Go Back to the article page

Please upgrade to a browser that supports HTML5 audio or install Flash.

Audio MP3 Download Podcast

Duration: 01:27:24



Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the


for European and Russian Studies at UCLA,

CERS for short.

I am Laurie Kain Hart, Faculty Director of

the Center and Professor of Anthropology and

Global Studies. Thanks to our audience for

joining us today and our wonderful speaker

whom I will introduce in a moment. I would

also like to thank our Center's Executive

Director Liana Grancea and our Program Director

Lenka Unge for their contributions to today's

event and to the Center, of course, in general.

As is our custom here at UCLA I want to acknowledge

that we're here on the territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva

peoples who are the traditional caretakers

of the Los Angeles Basin and South Channel

Islands. As a land grant institution we pay

our respects to the ancestors, elders, and

relatives in relations past, present and emerging.

I'd also like to acknowledge the significant

strike  of academic

workers at UCLA for their living conditions,

and urge the Administration to negotiate in

good faith with our beloved TAs, postdocs,

and others who are our frontline essential

workers. So now on behalf of the Center for

European and Russian Studies I'm really happy

to introduce Uğur Ümit Üngör, professor

of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University

of Amsterdam, and the NIOD Institute for War,

Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Uğur was a visiting professor at our

Center for the fall quarter in 2019,

which seems a very long time ago,

pre-Covid. And that was made possible by

the UCLA Dutch Studies Exchange Program.

In 2019 Professor Üngör gave us

a brilliant lecture on Syrian war criminals

in Holland, so we're super happy for have

him back for a minute even if virtually to

continue our conversation about last year

and the long-standing conflict and division,

Syrians in Europe, genocide, migration, a

situation that continues to devastate lives

at both ends of the migration spectrum.

Professor Üngör's 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 many

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. Let me mention three of


most recent publications, which are "Paramilitarism:

Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State"

that is out from Oxford University Press in


funded research project on paramilitarism

that Professor Üngör conducted between 2014

and 2019. He also has two forthcoming books,

"Syrian Gulag: Inside Assad's Prisons, 1970-2020"

from Tauris in 2022, and "Assad's Militia

and Mass Violence in Syria" from Cambridge

University Press in 2023. He is also an editor

of the Journal of Perpetrator Research. Let

me just also mention some of his earlier publications

to show the breadth for his scholarship. "Genocide: New

Perspectives on Its Causes, Courses and Consequences"

in 2016, "Confiscation and Destruction:

The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property,"

in 2011 and the award-winning "The Making

of Modern Turkey:

Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia 1913-1950."

So the questions his research and teaching

address could obviously not be more important

in the moment.

Just a note of administration, we encourage

you to submit your questions anytime during

the talk and afterwards via the Q&A box at

the bottom of your screen and I will read

them for the speaker.

You can do those anonymously or by name as

you can choose. Now please join me in welcoming

professor Üngör who will speak on "The


Shadow of Assad Gulag: Syrian Former Detainees

in Europe".

Hello, everyone! I hope this presentation

is visible to everyone. If not just let me

know, but we tested it so it should be okay.

Thank you, everybody, for being here. It's

a real pleasure. I'm also very happy to see

some old friends and some new friends among

the attendees. It's been a while, but I spent

some time at UCLA in 2019 right before the

pandemic hit, so second half of 2019. And

already back then this book was about to be

finished. And we initially wanted to finish

it at the 10th year, that's the anniversary

of the beginning of the uprising, but because

of the pandemic it took a bit longer. And

this is a project that I didn't really choose

as a topic myself. It sounds a bit cliché,

but the topic kind of chose me. And I'll tell

you why. Initially, in 2011 when the uprising

in Syria began, the repression of the regime

escalated and took on these catastrophic proportions,

I began interviewing Syrians about their experience

with violence. And what I noticed is that

a disproportionate number of Syrians noted

that they had spent some time in prison, that

they had been arrested as detainees,

and that they had been tortured severely

in many of these prisons. And I kept interviewing

people and I kept running into people who

had these stories. And in the end I thought,

you know, it kind of confused

me to be honest. How does this system work?

Because people are arrested by different intelligence

or agencies, they're put in different prisons,

they see sometimes different treatment, so

I felt confused. But then I bumped into a

friend, now a colleague, my co-author in this

book Jaber Baker, who is a Syrian writer and

researcher who himself also is a former detainee.

And I asked him, you know, whether there was

an overview book of the

Syrian prison system that's been in place

now for over half a century, since 1970

when Assad came to power and he said that

there was none. And then I just proposed it,

you know, why don't we write this thing together?

He agreed and we started to research this

in 2017. Within three-four years we actually

finished this book, which is coming out in

English with IB Tauris. It's already out in


And in the book, basically we give an overview

of the kind of four-dimensional prison system

that the regime has created since 1970 roughly.

And these four dimensions are the intelligence

branches, the military prisons, the civil

prisons and the secret prisons. And together

this kind of four-pronged system gears into each


and only together produces what we call the

Syrian Gulag. The intricate system of surveillance,

arrest, detention, torture, often release

or death. As a kind of self-reproducing system,

it has been evolving, but it's also been in

place for over half a century and it has a

disproportionate impact on Syrian society.

Now I would like to give a general trigger


There are two slides that I'm going to show

a bit later that are going to be a little

gruesome and the first of those slides I'm

going to show now.

These are drawings from former detainees when

they were asked how they were tortured when

they were arrested by the intelligence.

This is often what they said. So putting an

iron against someone's

chest, hanging somebody from the ceiling and

whipping them, or this torture method all

the way on the right. And the three major

questions that we ask following from this

violence, we're in essence trying to explain

this violence, is first of all how did the

Assad regime build its power through its prison

system? So what is the objective of this system?

It's to build a power base, but how did the

regime do this historically and how does it

continue to do this? Then second, a lot of

attention has been given on the victims and

on the survivors and rightly so. Their voices

need to be amplified, they need to be heard,

but we had a feeling, Jaber and I, had the

feeling that there was very little known on

the perpetrators. Even in human rights documentation,

the language invariably was in passive voice.

So the person was arrested, the victim was

tortured, the person, you know, the man was

executed but nobody wrote down who did the

torturing and the executing and the arresting.

And we were also interested very much in the

perpetrators. How was the system erected?

What type of men, almost 99% of these perpetrators

are men, were deployed and how did they carry

out their tasks? How did they feel about themselves

and why do they keep doing this? And then

finally, how does this prison system affect

Syrian society in the long-term? Because we

know violence has long echoes, even if it

ends, it has really long reverberations in


And we're also interested in how this happened.

Because we interviewed also some men who are

now in their late 60s, who had been arrested


the 1970s and their lives, if you look at

it biographically I mean, their lives have

never been normal. They were arrested as young

students, they were put in prison, they were

tortured, they were in prison for 16 years,

they got out and then very often they never

married, they never had kids, they always

sleep bad, some of them have substance abuse

even, and very often,

of course, they were forced to leave the


So the long-term effects and also the effects

on those people who were not arrested, so

for example on the families of the detainees.

