The third workshop of the “Off-Site” ERC project was held on 23-26 March 2022.
It dealt with the questions of “The Iranian Revolution and its aftermath”.
With: Kamran Matin, Shahrzad Mojab, Kaveh Ehsani, Nasser Mohajer, Naghmeh Sohrabi, Orkideh Behrouzan, Shokoufeh Sakhi, Bahar Majdzadeh, Omid Montazeri, Marie Ladier-Fouladi, Fatemeh Masjedi, Arang Keshavarzian, Ahmad Moradi, Yasmin Nadir, Natalia Pashkeeva, Chowra Makaremi, Shahla Talebi, Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, Norma Claire Moruzzi – See full abstracts below.
Ever since the revolution of 1979, researchers have grappled with the complexities of state and nation formation in Iran. Much academic attention has sought to unpack the dynamics and processes through which the Islamic Republic established and sustained itself in power in the context of political turmoil and war, both internal and external, severely repressing cultural diversity, social pluralism and political dissent. Violence has been elemental to this process and has featured prominently in the existing scholarship on the study of hegemonic formation of the nation-state in the country, particularly (but not only) under the formative years of Ayatollah Khomeini’s leadership (1979-1988). The Islamic Republic continues to consolidate and reproduce itself in and through violence exercised politically, culturally and discursively.
Critically drawing on the existing theoretical and empirical research, OFF-SITE – a project funded by the European Research Council – focuses on the memory politics related to Iran’s violent and contested past in order to resist the limited and often distorted official history by presenting emerging counternarratives of violence. In so doing, the project seeks to challenge the strict information and knowledge boundaries imposed by the Islamic Republic inside Iran. It looks into State violence as it has formed the Islamic Republic and relationally constructed subjectivities, influenced everyday experiences and shaped collective and individual memories, all of which impact on the modalities and possibilities of political-civic participation today.
To initiate and expand the dialogue between researchers on Iran and comparative contexts, we would like to invite you to a three-days workshop in Paris, France, hosted by the centre nationale de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) from the 23rd to 25th March 2022. We welcome your theoretical and/or empirical paper contributions to help us answer questions linked to the history of hegemonic State formation, in and through political violence. This closed workshop aims to explore inter-related thematic areas such as contested chronologies of political violence, collective trauma and memory, nation and state building, and political-civic participation in the context of a violent past. Through your contribution, we want to explore such questions as:
- What are the trajectories, origins and mechanisms – as well as forms and expressions – of political violence in Iran post the Revolution of 1979?
- How did political violence in the formative years of the Islamic Republic influence the possibilities as well as modalities of political-civic participation in Iran at the time and in the years that followed, up until today?
Methodologically, we consider these questions to be situated in the history that preceded the revolution, and the political violence in its aftermath as linked to the wider socio-political and economic climate of the time nationally and internationally. While the OFF-SITE project primarily engages with the fields of anthropology and historical anthropology, it employs an inter-disciplinary approach to the study.
Chowra Makaremi, CNRS (Iris) Paris
The Islamic Republic of Virtue: The Jacobin Origins of Khomeini’s Reign of Terror
Kamran Matin, University of Sussex, Senior Lecturer (International Relations)
This paper is a tentative attempt at an international historical materialist account of state violence in post-revolutionary Iran. It argues that the immense violence accompanying state-formation in post-revolutionary Iran had its origins in a set of structural contradictions that were broadly similar to those that animated the reign of terror of the French Jacobins’ ‘republic of virtue’. In broadest terms, these contradictions were generated by (i) the recognition of private property and universal equality; (ii) the practice of direct democracy and parliamentary politics; (iii) the construction of a unitary nation from a culturally diverse population. Like their Jacobin forebears, Khomeini and his followers could not negotiate these contradictions within their Weltanschauung and hence resorted to systematic violence as the only possible foundation for an impossible republic of virtue. The totality of this contradictory and unstable constellation was the product of wider processes of uneven and combined development central to which is the conjunctural coplacement of divergent temporalities or what Ernst Bloch called ‘the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous’. This circumstance, the paper concludes, lies at the heart of the systemic violence and periodic upheaval throughout the life of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Kamran Matin is an Associate Professor of International Relations in School of Global Studies, University of Sussex and a co-founder and co-director of Sussex Uneven and Combined Development Working Group. Kamran is also an advisor to OFF-Site. He has numerous publications including his monograph Recasting Iranian Modernity: International Relations and Social Change in 2013.
