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Landscapes of Violence: Memory and Sacred Space


International workshop, organized by Katharina Schramm

Location:   Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
                Advokatenweg 36
                06114 Halle (Saale)
Time:        9.30 am. - 6 pm.


Violence leaves traces. Be it habitually remembered or consciously evoked, it has profound effects on individual consciousness as well as collective identifications. Moreover, the memory of violence is not only embedded in bodies and minds, but it is also inscribed onto places and landscapes in all kinds of settings: cities, rural areas or 'natural' sites. This process of the identification of memory and place is not at all self-evident; it involves complex procedures of remembering, forgetting and producing of counter-memories, all of which are interlinked. Specific places and landscapes do not just act as memory-'containers' but they rather profoundly shape the way in which violence is experienced as well as remembered.

This one-day workshop aims at investigating a specific aspect of the relationship between violence, memory, body and landscape, namely the sacralisation of memorial space. Thereby, the sacred is not to be understood as an innate and unchanging quality inherent to certain objects or sites, but rather as potentiality, which may take different forms for different actors. Sacralisation, which in all its appearances can be regarded as an attempt to bring the past to a close, may also be contrasted by conscious efforts to keep the past 'alive', to address its complexities and the grey-zone (Levi) which characterises the space in-between unequivocal positions. The memory of violence often entails both positions. Our workshop is an attempt to grasp this dynamic relationship.

If landscape as the result of human agency is also characterised by the interplay between foreground actuality and background potentiality (Hirsch), sacralisation takes place on two levels. First, it concerns the violent past and its relationship with the present. On the one hand, in some religious contexts, past violence reverberates in the articulations and demands of ancestral and other spirits, which need to be constantly addressed by the living. On the other hand, sacralisation may also take place in more secular settings, namely through the explicit ascription of significance to the violent past. The victim, the martyr or the hero are figures through which such conversion of the inexplicable into the meaningful may occur. Secondly, the concept of sacralisation relates to concrete places. These may either unfold their (sacred) potentiality through their authentic appearance, as unintentional monuments, which often become spiritual abodes or pilgrimage destinations. They may also be specifically designed for commemorative purposes, as intentional monuments, which follow a spatial choreography that aims at the creation of a sacred centre.

In order to further elaborate on these dynamics, the workshop privileges a comparative and translocal perspective. Possible areas of enquiry include:

  • Violence and layered memories
  • The translation and transformation of commemorative models
  • Pilgrimage and commemoration
  • Landscape as memorial matrix
  • Contested pasts / contested spaces
  • Gendered landscapes

Contributors are invited to prepare a presentation of 20 min, which will be followed by a discussion period of another 20 min.

Travel expenses and accommodation will be covered by the GSAA. We expect that an edited volume will be published from the proceedings.


9.30 - 9.45
Welcome and Opening Remarks

Memorials (Chair: Michaela Schäuble)

9.45 - 10.30
Insa Eschebach: Soil, Ashes, and Monuments: Processes of Sacralisation at the Ravensbrück Former Concentration Camp

10.30 - 11.15
Tsypylma Darieva: Instead of Loss: Reshaping the Remembrance of a Violent Past in Armenia

11.15 - 11.30
Coffee Break

Public Spaces (Chair: Nicolas Argenti)

11.30 - 12.15
Ralph Buchenhorst: Ghosts Hovering Above the Water? About Representing the Disappeared of Argentina

12.15 - 13.00
Michaela Schäuble: How History Takes Place: Geographical and Sacralised Landscapes in the Croatian Bosnian Border Region

13.00 - 14.00
Lunch Break

Stories (Chair: Ralph Buchenhorst)

14.00 - 14.45
Nicolas Argenti: Out of the Mouths of Babes: Violence, Place and Storytelling in the Cameroonian Grassfields

14.45 - 15.30
Katharina Schramm: The Slaves of Pikworo: Local Histories, Transatlantic Perspectives