These are also absolutely key questions. I

mean, we don't answer them exhaustively all,

but we do raise them. And all these questions

they do appear in the book. So I'm going to

talk first a little bit about the system of

detention and arrest starting with discerning

intelligence move on some of the central prisons

and then towards the end we'll talk a little

bit about the societal impact that this system

had also on people who left Syria, fled Syria

and for example took refuge in Europe, sometimes

in neighboring countries, of course Lebanon,

Jordan, Turkey, but also mostly in Europe,

and how they fared, these survivors, in Europe,

because I especially, but also Jaber, we interviewed

a large number of these detainees in Europe

for various reasons. Any discussion of the

Syrian regime, the Assad regime, has to start

with its coercive apparatus. So what type

of organizations and agencies does the regime

have at its disposal? I've color coded

them here for your interest. In red, of course,

we have army and police, but that's fairly

normal. Most, all countries have an army and

a police for their monopoly of violence, for

security internally and externally.

But the Syrian, the Assad regime is a little

special because it also has three other coercive

apparatuses starting with the green, you're

in the green coat, the four bullet points,

are really at the heart of what the origin

represents, namely the four almost omnipotent

intelligence agencies.

So not one, but four. And there is a separate

research field that goes into why and how

this regime, or this these types of regimes

have this many intelligence agencies,

and this many staff that work with them. But

in essence we're not dealing here only with

groups, with agencies that collect intelligence,

but they also have the right to kill,

they have license to kill, license to arrest,

they carry arms, they walk around in civilian

clothing, they have their buildings all over

Syrian cities, or they keep detainees where

they torture people, or they interrogate people

where they dropped dossiers about people.

And so the tentacles of the regime, four of

these major tentacles, they are really at

the core of trying to understand the regime

in general, not even only the prison system.

And the word intelligence, if there's one

word you should learn in Arabic, it should

be mukhabarat,

which means intelligence. Even the word mukhabarat

will have Syrians duck under the table out

of fear because of the omnipotence and the

limitless violence that they visit upon the


So we'll talk about that in the next few slides.

But also I want to mention two other institutions.

In purple bullet points are the Special

Forces of Syria, the Fourth Armored Brigade.

For a long time it was lead de facto by the

brother of president Assad, namely Maher al-Assad,

who's this guy on the right, ruthless

person and loose cannon personality.

Then the Republican Guard, highly trained

arm to the teeth elite troops, and the Special


And these were very important and influential

actually in repressing the uprising in 2011-12.

And then in the end there are also finally

there are the Shabbiha. This is the word,

in Syrian, in Arabic, that represents paramilitaries.

So these were militias that were established

outside of the other three color-coded coercive

apparatuses. I wrote a book of paramilitarism,

there's another book coming on the Syrian

militia specifically.

And these were mostly civilians that were

armed by the regime or that were tacitly condoned

by the regime to engage with the demonstrators

to basically repress the demonstrations. And

then after that they took on a whole range

of security tasks, such as planning checkpoints


Now let's start first with the, you know,

the first major leg of the gulag, which is

of course the intelligence

agencies. There are basically four of them.

The Military Intelligence, which is the most

powerful of the agencies. Here you have a

map. In red you see provincial capitals in

Syria and in blue dots you see where there

are branches.

The numbering of the branches is a little...

It's still a bit of an enigma. We don't know

why they're so random. They must come up with

it at some point. But you can see for example

Damascus, there are six different branches

of the Military Intelligence.

And of course the Military Intelligence primarily

spies on the army, on its own army, apart

from gathering, of course, military intelligence

on neighboring countries, military capacities

etc., but is primarily actually geared towards

controlling the Syrian Army, which is a conscript

army. If you control the army, then you also

reduce the risk of a coup d'état and therefore

the Military Intelligence is really thee omnipotent

organization inside Syrian borders. There

are different tasks of the Military Intelligence.

Sometimes they're responsible for borders

in Syria, sometimes they are also responsible

for example for hunting down draft dodgers,

so they manage checkpoints and you can be

in serious trouble if they arrest you

and they take you away to one of the branches.

For those of you, who followed the news a

little bit last April, there's a news item

on the front page of The Guardian that was

on Branch 227 in Damascus. They were responsible

for a massacre in the Damascus neighborhood

of Tadamon.

Tadamus is a neighborhood in which one of

the officers of Branch 227 basically more

or less randomly arrested 300 people and then

executed them himself over a pit and then

burnt the bodies in 2013. So the level of

ruthlessness is absolutely no joke. For example

in the conflict in the past decade, the Military

Intelligence was responsible also for blockading

entire neighborhoods for a sieges, besieging

neighborhoods in which, of course, countless

people died.

Then we have the Air Force Intelligence. You

will see the branches of the Air Force Intelligence.

Now you might ask: Why does an Air Force have

an intelligence agency? And this is partly

because al-Assad himself was a pilot and he

built his power base inside of the Air Force,

where he developed his own intelligence group

and later agency. And second, because pilots

and the Air Force obviously can be particularly

influential in a potential coup d'état.

So to cool proof it, the Air Force Intelligence

was established partly also because of some

of the neighboring countries. They have air

forces that are far superior than the Syrian

Air Force, such as Turkish Republic but also

Israel, of course, really has hegemony even

over Syria, over the Syrian skies every once

in a while. I mean this has been in the past

decades, but even now every once in a while

Israel does sorties above Damascus, bombs,

airports or bombs, military installations

and then flies back and there's really nothing

that the Syrian Air Force can do about it.

Air Force Intelligence, you know, is very

much involved in the repression of the uprising.

For example they were responsible at some

point for creating the notion of the barrel


Barrel bomb is exactly what it sounds like.

It's a barrel and they put shrapnel in it

with explosives and that's basically thrown

out of a helicopter above a civilian neighborhood.

And upon explosion, upon impact, that shrapnel

goes all over the place and leaves to parallel

wounds killing randomly large number of people.

Then we have the third leg of the intelligence,

the Political Security. This organization

is responsible for surveilling any and all

potential political or deemed political, perceived

political activity inside Syria. So let's

say that you want to establish a political

party. Well, let's say that with two or three

friends you come together in an apartment

and you drink coffee and you want to discuss

politics. Now these are things that the Political

Security wants to know about. Or you establish

a Facebook page where you discuss politics,

or you want to publish a book

and Political Security will be on it.

And they'll make sure that they nip that activity

in the bud.

Of course, when you see these blue dots,

the branches, a branch sounds like, you know,

as if you had a Starbucks, a franchised branch

or something, but the branches don't operate

independently. They are tied to the center,

often the headquarters in Damascus, they take

orders from Damascus, they report back to

Damascus, deeply hierarchical. And a branch

often is, imagine an ugly, gray concrete building

in the middle of a city somewhere, two or

three floors above ground, one, two, three,

four floors sometimes on the ground. Above

ground is where the administration is, where

the officers are, where their desks are,

and underground - that's where the torture

chambers and the cells are, where the detainees


These buildings, they are obviously fearsome

and most Syrians are terrified to even, I

mean let alone that you can obviously go take

a picture of it, there are no pictures of

branches by the way, but also it was dangerous

for example to even walk into the street of

one of these branches and look at the branch.