Interrupted Continuities: Oppositional Knowledge Production
Shahrzad Mojab, University of Toronto, Professor, Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education
Purged as an Iranian scholar/activist and forced into exile in the 1980s, instigated a lifelong process in my personal and intellectual life that I identify as interrupted continuities. The process began with a renewed mode of state surveillance, suppression of ideas, and the eradication of academic freedom. The defeat of the 1979 Revolution with the coming into power of the Islamic regime was an interruption in the nascent revolutionary knowledge production. Thousands of faculty members, students and staff were purged from universities, a large number were imprisoned or executed, a mass exodus of intellectuals ensued, and the state inaugurated the “Islamic Cultural Revolution” for higher education. Since the early 1980s, the condition of interruption has persisted in a complex way of continuities in state surveillance, academic gatekeeping, and restricting access to funding, field-based research and primary sources. In short, the state has continuously interrupted the possibility of creating dynamic forms of radical oppositional knowledge.
This paper is based on more than three decades of my academic activism in exile, and focuses on state and university relations in the context of the “Islamic Cultural Revolution.” The paper is a politicized personal narrative of encountering the epistemic violence of the state. Key questions to be addressed in this paper are: 1) how to historicize the past experiences in order to make sense of contemporary experiences of suppression of knowledge, academic freedom, and free expression? 2) what theoretical and methodological tools do we need to renew our earlier analysis following the coming into power of the Islamic state? In other words, this paper is an interrogation of my research analysis of the “Islamic Cultural Revolution” when it was first published in early 1990s, and seek to revisit the factual and chronological explanations of the event in light of the persistence conflictual and contradictory state-university relations.
Shahrzad Mojab is a scholar, teacher, and activist, and is internationally known for her work on the impact of war, displacement, and violence on women’s learning and education; gender, state, migration and diaspora; Marxist feminism and anti-racism pedagogy. She is professor of Adult Education and Community Development and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. She is the recipient of the Royal Society of Canada Award in Gender Studies in 2010. She is the editor of a newly initiated book series by Peter Lang Publishing called, Kurdish People, History, and Politics.
The Violence of Development & State Consolidation- Khuzestan as a Case Study
Kaveh Ehsani, DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Associate Professor · International Studies, Islamic World Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies
The Iranian province of Khuzestan has been the epicenter of modernization projects and significant national events since the turn of the 20th century. A seemingly endless stream of oil extraction and affiliated industries, major agribusinesses, large dams and irrigation works, industrial projects, ports, roads, railroads, urbanization schemes, etc. have been conceptualized and implemented by successive political regimes- both the Pahlavis and the Islamic Republic- in this border region as strategies of modernizing the nation and its populations. These modernization schemes have transformed the geography, ecology, and social fabric of this region, dispossessing and dismantling pastoral, tribal, urban and rural communities and forging new social formations, imaginaries, and identities in the process. Khuzestan has also been the epicenter of political upheavals of great significance, from the protracted struggles over the oil industry and its nationalization, repression of the tribes, the land reforms of the 1960s , the 1979 Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and the highly contested state-led efforts for the post-war reconstruction. As a result of these interventions & upheavals, Khuzestan has also become the epicenter of new social movements of the subaltern- militant urban and industrial labor movements, restive ethno-separatism, and the more recent waves of militant social protests of the poor against inequality and environmental degradation.
