Open Letter of Protest EURAMES

Dear EURAMES representatives,

We write to express our dismay at the last EURAMES Newsletter(36/2018) featuring a Call for Papers for an international conference titled “The Role of Remote Sensing and Supporting Systems in the Reconstruction”, to be held in Damascus, 8-10 October 2018, in collaboration with the Syrian government (information at http://www.gors.sy. contact: gors@mail.sy). The conference deals with remote sensing in regional and environmental planning, in assessment of natural and agricultural resources demands, and in estimating the damages caused by the Syrian crisis and preparing thematic maps.

Whilst these topics are important, we, a group of experienced Syria-scholars and other scholars in Middle Eastern Studies from a variety of disciplines, are appalled by the audacity to advertise for such a conference in Damascus. The organiser of the conference, the General Organisation of Remote Sensing (GORS), is a state-affiliated institution based in Damascus.

We find it utterly inappropriate for the academic community to participate in any such event in Syria right now. It is morally unjust to discuss reconstruction with the current Syrian government, when the majority of deaths and widespread infrastructural destruction in urban and rural areas in Syria are caused by the Syrian Arab Army, aided by the army of the Russian Federation.

The upcoming regime assault on the ‘de-escalation zone’ of Idlib, where 3 million Syrian civilians live, will possibly cause the biggest humanitarian disaster in the 7-year old Syrian war. Several humanitarian aid officials, among others Jan Egeland, have warned not to attack Idlib. Worldwide, activists have been demonstrating against the assault that will constitute a warcrime.

The Syrian government has so far proved utter disdain for basic humanitarian and international law and is responsible for more than 80% of the near 100.000 civilian causalties in Syria since 2011, as well as the displacement of 12 million people. The government and its allies perpetrated warcrimes that include the use of chemicals, the targeted and systematic bombardement of healthcare facilities and the forced evacuation of the civilian population. This has consistently been followed by looting and confiscating of private properties such as houses in eastern Aleppo city, eastern Ghouta and Dera’a for example.

It is politically naïve to expect that an event held in Damascus will present an opportunity for a free, open and fruitful dialogue without preconditions and meddling on part of the Syrian authorities, who notoriously only accept dialogue on terms defined by themselves.

This conference in Damascus is thus promoted while the Syrian war is ongoing and another horrific outpouring of violence on densely populated civilian areas appears imminent, while no meaningful, inclusive negotiation for a sustainable peace is in progress.

Therefore, we strongly condemn the inclusion of such event in the EURAMES newsletter and we express our strong opposition to any form of participation or cooperation in this conference and other academic events under the aegis of the Assad government, events that will not promote dialogue or sustainable peace but will only further legitimise the current Syrian government and its practices.

