Memory Studies: MSA Special Issue

Title – Mnemonic Wars: New Constellations

Co-edited by Magdalena Saryusz-Wolska (German Historical Institute Warsaw), Joanna Wawrzyniak (University of Warsaw) and Zofia Wóycicka (German Historical Institute Warsaw).

Each year, the Memory Studies Association edits an issue of the journal Memory Studies that addresses key topics raised at our Annual Meeting and that are of importance to the entire field. We thus welcome outstanding proposals from MSA Warsaw 2021 conference participants as well as other memory scholars’ articles with novel research insights on mnemonic wars. This year’s conference addressed the convergences between local, national and global memory discourses and practices. Those convergences contribute to new constellations of mnemonic conflicts, be it by fostering new topics, narratives and sensibilities, or by reviving and reinventing particularistic, and often national(istic), visions of the past. Particularly notable mnemonic changes occurred over the last decade due to the coming to power and strengthening of authoritarian regimes all over the world. Both populist parties and their opponents use historical references as arguments in current politics, be it in the Russian-Ukrainian war, during the 2019-2020 Hong-Kong protests, or during the Chilean revolt that started in autumn 2019. With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter protests last year, we witnessed the first social movement of global reach addressing issues of history and memory.
The conference setting, the country of Poland, is a paradigmatic case for the generation of new constellations of mnemonic wars and conflicts informed by both global and local developments in memory politics and activism. The current tensions cannot be explained through reference to national context alone. Transnational frames of religion, class or gender play an increasingly important role in the dynamics of current memory conflicts. For instance, the refugee crisis causes the old myth of Poland as a bulwark of Christendom to merge with wider trends of European Islamophobia. Alternatively, new nodes of class and identity conflicts are crystalizing over the remembrance of the serfdom of peasants in terminology derived from the memory of trans-Atlantic slavery. Encouraged by the successes of their counterparts in other parts of the globe, memory activists have confronted cases of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Older mnemonic conflicts over the Second World War, including the scope of participation of local populations in the Holocaust, are taking new forms due to a generational turn and shifting alliances in politics and scholarship, and at heritage sites. Both populists and the liberal left are promoting new interpretations of the post-war communist period, the Solidarity movement and the Round Table of 1989.
In this special issue of Memory Studies, we would like to map current mnemonic wars in different parts of the world, focusing on their topics and novel political, cultural and social constellations. We welcome outstanding theoretical articles, as well as empirical case studies looking at the dynamics of those conflicts. Who are the contemporary memory agents fostering confrontational memory politics? What tools, media and practices do they use to promote their interpretations of the past? We are also interested in how global developments, such as the spread of mass and social media, the emergence of transnational memory politics or the establishment of global networks of memory activists, influence today’s memory conflicts. We encourage standard research papers, but we will also consider proposals in other formats, such as debates and interviews.
Important dates
Please send your proposal (no more than 500 words) no later than Dec. 15, 2021 to the following address:  We will let you know if the proposal fits the scope of the special issue.
March 31, 2022 – submission of articles of 6000 words in length inclusive of references, abstracts, and keywords. Please follow the Memory Studies guidelines for authors when formatting your article: However, rather than submitting your paper via the MS submission platform, send it to the following address: All submissions will be blind peer reviewed. You will be notified of the result as soon as possible.
June 30, 2022 – submission of revised articles. Please keep in mind that we will not organize native speaker copyediting and your paper should therefore meet all standards of academic English upon submission.
December 2022 – publication of the special issue.
Please contact the co-editors with any questions you may have at the following address:
Memory Studies is an international peer reviewed journal. It affords recognition, form, and direction to work in this nascent field, and provides a critical forum for dialogue and debate on the theoretical, empirical, and methodological issues central to a collaborative understanding of memory today.
2019 Impact Factor: 1.842 2019 Ranking: 2/100 in History | 3/45 in Cultural Studies


Yarınki Türkçe Sohbetimizi YouTube üzerinden canlı olarak izlemeyi unutmayın!

İstanbul İsveç Araştırma Enstitüsü’nün yönettiği Rememberings/Hatırlamalar projesinin düzenlediği Türkçe Sohbetler serisinin bu yayınında, Amsterdam Üniversitesi ve NIOD’da Holokost ve Soykırım Çalışmaları profesörü Uğur Ümit Üngör ve Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, Atatürk Enstitüsü öğretim üyesi Seda Altuğ, Osmanlı İmparatorluğu ve Türkiye’de Tarihsel Travma meselesini masaya yatırıyor.


How Corruption Ruined Lebanon

The deadly port blast, the triple-digit inflation, the energy shortages — Lebanon’s many crises have a shared root: misrule by a self-dealing elite.

By Rania Abouzeid

The head of Lebanon’s Central Inspection Board, Judge Georges Attieh, stood in his mother’s fourth-floor apartment, his childhood home in Beirut, and pushed open a new, white window shutter. A sharp winter chill stole into the room, bare except for a neat stack of gray cinder blocks. A few steps away, a damaged piano covered in a floral sheet was surrounded by a jumble of objects: broken dining chairs, cardboard boxes, a clothes steamer, rolled-up rugs. Attieh looked out at the flat blue sea visible between the few buildings that separated his mother’s apartment from the Port of Beirut. “I haven’t been here in six months, even though I drive by here every day,” he said. “I can’t. I’m unable to come here. It isn’t easy.”

The last time he was there, on Aug. 4, 2020, he had just rushed from his office across town to rescue his mother and his younger brother Joseph. At 6:08 p.m. that day, a portion of some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, recklessly stored at Beirut’s port since 2014, suddenly exploded. A fertilizer often used as a component in improvised explosive devices had been stockpiled within walking distance of residential neighborhoods.

Joseph captured the blast in a 15-second video, which Attieh showed me on his cellphone as he stood in front of the window where it was recorded. The old shutters, visible in the footage, were green. In the video, a column of light gray smoke froths and bubbles into a bright blue sky — the initial fire in the port’s Hangar 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored. Joseph’s prayers to the Virgin Mary are interspersed with pleas to his mother to move away from the window. In the smoke, small bright lights flash, as tons of fireworks stored alongside the hazardous material pop. An abrupt, ferocious burst of fiery black orange shoots into the sky, and then a white mushroom cloud rises as Joseph cries out to the Virgin Mary one last time before the video cuts. He was flung into an adjacent apartment through what moments earlier had been a wall.

The explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history. It killed at least 216 people (the exact figure is unknown) and injured more than 6,500. It left hundreds of thousands homeless and damaged 85,744 properties. Attieh’s mother and brother survived, but between them they needed about 100 stitches. Nineteen people from their neighborhood weren’t so lucky. Their names are memorialized across the street on a stone plaque bordered by red geraniums.

More than a year later, not one person has been held responsible for a peacetime explosion that harmed more people than any single violent episode in Lebanon’s long, troubled history. A handful of senior political, judicial, security, military and customs officials — including President Michel Aoun and former Prime Minister Hassan Diab — all knew that volatile materials were stored at the port and did nothing to remove the danger. A judicial investigation is underway, but few Lebanese expect it to identify the culpable and deliver justice, not because they don’t trust the investigative judge but because they fear political interference. In December 2020, the first judge charged Diab, along with three former ministers, with negligence. All refused to appear, claiming immunity. The judge was removed for “bias,” following complaints from two of the ministers. Similar attempts were made to remove the second judge, Tarek Bitar. Those failed, but the political establishment — especially the Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies — has continued to try to dismiss Bitar, spawning violent protests this month that left at least six people dead. (As of press time, he was still in charge.) Many Lebanese are calling for an independent international investigation.

The Port of Beirut is overseen by a hodgepodge of government and security agencies with overlapping mandates. Technically, the port falls under the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation and the Ministry of Finance, as well as a body established in 1993 with a mouthful of a name, the Temporary Committee for Management and Investment of the Port of Beirut. Despite its “temporary” status, it is still in operation — though very little of what it does is subject to any scrutiny. It does not publish financial statements, and its board is appointed by the country’s political leaders. A host of civilian entities operates at the port within the various government ministries and committees, in addition to security and intelligence agencies, including the Lebanese Armed Forces. “The very design of the port’s management structure was developed to share power between political elites,” Human Rights Watch wrote in an August 2021 report about the blast. “It maximized opacity and allowed corruption and mismanagement to flourish.”

The Beirut explosion was one of the ugliest manifestations of everything that has gone wrong with Lebanon since the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990, an indictment of a postwar system that has enabled a handful of politicians to dominate and exploit every facet of the state. The country has collapsed under the burden of concurrent crises that were decades in the making: a financial and economic implosion, grinding political deadlock, the Aug. 4 blast. In October 2019, tens of thousands of Lebanese across the country took to the streets in protest, fed up with the mismanagement and arrogance of their leaders. “All of them means all of them!” was the battle cry. Lebanon’s October Revolution was met with force and fizzled. And then came the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lebanese are now struggling to survive one of the world’s worst economic meltdowns of the past 150 years, a crisis the World Bank has called a “deliberate depression” perpetrated by a feckless ruling class. More than 70 percent of the population of a once-middle-income country now lives in poverty. The local currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value. In 2019, the Lebanese woke up one day to learn that the banks had locked them out of their accounts, leaving depositors unable to retrieve their rapidly depreciating funds. Triple-digit hyperinflation has taken hold. Food prices alone have increased 550 percent since 2019. Unemployment is soaring, businesses are closing and the country is hemorrhaging tens of thousands of people to emigration. Power outages can last for days. Internet services have become intermittent, and there are shortages of medications, from over-the-counter painkillers to cancer drugs, in a country once called the Hospital of the East. Hours- and even days-long lines for staples like bread and gas have become the norm.

The country has been driven to bankruptcy by a handful of politicians, most of whom began as sectarian warlords. The power-sharing agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war produced a cross-sectarian political system — much like the one the United States imported into Iraq after the 2003 invasion — that has looted the state and weakened its institutions.

Attieh knows this better than most. The institution of which he is the head, the Central Inspection Board, is the country’s main investigative agency, responsible for keeping tabs on public services and funds. But his inspectors are forbidden to scrutinize many key state and state-affiliated bodies, including the Port of Beirut. These are the red lines that Attieh cannot cross. He wants to erase them.

As Attieh told me when surveying the repair work in his mother’s home: “There shouldn’t be a person or an administration dealing with public funds that isn’t subject to oversight.”

Attieh didn’t apply to head the Central Inspection Board. Like others in many senior civil-service positions, the judge was appointed by Aoun. Attieh, a 44-year-old father of three who has taught law at Université Saint Joseph for almost two decades, had been a judge for 17 years in various low-level courts, dealing with traffic infringements and civil disputes, when he got a call to meet the president in the spring of 2017. (Attieh says he didn’t know Aoun and is not a member of his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement.) Five days later, he was head of the agency.

He walked into a disorganized, understaffed bureaucracy with little in the way of digitized records. There were no administrative links among the Central Inspection Board’s eight departments, each of which is headed by a general inspector. Only three general inspectors were on the job when Attieh took over; the others had retired. Within a few months, two more retired and Attieh was left with only one.

Attieh cannot hire or fire personnel. That privilege belongs to the cabinet and to the sectarian political leaders, who stack government ministries and public institutions with loyalists. The cabinet sent Attieh a list of names, which were not chosen from within the Central Inspection Board as required by law. Attieh refused to sign off. Finally, after about six months, the cabinet relented. It was Attieh’s first win. “I felt like, whoa, 30 years of accumulated corruption,” he said. “It’s like a mountain in front of me, and I have small, small tools to chip away at that mountain.”

Attieh asked for more people and greater powers but has not received either. In total, the number of inspectors on his team is less than half of the 106 he is allowed by law, a figure set in 1959 during Lebanon’s heyday of institution building. Back then, there were about 13,000 civil servants. Today Attieh says the number is at least 10 times that — closer to 20 times if you include the military and security services, whose finances also fall under his purview — but he is still allowed only the set number of inspectors. The 1959 law has been amended not to increase personnel but to exclude bodies from the Central Inspection Board’s oversight. “This all happened after the war,” Attieh said. “For 30 years, the regulatory oversight and control bodies weren’t supported. It means you’re inviting chaos and a lack of oversight into the public administration, and that’s what happened.”