That in itself was seen as threatening by

the regime.

And then finally we have the State Security

also known as the general intelligence. And

this was the initial, the original, really

the first formal civilian intelligence agency

in Syria. And that was established by the

French in the 1920s, and until 1946 when the

French receded and left the mandate to become

postcolonial state, Syrian independence, that's

when the postcolonial power holders took over,

and they built the State Security into an

intelligence agency.

This is "the weakest,

the least powerful" of these agencies and

yet even the State Security is feared.

For example you see in Damascus here, there's

a dot, B 251, so branch B 251 is also known

as Al-Khatib

branch because it's in the Al-khatib Street

right in the center of Damascus. The head

of investigation of that branch, really the

main warden, he fled to Europe. He was arrested

in Germany and he was put on trial in a famous

case in Koblenz, the city of Koblenz. I went

to the trial a couple times and it was

interesting to sit there. A guy with glasses

who just takes notes all the time, he never

said anything to anybody during the entire

case. One after the other victim came in and

basically told their story sobbing and shaking,

how they were arrested and tortured and

this guy didn't bat an eyelid, but took copious

notes. It is expected that he's going to publish

his notes at some point. Of course he claimed

he was innocent, that he was a good guy, and

that he prevented a lot of people from getting


Now you might look at this picture on the

right and think that's a very nice suit.

Probably a very expensive Italian suit on

President al-Assad. That's true, but I would

urge you to look at the man behind him. I'll

get back to that in a minute. Now I have three

intermezzos that give you

a snapshot of how this regime or how this

prison system operates. Let me start with

the first one of these anecdotes.

And these are all taken from interviews that

we conducted with eyewitnesses and survivors.

So a young man is arrested in 2011 for posting

on Facebook against the regime Plainclothes

Mukhabarat officers show up on his doorstep

at midnight. "Come with us to the branch",

they say. "Just for a quick coffee. 5 minutes."

He suffers three months of torture, hanging

from the ceiling, he's whipped until he soils

himself. He develops scurvy and a hernia in

his spinal disc.

After release, he goes back home and he can't

sleep at night anymore.

A few months later someone knocks on his door

again. Two grim men in the door:

"Come with us to the branch." "But Sir," he

says, "you already arrested me. I just came

out of prison." "Not yet by us. That was Political

Security. We are the Air Force Intelligence."

And again he is arrested and tortured for

another six weeks. So this is fairly common


Then the second leg of the gulag are the military

prisons. And these are kind of central, really

large prisons, in fact so large that even

the term prison doesn't suffice anymore.

We're dealing really with camps here. Camps

because of the scale and the systematic violence

and the lethality of the violence.

So here a lot of people, mostly men,

are not just tortured for extracting confessions

or for various other reasons, even to punish,

but to kill. This is where, you know,

a lot of detainees don't make it out alive.

And chronologically it starts really with

Mezze. This is a neighborhood, also an airport

in Damascus, where the French initially established

a prison way back in the 1920s. And then at

some point the regime builds, establishes

a prison in the desert called in Palmyra,

the city of Palmyra.

Palmyra in Arabic is called Tadmor and the

terminal prison really becomes, it really

encapsulates what the Assad regime is. And

that's where for decades thousands and possibly

tens of thousands of people were kept, tortured,

and many of them fled after they were released.

And the violence visited upon them really

has filled memoirs and has sent shock waves

through Syrian society. At some point the

regime closes down that motor and then they

established in the 1990s the prison just north

of Damascus called Saydnaya. And Saydnaya

is a modern large-scale holding camp. Really,

detainees of entire political parties, of

entire communities are being kept there in

conditions that

are so awful that United Nations but also

investigative committees, also most

human rights documentation and scholars have

called it an extermination camp, because of

the deliberate destruction of human life.

Now the third leg of the gulag are the normal

civil prisons. So these are prisons where

you go if you've committed an actual crime,

like you know, jealous husband killed his

wife, or somebody runs somebody over in traffic

and then drives off the embezzlement of money,

you name it.

Then you end up in one of these civil prisons

and of course conditions in these civil prisons

are not pleasant, but they don't pale in comparison

with the military prisons or the intelligence

branches, of course, because this is where

a lot of people are kept before they're being

released back into society.

So very often intelligence branches are like


vacuum cleaner. They take from society, they

torture, their process, they hand people over

to one of these three prisons that I just

showed before, and before you're being released

from Saydnaya

or Mezze, you first are often sent to one

of these civil prisons to recuperate a bit,

so when you get out, you don't look that terrible.

And so that's the kind of cycle

of arrest, holding, and release. And so conditions

are not great

here, they're not as good for example as

in prisons in the Netherlands

or in Germany obviously, but relative to the

other prisons, these prisons often are experienced

as a real relief by the survivors. And then


we have the secret prisons. So there are many

of them.

I just highlighted three of them: Deir Shmeil,


and Regiment 555 in Damascus. And these are

the prisons

that are established by some of these militias

and the elite troops that I mentioned. So

they're kind of makeshift, can be a farm outside

in the middle of nowhere, it can be a private

apartment. It can be a military base, in the

case of Regiment 555 for example.

And here because these prisons,

they're not really subject

to the intelligence or the

civil prisons or even the military prisons

conditions here,

they can be either worse or bad or worse

or know bad or worse

in comparison to the other prisons,

because violence here often is haphazard.

It's random.

Some militia arrest

two and takes you to a farm

where you don't get any food

and you're being tortured.

You don't even know for what reason.

Sometimes even for only for ransom.

So and the number of people

that escaped from

this alive actually is relatively low.

I already mentioned

there was a man behind Bashar al-Assad.

Know a lot of people there.

Also a lot of media

focuses on Assad, their interviews

with him in which he denies

the violence of the regime, etc..

But it was felt that these were

the wrong questions to ask the real people

that should be spoken

to or the intelligence bosses in Syria.

So there are a number

I could talk for an hour about these

these men, one more thuggish

and ruthless than the other,

but the cop or the [...],

as they say in the Italian

mafia, or the boss of bosses,

it really is Ali Mamlouk.

Look, this

is a baby boomer.

This is part of a CV, as you can see.

Who was he comes from

an exceptionally violent career

around the chemical weapons program

at some point around the Air Force


And so successful

and so much trust of the Assad family

that he was promoted to the head

of all of the intelligence agencies.

So he was above all of them.

And some were really at

some point was the most powerful man

in the country for decades after himself.

And yet, if you google him, you can find

very little information on him.

You know, he's one of the most

powerful men in the Middle East.

So that's the paradox,

the paradox of the power and then the

the secrecy and the cloak

and dagger and nature of the intelligence,

which of course is part of their nature.

But the

paradox is extremely powerful

and yet you know very little about

the way that we try to gather information

about someone like this.

But speaking to some of his own,

this former colleagues,

people who known him or some people,

even some high profile detainees

who were taken to his office

and other explain themselves then

we interviewed, for example,

an ex-boyfriend of one of his daughters,

and that gave us a bit of a picture

of a actually

relatively calm and well-educated man




in Arab nationalism is really with defiance,

and his loyalty is blind,

loyalty in Assad.

That is what defines his work.

And the human losses

are absolutely irrelevant for that.

There's no evidence that at some point

he was concerned at all

with the example holding

the intelligence agencies to any form of

rule of law or due process.

No second Internet.

So this, again, is from interviews

that we did with former detainees.

A Syrian man wakes up from a dream

in which you saw that no longer Hafez

Assad was the president of Syria,

but he himself,

in his dream in his dream,

his friend's

circle were the cabinet of the government.

It tells the dream to his wife,

which was it to a friend.

He tells it to another friend

whose husband is in the Mukhabarat.

The regime arrests the entire cabinet,

all of them taken and tortured.

Now, why does all of this happen

at some point?

Of course,

there are a number of explanations about

in which you can use past dependance.

That's, of course,

the Ottoman previous reasons

French colonial interventions,


power, the building of Syrian state power,

and then the retreat

of the French, the collapse of the mandate

and post-colonial power

struggles, authoritarianism.

All of those past dependance

turns are really relevant,

but at some point

it really came down to politics.

So these prisons are set up specifically

for political repression,

not for a criminal justice system.

Political repression

is such that here on the left, a box

you have a representation

of what is what is permissible

politics in Syria.

So we have the National Progressive Front

that's the leading party

of the Baath Party.

And under that or around that,

you have a couple of other parties,

sham parties, political parties

that of course, they don't really conduct

opposition politics.

They don't really question the government.

They don't really have a totally different

vision of the society.

They're just tolerated for the fact

that they are toadying up to the regime.

For example, the Communist Party of Syria,

the Arab Socialist Union,

the national movement,

Syrian Social Nationalist Party,

all these parties, they you know,

they don't really challenged the regime

and they certainly don't have

a position on human rights violations.

So this is it's a basically

it's a business theater.

It's choreographed.

It's what they in Arabic called assumption

clear, which means sham parties.

And as long as they stay within this box

of permissible politics, you'll find

you can become a member of this party,

you can go to parliament,

you can discuss anything you want.

But as soon as you step into this box

on the right,

that's impermissible politics

or prohibited politics,

that's when you are in trouble

and that's when you make yourself

vulnerable to arrest and torture by

by the intelligence

and end up in the gulag.

And that is the Muslim

Brotherhood, for example,

the communists,

the real communists, let's say.

Then the liberals, for example,

and the 2011 revolution to

demonstrators and activists

in the 2011 Arab Spring.

As soon as you step into this box,

that's when you make it so vulnerable.

That's when you are targeted for

a political identity that you've taken.

And the idea of the regime is to try

to keep as many people out of this box

as they can.

And they do that through violence.

So the violence is not to extract


It's actually it's actually

to impose a vision of Syria

and to be shown party and to table

to be Baath Party.

So one of the more interesting memoirs

ever written

by the in the prison system is by

a gentleman called Mustafa Khalifa

He was arrested upon returning

from France, where he was studying,

and he wrote a memoir called The Shell,

which became an instant classic in Syria.

It's special for its

brutal honesty

about the violence that he suffered,

for example,

what it means to him to be tortured.

How does it feel to be tortured?

He has great observations

of the perpetrators because he sees them

in action everyday and also of the micro

sociological interactions

among the detainees in the prison cells.

So forms of solidarity, but also forms of

competition and

even forms of aggression,


This next novel,

so terrific book. I really recommend it.

It's one of the best or more interesting,

most interesting memoirs

I've ever written of Survivor of Violence

and recently translated to Dutch,

the German translator of the book,

by the way, the woman who translated it

from Arabic to German

after translating book

finishing, had to go into therapy,

and this is how heavy the book was to her.

Now, and

here's an interesting development

that we see this prison here

on the left of this Mercedes sign

as we quote these

three wings symmetrical.

This is a satire,

the main prison over here on the left

and here on the right, this white building

is a probable crematorium that was built

by the regime in 17

to process

all the basically with all the dead bodies

that that were turned out

by the major prison said. Now

it said no

has become the interesting thing

of course there are no photos of certainly

it's impossible

to get into through the perimeter.

So there are only like one or two

satellite photos of it was a nobody.

For example, dare to go there

with a drone or something.

That's absolutely impossible.

So the way that it was done,

the way that this prison was researched,

is by asking survivors,

using forensic architecture,

which means that they took

Amnesty International, for example,

they set down detainees,

and they asked, okay, from this

wing to that wing, how many steps was it?

How hollow was the sound?

How many windows were there?

When did the sun rise?

Where the set where was the kitchen?

How many steps,

how large was the bathroom?

So that's how it was constructed.

And there's a

there's a website where you can see

can actually take

a virtual tour of that said

and it's called forensic architecture.

If you type that in Google,

you'll find it.

And then, of course,

well, this might be one

of the more gruesome photos.

And I apologize for this.

At some point there was a leak

of a photographer, military photographer

from inside one of these prisons,

the military airport.

This was a man on the left

who gave testimony in Congress

in his blue raincoat to remain anonymous.

Of course,

the man had to take photos of people

who were deceased

or who died actually under torture.

And it's the picture of them with a number

number had to be sent them to the coroner

and then

death certificates were issued.

And so this gruesome job,

he had to do that for a long time.

And at some point

he couldn't take it anymore.

So he took all of his photos

of thousands of them,

put on a USB stick into a sock,

and then basically left to Europe.

The photos

they show really an unprecedented

look into the brutality

of the prison system.

This is a photo, for example,

he took from the general scene,

not one particular body,

but the general scene.

And you can see here

the intelligence officers right there

processing the bodies in industrial wear

and bodies.

They showed very clear marks,

first of all, emaciated, famished initial,

very clear signs of torture,

although the victims have been tortured

so badly that there were unrecognizable,

even to the families

who saw the saw the photos,

skip that quickly.

That's a gruesome photo.

So then that branch that I mentioned,

the gentleman with the glasses

was the warden of the prison

and took copious notes in this trial

was also interesting in Germany,

because Germany has universal jurisdiction

to commit a crime against humanity

or a war crime anywhere in the world.

You can be judge

to actually be tried in Germany.

And he was he was found guilty.

And his defense was kind of interesting.

He argued that had

he not been in that position,

then someone else who was much more

radical actually would have

would have really made a bloodbath

out of it.

So actually,

the defense should be thankful

that he was there because he was

relatively modest and moderate.

And of course, this is an interesting

line of defense that you see also in other

like with Marxism, Nuremberg, also,

there are a number of them

tried to in the face of punishment

and in the face of a potential execution.

Of course, they

then would

downplay the role of cruelty.

But of course, the

the witnesses were pretty clear on it

that he was also

when when he could

when he had the authority,

he would also commit

to send people to a violent death.

