Beyond the al-Anfāl in post-Baʿth Kurdistan: On the Force of Memory in the Pursuit of Justice

The al-Anfâl operations as acts of systematic violence of the Iraqi Baʿthi state against the Kurdish rural civilian population as well as organized political opposition groups stand at the heart of the study. The name “al-Anfâl” (literally, the spoils) is taken from the Qurʿan (chapter/Sûrah 8). The study is the first systematic anthropological analysis of the al-Anfâl operations, and the claims of memory and justice put forth by survivors and relatives of the victims in the post-Baʿth Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The study challenges the historiography of the al-Anfâl, which is often only defined as “conventional military operations and chemical attacks carried out between 23rd February until 6th September 1988.” The al-Anfâl is also interpreted as responsible for killing an estimated “182,000,” women, children and men, destruction of “4500” villages, as well as the displacement and the resettlement of 1.5 million Kurds from rural areas. In its verdict of the al-Anfâl trials, released in 2007, the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad recognizes the al-Anfâl as acts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

How best to come to terms with the memories and the spectacular violence of injustice inflicted during these acts of exterminatory violence has become a matter of concern for survivors and relatives of the victims, the Ministry of Martyrs and Anfâl Affairs, non-governmental organizations, and transnational activists in post-Baʿth Kurdistan Region. While the Ministry and local and translational activists are repeating a narrative that remembers and produces the al-Anfâl as a collective memory, i.e. crimes committed against the Kurdish nation and homeland, and actively pursuing international recognition of the al-Anfâl as genocide, survivors and relatives of the victims insist on and repeat their own multiple memories of loss and displacement and at same time claim legal, moral, and divine justice. As the political narrative/promise homogenizes and writes the al-Anfâl as a finished and complete history, and repeats it forward as a way forgetting, the memory of survivors’ repeats the al-Anfâl as incalculable, inexplicable, and heterogeneous, resisting closure and projects itself towards another always-evolving future.

The research examines the repetition/translation of memory of the al-Anfâl and its inexorable bond with justice in the post-Baʿth Kurdistan. As the first interdisciplinary study it explores the ways in which survivors and relatives of the victims, the Kurdistan Regional Government, civil and political activists are engaged in the processes of repetition/translation that alters memory as well as entwines it with justice, including reparations in proportion to the harm endured during and in the aftermath of the al-Anfâl. It discusses how audio/visual, mournful music and songs, theatrical staging, and verbal repetition (i.e. annual remembrance days) multiply, make visible, and communicable memory of the al-Anfâl. In addition, it focuses on how these acts of repetition marginalize survivors; in particular, women, transform them into clients, subjected to economic policy of politics of membership of political parties in the region, and produce or write the al-Anfâl as “infinitely public.”

Survivors and relative of the victims invoke memory as a responsibility marked with and not thinkable without justice. The research thus engages with how this memory enters other domains where it is repeated and multiplied independent of survivors. The repeated memory, however, obligates the newly configured Federal Iraqi State and, in particular, the Kurdistan Regional Government to assume accountability and responsibility for the crimes committed by the previous regime. Therefore memory tinged with responsibility and justice, as an evolving future order, confronts the past order of exterminatory acts of violence of the Iraqi Baʿthi as well as the desired future order of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Thus, the study is concerned with the diverse ways in which the al-Anfâl/genocide is repeated or translated. It raises questions such as: Whose genocide is the al-Anfâl? In what ways is the al-Anfâl enunciated and remembered? What and who (female/male) is remembered? How is the memory of the al-Anfâl repeated? Who (male/female) is allowed to speak about it? To what end and to whom do they speak? Finally, the research examines how memory of the al-Anfâl is displaced and exhausted in the region, and yet how it continues to harbor responsibility and remains the only force in the pursuit of justice.

Go to Editor View