Attieh knows that his department, like most public institutions, is riddled with moles, appointees who are working in the interest of certain politicians. Over the years, competency requirements were eliminated in favor of the right sectarian background, not just in Central Inspection but across much of the public sector. A clientalist system rooted in the concept of muhassassa, or the allocation of positions based on sectarian quotas rather than merit, became entrenched. Political leaders determine who is hired, enabling them to carve out private fiefs inside state institutions by doling out jobs to their followers. Citizens with wasta, or pull, have the advantage, even if there are still many clean and competent public servants. Attieh himself faces criticism because he, too, is a political appointee. “If they can read properly, they’d see how straight my work is,” he told me. “I don’t bend for politics or religions.”

Attieh frames his task as a “mission,” not a job. His monthly take-home pay of 6.7 million Lebanese pounds, $4,466 before the currency crash, is now worth less than $340 at ever-changing black-market rates. It’s not much for a family of five, although it’s a lot more than many are making these days. The minimum monthly wage, once $450, is now about $34. Attieh says he’s dipping into his inheritance to make ends meet. He was born into money, the eldest of four sons whose parents had a textile business and provided uniforms to Lebanon’s security services. Attieh remembers the civil war and its hardships, particularly the economic crash of 1987 caused by a sharp depreciation of the currency, a mirror of today’s catastrophe. “All the money my father had, all of his millions, melted,” Attieh recalled. “He used to tell me, ‘Look at how thugs have become rich, and the rich and people who worked hard for their money have become destitute.’ So I felt at that time that there was no justice, and it was all unfair.” Attieh was only 11, but it was not long after that he decided to pursue law.

Attieh was just two weeks into his new job when his father was hospitalized with lymphoma. He died within months. “I’m bitter about it,” Attieh said. “I’d been by his side for 40 years, and that year I left him. I had just accepted this position and was trying to build momentum.” Attieh says he turned down job opportunities in the Persian Gulf that came with five-figure monthly salaries because his father once scolded him, saying, “You put a price tag on your mission?” Although born in France, Attieh does not have French citizenship and the guaranteed exit plan that comes with it. His father refused it, Attieh said, “because he didn’t want to provide an easy route for us to emigrate. My only option is to fight to find a way to make this a better country for my children and others.”

Attieh‘s Central Inspection Board has two main operational methods: surprise inspections and the investigation of complaints, though whistle-blowers have few protections. “The legal mechanism says that a person has to complain about their supervisor through their supervisor,” Attieh said. “It needs to change. The complaints should come directly to Central Inspection, and if that happens, managers will fear their employees.”

For now, Attieh’s powers extend only as far as a ministry’s general manager. “Ministers are not under our supervision,” Attieh said. “I can’t hold a minister accountable. I can’t investigate ministers.” Ministers can and have forbidden their employees to cooperate with Attieh’s inspectors, going so far as to kick inspectors out of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, for instance, the same ministry that shares responsibility for the port. It was closed to Central Inspection by four consecutive ministers (including two charged in the initial port-blast investigation) — until Attieh pushed his way in. Among other things, Attieh’s inspectors were investigating claims that roadwork contracts were awarded based on dividing the same road into chunks as if each were a separate project. “They’d contract every 100 meters to somebody for 75 million Lebanese pounds, just below the amount that requires auditing,” Attieh explained, so that the projects could be awarded at the minister’s discretion and escape oversight. “The minister at the time issued an order to not cooperate with us. I replied on Twitter. I told him, ‘Your orders are illegal!’”

On that occasion, he added, “I broke them.”

Lebanon’s dysfunction can be traced directly to the country’s post-civil-war system of governance. When the war ended, a new government was forged not out of an attempt to reckon with the toll of death and destruction, but by burying the past under a 1991 amnesty law that paved the way for sectarian warlords to become sectarian political leaders. (The Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah was the only party to retain its weapons because it was engaged in armed resistance to Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon.) The amnesty law helped enshrine unaccountability at the state’s highest levels.

Lebanon’s sectarian system, which predates the war, divides positions among the country’s 18 officially recognized sects. The president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite Muslim. The system was designed to ensure that every community’s voice is heard in a country rived by factionalism, but it has enabled sectarian leaders to avoid accountability by claiming that any criticism of them is really a criticism of their sect.

The power-sharing deal that ended the civil war is known as the Taif Agreement. Among other things, the Taif Agreement (named after the Saudi city where it was negotiated) divided Parliament, the cabinet and senior civil-service positions equally between Christians and Muslims (eliminating a prewar Christian advantage). This sectarianism was supposed to be temporary, but more than three decades after the agreement was signed, it is still deeply entrenched, and some of the Taif Agreement’s many other provisions, like decentralization and the creation of a Senate, have not been implemented.

Hussein el-Husseini, the 84-year-old former parliamentary speaker who is known as Abu Taif, or the father of the Taif Agreement, told me at his home in Beirut that implementing Taif would mean “their role will end.” Every Lebanese knows whom he means: the half dozen or so men who have called the shots in Lebanon since the end of the civil conflict. “I named them the company of five,” el-Husseini said. “A bunch of thieves, a company of five that has ruined us.”

AdvertisementContinue reading the main storyThere’s Nabih Berri, the leader of the Shiite Amal Movement militia turned party, who has been parliamentary speaker since 1992. The Druse chieftain and former warlord Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party. The Maronite Christians’ Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces militia turned party. And Geagea’s wartime and peacetime rival, the current president, Michael Aoun, a general who commanded part of the Lebanese Army that split along sectarian lines during the war. And finally, the Sunni billionaire businessman and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. “He was the godfather,” el-Husseini said. Hariri was assassinated in 2005 and succeeded by his son, Saad, the political heir of the Future Movement party. A company of five plus one — Hezbollah, which first entered government in 2005.
“Every one of them has a statelet within the state,” as well as foreign patrons, said el-Husseini, who led the negotiating committee in Saudi Arabia. “They want a state without institutions and a country without citizens.” Some are allied to the West and its Saudi ally, others to the East, as part of Iran’s “axis of resistance,” while Aoun and Jumblatt have toggled between the two. All are embroiled in larger regional agendas that trap Lebanon in the Middle East’s many disputes. El-Husseini went on: “As long as they are present, there is no reform, because any reform will lead to their disappearance.”