Signed,

  1. Joshka Wessels, senior fellow of the Centre for Syrian Studies, Saint Andrews University (UK) and senior researcher, Lund University, Sweden.
  2. Naomí Ramírez Díaz, UAM, Spain.
  3. Laura Ruiz de Elvira, permanent researcher, IRD, France.
  4. Steven Heydemann, Ketchum Professor of Middle East Studies, Smith College, USA.
  5. Francesca Biancani, University of Bologna and Cedej/IFAO, Cairo.
  6. Aurora Sottimano, senior fellow of the Centre for Syrian Studies, Saint Andrews University (UK) and visiting researcher CEI ISCTE IUL Lisbon.
  7. Mériam Cheikh, Marie Sklodowska-Curie researcher, the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
  8. Estella Carpi, University College London, United Kingdom.
  9. Christa Salamandra, Professor of Anthropology at Lehman College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA.
  10. Sune Haugbolle, Professor in Global Studies, Roskilde University, Denmark.
  11. Hannu Juusola, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland.
  12. Vivienne Matthies-Boon, Assistant Professor of the International Relations of the Middle East, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
  13. Laura Galián, Postdoctoral Researcher Universidad de Granada, Spain.
  14. Michiel Leezenberg, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
  15. Polly Pallister-Wilkins, Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Amsterdam.
  16. Deena Dajani, Postdoctoral Research Officer, LSE, United Kingdom.
  17. Irene Fernández-Molina, Lecturer in International Relations, University of Exeter, United Kingdom.
  18. Miriyam Aouragh, University of Westminster, United Kingdom.
  19. Christoph Schwarz, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies, Philipps-University Marburg, Germany.
  20. Shareah Taleghani, Assistant Professor and Director of Middle East Studies, Queens College – the City University of New York.
  21. Lucia Sorbera, Senior Lecturer, Chair of Arabic Studies Department, the University of Sydney, Australia.
  22. Andrea Teti, Aberdeen University, United Kingdom.
  23. Jan Claudius Völkel, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.
  24. Francesco Vacchiano, Research Fellow, ICS-UL (Instituto de Ciências Sociais – Universidade de Lisboa), Portugal.
  25. Giulia Daniele, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centro de Estudos Internacionais of the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (CEI-IUL), Portugal.
  26. Nicola Pratt, University of Warwick, United Kingdom.
  27. Gennaro Gervasio, Senior Lecturer, Roma Tre University, Rome, Italy
  28. Nina Gren, Associate Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology, Lund University, Sweden.
  29. Leif Stenberg, Director of the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations at the Aga Khan University in London, United Kingdom.
  30. Enrico De Angelis, Free Press Unlimited, Berlin, Germany.
  31. Dr. Amr Al-Azm, Professor Middle East History and Anthropology, Department of Social Sciences, Shawnee State University, USA.
  32. Jakob Skovgaard Petersen, Professor Institut for Tværkulturelle og Regionale Studier (ToRS), University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
  33. Dr Reinoud Leenders, reader in international politics and Middle East Studies, Department of War Studies, King’s College London, United Kingdom.
  34. Thomas Pierret, Senior Researcher at CNRS-IREMAM, Aix-en-Provence, France.
  35. Abdalhadi Alijla, Director, Institute for Middle East Studies, Canada | Associate Research Fellow at Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC).
  36. Alexa Firat, assistant professor of Arabic and Arabic Literature at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.

4 Comments

  1. Hello,
    Thank you for this initiative!
    Would you please add my name to the list of signatories, if you are still accepting them?
    Best wishes,
    Alexa Firat
    (We were on a panel together at St Andrews a few years ago at a conference on Syria).

  2. On 06 Sep 2018, at 19:49, DAVO wrote:

    Dear Colleagues,

    Many thanks for your message.

    I am quite used to receiving similar demands that conferences in specific countries should not be announced in the EURAMES Info Service because of human rights violations in these countries. Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Russia etc. are typical examples.

    It all these cases I answered that EURAMES is not a political organization which is practicing censorship. As an academic institution EURAMES is providing information about academic events to scholars all over the world – no matter whether there are even gross human rights violations in these countries.

    The EURAMES Info Service follows the basic principle of academic freedom! Every scholar has to decide by herself/himself, if she or her wants to participate in an academic event in a specific country, and every scholar is also entitled to be informed about events taking place in a specific field of study.

    In this specific case, I had received the announcement of the academic conference from a colleague at Damascus University, including a long list of scholars from universities all over the world who will present papers at this conference. It was my fault that I did not check that this conference was not organized by a university but by the state-affiliated General Organisation of Remote Sensing (GORS).

    Therefore, I accept your criticism that this announcement should not have been posted.

    Best regards,

    Guenter Meyer

    ———————————–
    Prof. Dr. Guenter Meyer
    Director of the Centre for Research on the Arab World (CERAW),
    University of Mainz
    55099 Mainz – Germany

  3. Dear Professor Meyer and EURAMES Representatives,

    Thank you for your prompt reply and our apologies for the rather late response from our side.

    We are much obliged for your acceptance of the criticism that we voiced in our letter of protest. We object to any academic event sponsored by states responsible for international warcrimes, mass atrocities and destruction such as the Syrian state. Therefore we truly appreciate that you recognise the inappropriateness of the advertisement given the current circumstances in Syria.

    We would like to stress that we object to international event sponsored by any state authorities responsible for mass atrocities and warcrimes, this is obviously not restricted to the Syrian state alone.

    With highest regards,

    On behalf of our group,

    Josepha Ivanka (Joshka) Wessels
    Senior Fellow at Centre for Syrian Studies, Saint Andrews University, UK
    Researcher, Lund University, Sweden

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