Page 1

General Information Oslo, Norway

September 24-26 Information about the event: Twitter: Facebook: For general enquiries and information please visit our website VENUES IN OSLO University of Oslo

Eilert Sundts hus Blindern 0316


Wergelandsveien 29 0167


Dronningens gate 16 0105


Contents 01 General Information

Contact details and venues

03 Welcome to The Question of Syria Information about the event

04 Syrian Peace Action Centre Information about the centre

05 Panellists

List of Speakers

07 Assad’s Jihadist Allies Lecture

09 Palestinization of Syrian Refugees Panel On Bride’s Side Film 11 What Kind of Support Do Syrians Want? Panel Discussion

12 Narratives of Survival

Panel Discussion

13 Our Terrible Country Film Screening

15 The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution


16 Performing Democracy: Syrian Art Practices Today Panel Discussion

17 Programme List of events

16 Acknowledgement, Sponsors and Partners List of Sponsors and Partners


Welcome to:

The Question of Syria A three-day event of panel discussions and film screenings The Syrian Peace Action Centre (SPACE) in Oslo welcomes you to ‘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 will explain the Syrian cause in a common cultural language that demystifies the increasingly complex political landscape through highlighting under-reported alternative narratives of the struggle. The overarching messages of this event are 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. Syria has been witnessing radical transformations on many levels triggered by the popular uprising that started in March 2011. The Syrian people were the initiators of this unprecedented storm of change and they occupied a central position in the Syrian scene, but gradually their struggle for freedom and justice became the most neglected element in the dominating narrative today. Nowadays, people in Norway, and around the world only hear about the outcomes and problems of the Syrian uprising; the situation is rarely explained within its historical, political and social contexts. We aim to contextualize the Syria discussion and make it an accessible topic to everyone. The underlying assumption in our work is that the uprising started bottom-up and Syrians themselves can explain this popular movement to their counterparts around the world.


About ‘SPACE’ The Syrian Peace Action Centre

Established in May 2015, the Syrian Peace Action Center (SPACE) is a non-profit, independent association established to work toward an inclusive and sustainable peace in Syria The underlying assumption that frames the work of SPACE is that the role of the people in political questions remains at bottom the main problem facing Syria today. SPACE emphasizes that the question of Syria can only be answered democratically, and that any narrative that excludes the people is ultimately an endorsement of undemocratic and inhumane processes. In 2011, for the first time since decades, Syrians have reclaimed the public space and started constructing their narratives, gains we believe are irrevocable and are building blocks for a democratic and just Syrian society. SPACE will arrange recurring events about the Syrian cause in collaboration with key stakeholders in Norway. Through periodic change in the focus of the organized events, SPACE will create common spaces for Syrian and Norwegian researchers and intellectuals, cultural producers and artistic voices to engage and interact.


Panellists Hanne Heszlein-Lossius is a medical doctor currently an intern doctor at Haraldsplass sykehus in Bergen. Henne also has a bachelor in journalism. She was part of a group of health care workers who started “Helsehjelp for papirløse”, a medical centre that provides medical care for immigrants in Bergen. She started the Facebook group “Har du plass til en ekstra i hjemmet ditt” as a response to the ongoing debate on how Norway should help Syrian refugees. Line Khateeb is a Norwegian-Palestinian and was in the period 2008-2012 head of the Palestine Committee of Norway. The last three years she has been working in the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum seekers (NOAS), giving legal assistance and guidance to asylum seekers and doing policy work. She has a master’s in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Oslo.

Marcell Shehwaro is an activist and blogger from Aleppo and the Executive Manager of Kesh Malek Organization. Through her organization, Shehwaro is working on promoting children’s rights in the seven schools that the organization run in Aleppo. She initiated with other activists the coalition of “Shamel” for Syrian civil society organizations. Shehwaro has a bachelor’s degree in Dentistry, and a master’s in Human Rights and Cultural Diversity from the University of Essex, UK. Mohammad Al Attar is a Syrian playwright and dramaturge. His theatrical works like: ‘Withdrawal’ , ‘Samah’ , ‘Online’, ‘Could You Please Look into the Camera?’, ‘A Chance Encounter’, and ‘Antigone of Syria’ , have been performed in Damascus, London, New York, Seoul, Berlin, Brussels, Edinburgh, Tunisia, Athens, Beirut, and elsewhere. He has written for numerous magazines and newspapers, with a special focus recently on the Syrian Revolution. Rana khalaf is independent researcher and consultant. She is also a research fellow with the centre for syrian studies at the university of st andrews. Her current research focuses on conflict, governance, civil-society, youth and the neoliberal peace. The co-founder of two civil society movements, rana has been heavily involved in grassroots work. This has supported her authorship of several key publications on syria that seek to bridge the gap between academia and the world of civil society, activism and policy-making.


