'They are our parents': ASU faculty awarded grant to aid in excavation of Paraguayan mass grave

March 13, 2023

For decades, hundreds of families across South America have lived in the shadow of Operation Condor, a 1970s-era campaign of political repression that led to the disappearance and murder of an estimated 60,000 individuals in South America. As of 2019, 37 bodies out of around 400 of the murdered individuals were recovered in Paraguay. Only four of those found have been identified so far.

This summer, two forensic science faculty members from Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences will travel to Paraguay to aid in the excavation of a mass grave containing victims of Operation Condor in Lambaré, Paraguay.  Side-by-side portraits of ASU professors Katelyn Bolhofner (left) and Adriana Sartorio. Assistant Professor Katelyn Bolhofner (left) and Assistant Teaching Professor Adriana Sartorio (right) of Arizona State University were recently awarded a grant from the Humanitarian and Human Rights Resource Center to support their project “They Are Our Parents.” Photo courtesy the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Download Full Image

The faculty members, Assistant Professor Katelyn Bolhofner and Assistant Teaching Professor Adriana Sartorio, were recently awarded a grant from the Humanitarian and Human Rights Resource Center to support their project “They Are Our Parents.” 

“They Are Our Parents” was one of four projects that was funded by the HHRRC for 2023 to promote research, training and on-the-ground support of global humanitarian and human rights efforts that employ diverse forensic approaches. The projects are funded collaboratively by the National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Bolhofner, Sartorio and a graduate student researcher will implement an anthropological approach to the excavation in an effort to locate, identify and repatriate the victims. The team will perform biological profile and trauma assessments of the exhumed individuals, excise samples for future DNA analysis and use a portable digital radiography machine to explore the potential of obtaining positive identifications through means other than DNA comparisons. 

The project will not only provide aid to the Paraguayan humanitarian organizations but will also assist local organizations in obtaining independence in their efforts to conduct their own forensic investigations and identifications by establishing local expertise in forensic anthropology and archaeology. 

On the ground in Lambaré they will collaborate with Rogelio Goiburú, a retired doctor of medicine who has dedicated years of his career to locating and excavating mass graves in Paraguay in order to find his father. As the director of the Justice Ministry’s Department for Historical Memory and Reparation, he also leads efforts in identifying other victims.

Finding at the Specialized Military Group location, 2013. Photo by Hugo Valiente from the archive from the Historical and Reparation Memory Directive

For Sartorio, who is originally from Paraguay, this project hits especially close to home.

“I am doing it for my father and people who went through what he went through,” Sartorio said. “He was affected by the dictatorship at such an early age when he was incarcerated. His family and friends were affected one way or another. These actions are hard to forget, especially when the loss of friends during Operation Condor was a marking point in your life. I can't even imagine losing your teenage innocence and needing to leave your country to escape further penalties. My personal connection is something driven from a long time ago and it’s finally getting heard.”

Long term, the team hopes to continue this work to bring closure to the families who lost loved ones, many of which have had unanswered questions for years.

“I became an anthropologist because I love people's life stories,” Bolhofner said. “For me, this project is so significant because I have the opportunity to use my skills and training to help tell these stories — which is really what I love about my job in all contexts. But in this context, where these stories have been silenced very intentionally, the opportunity to assist in bringing those individuals' life stories back, in giving them back their names, giving them back to their family, is really what drives me as a forensic anthropologist.”

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

ASU global security program enriches student's art

March 13, 2023

Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, Zeina Barakeh came of age during the country’s civil war, witnessing several Israeli invasions. Since then, she has earned an undergraduate degree in interior design from the Lebanese American University in Beirut, spent a few years teaching art at the American Community School in Beirut, and finally moved in 2006 to San Francisco, where she completed her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Today, Barakeh lives and works as a visual artist in the Bay Area, but her experience of war growing up never left her. While looking for a way to expand her perspectives within her art, she found the Online Master of Arts in Global Security program within Arizona State University's School of Politics and Global Studies. Portrait of ASU student Zeina Barakeh. Zeina Barakeh was looking for a way to expand perspectives within her art when she found the online Master of Arts in Global Security program within ASU's School of Politics and Global Studies. Photo courtesy Zeina Barakeh Download Full Image

“I chose this degree to learn about war from another angle than the one I have experienced growing up in Beirut …” Barakeh said. “I am primarily a visual artist. I am pursuing the MA in global security as a form of structured research for my artwork, which is about war, polarization and colonialism.”

Because she still lives in San Francisco, the online format of the global security program, as well as its varied curriculum and excellent faculty, made ASU a perfect fit.

“I fell in love with ASU after researching many schools all over the U.S.,” Barakeh said. “The global security program curriculum is fabulous, and so are the faculty; it’s one of the top programs in the country.

“ASU felt different because of its commitment to supporting students at whatever stage they are at in their life and career. Most schools I looked at catered mostly to applicants who have just finished high school and are at the beginning of their professional lives, which I find limiting. The MA in global security is an online program, and it is perfect for me as I had a full-time job at SFAI at the time I started, and I didn’t want to leave the Bay Area where I live.”

Every time class registration rolled around, Barakeh would meet with the program’s co-director, Jeff Kubiak, to figure out what courses would be best suited to her research.

“Zeina is a deeply motivated learner who understands the value of active engagement,” Kubiak said. “You could count on Zeina to show up to nearly every event hosted by the MA, and her engagement always enriched the conversation through thoughtful questions and powerful insights from her truly remarkable life experiences.”

After graduation, Barakeh hopes to continue to her work as an artist while also offering her unique perspective within a conflict-related think tank or in a humanitarian organization, with the MA in global security degree providing both an in-depth knowledge of security-related issues while also enriching her art practice as she becomes more knowledgeable in the field of war and military studies, and more cognizant of the most up-to-date technologies.

“My most significant project thus far includes an animation, Standard of Capital, on San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower Top, streamed throughout September 2021,” Barakeh said. “The program gives me access to a network that I otherwise don’t have access to, and it has already greatly influenced the direction of my artwork. I am now developing projects more focused on emerging technologies and the human body, and the laws of war.”

Grace Peserik

Communications Assistant, School of Politics and Global Studies