This paper will present a comparative, and critical analysis of this history of contested and coercive modernization schemes, conceptualized and implemented by successive political regimes- both the Monarchy and the Islamic republic- always with the promise of delivering a golden age of modernity and national (whether Islamic or secular) grandeur. Their scale and complexity came to symbolize the state’s will to overcome a perceived local backwardness and/or dubious political loyalty, and to act as a rapid pathway to prosperity, national independence, and a deserved high status among advanced nations. At inception, all these spectacular projects were highly contested. They stretched public and social resources to the limit and had significant adverse consequences for local communities and environments. Their implementations were often violent and predicated on the dispossession of populations and commons. Virtually none have performed as promised, economically, but they continued to be upheld as models. The paper deconstructs the genealogy of these development projects, various institutional actors who championed them, and how they were conceptualized and implemented under successive political regimes. It documents the resistance, rivalries, and obstacles that these projects faced, and evaluates their economic, social, spatial, and environmental consequences and the extent to which they accomplished their lofty initial promises. It concludes that these projects embody the discursive and material power struggles and alliances among rival factions of technical experts and political actors, rather than accomplish the miraculous pathway to a promised modernity that was promised at their inception.
Kaveh Ehsani is associate professor of International Studies at DePaul University in Chicago. He has worked as a regional planner at the World Bank, UNDP, Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Policy Studies. As a development planner in Iran he has worked on water resources planning, drought, urban governance, and post-war reconstruction in Khuzestan. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP); and a contributing editor of the journals Goftogu (Dialogue, based in Tehran), Middle East Report, and Iranian Studies. His most recent books include Social History of Oil in Iran (in Persian, 2019); Working for Oil: Comparative Social Histories of Labor in the Global Oil Industry” (2018, co-edited with Touraj Atabaki & Elisabetta Bini).
Is Political Violence an Emotion?
Naghmeh Sohrabi, Brandeis University, Charles (Corky) Goodman Chair in Middle East History
There are many disconnects between visual documentations of the 1979 revolutionary movement in Iran and its post-revolutionary explanations/narratives. One disjuncture explored in this talk is that of the emotions that were expressed and captured in the fall of 1978 and winter of 1979. While picture after picture show individuals and groups in states of joy and euphoria, the narrative jumps from violent event to violent event: Cinema Rex, Jaleh Square, strikes, burning tires, and overturned cars. This paper explores the historiographical work of violence in the scholarship of the Iranian revolution. Specifically, it argues that the primacy of violent moments/events such as the Jaleh massacre and Cinema Rex, among other violence-inflected threads in revolutionary historiography have worked to elevate the persistence of certain emotions in our retelling of the revolution and masking/erasing others that are equally present in revolutionary archives. The overall effect of this masking is two-fold: First, it limits the range of revolutionary emotions and experiences articulated by scholars to that of fear, disappointment, regret, and naivete when a vast range of archival documents and personal narratives also include immense feelings of joy, liberation, love, and empowerment. This limiting of revolutionary emotions is directly linked to the limitations of the historiography of 1979 in terms of both content (the kinds of stories we seek and tell) and form (how we understand and retell the lead up to the revolution and the revolution itself). Second, and relatedly, it severs the historical links between the revolutionary period and “the Spring of Freedom,” i.e. the months between the revolution itself and the power struggle between revolutionary forces that led to censorship, boycotts, and eventually violence.
Naghmeh Sohrabi is the Charles (Corky) Goodman Professor of Middle East History and the Director for Research at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies.She is currently writing her second book on the experience of the 1979 revolutionary generation in Iran, tentatively titled The Intimate Lives of a Revolution: Iran 1979. She is currently the president of the Association for Iranian Studies.
Imprisonment, Tavabization, Political Subjectivity
Shokoufeh Sakhi, York University, Toronto, Ph.D. Independent scholar
Tavabization, i.e., indoctrination within Islamic doctrine, represents the Islamic state of Iran’s attempt at creating new political subjectivities during the first decade after the revolution. The objectives of tavabization goes beyond banishing dissidents from the society, extracting information, setting examples or exacting retribution. In the process of tavabization physical and psychological violence is used to break and reduce a prisoner’s subjectivity to that which is concerned for its own continued physical existence. I call this new subject a survival-ego with a survivalist-subjectivity. From this reduced subjectivity, one exists as the institution’s object, its ‘thing’. In other words, tavabization, consists of elaborate, continuous and systematic attempts to eradicate the prisoner’s sociality by confining her to her body, while offering her the system’s meanings and values. Depending on the dialectic of the effects of violence and internalization of the offered value system, the new subjectivity falls somewhere and moves on a spectrum from a full identification with the system to a pragmatist historical denial and escapism.
