TAARII Resident Director Participates in Oral History Workshop in Tunisia

In May 2014, TAARII’s Resident Director, Lucine Taminian, who oversees TAARII’s Iraqi Oral History Project, participated in the Memory and Action Workshop in Tunisia organized by the Coalition of Sites of Conscience. The Coalition is a global network of more than 185 institutions, including museums and memorial sites (old prisons, mass killing sites, sites of torture, etc.), which promotes the use of oral history to connect memory to action. The workshop was organized in partnership with the Tunisian Site of Conscience, the Association for Justice and Rehabilitation, and the Mediterranean Forum for Memory. It was attended by representatives of non-governmental organizations from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and South East Asia. Doudou Diene, from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Ereshnee Naidu, from the Coalition, also attended the workshop. Shirley Gunn, the executive director of Human Rights Media Center, South Africa, led the workshop sessions on oral history.

The opening session of the Memory and Action workshop in Tunisia, headed by the Tunisian Minster of Transitional Justice (second from right). Seen to his left are Doudou Diene from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ereshnee Naidu from the Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and Shirley Gunn, executive director of Human Rights Media Center, South Africa.

The first two days of the workshop were devoted to discussing the need to document memory in conflict and post-conflict situations, the ethics of documentation, and ways to move from documentation to action. Participants hotly debated the following issues: whose memory should be documented, the selective and changing nature of memory, and the possibility of falsifying/neutralizing memory. Participants agreed that individuals are affected by their surroundings; thus, what is remembered changes through time and space, and what is considered a violation today may not be seen as such in the future. They noted that the media turn memory into a spectacle, such as cowboy movies, and reduce it to the bare bones. Participants also asked: In the process of moving from memory to action, and in turning individual narratives, which usually do not fit together, into collective memory, whose narratives prevail, and whose are overshadowed?

Workshop participants listen to the presentation of Doudou Diene (at center table, second from left) on oral history and human rights.

In the second part of the workshop, the participants presented their own activities, which use memory to change people’s consciousness. Projects included the Cambodian Youth for Peace Initiative, a community memory-based initiative that transformed the mass killing sites into centers for remembering and dialogue, where youth collect stories of elders and use the narratives to initiate dialogue. Another project, the Tea Plantation Workers Museum in Sri Lanka, uses oral history to enlighten the wider community about the lives of tea plantation workers, many of whom were migrant laborers from Tamil-speaking India. In addition, UMAM Documentation & Research of Lebanon collects, preserves, and publicly promotes narratives on the Lebanese civil war (1975–1990). Participants were interested in TAARII’s Iraqi Oral History Project and the guide that it produced with Columbia Center for Oral History Research.

Participants presented the activities of their centers during the second half of the Memory and Action workshop in Tunisia.

Participants of the Memory and Action workshop visited downtown Tunis, the site of the demonstrations during the “Tunisian Spring.”

Workshop participants visited the headquarters of the previous ruling party, the basement of which was used as a prison. It is now a center for human rights. Shown here are Ereshnee Naidu (right), from the Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and Shirley Gunn (left), from the Human Rights Media Center in South Africa.