KPY Yearbook: Cultural Changemakers Against the Grain.
is the Role of Culture in Syria Today?

This is the question being asked by fifteen young Syrian researchers that have been selected through an open call launched by Ettijahat. Independent Culture at the end of 2012. Ettijahat is an independent Syrian cultural institution that was launched in 2011 to stimulate the growth of independent culture in Syria. Reacting to the changing environment since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011 that has since turned into a violent local and international power struggle at huge humanitarian costs, Ettijahat launched a call to build the capacities of a group of young researchers to conduct short studies into various aspects of the state of culture in Syria today. At a time when established patterns are disintegrating, old barriers lifted and new challenges emerge, the relationship between state and society is in the process of being redefined. Like many other sectors in Syria, cultural operators and artists are facing a period of increased self-reflection regarding their own in society, and how they see this role in an ongoing transformation process. Ettijahat’s interdisciplinary research project “Research. To Strengthen Culture of Knowledge” looks at different roles of culture in Syria before and during the revolution, and how to ensure culture will play a role in building the future.

This paper introduces preliminary findings of this project that includes young researchers from a wide variety of academic backgrounds such as theatre, arts, architecture, and journalism, but also disciplines like medicine, all seeking to build their capacities and play a constructive role in furthering cultural research in Syria. A number of the individual research projects – dealing with topics as diverse as culture and civil society, forms of artistic expression at times of change, cultural influences on Syrian children, traditional architecture and its role in reconstructing Syria, writing at times of revolution, mapping cultural resources in a village in the Golan, identity issues in the independent Syrian documentary, challenges of cultural journalism, and the culture of humanitarian work in Syria – will be examined in light of their ability to question and analyse the role of culture in a situation of transformation. This paper will highlight some of the debates on culture in Syria as seen from the inside. It will thus give valuable insights not only into the cultural dynamics at play in a country in deep political and social crisis, but also into the workings of a newly established cultural institution responding to the situation on the ground in Syria. Advancing much needed freedom of expression by providing tools for critical thinking, it plays the role of a realcultural changemaker against the grain.

About the authors:

Rana Yazaji is an activist, researcher and programmer in the field of culture, and founding member and managing director of Ettijahat. Independent Culture. Rana is active in the field of monitoring and developing cultural policies in the Arab region, and was one of the lead researchers on a study on cultural policies in Syria published in “An Introduction to Cultural Policies in the Arab Region”. In KPY 2010, Rana published an article entitled “State Planning and The Emerging Role of Civil Society in Cultural Policies in Syria”.
Rana holds an MA in Conceptualisation and Management of Cultural Projects from University Of Paris III, an MA in Dramaturgy and Theatre from University of Paris X, and a diploma in Theatrical Studies from the Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts in Damascus.

Nadia von Maltzahn is Research Associate at the Orient Institut Beirut, a German Research centre supporting historical and contemporary research on the Middle East. Nadia’s main research interests lie in cultural policy research, modern history and international relations of the Middle East. She is currently preparing a research project on comparative cultural policies in the Arab region.
Nadia is the author of The Syria - Iran Axis: Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations in the Middle East. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013), in which she examines the role of culture in Syrian - Iranian relations since 1979.
She holds a DPhil (PhD) in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from St Antony’s College, University of Oxford.

AuthorHege Aasgaard