'Daughter of the Martyr': Grappling with the legacy of a missing father

Jihan 'Jiji' Kikhia was only six years old when her father, a prominent critic of Muammar el-Qaddafi, was abducted. His disappearance initiated a lifelong journey for Kikhia. Although she knows what happened to her father, his disappearance has left her searching.
What her father left behind taught Jihan "Jiji" Kikhia that life doesn't end with the physical. (Puxan BC)

Jihan 'Jiji' Kikhia was only six years old when her father, Mansur Rashid Kikhia, was abducted in December 1993. Mansur Rashid Kikhia was the Foreign Minister of Libya and one of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's most prominent critics.

For 19 years, she witnessed her mother, Baha Omary Kikhia, search for her father, as the family moved between France and the United States. Then, in 2012, they found his body. 

His disappearance became a lifelong journey for Kikhia and her family. Although Jiji knows what happened to her father, his disappearance has left her searching. 

'I still don't feel an actual pain'

"It's not about the amount of time you spend or how you spend it. It's about your principles," Kikhia told Tapestry guest host Yassin Alsalman. 

"There was no shame that he disappeared," Kikhia said, noting her father's heroic standing in Libya. "There was a pride." 

She remembers landing at the airport to people chanting, 'Daughter of the Martyr.' Kikhia says the experience was strange but she was ready for it. 

"I said, 'you know what's happening, it's not about you. So give yourself as a service to them, to let them pour their love for him onto you," she said. 

Although Kikhia only has a few memories of her father, she grew up steeped in his legacy. "I wasn't necessarily deprived of anything because his life was so inspiring."

A platinum print of Jiji Kikhia as a young girl with her mother Baha Omary Kikhia and her father Mansur Rashid Kikhia. (Jihan Kikhia)

Most of her childhood trauma had to do with the aftermath of the disappearance. Kikhia grew up in Paris, only speaking French. But after her father's disappearance, she was sent to her sister's house in Virginia.

"The trauma I consciously remember is linked more to language and identity than an actual pain of my father leaving," said Kikhia. "I still don't feel an actual pain."

The key to Kikhia's healing was her mother, Baha Omary Kikhia. She told her children the truth from day one. For the 19 years that followed, Baha kept Mansur's memory alive through anecdotes, stories and the occasional saying from the Qur'an.

Purpose, legacy and mortality

The experience had a major impact on Kikhia's relationship to mortality, even from a young age.

"I was always aware that if a person could disappear, I can disappear at any moment — anything I'm attached to on this earthly plane could leave at any second," she said.

She believes this relationship has made her more grounded and humble, giving her the tools to live with uncertainty. Her father's disappearance taught Kikhia that life doesn't end with the physical; morals and values live on.

"When your dad is considered to be such a courageous person. And puts himself in danger for what he thinks are honourable values … then that alone is spiritual. You don't really need more than that to tell me about purpose and legacy."

Kikhia's next step is completing Searching for Kikhia, a documentary that pieces together the many aspects of her father's legacy. 


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