But the Wolf case also reveals the limits of Nora’s project. If, as he puts it in “Between Memory and History,” the “differentiated network” of memory sites ultimately operates at the level of “national history,” then the conditions of possibility for Wolf to become a lieu de mémoire lie, as I have tried to indicate schematically, in the interaction of activities at a series of scales: between national aspirations, state repression, diasporic political organizing, histories of internationalist solidarity, and transnational media—a mixture that pushes the limits of the metaphor of the “site,” no matter how flexibly we conceive it. Steyerl’s notion of “traveling images”—which anticipates Erll’s notion of “traveling memory”—may be more evocative.
Wolf’s story also complicates the linear narrative of continuously eroding “real” milieux de mémoire central to Nora’s project. Despite—or perhaps because of—the fully globalized context that made Ronahî possible and that has nourished her rise to iconic status, “real” communities continue to cluster around her memory sixteen years after her death: both in the Kurdish struggle and in extreme left milieus in Germany.
But this case study also poses challenges to the emergent transnational memory studies that has arisen in response to Nora and what Erll calls the “second phase” of memory studies. Most important, from my perspective, it requires that we think more imaginatively about the status and scale of the political in memory studies. Nora’s focus on the nation retains plausibility because the nation-state continues to function as a memory-wielding agent of legitimation, discipline, and identity formation. Thus far, the primary referent for memory politics beyond the nation has been human rights, as Rosanne Kennedy discusses with great nuance in her contribution to this forum. As I’ve suggested, the discourse and practice of human rights do play a catalytic role in the Wolf case. Yet, the human rights framework is insufficient to describe both the salience of Ronahî’s memory and the political aspirations it evokes. An alternate term also emerges from this material: I want to propose that internationalism retains power both as a memory and an aspiration. The concept of “internationalism” may seem passé, and it is certainly not innocent, but it best describes the tradition of long-distance solidarity for which the traveling memory of Wolf stands. Remembering Ronahî leads us across national boundaries; but it also leads us to confront the borders that still exist and that are themselves forms of violence and injustice—in Kurdistan and elsewhere. We need new internationalisms because we still live in a world of nations.