15.30 - 16.00
Coffee Break

Pilgrimages (Chair: Katharina Schramm)

16.00 - 16.45
Steffen Johannessen: Landscape of Absence: The Chagossian Pilgrimage to Their Homeland

15.45 - 17.30
Jackie Feldman: In the Footsteps of the Israeli and Palestinian Jesus: The Struggle for the Holy Land and the Performance of Contemporary Christian Pilgrimage

17.30 - 18.00
Final Discussion

Abstracts: Memorials

Insa Eschebach: Soil, Ashes, and Monuments - Processes of Sacralisation at the Ravensbrück Former Concentration Camp

For a long time, commemorative practices were (and sometimes still are) embedded in a semantic field characterised by terms such as "holy site", "sacred ground", "victim", "martyr", "pilgrimage" or "procession". In the context of my presentation, these terms are of interest first and foremost as expressions of self-definition and processes of meaning creation carried out by the respective groups and people in their particular historical context. I would like to propose the hypothesis that sacralisation is a cultural technique for creating sanctity used both by religious institutions and secular social and political groups of people as a specific form of dealing with historical events. Especially in the context of calamitous events like crises, wars, threats or death, processes of sacralisation provide a repertoire of behaviour and a vocabulary which in a sense keep these events in check and place them within a meaningful order seemingly legitimised by a higher power.
The development of memorials at the sites of former concentration camps can be analysed as a process of sacralisation. Initially, these places had been all but forgotten in post-war Germany. Marking them as hallowed ground created a cognitive matrix which made it possible to use them as destinations for pilgrimages or as "stations of the cross" and allowed political associations to make them the sites of their rallies.
In my talk, I would like to discuss the way in which parts of the grounds of the former Ravensbrück women's concentration camp were developed into a memorial. What measures had to be taken so the "memory of the site" could be rehearsed and manifested? What ideas lay behind the grounds' design? The design for the path layout in the grounds can be seen as an attempt at guiding the visitors' emotions in that its underlying intention is to offer visitors a meaningful perspective on the former women's concentration camp. The grounds' design manifests an interpretational approach analogous to Christian ideas of salvation by representing a path from darkness to light. Another important issue of this discussion will be the significance of the historical relics or unintentional monuments vis-à-vis the intentional monuments erected in the grounds.
The crematorium, which had to undergo considerable alterations in order to serve as a commemorative site, is a central feature of the Memorial which was opened in 1959. How do we explain the special interest many visitors take in the crematoriums at former concentration camps? And why do visitors continuously leave inscriptions on its walls? Ashes and soil from places of death are generally imagined as substances that in a sense precede life. Even in secular contexts, ashes and soil can be integrated into a framework of the sacred under certain circumstances. Both substances are ascribed the function of religious relics, which can be used to consecrate certain sites.
Memorials are characterised by the peculiar difference between being "hallowed ground" on the one hand and "sights" on the other. The tension between these two characteristics is continued on the level of individual objects, where we have devotional objects, votive offerings and deposits on one side and souvenirs on the other. In closing, I shall discuss the question of how this difference between the sacred and the trivial manifests itself at the Ravensbrück Memorial today.

Tsypylma Darieva: Instead of Loss. Reshaping the Remembrance of Violent Past in Armenia

