Unspoken memories, unwritten histories:

Eastern Mediterranean pluralism in oral history and memory studies

A series of workshops devoted to theory and practice in academia and civil society

Less than a hundred years ago, most Eastern Mediterranean cities were marked by a high degree of cultural pluralism. Whereas the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of modern nation-states heralded its end, some cities retained their cosmopolitan nature well until the Second World War. Oral histories and communicative memories of ethnoreligious groups that constituted vital parts of these cities are still living, often wound up with unhealed and suppressed historical. At the same time, simplified and nostalgic visions of a pluralist past are sometimes held up as role models for present-day Eastern Mediterranean societies without questioning, or without regard for the challenges that they entail. Local academics and civil society organizations alike play vital roles in researching, highlighting and supporting pluralism and pluralist heritage, sometimes in defiance of nationalist historiographies and policies.

The series Unspoken memories, unwritten histories, arranged by the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul (SRII), operates at a cross-section of academic research and civil society activism. It aims to bring together young scholars of history, minorities and human rights with representatives of academia and civil society in a number of Eastern Mediterranean cities outside of Turkey. The fourth workshop of the series is entitled The place of cultural pluralism in Beirut and will take place via Zoom.

Speakers of the panel, September 17 at 17:00 (UTC+3):

Craig Larkin, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East, King’s College

Mona El Hallak Ghaibeh, Director of AUB Neighborhood Initiative

Maria Abunnasr, AUB and Ras Beirut in One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photographs

Selim Deringil, Lebanese American University, Beirut

Eligible for participation are advanced students with a background in Arab, Turkish, and Lebanese culture and history, cultural and minority studies, or political, social and Human Rights studies. They should send their CV, together with a letter of interest outlining their interest in the topic and the ways in which it connects with their own research, no later than September 11, 2021,to Participants will be notified by September 13, 2021.


CfP: Narrating Exile in and between Europe and the Ottoman Empire/modern Turkey (Amsterdam, November 11-12, 2021)

Call for Papers

Narrating Exile in and between Europe and the Ottoman Empire/modern Turkey


University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands | November 11-12, 2021

Keynote speakers:

Edhem Eldem (Collège de France/Boğaziçi University)

Christine Philliou (UC Berkeley)

The Turkey Studies Network in the Low Countries (TSN) is seeking original paper proposals that unsettle traditional narratives on exilic experiences in and between Europe and the later Ottoman Empire/modern Turkey as part of a two-day interdisciplinary conference held at the University of Amsterdam and hosted in collaboration with the Amsterdam Centre for European Studies (ACES) on 11-12 November 2021.

Deadline for abstracts: July 31, 2021.

Exile and flight, forced or voluntary, recurrently and perennially affects societies and peoples across Europe and the Middle East. Through the window of exile, however, we can also recognize the shared, if painful histories that connect these different but contiguous geographies. From Sephardim fleeing Christian purges in their Iberian homelands to settle in Salonika, over Young Turks escaping imprisonment and travelling to Paris and London, to Armenian refugees fleeing sectarian violence and genocide, exile has been a defining thread of modern history. The aftermaths of historical refugee flows continue to influence international politics and domestic debates up to this day, while Europe’s modern-day ‘refugee crisis’ cannot be understood in isolation from the colonial division of the post-Ottoman lands after WWI. Exile, indeed, remains endemic to modern-day geopolitics. Traumatic and deadly, exile can also mean reinvention: of means and worldviews in new societies. Refugees, in addition, influence the societies of their host countries in ways that are still not fully appreciated in the scholarship.

This two-day conference seeks original contributions that unsettle traditional narratives on exilic experiences: how to narrate refugee flows, which stories do we tell, which voices remain unheard? Our focus is on exile between Europe and (in) the (post)Ottoman lands. We welcome papers by historians, art historians, political scientists, ethnomusicologists, sociologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and literary scholars that fit in at least one of the three panels below:

I. Subversives and Radicals between Europe and the Ottoman Empire, 1700-1923

Since early modern times renegades, rebels and heretics traversed the frontiers allegedly separating Ottoman subjects from their European neighbours. They sought refuge from persecution, hoped to further their revolutionary or religious gospel, or organize new bases for resistance. In the ‘long’ 18th and 19th centuries, cities such as London, Geneva, Paris and Amsterdam functioned as cherished free havens for Ottoman subversives of different feathers, while the Ottoman Empire continued to attract various European refugees and ‘dissenters’. These Ottoman and European exiles represented a motley group, including religious militants, converts, nationalists, freedom fighters, rebels, criminals and convicts, political radicals, republicans, constitutionalists, avant-garde artists, socialists, anarchists, and communists. Some settled temporarily before moving onward, others stayed permanently. How to read the itineraries, experiences, and self-identifications of these women and men? How to tie their stories to larger historical transformations and processes? This panel encourages contributions on lesser studied (groups of) émigrés that foreground the exilic dynamic between home and host society, reciprocal influences, and their possible after-effects.

II. Cultural Landscapes of the (Post-)Ottoman World

Migration in and to the Ottoman world, from South-eastern Europe to the Middle East and North Africa, has been a powerful stimulant for the articulation of cultural diversities. The import and export of tangible and intangible cultural heritage – architecture, visual arts, music, literature, theatre, film, oral culture, folkloric traditions, and gastronomy – created cultural synergies within the Late Ottoman Empire that confirmed and challenged existing social, political and economic boundaries within and between Europe, the Mediterranean or the Middle East. The twentieth century introduced new national realities, novel European (and other) imperialisms, tensions and ruptures between capitalism and collectivism, war and social engineering, labour migration and diaspora formation, which in turn fostered new and equally diverse cultural synergies in post-Ottoman lands. This panel will look at the cultural experiences and expressions that were triggered by migration, exile and diaspora in the late Ottoman and post-Ottoman world, investigating how diverse people negotiated, merged and performed their cultural biographies and group identities in and with their new environments. 

III. Exile Turkey/Europe: A Multidirectional History

The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal, is rarely remembered as a refugee. Yet he was: born and raised in Ottoman Selânik, he never returned to that city when it became Thessaloniki and he became Atatürk. Together with him, a generation of South-eastern Europeans were exiled to a rump Ottoman society in Asia during the massive transformations during the Ottoman end of days. Indeed, expulsion, flight, and exile are among the founding phenomena of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the post-imperial order. From the Balkans to Anatolia into the Caucasus, a century of transfer and dislocation of populations has characterized the collective experiences of millions of people: Circassians, Macedonians, Armenians, Syrians, and many others. Whereas solid research has so far offered important insights into the separate episodes of flight and exile, the interlinkages and comparisons between the different periods remain understudied. This panel will take a long-term perspective on (post-)Ottoman exile and examine how these events were shaped by both continuities and changes. How did Turkey become a receptacle, a catalyst, and a conduit for exile and refugees?


Selected speakers will be provided with accommodation and meals and – in case they cannot dispose of any institutional funding – reimbursed for their travel costs.

Applicants are invited to submit a 250-word abstract before July 31, 2021. Please note that selected speakers will be asked to pre-circulate their papers four weeks prior to the conference, so as to provide other panellists, discussants and chairs to prepare their comments and responses. Panellists also commit to revise their papers for later inclusion in a special journal issue.

Submissions for papers should include: name, main affiliation, paper title, abstract (max. 250 words) and a short bio (max. 50 words). Applicants must clearly indicate to which of the three panels their paper aims to contribute.

Deadlines and dates

Deadline for submissions31 July 2021
Notifications of acceptance14 August 2021
Deadline for conference papers14 October 2021
Conference11-12 November 2021

Covid-19 disclaimer

The dates of this conference are subject to change in accordance with the developments regarding the global pandemic. Our preference is to organize the conference on site, unless new international travel restrictions and pressing reasons concerning public health require us to revert to hybrid options or postponing the conference to the Spring semester of 2021-2022.

