Ayacucho, Peru

Memories of Family Members Lost to Armed Conflict

This part of the website is divided into following four sections

Ⅰ Introduction

Watch video messages from the members of ANFASEP (The National Association of Families of Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru).

ANFASEP’s website

Ⅱ Virtual Museum of Memory

Experience the exhibitions from ANFASEP’s facility in Huamanga in an online format.

Ⅲ Collected Testimonies from How Long Does Silence Last: Testimonies of Pain and Courage

A collection of testimonies recounting the experiences of mothers who lived through the conflict, recorded by ANFASEP’s youth membership. The original text (in Spanish) includes 41 testimonials. Here, translations into Japanese of 22 of these testimonies are available to read.

Link to the original text

Ⅳ Photo Collection, Return of Pain

Beginning with the women of ANFASEP, there are many still today who are searching for missing relatives. The cruel truth is that it is highly likely they have been killed and buried in secret, unmarked graves. It is thought that the more than 4000 unmarked gravesites unearthed so far are just the beginning. This is a collection of photos taken by documentary photographer, Miguel Mejía Castro chronicling the uncovering of these graves. (※Please be aware that some of the photographs contain images of human remains)

About this field

The region of Ayacucho is in the southwest of the South American country of Peru. The regional capital, Huamanga, is located in the center of the Andes mountains at an elevation of 2,700 meters, and the vast mountainous area surrounding it is dotted with the villages of the indigenous population.

This area comprises the background to the information on this section of the website, Ayacucho, Peru: Memories loved ones lost to armed conflict. Between 1980 and 2000, this region was the center of a bloody armed conflict. Here, we listen to the voices of the indigenous villagers, particularly the women, who experienced this to find out how they express these memories and what they are asking for now. Perhaps all this happened very far away from where you are, but we hope that you will be able to reflect on what can be learned from the history, the actions, and the attitudes of those who were there.

Peru’s Internal Armed Conflict

When you hear, “the Andes,” you no doubt think of the Inca Empire or Machu Pichu. However, before the Inca, the people known as the “Wari” culture prospered in the Ayacucho region. Their subjugation by the Inca marked the beginning of the Incan Empire. Then, around 500 years ago, the Spanish invaded. Spain defeated the Inca and the whole of South America, except for Brazil, came under Spanish rule. In the years since, the indigenous peoples (often called “Indios”) have suffered political and economic discrimination under systems which favor the Spanish-descended white population. Even with Peru’s independence in 1821, these colonial-era social structures remained. It was against this background of inequality that the country’s internal conflict began.

In Ayacucho is the National University of San Cristóbal de Huamanga (Universidad Nacional San Cristóbal de Huamanga), and in 1962 a philosophy professor named Abimael Guzmán began working here. Guzmán was a “mestizo” (a name for people of mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage) from the city of Arequipa. Influenced by Maoism, in 1970 he founded the Communist Party of Peru – Shining Path (Partido Comunista del Perú – Sendero Luminoso). He considered the people of the rural villages to be “peasants” living in “poverty” and, in 1980, following Mao’s tactic of “besieging the cities from the villages,” attempted an armed revolution. Shining Path carried out public executions of villagers who did not follow their rules and proceeded to control the people of the region through fear.

The Peruvian government (the Belaúnde cabinet of 1980-85) did not at first consider Shining Path’s insurgency, so far from the capital, Lima, to be very important. However, as the situation became more serious, they eventually declared a state of emergency and mobilized the military to begin counter-insurgency operations. These operations aimed to deal not only with Shining Path, but also with their collaborators, and in the process many innocent villagers were detained, tortured, abducted, or killed. It is thought that this was exacerbated by widespread discriminatory attitudes towards the region’s indigenous people. The excessive violence of the national security forces continued under the 1985-90 government of Alan García.

In this way, the indigenous villages of the Andes were caught between Shining Path and the military, and were subjected to extreme violence from both sides. As a result, it is estimated that around 70,000 people are either dead or missing (Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2003). Around 20,000 of the missing were buried in secret, unmarked graves by either Shining Path or the military in an attempt to destroy evidence of their crimes.

The History of ANFASEP

The violence of both sides brought a great deal of suffering to the villages of the Andes, and the threat of yet more harm kept many from speaking out. The survivors were also traumatized from being tortured, witnessing the murders of relatives and neighbors, or – in the case of many of the women – being raped, and many children were orphaned. Some villages were divided along partisan lines and fought amongst themselves, while others were literally wiped off the map. Even those who escaped as internal refugees to nearby cities or the capital, Lima, were often labelled “terrorists” and were unable to live in peace. During the declaration of emergency, the Ayacucho region remained under military rule and people could not search for the missing. Some even speak of seeing dogs and pigs feeding on piles of human corpses.

Yet even under such unimaginably cruel conditions, there were those who broke the silence and stood up to the military, demanding the return of their loved ones. On such person was Angélica Mendoza de Ascarza. In 1983, Angélica’s 19-year-old son, Arquímedes, was forcibly abducted by the security forces. While looking for her son’s whereabouts, Angélica was insulted and threatened by the military, but she would not be deterred from her search. There were other women in Ayacucho doing the same, and they began sharing information and support. Gradually, they started to unite around the central figure of Angélica.

The group met more and more often and, with a little support from people such as Huamanga mayor, Leonor Samora, and lawyer, Zósimo Roca, on September 2nd, 1983, they officially founded ANFASEP (Asociación Nacional de Familiares de Secuestrados, Detenidos y Desaparecido del Perú – The Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Perú).

Argentine human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, also gave his support. In 1985, on a visit to Ayacucho, he joined the members of ANFASEP for their first ever demonstration in a public space at Huamanga’s central plaza. For the women of ANFASEP, who up until then had met only in secret, this was a breakthrough moment. According to member, Lidia Flores, “he gave us the courage to not be afraid.”

ANFASEP later named their children’s refectory after Esquivel. Women out looking for missing relatives were often unable to come home and how to look after their children became a serious problem. On November 7th, 1985, they established the “Adolfo Pérez Esquivel Children’s Refectory” and took turns cooking for the group members’ children. At its peak the refectory saw up to 300 children gathering there for their daily meals.

The children who came to the refectory became like brothers and sisters to each other. Later, when ANFASEP moved to a more spacious facility in 1991, they began running workshops to teach the children arts and crafts. In 1999, as the children grew older, the refectory closed, but the children who had done so much of their growing up there went on to form La Juventud ANFASEP – the ANFASEP Youth Wing.