Axis 4. “Territorial, Social and Economic Reconfigurations”
In this fourth axis, we will develop research on some of the most dramatic and lasting consequences of the Syrian conflict: the territorial fragmentation of Syria and the displacement and dispersion of a huge part of its population (nearly 11 million people) against the background of the destruction of infrastructure and an unprecedented social, humanitarian and economic crisis. It will explore the resultant territorial, social and memorial reconfigurations. A movement of popular protest asserting itself in its first months as unitary, the Syrian revolt was confronted with a violent crackdown and shifted, since the fall of 2011, into a pervasive military conflict. Initially centered around the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the protest movement was soon divided into a growing number of military groups (katība, liwā’), which were often in conflict and dependent on financial and military support of regional and international powers. Meanwhile, the survival of the regime was quick to rely on the support of Iran and Russia, and on the intervention of foreign paramilitary groups (Hezbollah, Iraqi and Afghan militias, Arab Nationalist Guard, etc.). The Syrian territory is now divided into four large and more or less homogeneous areas, controlled by government forces, rebel groups, Kurdish autonomist forces and the Islamic State organization. This multi-layered fragmentation calls into question, no doubt lastingly, the myth of the unity of the country and the principle of stable national borders. Added to this is a sectarian polarization (Axis 3) promoted from the outset by a well calculated state repression, primarily targeting Sunni Arab populations and sparing protesters from other sects (Christians, Druze, Ismaili) or ethnic communities (Kurds). In conjunction with the timelining and mapping research carried out in Axis 2, we will ask ourselves in which ways and according to which logics has conflict fragmented the spaces and affected the social relations within villages, cities and neighborhoods? How are people coping with these upheavals? Can we observe violence from “next-door neighbours ” or violence within the same housing unit? How do family or neighborhood relations reorganize themselves in the challenge of war and in exile? How can we grasp the scale and consequences of biographical ruptures? It will also be a question of analyzing the fractures caused by the war (due to the deaths, the destructions and the mass exodus, as well as the differentiated individual positions on the conflict) and the restructuring attempts made in exile, in countries hosting refugees in the Middle East (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey) and in Europe (particularly Sweden and Germany). What role does the internet play in these reconstitution processes? This aspect of the program on exile and migration will touch upon some of the questions addressed by the research project LAJEH (“Time of conflicts / time of migration: Reflections on the categories and genealogy of migration in the Middle East”) carried by Kamel Doraï (Ifpo), Norig Neveu (Ifpo) and Jalal al-Husseini (Ifpo). The question of spatial reconstitution is also part of a broader reflection on the present and the future of destroyed cities: small towns of Ghouta, Homs, Aleppo, etc. Occupied by the rebels and/or the jihadists, these towns are experiencing or have experienced episodes of extreme brutality, massacres and fierce fighting during the regime attempts to reconquer them. For certain towns, these ferocious episodes amount to “urbicide,” since the desire for annihilation goes far beyond strategic considerations alone: It is also a question of destroying the material space of daily life, and thus interrupting a shared “urban narrative,” as well as punishing and forcing civilians to disintegrate and flee. This question of urbicide or a “full-scale war against the city” can be tackled in parallel with the documentation conducted in Axis 1 of the first uprisings against the Assad regime (1979-1982) and the massacres of Hama (1982). We also want to focus on reconstruction projects already being developed by the regime and its allies, which reflect the desire to regain control of reclaimed territories. Two strategies seem to dominate there: first rebuilding cities and neighborhoods by uprooting the poorest populations – perceived as the most hostile; and second, by expropriating property or denying any potential return, replacing some of the Sunni Arab population with allied groups (Alawites, Iranian and Iraqi Shiites) in order to achieve a certain sectarian continuum in regions deemed strategic. Finally, we will focus on the issue of economic reconstitutions through the study of “the economy in war” and “the economy of war,” as well as the economies of survival – whether in the context of regions and cities at war, or in the camps and roads to the nearby exile (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey). What are the daily practices of Syrians trying to make up for the demise of their ordinary livelihoods? How do they mobilize resources and capitals? What are the know-hows that are developing in Syria and in different contexts of exile? Studies will thus draw on testimonies and interviews about mechanisms developed in besieged cities, including a project by Filippo Marranconi (LAU / EHESS) on the food and agriculture in besieged Homs (Central Syria). Social and economic survival practices (small businesses, networks, mutual aid associations, etc.), observable in border areas, camps and “refuge cities” such as Beirut or Gazientep, will also be researched, in relation with already ongoing projects, such as a study being conducted since 2016 by Thierry Boissière (Ifpo) and Annie Tohmé-Tabet (USJ) in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Beirut, or another led by Jamil Mouawad (USJ) in North Lebanon. The question of commercial survival activities can also be linked to a GDRI project on “Circulation and consumption in the Middle East” (CIRCOMO) introduced in April 2017 by Thierry Boissière (Ifpo) and Yoann Morvan (IDEMEC).