Abstracts may be submitted via


Reflections on the panel “The Place of Cultural Pluralism in Aleppo”

Joel Veldkamp

PhD Candidate in International History at The Graduate Institute in Geneva

Professor Mansel rightly emphasizes Aleppo’s long tradition of tolerance and diversity, and notes that of all the cities being examined in this series of workshops, Aleppo is the city that retained its diversity until quite recently. Of the many examples he cites to make his case, two quotes in particular stand out to me. The first is attributed to the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who rejected a proposal to expel Aleppo’s Jews on the grounds that, “The more sorts of nations I have in my dominions under me, as Turks, Arabs, Greeks, etc., the greater authority they bring to my kingdoms, and make them more famous.” 

The second is from Amir Faysal, who briefly ruled over inland Syria, including Aleppo, from the end of Ottoman rule there in October 1918 until his own expulsion by the French in July 1920: “The Arabs were Arabs before Moses and Jesus and Mohammed. All religions demand that their adherents follow what is right and enjoin brotherhood. Anyone who sows discord between Muslim, Christian, and Jew is not an Arab.”

As Prof. Mansel represents them, these two quotes do indeed reflect a continuity of social tradition. Tolerance for religious difference has long been a hegemonic value in Aleppo. But there is also a striking discontinuity between these two quotes – not on the point of religious tolerance, but on the significance of the nation, and even, we might say, the value of diversity. 

For Suleiman, the more “nations” under his rule, the better! It was the glory of an empire to rule over and maintain justice among many different peoples. This glorification of diversity is what undergirded the Ottoman project of religious tolerance.

With Faysal, and the cadres of nationalist intellectuals, activists, and revolutionaries who stood behind him, the opposite was true: religious tolerance was possible, in their view, precisely because religious differences were (or should be) negligible. Rather than embracing many nations, their polity was founded on an imagined homogenous national identity – Arab identity. This national identity was held to precede and trump Christian, Jewish, and Muslim identity. Those who made too much of diversity “sowed discord” and risked expulsion from the only community that truly mattered – the Arab one.

The obvious question raised by Faysal’s program is: what about those in Aleppo who were not Arabs? In his brief reign over Syria (and in his longer reign over Iraq, 1921-1933), Faysal never successfully answered this question. Four months after he delivered the speech quoted by Mansel, over 50 Armenian refugees in Aleppo were killed in a mob massacre. The massacre was preceded by clashes between Armenian military auxiliaries and Muslims in Beirut, Alexandretta, and Adana – clashes which, in its public rhetoric, the Arab government in Aleppo held Armenians collectively responsible for. 

On his first visit to Aleppo after the massacre, Faysal implicitly rebuked Aleppines for the violence, and upped the ante from his previous speech: “We are Arabs before Moses, and Muhammad, and Jesus, and Abraham” he declared. Part of the Arab government’s  response to the massacre was to create a “Committee for Arabian Brotherhood” which brought Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders together to dialogue. The very name of the committee shows how the Arab nationalists’ own ideology prevented them from even framing the question of coexistence, much less resolving it. Faced with violence between two national groups, they responded by doubling down on Arab unity as the solution to all possible ills.

Even if one does not consider the presence of Armenians and other non-Arabs, it is clear that the ideal of Arab nationhood could not, on its own, create the nationalists’ desired homogeneity. Identity differences between religious groups persisted, and since the nationalists’ own ideology denied the importance of these differences, they apparently found it quite difficult to reconcile them into the new polity they were building in Syria.

This brings us to Syria’s French Mandate period, which Professor Seda Altuğ is one of the leading experts on. In her presentation, Altuğ nuances the by-now clichéd view that Syria’s French rulers used a strategy of “divide and rule” to maintain their power, encouraging sectarianism and setting Syria and Aleppo’s different religious groups against each other. Altuğ grants the overall truth of this account, but argues that we need to look at these groups not just as pre-existing blocs that the French were manipulating, but as groups whose own existence and identity was transformed in the Mandate era, especially with the emergence of “minority” and “majority” as politically meaningful statuses for groups to have. Key moments in French rule over Syria, such as the proposed minority protection clauses in the 1936 Franco-Syrian Treaty and the failed attempt to reform personal status law in Syria triggered intense debates (and even street clashes) among Christians and Muslims in Aleppo over the definition and validity of “minority” status.

This deconstruction of the concept of “minority” as a contingent political construct rather than an eternal fact is an important contribution to our understanding, not only of Mandate Syria, but of the emergence of the nation-state system across Eastern Europe and the Middle East. In my own view, what we need now is a convincing account that unites Altuğ’s description of minority construction in Mandate Aleppo with the social relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews that existed in Aleppo before the French Mandate. Traditionally, Christians and Jews were formally assigned to a subservient dhimmi status in Aleppo and the Ottoman Empire. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw an ambitious project by Ottoman reformers to integrate Christians and Jews as fully equal citizens. This project was, to put it mildly, a troubled one. Even before the arrival of European rule and the minority treaties promoted by the League of Nations, do we not see the familiar dynamics of minority-majority relations and claims-making in the debates about the status of non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire? To take just one example: the elections to the short-lived Ottoman parliament in 1876 required provinces to return a certain number of Christian and Jewish deputies. The Young Turks who launched a constitutional revolution in 1908 ended this practice, but the constitution drafted under Faysal’s rule in 1920 would have restored it. The text of the constitution explicitly allocated a number of seats in the national parliament to “minorities.” (Elizabeth Thompson’s 2020 book How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs reproduces the text of this constitution, lost for many years, in full.)

Another question about Mandate Aleppo that remains outstanding is the relationship between these debates about minorities and sectarianism, and the shockingly powerful labor movement that emerged in Aleppo in the 1930s. In August 1932, some 50,000 Aleppines marched in support of striking textile workers. Aleppo’s nationalists, who largely hailed from its landowning class, sided with the factory owners. Armenian refugees were well-represented among these workers, and Armenians led the early communist party in Aleppo. When some nationalist leaders and ulema launched an economic boycott of Christians and Jews in the spring of 1936, it often manifested in factory owners firing all of their Christian workers. How did these two conflicts – sectarian and class – map onto each other? They surely did, but as of yet, I know of no academic studies that address this point.

One of Altuğ’s most valuable insights comes in the question and answer section of the panel, when she notes: “When we trace the destinies of pro-French minorities, we can conclude that it was political submission that formed the basis of admission to the nation.” The creation of the unified Syrian Arab nation in Aleppo, she observes, required the “castration of any kind of sectarian agency for any minority group.” It is a story well-known to scholars of nationalism: it was not a common identity or a common purpose that at last brought Muslims and Christians in Aleppo together in a single nation in the late 1930s. It was force.

This insight perhaps brings us closer to understanding the devastating developments related by Professor Ugur Üngör. Already in the 1930s, Syria’s nationalist movement established a precedent of rule by force, as well as an equation between national unity and loyalty to the ruling class. Through decades of successor regimes, culminating in the Assad regime, these precedents were maintained, preventing any authentic dialogue or groupmaking between Aleppo’s communities. Just as Syria’s first generation of nationalists did, the Assad regime treated Syria’s religious groups as building blocks of the nation, essential for establishing a trans-religious Arab identity. Neither the existence of any real agency for these groups, nor the creation of a cross-sectarian civil society, could be permitted under this brittle system. When that system collapsed in 2011-2012, these ethno-religious blocks emerged as the principal focal points of Aleppines’ loyalty, and their most immediate sources of protection. Thus, as Professor Üngör states, “In five months, Aleppo went from coexistence to street executions.”