He received a very long sentence.

We at some point thought of actually

reaching out to him in prison

and interviewing him, even sentencing.

But I think the trial

is still going to appeal.

So once it's done and we actually get

to know something more about it.

And what is interesting,

this is the first ever trial in history

of a Syrian intelligence official.

And when I went to the courtroom

in Koblenz, you would have these

these detainees, these survivors,

they would sit there for their hearts


I saw them like two meter distance.

I sat behind the witness,

trembling from fear.

But for a time, for a lot of these people,

it was also cathartic

to see this torture boss, this warden,

this prison warden behind

bars, see him

behind, behind, bulletproof, a little


So it actually had a really large effect

on notions of justice

among Syrian diasporas,


through Internet.

So this is something that happened

in class.

I once invited

a former detainee,

so at a Dutch university, of course,

this was my university.

A former detainee was invited

to give a guest lecture

about his experiences

of arrest and detention in Syria.

He explained that

in 2011, three plainclothes intelligence

operatives arrested him on a university

campus, pushed them in the trunk of a car,

drove him to an underground dungeon

and tortured him for two months.

He was never charged

with an official accusation,

never allowed to consult a lawyer,

and never found out the identities

of the men who were tortured. And

consequently he suffered great physical

and psychological scars from his arrest.

A full classroom of almost 200 students


Listen breathlessly for about an hour.

When he finished

and it was time for question

and answer a young woman

who raised her hand and asked,

But why didn't you go to the police?

Now? That

same classroom, by the way, then looked

breathlessly at us for an answer.

Of course, I looked at my my friend

former detainee, and we kind of burst out

in laughter thinking, well, the

the naivete is it's just fantastic.

You know, the

as if

the ordinary police would have anything

to say or the intelligence.

Of course they don't.

But in essence, it's

a good theoretical question.

You know, why is it that

the intelligence agencies are so much

more powerful than any other

organization in this country?

Now, the reason we did

these interviews is, on the one hand,

a triangulation interview.

So we use perpetrator

data, interviewing perpetrators and also

victim data, both survivors.

And we also used a kind of patchwork

of social media

by looking at,

for example,

videos of there are few videos of the show

intelligence arresting people or

storming neighborhoods.

So you see some of them in action

on Facebook.

Some of these intelligence officials,

they have anonymously or not,

you know, under a cloak or not,

they have Facebook profiles

and the usual kind

of social media patchwork

put it together because it's obviously

very difficult to do this type of research

because you can't just walk into Damascus,

you know,

starting asking questions

about how the system works.

Most importantly,

we actually learned a lot from

this major source of

information with the information

in our book is by survivors.

So I'm reproducing this picture here

with the permission

of the gentleman

here on the right with the

with the glasses

himself was a detainee twice

in Syria, once before 2011 and once after.

And he

then at some point in those 16,

he fled to the Netherlands.

I saw him.

I spoke to him.

I interviewed him first

a few days before the few days

right after he arrived, the Netherlands

in the refugee camp.

He didn't have a stance yet

and he was talking to me and

he spoke to me a lot about his motives.

So why actually,

why go out and demonstrate?

Why go out and

and critique,

critique The regime challenged

the regime publicly

and also the

explanation, not just the experience,

but an explanation of regime violence was

also was really interesting in that

he saw mostly, you know,

professionals in violence,

professionals in violence

who were basically just doing their jobs.

So it was nothing personal.

And this was one of the reasons why

that sounds a bit strange to say,

is that the violence doesn't

necessarily hurt so much,

figuratively speaking.

And of course, physically it hurts.

But it doesn't hurt as much as otherwise

because the violence is not personal.

And very few former detainees,

including your terrific architecture,

graduate, they don't necessarily

take the violence personal.

So it's not

they're not being arrested and tortured

for being an individual personality,

but for the political position

that they're taking

because they went from that in that box of

into the box of impermissible violence.

And then, of course, the arrival

in the Netherlands, arrival

in Europe brings

a whole range of different problems.


Then as soon as you arrive

in the Netherlands,

obviously there are all types

of expectations that the Dutch states

or for that matter, the Belgians,

the French or the German state.

But let's look at the Netherlands

for a minute that the state has of you

state a number of expectations.

They're supposed to at some point learn

the Dutch language to a certain level.

They're supposed to look for a job

and start working up there while

you're supposed to take integration exams.

At no point of these

expectations or this trajectory

is there really any interest

in what the experiences of these

people were back home.

So this is this is our major critique,


the welfare state is that

when I've made a separate slide here,

the European states

social welfare systems,

they struggled with their eligibility

of Syrian refugees, former survivors


So the perceptions and representation

of the state organs or officials

there are highly dependent on whatever

the government line was on the conflict.

So at some point

the as the conflict became

asymmetrical, of course,

but still it started gaining civil war

characteristics, they

the Dutch authorities

excuse me, they

they started also reducing Syrians to

from really experts

in the history of their own society

and to only experiential objects.

So they you know,

in the triangle between experience

eyewitness and expert expertise,

Syrians were driven more from expertise

and eyewitness to experience.

So they became

emotional, emotional objects

in that there are basically three ways

that you could exist

or the perceptions were based on

you, you know, and I called Assad bad

or mad.

So former detainees,

they either were seen as refugees

and they were sad

and they need our help support.

There are other bad or potentially bad

or terrorists among them.

They or people who committed the crimes

in their own societies,

or they remained in.

They were traumatized and therefore

they couldn't be taken seriously.

But one of the major elements

that overlooked,

according to a wide range of Syrians

that I interviewed,

was that their political identities were

they felt that those who were arrested,

former detainees in the gulag,

those who said we took the leap

into the box of impermissible politics,

and we took that leap

in the knowledge that in Europe,

these notions of kind of rule of law

and human rights, due process.

And so they were taken for granted.

And these are some of the principles

of the European Union

and also for a lot of individuals,

European states.

And yet having done that,

when we finally end up in Europe, we

didn't get the respect that we hoped for,

for taking that leap into that

box of impermissible politics and for

for suffering all that violence

by the regime.


what we saw is either so support or meant

or anti-refugee attitudes

that they found very puzzling,

because on the one hand,

a lot of old

former detainees, they felt that,


basically the West had abandoned them

and that

they had suffered in Syrian prisons,

principles that the European

Union or European states espoused

and that were yet not supported for

even when they ended up in Europe.

So they felt that

their political identities were ignored.

So the survivors

ended up fleeing, taking refuge,

applying for asylum felt


and actually into their identities.

And these were the major

piece of some of the major problems

that that they're dealing

with, apart from, for example,

serious mental health crisis

funding, of course, in the health sector

or has decreased significantly,

especially the mental health sector for

asylum seekers.

And cutting those budget

budgets also meant that a large number

of Syrians, they either struggled

finding their way to the into the therapy

or they felt simply that the

the state organs

from the level of the municipality

all the way down to the ministry

didn't prioritize their mental health

or that their mental health

or their health was not really an

it was not really a topic to be discussed.