Shokoufeh Sakhi is an independent scholar and researcher and is currently a member of the Pathologies of Solitude research network, a project hosted at Queen Mary University, London. She has a doctorate in political science from York University, with a specialization in political theory and phenomenology of ethics. Shokoufeh Sakhi is the author of “Prison and the subject of resistance: A Levinasian inquiry” in the book Death and Other Penalties: Philosophy in the Time of Mass Incarceration (2015). She researches imprisonment and the self, the sociality of the isolated subject and the politics of memory.
Missing images of the 1980s political repression of Iran
Bahar Majdzadeh, Aix-Marseille (Inspé) University, Artist-Researcher
The Islamic Republic who drew its ideology from an iconoclastic religion, set up however, in the 1980s, a tremendous image generation system. Thus, image has become one of the pillars of the new Islamic regime, and the control of the images has been one of the tools of the historical memory construction. The « over-visibility » of these images leads to wonder about what, on the contrary, remains invisible. Indeed, beside this image generation machine the I.R.I created an absolute image deficiency ; a singular strategy has been used to result in an almost total absence of image of the political crimes committed by the Islamic Regime during the 1980s. « Missing image » would be the most appropriate term in reference to the political destruction that occured in Iran throughout this decade. However, in the newspaper’s archives of the exiled political parties, there are images from which one could see emerge the missing image. The importance of these « substitute» images doesn’t lie exclusively in their historic nature or in their aesthetic quality, but in the way they are interpreted or, one might say, read, in the context of this destruction. These photographic images which do not allow to construct a detailed historical narrative, can be called, adopting a Benjaminian approach, a « dialectical image ». My paper focuses on the analysis of the few pictures taken in July 29th 1988, in Khavaran, of the last episode of the 1980s politicide, which is the massacre of the political prisonners. The aim is to know how to read them, understand their language and use the opportunities for reflection that they offer. The reading, that can be described as alternative, of this reproducible trace, that is the photo (as object of thought), takes on a form of criticism towards the offical history of this decade and refers inevitably to the issue of violence.
Bahar Majdzadeh is an artist-researcher. After finishing a thesis in Arts (practice based-research) in 2019 at Panthéon-Sorbonne University, she is now a Temporary Lecturer and Research Assistant (ATER) at Aix-Marseille University. Her recent projects which include both practice and theory, focuse the public spaces when it comes to mass violence and the presence of the Other. Through these two subjects, she is particularly interested in the political organisation of urban space and the impact of the memory of marginal groups in history. In her interdisciplinary approach, the analysis of photographic image has a significant place, as it is often the starting point of her theoretical reflections. Her sphere of artistic practice includes photography, sculpture and cartography.
Khat-e Ghermez: Tracing Power and the Micro-History of Violence
Chowra Makaremi, CNRS, Tenured Research Scholar
Studying the history of state violence after the Iranian revolution confronts us with many boundaries of power and knowledge that are conveyed in the popular, complex yet taken-for-granted expression of “red line” (khat-e ghermez).
Scholars have learned to “navigate the red lines”. But the changing conditions of possibility of empirical research (evolving political context, global pandemia, new technologies of documentation and information) brings us to a question: is it possible, rather than navigating the red lines, to free ourselves from them, by relying on the critical power of knowledge? The first step of this approach is to take these borders themselves as a subject of inquiry, through reflexive and epistemic analyses that question how khat-e ghermez are established: by what processes are they recognized, acknowledged, learned, interiorized, subverted? In this questioning, the genealogy of post-revolution state violence (the history of political repression, terror, and civilian massacres) is both a case-study –a sensitive red line — but also the very mechanism by which this relationship between society and the state has been instituted.
