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Earth, fire, water

Or how to make the Armenian corpses disappear

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Raymond H. Kévorkian

This article seeks to draw up an inventory of the various methods employed by the Young Turk regime to clear away the bodies of massacred Armenians, which were obstructing transport routes and posing a threat to public health. Particular attention will be paid to the role of the Interior Ministry, which regularly issued instructions to this effect to local authorities. The first section will examine the use of rivers, in particular the Tigris and Euphrates, during the first phase of the genocide (May-September 1915) for the rapid disposal of bodies of deportees who had suffered a violent death. This process will be considered in relation both to the upper reaches of these rivers, in the mountainous regions of Armenia, and downstream, in the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia, where witnesses reported seeing bodies floating by for months. The second section will focus on the running of the concentration camps set up in Syria and Mesopotamia, in which prisoners died of "natural causes" through exhaustion, starvation or epidemics. The procedures implemented by the camp authorities regarding the daily collection of bodies from the previous 24 hours and the construction of mass graves will be analysed.

Open Access (free)

Series:

Alexander Korb

This chapter discusses the massacres carried out by the Ustaša in Croatia during the Second World War. It provides a brief presentation of the historical background, and describes the massacres carried out by the Ustaša militia and their corpse disposal methods. The chapter also discusses German and Italian reactions to discoveries of the physical traces of the massacres. The Germans supported the Ustaša in the transformation of Croatia into an ethnically homogenized state, and in doing so initially accepted the violent actions of Ustaša militias. The Germans had more difficulties dealing with the locations of the mass murders carried out by their Ustaša partners. The chapter raises the question of the extent to which the gruesome staging of death, using the corpses of killed opponents, might be part of the communications history of a civil war. Mass rape is typically an aspect of the violence in a civil war.

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Display, concealment and ‘culture’

The disposal of bodies in the 1994 Rwandan genocide

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Nigel Eltringham

In their ethnography of violent conflict, 'cultures of terror' and genocide, anthropologists have recognized that violence is discursive. The victim's body is a key vehicle of that discourse. Using Rwanda as a case study, this chapter proposes an agenda for ethnographic research to explore the relationship between concealment and display in contexts of genocide, with attention to the discursive quality of the disposal of bodies. The chapter explores this relationship in detail and discusses the historical background to the 1994 genocide. In pre-colonial Rwanda, the prevalence of burial or exposure was influenced by region and social status. In a sophisticated analysis drawing on his research into popular medicine in Rwanda and the cosmology of the pre-independence monarchy, Christopher Taylor suggests that Rwandans conceive of the body through a 'flow/blockage symbolism' which 'mediates between physiological, sociological and cosmological levels of causality'.

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Disassembling the pieces, reassembling the social

The forensic and political lives of secondary mass graves in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Admir Jugo and Sari Wastell

This paper will examine the excavation of mass graves in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has evolved into a significantly standardized yet methodologically flexible set of procedures based on integrated principles of forensic archaeology, forensic anthropology and crime scene processing – the overall goal of which is to maximize the collection and documentation of all sets of human remains, forensic artifacts and features for the purposes of establishing an objective historical record, supporting the criminal justice process and the victim identification process.

In particular, the phenomenon of the secondary mass grave will be explored. Why might a secondary mass grave play a distinct role from a primary mass grave, and in what ways, and for whom? Through an (admittedly implicit) description of the actor-network in which these graves are embedded, and the many sorts of actants with which they are in relation, the authors will attempt to describe the precarious and shifting place of Bosnia’s secondary mass graves in the country’s processes of social reconciliation and peace-building.

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Destruction and human remains

Disposal and concealment in genocide and mass violence

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Edited by: Élisabeth Anstett and Jean-Marc Dreyfus

Destruction and human remains investigates a crucial question frequently neglected from academic debate in the fields of mass violence and Genocide Studies: what is done to the bodies of the victims after they are killed? Indeed, in the context of mass violence and genocide, death does not constitute the end of the executors' work. Following the abuses carried out by the latter, their victims' remains are treated and manipulated in very particular ways, amounting in some cases to social engineering. The book explores this phase of destruction, whether by disposal, concealment or complete annihilation of the body, across a range of extreme situations to display the intentions and socio-political framework of governments, perpetrators and bystanders. The book will be split into three sections; 1) Who were the perpetrators and why were they chosen? It will be explored whether a division of labour created social hierarchies or criminal careers, or whether in some cases this division existed at all. 2) How did the perpetrators kill and dispose of the bodies? What techniques and technologies were employed, and how does this differ between contrasting and evolving circumstances? 3) Why did the perpetrators implement such methods and what does this say about their motivations and ideologies? The book will focus in particular on the twentieth century, displaying innovative and interdisciplinary approaches and dealing with case studies from different geographical areas across the globe. The focus will be placed on a re-evaluation of the motivations, the ideological frameworks and the technical processes displayed in the destruction of bodies.