In this paper I discuss the issue of reconfiguring the memorialization of violent loss in post-Soviet Armenia. One of the crucial points in creating a new moral universe in postsocialist Armenia is the re-establishment of proper memorialization and justice regarding the Armenian yeghern of 1915 (grief and mourning) not only in terms of the post-Soviet "return of the repressed" (Watson 1994), but in a broader framework of recognition of a silenced and forgotten human loss in terms of global morality (Levy & Sznaider 2001). The memory of expulsion and catastrophic loss in 1915, having been a political taboo in the early Soviet past, in 1965 after an unauthorized demonstration became part of the public commemoration in Soviet Yerevan but in a very specific way. The construction of a monument per a Party decision brought an isolated sacred space in the urban memorial landscape, but did not signal any radical change in the politics of memory as the commemoration of Armenian suffering became strongly incorporated into the abstract Soviet model of remembrance of loss and the Soviet Union's foundation myth. After 1991 the memory of loss yeghern became a crucial moral code of national representation in the Armenian Republic, producing different sets of ritualized practices of public commemoration and visualized props of memory. Moreover, today the local term for mourning yeghern seems to have become largely replaced by the new term tsaghaspanutyun, which is a literal interpretation of the English word 'genocide'.
Based on ethnographic work in 2005 and 2006 I will discuss the ways how today the local authorities turn the Soviet designed monument into the center of a sacred national landscape of suffering and give voices to the forgotten loss by involving 'outside' forces and international names as protecting ancestors into the national sacred repertoire. In the last ten years handfuls of soil were taken by the museum members from different graves in different places around the world and transferred to the newly established Yerevan Museum of the Armenian Genocide. Among the names of the "reburied" persons we find the prominent names of the Austrian Franz Werfel, the German Armin Wegner, the British James Bryce, and the American Henry Morgenthau. At the same time one can observe a new sacralization of memorial place, whereby the cult of death and victimhood intensified through religious connotations is coming into the foreground by establishing a new politics of unrecognized bad death in the language of Christian Armenian suffering. To what extend the incorporation of non-Armenian "protectors" contribute to the process of reconfiguring the politics of Armenian pain into a global representation of human loss? To illustrate this change I concentrate on the area surrounding the Yerevan memorial on Armenian Genocide on the Tsitsernakaberd hill.

Abstracts: Public Spaces

Ralph Buchenhorst: Ghosts hovering above the water? About representing the disappeared of Argentina

About 30,000 people were disappeared in Argentina during the last military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. After years of inconsistent governmental strategies about how to grapple with the past, public institutions and social movements are now agreed upon an unreserved reconstruction of state violence and its consequences. At the same time artists, architects and citizens' iniciatives are in search of adequate forms of public mourning and representations of memory. As other post-genocide discourses, also the argentine society relates these representations first and foremost to the authentic places. Due to the fact that violence occured both in and outside urban space and was perpetrated in multiple forms, the initiators attempt to establish an intense interplay between their created symbols and the corresponding place. Thus, the present paper approaches the topic of the workshop by discussing two different manifestations of memory in urban and non urban spaces in Argentina.
The so called escraches (a local slang word from Buenos Aires, meaning "to uncover in public") are political interventions in urban spaces. They emerged in Argentina at the beginning of the '90s, invented by an organization called H.I.J.O.S., an association of children of disappeared persons during the dictatorship. Escraches are a public staging of memory and a political demonstration at the same time. Members of H.I.J.O.S. and sympathizers gather in a neighbourhood of Buenos Aires to perform a mixture of parade and manifestation, exposing giant dolls and effigies to represent their target of stigmatization, one of the many ex-members of the armed forces actively involved in the repression during the dictatorship. Transiting the streets, they finally reach the house of the targeted person to read a denouncing manifest and to mark the façade of its dwelling with paint bombs. Escraches thus can be understood as a successor of the marking of houses of lepers in medieval Europe. My paper will interpret these proceedings as transitory markings implemented by memory-discourses in urban space to challenge public to segregation. It proposes to define this process as a kind of negative sacralization, thus highlighting the act of stigmatization of perpetrators in the interstitial space between private and public realm.
The other public site of commemoration I would like to discuss is equally hybrid. The Memory Park (Parque de la Memoria) in Buenos Aires is located within the city's border, nevertheless it is pushed to the north shore of the delta of the de la Plata River. Although in the vicinity of the university campus, it is an almoust abandoned place, marked by the adjacency of the river, a highly symbolic spot in the context of the atrocities of dictatorship. Thousands of drugged and unconscious victims where thrown into the river in the so called death flights (vuelos de la muerte) operated by the armed forces. Therefore the German artist Horst Hoheisel during a visit of the site proposed that instead of building a park with monuments there should simply be erected some lamp posts focusing the water surface. At that time, the park was already partly under construction. Recently, the Monument to the Victims of the State Terror, one of various memorials the park will finally house, has been completed. It is framed by four noncontinuous walls that carry the names of the disappeared. Public discussion about the monument was centred in whether or not to name the names of the victims. My paper will grapple with the question if the identification of the victims could lead to a sacralization of the place and thus might bring the past to a close and if Hoheisels proposal of a highly symbolic illuminating of the river could avert this danger.

