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Intervention and Humanitarianism in the Syrian Conflict

Panel IX-13, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
  • Russia’s military involvement in Syria from September 2015 led to the collapse of the rebels opposing the regime and secured the continued rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In the short term this reinforced Russia’s regional and international standing, and encouraged Moscow’s hopes of economic and political fruits. Yet over time, Moscow saw it was unable to restore security and stability to Syria and advance the country’s reconstruction, and finds itself sinking in the mire of local enmities within Syria, as well as the mire of regional enmities. These entanglements have become a Russian problem, and Moscow finds itself with no readily available solution. In addition, Russia’s hopes of leveraging its Syrian achievements against the United States in order to promote Russian interests elsewhere in the world have been dashed. Consequently, involvement in Syria, which at first looked like a knockout against rivals and enemies, has become a source of strategic discomfort for Russia. Significant resources, time, and effort must clearly precede any enjoyment by Russia of the fruits of military achievements in Syria. In the final account, it is impossible to shake off the impression that the days of world wars, both hot and cold, have long gone, and with them the importance of military strongholds, which, rather, become a source of political, military, and above all economic headaches for those that try stubbornly to cling to what they see as an expression of national strength or a source of economic gains. It is true that Russia is the current winner in the “struggle for Syria,” and there is no doubt that the determination and military force it demonstrated are important for its regional and international status. Nonetheless, it is still hard-pressed to reap the fruits of its victory.
  • A Souq of Bones, Buzzards, and Aid Workers Negotiating Emergency Humanitarian Aid in Syria: 2011-2021 In this paper I explore the humanitarian aid “ecosystem” that existed in Syria from 2011-2021. During this period, Syria was engulfed in a civil war creating one of the greatest human catastrophes since World War II. Of central concern to this study are the processes, strategies and structure of negotiations utilized by grassroots humanitarian organizations to address the complexities of the diverse interests, issues of sovereignty, multi-culturalism, asymmetric power, coalition building, and amorphous conditionalities that were ever-present among all stakeholders in the ongoing internecine civil war. The Covid-19 global pandemic added a new dimension in the last year. Negotiations are analyzed through the lens of three distinct sets of actors; all who “negotiated” with the Syrian government; (1) tribal entities, (2) non-state actors, and (3) foreign governments. In this unique Syrian nexus of murder, chaos, and dysfunction, I argue aid institutions successfully executed emergency assistance projects through innovative negotiation techniques that quite often compromised their core values and the values of their donors. Different types of “guerilla NGOs” as described by Dr. Carsten Wieland reacted most efficiently in catastrophic situations, sacrificing efficacy of certain projects, donor expectations, and strategic plans to succeed in delivering spontaneous emergency assistance. Entities with the least hierarchical structure and well-established working relationships on the ground were able to respond extemporaneously which allowed them to accomplish more in providing emergency assistance than organizations that required institutional approval. This paper conducts its research methodology using Howard Raiffa’s synthesized approach to decision making: an interconnection of decision analysis, behavioral decision making, game theory, and negotiation analysis. A swinging balance between inductive and deductive negotiation techniques is shown to have succeeded in specific moments throughout the decade. Synthesizing emerging humanitarian literature, project reports, and interviews, this paper shows through numerous case studies how emergency aid has been deployed in Syria in the most difficult circumstances.
  • Temporary protection regimes have become increasingly prevalent as an interim response to humanitarian crises. Studies of temporary protection policies often focus on how temporary legal statuses produce uncertainties in the lives of status beneficiaries. Less attention is paid to the ways that temporary protection policies shape host country institutions, such that both beneficiaries and co-nationals with other legal statuses are affected. This paper analyzes the case of Turkey, which has extended temporary protection to over 3.6 million Syrians since 2014. While most Syrians have temporary protection statuses, a sizeable number of healthcare professionals have, by this point, received citizenship. Their livelihoods are nonetheless shaped by a politics of temporariness: legal healthcare jobs are tied to limited humanitarian projects and equivalency processes end in consular bureaucratic impasses due to tensions between Turkey and Syria. How have Syrian health professionals sought to stabilize their lives and livelihoods in a policy context of temporariness? Drawing on 60 interviews with Syrian health professionals in Istanbul conducted between 2017 and 2022, this paper examines how Syrian doctors and dentists attempt to mitigate the continuing uncertainties perpetuated by the Turkish state’s ambivalent policies toward Syrians. It finds that doctors are caught between legal stability through the formalization of work and economic stability through informal but relatively lucrative work. In order to attain legal stability, doctors have two options: they can take on low-paid, high workload jobs in EU-funded Migrant Health Centers or they can apply for equivalency, though they can only progress to the level of general practitioner. In contrast, in order to attain economic stability, doctors often work informally as specialists. They attempt to legitimize this informal work by situating themselves as critical providers at both a local and a global scale. They provide care not just to Syrians, but also to other Arabic-speaking refugees and migrants who live in the city, as well as Arabic-speaking medical tourists. The paper argues that when stability through formal legal pathways are circumscribed—even for citizens—immigrants attempt to stabilize their livelihoods through appeals to alternative legitimating logics. In this case, the persistent market niche for Arabic-language care becomes a source of legitimation. The paper shows how migrants who attain citizenship can nevertheless be affected by temporary migration policies. It also demonstrates how participation in local and global economic markets can provide an alternate path of (partial) stabilization when state legal options fall short.