Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Researching at the Iraqi National Archives

In the latest TAARII Newsletter of the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (available here, older issues are available here), there is a piece by Alda Benjamen called "Research at the Iraqi National Library and Archives" that gives a detailed report on a December 2011 research visit with up-to-date information about the current status of the Iraqi National Library and Archives (INLA).

Benjamen discusses issues of access, security, and the process for researchers requesting archival records. In covering the different time periods represented by the archival collections, Benjamen notes:
Researchers interested in the history of twentieth-century Iraq will find archival material up until the 1960s or so in the INLA. I was told that sources not deemed “sensitive,” such as reports on agriculture, from the Ba‘thist period are still available at the INLA. The overwhelming majority of Ba‘thist documents are currently housed at the Hoover Institution in California. Readers of the TAARII newsletter are likely to be familiar with the ongoing dispute with regard to the Ba‘thist archives in the U.S., and the demands of the Iraqi government officials and INLA staff to have them returned to Iraq. In Iraq, certain organizations have some Ba‘thist sources as well. These include: Iraqi political parties, certain organizations (e.g., organizations dedicated to martyrs), and a few Iraqi professors. The lack of Ba’thist archives in the country makes it difficult for Iraqi graduate students and researchers to conduct research on their country’s modern history. (footnotes omitted)
On the issue of Ba'thist documents in private hands, Benjamen further states in a footnote:
In a conversation with an Iraqi graduate student doing research at the INLA, I learned that a certain professor in Najaf has a collection of Ba‘thist documents. According to her, graduate students contact him and he readily shares archival material with them.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Archivist Releases New Records Management Directive

The new "Managing Government Records Directive" from the Archivist of the United States and the Office of Management and Budget was released this morning.  The full-text of the Directive is available here and initial coverage and an FAQ regarding the Directive from NARA's Records Express blog is here.

Elrazzaz on Timbuktu's Andalusian Manuscripts

Mohammed Elrazzaz has an interesting piece on Ahram online called "The Fate of Timbuktu's Andalusian Manuscripts" available here. It begins:
Ahmed Baba was one of Timbuktu's most celebrated scholars in the medieval period. His writing about the city can be best understood if we go back in time to Timbuktu of the Songhai Empire of the 15th and 16th centuries. What you find in Baba's writings is one of history’s most dramatic cultural odysseys, that of the Kati manuscripts. The story, however, starts elsewhere – and goes back further in time. It starts in Toledo in present-day Spain, and its legacy lives on in Timbuktu and other caravan cities of West Africa.
After briefly tracing the history until 1593 when Kati died, Elrazzaz states "Never would we have imagined the great lengths that his descendants would go to in order to fulfill his wish that the library he created be protected."

Elrazzaz then moves forward describing how the "Kati manuscripts survived one misfortune after another" including "Moroccan attacks on the Songhai Empire led by Jawdar Pasha and Ibn Zarkun" and noting that later the "manuscripts were dispersed and carefully hidden to hide them from the French colonial powers." More recently,
In the 1990s, Ismael Diadie Haiydara Kati, together with his father, undertook the heroic task of tracing the old family members and collecting all the Kati manuscripts. Some are destroyed or damaged, but they managed to collect over 3,000 manuscripts. Spain financed the construction of a building that housed the Bibliotheca Kati (Fondo Kati). It houses works in Arabic, Hebrew and Aljamiado (Romance languages written in the Arabic script) written by Andalusian scholars and immigrants, Jewish merchants, Arab intellectuals and Christian renegades. From medicine and mathematics to philosophy and law, the Kati collection is a treasure in every sense of the word, covering a period that extends from the 12th through to the 19th century.
Elrazzaz states that assessing the value of the collection would be a dangerous undertaking during the current conflict in Mali and ends by noting:
Ismael Diadie did not risk his family’s heritage. He and other Kati family members reportedly left Timbuktu with as many precious manuscripts as they could carry. History might be repeating itself as you read these lines: the manuscripts might be safely hidden somewhere outside Timbuktu. One day when and if things calm down, they might surface again, and the story of the Kati Family will again be celebrated. Until that day comes, the fate of Timbuktu’s Andalusian manuscripts remains to be a question mark.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Update and New Article on Contested Jewish Archives in Chabad Case

A brief update on the ongoing litigation in the Chabad v. Russian Federation case involving possible sanctions against the Russian Federation, the Russian State Library, and the Russian State Military Archives for failing to turn over a Jewish library and archives (for background see here).  After Judge Lamberth invited the U.S. government to opine on the issue of sanctions and the United Staes asked for an extension until Aug. 10 to formulate them, last week the U.S. government kicked the can again and asked for an additional extension until September 10, 2012 in order to "complete its deliberations."