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Death and dismemberment

The bodyand counter-revolutionary warfare inapartheid South Africa

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Nicky Rousseau

As resistance intensified in what would turn out to be apartheid's final decade, security forces in South Africa began covertly to execute opponents extra-judicially. A noteworthy aspect of these executions is that the modes of killing and disposing of corpses varied, sometimes along regional lines or according to the particular unit involved. The evidence of death and disposal within apartheid counter-insurgency warfare raises a number of issues concerning the reasons for a lack of a cohesive strategy regarding the disposal of dead bodies. It will be investigated how this helps us to understand the structures of violence within the apartheid state and the use of the corpse itself as a weapon of counter-insurgency.

Open Access (free)

Series:

José López Mazz

"Operation Carrot" was devised and executed by the Uruguayan military at the time of the country’s return to democracy, between 1983 and 1985. The objective of this secret operation was to exhume all the bodies of disappeared prisoners who had been murdered during the dictatorship, in order either to destroy them or make them disappear permanently.

This chapter discusses the tools and methodological processes that allow us to physically identify and then interpret these types of actions, which are often extremely hard to detect, given that they are part of an intentional and systematic attempt by the killers to conceal their past deeds.

However, we also seek to develop a better understanding of violence within Uruguayan social and political life: for, while the country’s dictatorship only lasted around ten years (between 1973 and 1984), political violence had already begun in the 1960s in the context of social conflicts surrounding land ownership, wages, and civil rights. It is, we argue, precisely because political violence is deeply rooted in Latin America that we must, in order to analyze it, adopt an integrated historical and anthropological approach which also draws on the more specialised disciplines of archaeology and forensic science.

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Bykivnia

How grave robbers, activists, and foreigners ended official silence about Stalin’s mass graves near Kiev

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Karel C. Berkhoff

The chapter will show how both the Soviet authorities and the leaders of independent Ukraine attempted to block real investigation and commemoration at the hamlet of Bykivnia, where the NKVD buried murdered bodies from 1939-1941. The chapter will look into how their attempts failed due to pressure from within—grave robbers and activists—and, especially, without—Germany and Poland. Following this account, details about the little-known Nazi and Soviet exhumations at the site will be examined.

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Bury or display?

The politics of exhumation in post-genocide Rwanda

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Rémi Korman

Contrary to other countries that suffered mass violence in the late twentieth century, such as Bosnia, the issue of individual identification or DNA identification has never been considered seriously by the national and international agents of the memory in Rwanda. The lack of forensic investigation is a result of the financial situation of the Rwandan state after the genocide. In 1996, Rwanda was officially declared as the poorest country in the world. How in this context did Rwandan and international agents manage the memory of the genocide and especially the corpses? Considering the absence of a state-led individual identification program, how did exhumations occur and for what purposes? Who were the agents of exhumations in Rwanda? But also, what is the history behind the conservation of bones and corpses in genocide memorials? Based upon the study of the public archives of the National Commission for the Fight against the Genocide, this paper sheds some historical light on the debates around the management of genocide corpses in Rwanda since 1994.

Open Access (free)

Series:

Kathryn Cassidy

This chapter explores representations of cross-border mobilities in the Ukrainian-Romanian borderlands. In 2007-2009, cross-border trading and shopping had established themselves as an important part of the local economy and integral to daily life in local communities. Nestled within the thousands of border crossings that were made every day were feelings of shame on the part of those living on the Ukrainian side of the border. This shame was relational across two levels: firstly, as a personal shame in the practices involved in cross-border small trading – the payments of bribes, the flirtation with Romanian customs officials and interactions with money-changers; secondly, a more general, collective sense of shame that such practices should be taking place across a border, which had previously sheltered Soviet citizens from the humiliations of living under late socialism in Ceausescu’s Romania. The chapter elucidates how for the villagers involved the intersection of these levels of shame emerged in dominant narratives of the trade, which not only challenged elite level nation-building in Ukraine, but also made use of existing narrative forms, primarily anecdotes and jokes. What emerges is a much more complex theoretical understanding of the trans-temporality of shame at the border.