On 24 and 25 October 2019 Refugee Hosts hosted and live-streamed our Refugee Hosts International Conference, with a series of keynote lectures, panels, roundtables, and artistic interventions exploring themes that are key to our project.

This two-day conference – convened by Prof Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (UCL), Prof Alastair Ager (Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh), Dr Anna Rowlands (Durham University) and Prof Lyndsey Stonebridge (University of Birmingham) – marked the fourth and final year of the AHRC-ESRC funded Refugee Hosts project and brought together leading academics, practitioners, creatives and experts in the fields of migration, displacement and refugee studies, to challenge, inform and debate dominant humanitarian discourse, the politics and ethics of knowledge production, and current theory and practice in relation to forced migration.

A full programme can be found here. 

A video of day 1 can be found here.

A video of day 2 can be found here.

You can give feedback on the event here

You can still join the conference conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #RHIC19 and #PoliticsAndPoetics and by tagging @refugeehosts

The Refugee Hosts interdisciplinary project has used in-depth ethnographic research, over 500 interviews and a series of creative writing workshops with members of nine refugee hosting communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, to examine the diverse roles played by local communities – including established refugee communities and diverse local faith communities – in responding to refugees displaced from Syria since 2011.

The conference included a series of presentations, panel and roundtable discussions, workshops and film screenings, and provided an opportunity to join Refugee Hosts’ ‘community of conversation’ on key themes. To find out more about the roundtables and panels explored at the conference, follow the links below:


Our Distinguished Keynote Speakers were:  

Homi K. Bhabha (Opening Keynote Speaker) is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities in the Department of English, the Director of the Humanities Center and the Senior Advisor on the Humanities to the President and Provost at Harvard University. Prof. Bhabha has authored a number of publications exploring postcolonial theory, cultural change and power, and cosmopolitanism. His work includes Nation and Narration and The Location of Culture, reprinted as a Routledge Classic in 2004.

Patricia Daley (Keynote Speaker) is Professor of the Human Geography of Africa and Vice-Principal and The Helen Morag Fellow in Geography at Jesus College, Oxford. Prof. Daley’s main research interests are the political economy of population migration and settlement (forced migration, identity politics and citizenship);  the intersection of space, gender, militarism, sexual violence and peace (feminist geo-politics); racial hierarchies and violence (geographies of racialization and coloniality using Critical Race Theory and decolonizing methodologies); the relationship between conservation, resource extraction, and rural livelihoods (political ecology). She has authored, edited and contributed to numerous publications, including her 2018 co-edited book, The Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations.

Sari Hanafi (Keynote Speaker) is Professor of Sociology at the American University of Beirut and editor of Idafat: the Arab Journal of Sociology (Arabic). He has served as a visiting professor at the University of Poitiers and Migrintern (France), University of Bologna and Ravenna (Italy) and visiting fellow in CMI (Bergen, Norway). The former Director of the Palestinian Refugee and Diaspora Centre (Shaml) from 2000-2004, Prof. Hanafi has authored a number of publications including Knowledge Production in the Arab World (Routledge). He is the co-editor of Palestinian Refugees: Identity, Space and Place in the Levant (Routledge).

Our Confirmed Chairs were:

Prof. Alison Phipps 

Yousif M. Qasmiyeh 

Sarah Clarke

Prof. Philippe Sands

Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh

Prof. Lyndsey Stonebridge 

Prof. Alastair Ager 

Dr. Anna Rowlands 

Dr Saiful Huq Omi

The conference was convened by Refugee Hosts’ Principal Investigator, Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (UCL), and the project’s Co-Investigators, Prof. Alastair Ager(Queen Margaret University), Dr. Anna Rowlands (Durham University) and Prof. Lyndsey Stonebridge (University of Birmingham). It marked the start of the fourth and final year of our AHRC-ESRC funded Refugee Hosts project, which began in 2016 and has been investigating local community responses to and experiences of displacement in and from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Categories: Jordan, Lebanon, Middle East, Syria, Turkey, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South (May, 2019)

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South

In this blog post I would like to share my personal experiences of carrying out qualitative research in what contemporary scholars call the “Global South” (Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) and the “Global North” (Australia and the United Kingdom). To convey my message clearly, I adopt the classical political geography of “South” and “North” with the intention of neither confirming these narrow categories nor of universalizing my personal experiences but in order to work towards an honest sociology of knowledge through such peculiar experiences.

In particular, I discuss what I think are some of the emerging behavioral and ethical tendencies in today’s research economy and its main methodologies. On the one hand, the reluctance in the “Southern” environments in recognizing their own tendency to embrace predominant ways of producing knowledge. On the other, the reluctance of “Northern” research entities to acknowledge their own positionality within the global scenario – that is, accepting the fact of conducting research as outsiders and, above all, the sociological harm of pretending localism. The result of these two tendencies is, from my perspective, a globalized impoverished attention to factual awareness, which depends on the personal involvement of researchers in the context they study and the cultivation of the capability to build and rebuild a continual relationship with the subjects and the places studied beyond the duration of fieldwork research.

The “Southern” tendency to perceive the practice of producing research as antithetical or substantially different to the North consistently builds on the universal romanticization of the research produced in the Global South, cutting across the North and the South. Indeed, while the research and academic institutions that I worked for in the Global South tended to believe that their fieldwork quality standards were inherently higher, the fact of being at the mercy of external – and unstable – sources of funding often endangered their existence and alternative ways of working. In these circumstances, fieldwork mostly took place in relatively small timeframes and, likewise, theories needed to be quickly wrapped up, making it difficult to identify any effective counter-culture of knowledge production. Studies on publishing locally and perishing globally have importantly highlighted the material constraints of localizing research. While “Southern” knowledge is barely known and mentioned by North-produced researchers (although it often marks significantly several fields of studies), it is also important to add that, in my own experiences across the Arab world, large segments of upper and middle classes tend to receive their postgraduate education and establish their scholarship in Northern institutions, thereby being trained according to Northern criteria while trying to preserve their reputation of being local researchers. In similar ways, Southern institutions often delegate fieldwork to research assistants who struggle to receive intellectual acknowledgment. (The same acknowledgment that many “Southern” research institutions have been looking for in the international arena, still dominated by Global North’s epistemologies and funding sources). In this regard, I have seen no co-authorships offered to research assistants, who undergo processes of alienation similar to those recently discussed in the context of the institutions of the Global North. Likewise, I have witnessed similarly exploitative relationships which seek to build knowledge upon the anonymity and the belittling of an underpaid workforce, whatever the latter’s passport is.

Despite acknowledging the partially ethnic character of some of these power dynamics – such as European academics versus local researchers in the Arab Levant, mostly when the former lack the necessary linguistic skills and in-depth knowledge of the research settings – I would like to emphasize some nuances. While the global archetype of neoliberal academia certainly does not stem from Southern institutions, largely due to colonial legacies, in my experience I have identified hierarchical and alienating structures of research-making across different cultural patterns of knowledge production.

Dauntingly, ethical research and decolonial methodologies are becoming tokenistic worldwide, turning into a further disenfranchisement of diversely vulnerable researched subjects, such as refugees. In this scenario, the Global North currently promotes itself as a pioneer advocate of ethical research – a phenomenon which has led to a proliferation of publications on the topic, rather than finally aiming for a radical transformation of research and for the uprooting of the vulnerabilities of the researched.

