Lois Stonock: Mapping the Possible: Syrian Organizations, Movements and Platforms
Mapping the Possible: Syrian Organizations, Movements and Platforms
Click the links below to visit each section
Syrian Memory Collective, Al-Jumhuriya, Sout Raya, The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution, Jadal Cultural Centre, Dox Box Association, Proaction Film, Ettijahat Independent Culture, Syrian Writers Association, Abounaddara, Selam Platform, Hamisch Centre, Dawlaty, Syria Speaks, Bidayyat Collective, Syria: Third Space, Souria Houria ('Syria Freedom'), Kayani WebTV, Oxygen Magazine, Syrian Untold, Leila Nachawati, Syrian Mobile Film Festival
This project sets out to map just a few of the organizations that have been set up, led, imitated and supported by Syrian artists, facilitators and producers – both in host countries, and in post-revolution Syria. Where possible, I have named the founders, and noted where they are located. However where it is not clear who the founders are, or where those that work on the project don't want to be named, I have left the 'who' and 'where' labels unmarked.
I began this project thinking I could classify each artist-led organization according to the art form in which it operates. However, during the process of gathering these case studies, I have changed my position. Many of these organizations and networks that support and further artistic production are not art-form specific thus I have decided not to categorize them by medium. These groups/collectives/works have developed out of a desire and a need to share stories and experiences. Where I have been used to being surrounded by organizations and collectives that are specific to their medium, such as theatres, museums, radio stations or dance studios these categorizations do not work in the Syrian artists' context. These artists work to something far more susceptible to change. They respond to cause over medium.
Below I gather the sources, projects, people and platforms that have informed my research and work over the last three years. The reader should be aware that many of the organizations listed are continually morphing, and shifting, new organisations are forming and others are closing. Whether these changes are in terms of art form, or in terms of purpose, they are always keeping up with the pace and opinions of their audience. Artistic responses in the Syrian context come not in the form of shows, opportunities or platforms, but in the minutes and seconds people have to react to the events in their lives.
Online platform, crowd sourced stories
Syrian Memory Collective is an online archive of culture, history, literature, art and cinema, covering Syrian experiences both in the motherland and the diaspora. The site collects stories, art works and documentaries in a blog format.
Online platform, journalism
Al-Jumhuriya publishes in-depth reportages and articles that its contributors, some using pseudonyms, send from various parts of Syria. However, there are no statements from high-ranking officials or stories about internal disputes among the Syrian opposition on the site. Instead, the focus is on the grassroots politics far removed from Damascus.
Yassin and his friends founded the online magazine Al-Jumhuriya ('The Republic') in March 2012. Yassin moved to Istanbul at the end of 2013 and currently serves as the magazine's Editor-in-Chief. With its founders scattered around the globe, Al-Junhuriya was entirely volunteer-run for the first two years of its existence. With grants eventually coming from the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Arab Reform Initiative, Al-Jumhuriya became a professional publication and a full-time job for Yassin and co-founder Karam Nachar.
The paper's headquarters is in Istanbul, which is where many members of its staff have arrived as a result of the war. The small office in Beyoglu district, which Al-Jumhuriya shares with the Syrian cultural association, Hamisch, is decorated with portraits of four missing activists from the Syrian city of Douma.
Who: Yassin Swehat – Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Where: Istanbul, Turkey
Syrian scriptwriter Alisar Hasan and her husband, Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad, founded the radio station Sout Raya. Hasan, who is now Sout Raya's manager, explains the motivation behind establishing the station in an interview with the online news platform Muftah: 'The first broadcast was aired on October 15, 2013, but we had begun to work at least six months before that. We wanted to provide Syrians, both those who are still in Syria and Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Europe and other Arab countries, with unbiased information about what was going on in Syria. We wanted to reach as many people as possible and, since there are constant power outages and internet hardly ever works in Syria, we opted for a radio station.'
Focused on the human aspects of the Syrian war and issues that matter to the Syrian people, Sout Raya broadcasts 24 hours a day online and on FM radio. Its programming, which includes eight hours of news content and five news bulletins, is very diverse: Tute, a programme anchored by famous Syrian actress Azza al-Bahra, discusses various things people miss about Syria; the show Doctor Raya provides medical advice to listeners; Your Economy gives information about the prices of food and medicine in Syria, as well as about the shortages of certain products in different areas; on The Voice of the People there are live broadcasts from Sout Raya's correspondents inside Syria; on A Night and a Forgotten Room, Syrian actress Imam al-Jaber conducts interviews with guests on a variety of topics.
For the most part, the staff at Sout Raya's studios use their family names. This is out of caution; some left Syria to avoid military service; others having endured torture. In Istanbul, they can breathe freely, but are still concerned about relatives and friends back home.
