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The Fall of a Colonial Legacy: A Modern History of Syrian Borders (1920-2015)

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Filling in the research gaps on the borders and boundaries of contemporary Syria

When borders change, as seen with Lebanon and Palestine, research has been carried out to study and document them. However, this has not been the case with the Syrian borders. An EU-funded project set out to change this.

SOCIETY

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Literature, mainly monodisciplinary, is limited when it comes to the study of borders, a field that suffers globally from theoretical weakness and the use of outdated research methods and techniques. Syria’s borders are no exception to this. Dr Matthieu Cimino, SYRIANBORDERS project coordinator, explains: “I found that there has been absolutely no research on the history of the Syrian borders – it is non-existent.” This is concerning especially post-2011 in a country that went through the Syrian revolution, the civil war and the war that followed – a country where borders and boundaries are key issues. Dr Cimino adds: “In the Syrian context, it is important to understand how different non-state actors perceive the boundaries of Syria, how relevant they are now, and how have they been configured over time.” Dr Cimino stresses that research into this area is vital as “borders and boundaries are the envelope of the state - charged with important symbolic values.” SYRIANBORDERS worked towards two main objectives. The first was to contribute to the history of contemporary Syria by analysing the country through the prism of its borders, and secondly to produce a monograph that would include post-2011 dynamics. Ultimately, this should provide researchers, political actors, civil servants and the public with an understanding of post-2011 reconfigurations of the Middle East as well as the potential implications for Europe. Lessons learnt “The first thing we realised is how the borders – post-colonial 1920 Syria – were profoundly internalised by Syrian actors,” explains Dr Cimino. Symbolically and in the minds of Syrians such as the opposition and the Syrian state, the notion of Syria’s borders, as we understand them to be right now, were internalised. “But in parallel, with the emergence of non-state actors such as the Kurds, the idea of Syria’s borders was the exact opposite,” the coordinator adds. For example, over the past few months, Dr Cimino has been working on the geography and history textbooks that have been created, disseminated and taught by both the Kurds and the Islamic State. He notes: “It was very interesting to see their differing perceptions on what is supposed to be the territory of Syria.” Next steps “First thing, we are now publishing the books that will follow the international conference that we organised in November 2017, ‘Exploring Syria’s Borders and Boundaries’,” reports Dr Cimino who adds, “on April 7, I signed a contract with Palgrave Macmillan, a large publisher in the US.” They are currently waiting for articles for the book titled ‘Syria: Borders, boundaries, and the state’, which is due to be published in November 2019. Secondly, regarding the academic aspects, “I will focus on understanding nationalistic ideology and non-state actors by looking at their textbooks and seeing how they teach history and geography,” confirms Dr Cimino. On a final note, Dr Cimino emphasises how the Marie Curie programme helped him: “It has given me the opportunity to do field work and open myself to write work and has definitely helped changed my academic career.”

Keywords

SYRIANBORDERS, Syria’s borders, non-state actors, Syrian borders, post-2011, contemporary Syria, post-colonial

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 701923

  • Start date

    10 October 2016

  • End date

    9 October 2018

Funded under:

H2020-EU.1.3.2.

  • Overall budget:

    € 183 454,80

  • EU contribution

    € 183 454,80

Coordinated by:

THE CHANCELLOR, MASTERS AND SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD