Universiteit Leiden

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Panel discussion

The Politics of Siege in the Syrian Conflict

Monday 4 June 2018
Register via lucis@hum.leidenuniv.nl
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden

A revolution besieged: the politics of siege as a key to understanding Syria’s conflagration

The siege of towns and cities and the blockade of territories have been a key war tactic since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. The Asad regime and its opponents have turned strategic enclaves and crossroads into a leverage to expand territorial control, negotiate with rivals, and redraw the socio-political map of the country.

How has the politics of the siege contributed to transform the conflict from 2011 onwards? What are the main consequences on civilians facing ‘surrender or die’ campaigns in besieged enclaves, and the fate of post-surrender communities? What are the political and legal implications of the siege tactic OR war tool in the Syrian conflict? These are the main questions that this workshop will address. The aim is to shed light on the different usages of the siege, focusing on the relationship between warring parties, civilians and territories in the Syrian conflict.

The purpose of this roundtable is to give both scholarly and practitioners’ views on the weaponization of civilians amidst sieges and to discuss how this practice is reshaping the balance of power and the sociopolitical geography of Syria.

The workshop is followed by free drinks at North End pub.


  • Marina Calculli (convenor/intro): lecturer in Middle East Politics at Leiden University. Her research examines various aspects of conflict involving state and non-state actors, with a focus on Hezbollah and the Armed Forces in Lebanon and Syria. Her current research project focuses on 'the necropolitics of siege in the Syrian conflict'.
  • Aurora Sottimano (convenor/conclusion): Lecturer at LIAS, a Visiting Researcher at the Centre of International Studies (ISCTE-IUL) Lisbon, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Syrian Studies, St Andrews University (UK). She holds a PhD degree in Politics from SOAS, University of London. She has been a Lecturer at the British University in Egypt, a post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Orient Institute Beirut, and a Researcher at Amsterdam University/HIVOS.
  • Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj (Common Space Initiative, Beirut, Lebanon). He is a consultant on urban planning, development and local governance. He is co-coordinator of the Syria Project at the Common Space Initiative in Beirut, where he is engaged in facilitating various dialogue and research projects for peace building and recovery planning in Syria. Formerly, he was the CEO of the Syria Trust for Development, and served on the boards of several NGO’s, and public commissions. His professional and research work relates institutional, financial and political frameworks to the production of built environment. In 2007, Mr. Hallaj was the recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture as team leader of the Shibam Urban Development Project (GIZ). He subsequently served on the master jury and the steering committee of the Award.
  • Abdulkarim Ezkayez (Chatam House, London UK). His work at Chatham House focuses on the public health impacts of conflict, as well as challenges around the protection of healthcare in conflict, both issues he has experienced first-hand in Syria. In 2013, he joined Save the Children in North West Syria , where he led the health response until 2017.
  • Jan Tijmen Ninck Blok, Netherlands Red Cross. He is Legal Adviser on international humanitarian law at the Netherlands Red Cross. Before joining the Red Cross movement he worked in the field of protection of civilians with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and prior to that with the World Food Programme in Darfur. Jan studied international law and political sciences at Aberystwyth University in Wales.
  • Husam Alkatlaby chief executive officer Violation Documentation Centre, Geneva, Switzerland. He is a Researcher & Program Manager, with thirteen years of experience with human rights and civil society in Syria and the Middle East, including non-violent activism during transitions and conflicts, media and advocacy, transitional justice and peace building concepts.
  • Mohammed Abdullah (Artino), activist and war photographer. Syrian activist, war photographer, member of the human rights organisation The Syria Campaign. He joined the 2011 protests, was arrested, tortured, and later witnessed the chemical attack on Ghouta Syrian war. He currently lives in Belgium.
  • Ugur Ümit Üngör is Associate Professor at the Department of History at Utrecht University and Research Fellow at the Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam. His main area of interest is the history and sociology of mass violence. His most recent publications include Genocide: New Perspectives on its Causes, Courses and Consequences (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016), and the award-winning The Making of Modern Turkey: Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1950 (Oxford University Press, 2011). He is currently leading an NWO-funded research project on paramilitarism and coordinating the Syrian Oral History project.

  • Mohammad Kanfash, Chairman, Damaan Humanitarian Organization.                       Damaan  is a Syrian organization based in the Netherlands. Until recently, Damaan worked in the besieged areas in Damascus and its countryside providing education, medical care, and clean water as well as meals to those under siege. Further programmes  included self-reliance, women empowerment and promotion of local dialogue. Mohammad previously worked in Syria during the Iraq Emergency Operation and in Egypt at the time of the Libya Emergency Operation.




Marina Calculli, Leiden University



Challenges of transcending the legacies of besiegement

Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj, Common Space Initiative (Beirut, Lebanon)


A five-steps tactic of a bloody strategy to deal with resisting enclaves in the Syrian conflict

Abdulkarim Ezkayez, Chatham House (London UK)


The applicability of international humanitarian law to siege warfare

Jan Ninck Blok, The Netherland Red Cross, (The Hague, The Netherlands)


Q&A session


Break with coffee & tea



Dividing a Nation: How the siege ignited the conflict

Husam Alkatlaby, Violation Documentation Centre (Geneva, Switzerland)


The "starve and die" strategy and the evolution of the Syrian revolution

Mohammad Kanfash, Damaan humanitarian organization (The Netherlands)


Life under siege

Mohammed Abdullah Artino, The Syria Campaign (Brussels, Belgium)

Q&A Session



Aurora Sottimano, Leiden University

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