With no intention to bury unequal historical relationships, the intrinsic “non-ethicness” of such structural deficiencies needs to be observed across Norths and Souths. To ethnographers, if quality fieldwork means collecting relevant data, it also needs to mean collecting what matters at a local level and in an appropriate way. Contextual relevance and cultural appropriateness inevitably require generous timeframes. Doing less but long-term research and paying under-explored forms of respect to the researched may be the way to go.

Moreover, a pressing question may center on the tyranny of grants and funding, which is said to dictate the design of today’s projects. To what extent is this the cause of such an unacknowledged sociology of failure in academic research? The present tendency is to design methods that involve an extremely large number of interviews and what I would call the “participatory approach fever”. The result of a misinterpretation of what “participation” should mean is subcontracting scientific evidence to researched subjects overburdened with theoretical expectations and over-theorizations, a tendency which seldom turns out to provide sound empirical evidence. In this vein, Northern-led research not only tends to romanticize the South, which would not be new in postcolonial scholarship, but increasingly invites the South to actively participate in its own romanticization. Affected by “participatory approach fever”, many scholars in the Global North feel urged to depict their work as local, while also missing the fact that sharing their own conscious positionality vis-à-vis the researched would instead be an invaluable point of departure in the effort to avoid ethical and scientific failure. Indeed, such a self-acknowledgment would finally contribute to nuancing the multiple cultures in which research design, data collection, writing, and knowledge production are embedded – cultures that are hardly definable within the categories of “North” and “South”.

In light of these considerations, I ask myself how ethnographic studies can survive without being sociologically relevant and, at times, even culturally appropriate. Subcontracting the production of knowledge either to local researchers or to the researched themselves is certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet it looks unfeasible for many researchers across the globe to dispose of proper time and funding to conduct research over a longer timeframe and develop a localized understanding of the contexts they wish to study. I identified a similar issue when I realized that some researchers who have a poor command of the local language shy away from hiring an interpreter due to a lack of material means or because they are in an environment that frowns upon social science researchers who lack contextual skills. While peacefully sharing one’s own limits and assets would potentiate empirical analysis overall, everyone wants to be the “voice of the Global South”. Instead, no one wants to be the Global North, impeding a honest sociology of knowledge. Thus, how do we decolonize sociological and anthropological knowledge and, at the same time, the sociology of knowledge, if the drivers of epistemological coloniality, across Norths and Souths, have managed to make themselves invisible?

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My lecture at the Lebanese American University (March, 2019)



Beyond Humanitarianism Paradigm: The Effect of Displacement on Religious Authorities

posted on 10/04/2019


By Fidaa Al Fakih

LAU’s Institute for Social Justice and Conflict Resolution (ISJCR) and the Department of Social Sciences hosted a seminar on “The Displacement of Religious Authorities from Syria and their Involvement in Aid Provision: Looking beyond Humanitarianism.”

The cross-campus seminar was based on the preliminary findings of Research Associate at University College London, Dr Estella Carpi.

Welcoming the attendees, moderator and ISJCR Director and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Tamirace Fakhoury said the seminar sheds light on the under-researched topic of “how the displacement from Syria has affected religious authorities and how religious authorities have had to reinvent their mission and involvement in aid provision.”

Dr. Carpi then kicked off the seminar by explaining that the field research she has been conducting in Lebanon is part of a much broader project with Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh of University College London under the framework of “south–south humanitarianism.” The research, she said, looks at southern agents of aid provision, particularly faith leaders or religious authorities who try to help their own displaced communities.

Dr. Carpi’s presentation built on her extensive research on faith-based organizations working in the Syria neighborhood, including her engagement with Syrian refugee faith leaders in Lebanon. “I relied on self-accounts of personal experiences in aid provision to the displaced communities once Syrian faith leaders became refugees themselves,” she said.

Dr. Carpi then mapped a geography of displaced religious authorities following their physical trajectories outside of Syria. She also focused on how displacement from war, violence and persecution reconfigures their spiritual role and their social status within receiving societies. By doing so, Dr. Carpi captured how the spiritual mission of such religious leaders changes in response to their own refugee status and their intent to provide aid, support and solidarity to the displaced communities.

Concluding the seminar, Dr. Fakhoury and Chair of the Social Sciences Department Marwan Rowayheb thanked Dr. Carpi for uncovering concepts of humanitarianism that shed light on new actors often overlooked by researchers when studying Syrian refugee challenges in neighboring host societies.

Dr. Rowayheb encouraged Dr. Carpi to account for the structural differences in the nature of the religious establishments in Lebanon, and to examine the competition between Lebanese religious authorities and displaced Syrian faith leaders that in some instances trigger sensitivities.

Categories: Europe, Lebanon, Middle East, Syria, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Refugee Hospitality in Lebanon and Turkey. On Making the “Other” (June, 2018)

We’ve been literally inundated with refugee hospitality accounts… Indeed, it’s primarily a discourse, which problematically speaks the language of the nation-state when it’s paraded as a political virtue. As a matter of fact, over the last 7 years it paradoxically ended up acting as a social fragmentation force in the Syria neighbourhood.
Read our latest article, where Lebanon converses with Turkey, co-authored with Dr Pınar Şenoğuz from the University of Gottingen.


This paper examines the hospitality provided to Syrian refugees during the refugee crisis spanning from 2011 to 2016 in the border areas of Gaziantep (southeastern Turkey) and the Akkar region (northern Lebanon). Hospitality, apart from a cultural value and societal response to the protracted refugee influx, is a discursive strategy of socio‐spatial control used by humanitarian agencies, local and national authorities. This paper, first, argues against hospitality as an assessment to ethically compare host countries (i.e. more welcoming versus less welcoming states). Second, drawing on Walters’ notion of “humanitarian border”, it shows how the governmental, humanitarian, and everyday workings of hospitality exercise an assertive politics of sovereignty over the social encounter between locals and refugees. We examine the state‐centered hospitality in the Turkish case and a humanitarian‐promoted hospitality in the Lebanese case. We also show how the hospitality discourse shapes the spaces that refugees, citizens, and earlier migrants partake in.

To access the entire article: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/imig.12471#.WxemBx-bkyM.facebook


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Teaching humanitarianism in Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy (April, 2018)


