The Question of Syria - Syria Are

Oslo, Norway. 29 Sept - 1 Oct 2016

The Question of Syria

Last year, SPACE organized The Question of Syria engaging Norwegians in the struggle of Syrians through panels that focused on the political situation, civil society activism, as well as artistic and cultural practices.

This year, the unprecedented scale of violence, the military intervention by Russia as well as the diplomatic stalemate have seriously compromised the chances of the Syrian people in achieving their rightful ambitions to live in a democratic Syria.

Syrians today are around the world, feeling increasingly isolated and cut off from the social and family networks that any society usually has.

Today there is no longer one Syria with one meaning. We use the title “Syria are …” to reflect the multiple “Syrias” being created everyday.

Who are Syrians, and what do they want, and what are they doing?

We invite you to engage with our participants in this three-day event to try to address these basic questions in an attempt to come to terms with the level of destruction that scorches through Syria.


September 29, 2016
5:00pm - 6:00pm
Syria: between political catastrophe and cultural resilience
Karam Nachar - Moderator: Rana Issa
Venue: Nedjma, Litteraturhuset

While the Syrian war seems to embody all that is complex, alien, and thus incomprehensible about the Middle East, the five-year-old brutal conflict can in fact be explained through a set of global historical factors that emanate from the world made by Europe in the wake of World War One. This talk will shed light on some of these global factors and their local manifestations, all while emphasising their inherently contradictory nature: destabilising Syrian politics to the point of disaster, while generating much cultural angst and productivity.

6:30pm - 8:00pm
Misreading Syria: Sectarian Secularism
Thomas Pierret, Bjørn Olav Utvik, Marcell Shehwaro - Moderator: Bendik Sørvig
Venue: Nedjma, Litteraturhuset

Persistent claims that the Syrian regime is “non-sectarian” result from a failure to distinguish between sectarianism as an explicit ideology, and sectarianism as an often unspoken technique of power. Whereas the Assad family has generally purported to act in the name of “national unity”, and accordingly minimised discursive expressions of sectarianism, its actual practices throughout the last five decades have consisted in the systematic manipulation of sectarian divides for the purpose of regime survival.

September 30, 2016
5:00pm - 6:15pm
Keynote speech
Mazen Darwish. - Moderator: Åsne Seierstad
Venue: Litteraturhuset, Wergeland

Mazen Darwish, one of Syria's most prominent human rights activists, will give a speech about his experience in Syria before and after the revolution as a human rights advocate. Afterwards, Darwish will be interviewed by the Norwegian journalist and author Åsne Seierstad.

6:30pm - 8:00pm
Syria International?
Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila Al Shami, Bendik Sørvig - Moderator: Bissan Fakih
Venue: Litteraturhuset, Wergeland

The idea of a Syria International intends to refocus attention on the agency of Syrians in their struggle and consequently to demand international solidarity and acknowledgement of their rightful and just cause.

This panel assesses the isolation of Syrian civilians by identifying those who neglect them, as well as those rare people who are determined to support them. The intent is on identifying the possibilities for building on existing Syria International solidarity movements around the world, as well as on questioning the extent to which humanitarian and political efforts to support Syria’s civilian population can be improved and augmented.

October 1, 2016
6:00pm - 10:00pm
A space to think and imagine Syria - live music, lightning talks and visual art performance
Various speakers, Music by Ziad Khawam, Art Performance by Razan Sabbagh
Venue: Ingensteds

The evening will open by so-called “lightning talks” by the different speakers about their work, passion and activism. These talks are meant to inspire us to imagine Syria differently. The audience is invited to use the open space to engage with the speakers, not only to ask questions, but also to debate, tell stories and identify new possibilities. Syrian artist, Razan Sabbagh will afterwards have a visual arts performance with some action painting, fused to the music of the Qanun player Ziad Khawam. The vibrant space counts on your interaction through shared reflections, conversations and live music.


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On September 29, Marcell Shehwaro, Thomas Pierret and Bjørn Olav Utvik will speak on a panel titled 'Misreading Syria: Sectarian Secularism'. We have collected a few articles which are relevant to the topic of this panel. We do recommend these articles to better understand the nature of the Assad state and the Syrian conflict today.

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In September 2015, the Syrian Peace Action Centre (SPACE) organized ‘The Question of Syria’ — a three-day event of panel discussions and film screenings about resistance, art and revolution in Syria, introducing the works of Syrian artists, intellectuals and cultural actors. The Question of Syria tried to explain the Syrian cause in a common cultural language that demystifies the increasingly complex political landscape through highlighting underreported alternative narratives of the struggle, closer to the aspirations of the Syrian people. The overarching messages of this event were to portray the ongoing, multifaceted Syrian uprising, to introduce the alternative democratic forces in Syria and to provide a forum for interested public in Norway to engage in and reflect on the Question of Syria.

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