The Long Shadow of Assad's Gulag: Syrian Former Detainees in Europe

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Image by Amnesty International Netherlands, used with permission

Recording of a lecture by Uğur Ümit Üngör, Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Amsterdam

This presentation offers an examination of Syria's prison system. It looks into the structure and functioning of arrest and detention, the identities of the perpetrators and the experiences of the survivors, including how they overall fared after fleeing to Europe.

The UCLA Center for European and Russian Studies in co-sponsorship with the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, the UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration, and The Promise Institute for Human Rights hosted a lecture on The Long Shadow of Assad’s Gulag: Syrian Former Detainees in Europe by Uğur Ümit Üngör, Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Amsterdam and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies. The webinar took place online on November 15, 2022. You can watch the recording here on our website or on our YouTube channel.

Abstract

Out of a pre-war Syrian population of 24 million, at some point during the ongoing conflict there were about 250,000 Syrians detained in its many prisons, a percentage of the population (1%) that dwarfs that of many other authoritarian regimes. Imprisonment may well be a defining characteristic of postcolonial Syrian history, and its widespread violence under especially the Assad regime since 1970 has made a profound impact on Syrian society. Yet due to the strict secrecy, censorship, and terror surrounding prisons, as well as the ‘conspiracy of silence’ between perpetrators and victims, Syrian prisons have not been examined systematically. This presentation offers an examination of Syria’s prison system, using a combination of sources and methods, including published sources such as memoirs, social media data, and oral history interviews. It looks into the structure and functioning of arrest and detention, the identities of the perpetrators and the experiences of the survivors, including how they overall fared after fleeing to Europe. How did successive generations of survivors integrate in the Netherlands? How did Dutch social welfare, war crimes prosecutors, and public opinion deal with the influx in 2015 of so many survivors of Assad's Gulag?

Speaker

Uğur Ümit Üngör is Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Amsterdam and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies. His main area of interest is the history and sociology of mass violence, with a particular focus on the modern and contemporary Middle East. He has won several academic awards and held visiting positions in Dublin, Vancouver, Budapest, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Edinburgh. He has published books and articles on various aspects and cases of genocide, including the Armenian genocide. His most recent publications are Paramilitarism: Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State (Oxford University Press, 2020), and the forthcoming two books Syrian Gulag: Inside Assad’s Prisons, 1970-2020 (I.B. Tauris, 2022), and Assad’s Militias and Mass Violence in Syria (Cambridge University Press, 2023). He is an editor of the Journal of Perpetrator Research, and coordinated the Tadamon Massacre project. For more information, see: www.ungor.nl.

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Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2022