In an attempt to reflect on some lectures I have delivered on humanitarianism in Lebanese, Turkish, and Italian universities over the last three years, I would like to advance a few reflections on the “public afterlife” of my experience of teaching, the language I used in those classes, and the response I received from different cohorts of students. Delving into the afterlife of my humanitarianism classes allows me to tease out some of the current epistemological challenges of my primary area of studies and underscore the very importance of de-centring the humanitarian discourse.
Humanitarianism was born from the will to assist crisis-stricken populations and alleviate their suffering, thus humanitarian intervention has historically been a symptom that states are not doing too well. As such, speaking of and teaching humanitarianism cannot produce the same effects everywhere, especially when the framework used to explain theories and concepts is not culturally customised, but is rather drawn on the one developed in British and Northern American universities and institutions.
The act of teaching humanitarian ideologies, policies, and practices is thus necessarily an act of social positioning. It is about positioning the social and public Self as a teacher, and it is about the teacher presupposing the social positioning of her own audience.
More generally, in order to teach, we all rely on what Pierre Bourdieu used to define as “linguistic capital”, the set of linguistic capabilities, ways of expressing oneself, and embracement of normative terminologies which characterise everyone’s speech. In that sense, we are all linguistically political when we choose a term at the expense of another one.
As lecturers in class we own the biggest linguistic and epistemic power: But is the language I use legitimate in response to different students and backgrounds? I am not a native English speaker myself, but having received my postgraduate education in humanitarianism in an Australian university, English is my mother tongue for teaching humanitarianism. This became a factor which is worth reflecting on, especially when I delivered lectures in countries diversely familiar with the English language, and where English is not the official language.
What shapes the cultural pattern of students across Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy is certainly not their very national origin, but I here refer to an overarching cultural framing of a multiplicity of backgrounds that come to forming an identifiable “academic culture” within different countries. It is in this sense that I will now compare my teaching experience in Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy.
In this post, my primary goal is to explain how this long established theoretical framework, that increasingly populates academic books and media outlets, does not meet its listeners identically. I believe teaching humanitarianism particularly tests the students’ cultural dispositions – dually meant as both habitus and cultural capital – with respect to teaching something like physical quantum theory or algorithms. This is not because quanta and algorithms are bereft of imperial history: Let’s think of the way such scientific studies emerged, of the social classes in which they became objects of study, and the way these studies were funded and even traded worldwide. Rather, what I mean is that speaking humanitarianism overtly puts down the veils of the relationships between Others, breaks down the Other and the Self, demolishes certainties between the Self and the Other through the exploration of the necessarily dialogic act of assistance provision and aid reception.
Likewise, teaching exposes the lecturer to multiple encounters at once. The encounter with the students first – the immediate interlocutors of the teaching frame. Second, the encounter with one’s own society at large, which may identify with a single geographic space or more than one – as the teacher, by conveying knowledge and, hopefully, triggering critical stimuli, comes with an experiential baggage accumulated in one or more societies that historically shape the teacher’s way of thinking, speaking, and building the teacher-student encounter. Third, it is also an encounter with the multiple societies of the others, that is all of the societies “summarised” into the intellectual presence of each student in class.
It is exactly this collective moment, made of several encounters at once, that characterises the ways in which humanitarianism is both individually thought and culturally nuanced.
In light of this, each academic culture frames displacement, migration, and humanitarian action differently. The latter are undoubtedly tied up to broader politics and social processes which often intertwine, but each of them is differently thought and responded to in Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy. I experienced solipsism when I lectured in Turkey, as I realised how unfamiliar the students were with my Anglo-centric way of explaining humanitarianism-related topics. The most responsive to my lectures were the Lebanese students, who seemed to be highly familiar with the catastrophe discourse. This therefore led me to further reflections, as the fact that Lebanon has historically been more exposed to crisis than Italy and Turkey did not sound entirely convincing to me. There are, in fact, two factors that contribute to the students’ response to humanitarianism delivered in the form of an academic framework: The first is academic literature, and the second is postcoloniality – which, surely, to some extent, underlies the former. In fact, the Anglo-centric character of the humanitarianism framework – as it is globally discussed nowadays – is fully reflected in the academic literature which is delivered to students. Neither literature nor students themselves are bereft of political history.
Lebanon, having become home to several refugee groups, has often been studied in international academia in the context of the catastrophe discourse. Thus, humanitarianism has framed a large part of local learning about external interventions, especially since the years of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. In this vein, even local infrastructures and local populations in Lebanon have drawn greater academic attention when turning into humanitarian spaces, host communities, displaced people, or migrants. Contrarily, Turkey is a country where catastrophe does not need to be there to justify tough security, anti-democratic measures, and political states of exception. Therefore, Turkish scholars have set up a mostly legal and policy-oriented framework for discussing refugee influxes and humanitarian practices,. The catastrophe narrative neither needs to strengthen a state which is already centralised and has rather enhanced domestic accountability by carefully gate-keeping refugee-populated areas, international support and involvement in domestic humanitarian affairs. In other words, in Turkey refugee influxes have been studied as a means to capture domestic changes, e.g. in market, employment, and housing. In Lebanon, however, the very goal of humanitarian research has long since revolved around refugees and NGOs themselves. Scholars of humanitarianism now increasingly address Lebanese people, governance, and services in light of the Syrian crisis. However, local people and services are still approached in the light of their response to crisis and given their relationship with refugee-related issues. In Italy, humanitarianism-related issues start stimulating academic curiosity in the wake of the Kosovo war in 1999, the 2001 western intervention in Afghanistan, and more recently, the migration flows from African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. Often unfamiliar with the anglo-centric ways of setting and naming the humanitarian framework, Italian students increasingly find themselves in the need to manage a foreign language and tackle diverse conceptual universes (mainly published in English) before encountering humanitarianism in their own language and academic culture. It is indeed meaningful that domestic emergency crises and humanitarian management – such as the earthquakes in central Italy– have primarily been tackled through the lens of disaster and risk reduction.
The postcolonial character of Lebanon vis-à-vis Turkey and Italy also sets up different student responses to learning humanitarianism in class today.
The French colonial mandate in Lebanon between 1920 and 1943 consistently shapes today’s student response to humanitarianism; familiar with postcolonial governance and catastrophisation as a way of understanding the current humanitarian discourse, my Lebanese students seemed to rely on categories of thinking which easily suit the humanitarian framework. The colonial mandate and the intervention of international assistance providers to back domestic parties and local communities gradually overshadowed the pre-existing thick network of local community services in academic literature. The present literal inundation of international crisis managers in Lebanon makes local students suitable interlocutors on the humanitarian mainstream narrative as well as its critiques.
In Turkey, humanitarianism has been acquiring international colours way before the beginning of the Syrian refugee influxes and the latest intervention of several humanitarian agencies. The 1915 Armenian genocide and deportations from Ottoman Turkey prompted the first cases of foreign charitable assistance in the region, in addition to the international refugee regime set up to deal with the massive displacement caused by the First World War. Overall, Ottoman authorities were reluctant to accept unconditional international assistance because they did not want to see their political power undermined. Traditionally decentralised and domestically managed, humanitarian services to forced migrants during the Ottoman Empire were mostly delegated to local communities, making the contemporary humanitarian approach to crisis and assistance unsuitable in the Turkish context. Nevertheless, while the Turkish government has already been pursuing a politics of intervention in Somalia since 2011, the recent intervention of international humanitarian agencies inside Turkey in response to the Syrian crisis is unprecedented.
Italy seemingly looks to humanitarianism with an ambiguous gaze. Past colonial governors in the Horn of Africa, and historically imbued with the Christian Catholic culture of assistance to the vulnerable, Italian students responded to my humanitarianism classes with the curiosity of the potential missionary. Approaching the catastrophe discourse to understand how new migration flows are shaping politics and ethics in the Mediterranean doorway, Italian students tended to associate humanitarianism either with human rights – which would require several political steps ahead – or with philanthropic charity. Italian students were rather inspired by the future possibility of doing good, and focussed on humanitarian sentimentalism, such as the pros and cons of compassion: Humanitarian governmentality, managerialism, donorship, and bureaucracy seemed to scarcely inhabit their humanitarian imaginary.
These reflections of mine also suggest that alternative humanitarianisms should be taught at school to unlearn their “alternative” – that is non-mainstream – character. This can be done if students are also allowed to develop contents and critical consciousness in their first language too. Skipping these stages leads to the imposition of one among many possible understandings of – and ways of teaching – humanitarianism. Individual responses, cultural patterns, ideologies, and material circumstances will always colour humanitarianism differently. The teacher’s challenge should be expanding the students’ gaze across political histories, human behaviours and moral expectations, while conveying one’s own identity peacefully. This is certainly not an easy job.