Sana Yazigi is a graphic designer graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University. She founded the bilingual monthly cultural magazine “The Cultural Diary”, covering the cultural scene in Damascus and other Syrian cities (2007–2012). She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution since 2013. She is also the initiator of ALWAN art therapy initiative for Syrian refugee children in Beirut-Lebanon since 2013. Şenay Özden is a cultural anthropologist and a researcher from Turkey. Her research areas include international migration, refugees, Turkish state’s refugee policies, politics of humanitarian aid. She has numerous articles and reports published on Syrian refugees in Turkey. She is one of the founders of the Syrian Cultural House in Istanbul, “Hamisch”.

Yassin al-Haj Saleh is one of Syria’s most prominent intellectuals and dissidents. He was imprisoned for 16 years (1980–1996) by Hafez al-Assad regime because of his political activism. Yassin al-Haj Saleh writes on political, social and cultural subjects relating to Syria and the Arab world. He has authored and edited five books about Syria. He is a co-founder of the Syrian online periodical “al-Jumhuriya” and the Syrian Cultural House in Istanbul, “Hamisch”. He is a recipient of the Prince Claus Award for 2012. Zaher Omareen is a Syrian documentarist and researcher, recently featured in the Victoria and Albert’s exhibition Disobedient Objects and in the British Council – London’s Third Space exhibition. He is co-editor of Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline (Saqi Books, 2014). He curated several exhibitions of Syrian uprising art in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London. He is a PhD candidate in contemporary documentary cinema and new media at Goldsmiths College. Ziad Majed is an associate professor of Middle East Studies and Comparative Politics at the American University of Paris. He is the author of “Syria, the orphaned revolution” (2013 in Arabic and 2014 in French).


Assad’s Jihadist Allies Lecture by Ziad Majed

Eilert Sundts hus Blindern , Thursday 24 Sep 12:30 to 14:00 (Free Admission) Organised by SPACE and Centre for Islamic and Middle East Studies – UiO While Media and western observers have mainly focused on the Sunni Jihadists moving to Syria to fight Assad or to join the “Islamic State” and fight Syrian opposition factions, other Jihadists – Shi’a ones – have been deploying in larger numbers in the country to defend Assad and “protect” his regime.


photo by AP

Whether from Iraq, from Afghanistan and Pakistan, or from the well-trained and equipped Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Shi’a fighters were mobilized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and sent to fight in most strategic battles around Damascus the capital, in Deraa in the South and in Aleppo in the North. Who are those “Shi’a Jihadists”? Why do they fight to defend the Assad regime? What are the ideological and political justifications for their fight? How does Iran recruit them? And What are the consequences of their “presence in Syria”?


Palestinization of Syrian Refugees Panel and Film Cinemateket: Dronningens gate 16, 0105 Oslo Thursday 24 September 17:30 - 20:45 (Entrance 50 NOK) Organised by SPACE and Oslo Dokumentarkino


Panel Discussion

Moderated by Jørgen Jensehaugen. Panellists: Hanne Heszlein-Lossius, Line Khateeb, Şenay Özden and Yassin al-Haj Saleh

The situation for the refugees has become increasingly present in the Norwegian and European media over the last weeks and months. However, the debate about the refugees is still being repeatedly depoliticized and reduced into a question of numbers only. In this debate we will take as a point of departure the assertion that the influx of refugees is not the core of the problem; rather it is the outcome of a distorted world order.We want to approach the discussion about the refugees by posing critical political and moral questions about the current global state of affairs, immigration laws and the grave injustices that contribute to worsening the crisis, with a special focus on the Syrian refugees’ case and the European and Norwegian response to these questions. Why is the metaphor Palestinization of Syrian refugees relevant? What are the historical commonalities between the Palestinian refugees and Syrian refugees today? How do the refugee laws in neighbouring countries affect the living conditions of Syrian refugees? How is the political debate in Norway framing the issue of Syrian refugees? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in the panel.