It wasn't on the agenda.

And also

their political identities report.

And this is a major effect of gap

that governs the relationship

between the Dutch state

and a lot of the former detainees.

Syrians, not refugees.

So that's.

Yeah, that's it for now.

Thank you very much.

And I'm looking forward to your questions


Again, I hope my audio is all right.

I know there was some distortion earlier

for some people, so

that's why this comes through. Okay.

Please let me know. If not,

I it's hard to it's hard to begin

to respond to the kinds of scenes

you've been describing.

And I suppose,

I mean, the last few takeaways,

I think, for the condition of former

detainees in Europe or particularly

important, I think for us to to take away

and to follow up on the first being

this kind of reduction of the conflict to

to experience rather than the,

you know, in ignorance of the political

significances of those experience

and of those identities.

And the second, this question of the

not prioritizing

the mental health of the former detainees.

And I wonder in light of that

second point

whether there has been any pushback

around that, I know there's been

a good deal of attention

sporadically to certain

refugee communities in the US

around the question

of mental health services,

but nothing, of course, coordinated

and nothing at the level of a

of a of a state policy

or anything like that.

So in the absence of this

kind of state response

or acknowledgment of the impact,

what what is has anything filled

the gap for that?

I just wanted to

well, I

maybe I can start with a kind of

with an anecdote of

I with a number of times

I accompanied some of my interviewees

because they would do duty of care.

But after the interview, of course,

a number of time times I interviewed a

and I

kind of,

you know,

tried to nudge them

in the direction of of therapy.

And I said, look, there are

mental health services and it's possible

actually, and you have the rights,

have a residence permit,

which almost all of them had

to to go into it

to talk to someone and talk to someone

good, someone with expertise and

there are a number of responses

that I got to that one.

The response was a lot of dismissive

Syrian cultural response as

you know.

Do you think I'm crazy?

No, that's not what I'm saying. But

the people need to be educated

a little bit about what

mental health means

and also the relevance of mental health.

So I tried to, as a duty of care

to educate people about that a bit.

And I said, no, not crazy,

but you should see. Or

so if you can't sleep at night,

you wake up

screaming in the middle of the night

with nightmares,

or you need pills or drugs

or alcohol to fall asleep.

Then obviously there's a

there's a problem.

But the problem is in your brain,

just like you have a cardiologist

to take care of your heart,

you have a brain doctor

who can can look into that.

And then as I accompanied one

person to see the center here

outside of Amsterdam,

we walked into the to the waiting room.

And the first thing we noticed in

the waiting room was the predominance

in the air, the whispers of Syrian Arabic.

So the room was packed with


for the center, referred,

for example, by GP's

and my friends,

I made a joke, said, you know,

the it has finally and Bashar

al-Assad has finally succeeded

in bringing Syrians together right here

in the waiting room of the trauma center,

which I thought was a nice piece

of dark comedy.

But then, of course, the problem is not

the transcultural psychology.

It's one of the one of the problems.

They're linguistic barriers.


there is no such thing as a quick fix.

You don't do three

sessions and you're not immediately cured.

If you've been in prison for three,

two or three times for months on end.

This is a process that takes a long time

and at the same time, when there is no

when the government, for example,

has no policy,

these type of this type of

widespread what

we're talking about,

at least hundreds of thousands of people

already in the Netherlands and in Germany,

tens of thousands of people.

So this is actually

this is a public health

issue of threats for the Netherlands

or for Germany.

But because this is often

kind of laughed it off, always

refugee problems instead of seeing this

fundamentally as a public health problem

in Germany or the Netherlands,

when there's no policy by the government

and also the future citizens

and the future Germans or future Dutch

Syrians also for them, there's

no stake in it

because they don't feel that this is

the effective gap that I mentioned.

They don't necessarily feel

that they're being understood

by the government,

that they're going to be citizens.

So that effective gap,

the cultural miscommunications,

the linguistic

barriers, these are all

serious obstacles and challenges for

for healing, really.

And that was healing in the end,

of course, is not only a mass

individual process,

there's a societal process as well.

And unfortunately, that was not really a

it was a very little, very little progress

in that field.

Thanks for that answer.

That's really helpful.

I think, among other things, the

the fact that the recognition

of the political identities

is connected to

the way in which mental health

needs to be approached.

I think it's also significant.

In other words, you cannot do one without

the other on some level, effectively

in a conflict like this, because then

there is a contradiction somewhere.

As you say, they become mass individuals

rather than a societal phenomenon.

I wonder in light of that,

if you could say something earlier,

we were talking about the

the duration of this conflict,

especially as it as it pertains to

refugees growing up outside of the country

and so on.

And I wonder,

you know, young refugees being born

outside of Syria

and not having an experience of Syria.

So I wonder if you could say something

more about the

the age ranges, the impact of of detention

and of displacement

on some of the people whom you talk to.

Your interlocutors

tend to be of a similar generation,

or were they widely dispersed

across generations?

And how might that have affected

both their experience

and their future lives and and so on?

So I mean, the generational conflicts are

I think really there are understudied

element of the conflict

and of the collective

experience of Syrians.

Why? Because there are

so the major cleavers, of course,

people who are active politically

and were in prison before 2011

and those after 2011,

before 2000 known the veterans.

You know, these veterans are people

in their forties, 50

or they look at these

this new generation to the 11

with not with disdain but almost

with a twinkle in their eyes thinking,

you know, you kids didn't believe us

or you were


when we told you about our experiences

in prison, or you thought that it couldn't

have happened to you

because you were not politically

and you didn't have to be.

So there were already,

you know, very serious

generational conflicts before 2011.

And when the 2000 uprising broke,

then the what I call

generation revolution.

So these are

people born

roughly between 1985 and 1995.

So we're at university age around 2011.

It's for this generation, we see that

the their motives in politically active

and also the their experiences

in being detained,

they are of a really,

really different nature

from that of those before, namely,

not only did many,

many of these people ended up in prison

for a political identity

field, that's

there was a kind of global moment,

not just in the Arab Spring,

but more broadly global moment of

social media.

Everybody in the world

can see what we're going through.

So surely the world

is going to say something.

This is not going to be like

Rwanda or Srebrenica.

There are no cameras

and we're just going to die

in some forgotten corner of the world.

But of course, that's not how it went.

There were cameras

and there was a lot of exposure.

And unfortunately still there was a lots

of violence, deadly violence

in the second

aspect of how this generation

experienced this violence

and this prison system is a fresh

and fresh dose of naivety, maybe

in that they thought that

the regime had changed

or they thought that

President Bashar

al-Assad was different from his father.

Now you see a lot of

a lot of detainees

of this revolution generation.

You see them speak about Bashar Assad

almost with a tinge of disappointment

that higher expectations of this guy

was an eye doctor.

He was educated in London expecting

this is nice and telling suits

he's not of the old brutal generation

of his father.

Well, things turn out really differently.

So and then we're kind of the third

generational conflict,

which is those who were born outside Syria

or who they came of age

outside Syria,

for example.