Who: Alisar Hasan and Feras Fayyad
Where: Istanbul, Turkey
Crowd sourced platform of stories
This project aims to archive all the intellectual and artistic expressions in the age of revolution; it writes, records, and collects the stories of the Syrian people, and those experiences through which they have regained an understanding of the meaning of their social, political and cultural lives.
The website also aims to enhance the impact of the artistic Syrian resistance, to reinforce its place in the revolution, to gather, archive and spread the messages it expresses, and to help create networks between its main actors and the outside world, whether they be individuals or groups. Here, the artist is considered a citizen before anything else, resisting with their art and standing by their people's fight.
Who: Sana Yazigi, Editor-in-Chief
Jadal is an initiative that offers an open space where cultural activities and knowledge sharing fuse to evoke and spread new societal values. The project aims to encourage creativity, innovation and collective activities that benefit the community. It also creates a space for self-exploration, questioning, sharing skills and experiences, critical discussions, reflection and artistic expression.
The space is situated in one of the old houses in Amman, which dates back to 1933, and is located on al Kalha stairs, connecting Downtown, the busy old heart of the city, and Jabal L'Weibdeh, a neighborhood bursting with ambitious start-ups and creative initiatives. The house was renovated by the initiator of the project between 2011 and 2012, and now provides a lovely yard, a reading area, a gallery and classrooms.
Who: Kristina Khaghdo and Fadi Amireh
Where: Amman, Jordan
NGO supporting emerging film makers
The Dox Box Association emerged out of the Dox Box International Film Festival in Syria, which was established in 2008. The Association was created with the overriding mandate to support emerging and established documentary filmmakers in the Arab world, while promoting the values and principles of justice, dignity and human rights. Dox Box presents regional documentaries aimed at a Syrian audience at public screenings and at professional and capacity-building and networking activities. Dox Box also offers residencies for directors and editors, as well as editorial teams. The residencies cover accommodation for a period ranging from three to 12 weeks. They also provide a fully equipped professional editing suite, and technical and artistic support and consultation from internationally acclaimed editors.
Dox Box is a non-profit organization supported by sponsors and organizers, as well as several volunteers. Dox Box operates in close collaboration with the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and the European Documentary Network, in addition to other festivals, such as DocPoint Helsinki and the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival.
Who: Founded by Orwa Nayrabia, Ali Mahmoud, Isabel Arrate Fernandez, Vrej Boyajan & Matthias Sailer
Where: Berlin, Germany
Film production company
Proaction Film, a film and television production company specializing in documentary films for the international market, founded by Syrian's Orwa Nyrabia and Diana El Jeiroudi. in Damascus 2002 and was moved to Berlin in 2014 . Silvered Water by Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav is a Proaction film produced by Orwa Nyrabi.
Who: Orwa Nyrabia & Diana El Jeiroudi
Where: Berlin, Germany
Policy advocacy network
Ettijahat Independent Culture is an independent institution formed by a number of Syrian cultural activists in 2011 as a company founded on secular issues. Its programmes and projects are based on cultural planning, research, advocacy, networking and cultural management. It also provides support to various independent cultural projects, such as designing integrated approaches that emphasize the link between independent culture and its political, social and economic contexts. In doing so, it hopes to positively affect creative and institutional work in the cultural sector in Syria.
One of Ettijahat's projects is a capacity-building programme, which aims at providing full-time research opportunities for young Syrian and Palestinian-Syrian researchers (22–35 years old) within the field of cultural studies. The programme seeks to enhance the researchers' skills, providing them with the tools and guidance to accomplish their research projects. Experienced cultural researchers, who constitute the programme's selection committee, supervise the projects.
With the purpose of making culture part of Syria's current climate, Ettijahatconducted a survey about the priorities of cultural work, and organized a workshop with four aims: to discuss the results of the survey and its accompanied research; to agree on methods of developing an action plan; to publish a document about the general direction of cultural practice; and to start designing pilot projects based on the priorities identified in the above steps. A research study entitled The role of culture and arts in reconciliation and civil peace in countries that witnessed severe conflicts was also completed.
In 2014, Ettijahat published a document on cultural priorities in Syria after a prolonged and intermittent research study.
Who: Abdullah Al Kafri, Mudar Alhaggi, Ibrahim Brimo, Wael Qadour, Maya Shurbaji, Rana Yazaji, Ayham Abu Shaqra
Where: Beirut, Lebanon
Syrian Writers Association regards itself as an opposition organization to the official Syrian authors' association, which is loyal to the regime. Despite much hostility, the London-based organization is a success story, growing by the day. Established in 2013 it has over 350 Syrian members – and more than 200 intellectuals from Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian territories and the United Arab Emirates.
