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Etched in Memory (Iraq)

Untold Stories of Mandaean's Past and Present Life in Iraq

Overview

The Mandaeans, also called Sabaeans, are followers of one of the oldest monotheistic religions. Historically, they settled in the southern regions of Iraq and Iran, and speak Mandaean; an ethno-religious language descending from Aramaic. In Iraq, they lived close to Tigris and the Euphrates given the significance of the water to their faith, and are considered a religious minority (Gaster 1938). The Mandaean constitute an important part of Iraq’s cultural and social identity. Due to the repeated violence and conflict experienced in Iraq over the past decades, the Mandaic community was dispersed inside Iraq and displaced around the globe. Their culture, customs, rituals, language, and stories, have become endangered in threat of completely disappearing. Moreover, the Mandaean are one of the most misunderstood communities in the world. Very little is really known about their history and culture, thus, many myths and lies have been fabricated around their existence and practices. We also recognize that the Mandaean did not live in isolation in Iraq’s social fabric, and their displacement affected the wider Iraqi community. Therefore, the narrative is incomplete without the stories and memories of their friends and neighbours with whom they shared time and space. Through this project, we aim to work with the Mandaean in Iraq and abroad, as well as, the neighboring communities to reconstruct and reclaim a rich collective narrative and the perceptions built around it. Utilizing various tools of documentation and representation, we aim to tell of the fascinating stories of customs and practices, solidarity and co-existence of this historic community. The ways that were and the ways that are today as a story over time and space.

 The project aims to produce written, as well as, audio-visual material as both documentation and narration. This project will act as a first of its kind of a historical record and archive of a long forgotten and under-shared story. Ultimately, the project hopes this will build public awareness and appreciation to these kinds of stories, as well as, help the Mandaean and the wider Iraqi community in the diaspora, alongside their offspring, to reconnect with their heritage and roots, as a form of solidarity and identity-building

Methods

The project methodology includes recording interviews with Iraqi and displaced Mandaeans, as well as surrounding communities to gain insights into the impact of displacement, raising public awareness about the Mandaean experience, and promoting tolerance and cohesion through advocacy actions.

Project progress

At this time, the project is mid-way to completion. We have been able to complete the first phase of interviews with surrounding communities in the southern cities of Iraq and collected audio-visual data which will be turned into graphic stories. Our second phase of interviews will begin soon, interviewing Iraqi and some displaced Mandeans. Additionally, we  had finished the first draft of a written history entitled “Sabian Mandaeans existence and inheritance”. The book will compliment the current stories we have been collecting and will inform the narrative of the oral/written graphics archive, where we intend to combine history, present and future imaginaries of this unique community.