The militia leaders’ ways of doing business also transitioned into the postwar system. Militia-related financial networks, including ownership of banks, have become politician-aligned financial networks and banks. Dr. Jad Chaaban of the American University of Beirut found that, in 2014, eight political families controlled 29 percent of the banking sector’s assets. As Attieh told me, “Here, everything is a conflict of interest.”

Shared goals can trump political differences. Riad Kobaissi, an investigative journalist with Lebanon’s Al Jadeed television channel who has looked into corruption at the port since 2012, told me that every major political party has its people at the port. Even political rivals “can coordinate when it comes to Mr. Benjamin Franklin” — a $100 bill — “he is the guy who can solve any problem in Lebanon.”

Over the years, Kobaissi and his colleagues have revealed how, for the right price, shipping containers entered or exited the country without proper inspection; containers were stolen and passed through the port’s security checkpoints; hefty fines vanished or were markedly reduced with a bribe. Of the 25 or so customs officers at the port responsible for inspecting containers, 16 were caught taking bribes in footage Kobaissi broadcast. All kept their jobs, even after eight were prosecuted and some were imprisoned. “Until now, until now, they are still serving in their positions at Beirut harbor! Till now!” Kobaissi said. “You’re asking me how there was an explosion in the port? This is how.”

Overhauling a system of enmeshed political, financial and sectarian interests is a formidable task, one that Kobaissi believes “is stronger than the explosion,” and stronger than Attieh’s well-meaning efforts. Kobaissi, who hosts the television show “Bring Down Corrupt Rule,” has on occasion called Attieh live on air to grill him about various scandals, only to seem surprised that Attieh was also investigating them. Still, he doesn’t think Attieh is “bold” enough to take on the system. “I’m not saying he’s a bad person, but he’s not the profile of the person who is needed,” Kobaissi said. “I’m talking about having a Central Inspection body that makes their knees shake. That’s how you make a state!”

When I met Hassan Diab in May at his office in the Ottoman-era hilltop Grand Serail, he was waiting for a new government. Diab had been prime minister for a total of six months when the blast occurred; he and his cabinet resigned days later. He had now been the caretaker prime minister for nine months and counting, and would become the longest serving caretaker in Lebanon’s history. “God knows when it will end,” he said. “I’m waiting. I’m sad, I’m angry, because the Lebanese people are paying the price for these delays.” In March, Diab threatened to stop work to exert pressure on sectarian power brokers to form a government. They didn’t budge. “They lost their sense of shame a long time ago,” he told me. “I’ve tried everything. What more can I do?”

Lebanon has been paralyzed with caretaker governments for more than three of the past 10 years, in what Diab said he considers the surest sign that “the political system has failed.” Collective decision-making means that progress can hinge on whether one sectarian leader is speaking to another. “Every leader tells his supporters that the blame is on the Other, and then he sits with the Other” in national unity governments, Paula Yacoubian, an independent member of Parliament who resigned after the explosion, told me. “It’s a joke.”

A political outsider, Diab served as education minister for a few years and was a professor of computer engineering and vice president of the American University of Beirut for decades. He says he was undermined and obstructed “from Day 1” because if his government “succeeded in uncovering just a fraction of the corruption, it would expose part of this corrupt class. They didn’t want that to happen.”

I asked him for names and examples. “It’s not like I have a list that I don’t want to give you,” he said. “It’s not a joke to say that this person is corrupt. It shouldn’t be the prime minister or ministers who say that — the judiciary should decide that,” he said. “I knew there was corruption, but I didn’t imagine it was so rooted, and I knew we would face confrontations, but I didn’t think it would be this much.”

Diab has his own history with the judiciary. This August, Bitar, the judge leading the port investigation, subpoenaed Diab and others charged in connection with the explosion. Diab, who had given an affidavit to Bitar’s predecessor, has refused to appear for questioning as a suspect. Sunni religious and political leaders quickly rallied around him. Lebanon’s grand mufti, the top cleric for Sunnis, described the charges as an attack on “the office of the prime minister.” (The other suspects have similarly sought cover from religious and sectarian leaders.)

I put it to Diab that he hid behind his sect like an old-school sectarian politician. “I’m not hiding behind anything — I’m saying I abide by the Constitution,” he said, “and the Constitution says if you want to accuse a prime minister, you do it in the Parliament.”

The Constitution stipulates that ministers and heads of state can be tried only in a court formed by the Parliament — a body that has never been activated. Ziyad Baroud, a former interior minister, election-reform campaigner and legal expert, told me that the parliamentary special court was built into the system “to avoid accountability. Why do ministers need to be judged before a special court?” he said. “They are not special people.”

Diab insists that the charge against him was politically motivated and that he was a scapegoat. “I knew of it” — the ammonium nitrate — “on July 22, about 10 days earlier, and some people knew about it for seven years. So was it a political decision or not?”

Attieh, like Baroud, doesn’t believe that ministers should be tried in a special court. “When a minister is performing his duties, he should be investigated directly by the judicial courts,” Attieh said. No public servant at any level “should be politically protected from being held accountable.” To make this possible, he strongly supports calls to strengthen the judiciary.

Although on paper the judiciary is an independent body, in practice it is subordinate to the political ruling class, in part, because the High Council for the Judiciary, an administrative body responsible for overseeing the judiciary, is financially dependent on the executive. Eight of the council’s 10 members are chosen by sectarian leaders via the cabinet. The other two are elected by judges. “There is no revolution unless the judiciary as an institution is involved,” Marie-Claude Najm, the former justice minister, told me in her office in March.