As 'honorary members', these Arab writers, artists and journalists provide added strength in numbers and also express their support for what their Syrian colleagues' seek to do, namely to prompt both political and cultural change in their country.
The Abounaddara collective is an anonymous group of self-taught filmmakers who present an alternative to the mainstream coverage of the country's fractured state, with its focus on conflict and destruction. Abounaddara has posted nearly 300 videos on Vimeo, one every Friday, and has attracted an international audience. Abounadarra's films have been screened as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and also took part in the Venice Biennale in 2015.
Where: Damascus, Syria
Selam Platform is an artistic and cultural organization that aims to connect and support foreign artists based in Istanbul. Cultural capitals and centres of the Middle East, such as Damascus and Cairo, have gone through intense wars and political upheavals over the last five years. Just as these events have made life difficult for people in these places, they have made it difficult for anyone to pursue life as an artist. As a result of the recent upheavals, Selam sees Istanbul as the new 'naturally selected' cultural capital of the Middle East. Selam invites all of the movement's participants to play an active role in its events and workshops, and to work towards a more balanced cohesion in this 'newly risen capital'.
Selam doesn't see itself as the single founder of a movement that supports this vision for a new cultural capital, but as a helpful step towards the intimate connections and relations that contribute to cultural integration, but are currently not available. The goal is to inspire collaboration between different cultures and facilitate the creation of a movement that eventually becomes an ordinary part of the cultural scene. Selam believes that dialogue between artists is not just a way to build bridges between societies, but is also a way to connect individuals from new communities – first with each other, and then with the new 'land' of Istanbul. Selam hopes to create a setting that allows artists to stop thinking of Istanbul as a temporary home, but rather as a place where they belong. Selam strives to welcome newcomers to Istanbul as active members of the city, and not just as cultural minorities.
Who: Mohammed Nour, Bilal Aliriza
Where: Istanbul, Turkey
Artist hub/ community centre
The Hamisch Centre is an arts collective that brings together Syrian artists. Once-promising artists who were forced to leave their studios and sponsorship, now have, in the centre, a platform to connect with one another and to finish their work. The centre has no president, and has Turkish, French and Arab members. It is a venue for collaboration and partnership between artists, academics, intellectuals and writers from Syria, Turkey and elsewhere. Hamisch seeks to foster a deeper understanding of Syrian society and culture.
Who: Yassin Alhaj Saleh & Senay Ozden
Where: Istanbul, Turkey
Dawlaty is an online archive with a particular focus on street art through the revolution. It is a Syrian non-profit organization committed to democracy, human rights, non-violent activism and gender equality, as well as the development of audiovisual and written training materials that assist in justice for Syria. The organization works to suggest alternatives and develop skills. It creates training materials in different styles and at different levels, hosts workshops, and has developed an online platform to share what it produces. Animated films, bulletins, posters, graffiti, cartoons, broadcast programmes, writing, comics and animation are some of the mediums Dawlaty uses to spread its message. Some of the topics Dawlaty cover are: civil participation, human rights, women's rights, transitional justice, minority rights, protection of minorities, nationalism, constitutional concepts, creating civil society organizations and campaigns, democratic elections, the formation of parties, transparency and justice.
Who: International Civil Society Organization
Book chronicling the revolution through artist practice
Syria Speaks is a book that celebrates a people determined to reclaim their dignity, freedom and self-expression. It showcases the work of over 50 artists and writers who are challenging the culture of violence in Syria. Their literature, poems and songs, cartoons, political posters and photographs document and interpret the momentous changes that have shifted the frame of reality so drastically in Syria.
Who: edited by Malu Halasa, Zaher Omareen, Nawara Mahfoud
Status: Published in 2013 but an active Facebook page exists
Bidayyat's mission is to support and develop interactive cinematic and audiovisual projects by emerging filmmakers in the region. It promotes the discovery and empowerment of new talent by offering grants, production support and capacity building.
Bidayyat also aims to create a space for the exchange of expertise and interaction between young people interested in documentary and short and experimental filmmaking, with the ultimate objective of creating a cultural and cinematic space. This space will offer artistic and professional support, as well as financial aid to help make their film projects a reality.
A collection of work by displaced Syrian artists, 'Syria: Third Space' demonstrates the roles that artists play in supporting recovery and resilience. It seeks to show how artists can break down boundaries, support and unite communities, and re-interpret and offer alternative viewpoints through their practice.
Who: Alma Salem, Lois Stonock and British Council
Suria Houria is a support group for the Syrian revolution. This civil society organization was formed in May 2011 by a group of Syrians and Franco-Syrians, and was joined shortly after by French people from various political, professional and social backgrounds. Suria Houria is committed to supporting the Syrian people in their struggle and their legitimate demands for freedom, democracy and dignity.