On Bride’s Side

film screening Directed by Followed by Antonio Augugliaro, Gabriele del Grande and Khaled Soliman al Nassiry The panel is followed by a screening of On the Bride’s Side. A Palestinian poet and an Italian journalist meet five Palestinians and Syrians in Milan who entered Europe via the Italian island of Lampedusa after fleeing the war in Syria. They decide to help them complete their journey to Sweden – and hopefully avoid getting themselves arrested as traffickers – by faking a wedding. With a Palestinian friend dressed up as the bride and a dozen or so Italian and Syrian friends as wedding guests, they cross halfway over Europe on a four-day journey of three thousand kilometres. This emotionally charged journey not only brings out the stories and hopes and dreams of the five Palestinians and Syrians and their rather special traffickers, but also reveals an unknown side of Europe – a transnational, supportive and irreverent Europe that ridicules the laws and restrictions of the Fortress in a kind of masquerade which is no other than the direct filming of something that really took place on the road from Milan to Stockholm from the 14th to the 18th of November 2013.



What Kind of Support Do Syrians Want?Panel; moderated by Ziad Majed Panellists: Mohammad Al Attar, Rana Khalaf and Yassin al-Haj Saleh

Litteraturhuset: Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo - Room: Nedjma Friday 25 September 17:00 - 18:30 (Free Admission) Organised by SPACE The picture in Syria today looks increasingly gloomy, especially for those watching from afar. What was widely recognized as an uprising for shared humanitarian values, is no longer seen as such. As the situation became intractably complicated, faulty generalizations and simplifications emerged, and the gloomy picture was, consequently, obscured. Nonetheless, many Syrians still believe in the revolution and ask for support from their counterparts around the world. How would we define the situation in Syria today? Are there still any revolutionary characteristics in the middle of the ongoing war and all regional and international interventions? Did the revolution manage to change something in the society? Can we talk about positive change when we are faced with the destruction we see in Syria today on all levels? What kind of support do Syrians living inside Syria, in refugee camps and in exile, want?


Narratives of Survival Panel; moderated by Christian Ruge Panellists: Marcell Shehwaro and Rana Khalaf

Litteraturhuset: Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo - Room: Nedjma Friday 25 September 19:00- 20:00 (Free Admission) Organised by SPACE One of the most important formative experiences for the Syrian youth in the past four years is the emergence of an active civil society. The concept of civil society in Syria was virtually nonexistent before 2011 under the Assad’s dictatorship. But as the Syrian uprising started, the explosion of self-expression mediums turned with time into a multitude of active, cross-cutting grassroots groups that sprung up throughout Syria. Faced with an increasingly complex reality, these groups had to change their proactive course to reactive in response to the pressing humanitarian needs of the local communities while having to survive Assad’s bombs from the sky and extremists’ threats on the ground. All of this means that Syrians have gained, and are still gaining, a significant experience that is worth sharing, developing and supporting, and that the active civil society is yet another manifestation of the on-going uprising. This panel provides a general snapshot on life at the local level during the conflict in Syria. In between state-failure, war economy and a “conflict society”, triggered by the country’s dire humanitarian crisis, multiple actors have stepped in to fill in the void. These include Youth Networks, civil society organisations, Local Councils, Sharia-based institutions, Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party structures, and the jihadist groups, Jabhat al-Nusra and Daesh (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – ISIS). The discussion will build on a case study of civil society activism and local governance dynamics in Aleppo from years 2011-2014.


Our Terrible Country

Film by Mohammad Ali Atassi and Ziad Homsi Litteraturhuset: Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo - Room: Nedjma Friday 25 September 20:30 - 22:00 (Free Admission) Organised by SPACE and Arabiske Filmdager Our Terrible Country’ takes us on the perilous journey of Yassin Haj Saleh, a well-known Syrian intellectual and dissident, and the young photographer Ziad Homsi who travel together in an arduous and dangerous route from the liberated area of Douma/Damascus to Raqqa in northern Syria, only to find themselves eventually forced to leave their home country for a temporary exile in Turkey.