For Üngör, “Violence is an incredible driver of identity,” and the “2011 conflict triggered unprocessed traumas in Syria.” Among those unprocessed traumas in Aleppo – the violent episodes that Muslims and Christians were never able to discuss and process together, as friends and neighbors – we might count the massacres of Christians in Aleppo or Aleppo province in 1850, 1895, 1909, and 1919, the 1915-1923 Armenian genocide, the 1936 Sunday Market Clash between Christian and nationalist paramilitary groups (mentioned by Altuğ), the attacks on Christian homes and institutions during the anti-French uprising of 1945 and the Suez Crisis of 1956, the 1979 massacre of Alawite military cadets, and the regime-led massacre of hundreds of Sunni Muslim Aleppines during Eid al-Fitr 1980. In the absence of public discussion or education about these traumas, each community was left to its own devices to develop explanatory narratives, which were then passed down through the generations. 

Professor Üngör’s questioning of the concept of “cosmopolitanism” is welcome and long-overdue. As he points out, the mere presence of diversity does not amount to positive inter-group relations, and coexistence can be fragile. Üngör proposes redefining cosmopolitanism as an “amoral” quality – by which I assume he means neither positive nor negative for social relations, just the mere fact of diversity. In place of the fuzzy concept of “good” cosmopolitanism prized by many observers, Üngör proposes the more precise concept of “hybridity,” exemplified in his word-image of “Kurdish-speaking Syriac Orthodox people going to do business in the Arab souq.” 

While this concept does appear more precise, I confess that it is not clear to me how this “hybridity” is necessarily more positive or conducive to a society that resists inter-group violence than the “mere presence of diversity” signified by “cosmopolitanism.” After all, souqs in prewar Aleppo were sites where people of different ethnic and religious identities mixed with abandon. How do “cosmopolitanism” and “hybridity,” respectively, correlate with the fragility or strength of coexistence? (I freely admit the possibility that I simply misunderstood this point.) 

Finally, we were treated to Isber Sabrine’s inspiring account of the efforts of Aleppines to preserve their heritage in the face of the devastating urban warfare that took place from 2012-2016. Üngör argued that Aleppines will not be able to coexist again “for a generation,” and that the Assad regime’s victory “precludes any kind of deep reconciliation.” He may be right. But Sabrine’s account is a salutary reminder that memory and trauma are not destiny, that human beings are free actors, who can choose to preserve and rebuild, even in the midst of horrifying suffering.

Sabrine also points up the difficulties that this era’s civil wars pose for international efforts at heritage preservation. By default, international efforts rely on the local government to coordinate activities. The case of Aleppo, where the city was divided for nearly half a decade between regime and opposition forces, highlights the shortcomings of this system. It will surely not be the last such case.

For my part, I thank all the panelists for their presentations. Together, the presentations work to unify the questions posed by Syria’s current war with Aleppo’s deep past. I found each one helpful, revealing, and pertinent.


CEST Fall School on Intersectionality

Call for Applications

October 1-15 October 2021

The Consortium for European Symposia on Turkey (CEST) works to advance research on Turkey and provide opportunities for early career scholars and graduate students in Turkey and Europe by organizing academic events and promoting the exchange of ideas and networking among scholars.

CEST is delighted to announce its first Summer/Fall School. Starting in 2021, CEST will offer a series of summer programs to support graduate students and postdoctoral scholars pursuing research related to Turkey in the humanities and the social sciences. The two-week programs are designed to support participants’ individual research projects, provide training in specific research areas, encourage the participants to present their work in a transdisciplinary framework, and develop career-building skills such as academic writing and grant writing.

The theme of the first virtual CEST Summer/Fall School is Intersectionality. Originating in critical race and gender studies, intersectionality provides a framework to understand intersecting systems of domination, social relations and structures (e.g., ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality, religion) that (re)produce power structures, privileges and inequalities. While intersectionality has been integrated into various disciplines ranging from the humanities and social sciences to law and economy, it also has come under criticism. The first CEST Summer/Fall School will address the challenges of incorporating intersectionality as a theoretical framework into empirical and non-empirical research designs, while taking into consideration its limits and pitfalls.

The CEST Summer/Fall School will be held online from 1 October to 15 October 2021. Its interactive format includes lectures, readings, interactive exercises, online social spaces and exchange with instructors and members of CEST. Participants will be able to present and discuss their own work, receive feedback, and have the opportunity to workshop, revise, and expand it.

Graduate students and early career scholars are expected to attend and participate in all events during the two-week period. While the first week is dedicated to methodologies in intersectionality research, the second week develops the participants’ individual research and career-building skills. Successful participants will receive a certificate from CEST.

The CEST Summer/Fall school is open to graduate students (enrolled in MA and PhD programs) and early career scholars (no more than two years since PhD) in Turkey and Europe whose research interest is relevant to intersectionality in the context of Turkey.

The teaching language is English. All participants must be proficient in English on an academic level.

Applicants should submit a letter of motivation, their CV and research exposé of no more than 2,000 words in English via email by June 25, 2021, using the subject heading “CEST Intersectionality Summer/Fall School.” The exposé should lay out your research design, methodological approach, data/empirical material (if applicable), and expected/preliminary findings. Please send your applications in one single pdf document titled “name_surname_brief project title” to

Selected participants will be invited by mid-July. There is no application or registration fee. The CEST Summer/Fall School is free of charge to all selected participants.

Please do not hesitate to contact us via with any questions you may have.

The preliminary program will be available on the CEST website in mid July 2021. Organizers

Professor Kader Konuk, Institute for Turkish Studies and Academy in Exile, Universität Duisburg-Essen, Germany

Dr. Imren Borsuk, Berlin Forum Transregional Studies, Germany/ Affiliated researcher at Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies

CEST Members

Kerem Öktem, CEST Chair, Professor, Department of Linguistics and Comparative Cultural Studies, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

Paul T Levin, CEST Director, Director, Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies

Jenny White, CEST Vice Director, Professor, Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies

Lea Nocera, CEST Member, Professor, University of Naples L’Orientale’
Kader Konuk, CEST Member, Professor, Institute for Turkish Studies, University of

Elise Massicard, CEST Member, Research Professor, CNRS/CERI Sciences Po
Yavuz Köse, CEST Member, Chair for Ottoman and Turkish Studies, University of Vienna


Turkey and the Mediterranean: linkages, connectivities and ruptures

Consortium for European Symposia on Turkey

Call for Papers – 6th Annual European Symposium on Turkey

Virtual conference (September 2021) – Symposium in Naples/Italy (November 2021)

Turkey belongs to many regions, and the Mediterranean is certainly one of them. Recently, geopolitical interests in Turkey have turned, inter alia, to the eastern Mediterranean. Yet, as a geopolitical, cultural and political concept the Mediterranean has rarely been a central focus in the remit of Ottoman and Turkish Studies.

The Mediterranean remains a blurred concept open to diverging and conflicting interpretations. Studies in various disciplinary fields focus on the “White Sea”. Many of them concur with the Braudelian notion of the Mediterranean as a primeval unity, while they underemphasize the fragmentation caused by imperialism, nation-building and regional conflict, as well as by competing geopolitical narratives geared towards regional hegemony. At the same time, however, the Mediterranean has never ceased to represent a repertoire of evocative and seductive images and to foster a collective imagery shaped by discourses in tourism, gastronomy and cultural history.

In this Symposium, we wish to resume the discussion on the Mediterranean with a particular focus on Turkey, with the aim to explore its historical, cultural and social as well as (geo-)political dimensions. In what ways does the idea of a geo-cultural space such as the Mediterranean relate to Turkey’s complex modernisation process, the creation of the Turkish nation state and the set of relations with Europe and the Levante? 