Najm, a lawyer and professor at Beirut’s Université Saint Joseph, supports a bill, still pending in Parliament, to grant the judiciary independence. It is not the first attempt to break the political establishment’s hold over judges. In April 2018, cracks in the judicial body appeared with the formation of the Lebanese Judges’ Association, a group established against the wishes of the High Council, which fought its formation for years. I met Judge Amani Salameh, then the head of the group, along with two of her colleagues, Judges Bilal Badr and Faysal Makki, at a cafe in early spring. “We crossed a million lines,” Salameh told me. “We are the black sheep in the judiciary.”

The three judges, who are all in their 40s, explained how politicians can influence judges by appointing them to important courts or keeping them in lowly ones, or by denying them perks like lifetime positions on lucrative judicial committees that can supplement a judge’s income by as much as two or three times their salary. The Judges’ Association members I talked to said they want all 10 members of the High Council to be elected by their peers. About 90 of Lebanon’s 550 judges have so far joined the association, which faces stiff resistance within the judiciary. In April, Salameh was hailed a public hero when, after a complaint from a group of depositors, she ordered the seizure of all assets of Lebanese banks and their chief executives. The order is on hold while the banks maneuver to remove Salameh from the case. It’s “the same way that’s used with Judge Tarek Bitar, to have the judge changed,” she said. The association is “hammering away at a rock with a needle,” she added. “We have a deep state,” Makki, who now heads the group, said. “You cannot change 30 years in three years.”

Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than in the financial sector. In April 2020, Diab’s administration approved an economic recovery program based on negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for assistance, while also drafting reforms to unlock international aid predicated on anti-corruption measures. Diab’s cabinet estimated that the central bank’s losses alone amounted to roughly $50 billion and called for equitably distributing the burden of those and other losses, including among creditors and bank shareholders. Predictably, representatives in Parliament, acting in the interests of the banks, scuttled the plan, insisting the losses were much lower (contradicting reports of the I.M.F.’s own estimates), and the banks proceeded to push the debt off themselves and their shareholders and onto regular citizens by severely reducing the value of their deposits. Talks with the I.M.F. collapsed because the Lebanese could not agree on the size of the financial losses.

Diab’s plan also included a forensic audit of the central bank, the Banque du Liban, which among other things is tasked with safeguarding the country’s monetary and economic stability. Riad Salameh, who has been the bank’s governor since 1993, enjoyed worldwide acclaim, including for his so-called financial engineering. It basically worked like this: Commercial banks offered double-digit interest rates for new term deposits and then lent that money to the central bank, which then lent it to the government. The arrangement, which even the French president Emmanuel Macron called a “Ponzi scheme,” relied on banks sucking in new money. The share of public debt held by banks amounted to more than 40 percent. From 1993, when Salameh assumed his position, to 2018, the banks’ net profits increased 3,000 percent to $2 billion.

The high interest rates on bank deposits encouraged a rentier economy that disincentivized investment in industry and agriculture. Hala Bejjani, the former managing director of Kulluna Irada, a civic organization for political reform, told me that the signs of Lebanon’s financial doom were “obvious” but that leaders didn’t care to see them. She and a team of development specialists, economists and finance experts met with senior politicians, including the president, in March 2020, to warn of an impending financial implosion and suggest ways to avert it. “It’s a recipe, like making a cake,” Bejjani said of the plans. “They were all absolutely shocked at what we were telling them,” Bejjani said, “because this is the job of Riad Salameh. They were each focused on their fiefs.”

‘If you still believe that you can trust the same warlords to take new aid money in order to fix the problems, you’re delusional.’

Salameh has refused to answer many of the questions submitted by the foreign auditing firm Alvarez & Marsal, selected by Diab’s cabinet, citing a 1956 Banking Secrecy Law. Najm, the former justice minister who has been one of the fiercest proponents of a forensic audit, railed against Salameh’s claims that public funds were subject to the banking secrecy law, which had to be lifted for a year before an investigation could proceed. “There’s no need, and it’s a dangerous precedent,” she said, “because it gives you the idea that you can’t do any audit without each and every time lifting the law.” Attieh, who attended cabinet sessions about the forensic audit, pushed for auditing not just the central bank but all of the state’s ministries, a recommendation that was not adopted.

Salameh is currently being investigated by Swiss and French authorities for amassing hundreds of millions of dollars, allegedly through embezzlement and money-laundering schemes. He denies any wrongdoing. The French president has said that Lebanon’s ruling class used its ties to banks to transfer funds abroad during the financial crisis. Many Lebanese, including Michel Daher, an entrepreneur and first-time member of Parliament who tried and failed to introduce a capital-control law in 2019, want the international community to reveal the foreign bank accounts of Lebanese politicians. “If people are starving and their political leaders have billions of dollars overseas and are selling them slogans,” Daher said, “people will turn on them.”

A new Lebanese government headed by Najib Mikati was formed in September, and in October it restarted the forensic audit of the central bank and talks with the I.M.F. The Saudis and their gulf allies, meanwhile, have withheld aid that would help dig Lebanon out of its deep hole, largely because of Hezbollah’s powerful role within the state and its strong ties to their regional nemesis, Iran. The West has also said that aid will be predicated on reforms and anti-corruption measures, a condition it has made and ignored in the past.

To people like Kobaissi, it’s clear that Western nations are “liars when they say they want to fight corruption” in Lebanon. If they were serious, he told me, “they would support accountability and regulatory bodies.” According to the Gherbal Initiative, a civil-society organization founded in 2018 that researches state contracts, foreign loans and grants, foreign states have often poured money into hazy schemes that never materialize. Assaad Thebian, Gherbal’s 33-year-old executive director, gave me a typical example: multiple foreign loans over the years, totaling some $200 million, for the same wastewater project that was never executed. “If you still believe that you can trust the same warlords to take new aid money in order to fix the problems, you’re delusional,” he said.

