Syrian Gulag: A History of Assad's Prison System
Dr. Uğur Ümit Üngör, Professor, Holocaust and Genocide
University of Amsterdam and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies
ABSTRACT: Out of a pre-war Syrian population of 24 million, at some point during the ongoing conflict there were about 250,000 Syrians detained in its many prisons, a percentage of the population (1%) that dwarfs that of many other authoritarian regimes. Imprisonment may well be a defining characteristic of postcolonial Syrian history, and its widespread violence under especially the Assad regime since 1970 has made a profound impact on Syrian society. Yet due to the strict secrecy, censorship, and terror surrounding prisons, as well as the ‘conspiracy of silence’ between perpetrators and victims, Syrian prisons have not been examined systematically. This presentation offers an examination of Syria’s prison system, using a combination of sources and methods, including published sources such as memoirs, social media data, and oral history interviews. It looks into the structure and functioning of arrest and detention, the identities of the perpetrators and the experiences of the survivors, as well as the prison system’s broader impact on Syrian society.
SPEAKER'S BIO: Uğur Ümit Üngör is Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Amsterdam and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies. His main area of interest is the history and sociology of mass violence, with a particular focus on the modern and contemporary Middle East. He has won several academic awards and held visiting positions in Dublin, Vancouver, Budapest, Toronto, and Los Angeles. He has published books and articles on various aspects and cases of genocide, including the Armenian genocide. His most recent publication is Paramilitarism: Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State (Oxford University Press, 2020), and the forthcoming Syrian Gulag: Assad’s Prison System, 1970-2020 (Boom Publisher, 2022). He is an editor of the Journal of Perpetrator Research, and coordinator of the Syrian Oral History Project. For more information, see: www.ungor.nl