The Mediterranean understood as a space of exchanges, encourages the study of connectivities between the countries bordering its shores. With this Symposium, we aim to deepen the research on connectivities and exchanges in the basin beyond the North-South relationship and their underlying imperial and (neo)colonial policies. We also seek to explore the several connections between the Mediterranean countries and Turkey which have persisted despite the divisions created by the founding of nation states. In fact, the place of Turkey in the Mediterraneanmay be a point of departure for a reconceptualization of the North-South divisions that characterise its current state.

Similarly, the history of linkages, connectivities and mobility/migration brings into focus the entangled networks of economic, social and cultural relations built up by migration and transnational communities (i.e. Armenian, Greek, Jewish, Levantine and Muslim communities) that extended beyond political borders and traversed, if not reconnected, the north-south divide. Exploring these interactions promises new insights not only into the history of the Ottoman Mediterranean, but also allows for an exploration of a post-Ottoman space and identity discourses in republican Turkey. 

In particular, we seek to elicit contributions in four interconnected fields of inquiry that

  • critically reconstruct the conceptualization of the Mediterranean as a space/discourse of belonging and identity narratives, of cultural and political connections, and as (geo)political space;
  • examine relevant connectivities, linkages and ruptures between Turkey and other Mediterranean countries;
  • discuss the role of networks and movements of people, both historically and in present, across the Mediterranean and in connection with Turkey;
  • engage with the recent rediscovery of the Mediterranean in Turkey’s geopolitical imagination in the context of its international relations. 

We are particularly interested in contributions from Social and Cultural History, Politics and Constructivist International Relations, Diaspora and Migration Studies, and Anthropology. We strongly encourage interdisciplinary work. Comparative work about the linkages between Turkey and one or more Mediterranean country is especially encouraged.

Format of the Symposium

The Covid-19 Pandemic continues to shape the mode of our interactions, to which we need to respond creatively. We have therefore decided to convene a two-stage Symposium format with a virtual workshop in September 2021 and a face-to-face Symposium in November 2021.

The Virtual Workshop seeks to provide a space for selected participants to present the core idea of their papers in virtual panel sessions and to meet and receive feedback from peers and colleagues. The Workshop will also include a keynote presentation and a closing plenary session. Participation in all panels of the Virtual Workshop is required.

Based on the workshop discussions, the participants will then write a full academic paper, which they will submit to the conveners before the Symposium Meeting in November 2021. They will present their papers at the Symposium Meeting at Naples L’Orientale University. The conference conveners will organize a publication in form of a special issue in a leading academic journal.

Abstract submission

Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words along with a brief academic CV. Abstracts should include a research question and information about data/empirical material, methodology and expected/preliminary findings.

The language of the symposium is English.

Abstracts and CVs should be submitted via email to:


Funding is available for junior scholars (PhD candidate, Post-Doc, early career) from Europe including Turkey. Interested senior scholars are encouraged to use funds from their own institution.

Participants are eligible for the funding of flight tickets and accommodation. Flight tickets will be reimbursed up to 200 Euros. For co-authored papers, funding will be available for one presenter.


The event is being co-organized by Naples L’Orientale University and the Consortium for European Symposia on Turkey (CEST) in collaboration with the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies (SUITS). CEST is committed to the study of modern Turkey by bringing together the expertise of leading European research institutions. CEST is supported by Stiftung Mercator ( 

Deadlines and dates

Deadline for submissions2 July 2021
Announcement of the jury decision15 July 2021
Introductory meeting1 September 2021
Virtual Workshop24 – 25 September
Deadline for Symposium papers5 November 2021
Symposium Meeting25-27 November 2021

For your questions, please contact:


Levantines of the Ottoman World: Communities, Identities, and Cultures

Call for Papers

Levantines of the Ottoman World: Communities, Identities, and Cultures

The wide geographic expanse of the Ottoman Empire, and length of its political existence, presents historians with the challenge of describing a vast, complex and evolving mosaic of communal formations, many of which were unstable and ambiguously defined. Understanding the relationship of these communities to the formulation of individual subjectivity and self-identity during this period remains an even more difficult historiographic puzzle.

Alongside major ethnic, religious and linguistic groupings such as Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians and Jews, one of the most historically prominent communities of the Empire – and yet, at the same time, among the most amorphous and understudied – are the Levantines. Originating from populations of merchants, diplomats, and other travelers and migrants who settled in the port cities of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires from the lands of Western, Southern, and Central Europe, the Levantines emerged as a multifarious but distinct social grouping with a pivotal role in the history of the Ottoman state. Research into the cosmopolitan world of the Levantines remains inadequate, however, and much remains to be said about their particular modes of living, social interaction, and cultural inheritance.

This book project aims to go beyond the borders of formalistic narratives and to juxtapose a multiplicity of approaches, methodologies, and perspectives in the study of Levantine lives in the Ottoman Empire. We welcome chapters that engage in the current body of scholarship on topics such as Levantine cosmopolitanism, hybridity, marginality, ambiguity, and transnationalism, but we also encourage submissions which critique the centrality of such terminology and theoretical frames in historical scholarship. Ultimately, it is hoped that these chapters will contribute to a deeper understanding of processes of communal and identity-formation in the Ottoman world, and highlight the possibilities of Levantine studies in challenging entrenched disciplinary boundaries.

Proposed chapters might pursue, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • panoramic approaches to Levantine communities or publications
  • Levantine families, households, and domestic culture; labor, intimacy and consumption
  • Levantine institutions, clubs, schools, and churches, and other social organizations
  • Levantine publications, companies, and commercial enterprises; engaging with port-cities studies and the questions of class formation in the Ottoman Mediterranean
  • Cosmopolitanism, transnationalism, and internationalism as a Levantine analytic
  • Levantine religious spaces and architecture; Levantine life in urban space and traces/hauntings in the built environment of contemporary cities
  • Levantine social and cultural interactions with other communities of the Ottoman world; ambiguities, exchanges, passings and crossings

Submission instructions

We initially request abstract submissions which describe the applicant’s interest in the project. These should be between 200-250 words and outline the intended area of investigation and any relationship to the mentioned topics.  Please email these with the title in the subject line by the abstract submission deadline of midnight, 15/02/22. Final manuscripts are strongly encouraged to be limited to 10000 words. Articles in English and Turkish are accepted.


Style and Citation Guidelines

Notes should appear as footnotes (not endnotes) and be 12 pt, Times New Roman font, double-spaced, and formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition.

Important Deadlines

Expression of interest deadline: February 15th, 2022 at midnight.
Notification of acceptance: March 4th, 2022.
Manuscript submission deadline: September 30th, 2022.
Revised manuscript submission deadline: February 20th, 2023.
Publication: June 2023.

The book will be published by an internationally-recognized publishing house, Libra Kitap, based in Istanbul ( For contact information see,

Please visit the project website HERE


Antioch: A History

By Andrea U. De Giorgi, A. Asa Eger

This is a complete history of Antioch, one of the most significant major cities of the eastern Mediterranean and a crossroads for the Silk Road, from its foundation by the Seleucids, through Roman rule, the rise of Christianity, Islamic and Byzantine conquests, to the Crusades and beyond.

Antioch has typically been treated as a city whose classical glory faded permanently amid a series of natural disasters and foreign invasions in the sixth and seventh centuries CE. Such studies have obstructed the view of Antioch’s fascinating urban transformations from classical to medieval to modern city and the processes behind these transformations. Through its comprehensive blend of textual sources and new archaeological data reanalyzed from Princeton’s 1930s excavations and recent discoveries, this book offers unprecedented insights into the complete history of Antioch, recreating the lives of the people who lived in it and focusing on the factors that affected them during the evolution of its remarkable cityscape. While Antioch’s built environment is central, the book also utilizes landscape archaeological work to consider the city in relation to its hinterland, and numismatic evidence to explore its economics. The outmoded portrait of Antioch as a sadly perished classical city par excellence gives way to one in which it shines as brightly in its medieval Islamic, Byzantine, and Crusader incarnations.