While Yassin was detained in 1980 at the age of twenty, and remained imprisoned for 16 years, he is also one of the few intellectuals who participated clandestinely in the Syrian uprising since its earliest days in 2011. However, by mid-2013, Yassin has to leave Damascus together with his wife Samira for the liberated city of Douma in the Eastern Ghouta, where he meets the young filmmaker Ziad Homsi. The shooting of the film took more than a year in a number of regions in Syria and Turkey. The film, and the fate of its characters, represents the stages of the Syrian Revolution, from its pacifist beginnings to its militarization, the bombardment and destruction of cities by the Syrian Regime, and the emergence of extremist Islamist currents and their quest to take hold of the revolution.



The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution Lecture by Sana Yazigi Litteraturhuset: Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo - Room: Amalie Skram Saturday 26 September 17:00 - 18:00 (Free Admission) Organised by SPACE “There is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory. Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and the access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation” Jacques Derrida Since March 2011, Syria has witnessed deep cultural mutation; forms of expressions have evolved trying to respond to the eventful Syrian uprising. Artistic and cultural production have been a vital tool of political resistance, and so is archiving this production. What is the Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution? What are the characteristics of ‘expression’ in times of tyranny and freedom? How do socio-political and cultural factors affect ‘expression’? How do we see the change on people’s ‘expression’ and behaviour since 2011? What would be the role of memory in the future? What is the link between justice and memory?


Performing Democracy: Syrian Art Practices Today Panel, Moderated by Rana Issa

Panellists: Mohammad Al Attar and Zaher Omareen Litteraturhuset: Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo - Room: Amalie Skram Saturday 26 September 18:30 - 19:30 (Free Admission) Organised by SPACE

Even before the revolution broke out, but certainly after it, artistic practices in Syria often centred around democratising the access to performative and artistic spaces. In the face of collective political calamity, a “democratisation� of images takes place. Indeed this is the case, however the unprecedented scale of the democratisation of artistic space in Syria forces us to reflect further on the function of this objectification of the Event. To reflect on this issue, this panel invites the writer and theatre practitioner Mohammad Al Attar and film critic Zaher Omareen to discuss the role of aesthetics in the political struggle in Syria. As Omareen will discuss through his work the small mobile film documentaries that are being produced in Syria today shown a remarkable vitality in aesthetic form that puts to question our most basic assumptions about aesthetic value. Whereas Omareen calls them filmer image makers, Al Attar subverts the entire theatrical structure by rearranging the relationship between the audience and the actors. As theatre becomes democratized to allow the performances of the public at large, Al Attar reflects on the role of theatre in the defiance of despair and in the work of building testimonies. Through their different media and production techniques, Omareen and Al Attar will reflect on how democracy is performed in Syria today, and together with them we expect to question such stable constellations as artist, spectator, and stage. This line of questioning will bring us closer to Syrian artistic expression and will allow us to reflect on basic, and enduring concepts about the relationship of art to politics.


Programme Oslo (24-26) September Time








Thursday 24 September University of Oslo Assad’s Jihadist Allies Eilert Sundts hus Blindern, 0316, Oslo

Lecture by Ziad Majed (P 07) Free Admission


Palestinization of Syrian Refugees – Panel and film

Dronningens gate 16, 0105 Oslo

Panel by Hanne Heszlein-Lossius, Line Khateeb, Şenay Özden and Yassin al-Haj Saleh Followed by On Bride’s Side Film Screening (P 09-10) Entrance 50 NOK

Friday 25 September Litteraturhuset What Kind of Support Do Wergelandsveien Syrians Want? 29, 0167, Oslo

Panel by Mohammad Al Attar, Rana Khalaf and Yassin al-Haj Saleh (P 11) Free Admission


Narratives of Survival


Our Terrible Country

Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo

Panel by Marcell Shehwaro and Rana Khalaf (P 12) Free Admission Film by Mohammad Ali Atassi and Ziad Homsi (P 13-14) Free Admission

Saturday 26 September 17:00-18:00




The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution


Performing Democracy: Syrian Art Practices Today

Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo

Lecture by Sana Yazigi (P 15) Free Admission

Panel by Mohammad Al Attar and Zaher Omareen (P 16) Free Admission



Acknowledgement We would like to thank Bendik Sørvig, Trude Falch, Senay Ozden, Mona Wærnes, Dalia Alkury and Tor Håkon Tordhol for their help in preparation for this event. We also thank Lara Haddad for the cover photo of this catalogue. Designed by: Waseem Albahri. The Question of Syria Crew: Zeina Bali, Rana Issa and Murhaf Fares.


The Question of Syria - Brochure