Michaela Schäuble: How History takes Place: Geographical and Sacralised Landscapes in the Croatian-Bosnian Border Region

If one follows Edward Soja's formulated aim to "spatialize the historical narrative" (Soja 1989: 1), it suggest itself to rivet on the ways in which historical narratives and memories are embedded in physical surrounding and how they are made visible. A historical landscape is "both material and meaning" (Baker 1992: 3) and defined through phenomenological interaction and experience. It is shaped by visible historic interpretations as well as by meanings and interpretations related to them. Analysing various form of local knowledge of a paradigmatic "landscape of violence" in the Croatian-Bosnian border region, I argue that individual as well as collective memories are attached to specific landscapes and thus have the potential to become sources for (re-)writing the local histories ignored or neglected by the historiography of the nation-state.
My paper focuses on contemporary mythico-religious constructions of the environment in the context of ritual commemoration of WWII massacre victims. Recounting local narratives and reports about concealed Partisan atrocities in the Dalmatinska Zagora (Dalmatian hinterland) as well as closely describing ritualised recollections of communist times, I aim to ascertain local practices of memorialisation in relation to environment and nationhood. What role does the landscape as topography of graves and burial sites play in terms of imagining the nation? In what sense do ancestors represent individual as well as communal suffering and act as reminders of past atrocities? To what extent do religious rituals and beliefs have a part in sanctifying the territorial boundaries of a community and how are they involved in the revision of history?
Drawing on my interlocutor's own notions of locality and belonging, I understand their personally felt marginalisation and oppression during the years of Communism, their endured threat during the Homeland War (1991-1995) and the life-historical narratives of the subjugation (and fierce resistance) of their predecessors as environmentally situated experiences. I argue that people's relationships with their physical surrounding encompass much more than 'symbolic inscriptions' of values onto the environment; rather I think that landscapes constitute mnemonic agents as well as sites of historic revisions. "To perceive the landscape", writes Tim Ingold "is [...] to carry out an act of remembrance, and remembering is not so much a matter of calling up an internal image, stored in the mind, as of engaging perceptually with an environment that is itself pregnant with the past" (Ingold 2000: 189). In my paper I illustrate how the landscape of the Dalmatinska Zagora literally incorporates historical knowledge and helps to rematerialize hitherto hidden or suppressed versions of the past.

Abstracts: Stories

Nicolas Argenti: Out of the mouths of babes: violence, place and storytelling in the Camerooon Grassfields