Antioch: A History offers a new portal to researching this long-lasting city and is also suitable for a wide variety of teaching needs, both undergraduate and graduate, in the fields of classics, history, urban studies, archaeology, Silk Road studies, and Near Eastern/Middle Eastern studies. Just as importantly, its clarity makes it attractive for, and accessible to, a general readership outside the framework of formal instruction.

Table of Contents

1 The Eagle of Zeus Arrives (303BCE–64BCE)

2 Orientis Apex Pulcher: The Roman “Beautiful Crown of the East” in the making (64BCE–192CE)

3 From Capital to Crisis: Antioch in the Late Roman Empire (193–458)

4 Theoupolis, the City of God (458–638)

5 Anṭākiya, Mother of the Cities (638–969)

6 The Byzantine Duchy of Antioch (969–1085)

7 The Saljūqs: An Interlude (1084–1098)

8 The Crusader Principality of Antioch (1098–1268)

9 A Mamlūk Entrepot (1268–1516)

10 Ottoman Antakya (1516–1918)

11 A Frontier Town Once More (1920–2020)



Andrea U. De Giorgi is Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the Florida State University, USA. He specializes in Roman urbanism and visual culture from the origins to Late Antiquity, with emphasis on the Greek East. He is the author of Ancient Antioch: From the Seleucid Era to the Islamic Conquest (2016, paperback 2018), editor of Cosa and the Colonial Landscape of Republican Italy (2019), and co-editor of Cosa/Orbetello. Archaeological Itineraries (2016). Dr. De Giorgi has directed excavations and surveys in Turkey, Syria, Georgia, Jordan, and the UAE. Since 2013, he has codirected the Cosa Excavations in Italy, and currently studies the 1930s Antioch collections at the Princeton University Art Museum, USA. He has also collaborated with the Museo di Anchità di Torino, the Museo di Cosa in Ansedonia, and the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida.

A. Asa Eger is Associate Professor of the Islamic World in the Department of History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA. His research centers on Islamic and Byzantine history and archaeology of the eastern Mediterranean, with a focus on frontiers and the relationship between cities and hinterlands. He is the author of The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier: Interaction and Exchange Among Muslim and Christian Communities (2015), winner of ASOR’s G. Ernest Wright Book award for 2015; The Spaces Between the Teeth: A Gazetteer of Towns on the Islamic-Byzantine Frontier (2012, 2nd edition 2016); and editor of The Archaeology of Medieval Islamic Frontiers (2019). Dr. Eger has directed excavations and surveyed all around Antioch (Antakya) in Turkey since 2001, as well as in Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. He currently studies the 1930s Antioch collections at the Princeton University Art Museum, USA, and 1970s survey material from the Tell Rifa’at Survey, the hinterland of Aleppo, at the Louvre Museum, France.


Using Cultural Heritage for the Refugees: The “Multaka Project” – A Cultural Initiative for the Refugees in Berlin’s Museums

Isber Sabrine

The Syrian Refugee Crisis: the Syrian and Iraqi Refugees in Germany  

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, about 11 million Syrians have fled Syria.  After six years of war, the majority of these Syrians displaced within Syria or have sought refuge in Syria’s neighboring countries. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 5.5 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq while 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. The UN estimates that only 1 in 10 Syrian refugees live in camps. The rest are struggling to settle in unfamiliar urban communities or have been forced into rural environments (UNHCR, 2019) .

The conditions in many camps are poor, especially in Jordan and Lebanon. In Jordan, the Zaatari refugee camp has become one of the largest cities in Jordan with more than 100 thousand refugees. One of the biggest problems for Syrian refugees in the countries they have fled to is finding a legal way to work: they struggle to find jobs and – as they are not allowed to work – they work illegally, accepting low salaries which are not enough to cover their most basic needs. Young Syrian refugees face an uncertain future with no real prospects. Syrian children suffer from a lack of education; thousands of Syrian children have been forced to leave school in order to help their parents. Furthermore, in many places in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, many families cannot afford transportation to get their children to school. Exacerbating the problems, Lebanon and Jordan have few resources and depend entirely on the international community to help the Syrian refugees. The situation in Turkey is slightly better: Turkey has offered susbstantial support to build twenty-two camps. However, the Syrian refugees in Turkey suffer from a language barrier which still poses a difficulty in  finding jobs.

The lack of future prospects and the desire for a better life are the key reasons why many refugees choose to flee to EU countries. More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015 (more than 300 thousand of which are Syrians). According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 3,770 migrants were reported to have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2015 (BBC, 2016). The EU country that received the highest number of new asylum applications between 2014 and 2016 was Germany. According to the German Interior Ministry, between January 2015 and October 2015, 243,721 Syrian citizens entered Germany to seek asylum (The Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, 2015).. In October 2014, Germany hosted the very first conference on the Syrian refugee situation in Berlin (Supporting Syria & the Region, 2018).

The refugees in Germany are distributed across German regions according to tax revenues and total population (Katz, Noring & Garrelts, 2016). In her famous speech in August 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “We can do it”, which represents her open-door refugee policy. The public response to the refugee crisis has been impressive, as well. Many Germans have committed themselves to civil society initiatives that aid refugees arriving the country, especially when German authorities were stretched to their limits. Civic activities include the provision of basic needs, such as accommodation, information, transportation and clothing. Despite the increasing populist movements and the abuse of the refugee crisis for political agenda by some political parties in Germany, the statistics show that a large majority of Germans believe their country should be open to asylum seekers. Even in July 2015, when the inflow of asylum seekers had already increased considerably, 93 percent of the German population supported the idea of welcoming people who sought to escape war or civil conflict (Mayer, 2016). Germany was, and still is, a welcoming country for the refugees.

Cultural Heritage as a Need and Not a Luxury for the Refugees
After eight years of conflict, for many refugees, there is still no hope of returning to Syria, and one of the biggest problems that they face is the feeling of isolation in their new countries. A sense of belonging is an important need, and cultural heritage can play a crucial role in this by providing an automatic sense of unity and belonging within refugee groups as well as allowing them to better understand previous generations and the history of where they come from. During recent conflicts, the national identity in Syria and Iraq was threatened by the increasing sectarian hatred and violence, which is now prevalent. However, cultural heritage can play an important role in the reinforcement of identity and belonging. As Lowenthal (1985, pp. 224-231) confirms: “The association between heritage and identity is well established in heritage literature –material culture as heritage is assumed to provide a physical representation and reality to the ephemeral and slippery concept of identity like history, it fosters the feelings of belonging and continuity”. The representation of heritage is vital in reconnecting the Syrian and Iraqi refugees to their homelands. As Laurajane Smith (2016, p. 48) argues in her book The Uses of Heritage: “Certainly, the representational and symbolic value of heritage in constructing and giving material reality to identity is well recognized, although analysis of the way heritage is thus used is often articulated in terms of national identity”.

Developing a connection between refugees and their cultural heritage in the new host countries could make refugees feel respected, reaffirming the importance of cultural heritage as a cultural right. According to a new report on cultural rights presented at the United Nations General Assembly by Karima Bennoune (the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights): “Cultural heritage is significant in the present, both as a message from the past and as a pathway to the future. Viewed from a human rights perspective, it is important not only in itself, but also in relation to the human dimension, in particular its significance for individuals and communities and their identity development processes” (Bennoune, 2016).  Therefore, providing education on cultural heritage for the refugees is quite important, particularly with the huge destruction that cultural heritage is now experiencing due to current conflicts, as it could help refugees to have more self-esteem regarding their culture and have confidence in themselves. It was from this perspective that Multaka was born.

