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Syria: Spaces of War: CMES Visiting Scholars Lecture Series

Lecture | February 15 | 12-1:30 p.m. | 340 Stephens Hall | Note change in date


Sofia Shwayri, CMES Visiting Scholar

Center for Middle Eastern Studies


The uprisings that swept North Africa from late 2010 thru early 2011 reached Syria, to the surprise of many including President Bashar Al-Assaad, in March 2011. Al-Assaad, was convinced that his country would never experience such a widespread public show of dissent. Differing from those other uprisings, Syrians could not claim their own Tahrir Square in Damascus, as the long standing state of emergency gave way to new legislation and violent denial of access to public space. Elsewhere, peaceful protests were short-lived with the regime violently suppressing any show of dissatisfaction. Before the end of 2011 the country had descended into civil war. Initially, the regime battled an opposition, primarily formed of army defectors, while focusing on keeping the capital Damascus off-limits. As the struggle continued, each side was joined by foreign fighters, Sunni militants on the side of the opposition, and Shiite groups on the side of the regime. The war now became an ethno-sectarian conflict, with each side focused on marking their territory. It was during this phase that the number of Islamist militants grew exponentially, culminating with the arrival of ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, formerly The Islamic State in Iraq). Their goal, unlike the other opposition groups, was to establish a caliphate extending from Iraq through Syria and beyond. In only a few months their territorial expansion into and influence on countries in North Africa and Europe alarmed Western nations who were then drawn into the conflict, making it an international war, with the number of Syrian refugees flocking to neighboring countries and further, mainly to Europe. The fragmentation of Syrian national territory, worsened by the loss of the state’s control over key border zones, led the regime to ally with Russia, whose forces turned the war into a struggle against foreign terrorists on Syrian soil, as Al-Assaad had claimed it always was.
This six year war has left over 310,000 dead, a million injured and millions more displaced internally and beyond Syria’s borders. Destruction is extensive and widespread. Syria’s socio-spatial landscape is forever altered by a conflict that developed, through four phases, from peaceful protest, to civil war and a later ethno-sectarian phase into an international, proxy imperial war. Mapping out how this happened, how the war transformed space and how, in turn, place shaped the form of the conflict is the aim of this presentation, taking into account both the constantly changing nature of the war and its combatants.


cmes@berkeley.edu, 510-642-8208