Narrating the Revolt and the War

Axis 2. “The Revolt and the War: Stories, Moments and Actors”

The “grand narrative” of the war in Syria has not been written yet. Its content and architecture will depend on the outcome of the war, even though there is a consensus around what constituted its “triggering event”: in February 2011 children from Daraa are kidnapped and tortured by the security services for having written slogans on their school walls announcing the fall of Bashar Al-Assad. With its usual terror, the regime once again called “its” population into order. But on this date and in this context, this ritual of intimidation turns into a showdown, and what until then was routine becomes a turning point that leads to a broad revolutionary movement. The sequences of this narrative, which starts from a small provincial town and brings into play more and more diversified and broad sections of the population, should be analyzed delicately. Particularly, they should be put in perspective with other ways of recounting the engagement in the revolt and in the war, which will ultimately allow for a more accurate map and timeline of the revolt and the war; their “moments,” their “places” and their “actors.” We will do this in close relation with the research in axes 1, 3 and 4. This will allow us to read the stories of the revolt and the conflict through careful identification and analysis of the modes of engagements, disengagements and/or differentiated non-engagements of women and men. In particular, we will take a close look at the generational question that is often crucial: what is the relationship between young protesters and their parents who had for decades opted to submit? Have fractures occurred inside homes? Or rather have “inclusive” engagements of families and clans taken place?

In connection with the work carried out in Axis 4, which tackles the issues of fragmentation and territorial reconfigurations, this axis will trace the course of events in different regions and in different districts of the large cities. Indeed, the dizzying complexity of the Syrian revolt and conflict is in large part a result of the territorial fragmentation and social, religious and political reconstitution engendered by the revolt and the conflict. To shed some light on the local and regional dynamics of the events, we will conduct surveys in the neighboring countries and in Europe, as well as interviews with the Syrians of the interior with whom we have continued to be in contact through social networks and online communication programs.

Furthermore, addressing the stories of the revolt and the conflict will allow us to return to the different stages of the mutation of the peaceful movement into a military conflict according to their locations, as well as to identify the specificities of the modes of action and of protest culture specific to the peaceful phase. We will try to understand how a transformation into armed struggle occurs, and what main actors and stages are involved. We will also try to understand how the protagonists of the revolt position themselves with respect to the escalation of violence, and in what ways this situation inevitably reorients their trajectories of engagement. Finally, this angle of analysis should make possible to observe forms of cooperation and conflict between activist and combatant spheres, and to re-examine the often porous boundaries between the categories of “civilians” and “fighters.” In this particular context, we will invite researchers studying armed groups fighting in Syria to join our team (including Chiara Erminia Calabrese, IREMAM).

In addition to written output, we will put in place a collaborative tool through which will work with all the researchers involved in the project, as well as the MA and PhD students of the EHESS engaged in research on Syria. Thanks to the technical support of EHESS’s shared service of digital tools research, we will develop a dynamic and interactive Dictionary of the revolt and the war in Syria, which will be available on a wiki platform in Arabic, French and English. Around entries comprised of places, dates, specific terms of the revolt and the war, we will pool our research and reflections to read both exhaustively and critically into the multiple stories of the revolt and the war. Lastly, we will be particularly attentive to the question of semantic and lexical changes according to the different phases of revolt and the conflict. These entries will also be accompanied by visuals, photos of neighborhoods and cities before and after the warfare, as well as a cartographic component (in connection with Axis 4) that we will achieve collectively with the technical support of PSIG of the EHESS.