Although both pro- and anti-Western sectarian leaders and their acolytes remain deeply embroiled in various domestic corruption scandals, to date only Hezbollah and its allies have been internationally censured. The United States has imposed sanctions on a number of Hezbollah members and affiliates for corruption, as well as several of Hezbollah’s allies from other parties. Hezbollah and its supporters consider the sanctions political. “So now the Americans and French have woken up to the corruption?” said Hussein Hajj Hassan, a Hezbollah member of Parliament. “Ah, OK, I didn’t realize that they didn’t know before.”

Some Lebanese blame Hezbollah for the port blast, accusing it of having a connection to the ammonium nitrate and of stockpiling weapons at Hangar 12, which made it a target of an Israeli airstrike that set off the port explosion. (Israel denies the allegation.) Hezbollah’s detractors also claim the ammonium nitrate at the port was destined for its ally, the Syrian regime, for so-called barrel bombs. Hezbollah, for its part, denies any connection to the fertilizer or the blast, maintaining that the substance was stockpiled by Lebanese on the other side of the political spectrum who are opposed to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, to be used by al-Assad’s opponents in their improvised explosive devices.

‘There shouldn’t be a person or an administration dealing with public funds that isn’t subject to oversight.’

The blast aside, detractors say that Hezbollah is more responsible than the company of five for eroding the state’s authority, because it has established a powerful ministate within the state, backed by its weapons. I put it to Hajj Hassan that a weak state suits Hezbollah. “A strong state is impossible with this system,” Hajj Hassan told me.

“The weakest thing in it is the state,” added Ibrahim Moussawi, Hajj Hassan’s colleague and fellow member of Parliament. “The sects are stronger than the state. It’s that simple.”

Against this backdrop, Attieh’s plans to strengthen the state may seem somewhat modest. But they are significant in a country where opacity is the order of business: He is trying to digitize procedures to enable the kind of transparency and tracking that would make anti-corruption investigations easier — or even perhaps prevent wrongdoing in the first place. His aim is to create an interlinked data-based system across public institutions, municipalities and ministries so that policy decisions can be based on collectible data that is shared with the public, not a politician’s opinion or private side deals. It is an ambitious project in a country that hasn’t held a census since 1932 (an effort to sidestep the thorny question of sectarian demographics).

Attieh has developed and implemented Lebanon’s first e-governance platform, known as Impact, which connects public institutions and citizens. It requires administrations to upload and share data in order to, say, geographically map Covid-19 cases, allowing people to register for coronavirus vaccinations as well as receive the permissions required to leave home during the multiple extended lockdowns that Lebanon imposed. Attieh says that in the first three weeks of Impact’s lockdown-permissions portal, it received eight million requests from two million people — this in a country of about five million Lebanese and some 1.5 million Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Impact has “modernized the way we live,” Attieh said. “Tell me, doesn’t all of that reduce wasta?”

Impact is “a corrective change,” as Attieh puts it, in other ways too. “If a person is going to write something, and you know that paper will be posted somewhere, you make sure it’s right,” he said, adding that he has informed ministers that Impact is publicly posting their decisions. “We are not just collecting data,” he said. “We are creating a new awareness, a new reality for citizens, a new way of doing things.”

Attieh wants to extend Impact so that citizens can make appointments in ministries and with other public bodies and know beforehand how much a procedure costs and what paperwork is required to complete it. That way, he said, “nobody can ever again say: ‘Oh, I can’t find the file. It fell down some crack’” until a bribe is paid.

For a man keen on digitizing data, Attieh has an office stacked with paperwork. He worked through Lebanon’s many extended lockdowns, going to the office twice a week, often staying well into the night. He has a habit of speaking quickly, as if he can’t get his ideas out fast enough, switching thoughts midsentence to get another point into the conversation. He is bursting with plans. He wants to introduce an internal auditing unit in every ministry and have it report directly to Central Inspection. He is working on a draft law to oblige anyone who deals with public funds or is in a public position, including ministers, to be subject to Central Inspection’s oversight. He and his team are formulating a comprehensive five-year road map for administrative reform, based on the more than 3,000 recommendation letters that he has sent to ministries and other bodies. “Our recommendations are ignored — it’s a problem,” he said, leafing through piles of manila folders as he read out some of his many recommendations. He drowns administrators who ignore him with monthly follow-up letters, which has prompted some, including ministers, to at least acknowledge his correspondence, if not to act on it. Attieh also formally notes in writing when “a minister does something illegal,” so that the minister knows that he’s keeping score. “I felt like I was planting 100 kilograms of seed, and only one kilogram would sprout,” he said. He needs just one thing to put his plans in action: “a government that will empower us,” he said. “If a new government doesn’t cooperate with us, for sure we will fail.”

Instead, one of the first things the new Mikati government has done is demand that Central Inspection receive the prime minister’s permission before investigating any public institution. “It’s not legal,” Attieh said of the decision, a point he relayed to Mikati in person. The prime minister, he said, was responsive and talks are continuing. Attieh is not deterred. “I’m not working with the attitude of an employee who is afraid of losing his position.”

The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for spring 2022. Civil rights organizations and activists involved in the October Revolution are mobilizing to stand for seats, but first they must unite and agree to a common platform. They face a system that changes the electoral law ahead of every poll, by amending the size and boundaries of electorates, for instance, to suit the main political parties. “We are champions in gerrymandering, really champions,” Baroud, the former interior minister, told me. Still, the longtime electoral-reform campaigner believes that this time, “whatever the law, change is coming,” and that the cry of the October Revolution, “All of them means all of them,” should really be “All of us means all of us.”

Attieh agrees that change doesn’t just mean ridding the system of corrupt politicians and judges and the public servants who do their bidding. “Bribes require a briber and somebody who accepts that bribe,” he said. Attieh recalled an anti-corruption demonstration in front of his office during the October Revolution. He said he recognized a man in the crowd who was leading the chants. He had once tried to make a traffic fine disappear in Attieh’s court, claiming wasta through a connection to a politician. Attieh reminded the young man of his actions, telling him, “If you want to fight corruption, start with yourself.”