Using auto-ethnography and visual research, this paper proposes an “off-site” investigation of the destruction of political graves and mass-graves in the last decade, drawing the outline of an archeology of violence – both literally and figuratively. The history of urban renovation and site destruction shows the relationship between violence and justice in light of denial, understood as a micro-politics of power. I argue that excluding certain citizens – through death, exile, erasure of traces – not only forges a national community purified of dissident expression, but it reconfigures, and constantly renews, the rules of political participation, and the boundaries of dissent and belonging.
Chowra Makaremi is a writer, director and anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris. She has conducted fieldwork and coordinated several research collectives on border control in Europe. She is working on post-revolution violence in Iran and leading the ERC research program “Off-Site” on this subject. She published Aziz’s Notebook at the Iranian revolution (Gallimard, 2011) and with Hannah Darabi Enghelab Street. A revolution through books 1979-83 (Le Bal/Spector, 2019). She directed the documentary movie Hitch. An Iranian Story (2019, Alter Ego, France, 78 min.).
The three insurrectional days that nearly changed the destiny of the Revolution
Marie Ladier-Fouladi, CNRS – EHESS (CETOBaC), Tenured Research Scholar
On 9 February 1979, the Imperial Guard stormed the Air Force base to punish the units that had pledged allegiance to Khomeini the day before. To defend themselves, the latter left their barracks and took up positions in the eastern districts of Tehran with the help of local population. The Fedayeen and the Mojahedin immediately joined them. Armed insurrection broke out. During the next two days, the arms depots were stormed and the population seized the strategic centers of the city. Khomeini and officials fearful that the Fedayeen and the Mojahedin might find themselves at the head of the revolutionary movement, immediately dispatched emissaries to the military staff to find compromise to end the fighting. In the late afternoon of February 11, the Army declared its neutrality. From then on, Khomeini took over the political hand and proclaimed by a radio message the victory of the “Islamic revolution” and asked the people to stop fighting, to give up arms and to ensure that “the arms do not fall into the hands of enemies of Islam ”.
The main purpose of this article is to emphasize the crucial importance of these three insurrectional days which consequences have had a profound impact on the balance of power that would be established after the overthrow of the monarchy between the Islamist leaders and left and secular revolutionary forces.
Marie Ladier-Fouladi is Senior Researcher at the (CNRS)/CETOBaC (Centre for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan and Central Asian studies) and professor of Political sociology and Population studies at the EHESS. Her research investigates the relationship between demographic changes and socio-political transformations, especially relying on the case of Iran. This approach consists in analyzing demographic phenomena by putting them in relation to their context, in the historical, social, economic, and political perspective. Her current research focusses on the process of radicalization of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She recently published The Islamic Republic from the Inside (Croquant, 2020).
Cultural Revolution a path to formation of post-revolutionary Iran of 1979
Fatemeh Masjedi, Marc Bloch Institute, Research Associate
The Iranian revolution of 1979 formed through many stages to consolidate the state and its existence. The Cultural Revolution committee established at the early outset of the revolution. In fact, contentious politics of the Islamic establishment had been drawn subtly to create its assembly of social network to create illusionary, determined, politically motived actors. In order to do this, there was a massive murdering of counter revolutionaries of leftist faculties in major cities such the city of Ahvaz at University of Jondishapour, University of Tehran, University of Shiraz, University of Kirman and many more faculties. The dynamic of state formation was not only murdering elite individuals and potential or influential actors but also the replacement of new Islamic ideologues faculties, to make its own state with new human resources. The topic of Cultural Revolution in art and Islamic ideological influences have been studied to some extent in the Iranian scholarship. This investigation can shed light on different localized, as well as national, stages of the Cultural Revolution, the processes through which it was implemented in this particular case, the local and national agents involved, the range of people targeted, the overall objectives, and the changes implemented (also paying attention to such factors as gender, spectrum of political ideologies, etc.)The policy of forming the new Islamic state can be traced as followed: Who were the individuals removed from the universities? What disciplines? What are the political position of individuals/ their political parties? What was the significance of the geo-politics of their universities? How was the process of violence? In this investigation many of the newspapers’ archival collections provided by organisation of Justice for Iran. Besides conducting interviews of individuals of multiple groups who were faculties of the universities during the time and were violated because of the new violent political transition.
