The Politics of Testimony and the Post-revolutionary Iran

With violence prevailing, questions about justice and accountability preoccupy the scholars of Humanities and social sciences and the conscientious people of the world. Yet how may the question of justice be addressed and the work of mourning performed while the perpetrators are still in charge and force the survivors into silence? My paper strives to shed light on some of the issues concerning questions of survival, remembrance and testimonies in relation to a particularly violent period in Iranian recent history, the 1980s. It tackles questions of justice, memory and witnessing through an ethnographic and textual exploration of the procedures, outcome and severe contentions that have surrounded a campaign known as Iran Tribunal.

Embarked in 2007 by a group of Iranian dissidents abroad, Iran-Tribunal claimed to be an international “people’s court,” and “a social movement” with the goal of assessing “the possibility of setting up a Truth Commission and a People’s Tribunal,” to investigate “the mass executions and massacre of political prisoners in 1980s” and holding “the Islamic Republic of Iran accountable for its crime against humanity” (website). The Tribunal saw itself acting “as a court of the people, a Tribunal of conscience,” that was to “bring this human tragedy, which has been concealed and undisclosed for so long, onto the world stage.”
Due to the fact that those on trial were still in the position of power, the tribunal acknowledged that there could be no reconciliation and instead would bring these “atrocities” to the “world stage.” Yet, the Tribunal has since been accused by some of the opponents as being in line with, or even supported by, the Western governments which are interested in instigating war or imposing sanctions on Iran. My paper examines these controversies, their implications for the families of the dissidents who testified, and the possibility of alternative narratives that may have found their way to the public through such platforms. What kind of politics of memory, witnessing, and testifying, or seeking justice is at play in these delicate situations? How do the new waves of suppression, epically those of the post presidential election of 2009, impact the memories and the work of mourning of the families who have lost loved one in the 1980s? How do the new dissidents relate to the tribunal and to the survivors of the earlier suppressions? Based on my ethnographic research and textual analysis, this paper will tackle these questions.