SOAS University of London

SOAS Festival of Ideas

History, Memory, and Trauma Panel Discussion


Date: 21 October 2020Time: 1:00 PM

Finishes: 21 October 2020Time: 3:00 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Panel Discussion

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How do cultures live with history, what are the ways in which we understand how people remember the past? What can we learn from the study of memory and trauma when it comes to decolonising knowledge? In this panel leading humanities and Social Sciences scholars debate the inclusions and exclusions of history, memory and trauma across disciplinary boundaries.


  • Dr Gilbert Achcar, SOAS University of London
  • Dr Meera Sabaratnam, SOAS University of London
  • Dr Yair Wallach, SOAS University of London
  • Vicken Cheterian, Webster University Geneva
Gilbert Achcar

Gilbert Achcar was born in Senegal, grew up in Lebanon, researched and taught in Paris and Berlin, and has been based in London since 2007. He is Professor of Development Studies and International Relations in the Department of Development Studies At SOAS. He was the first chair of the SOAS Centre for Palestine Studies since its foundation in 2012 until 2018. His many books include: The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder (2002, 2006); Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, co-authored with Noam Chomsky (2007, 2008); The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (2010, 2011); Marxism, Orientalism, Cosmopolitanism (2013); The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising (2013); and Morbid Symptoms: The Arab Uprising Five Years On (2016).

Abstract - Two Intertwined Traumas: Jewish Genocide and Palestinian ‘Ethnic Cleansing’

The Zionist project in Palestine precedes the seizure of power in Germany by the Nazis. It is in 1917 indeed that its systematic implementation was greenlighted by Britain’s Balfour Declaration. It is however hardly disputable that the Nazis’ power grab was crucial in leading to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, Palestine having become a haven for Jews fleeing Nazi persecution and, later, for survivors of the Nazi genocide. Israel’s creation did lead in turn to another trauma. By the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the state of Israel held 78% of the territory of British Mandate Palestine, from which 80% of the Arab population had fled and were never allowed to return. This peculiar history feeds a ‘war of narratives’ in which each side magnifies its own original tragedy. But a crucial difference is that, whereas the Nazi genocide is a historical calamity that ended in 1945, the oppression of the Palestinians has taken a new shape with Israel’s ongoing occupation of the remnant of Palestine since 1967. In the Middle East like everywhere else, ‘No justice, no peace’ is an inescapable axiom.

Meera Sabaratnam

Dr Meera Sabaratnam is Senior Lecturer in International Relations in the Department of Politics and International Studies. Her research concerns the colonial and postcolonial dimensions of world politics, both in theory and practice. She has recently published on the workings of the international aid system, racism and whiteness in IR and critical pedagogy. At SOAS she has served as the Chair of the Decolonising SOAS Working Group and the Academic Senate. In the former role she has worked extensively on what it means to 'decolonise' learning and teaching and the wider university environment. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Vicken Cheterian

Vicken Cheterian is lecturer in History and International Relations at the University of Geneva and at Webster University Geneva. He holds a PhD from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. He has worked as a war reporter, and peace-building practicioner. He has written on armed conflicts in the post-Soviet space as well as Middle East and North Africa. He has published articles in peer reviewed journals on revolutions, transition, environment and security, media and development, genocide, nationalism and Islamism. His articles appeared in Nationalities Papers, Europe-Asia Studies, Central Asian Survey, Relations Internationales, Survival, among others. He is the author of War and Peace in the Caucasus, Russia’s Troubled Frontier (Hurst and Columbia University Press), and Open Wounds, Armenians, Turks and a Century of Genocide (Hurst and Oxford University Press).

Abstract: I will be talking about the legacy of the 1915 Genocide of the Ottoman Armenians, its denial, and how it influnced the emergence of the Karabakh conflict.

While we witness today Turkish political and military intervention in the Karabakh conflict, this is hardly a novelty. While the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict has its own proper roots, is the consequence of Soviet policies of atributing a territory to double-level of ethnic and administrative oversight, it has been entangled from early on with the unresolved and complex legacy of the Genocide. This heritage of past mass violence had its impact differently on differnt sides: for Armenians, the past mass trauma, plus continuous threats and blockade by Turkey-Azerbaijan has led them into defensive position. Yet, curiously Azerbaijan has adopted the other side of this mass violence that of denilaist discourse that Turish state propagates. The end result is that Turkish intervention in the conflict, made the already complex political issue of Armenian-Azerbaijani overburdened by another complex conflict, that of the unresolved Armenian-Turkish relations, subverting diplomatic efforts for a negotiated and political solutions fail.


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This event is part of the Virtual SOAS Festival of Ideas which will kick off a week-long series of virtual events. The festival includes: panel discussions, student led installations, masterclasses, keynote lectures, a public debate for/against on Decolonising Knowledge and a Verbatim performance by Bhuchar Boulevard on ‘Decolonising Not Just a Buzzword’ capturing SOAS conversations about the need to decolonise its imperial mission.

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