Fatemeh Masjedi began her doctoral project on “Tabriz between imperial violence and socio-political struggles in the city 1905-1918“. It was part of broader Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin (ZMO) project in cooperation with the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (SOAS) on “Urban Violence in Middle East”. She received a short fellowship at the Institute of Social History in Amsterdam in 2018, she developed a project on “The Transnational Dimension Of A German Factory: Persische Teppich Gesellschaft (Petag) In Early Twentieth Century Iran”. She is completing her Phd at the University of Gottiengen. She is a research fellow at Marc Bloch institute at the moment.
Violence and the Crisis of Representation in Post-Revolutionary Iran
Arang Keshavarzian, New York University, Associate Professor and Department Chair
Deploying violence is costly and can easily generate opposition instead of suffocating dissent. Since the repression and political unraveling of the Green Movement the diagnoses of the survival or impending demise of the Islamic Republic have pivoted on the question of violence. One line of analysis has traced increasing levels of state violence against more regularized bouts of street protests as reflecting an inherent characteristic of the regime and emblematic of the futility of reformism. For others the use of mass and indiscriminate coercion by security forces against citizens, especially segments of society believed to be the social base of the regime, is an indicator of impending collapse. Another approach focuses on the use of violence by protestors to suggest that it is counter-productive because it inhibits the forging of a cross-class coalition and inadvertently legitimates the state’s brutal response. In all of these interpretations the claim is that use of violence by the Islamic Republic or its critics reveals something about the relative strength or weakness of the regime or opposition. These approaches focus on consequences of violence and treat it as something that is wielded by self-contained actors, abstracted as the regime and the opposition or the people.
This paper shifts the terms of debate by treating violence as something integral to the structure of the postrevolutionary polity. By polity I mean the structured relationships between rulers and the ruled that render state and society as interdependent and interpenetrating. These negotiated relationships constitute Iran as a single contested polity, rather than a binary of the people versus the regime or a state detached from its society. From this vantage point the question of violence can be read as situated in relationship to other levers of political bargaining and representation, instead of operating in isolation of elections, legal petitions, unionization efforts, welfare provision, and the state bureaucracy. The challenge therefore is not to decipher if these protests are subversive enough to bring down the Islamic Republic, but to trace how they are an effect of much deeper changes occurring in Iran that have restructured governance. Rather than approach mass public protests and their suppression as “reflecting” or “revealing” the true nature of state or revolutionary potential of society, I conceive of recent forms of violence as a “responses” to deeper aspects of a specific crisis of representation. This is a crisis born out of the conundrum of rulers seeking to build control despite foundational features of Iran’s polity as well as incremental changes to the polity.o
Arang Keshavarzian is associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. He is the author of _Bazaar and State in Iran_ as well as several essays in academic journals and edited volumes on such topics as ulama-state relations, political economy of commerce and urbanism, and factionalism and contestation in post-revolutionary Iran. His most recent publication is a 2021 co-edited volume by Cambridge University Press titled -Global 1979: Geographies and Histories of the Iranian Revolution; this is co-edited with Ali Mirsepassi. Keshavarzian is currently completing a book on region-making in and out of the Persian Gulf in the past two centuries. He has been on the editorial committee for MERIP or Middle East Report at various junctures in the past two decades.
