappeared, and erased? What traces of history and knowledge can be found in the photographs, films, art, and memories of revolutionaries that resist colonial capitalist patriarchal violence? What archives did these revolutionaries produce in exile, in fugitivity? What memories were they able remember and document? This panel will discuss such questions by examining the production of Kurdish and Palestinian militant visual archives and memories; and the politics of their creation, presence, disappearance, and absence. Much of the scholarly literature on archives across disciplines, including Middle Eastern Studies focuses on the colonial archive, the limitations of state archives and their methodological implications, archives as sites of dispute, and the destruction of archives (Shakry). The papers on this panel depart from this dominant scholarly literature on colonial and state archives, and instead focuses on archives produced by revolutionaries – memoires, films, photographs. Reading Kurdish women’s memories and an analysis of photographs of Kurdish Communists provides pedagogical insights on unknown stories and histories from below. Tracing the archival movement of Palestinian visual archives across time and space challenges well-known narratives of the Israeli settler state as the sole captor of Palestinian archives. While the Israeli settler state has and continues to enact archival destruction, captivity, censorship, and silencing; Palestinian political factions have also participated in archival violence and are complicit in censoring the visual archives of revolution, particularly in the post-Oslo period. In examining revolutionary archives and their trails, presence and absence, the papers on this panel tell unknown stories of archival ruin, displacement, neglect, creation, preservation and memorialization. Contributing to a growing body of transnational feminist scholarship, the papers on this panel illuminate how examining archives of revolution, their presence and absence, are part of memorialization practices and remembrance of colonial, imperial, militarized and state violence.
Art/Art History
  • Drawing from oral history interviews this paper will tell the story of Palestinian visual archives, specifically the archives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and their whereabouts in the post-Oslo period following the PLO’s departure from Tunisia in the 1990s. The paper also briefly narrates the story of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) in the West Bank and Gaza and the challenges it encountered in preserving its visual archive. The paper argues that the displacement, loss, and seizure of Palestinian visual archives did not result from the perceived threat they posed to Zionism alone. Instead that the politics surrounding archives are imbricated in the broader social relations of settler colonialism, neoliberalism, and the neoliberal agendas that bourgeois national interests have produced in Palestine, as well as in the ideological differences between Palestinian political factions. The paper situates the neglect of the Palestinian liberation archives within the political economy of the post-Oslo period and shifting class formation, and the implication this have for preserving histories of the Palestinian revolution. The paper also discusses the Israeli settler states seizure, destruction, and/ or sequestration of Palestinian archival materials as part of its settler-colonial logic of eliminating Palestinian life, culture, history, and memory. Nevertheless, despite archival violence, individuals and civil society organizations are enacting a politics of reclamation to trace, preserve, claim, and repatriate Palestinian revolutionary archives (individual and collective), including visual archives, effectively practising a form of counter-archiving.
  • This paper will touch upon the making of a militant archive that documents the Kurdish struggles in Iran in 1979-90. The history of Faithi Setar’s visual archive and its rich content introduces us to lived experiences of state violence and resistance within the frame of the Komala (communist) Party of Iranian Kurdistan. It is also a place for understanding and exploring the relationship and tensions between individual and collective memories, written and visual histories, paper and digital documentation processes, and archiving as a practice of resistance. The presentation of Faithi Setar’s archive allows to question further the notion of "archival activism" and examine the making of transnational counter-archives of violence.
  • Kurdish women of Iran (Rojhelat) are retelling their stories of harm, suffering, defiance, love, and hope through the literary genre of memoirs, which is a unique and emergent phenomenon. They write about their relations to family, to their Kurdish land and to nationalism, and to the very fabric of their conception of reality, identity, culture, language, and politics. The memoirs are complex textual histories in which personal and political struggles are woven together. Thus, they compose a collective autobiographical remembering and witnessing. In this paper, I read and think through seven differing women’s memoirs to put together overburdened lives of women. In this process, I will not be an unresponsive and spectral reader. I will trace my personal, political, and intellectual encounters with the lives and struggles of Kurdish women to figure out how to think about everyday women’s lives in the past and how to uncover absences to comprehend the present. The seven memoirs examined in this paper constitute diaspora literature, and they are all banned in Iran. Indeed, the very subject of “Kurdish women” is among the censored topics in publications in Iran. One author writes in Kurdish, four of the authors write in Persian, and only two write in English with the help of a native-speaker writer. Historically, they primarily cover the 1960s up until the 1979 Revolution and then the 1980s onward, when the suppression by the Islamic State of the Kurds began--hence their displacement and eventual exile around the world. Powerful and captivating images are included in these memoirs as well as a list of almost all women “martyrs”; those who were killed in wars or executed by the Islamic State. The books are mostly published in Europe and are written after decades of experiencing an exilic life, therefore some of the texts carry cultural and political traces of the “hostland.” Three authors depict an intricate dynamic of social life within family and schools, gender relations, and the sense of national belonging