Facebook: Visit the facebook page
KAYANI is an independent media project that aims to portray the human-interest stories behind the Syrian uprising through artistic audiovisual reports and films that break down previously accepted patterns and stereotypes. Syrian activists and media professionals initiated the project to establish a platform for the audiovisual documentation of the current developments in Syria.
Online magazine working from within Syria
Digital media project
Syria Untold is an independent digital media project exploring storytelling from the Syrian struggle and from its diverse forms of resistance. It is run by a collective of Syrian writers, journalists, programmers and designers living in the country and abroad who are trying to highlight the narrative of the Syrian revolution, which Syrian men and women are writing day by day. Through grassroots campaigns, emerging forms of self-management and self-government and endless manifestations of citizen creativity, a new outspoken Syria has emerged, after decades of repression and paralysis.
The project aims to provide an overview of the current developments in the Syrian civic movement and its evolution. The collective has gathered an archive of material and a list of the creators and groups working in the field. The aim is to make the non-violent building or civil society more visible and to frame it within a very complex picture.
Who: Leila Nachawati
Leila is a Spanish/ Syrian Journalist. She blogs about human rights promotion, threats against freedom of expression and the social dimension of technology for several media, including: Global Voices Online, Global Voices Advocacy, Al-Jazeera, El Mundo, and Eldiario.es. She is part of the Syria Untold team.
Who: Lelia Nachawati
Clips via mobile cameras played an important role in the Syrian revolution. Thousands of activists and journalists filmed footage via their mobile cameras to document the uprisings, and these films became the main tool in the peaceful struggle and freedom of expression against dictatorship, not only in Syria but across the Arab world. The Syria Mobile Film Festival is a network that shares and distribute films in Syria. The festival also shows these around the globe.
In 2014, Syria's Mobile Film Festival screened its films to local audiences in more than 20 cities across Syria. The festival aims to create a unique platform to support professional and amateur film directors in making creative films using their mobile cameras and with low budgets.
Who: Amer Matar
Masasit Mati – Top Goon, episode 1: Beeshu's Nightmares: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5RifYxWr-4
Syrian Revolution Caricature: https://www.facebook.com/Syrian.Revolution.Caricature/?ref=page_internal
Kayani WebTV: https://www.youtube.com/user/kayaniwebtv
20-10-2014 جانب من نشاطات " الرقة تذبح بصمت: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtvUj9nl5hE
Syria – Al-Raqqa's first hip-hop concert: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=411_1366745218
Syrian Metal is War: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-JyWKMLI9M
Anarchadia – Let Us All Unite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJxJArXJE1Q
Siria: Yarmouk la canzone di Ahmad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ct0Sr1HeI58
Abo Hajar – Down With the Homeland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbPkh-Fikt0
Revolution Posters: https://www.behance.net/gallery/4637399/Revolution-Posters
Syrian Revolution Dabke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCS8SsFOBAI
Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric and Symbols in Contemporary Syria
Itab Azzam, 'Syria's Trojan Women', in Critical Muslim II – Syria, edited by Ziauddin Sardar and Robin Yassin-Kassab (2014)
Miriam Cooke, Dissident Syria: Making Oppositional Arts Official
Ed. Malu Hasslan et al, Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline (2014)
Ali Farzat is a Syrian political cartoonist. Farzat's drawings criticize bureaucracy, corruption and hypocrisy within the government and the wealthy elite. He has published more than 15,000 caricatures in Syrian, Arab and international newspapers. He serves as the head of the Arab Cartoonists' Association. In 2011 he received the Sakharov Prize for peace.
Samih Shuqair is a Syrian singer who is known for his musical dedication to the Palestinian cause.
Azza Al-Hamwi is a director who creates short films on the revolution, sectarianism and exile in Syria.
Fadi Azzam is a Syrian novelist. He has often been published in Arabic newspapers and magazines, and he reported on arts and culture for Al Quds al-Arabi from 2007 to 2009. He has also worked with visual media, such as documentaries and cartoons.
Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan died after torture in one of the Syrian regime's detention centres several months after his arrest. Raslan was arrested at his workplace in Hama on 2 October 2012 and no information regarding him was acquired since. According to a Syrian detainee (F, Y), Raslan died around two and half years ago, after his health status deteriorated and he was transferred to a hospital.
Raslan was a well known cartoonists in Syria. His works were noted for being very direct in expressing their opposition to the Syrian regime and its leaders. He published in Arabic journals and websites and stood by the Syrian revolution from its beginning. Raslan drew more than 300 cartoons, which accompanied the early developments of the Syrian revolution.