The Idea behind Multaka
The Syrian and Iraqi refugees who live in a city as large as Berlin can easily feel lost and alone among so many new cultures and backgrounds. Therefore, the idea behind the Multaka Project, which is a project initiated by the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, is twofold. First, it aims to utilise the Syrian and Iraqi heritage which is already on display in the Pergamon Museum, in order to show the refugees the huge international value of their heritage. Guided tours are organised in two separate collections of the Pergamon Museum: the Museum of Islamic Art and the Museum of the Ancient Near East. The Museum of Islamic Art hosts unique exhibitions such as the Aleppo Room, which was obtained from Aleppo in 1912 by Friedrich Sarre. The room was originally in the House Wakil in Aleppo (Discover Islamic Art, n.d.). It also hosts the Mshatta Façade, which is the decorated part of the façade of the 8th century Umayyad residential palace of Qasr Mshatta, one of the Desert Castles of Jordan, in addition to hundreds of artefacts originally from Syria and Iraq. The Museum of the Ancient Near East displays objects from Assyria, Sumeria and Babylon. The main display is the famous Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way of Babylon, together with the throne room of Nebuchadenezzar II. According to Stefan Weber, the director of the Museum of Islamic Art and who is also directing the project: “The displays in the Museum of Islamic Art and the Museum of the Ancient Near East are based on the outstanding testimonies of human history principally from Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. Both museums provide many narratives of the migration of cultural techniques between Europe and the Middle East, the plurality of societies or of the cultural interconnectedness in each epoch up to today” (Sabrine, 21 September 2016). It was hoped that the rich heritage of Syria and Iraq on display at the Pergamon Museum could play a fantastic role in increasing the self-esteem of the refugees in their new culture, as well as demonstrating the value that their heritage holds for the rest of the world and the important role that their culture played on the development of human history.

There is still a significant challenge in Germany regarding the integration of the refugees. The German government is providing courses in German language to help them integrate into the society and find employment. In this context, the second goal of Multaka is to help the refugees integrate into the German society by teaching them about German history and German values through the German Historical Museum. It is hoped that this will help them better understand the society in which they are now residing. The tour guides in the German Historical Museum also help refugees develop links between Germany’s cultural heritage and their own heritage. The guided tours in this museum show what Germany was like after the Second World War; in this way, the museum offers an important opportunity to reflect about wars, and post-war conditions and situations. The refugees see the ruins and the pictures of the destroyed cities in Germany during and after World War II, and they see how they are now; learning how the divided country was ultimately unified by Bismarck. The objects chosen for the tours focus on teaching the refugees about German history in order to reflect on and make a connection with the actual situation in Syria and Iraq. This reflection could give them a sense of hope for the future.

In addition to the guided tours in the Museum of Islamic Art and the Museum of the Ancient Near East of the Pergamon Museum, and German Historical Museum the Multaka project also offers guided tours in the Bode Museum which is home to two collections: the Sculpture Collection and Museum of Byzantine Art, and the Münzkabinett (coins). The museum also contains paintings from the Gemäldegalerie (Painting Gallery), which are presented alongside European sculpture examples to form a dialogue between the two art forms.

This museum was chosen for Multaka as “it makes a reference to the inter-religious roots and the common origins of Islam, Judaism and Christendom. Cultures in the Eastern Mediterranean region were characterized over the centuries by religiously and ethnically plural societies, which today are under threat” (Sabrine, 21 September 2016). The museum is a significant place where refugees can learn about the tolerance and respect between these three religions as well as the values and principles that they share.

Multaka: Museum as Meeting Point – Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums [Guides des Projekts “Multaka: Treffpunkt Museum”] © Staatliche Museen Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst, Photograph: Milena Schlösser.

In principle, Multaka helps to use museums as places for intercultural dialogue; it tries to find links between the refugees’ countries of origin and Germany. The invitation of refugees to participate in the workshops and special guided tours alongside Germans help them be in direct touch with the host community and create links between them.

In this sense, Multaka is a project which gives refugees the motivation to look positively to their culture of origin. It facilitates a meeting with their own history and culture. This facilitation of discovering the roots of their culture in the museums gives them self-esteem. Multaka plays an important role in encouraging the cultural participation of refugees in their new communities, and helps them become active members of society (Sabrine, 21 September 2016). 

Project Structure and Management

Multaka is an Arabic word which means ‘meeting point’; and in terms of this project, the museums become meeting points. The project started in November 2015. The main challenges were finding funding and suitable guides. However, the project quickly obtained initial funding support from the federal program “Demokratie Leben’’ (Live Democracy) of the German Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth. The reaction of  the young Syrians and Iraqis (who were invited to be guides in the project) was very positive. In less than one month, the guides got the necessary training from the museum staff and started to give guided tours within the four selected museums.

Participants of a tour of the “Multaka” project in Museum für Islamische Kunst © Staatliche Museen Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst, Photograph: A. R. Laub.

In terms of project structure, four people manage the project. Their responsibilities are divided into several areas: the project leader is the Director of the Islamic Art Museum at the Pergamon Museum. He has legal responsibility to apply for funding, and to develop the project. Beside him are two Project Managers. Their tasks are to facilitate communication and coordination between the four museums’ educational departments; to act as a point of contact for the media; to organize workshops; to coordinate communication between the guides, including their training about the museums; and to organize the guided tours and marketing of the project. They also do financial controlling, outreach and evaluation. The fourth member of the team is the financial administrator, who is responsible for the project budget and reimbursing the guides (Freunde Museum Islamische Kunst, n.d.). The salaries of the project managers and the fees of the guides make up the most significant part of the project budget.

In 2015 and 2016, the project received grants from several German public institutions, private foundations and private donors. These included the German Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth in 2015; and in 2016, the project received the second main public grant from the Federal Ministry for Culture and Media (BKM). The private foundations Schering Stiftung and the Stiftung Deutsches Historisches Museums [Schering Foundation and the Foundation of the German Historical Museum] also generously supported the project. In the last 2 years, Multaka also received generous support from Alwaleed Philanthropies Foundation (Artforum, 2018) and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (Museum für Islamische Kunst, 2018).

The project now has 25 guides selected over two phases. The first phase was in late 2015, and included 19 guides. The second phase was in 2016, and included a further 6 guides. The guides come from diverse professional backgrounds, including architects, artists, musicians, lawyers, as well as archaeologists and conservators. The majority of them are preparing their PhD theses in Berlin. They are newcomers to Germany themselves – some has come as refugees and some as students. They have been trained by the museum educators from the Education and Outreach Departments of the Staatliche Museen and the German Historical Museum through programs that focused on the museums’ specific content and issues of didactics, and on methods of communication and dialogue. The guides were free to choose the museum they were interested in the most as well as the artefacts. The museum educators in the four museums highlighted some artefacts relevant to the refugees, and the guides then added their own interpretation to make sense of those. In 2019, the guides remain part of the project development through regular project meetings.

Multaka takes place twice a week in the four museums. The first tour is on Wednesdays, and the second is on Saturdays. The duration of the tour is around one and a half hours, and all the guided tours for the refugees are free of charge. The tours are based on dialogue between the refugees and the guides.

Reaching refugees is one of the main challenges of the project. The project team, in collaboration with the guides, primarily try to reach refugees through social media. Multaka has a Facebook page which currently has 4170 followers (Multaka Facebook page, n.d.) and a Twitter account. Another way to reach them is through promoting the project by delivering flyers in the refugee camps and language schools. Lastly, the refugees who have already participated in the tours play an important role by inviting their friends and relatives to attend the guided tours.

Starting in 2016, Multaka has also facilitated many workshops. The aim of the workshops is to provide an opportunity where refugees and locals can meet and get to know one another. The workshops focus on different subjects, such as photography, mosaic work, textiles, glasswork, writing and the representations of women in Islam and Christianity. Through these workshops, the project tries to identify the shared cultural aspects between Germans and Syrians. In these workshops, the refugees and the local German community have the opportunity to meet and exchange their ideas and experiences. During the workshops, the participants are normally accompanied by a Multaka guide. Between 2016 and 2019, Multaka was able to organize dozens of workshops (Multaka, n.d.).  