In the Grassfields of Cameroon, folktales are most often told by children among themselves with no adult involvement; learned by younger children from older ones. Storytelling is therefore a child-structured form of play in Schwartzman's (1978, 1983) definition: it is an activity mediated by children without adult input. Moreover, because storytelling breaks the intergenerational rules according to which children must be silent in the presence of adults, the practice of storytelling reverses the normal domestic hierarchy. The stories that children tell and sing centre on the dangers of the forest and of the exogenous; dwelling on such subjects as witchcraft, transformation, the wild, the foreign and the unknown. Two themes recur throughout the majority of the stories: those of debt and violence. The origin of debt in these stories seems to be supernatural. The characters enter into an obligation with a witch that they cannot repay, a Faustian bargain that empowers them momentarily but that ultimately dooms them to servitude to the witch. The presence of violence in the stories serves as the ultimate consequence of the debt: the characters who become indebted succumb to exogenous forces and meet with a gruesome and premature death.
In the face of the violence they recount, the stories seem to evince a concern for boundaries, closure, and security on the part of their young tellers. But the lack of closure in the structure of the stories themselves, and the lavish way in which the violence is celebrated by the child raconteurs suggest that violence and insecurity become ends-in-themselves to the children as they tell the stories. While the trite morals of some of the stories may appease the adults in the room, many of the stories do not take up an unambiguous position in relation to the violent powers they evoke. Adults, in a word, do not approve of these stories, the recounted violence of which they see as a kind of mischief. The surprising effect of this generational cleavage is that children have become the repositories of violence in society. Through their stories, the forests and rivers surrounding the villages of the chiefdoms are remembered as sinister battlegrounds where witches, transforms and monsters hunt and kill children. I say remember because this is what these places were in reality until late into the 20th century: dangerous and amoral zones of plunder and kidnap feeding the transatlantic and then the regional slave trade. This paper examines why it might be that children have become the repositories of this body of memories - why, in other words, it is those in the generational position of the victims of the slave trade who actively remember the landscape as a place of violence and death while - in the terms of this workshop's call for papers - adults sacralise it instead.

Katharina Schramm: The Slaves of Pikworo: Local Histories, Transatlantic Perspectives

In Ghana's Upper East Region, the memory of slavery is still very much embedded in people's everyday consciousness and practices. For example, landmarks associated with the defeat of slave raiders or the locations of former camp-sites are widely known to inhabitants and carry special significance. Though often unrecognizable for the outside observer, they nevertheless form structuring elements of the local landscape and historical imagination. Not only are they associated with specific historical events and the stories surrounding them, but they are also spiritually loaded. At these sites, special attention is devoted to maintaining the relationship between the living and the dead (e.g. through sacrifice). In the cause of this attention, the severe disruptions of social relationships which went along with the violence of the slave raids are also addressed. Genealogical narratives, divinations and ritual performances at times entail references to processes of enslavement as well as the violent disorder and complex migration trajectories resulting from them. What is important to note is that whereas slave raiding and trading in this area has a long history that reaches back to the seventeenth century, the most vivid memories relate to the slave raids of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that mainly supplied the inner-African market.
Recently, however, these narratives and practices are being increasingly transformed so as to fit a more global outlook. In the framework of state-sponsored commemorations which are mainly addressing an African American audience in search for historical connectedness, regular pilgrimages are being organised which lead from Southern slave ports to Northern camps and sites of resistance and back. Thereby, multi-layered local memories become incorporated into an interpretative scheme that clearly privileges a transatlantic perspective. As a consequence of this development, the landscape is also changed: paths are being cleared and signboards erected. Tour guides present a story of suffering, victimhood and resurrection along the slave route, thereby ignoring the complex relationship between raiders and captured, sellers and buyers that is so central to the local spiritual universe. The two colliding narratives thus correspond to two notions of sacralisation which can be translated into the idioms of continuity and closure. I am interested in the dynamics of memory unfolding at this interface.
Taking the example of the Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga-Nania, at the Ghana-Burkina Faso border, I will analyse the various perceptions of the site, its historical and spiritual associations as well as its constantly shifting contemporary significance. I will show how an unintentional monument (in that case, a shrine) is being transformed into an intentional monument and tourist destination. What I am interested in are the multiple ways whereby meaning is assigned to a particular place and how such designations are being challenged and contested.