Categories: Italy, Lebanon, Middle East, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Border towns: humanitarian assistance in peri-urban areas (March, 2018)

Humanitarian response in urban areas, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine No. 71.
by Humanitarian Practice Network
March 2018
Humanitarian crises are increasingly affecting urban areas either directly, through civil conflict, hazards such as flooding or earthquakes, urban violence or outbreaks of disease, or indirectly, through hosting people fleeing these threats. The humanitarian sector has been slow to understand how the challenges and opportunities of working in urban spaces necessitate changes in how they operate. For agencies used to working in rural contexts, the dynamism of the city, with its reliance on markets, complex systems and intricate logistics, can be a daunting challenge. Huge, diverse and mobile populations complicate needs assessments, and close coordination with other, often unfamiliar, actors is necessary.
But what precisely is different about doing humanitarian assistance in urban settings? Alyoscia D’Onofrio reflects on this question in his lead article. John Twigg and Irina Mosel emphasise that engaging with and supporting informal actors is key to achieving greater accountability in urban areas, while Leah Campbell and Wale Osofisan both highlight the need for context-relevant responses. Samer Saliba describes the International Rescue Committee (IRC)’s experience in developing partnerships with municipalities, David Sanderson and Pamela Sitko outline ten principles for enacting area-based approaches in urban post-disaster recovery and Chris Pain and Hanne Vrebos discuss Concern’s area-based programme in Port-au-Prince. Ruta Nimkar and Mathias Devi Nielsen look at a new programming approach in urban centres in Afghanistan to address the needs of the long-term displaced. Learning from an urban earthquake simulation exercise in Dhaka is the focus of articles by Charles Kelly and Herma Majoor and Larissa Pelham, who conclude that, to maximise the usefulness of such exercises, more advance training, engagement and preparation is needed. In their article, Jonathan Parkinson, Tim Forster and Esther Shaylor underscore the benefits of using market analysis to support humanitarian WASH programming in urban areas. The edition ends with an article by Estella Carpi and Camillo Boano analysing the potential unintended consequences of the increasing urbanisation of humanitarian response, focusing on border regions neighbouring Syria.

My article with Prof. Camillo Boano can be found here:



Categories: Jordan, Lebanon, Middle East, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Humanitarian Pedagogies of Transit (September 2017)


(Syrian refugee children at school in Turkey. Photo credit: worldbulletin.net)


Despite the traditionally temporary character of their interventions, humanitarian agencies providing ad hoc services in crisis-affected areas are increasingly viewing education as a necessity. As such, education has been progressively integrated into the standard humanitarian toolkit. Delivering formal education in crises, however, remains an enormous challenge. On the one hand, development aid does not provide adequate support to countries in long-term crises, and on the other, humanitarian aid generally does not prioritize education. Among displaced communities, education often loses its own acknowledged potential to bring refugees closer to the civic and political fabric of host countries. In early 2015, I observed this challenge first-hand while visiting Za‘atari and Mrajeeb el-Fhood refugee camps in northern Jordan, which are currently home to approximately 142,000 Syrian refugees (UNHCR 2017). In this context, looking at schooling curricula and materials offers interesting research avenues.

One of the most basic educational challenges in refugee settings is that of school dropouts. In 2012, approximately 121 million children were out of school worldwide, of whom 33.8 million were in conflict-affected countries and 6.2 million in Arab states (UNESCO 2015). School dropout rates are often attributed to the daily pressures that make child labor a necessity for many refugee families. However, refugee children face a number of other important barriers in accessing formal education. These barriers may be physical (military checkpoints), bureaucratic (the need to provide documentary evidence of previous schooling), economic (cost of transportation) or linguistic (not speaking the language of formal education in a host country). Moreover, an underappreciated factor affecting dropout rates is the quality of camp schools. Finally, refugees very often initially view displacement as short-lived and think that children can wait to return home to resume formal studies. This short-term approach affects decisions regarding what kind of education refugee children should receive.

From an anthropological perspective, what is interesting is the manner in which school curricula change following displacement and the re-establishment of social networks in new places.

In tackling school dropout rates, international NGOs have increasingly provided education to supplement that officially offered by host states. On a visit to Za‘atari, I spoke with a Syrian woman and a Jordanian teacher who explained that the dropout rate from formal schools financed by NGOs and UN agencies was high; informal NGO education programs had been much more successful than formal classes, even though NGOs did not provide official certificates (cf. HRW 2016). These views are supported by wider data indicating that in Jordan’s Syrian refugee camps children leave school in order to attend informal training seen as more engaging (UNICEF and REACH 2014).

Given this “humanitarianization” of education, the “emergency education” model may reduce our understanding of education to a simple humanitarian toolkit item. Instead, in both home and host states, schooling has myriad consequences. In particular, it contributes to shaping new curricula and ideas, which in turn lead to the emergence of specific political subjectivities and communities (Kenyon-Lischer 2005), which crystallize as a spontaneous response to the provision of various care services. For instance, in Za‘atari, humanitarian assistance—reliable health services, lifesaving vaccines and, sometimes, daily meals—is being provided to children in humanitarian educational spaces. Furthermore, NGOs also use these spaces as hubs to distribute aid to the community (INEE 2011).

From an anthropological perspective, what is interesting is the manner in which school curricula change following displacement and the re-establishment of social networks in new places. The humanitarian system is now one of the main actors providing refugee education and it has been crucial to the emergence of a “pedagogical culture of transit.” In refugee settings, temporary school programs become permanent (in)formal forms of “emergency education”—often delivered through psychosocial support programs—and they shape refugees’ socio-political and civic interaction with their surrounding space. This raises the issue of where camps are located and the extent to which they are segregated from local communities. For instance, Mrajeeb el-Fhood is in an extremely isolated desert location, distant from potential sources of livelihood and critical infrastructure.

These examples point to an important divide between refugee communities and institutional schooling.

I would like to suggest that anthropology has a crucial role to play in investigating the extent to which “emergency education” has been devised as a tool to integrate refugees into the local population or merely as a stopgap measure tailored to refugees as individuals in transit. Throughout my interviews with Syrian refugees in Za‘atari and Mrajeeb el-Fhood, their lack of enthusiasm towards schooling services was evident. Among many other factors, this seemed to play a large role in family decisions to alternately remain in the camps, move within Jordan, or leave the Middle East altogether. For example, most of the children I met in Za‘atari stated that they wanted to return to Syria: in a family of eight children, none was attending school, and four had dropped out two years earlier. Children’s unwillingness to stay in school was certainly related to the ease with which they could access it. However, it also had to do with the perceived low quality of “emergency education” in Jordan—a decisive factor in family decision-making regarding migration. This low quality was largely defined politically; that is, Syrian children felt the education they were receiving did not enable a reconstruction of Syrian history and memory. As Mara’, a nine year old girl from Dara‘a, recounted, “I don’t like schools here. There are 50 pupils in a class, and we don’t learn anything about Syria. No politics, no history … I ended up here, and I don’t know why!” Indeed, all students reported that they were required to follow the Jordanian curriculum. Siham, a 14 year old girl from Eastern Ghouta similarly stated, “I dropped out a year ago. I was wasting my time … I don’t feel the desire any longer to go to school here. The teachers don’t know where I come from.” In a parallel case, a Palestinian refugee I interviewed in Amman argued that values of Palestinian nationhood were promoted principally via NGO education rather than through formal UN schools operating in Palestinian refugee camps. These examples point to an important divide between refugee communities and institutional schooling.

