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Identity Politics in Syria: A Background Paper

Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) (2022)

The background paper “Identity Politics in Syria” presents a theoretical and conceptual framework that puts the ongoing argument regarding the reasons for the dominant description of the Syrian conflict as a sectarian or ethnic one in a comparative context. It does so by reviewing the most notable academic schools that theorised the question of the relationship between individual and collective identities, and the conflicts and structures that reinforce or impede the crystallisation of divisions in many other countries during critical junctures, such as revolutions, coups d’état, economic collapses, or civil wars.

This paper builds on the following main questions: why focus on ‘Identity politics’ and how has this concept been employed by warring parties in Syria? Why has the description of the armed conflict after the Syrian uprising as a sectarian-based and/or ethnic-based conflict become dominant in many academic and political studies or even in activists’ testimonies?

This background paper first presents an overview of the impact of the Syrian war and the massive destruction it has caused, both economically and socially, over the past decade.

Secondly, a theoretical and conceptual background will be presented. It briefly addresses the concept of ‘Identity Politics’ and the differences among the theoretical schools regarding the relationship between identity, culture and politics, particularly the relationship between ‘Identity Politics’ and conflicts within some countries after the end of the Cold War. Third, the concept of ‘Identity Politics’ will be used to analyse rhetorical and actual sectarianisation, especially the fact that many warring forces adopted an exclusionist discourse, and carried out violent acts based on an explicit sectarian or ethnic basis.

Finally, the conclusion proposes a theoretical framework and an approach to analyse the impact of the employment of ‘Identity Politics’ in the Syrian conflict, which takes into account the necessity of analysing current local solidarity mechanisms, and their role in addressing the divisions imposed by the conflict, on the one hand, and linking them to the political economy and challenges imposed by the lack of justice and accountability, and the sustainable plans to address the impacts of the war, on the other.

This paper was launched within The research project KnowWar، (Knowledge Production in Times of Flight and War – Developing Common Grounds for Research in/on Syria) is a cooperative project funded by the Austrian Development Agency, between the Syrian Center for Policy Research, and the Department of Development Studies at the University of Vienna, the NGO Mousawat, the Centre for Development Studies at Birzeit University, and the Centre for Peace Research and Peace Education at the Alps-Adriatic University of Klagenfurt.

It works towards the development of transdisciplinary methodologies which allow a critical understanding of these conditions and discourses.

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English version:
EN: Identity Politics in Syria: A Background Paper.

Arabic version
AR: Identity Politics in Syria: A Background Paper.

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