I just spoke to someone today,

a Syrian man, young man

who left the country in 2016 when he was

So he was born in 1989

and and for him, the

basically the conflict is all that

the all that they know,

but they don't remember a peaceful sort

of a nonviolence conflict.

So they're steeped in the discourse

of the conflict

and through the political polarization

of, the conflict.

And for them

also, because they were raised

outside the country, the prison system

and the specter of the intelligence

are not really a thing anymore.

They've never walked in the streets

of Damascus with people chasing them

or throwing

them in the back of the trunk of a car

and driving them to the branch

and beating them to pulp.

They're so

it's a little bit more at once emotive,

more more distant.

And at the same point it's more intimate


the older brothers generation, of course,

they experience all these things

and these kids, they grow up

at these dinner tables with these stories.

And so it's a little bit

like the kind of the Rwandan diaspora

after 1959 and this famous

book by Lisa Markey on Purity and Exile.

So we see a little bit of that

also among the younger


Thank you for that.

Let me go back to the question

for a moment of this system

that you so excellently laid out

for us of these interlinked layers of

intelligence and detention.

And I wanted to ask you

because because in some sense,

this seems like

such a seamless web of such a

you know, it's

a system of redundancy in which,

if one part might fail and another part

would would take up the slack.

And as a result, it seems like a

closed system that's almost impenetrable.

And I'm I'm wondering

if you see any cracks

in, you know, if there if these

if this system of detention

set up for an annihilation,

set up for political repression,

which is in some sense

infinite, as opposed to,

you know, punishment,

which might have an end to it.

So I'm wondering if you see any way

which such a system can be broken.

Well, you know, to the

to the untrained eye,

the this regime, you know,

the way that the intelligence


that they operate next to each other,

sometimes against each other,

of course, the coup proofing,

I mean, there's one master ceremony.

So this entire, you know,

this choreography, and that is President

Assad himself.

And his father

was in his brilliance

and his brilliance, really managed to keep

a balance of power

between these different intelligence

agencies, which could prove the regime.

He did a terrific job at that 30

years and not a real serious

challenge to his rule, not really.

Once by his brother, once

the assassination attempt, but not really.

And but that's only for the untrained eye,

because when you speak to some insiders

in the regime or even people

who are relatively close to the regime,

you notice three things.

One is these are the conflicts,

internal conflicts between these groups

and not just conflict disagreements

over stuff meetings,

but I mean, like seriously threatening

physical violence between

different agencies

at the same time. Also

almost a marriage of convenience,

an arranged marriage, if you will.

So winning the presidency says that

this branch has to work together with that

branch, solved

that threat of terrorist activity,

don't basically have to engage.

And you also have some cross-cutting


and regional and personal

the patron client

relationship that it works sometimes

through these different agencies.

And then the third

element is, of course, that the, uh,

the stability is well,

it's the regime is brittle,

the regime is not.

It has a stability to the untrained eye

seems stable.

And it also appears after 50 years,

but without that management,

so without managing the conflicts,

without the puppet master in charge,

actually the entire state

would fall apart into

feuding warlords like we saw, for example,

in Afghanistan's

civil war in the 1990s. So

and the reason why

that puppet master is still in

charge is because he still has

some international legitimacy.

He shows up

all of a sudden in the Gulf,

he goes to the diplomatic meetings

and with Russia and Iran.

I think they still have a press staff,

a press bureau

check the news that goes to the US

ambassador to the United Nations,

so that legitimacy

that's being reported to the regime

also leads to the trickles down,

also to the intelligence agencies

with the effect that, you know,

millions of Syrians are still living.

They're terrified that

terrified authoritarian state

is in on that question of legitimacy.

And I'm glad that you expand it

to the international level in that sense,

because we tend to concentrate

on the closed system

as it presents itself as a closed system.

Can you say something more about that

question of do you legitimation?

I do you see any signs of legitimation

of this regime

that might that might begin to make

those kinds of cracks that

that you suggest?

I mean,

of course the regime

has been de-legitimize since 2011.

I mean, even before that in many ways,

you know, the regime

wasn't really an ally of the West

but Israel was an ally of the West,

and it remains so.

But it's certainly not the Syrian

government or the Assad regime or


it was thrown out of the Arab League,

for example.

At some point

it was severely censored

in the United Nations

at various levels

and it has been treated as a pariah

by neighboring countries.

So there is there's enormous


But of course, the problem

that at some point after this

kind of fatigue of the regime

fatigue in 2000, 14, 15,

it was all over the news.

But now

it's basically the attention

spans over the hill and people are now

looking at, well, maybe we should engage,

maybe, maybe, maybe we should.

Tourism, for example,

can be a way of going back to Syria.

And there's some tourist agencies

that have

opened up

tourists inside Syria and there are maybe

not at the diplomatic level,

maybe not the the embassies might

not open up, but the various intelligence

agencies, they

have visited Damascus, for example.

They've spoken with men like that even

more recently.

We know that most likely in 2016

or 17, travel to Italy,

of course, on their private jets.

Then a conversation

with the Italian intelligence

about cooperation against ISIS

in quotation Marks,

which is, of course, a it's a hotspot

because the regime itself is in cahoots

with ISIS for quite a while,

because ISIS held the

oilfields in the east of the country

and the regime had the oil refineries

in the west of the country.

So there was actually a lot of business

going back and forth between the.

So, yes,

there's been lots of delegitimization, but

because of fatigue and because of

the simple fact that every country exists,

it is there on the map in the capital,

it has an airport and has embassies.


are people also there are Syrians

all over Europe.

They need consular support.

So, yes, there is a consulate in Brussels.

There's a consulate still in Istanbul.

Even for all those

all those years, more than a decade,

the Turkish government waged a proxy war

against the Assad regime

through the Syrian rebels.

And the entire period,

the Syrian consulate was open and working

in Istanbul.

So that shows actually the limits

of the legitimization.

Returning to your expertise

on perpetrators, which I think is

rare and

and interesting and thinking about that

in a comparative light for a minute,

I wonder if you could say more

about the question.

You mentioned that

some of your interlocutors

can take it personally.

You didn't take the violence personally

in some sense because they realized

that these were functionaries of violence.

There's been, as you know,

research on perpetrators in Rwanda,

which present, you know, a very,

you know, complicated, diverse picture

of the motives for this kind of violence.

Do you see the perpetrators of violence

in Syria in this prison detention complex,

as in in some sense diverse in that way?

Or would you agree,

with your interlocutor,

that they are somewhat, in some sense

detached or or neutral functionaries?

It's hard to imagine sometimes the

the the subjectivity of the perpetrators

who inflict this kind of violence.

So I wonder if you could say more

on that important question,

what you've learned from, you know,

from your research with perpetrators

that you might share with us, that

that would indicate something,


about, you know, breaking the cycle?

Oh, this is a terrific question, Laurie.

Thank you.

And I think that I'm

just going to post here in the chat

the those two articles that

that came out, which to the extent

offer some some answer to your question.

This is the one piece in The Guardian.