Mobilising Archives, Mobilising Militants: Afghan Foreign Fighters in Iran and the Landscape of Ambiguity
Ahmad Moradi, Postdoctoral Research Associate, CEMS / EHESS
Drawing on fieldwork conducted in 2014–2015, this paper explores the attempts of an Iranian pro-regime cultural institute, the Research Office of the Islamic Revolution Cultural Front, to establish an oral history project with Afghan ex-combatants of the Iran–Iraq war (1980-1988). I discuss the creation of this oral project against the backdrop of another war—the one against the destructive forces of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). In this war, Haram Defenders (mudāfiʿān haram), an Iran-backed militia, was dispatched to Syria and Iraq comprised of Iranian and foreign fighters. The oral project unfolded temporally between the Islamic Republic’s public refusal of Haram Defenders and the regime’s official recognition of these fighters. I take the transition from secrecy to publicity as my ethnographic and analytical point of departure to develop two interconnected arguments on hegemonic formations and contingency of political secrecy. First, I explain that in the initial phases, one of the primary purposes of the oral project was to excoriate authorities in failing to acknowledge the sacrifice of foreign fighters. These contestations prompt me to reconsider the nature of hegemonic constructions and allows me to offer critical interventions into what Michael Taussig calls ‘the strategic confusion of political violence’ (1997, 121). Second, I show how members of the oral project had to maintain and negotiate a delicate balance between secrecy and mobilisation; their endeavour to document and collect accounts of Afghan ex-combatants of the Iran–Iraq war in 1980s was intended to mobilise new Afghan militants in the war against ISIS, while the fighters’ presence in Syria and Iraq was kept secret. I argue that such negotiations were made possible in a ‘landscape of ambiguity’ in which the border between hegemonic and counter narratives of violence was blurred.
Ahmad Moradi’s research interests centre on questions of revolution, violence and care in Iran. His forthcoming book Labour of Domination explores the everyday life of revolutionary politics in urban poor neighbourhoods of Iran, with a focus on the paramilitary organisation of the Basij. Ahmad received his PhD from the University of Manchester in 2019. He has done a postdoc at EHESS/ CEMS, and is a visiting scholar at Freie Universität Berlin (2021—2023).
Building Ignorance by Disseminating “Evidence”: An Agnotological Outlook into the Digital Archives of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Natalia Pashkeeva, Postdoctoral Research Associate, ERC Off-Site, IRIS / CNRS-EHESS
Insofar as a revolution results in a radical and violent change in political organization and ideological framework of the State, the control of the collective historical memory becomes of strategic importance for the stability of the new political regime. This being the case of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, access to the Iranian archives remain under severe restrictions. The open-source data movement seems to have some impact on the Iranian government’s policy regarding the Revolution memorialization process. Since the beginning of 2000s, Iranian national heritage institutions, governmental bodies and private organizations backed by the government are engaged in the creation of digital historical collections. By doing so, they pretend to make widely open and easily accessible historical primary sources: witness testimonies, original archival documents, and press of the time. Nevertheless, in the field of academic research, the possibility of checking the authenticity of sources must take precedence over analytical work. Indeed, when subjected to closer scrutiny, these Web historical data presented in its raw state form a highly unreliable environment. To ensure effective quality control of these data in terms of traceability, reliability and integrity of data sources would be a long and hard slog.
Isolated original archival documents are put together with the so-called “digital-born data” produced by persons whose professional profile is not clear. Are they librarians, archivists, or historians? Archival references are not accurate or lack. Being removed from the original fonds d’archives or other original documentary environment, the isolated original historical sources put online represent an artificial assemblage of documents without regard to their provenance. Being brought together accordingly to a certain ideology, these online historical data touch the feelings constructing the history through the emotional and imaginative appeal of associated objects.
The aim of the OFF-SITE team is to produce a critical analysis of these digital historical collections as the sources for the history of the 1979 Revolution. Doing this from the point of view of the very concept of archives and “classic” archival practices, we are also investigating the prevailing narratives produced on the basis of these digital collections.
Historian and archivist, Natalia Pashkeeva had her master’s degree in New Technologies, History and Archives at the Ecole des Chartes (Paris) and her PhD in contemporary history at the EHESS (Paris). Natalia is interested in studying the information work led by the international organizations in societies governed by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in the 20th century. In the OFF-SITE project, she is working on the ‘counter-archives’ database.