Does such education “of transit” help generate socio-cultural resilience for refugees facing increasingly protracted displacement? Beyond the formation of new collective identities, how do young refugees envision their future within such schools founded on humanitarian goals?

What I call “emergency education” has become integral to emergency relief in diverse crisis-affected zones. On the one hand, some humanitarian donors and teachers use education as a tool to consolidate a specific regional identity. For example, Bahraini, Qatari, and Saudi schools have been established in Za‘atari. Arab Gulf–funded humanitarian services have been strongly associated with the politicization of aid and with the opportunistic formation of new political and social subjectivities (Al-Mezaini 2017). On the other hand, global North humanitarian educational programs are believed to aim ideally to neutralize refugees as political subjects, in accordance with humanitarian principles and security agendas traditionally upheld by a “global liberal governance” (Duffield 2008). In a global context of increasing hostility to migrants, NGOs and UN agencies are concerned less with refugees’ educational aspirations, and more with whether education in crisis settings contributes to social stability in host countries (UNHCR 2015).

In fact, in the Middle East, education has often been thought as a strategy to solidify social control and maintain political order, rather than one to achieve the Western ideal of education as critical to the development of independent political awareness. Likewise, the international emphasis of “emergency education” has often been on integrating refugees into host communities (EU Commission 2016) to achieve social cohesion. In contrast, I argue that in the Middle East, refugee and government schools, as well as other educational programs, have been important (though sometimes unintentional) spaces of political and cultural socialization despite decades of political oppression explicitly aimed at creating and preserving the constituencies of ruling regimes. That is, individual socialization at school occurs through various pathways, some of which are independent from the political reasons behind their establishment.

New concepts of “humanitarian education” are thus emerging that require us to critically unpack humanitarian actions and values beyond their ostensible neutrality. The needs and aspirations of refugees should be the driving force behind building a school in emergencies. In this regard, I ask: Does such education “of transit” help generate socio-cultural resilience for refugees facing increasingly protracted displacement? Beyond the formation of new collective identities, how do young refugees envision their future within such schools founded on humanitarian goals?

My preliminary research on “emergency education” looks beyond what role schooling plays in conflict and in peace building—alternately a victim of attacks or complicit with the perpetrators (Pherali 2016). Instead, it asks what the implications are of a “pedagogy of transit”—one conceived of as a short-term endeavor in which schools are a pre-resettlement educational experience that, at times, becomes permanent.

Estella Carpi is a postdoctoral research associate at University College London and Humanitarian Affairs Adviser at Save the Children UK. Holding a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Sydney, she is primarily concerned with social responses to conflict and to crisis management.

Categories: Jordan, Middle East, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Call for Papers for Sixth Istanbul Human Security Conference 2016 (19-20-21 October)

image4Call for Papers for the panel—“Protecting People or Protecting Orders? Displacement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region” to take place at the sixth Istanbul Human Security Conference, The Human Security Implications of the Refugee Crisis: Evaluating Current Policies and Discussing Potential Solutions, 19-20-21 October 2016. This panel will be under the “Responses to Refugee Crises in the World” conference theme.

Please send 200 word (max) abstracts to Estella Carpi at estella.carpi@gmail.com no later than Friday, May 27. Authors of accepted papers will be notified Monday, May 30 for final panel submission June 1.


Panel proposal for: “Responses to Refugee Crises in the World”

Panel Title: “Protecting People or Protecting Orders? Displacement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region”

Estella Carpi (New York University – Abu Dhabi) and Giulia El Dardiry (McGill University)

From domestic affairs to international politics, “human security” has been associated with a reframing of political discourse in which the “human” rather than the “state” has become the fundamental objective of political action. In emergency contexts, this has resulted in increasing humanitarian efforts to provide personal, political, economic, community, environmental, health, and food security to distressed communities.

Characterized by protracted conflicts, a precarious economy and endemic political instability, the MENA is a region where humanitarian and political action in service of “human security” continues to be urgent. However, in the long shadow cast by the defining experience of the Palestinian refugee displacements, international actors are increasingly framing the transnational mobilities of Sudanese, Somalis, Iraqis, Libyans, and Syrians as an instantiation of the global threat posed by open borders.

This panel asks how humanitarian practices deployed on the ground with the explicit aim of guaranteeing “human security” contribute instead to maintaining the Middle East geopolitical order. The selected papers will critically interrogate how the discourse of “human security”—rather than shifting political priorities from states to people—re-inscribes state power and interests, successfully vesting geopolitics with the moral aura of a people-centered approach, even as it displaces millions from their homes.

Categories: Middle East, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

Beyond Legal Definitions: Migrants and Refugees as Ungraspable Categories (by Estella Carpi, August 2015)

Beyond Legal Definitions: Migrants and Refugees as Ungraspable Categories. The Syrian Kurdish Exodus and the Lebanese Akkaris.

Beyond Legal Definitions: Migrants and Refugees as Ungraspable Categories. The Syrian Kurdish Exodus and the Lebanese Akkaris.

August 20, 2015

Social Science Researcher at TRENDS Research & Advisory

Migrants are definable as people who spontaneously choose to leave their country and build a better life elsewhere. Before their departure, migrants are therefore able to ask for information about their destination and what opportunities they may have there. Moreover, they remain free to go back to their home country whenever needed or desired. The United Nations defines a ‘migrant’ as an individual who has resided in a foreign country for longer than one year regardless of the causes, voluntary or involuntary, and the means, regular or irregular. Nevertheless, at the international level, no universally accepted definition for “migrant” exists.

Conversely, refugees have no other choice but leaving their country because they are persecuted, tortured, being their life somehow jeopardised if they remained in their home country. In specific, Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”. In such cases, the very reasons behind refugee influxes are political and human rights, safety and security, rather than individual and collective economic upgrading. People’s departure is mostly unexpected and unplanned due to warfare or natural disaster. Their journey towards the so-called “host-countries” is full of risks, yet in relentless search for protection and safety. In most cases, refugees, unlike migrants, cannot return unless the political and social scenario back home changes in their favour.

If those described above are the de facto and legal defining conditions according to which we are supposed to distinguish a migrant from a refugee, the latest flows of people on the move throughout the Middle East point to a less clear-cut category of mobile populations. In the cases of Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey, and Lebanon, which will be discussed later, the 1951 Geneva’s Refugee Convention has not been ratified by the governments: thus, until the time individuals seeking refuge do not receive their official status from UNHCR[1] (or UNRWA[2] in the case of Palestinians), they are to be legally considered asylum seekers or forced migrants. Even once they obtain the official documentation, refugees fear repatriation and detention, in that UNHCR and UNRWA simply clinched bilateral agreements with most of the Middle Eastern governments hosting the newcomers, as they are not signatories to the 1951 Convention. This explains the chronic indoor life that many refugees, other than the Palestinians, lead to be able to reside in the Middle East.

