Panel 2H

Syria: The Dialectics of Meddling and Exodus

13.45 – 15.45
Chair: Raymond Hinnebusch, University of St Andrews

Syria’s Economic Resilience during the Syrian Conflict

Ferdinand Arslanian, University of St Andrews

Predictions over the collapse of the Syrian economy have been tantamount to the unrealised predictions over the collapse of the Syrian regime in general. Nevertheless, despite its dramatic shrinkage, the Syrian economy has managed to adapt with both economic sanctions and the repercussions of the on-going military conflict. This paper will address Syria’s economic resilience by resorting to the literature on the failure of economic sanctions which is divided between those who emphasis the role of external sanctions busters in undermining economic sanctions and those who stress the domestic institutional capacity of authoritarian states in developing necessary countermeasures. By addressing the trajectory of the Syrian economy during the conflict, both the internal and external factors favouring its resilience will be examined. The paper will argue that both internal countermeasures and external assistance have contributed to Syria’s economic resilience. To begin with, pre-conflict politically motivated economic measures (accumulating massive foreign exchange reserves, policies of self-sufficiency in agriculture and an illicit financial network) helped the Syrian economy survive the initial pressure. Nevertheless, with the escalation in the military confrontation and the increasing burden of economic sanctions, the role of political allies, especially the Iranian credit lines, became vital for the survival of the Syrian economy. With the later decline in external support in mid-2014, new economic measures were implemented, combining restrictions in trade and foreign exchange with price liberalization, while maintaining public salaries.

Regional Involvement in Civil Wars: A Comparative Analysis of the Syrian Case

Francesco Belcastro, University of Derby

This paper analyses the topic of regional involvement in civil wars with particular reference to the case of the contemporary Syrian civil war. Civil wars are today one of the most prominent and deadly forms of conflict, and this paper contributes to understanding the important but understudied topic of regional involvement in civil wars.  The crisis in the Levant country started as a “domestic” issue but soon saw the involvement of several regional and international actors. What explain this level of meddling by regional powers? Does regional involvement depend on regional dynamics or on developments internal to the civil war itself?  This paper puts forward five factors of regional involvement: capabilities regional dynamics, security issues, domestic external links and country’s relevance. It then provides a comparative analysis of the Syrian conflict and four other civil wars: the Spanish civil war (1936-1939), the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), the Mozambican civil war and the Algerian civil war (1991-2002). These civil war have been selected because they present different degrees of regional involvement as well as significant differences in regional environments, and therefore allow to analyse the complex issue of regional involvement in civil wars from a comparative perspective.

Revisiting the Coalescence of the Displaced: An In-depth Exploration of Syria’s Displaced Civil Society in Istanbul and Beirut

Tamara Al-Om, University of St Andrews

This paper seeks to delve deeper into the question of Syria’s active civil society, beyond its borders. It expands on the subject of the paper presented at last years’ BRISMES conference by focusing its attention on specific expressions of civil society which have manifested in various forms in Istanbul and Beirut. Of particular interest to this research are the activities of the centres such as Hamisch in Istanbul and of the Syrian League for Citizenship and the ARA art project in Beirut, amongst others. Whilst this work began by exploring the phenomena of an indigenous Syrian civil society in exile – as a result of the ever increasing exodus of civil society activists – this research now seeks to explore the characteristics of particular organisations and initiatives.  In this way, the initial questions regarding how and why a civil society was able to maintain networks and connections beyond borders, this paper now attempts to take it a step further by asking what influence and impact such initiatives have on Syrian civil society and what role they are playing in a rebuilding of a future Syria. Furthermore, this research engages with the issues of identity in exile, collective memory (of both trauma and treasure), and of the hope of return.  Importantly, this research also seeks to uncover how such work helps to maintain the sentiments of the initial uprising, and helps to maintain a sense of hope that is often undermined with talk of a failed revolution.

Syrian Armenian Refugees and their Integration in Host Countries: Case Study of Lebanon

Daria Vorobyeva, University of St. Andrews

Before the Syrian uprising, the Armenian diaspora in the country was one of the largest in the Middle East, consisting of around 70,000-100,000 people. Since 2011, at least half of these have left the country and Armenia and Lebanon have become the two main countries where they have fled. Lebanon was chosen mainly due to the existence of a relatively large and well established Armenian community and because of the close relations between the Syrian and the Lebanese Armenian community members (kinship and business networks), as well as due to its geographic proximity.

This paper will analyse the main socio-political and economic aspects of the integration of Syrian Armenians in Lebanon. These will include state policies on the entrance procedures of Syrian Armenians and their legal rights in the two countries; the opportunities and limitations of their economic integration; and the social and cultural factors assisting or preventing deep integration in Lebanon. Finally, some conclusions will be made concerning which factors play a crucial role when it comes to the short and mid-term prospects of integration. The paper is largely based on the author’s fieldwork in Lebanon, which included numerous interviews with representatives of the relevant state and non-state institutions, as well as with Syrian Armenians themselves.