Multaka Glass workshop

© Berlin Glas .e.V

Refugees’ Feedback

In summer 2016, during different guided tours, we asked fifteen refugees some basic questions with the intent of collecting some information on both how refugees used to feel about their cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq before fleeing, and how they felt now with the conflict. We asked what they felt when they saw some of their heritage in Pergamon Museum, and how Multaka helped them learn more about the German culture and German history in the German Historical Museum. We have selected the responses of four refugees that explain why Multaka is important to them. The number of respondents is small but their accounts can give a good overview about the refugees’ connection with their heritage while also demonstrating how Multaka is helping refugees reflect on their own heritage as well as the heritage of their new host country.

Fadi is a 31 years old man from Lattakia, Syria, where – before fleeing to Germany – he worked as an electrical engineer. He said: “I just visited the national museum in Damascus, and the only archaeological site I visited in Syria was Crac des Chavaliers. There, the education on cultural heritage was very limited, and what I learned about the Syrian history was through my own efforts. There were some trips organised by schools, but the effect of those trips was very limited, and the teachers doing these trips did not explain the places comprehensively, either. The Syrian conflict has had a huge impact on the Syrian heritage; when Palmyra was destroyed, I felt that I lost something very important. It is part of my history, and the only thing that I feel proud about my country; because it is a proof showing that we have given something important to the world. Participating in Multaka gave me a chance to learn more about our rich Syrian Heritage.”

Jony is a 32 years old man from Tartous. He worked as a doctor before fleeing to Germany. He said: “In Syria, the main reason for not taking care of our cultural heritage is the lack of awareness about the importance of this heritage, and the overall ignorance of the people. I think the Syrian government did not play a good role, and did not have a strategy on that; their involvement was minimum and just for economic reasons. I remember many places suffered from vandalism; for example, if you visited the archaeological sites before the war, you could see that the local people had written their names on the walls. Even during the war, the government could have played a more active role to transport the important objects to safe places. When I visited the German Historical Museum I felt sad and asked myself why we did not have museums like that; why we did not care about our rich cultural heritage. Visiting the German Museum was a great opportunity to know more about Germany and the Germans.”

Muhamad is a 47 years old man from Idleb, where he used to work as an archaeologist in the Museum of Maarat al Numan before fleeing to Germany. He said: “The number of Syrians who visited the museums was very small, and the majority of the visitors were students and foreign groups; even the people from the city of Maart al Numan did not visit the museum. The students normally came to the museum accompanied by teachers who explained few things about the museum. The local people always visited the archaeological sites but their visit was not cultural; it was more of a recreational activity, especially in spring, because the region of Idleb is very nice. Unfortunately, the normal people who visited those sites were not curious about learning the history and the functions of those sites. The only interested people were the ones who had sort of an education. As an archaeologist visiting the Pergamon Museum, I feel very proud and happy that a lot of the artefacts in this museum are from Syria. It is a fantastic feeling when I see people from all around the world coming to see those artefacts. As an archaeologist, I hope that Germany, who has conserved this heritage for more than a hundred years, will play an important role in the restoration and reconstruction works in Syria when the war is over. Pergamon Museum offers you a different perspective about Syria. In Pergamon Museum, it is represented as the birthplace of the first civilizations and tolerance, and not as a country of wars. The only thing that I brought with me from Syria is my ID card as an archaeologist, which is a very important symbolic thing for me”.

Said is a 34 years old man from Aleppo, where he worked as a merchant before fleeing to Germany. Said is very active in Multaka; he has participated in many tours in the four museums. He said: “I was very happy to discover that in Berlin, there is a place that represents Aleppo. It is the Aleppo room. Seeing this room in Pergamon always makes me remember how our life was in Aleppo, how we were very happy in our old city. It helps me forget all the destruction that happened to our nice city. I miss Aleppo a lot, even the small things like going out to eat (beans or liver) in the old city, or going to the square in front the citadel and drinking something, even just walking through the market of Aleppo. In the German Historical Museum I saw how Berlin and Dresden were destroyed. The destruction of Berlin and Dresden makes me reflect on my own city, and gives me hope that Aleppo will one day go back to its former days like Berlin and Dresden. The Syrians who are now in Germany as refugees have a great opportunity now to learn and develop their capacities in order to go back to Syria and help reconstruct the country as the Germans did in the past; we are really lucky to be here now”.

The selected sample is very diverse; the participants, who used to have different careers in Syria before fleeing to Germany, include an electrical engineer, a doctor, an archaeologist and a merchant. Their opinions demonstrate various reflections on Syria’s cultural heritage and also on the Multaka project. The statements of the first participant Fadi provides an important insight about the situation of Syria’s cultural heritage before the conflict. Fadi’s statements confirm the lack of education in Syria regarding cultural heritage. The education system in Syria uses  only a number ofmaterials when it comes to cultural heritage education. Syrian students learn about cultural heritage through limited school history books, and the books concentrate almost exclusively on Arab history after the advent of Islam (Loosly, 2005, p. 590). The Ministry of Education organises school trips to museums and archaeological sites; however, these trips usually lack adequate guides who know the sites, which limits the trips’ educational value. Syrian museums did not have educational departments, either and they did not contribute to supporting cultural heritage education; their role was almost absent. The only museum that had an educational role was the National Museum of Damascus, which carried out some activities related to cultural heritage education for local primary schools. The second and third participants Joni and Muhamad gave very important insights on how Syrian people were so far detached from their cultural heritage; both of them confirmed that local Syrian communities did not visit museums and archaeological sites. The amount of local visitors going to the museums before the Syrian conflict was very small; even with the free entrance for Syrians, the majority of visitors were foreign tourists (Zobler 2011, p. 180). Both of them also talked about how important it is that the locals visited the museums and the archaeological sites. The participants described how Multaka was helping to fill a gap for connecting Syrians to their heritage. Through the Syrian collections in the Museum of Islamic Art and the Museum of the Ancient Near East, the Syrian refugees get the opportunity to learn about archaeological sites such as Tell Halaf, Mari, Ebla as well as many other archaeological sites in their country. Furthermore, through the Multaka project, these museums are becoming places where the Syrian refugees feel proud about their cultural heritage with all the people from around the world visiting the museums and seeing their heritage.

The destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage during the conflict is well reflected in the interviews, through the accounts of these four participants. They have expressed the pain of this destruction. Syrian refugees continue their efforts to revive their heritage not only in Germany, but also in other countries. In Zaatari refugee camps in Jordan, refugees recreated 12 of Syria’s landmarks in miniature. Resources were scarce; they used whatever materials they could find: local basalt rock, polystyrene, cement, MDF, and even wooden kebab skewers. Through exhibitions in the camp, the project has helped reconnect refugees with their own cultural heritage. For tens of thousands of children in Zaatari, many of whom have little or no memory of Syria, this has been their first opportunity to see these famous landmarks (Dunmore, 2016). 

Through the visits to the German Historical Museum the participants have expressed their respect towards German history, especially the period after World War II, in which the Germans where able to rebuild their country after the war. The second and fourth participants belive that Germany can help in the reconstruction and restoration of Syria’s cultural heritage. Since 2013, Germany has been helping in the protection of Syria’s cultural heritage through the Museum of Islamic Art and the German Archaeological Insitute, which started the Syrian Heritage Archive Project. As part of this project, they carry out works to digitize and archive photo collections and research data on Syria as well as documenting and making damage assessment for the sites and historic monuments affected by the conflict. (Syrian Heritage Archive Project, n.d). In addition to the Syrian Heritage Archive Project, there is another German project called Stunde Null Project, which focuses on “A Future after the Crisis”. It was launched by the Archaeological Heritage Network (ArcHerNet) in 2016, and aims to support capacity building of experts and communities for safeguarding the cultural heritage in Syria and the rest of the region; and hopes to enhance coordination in post-conflict Syria. This project supports students, heritage experts and future decision makers of Syria and the region; and enables them to protect their heritage and develop a plan for its reconstruction after the war (ArcHerNet, n.d.). Although our sample of participants is small, it clearly highlights the importance of the Multaka initiative for the refugees, and confirms the need for using culture to help refugees discover their new country.