Yet, international law’s regulations and the orthodox language of the human rights campaigns seem to create more confusion in addressing changing and blurred mobile groups of people, by engendering a gap between real needs, rights’ achievement, and programs meant to addressing social and political issues on the basis of forced and non-forced migrations. It is how “forced” such migration flows are which increasingly become ungraspable. As mentioned above, international law does not contemplate cases in which people who are not subjected to persecution are eligible for such a legal status. However, it became evident that people, even when not directly persecuted or personally endangered, still find themselves in the condition to have no other choice than leaving, as the Syrian exodus is currently proving. Consequently, speaking of and tackling migrants as a different category from refugees – and vice versa – becomes misleading on a pragmatic and a legal level, rather than ensuring rights and meeting needs appropriately.

For instance, in the first instance, UNHCR did not consider external compelling reasons for migration as mandatory criteria for registering refugees from Syria. In Lebanon, the rash policy of considering anyone coming out of Syria as aprioristically eligible – as potentially subjected to persecution by one of the warring parties – led to a daunting and premature shortage of aid which the humanitarian agencies were supposed to provide, as well as to an unbelievable number of registered refugees (now 1,172,753) until the January 2015 tightening of the new Lebanese immigration laws.

Therefore, to make up for resources’ waste, UNHCR subsequently introduced refugee status cancellation policies in accordance with the Lebanese government when registered families or individuals did not collect their assigned aid packages more than three times in a row. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that Syrian refugees often reported the lack of successful communication between them and aid providers. Many of them therefore found themselves in extreme need of assistance after being cancelled from the UNHCR list. In a nutshell, the random registration of refugees at the outset of the refugee crisis, and the consequent UN compensation policy to make aid suffice for all, have unavoidably been perceived as aggressive policies by the refugees, for whom such measures were standing for the carelessness of the international community.

A further example is provided by the paradox that defining an individual as ‘economic migrant’ rather than ‘refugee’ can mean denying her/him access to the process of applying for asylum. Likewise, those who do not have the status of asylum seeker can legally be returned to their country of origin whenever the latter is considered safe. The distinction inevitably leads legal institutions to introduce a list of countries from which either only asylum seekers or economic migrants can come. For example, countries ridden by longstanding conflict like Syria are viewed as merely producing influxes of refugees and not economic migrants. The complexity and differentiation of the types of mobility that the Syrian political crisis has gradually given birth to goes here unheeded.

It is of use to recall that many Syrians were undergoing political harassment and persecution from the side of state institutions in the 1970s and later, who were therefore fleeing to neighbouring and western countries in the capacity of ‘economic migrants’ rather than ‘political refugees’. The lack of officially declared emergencies, and the unwillingness to deal with the Hafez al-Asad regime at an international level at that time, influenced the definition and the management of Syrian people’s mobility in those years, in a bid to depoliticise or simply undercut the matter for the sake of regional and international stability.

A further suitable example nowadays is offered by the North-Eastern region of Syria, the semi-independent area which is co-ruled in practice by Bashar al-Asad’s regime and the Syrian Kurdish Party PYD (Democratic Union Party), despite the highly controversial relationship that these two political actors have intertwined.

Especially in 2013, two years after the outset of the Syrian uprisings taking place across the whole country, Syrian Kurdistan produced big flows of ‘refugees’ and ‘economic migrants’ altogether towards the neighbouring Turkey and Iraq. A large number of those who fled into Iraqi Kurdistan (where over 90% of Syrian refugees are now Syrians Kurds) and Turkey – where segments of their families were already living – should properly be defined as ‘economic migrants’, if the very reasons for their migration were considered. Indeed, the traditional inhabitants of Syrian Kurdistan had long been neglected by the central state’s services, and the regime’s politics of meeting the Kurds’ needs and granting Syrian citizenship to many of them only at the beginnings of the Syrian revolution (April 2011), were primarily aimed at averting a greater turmoil, therefore limiting the use of force to curb the popular protests in these areas. Similarly, the regime’s aviation has never bombed the Kurdish-majority areas since 2011, except for the territories presently held by the so-called Islamic State (mainly al-Hasake’s governorate).

Aside from chronic poverty, hence, longstanding lack of social services, schools, and roads, and the decreasing presence of basic goods, electricity, and clean water during the ongoing conflict, Syrian Kurdistan mostly became a region of spontaneous migration rather than refugehood caused by indiscriminate political persecution and bombing against the local population (i.e. the Hama governorate in central Syria). Nonetheless, the life conditions of the average Kurdish Syrian citizen were dire to the extent at which migrations towards an unknown future and a refugee-camp life in Turkey or Iraq were still considered as a better option.

In sum, the Syrian Kurdistan region, called in Arabic “Rojavà”, has long been neglected by the Syrian central state as well as by international media before the Syrian crisis. The mechanic and aprioristic association of Syrians with refugee influxes in the Middle East and elsewhere, operated from outside, has also induced many Syrian Arabs and Syrian Kurds living in this region to abandon their homes and look for a better life outside of the country. The use of the refugees’ label and the livelihoods at their disposal – the emergency aid supposedly destined only to the war-stricken – have turned out to be great assets for disadvantaged people desiring to find a job and a higher economic status far away from home.

Likewise, many among the older date Syrian migrants in Lebanon decided to leave their previous life of exploitation and social marginalisation to opt for a more hopeful life in Europe or elsewhere. Their Syrian passports have helped them to pursue their mobility purposes and concretely move towards an economic betterment and a “life of dignity” only in times of regional emergency.

The typical phenomenon of viewing refugee status as opportunity, whenever the international community legally acknowledges an emergency and its political consequences, also appeared in recent times with chronically poor Lebanese citizens, especially from the Akkar region, which is deemed as the poorest in Lebanon. Akkar’s residents started “capitalising” the miserable status of Syrian refugees to comply with their own very needs and legitimate desires of migration. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the drowning of seventeen Akkaris from the village of Fneideq who had bought fake Syrian passports in order to be shipped towards the Australian coasts. After the tragic episode, Akkar’s roads were blocked as a sign of “protest and solidarity, to express our frustration… When will we redeem ourselves from chronic poverty and deprivation?!”.[3]

Neither the status of economic migrant nor that of refugee seems to be able, per se, to redeem diversely needy people, as long as such international labels remain embedded in the increasingly laborious applicability of legal definitions, the way in which the latter discipline the material management of people’s mobility, and the predominant political order which is strategically upheld by these labels.

While law should sort out social issues on the basis of social justice and overall security, its recurrent submission to international politics keeps on labeling departures, resettlements, continuous movements, personal decisions, and human lives at its will. Nothing more ungraspable. Nothing more fruitlessly ambitious.

[1] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

[2] United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

[3] Quotations taken from in-depth interviews undertaken 13 October 2013, in Lebanon.

