Contested Narratives: A Genesis of State Violence in Post-Revolutionary Iran (1979-1988)
Chowra Makaremi, Anthropology, Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Enjeux Sociaux (IRIS)
Research Grant, 2013
The study explores dynamics of violence in Iran in relation to state formation after the 1979 revolution. It focuses on episodes of large-scale collective violence against political opponents and mass executions from 1981 to 1988. What happened between 1981 and 1988 in Iranian society while the country was undergoing a long-lasting war with Iraq? How can we approach these events, excluded from the hegemonic historical narratives of the revolution and the Islamic state? How does this genealogy help us understand today’s issues of secrecy and state violence in Iran?
In answering these questions, the study is driven by four main concerns. First, to look at how state apparatuses emerged within an everyday practice of control over society and through overlapping legal, para-legal, and extra-judicial processes. Second, to understand and show how experiences of violence weave into patterns of everyday life. Third, to analyze how memories are transmitted from exiles back to Iranian society, from one generation to the next, whether publicly or as family secrets. These observations lead to examining, lastly, how counter-narratives about state violence persist in different forms of memorialization, solidify through legal claims for truth and justice, and shape collective identities.
Through giving voice to feelings and experiences suppressed for decades, the project elucidates the genesis of state violence in Iran and explores the political subjectivities it has shaped.
These issues are explored in book chapters and a scientific article: “Héritages et Déni de la Violence d’Etat en Iran: Les Tracés du Pouvoir,” “Violence Partout, Justice Nulle Part!,” Monde Commun, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France (2018); “Death Politics and the Economy of Silence in Iran,” in Anstett E. and Dreyfus J.-M., eds., Destruction and Human Remains. Disposal and Concealment in Genocide and Mass Violence, Manchester University Press, 2014, p.183- 204; “’That Buried Secret of Ours!’: Memories of Violence in Post-Revolution Iran,” Allegra Lab, Thematic Threads, Juillet 2015; “États d’Urgence Ethnographiques: Approches Empiriques de la Violence Politique,” Cultures & Conflits 103-104, Winter 2016, pp. 15-34.
Articles and broadcasts aimed at a wider audience include a number of contributions at openDemocracy.net, “Mass Executions in Iran” (BBC radio broadcast on the program “Witness,” 24 August 2015), and a feature-length documentary movie scheduled for release in Fall 2018, for the 30th anniversary of the 1988 prison massacres.
Through giving voice to feelings and experiences suppressed for decades, the project elucidates the genesis of state violence in Iran and explores the political subjectivities it has shaped. Although considerable archival research and ethnographic interviews could be carried out thanks to the HFG grant, the study opened a site of research where much remains to be done. There is almost no empirical or historical scholarship to rely on, and academic knowledge on this disputed past is still to be built. This is why the HFG grant opened the path to a larger research project of digital counter-archives of violence, submitted to the European Research Council in October 2017.