Abstracts: Pilgrimages

Steffen Johannessen: Landscape of Absence: The Chagossian Pilgrimage to their homeland

Due to the establishment of a major US-UK military outpost in the Indian Ocean during the Cold War, the total population of the Chagos Archipelago were expelled to Mauritius and the Seychelles between 1965 and 1973. In order to circumvent UN agreements ensuring legal responsibilities on the part of settled populations, the UK Foreign Office manufactured a cover-story that the inhabitants were merely a 'floating population' of contract workers belonging elsewhere. Considered an indispensable platform for the defence of the West, the U-shaped atoll of Diego Garcia, or 'footprint of freedom', has functioned as a most central launching pad for recent military activities in Afghanistan and Iraq where also terrorist suspects have been held as part of CIA's secret rendition program. On their part, the former inhabitants consider themselves 'wiped of the map'. While the islands remain a restricted military area, the islanders continue to militate for reparations and their right to return. Since the early 1980s their struggle has increasingly concerned the issue of cultural emancipation. Claiming to have suffered cultural genocide, the group have raised counter claims to belonging by sacralizing the landscape and incarcerating themselves to it. Bringing monument commemorating the deceased and the uprooted, a group of 100 former inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago embarked on a first communal pilgrimage to their ancestors' cemeteries in March 2006. Along with efforts to re-inscribe memories of a neglected violent history onto the local landscape, ruins of long abandoned churches and cemeteries were tended as recompense for violated relations to deceased relatives due to their enforced absence.

Jackie Feldman: In the Footsteps of the Israeli and Palestinian Jesus: The Struggle for the Holy Land and the Performance of Contemporary Christian Pilgrimage

In contemporary Christian pilgrimage, Jewish-Israeli- and Palestinian-led tours provide selective interpretations of the Bible and the landscape. By focusing on the narration of sites of conflict, I will show how particular political understandings of Israel/Palestine are grounded in the Bible or in various Christian theologies.
Bible Land/Holy Land tours, organized by churches and marketed by Christian tour agents, often lend the environmental bubble typical of group tours moral value as microcosms of Christian fellowship and as arenas of strengthening commitment to Christian values. Most of these tours are handled by local Israeli or Palestinian agents and executed by local guides. Hence, the naming, framing and elevation of various Biblical sites becomes the locus of struggle among Israelis and Palestinians for the patronage and empathy of Christian pilgrims of a wide variety of theological orientations. At the same time, the immediacy of the violence of that struggle must usually be masked by both sides in order not to frighten away pilgrims and lose their return business. Thus, many Jewish guides often emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus and the continuity of the Biblical sites and names with those of the State of Israel, and link present-day Jewish inhabitants and practices with Old Testament Israel. Palestinian guides, on the other hand, often describe Jesus as Palestinian, and depict present-day Palestinians as indigenous 'brothers and sisters of Jesus', 'people of the land', 'living stones' (drawing on II Peter 2), or as witnesses to Christian values through their persistent presence in the Holy Land in the face of oppression. Both seek to cement the relation of Christian pilgrims to present sites by invoking current inhabitants and their daily practices as witnesses to Biblical truth. Such guiding strategies and tactics also serve the financial interests of local Palestinian and Israeli agents.
One of the salient arenas illustrating these interactions is the border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I will show how the "separation fence"/"apartheid wall" (as it is termed by most Israeli/Palestinian guides) and the transition between the two cities is framed in pilgrim brochures and itineraries. I then illustrate how, through the choice of visit sites and viewpoints, as well as through guiding narratives, various events either of the life of Jesus or of the lives of the biblical forefathers in and around Bethlehem are linked to contemporary circumstances. Such explanations correspond with and provide legitimacy for particular Christian theologies, some of which explicitly support certain political positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Through comparing the language, iconography, and site selection of touring narratives in various itineraries and web-sites, and linking it with various theological understandings of Israel, the Bible and the Land, we can come to appreciate how various Christian beliefs may serve to naturalize particular political understandings of the land and interpret violence as tragic, inhuman or justified. A full contextualization will also include an understanding of the way that Christian discourse is intertwined with Western power, and how certain Western tropes - progress and archaeological 'evidence' or Christian charity - provide the framework for legitimatizing Israeli or Palestinian positions in the struggle in the Holy Land.