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Remembering genocide in the diaspora: Place and materiality in the commemoration of atrocities in Rwanda and Sri Lanka

Journal article
Authors Camilla Orjuela
Published in International Journal of Heritage Studies
Volume 46
Issue 5
Pages 439-453
ISSN 1352-7258
Publication year 2020
Published at School of Global Studies, Peace and Development Research
Pages 439-453
Language en
Keywords Memorialization, diaspora, memorial, Rwanda, Sri Lanka
Subject categories Peace and development research, International Migration and Ethnic Relations


The pain of war and genocide is often very physical and place-based. At the same time, displacement compels many of those who lost their loved ones to remember them and their homeland’s violent past from afar. This article explores the territoriality and materiality of diaspora remembrance by looking at diaspora initiatives to remember victims of genocide and war in Rwanda and Sri Lanka. In Brussels, a memory conflict between supporters and critics of the Rwandan government is played out around a small monument. In rural United Kingdom, an envisioned memorial park to Tamils martyred in the struggle for independence illustrates how memorial spaces in the diaspora challenge official homeland state narratives of the past and carry meaning as a symbolic land for Tamils. Initiatives to plant trees, name streets and throw flowers on a river provide additional examples of how diaspora actors strive to anchor memory of atrocities physically and territorially. The article suggests that materiality and spatiality of memorialization takes on different meanings in a diasporic context, as initially ‘meaningless’ places are turned into self-referential sites for remembrance, and the establishment of more permanent memorial structures can form part of home-making processes in the country of settlement.

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