And then we ourselves

we wrote on this long

form essay and NewLines magazine.


And the NewLines piece

that really offers

really an answer to your question

because there are three,

three important elements.

One is that the only way to find out

what perpetrators are thinking

is to talk to them directly,

no matter how unsavory

that is or no matter how. No.

I mean, had

we lived in the Second World War,

I mean, I would have done

almost everything to try to talk to Nazis

directly, to find out

why are these people doing this?

You know, how can we explain them?

I have questions to ask that

they won't answer

either in their own propaganda or later

in their memoirs later in Nuremberg.

I still have

a lot of unanswered questions,

so I want to be

the one asking the questions.

So that's one thing, pointing directly to

the second,

second important

dimension of it.

This touches upon what you said before

is, of course,

the violence is an interactive process

and interactional

fundamentally interactional process.

And much like

the memoir that I mentioned earlier,

it is, we also have to listen very,

very close to the survivors

because not only

for their own experiences, but

because the survivors have seen

the perpetrators in their worst hour.

And so even when you catch them later,

you put them on trial,

you start asking them questions,

they will dodge it for

for egotistical defense

or keeping up a positive self-image

and of course, for trying

to get of a hefty punishment.

They will not speak about the worst

crimes, but because the victims have

suffered that worst one, they are the ones

who were actually able to speak on it.

And we should believe victims.

That's also very

important that you should believe them.

There is plenty of research

you can do in cross-checking

and of course, corroborating

some of their experiences, but that's

really the only way to move forward.

So we use perpetrator data,

but we also used victim data.

And then third important dimension

of what we learned from perpetrators

is is actually

by speaking to almost perpetrators.

So these are people

this is bizarre concept,

but the number of people that were spoken

to, they were approached

in 11 by the regime and offered

the world.

They were offered power,

they were offered money, they were offered

anything that a 25 year

old young man could want.

And yet these gentleman that we spoke

to, a few of them, they refused


motives for a refusal, were they very

personal, some of them more political,

some of them more cynical.

But the fact that they looked

into the abyss

of perpetration, they saw the endless

blood bloodletting,

and they decided

no, I'm not going to that.

I mean, for a lot of people, of course,

this is seen as heroic, you know,

because they could have had the world

and it didn't.

It refused. And that led to ostracism.

So they were kicked out of their

community, expelled from the community.

They were seen as traitors.

They had to flee to Europe, where nobody

was waiting for them or even the

example of the Syrian opposition

refugees who

also treat these people with suspicion

because they were relatively

close to the regime.

So to see the experience,

a triple isolation

by the host society, ordinary Dutch

folks, by their own communities,

and then also by,

you know, victimized communities.

And I think that that's

that's actually an element

that I would like to spend some more

time and attention on to try to

try to understand and try to unpack this

notion of the almost perpetrator like.

So somebody's biography

unmistakably led them to

if you didn't know

better, you would say that in 2011

they would become

some of the worst perpetrators,

and yet they didn't.

They took a different turn.

And he's turning points

out, as unlikely

as it is, it seems

these are really, really interesting

and so understand perpetrators. Yes.

Talk to them directly and listen

to the victims, but also talk to those

who didn't become perpetrators.

That's that's tremendously helpful

to think about it as a kind of tool,

to look at it in a kind of temporal

dimension of becoming a perpetrator

and not becoming a perpetrator.

And and the both the social and

psychological aspects of of that position.

It's interesting

because when we think of individual,

individual violence, criminal violence,

there's often a sort of process

that escalation in the as you say,

because it's relational

and interactional escalation,

both in relationship to the victim

but also in relationship

to the other perpetrator.

It's often group of perpetrators.

And what's chilling about

what you've been talking about

is kind of the absence

in some sense of that interpersonal

dynamic of escalation.

There's something else going on.

And so I think the comparative view

that you

that you've given us of different kinds

of situations, structural situations

and also personal situations

such as the almost perpetrators

is really, really fascinating.

And what's amazing about your work is

this is the scope and diversity of methods

between, you know,

the forensic reconstruction of the science

to the individual examination

of both perpetrators and victims.

It gives us a much richer vision

of this situation.

I wonder if you, in conclusion,

have any final thoughts about

both those.

The scene in Europe

for the refugees from this regime

and the situation in Syria itself

as we speak?


the situation is bleak there, of course,

because one of the other cleavages

have been that

those people who stayed inside,

those people who left.

So this

I mean, this is always a problem

in a situation of mass flights,

because we're dealing, of course, with,

you know,

with a sizable population of the country

that's outside.

So there are two major cleavages then. One

is the partition of country inside.

There are now half a generation of kids

have been raised

in, let's say in the Kurdish north

east of the country, where

they actually have no experience anymore

of living in Damascus

or living in Aleppo or engaging with Arab

populations, for example.

Then you have a population in the north,

for example, who are steeped

in the kind of militant opposition.

Political Islam plays

also an important role there.

Who for whom the regime, not regime

individuals are no longer real.

Individuals are no longer people.

It's just a fantasy, an image

out there,

people who follow on social media

and maybe in the regime media,

but no real experience anymore.

So we see a polarization of society,

torn society

has been drawn and quartered, if you will.

That's one element to it.

And the second one,

of course, the people said in silence,

or people who left the resentment

against people who left

went abroad.

Europe is universal,


So for those in regime held territories,

for example, resentment is

of the nature that,

you know, these will be accused of.

Well, we were here defending the nation.

You guys were out there drinking, drinking

coffee in German cafes.

So you ran away from your duties

while we were dying here on the front

in the trenches. Where were you guys?

The same can be said for the opposition.

Like militant opposition, individuals

and communities were

the opposite.

They say, you know, while we were here

suffering under the barrel bombs

and the chemical weapons, you guys

went to Istanbul or went to Berlin

and you're out there

having a big mouth and social media,

but we're the ones actually

boots on the ground.

So that that cleavage

is really, really serious

in the inside.

And also to

bring that back together,

for example, it's

going to take a miracle,

if not a really big effort

on the part of these Syrian government

who, of course, doesn't

have the will of the people

really to fix this

broken society.


thank you for being our eyes

into Syria, for constructing

against all odds, in some sense,

a picture

that we can grasp of the situation

so that we don't let it fade

into the background

because of the imposed secrecy

from the regime.

So once more, I want to thank you

and thank our audience

for joining us today

and look forward to the possibility

of getting you back here in person

at UCLA sometime in the near future

to continue this

interdisciplinary and

important work

between Europe and Syria.

So thank you so much.

And I want to just remind our listeners

that we have in the future

or coming up December segment on

themes that resonate with today

the symposium on the current

situation of cultural

and physical destruction

in Ukraine with the retrospectives towards

what has happened

and continues to happen in Bosnia as well.

That's with the Getty Center

on December 2nd.

Please consult the website for the details

and to register and come and join us.

So meanwhile, thank you so much for

and thank you to our audience

and look forward to the future

of further talks on this horrible,

disturbing situation. Thank you.

Bye everyone.

Thank you very much.