Categories: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Analisi dei media curdi tra stampa e televisioni satellitari

Un analisi che ho scritto per ArabMediaReport sui media curdi tra Turchia, Siria, Iraq e Iran…

kurd media

Dall’oppressione al nazionalismo, le emittenti satellitari consolidano un senso di appartenenza transnazionale, nonostante l’assenza di una lingua condivisa. Come i media di un attore anti-istituzionale come il Partito dei lavoratori del Kurdistan, Pkk, siano diventati uno strumento di pressione difficilmente arginabile dagli Stati nazione. La regione autonoma curdo irachena e suoi media istituzionali, tra interessi commerciali e repressione del dissenso. I curdi della Siria e dell’Iran ancora relegati ad attori secondari.

Anche se la televisione non è in grado di rivitalizzare linguaggi e culture da sola, riesce a conferire credibilità e legittimità a un idioma, specialmente se si tratta di un lingua minacciata. Così si esprime lo studioso Amir Hassanpour, nel descrivere la missione dei neonati media curdi. La lingua in questione è stata repressa in tutti i modi immaginabili nelle quattro ‘province’ del Kurdistan- Siria, Iran, Iraq e Turchia- e gode di un riconoscimento ufficiale solamente nel Governo Regionale del Kurdistan, Grk. Le emittenti della regione irachena, divenuta de facto autonoma nel 1991, hanno pertanto giocato un ruolo fondamentale nel legittimare lo stato di questa lingua ostracizzata.

Al di fuori dell’isola felice del Kurdistan iracheno, dove da oltre un ventennio il sistema educativo è quasi interamente in curdo, ben poche persone hanno studiato la propria lingua e ancora meno hanno avuto accesso alle pubblicazioni clandestine.

La repressione continua a dominare il panorama mediatico curdo. In Iran, dopo la parentesi riformista di Khatami (1997-2005), l’intolleranza si è abbattuta nuovamente sulle pubblicazioni indipendenti. La Turchia detiene il primato mondiale di giornalisti detenuti, tre quarti dei quali lavoravano per media filo-curdi. Se si esclude l’introduzione di corsi universitari di curdo lo scorso aprile, il regime siriano non ha mai concesso alcuna apertura. Anche quest’ultima mossa però è stato solo l’ennesimo tentativo di mantenere la minoranza neutrale nella rivoluzione in corso dal 2011.


Un nazionalismo senza una lingua condivisa

In un simile contesto repressivo, la stessa nascita della stampa coincide con l’emergere del movimento nazionalista: il primo periodico curdo (Kurdistan) venne pubblicato al Cairo nel 1898 con l’intento dichiarato di sostenere il popolo curdo. Considerato il pubblico ristretto di lettori politicizzati, in Kurdistan Identity, Discourse and Media, Jaffar Sheyholislami descrive la stampa come artefice del nazionalismo, mentre riserva alle televisioni satellitari la definizione di veri e propri mass media, in grado di formare una coscienza curda transnazionale. Le televisioni terrestri sono invece rimaste sotto il controllo delle propagande governative, anche quando hanno accettato di includere programmi in curdo.

Le emittenti satellitari che si sono dedicate alla diffusione del nazionalismo curdo hanno dovuto innanzitutto ovviare all’assenza di una lingua unificata. Esistono infatti vari dialetti molto diversi tra loro, i più diffusi sono il Kurmanji nell’area turco-siriana e il Sorani in quella iracheno-iraniana.

Non esiste nemmeno una scrittura condivisa, dato che i curdi di Siria e Turchia utilizzano l’alfabeto latino codificato negli anni ’30 da Jaladat Ali Badarkhan, editore della rivista letteraria curdo-siriana Hawar, mentre in Iraq e Iran si ricorre all’alfabeto arabo. Ciononostante, il progetto nazionalista di canali satellitari come Kurdistan TV, KTV, prevede un’unità linguistica forzata. Come osservato da Sheyholislami, nelle lezioni di Kurmanji per bambini oggetto di un programma chiamato Zimanî Kurdî, lingua curda, il dialetto Sorani non viene nemmeno preso in considerazione. L’unità linguistica matrice dello Stato nazione ottocentesco europeo viene perseguita combinando i diversi dialetti all’interno dei notiziari, nei quali, per esempio, il presentatore si esprime in Kurmanji e l’inviato in Sorani.


Il satellite vettore di un senso di appartenenza transnazionale

Come sottolineato da Sheyholislami, KTV cerca di consolidare una memoria storica comune e promuove il modello della regione autonoma al di là dei confini iracheni. La memoria storica viene resa omogenea al costo di distorsioni nel programma Emřo le Mêjû da, Oggi nella Storia,in cui il Trattato di Sevres firmato nel 1920 dall’impero ottomano e dalla potenze alleate viene ricordato come documento fondante della “nazione curda”, senza specificare che si trattasse esclusivamente di parte del Kurdistan turco.

Allo stesso tempo, nei notiziari si parla di “Kurdistan iracheno e turco”, tessendo i legami transnazionali nel rispetto dei confini nazionali. Al contrario, i corrispondenti dall’estero della stessa emittente tendono a riferirsi al “Kurdistan meridionale e settentrionale”, a testimonianza di una maggiore libertà nel dar voce alle rivendicazioni indipendentiste: la loro visione è quella di un’unica patria avversa ai confini nazionali.


 Il Pkk e i suoi canali satellitari: guerriglia senza confini

Oltre a Kdp, il Partito democratico del Kurdistan, che controlla anche Zagros TV e Korek TV, l’altro impero mediatico e’ quello degli insurrezionalisti del Pkk turco: Roj TV -emittente principale del partito- Newroz TV -voce del Partito della Vita Libera del Kurdistan, sezione iraniana del Pkk- MMC -canale musicale che predilige canzoni curde e straniere dai contenuti rivoluzionari- Ronahi TV –emittente legata alla frangia siriana del partito, il Pyd, Partito dell’unione democratica.

Il linguaggio politico di tutte questi canali é esplicitamente “pan curdo”. A differenza di KTV, non vi è alcuna necessità di edulcorarlo a tutela delle relazioni estere. La programmazione dedica ampio spazio al folclore curdo, oltre che alla glorificazione della lotta armata dei “compagni” di partito, tramite numerosi videoclip musicali girati nella roccaforte dei monti Qandil iracheni.

L’aspetto più interessante del Pkk è la sua capacità di sfruttare la natura deterritorializzata del satellite per resistere ogni misura repressiva: l’esempio più noto è quello di MED-TV, la prima stazione satellitare curda nata nel 1995, la cui licenza venne revocata nel 1999 in seguito alle pressioni turche sul governo inglese che la ospitava. Il canale ‘rinacque’ in Francia comeMEDYA TV , ma fu immediatamente obbligato a sospendere le trasmissioni nel 2004. L’ultimo anello della catena è Roj TV, basata in Danimarca dal 2004.

Il governo turco continua a esercitare pressioni su questo canale danese accusato di sostenere un’organizzazione considerata terroristica dall’Unione Europea. La questione Roj TV continua a rischiare di compromettere le relazioni tra i due Paesi. Nel luglio 2010, Wikileaks aveva già pubblicato un documento dell’ambasciata americana di Ankara, datato gennaio 2010, dal quale si apprendeva che la diplomazia turca attendeva la chiusura dell’emittente in cambio del consenso di Ankara all’elezione del danese Anders Fogh Rasmussen alla presidenza della NATO (2009). Lo scorso 21 marzo però, Erdogan è riuscito a ‘strappare’ al primo ministro danese la promessa di chiudere Roj TVin cambio di un aumento del volume degli scambi commerciali da 1,7 a 5 miliardi di dollari. Ciononostante, la licenza di Roj TV non è ancora stata revocata. La vicenda presenta delle somiglianze con l’esperienza di al-Zawra’ , canale filo-Saddam dell’iracheno Mishaan al-Juburi, capace di eludere a lungo le pressioni governative trasmettendo dall’operatore egiziano Nilesat.