Multaka’s Impact on Museology     

Over the last years, the project has received strong interest in both international and German media. It was featured in many TV reports, including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, ZDF, and others. In addition to the TV reports, many international and German newspapers wrote articles about the project, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, the Art Newspaper, NPQ, and others.

The media coverage has been positive with Multaka being presented as a project which helps refugees integrate into the German society. For example, the Art Newspaper reported that “Berlin’s museums use culture as a means of integration for refugees – In the Multaka project, refugees lead guided museum tours for others displaced from Syria and Iraq”.

Multaka won several awards and prizes in the last 4 years. The first one is a special prize for projects on the cultural participation of refugees; the project was selected as one of the best cultural projects for the refugees in Germany. It received this award from the German Ministry of Culture in May 2016. In November 2016, Multaka was selected as the best cultural project in Germany in the reception event organized by Deutschland Land der Ideen in the towers of the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt am Main. The third prize came in October 2017. It was the Zenith Photo Award, and Multaka was selected from among 53 projects. The fourth prize was the Heritage & Museum Award in 2018; Multaka was awarded a special recognition under the title “Syria Initiative –Museum as a Mediator of Shared Heritage”.

In recent years, the Multaka project has inspired several other museums to organize tours by and for the refugees. In Oxford, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the History of Science Museum has adopted Multaka jointly. The History of Science Museum has trained refugees to guide tours for its astronomical tools collection and other Arab objects (History of Science Museum, n.d.). Multaka at the Pitt Rivers Museum focuses on the museum’s recent acquisition of textiles from the Middle East. At the time of writing this article, the refugees are co-curating an exhibition based on the collection of textiles, which will open in April 2019 (Pitt River Museum, n.d.). Another museum inspired by Multaka is the Bern Historical Museum. The museum offers tours where visitors can meet people with refugee backgrounds who have been trained as museum guides. The tours given by these refugee guides offer visitors new perspectives on current world events. The guides are from different countries such as Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

The Penn Museum in Philadelphia, USA is another museum inspired by Multaka. The museum offers tours by Syrian and Iraqi refugee guides. The project here is called Global Guide Public, and it first started in the Middle East Galleries of the museum. However, in the fall of 2019, the museum will also start offering tours with the same concept in its Mexico and Central America Gallery and Africa Galleries. The tours in the Middle East Galleries are available in English and Arabic (Penn Museum, n.d.).

Multaka and other projects inspired by Multaka in the UK, Switzerland and USA demonstrate that museums can play an important role in critical periods such as the current refugee crisis. Multaka and its partner projects are helping to raise awareness among local people, immigrants and refugees about the importance of cultural heritage to create bridges between different cultures. The Multaka project has played an important role in changing the classical image of museums, and has confirmed that museums can be social actors in a society.

Final Words
Within four years, the Multaka project facilitated hundreds of refugee visits to Berlin’s Museums, and helped refugees learn more about their host country. The project has become a real meeting point: hundreds of Germans have come together with refugees and participated in the tours with them. They listened to the guides even though they did not understand Arabic. Multaka has proved that cultural heritage is an important tool for supporting people who lost everything, and that culture is a necessity during people’s worst times.

Multaka has shown that museums can be active places for responding to the crises that societies face. The museums that participated in the project have been transformed into real spaces for inclusion. Multaka has proven the need for utilising culture in order to build respect, peace and appreciation towards newcomers in the European society, who are nowadays facing the movement of populist parties that are trying to spread fear about refugees and their culture. The adoption of Multaka by other museums in different European countries shows the importance of acting together regarding the refugee crisis in Europe.

Multaka has also showed that the refugees are able to integrate and be a part of the German society. The motivating ideas behind Multaka will continue to support refugees against their fears of transformation of their culture. These ideas will confirm that Germany is a country of respect and tolerance where refugees can make a new home.

I would like to express my deepest appreciation to all the guides in the project and to all the museum staff who made Multaka a reality. 

I would also like to express my sincerest gratitude to Professor Stefan Weber, the Director of the Museum of Islamic Art, who adopted Multaka from the beginning as a project in the Museum of Islamic Art. I am also very thankful to Dr Emma Cunliffe for her comments on this article.


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Malte Fuhrmann on cosmopolitan life in port cities of the late Ottoman era

Turkey Book Talk’s latest podcast features Malte Fuhrmann, research fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, on “Port Cities of the East Mediterranean: Urban Culture in the Late Ottoman Empire”(Cambridge University Press).


Living with Remnants

Dr Yael Navaro

In contemporary Turkey, we are witnessing a proliferation of memory talks. Concepts such as identity, violence, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism lace together current academic and popular discourses that have gradually emerged as public responses to repressive state practices and ideologies. Political subjectivities continue to emerge, constituted as oppositional to the official imagination of national identities. Various struggles for human rights and democratization, and against racism, nationalism and other schemes of exclusion and discrimination have opened up spaces to confront past and contemporary experiences of those communities in Turkey (Armenians, Kurds, Arabs, Assyrian-Syriacs, Greeks, Jews) that have been rendered abject and invisible.

This ERC project provides scholarly analysis and critical reflections on such efforts to ‘confront the past’ in Turkey. It does so by tracing remnants left behind by communities who were displaced, deported, exterminated or ethnically cleansed and by ethnographically studying the place of such remainders in Turkey’s present-day politics. Our objective is to ethnographically research how the past is engaged in present-day Turkey by focusing on practices of ‘living with remnants,’ capturing the feelings, imaginaries, and experiences of everyday survival in the shadow of remnants. Highlighting this, in an ethnographic / historical as well as theoretical / conceptual exploration of ‘remnants,’ we study the dialectical relation between remnants and subjectivities of past and present inhabitants by exploring the ways in which residual traces are either silenced and erased or surprisingly referenced in daily lives, making unlikely appearances in Turkey’s present.

The synonyms for ‘remnants’ are in the multiple: the notions of ‘ruin,’ ‘remainder,’ ‘trace,’ ‘leftover,’ and ‘residue’ all capture aspects of the remnants we aim to site and explore. We conceptualize ‘remnants’ as multiplex phenomena which have an enduring effect in the after-life of persons and communities that were once associated with them. These may be material remains in the form of land, houses, temples, and other forms of built structure once used and inhabited by communities that were displaced, deported, ethnically cleansed, or exterminated. ‘Remnants’ may also be immaterial affects, in the form of memory or the imagination as associated with past atrocities, such as accounts of haunting and/or loss in the aftermath of violence. Likewise, ‘remnants’ figure in subjective worlds, in intimate relations, or in embodied forms where contemporary inhabitants of Turkey have begun to claim Armenian, Kurdish or Arab ancestry, reaching back to grandparents who were adopted, converted, or assimilated. ‘Remnants’ are also ‘political’ insofar as they constitute the context forongoing inter-communal relations in and outside Turkey, relations that sometimes take ‘legal’ and ‘economic’ forms. Such remnants, once owned or associated with people or communities now mostly gone, are complex phenomena. In their various sorts and forms, both tangible and intangible, remnants get entangled in new social practices and relations. We ethnographically and historically research these experiences of ‘living with remnants‘ in Turkey and its associated diaspora communities.

Dr Yael Navaro is the PI with post-doctoral Co-Is Dr Zerrin Ozlem Biner, Dr Alice von Bieberstein and Dr Seda Altug.