For Attieh, Lebanon faces nothing less than a battle for its destiny. “There is a move to rebuild the temple in the same way that we are now rebuilding the walls of our family home,” he said. Attieh hasn’t been back to his mother’s apartment since that one visit in February. It still pains him to go there. The apartment remains empty. “I can’t afford repairs,” he said. Although “every day, things are getting worse in this country,” Attieh hasn’t lost hope. “I’m an optimist, because otherwise I would pack my bags and leave. There is no middle ground. We either leave, or we work toward reform.”

Rania Abouzeid is a Beirut-based print and television journalist and the author of “No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria,” as well as “Sisters of the War: Two Remarkable True Stories of Survival and Hope in Syria.” She has received numerous awards, including the 2014 George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting. Diego Ibarra Sánchez is a Spanish documentary photographer and filmmaker and an educator based in Lebanon whose work focuses on the use of images to raise questions. He has been covering Lebanon’s collapse for more than three years. His first photo book, “The Phoenician Collapse,” will be published in 2022.
A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 31, 2021, Page 36 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: State of Collapse.


History and Memory Research Fund: Call for Applications

The Fund for the Support of Historical Research, created with the kind assistance of Dr. Alper Öktem in 2010, aimed at promoting and supporting research on 1915, with a particular focus on scrupulous acts of conscience which would today be considered as human rights defense. In 2013, the scope of the fund, renamed as ‘History and Memory Research Fund,’ was enhanced to include research on memory and the relationship between memory and history. In addition to its initial scope, the History and Memory Research Fund the fund also supports research on the ongoing legacies of the human consequences of 1915, its trans-generational traces and the different modes of remembering.

In 2017, in addition to Alper Öktem’s core support, the Fund has also received additional support from Harry Parsekian.


The objective of the Fund is to reveal hidden acts of conscience and humanity in Turkey’s difficult past; to enable research on the trans-generational effects of 1915 (particularly with reference to notions such as responsibility, conscience and justice); to encourage researchers working on the history and memory of 1915, and to make the relevant research in this field accessible to the greater public.


  • Including but not limited to the questions listed below, history and memory research on how different people and groups have responded to the events during the dark times in history in terms of responsibility, conscience and justice are eligible for the Fund.
  • How did different people or groups respond to 1915 with reference to notions such as responsibility, conscience and justice?
  • Who refused to participate in the orders and acts of violence, elimination and plunder aimed against Armenians and Armenian entities? What were/are the consequences of such refusal?
  • How did the human, social, economic and political dimensions of 1915 affect subsequent generations? How do these transgenerational traces reverberate today?
  • How does the current generation relate to the perpetrators, witnesses and dissidents of 1915?
  • How have the spheres of class, geographical location, ethnic/religious/sectarian belonging and gender shaped the memory of 1915?
  • How are the events of 1915 reflected in literature, visual arts, cinema and theatre? How do the representations of 1915 in literary, visual, cinema and theatre works converge with / divert from the dominant historiography and memory of 1915?
  • How is the relationship between historical events and the contemporary world expressed in different localities?
  • What kind of research has already been conducted on responsibility, conscience and justice in relation to the eradication of Armenians in Anatolia and to the events of 1915? What is the impact of such research on a macro/micro scale?

The Jury selected by the Hrant Dink Foundation works in line with the above stated aims and scope, also contributing to cooperation between the Foundation and universities and research centres in Turkey and internationally.


Hrant Dink Foundation

Adress: Anarad Hığutyun Binası

Papa Roncalli Sk. No: 128 Harbiye

34373 Şişli İstanbul

Phone: +90 212 240 3361


For further information and questions about the fund, please contact us at the above address and phone numbers.

Application Terms

  1.  All researchers (whether affiliated with a University or not) are eligible for the Fund.
  2. Applicants can apply with a single project. In cases of co-edited projects, more than one applicant may apply.
  3. Application languages are limited to English and Turkish.
  4. Only new or ongoing research projects are eligible. Projects that have already been completed and published will not be funded.
  5. The application should be no less than 7 pages.
  6. The deadline for submission is 22 October 2021.
  7. The results will be announced on 10 December 2021.
  8. Those who applied for the former grant may re-apply.

Phases and the Required Documents for Application

If any of the below listed documents is missing in the application and/or the information provided therein is incorrect, the application will be rejected.

The application should provide the following documents:

Detailed Curriculum Vitae: Should list continuing and/or completed education, work experience; and published works, if applicable. In case of co-edited projects, all applicants should provide a separate CV. Three references from people working on the related field should be provided. Names and contact information of the referees will suffice at this stage.

Ethical declaration: A signed document declaring that the research process and its end products will be in line with the ethical principles of academic writing and production (protection of the participants, originality of the research, and so on)

Academic References: Two academic referees who are familiar with the researcher’s proposed or other work

Synopsis of the Research Project: Should provide information on the topic and methodology of the research as well as its contribution to the existing literature.

  1. Standard A4 page must be used, with a 3 cm margin at the top and left of the page, and a 2 cm margin below and on the right of the page respectively.
  2. Name and surname have to be written on every page; each page has to be numbered.
  3. Applications have to be prepared in .pdf or .doc formats to be sent as an e-mail message; if applicable, copies of the visual/audio material and documents are to be included in the e-mail. In addition, a copy of the Synopsis should be sent to the postal address above.

Please note again that  the research abstracts must be submitted until the 22 October 2021 here.

Evaluation Criteria

Each year in May, the Board Members of the Foundation form the jury. One person is appointed for coordination. The Jury evaluates the applications according to the following criteria:

  1. The work should adhere to the accepted norms of the scientific community; concerning research methods, presentation and references.
  2. The work should be original and related to the proposed themes of the fund.
  3. The work should not only repeat known facts nor be a collected work of previously published work.
  4. The work should be the product of new and labour-intensive research.
  5. The work should display strength of observation, depth of research and quality of interpretation.

Support Fund

Project coordinators of the support fund will share the annual additional fund amount with the jury. Whether there will be support for any of the submitted works in a given year depends completely on the evaluation of the jury. Even if the jury decides not to support any work in a given year, Dr. Alper Öktem will still donate the foreseen amount and it will be kept by the Foundation for later use in the Fund.