The new status report notes:
As part of its deliberations in this matter, the Executive Branch felt it appropriate to consult with the parties. That process, however, has only recently been completed. The United States is now in the process of completing its internal deliberations with respect to the issues raised in the plaintiff's motion, in light of those consultations.
The U.S. government then "respectfully requests that any decision addressing the plaintiff's motion be deferred until it has completed its deliberations."

Also, for anyone interested in this case, Yale Law student Giselle Barcia has a Comment in the most recent Yale Journal of International Law called "After Chabad: Enforcement in Cultural Property Disputes" available in full-text here.  The article was written prior to Chabad's March 2012 request that Judge Lamberth impose the contempt sanctions that Chabad had voluntarily been delaying, but its raises some interesting and highly relevant issues about the problems of enforcement in cultural property disputes.  Barcia states:
Chabad's struggle to enforce the U.S. decree escalated from a legal dispute to a political and cultural public relations battle between the two countries. The protracted conflict had a profound impact in the art world as well as the political world. It resulted in diplomatic tension between the United States and Russia, inefficiencies in the market for art loans, and, accordingly, decreased access to cultural property. The post-judgment conflict in Chabad also exposes a gap in cultural property law: an abscence of clear guidelines on enforcement. It suggests that the existing options for enforcement are inappropriate for international cultural property disputes. Although cultural property law perhaps rightly focuses on dispute prevention, it must also provide an enforcement mechanism for international "conflicts of culture" litigation. (footnotes omitted)
Barcia warns that "without enforcement mechanisms built into cultural property law, the struggles in Chabad will doubtless repeat themselves in future cultural property disputes involving foreign sovereigns."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Conspiring Bastards": Brands & Palkki on Saddam

Hal Brands and David Palkki recently published a fascinating article in Diplomatic History called "'Conspiring Bastards': Saddam Hussein's Strategic View of the United States" (I unfortunately cannot post the full-text, but the abstract is here).  The article makes extensive use of captured documents from Iraq available at the Conflict Records Research Center in providing a colorful tour of the development of Saddam's views of the United States from the late 1960s until the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

On the value of the captured documents, the authors note at the start:
Until recently, the paucity of internal, primary-source documentation on Saddam's regime forced scholars to resort to a sort of Kreminology to divine the strategic calculus that drove his decision making. This is beginning to change. With the toppling of the Baathist regime in 2003, U.S. and coalition forces recovered millions of pages of Iraqi state records from various ministries and government offices. These records document the activities of the Republican Guard, the intelligence agencies, the Presidential Diwan, and other offices. They include everything from routine administrative correspondence to tapes and transcripts of meetings between Saddam and his top advisors. While gaps in coverage remain, the captured records shed considerable light on Iraqi decision making and national security policy under Saddam.
Particularly interesting, and entertaining, is the account of the 1986 revelation to Saddam, Iraq, and the rest of the world that the Reagan administration had been secretly selling arms to Iran, what Saddam apparently called "Irangate." Brands and Palkki state that "Saddam mounted a surprisingly subdued diplomatic response" designed to "shore up U.S. backing for Baghdad by taking a moderate public line" and note that "[t]o the extent that this strategy aimed to win the moral high ground in dealing with Washington, it worked" noting that "[a]s Ambassador Newton later put it, 'I never thought Iraq would be in a position to take the high road with us, but they did.'" Privately, however:
It is difficult to imagine an episode better tailored to exacerbate Saddam's fears and suspicions in this regard - his constant wariness of conspiracies, his mistrust of American intentions, his worries about U.S.-Israeli-Iranian encirclement. Viewed through this lens, Irangate appeared not as the half-baked scheme it was, but rather as evidence of a grand conspiracy against the regime.
Brands and Palkki note the consequences of this, stating "from the late 1980s onward, Saddam would often refer back to this incident as the opening shot in an American onslaught against Iraq" and quote Saddam from a captured document from the CRRC's collection dated after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait stating "The war was launched on us long before all this" and "It officially started in the 1986 meeting, and was exposed under the title 'Irangate.'"

The article concludes that "From the time Saddam came to power in the late 1960s through the invasion of Kuwait more than two decades later, his view of Washington was dominated by remarkable suspicion and hostility," but notes that
these perceptions derived from a conspiratorial mindset that was, in its own way, eminently useful, in that it led Saddam to create overlapping layers of internal security that allowed him to sustain the Baathist regime for thirty-five years. And while Saddam's fears were exaggerated, they were not completely baseless. Harming Iraq was never the primary purpose of U.S. policy during this period - broader considerations such as containing Soviet influence and maintaining regional stability took pride of place - yet American initiatives were frequently prejudicial to Saddam's government. From U.S. support for the Kurds in the 1970s through Irangate in the 1980s, Washington's policies confirmed Saddam's gravest suspicions and made the conspiracy theorist, at least in his own eyes, a prophet.