Il dossier Roj TV ha inoltre influito sulla decisione del governo Erdogan di inaugurare la prima emittente curda del Paese, TRT 6, nel 2009. Le ripercussioni della controversia hanno dimostrato come le emittenti satellitari siano divenute uno strumento di pressione politica ancora più efficace delle armi nelle mani del Pkk, seppur in assenza dell’apparato istituzionale di cui dispone la regione autonoma irachena.

Barzani: partnerariato commerciale in formato televisivo

Se le piattaforme del Pkk cercano appoggio all’estero, sapendo di poter innescare crisi diplomatiche tra Ankara e i suoi partner commerciali, il presidente della regione semi-autonoma del Kurdistan iracheno, Masud Barzani, utilizza il soft power televisivo per promuovere nuove intese commerciali.

Basta pensare alle serie televisive sudcoreane divenute un vero e proprio cult nel Kurdistan iracheno, sulla base dell’alleanza militare e commerciale tra i due Paesi. Le radici vanno ricercate nello stazionamento degli oltre tremila soldati del contingente sudcoreano Zaytun nella regione autonoma dal 2004 al 2008. Si tratta del più massiccio dispiegamento di truppe sudcoreane all’estero dalla fine della guerra del Vietnam. Le autorità del Kurdistan si mostrarono particolarmente favorevoli alla presenza delle truppe di Seul, vero e proprio trampolino di lancio per una serie di intese commerciali: l’ultima joint venture riguarderebbe la realizzazione di un raccordo anulare tra Mosul, Erbil e Kirkuk. Prevedendo i margini di profitto derivabili dal business della ricostruzione post-bellica, Seul ha promosso un’immagine positiva delle proprie truppe. La biografia televisiva del primo monarca della dinastia coreana Goguryeo, Jumong Taewang (37-19 a.c), continua a riscuotere un enorme successo nella versione doppiata in Kurmanji.


I limiti della libertà d’espressione nel Kurdistan iracheno

Il governo del Kurdistan iracheno è ormai consapevole delle potenzialità dei media e ne fa pieno uso per promuovere la propria immagine e consolidare rapporti commerciali. Allo stesso tempo, come qualsiasi altro esecutivo in Medio Oriente, il Grk è consapevole delle minacce poste dai media indipendenti. A dispetto dell’oppressione di cui sono stati oggetto i principali partiti curdi iracheni, le autorità non si fanno scrupoli a reprimere brutalmente le forme di dissenso, seppur in proporzione minore rispetto ad Ankara, Bagdad, Teheran e Damasco.

Nel 2008, il quotidiano indipendente Hawleti è stato oggetto di una causa da tredici milioni di dinari per aver tradotto un articolo del giornalista americano Michael Rubin sull’entità abnorme del patrimonio di Barzani e dell’altro veterano della politica curda irachena, il presidente iracheno Jalal Talabani dell’Unione Patriottica del Kurdistan. Nel 2010, il governo ha chiesto un risarcimento pari a un miliardo di dollari e la chiusura del settimanale Rozhnama, a causa di un articolo sul contrabbando di petrolio diretto in Iran. La stazione televisiva Nalia è stata assaltata dai sostenitori di Barzani nel 2013 dopo aver trasmesso una telefonata critica dell’icona del nazionalismo curdo, il padre dell’attuale presidente, Mostafa Mullah Barzani (1903-1979).

I giornalisti continuano ad essere oggetto di intimidazioni, se non rapiti e uccisi, quando osano criticare le ‘sacre’ famiglie Barzani e Talabani. Questa è stata la sorte di Sardasht Osman, uno studente noto sul web per le critiche rivolte alla famiglia Barzani, assassinato nel 2010 senza che sia mai stata fatta giustizia. Il suo omicidio è stato attribuito a dalle cellule islamiche della città di Mosul. 


Nell’ombra: Iran e Siria

Rispetto alla vitalità del Pkk e delle autorità curdo irachene in ambito televisivo, il Kurdistan siriano e quello iraniano rimangono due contesti secondari, per via dei mezzi limitati, dell’impreparazione e di una diaspora dimostratasi meno propositiva.

Tra le poche eccezioni vi sono le emittenti di partito curdo-iraniane, inaugurate nel 2006 dai comunisti del Komala –Komala TV-, dall’Organizzazione rivoluzionaria dei lavoratori del Kurdistan orientale –Rojhelat TV– e dal Partito democratico del Kurdistan Iraniano (Tishk TV). Le emittenti sono tutte basate in Europa. Tuttavia, si tratta di stazioni satellitari con una programmazione ridotta, inferiore alle realtà collegate al Pkk e al Kurdistan iracheno.

In Iran la morsa dell’ex presidente Mohammad Ahmadinejad si è abbattuta sulla stampa curda, dopo la momentanea apertura di Khatami, sotto il quale venivano stampati ben sette settimanali curdi. Tra i pochi sopravvissuti vi sono il settimanale Sirwan e il bisettimanale Hawar.

D’altro canto, una simile repressione in patria viene compensata dall’appoggio fornito ai media di proprietà di Jalal Talabani: il presidente curdo iracheno alleato di Teheran che controllaKurdsat,Gali Kurdistan, al-Hurriyah TV e PUK TV. Secondo alcuni dei suoi critici, sarebbe stato proprio l’Iran a sponsorizzare Kurdsat per bilanciare l’appoggio fornito dalla Turchia alla KTV di Barzani, in funzione di contenimento delle emittenti del Pkk. I vari canali negano di aver ricevuto un simile sostegno, ma la repressione interna dei media curdi non impedisce a Turchia e Iran di sostenerli, quando vengono fondati da alleati strategici all’estero.

Per quanto riguarda la Siria, se si esclude Ronahi, l’unica realtà satellitare esistente, anch’essa collegata al Pkk , i rimanenti partiti curdi hanno avuto modo di agire liberamente solo da un anno, da quando il regime ha ritirato le sue forze di sicurezza dalle regioni a maggioranza curda. Si tratta di un panorama politico frammentato, dipendente dall’appoggio dei partiti curdi iracheni e privo di una consolidata rete di espatriati in grado di dare vita a dei canali satellitari.

La nuova libertà di movimento di cui godono i curdi siriani si è tradotta nella circolazione alla luce del sole di diverse pubblicazioni in curdo, ma si tratta di una fase ancora prematura e dominata dalla partigianeria politica per poterne effettuare una valutazione compiuta.


Categories: Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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The Human Observer

Gabriele Marranci, PhD


Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East


"... chi parte per Beirut e ha in tasca un miliardo..."

Tutto in 30 secondi

[was] appunti e note sul mondo islamico contemporaneo

Anna Vanzan

Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East

letturearabe di Jolanda Guardi

Ho sempre immaginato che il Paradiso fosse una sorta di biblioteca (J. L. Borges)