If the evaluation in a given category shows more than one work as being worthy of support by the Fund, the Fund will be distributed evenly among these works. The coordinator presents the outcome of the Jury’s evaluation to the Board of the Foundation in November. The final decision will be made by the Board of the Foundation in view of the jury evaluation.

Rights and Obligations

  • All responsibilities and copyrights pertaining to the research and its consequences belong to the researcher.
  • The researcher is responsible for providing a detailed report on the research at the end of the research period. Hrant Dink Foundation retains the right to publish this report or an abstract thereof on its website.
  • Hrant Dink Foundation may ask for an academic article from the researchers who have been qualified for funding, if their research is decided to be compiled and published the by the Foundation.  The researcher is responsible for informing the Hrant Dink Foundation if the article has been published before or has copyright issues.
  • The researcher is responsible for clearly stating that the Project has been supported by the Hrant Dink Foundation History and Memory Research Fund in all of the published material springing from the supported research.

Declaration of the Results

The supported projects of 2021 will be announced on the Hrant Dink Foundation website on 10 December 2021.

Hrant Dink Foundation History and Memory Research Fund 2021 Jury

Hülya Adak (Sabancı University)

Ayşe Gül Altınay (Sabancı University)

Ayfer Bartu Candan (Boğaziçi University)

Valentina Calzolari (Université de Genève)

Deniz Kandiyoti (University of London)

Raymond Kévorkian (Université Paris-VIII)

Kerem Öktem (University of Graz)

Arus Yumul (İstanbul Bilgi University)

The supporters of the History and Memory Research Fund

Dr. Alper Öktem

Born on 11 March 1954 in the Turkish town of Dikili, he finished his primary education in Burdur. He started to pursue his secondary education at the Maarif Koleji in Eskişehir, continued in Konya and finished it in Istanbul at the Kadıköy Maarif Koleji. In 1978, he graduated from Faculty of Medicine at Hacettepe University in Ankara. He went to Germany for specialization in radiology. In the 1980s he helped Turkish refugees who underwent torture. He has been supporting the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey for more than twenty years. Moreover, he is a board member of the Democratic Turkey Forum in Germany. Dr. Öktem has been assisting Cem Özdemir, Co-Chairman of the Unity 90/Green Party, especially on the topics of human rights, peace and democracy in Turkey, ever since Özdemir was first voted into parliament in 1993. In 2000-2001 he published the weekly supplement Perşembe for the German daily newspaper “Die Tageszeitung.” Perşembe aimed at bringing together German society and migrants on equal ground in the same media platform, making migrants equal members of society, especially through deepening the dialogue in the media, and reporting human rights violations in Turkey. Dr. Alper Öktem is married, has two children and lives in Bielefeld, Germany, where he works as a radiologist.

Harry Parsekian

Harry Parsekian was born in 1935 and has been a lifelong resident of Watertown, Massachusetts. He circumvented the world in 1984 and within years he traveled through lots of countries. In 1986 he climbed to the summit Mt. Ararat. In 1991 He volunteered for humanitarian aid flights to blockaded Armenia and in 2006 he bicycled from Armenia to Artshakh (Karabakh). He traveled troughout Armenia and Turkey and for the last few years has been involved in Turkish Armenian relations. He is a retired buisnessman and the president of Friends of Hrant Dink, Boston, MA.


Je t’aime… moi non plus. Deux siècles de relations entre la Turquie et l’Europe

Colloque Edhem Eldem 2021

Bibelot en porcelaine représentant le sultan Abdülmecid, la reine Victoria et l’empereur Napoléon III, alliés lors de la guerre de Crimée, 1854-1856. Collection de M. İsa Akbaş, Istanbul.

Alors que la chaire internationale d’histoire turque et ottomane du Collège de France entame sa cinquième et dernière année, il a paru opportun d’organiser un colloque portant sur le thème central du cours, « L’Empire ottoman et la Turquie face à l’Occident », en combinant une vision historique sur la longue durée avec une analyse critique d’une actualité de plus en plus sombre. Le titre du colloque, emprunté à la célèbre chanson de Serge Gainsbourg (1967/1969), rappelle que les relations entre la Turquie et l’Europe ont de tout temps été marquées par une dimension affective faite de tensions et de contradictions. Pour en discuter, cinq intellectuels de nationalité turque et représentant chacun une discipline différente offriront leur point de vue et leur expertise sur des aspects particuliers de la question. La journée se terminera par un débat général auquel le public sera invité à participer.

Toutes les communications se feront en français, à l’exception de celle d’Orhan Pamuk, qui aura lieu en anglais. Des casques seront mis à la disposition des auditeurs qui voudront en écouter la traduction simultanée.


9h00    Edhem Eldem, historien, Collège de France, université de Boğaziçi, Istanbul
              « Je t’aime… moi non plus. Deux siècles de relations entre la Turquie et l’Europe »

10h00  Nilüfer Göle, sociologue, École des hautes études en sciences sociales
              « La (re)conversion de Sainte-Sophie et le désamour avec l’Europe »

11h00-11h30  Pause-café

11h30  Seyfettin Gürsel, économiste, université de Bahçeşehir, Istanbul
              « Turquie-Union européenne : un tandem difficile mais inséparable »

12h30-14h00  Déjeuner

14h00  Ahmet İnsel, politologue, université Galatasaray, Istanbul
              « L’erdoganisme : une dynamique islamo-nationaliste anti-occidentale »

15h00  Orhan Pamuk, romancier, université de Columbia, New York
              « Antinomies of Ottoman-Turkish Westernization » (Les antinomies de l’occidentalisation ottomane et turque)

16h00-16h30  Pause-café

16h30  Débat général



Unspoken memories, unwritten histories:


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 Alexandriaand will take place via Zoom.

Speakers of the panel, October 21 at 18:00 (UTC+3):

Will Hanley, Associate Professor, Department of History, Florida State University – Amro Ali, lecturer in political sociology at the American University in Cairo – Mohamed Gohar, architect, artist and researcher, founder of Description of Alexandria

Eligible for participation are advanced students with a background in Arab, Turkish, and Egyptian 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 October 17, 2021,to Participants will be notified by October 19, 2021.



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