Since the onset of conflict in 2011, over 400,000 Syrian lives have been lost, and more than half of the population remains displaced; nearly 6 million refugees are living outside of the country and an additional 6 million are displaced within Syria’s borders, according to a 2020 World Bank report. Those who have lost their loved ones and their homes are often left voiceless, leaving an astonishing number of stories left untold. Women are disproportionately affected by displacement, facing social and economic disruption to family and community. External and internal displacement compounds the feeling of powerlessness in times of conflict. One of the most innovative and powerful tactics women affected by disappearances have employed is meaningful storytelling.
In 2014, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience partnered with the Middle East and North African Network “Memory, Truth, and Justice: Civil Society Capacity Building in Syria” to highlight first-person narratives from those directly affected by the Syrian conflict. Independent Syrian nonprofit media organization Enab Baladi, the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS), and Jordan-based American Academic Research Institute of Iraq and Iraq Refugee Project (TAARII) interviewed Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, internally displaced Syrians. In total, 58 oral histories were collected. The majority of these interviews focused on the experience of women in the regions.
The coalition’s goal was to make sure that this history is accurately remembered and used in public dialogue to create a more just future in the region. Including marginalized voices prevents post-conflict ‘victor’s justice,’ in which the divide between victims and perpetrators is deepened, ultimately compromising the peace-building process. Citizen participation in framing national narratives during conflict ensures that emerging governments cannot build revisionist and divisive narratives of the past. Through media workshops, a needs assessment, and a regional meeting, the coalition sought to memorialize the stories through meaningful reporting. The use of social media has given a voice to those affected, and put a face to the conflict for worldwide viewership.
In the words of the project’s founders:
“Each conveys a story of a life turned upside down; each is a testament to the disastrous consequences of war. As a whole, the recordings can serve as powerful tools in raising awareness of the conflict, as evidence in legal proceedings and as memorials to loved ones whose stories can no longer be heard.”
With the assistance of Anuj Shrestha, Nepali-American illustrator, the project was transformed into a video montage.
The Syrian Oral History Project sits alongside similar storytelling efforts by advocacy groups and artists around the world. Documentarians, photographers, artists, and other actors in the fight for justice under conflict have given voice to those whose voices are routinely silenced. Creative and artistic avenues to generate platforms for public discourse can be echoed in human rights advocacy. For more examples of this storytelling tactic, see the following:
- The House that Bleeds: Mexico’s Disappeared
- The Silence of Others, a film by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar
- “Crossing Lines, Constructing Home.” Harvard Art Museum, Special Exhibition
For more reading on Sites of Consciousness, check out our online conversation summary (2007): https://www.newtactics.org/conversation/power-place-sites-conscience
World Bank Group, “The Mobility of Displaced Syrians: An Economic and Social Analysis.” International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Jan 1, 2020. Retrieved at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/551681579156620771/pdf/The-Mob...
International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, “Syrian Oral History Project.” Retrieved at: https://www.sitesofconscience.org/en/what-we-do/connecting/special-proje...