UMAM Documentation and Research is a Lebanese private archive organisation founded in 2004 and working on raising awareness of civil violence and war memories in Lebanon as a platform for debate and a means to break cycles of blame and conflict.
It argues that the increasing number of voices calling for truth-seeking in Lebanon, the ongoing cycles of blame and counter blame within political discourse, and the continuous threat of renewed political violence indicate that the strategy of ‘closing the files’ cited by political leaders has clearly failed. Lebanon urgently needs to begin the tasks of truth-seeking and public truthtelling, as well as transitional justice to end its successive postwar deadlocks.
UMAM D&R runs a variety of cultural events including film screenings, installations, round tables, exhibitions and public lectures, as well as participating in the production of films. These provide a unique Lebanese space for cultural events through the Hangar, a large converted warehouse in South Beirut. Through this space, UMAM D&R aims to foster exchange with international artists and to provide a platform upon which Lebanese artists can engage with each other and the public. UMAM D&R enables exchange of memories of conflict and violence both within Lebanon and with other post-conflict societies. From this, it is the hope that Lebanon will formulate plans and strategies to deal with its past. And the post-conflict societies include Algeria and some exhibitions were organized on its modern history in turmoil, as well as events about Iraq and Bosnia.
In 2018 it had a new project on Morocco based on field research on transitional justice and the work of the Commission for Truth and Equity that highlighted some of the gross human rights violations committed during the so-called "Years of Lead". The trip consisted in connecting and meeting with associations, organizations and individuals working with victims of torture, former political prisoners, journalists, publishers, cultural organizations offering space for creative expression, and activists working on memory, heritage and public space. It continued in 2019 via the MENA Prison Forum that held a conference in Tunisia.
UMAM D&R, part of the Arab Network for Human Rights Films, aims to preserve memories through the collection and digitalisation of materials from Lebanon’s history, as well as archives at risk in conflict and post conflict societies.
It strives to revive memories of Lebanon by accepting public contributions to the archive and to provide a platform for public access to these memories of civil violence and war. The archive, Memory at Work, is a tool which can be used to investigate a whole range of episodes of violence that took place during the war, and undo the false divisions that have developed in Lebanese society. It also aims to reclaim the real meaning of the terms truth and justice, as well as challenge impunity, find information for victims and families of the disappeared of the civil war, and pass on to future generations the lessons learnt during the war in order to try and prevent the same mistakes from re-occuring.
Memory at Work was active since day one in documenting all aspects of the October 17th, 2019 revolution. It asked the support of the public to share relevant material, be it graphics, audio, videos or texts. UMAM issued in November a newsletter entitled Lebanon in Conflict to reflect upon the past while living Lebanon's cross sectarian uprising.
Truth & Memory
This project, launched in April 2008, combines public events and archiving in a coordinated attempt to stimulate public debate about the legacy of the civil war and possible strategies to address it, including the fate of detainees in Syrian prisons. UMAM book “Missing” is a collection of photos and biographical details of hundreds of those whose fates remain unknown.
By drawing on international experiences of truth telling and reconciliation, UMAM D&R introduces the concepts into the Lebanese context. It is prompting both a targeted audience of decision makers (at the workshops) and a wider public audience (at film screenings and lectures) to assess Lebanon’s own progress to date and to make concrete recommendations for an appropriate way in which Lebanon can undertake its own truth-telling and/or reconciliation process.
Since there are numerous local NGOs working on issues directly or indirectly related to memory, confronting the past, and justice and accountability, UMAM D&R thinks that a project aimed at bringing together these diverse actors in order to share ideas, learn new skills and build networks is greatly needed. UMAM D&R believes it is the responsibility of NGOs and involved individuals to confront the past and press for answers, including its own work on the 17000 who disappeared during the civil war.
UMAM D&R is also engaged in a regional documenting network for human rights violations.
The Syrian Crisis
Tadmor (Palmyra) is a documentary produced by UMAM production house in 2016. It tells the stories of former Lebanese detainees who decided to break their long-held silence about the horrific years they spent imprisoned in Tadmor notorious prison. To reclaim and overcome this dark chapter in their lives, they rebuild Tadmor in an abandoned school near Beirut. By playing the role of both "victim" and "victimizer," they will relive their survival.
In November 2018, UMAM collaborated in the writing and production in Beirut of a play in which seven former political prisoners in Syria sat at a sparse dinner table, taking turns describing their cells. Some had lived alone in a pitch-black room barely a meter high, and others were in a 12-by-6-meter dungeon with over a hundred other men.
UMAM D&R is collaborating with Syrian activists in a project entitled "Memory at Work Syria" to preserve the Syrian memory and heritage. And it also organizes series of events in Palestinian camps to tell refugees they are welcome in Lebanon. Short videos were produced under that title. In 2005, UMAM produced the documentary ‘Massaker’ (2005), a portrait of six perpetrators of the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon (1982). The film was selected for more than 50 film festivals, received several awards, and was released in cinemas in France, Switzerland and Greece.
Since 2017, UMAM is documenting all aspects of refugees' lives in Lebanon, out of its belief that was of refugees have been an integral part of Lebanon's modern history. The material is taken from local media, minimal interference aiming to expose the hate speech, bias and mixed feelings toward refugees, mainly Syrians and Palestinians.