Ahead of the forthcoming IHR Winter Conference: Civil Wars, the IHR Library has acquired new works documenting the on-going conflict in Syria and the wider refugee crisis it has sparked. The Syrian Civil War is now in its sixth year, prompting consideration of the term ‘civil war’ itself and whether the term still holds value for historians. The conference will therefore question the conceptualisation and language of civil discord, asking ‘do civil wars share certain features or is this a term of art that obscures the uniqueness of each historical situation?’ With this question in mind, details of two of the latest acquisitions to the IHR Library that provide unique, individual perspectives on the Syrian Civil War are outlined below.
This work details the journey of Nujeen Mustafa, a young woman born with cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair, as she travels from Syria to Europe as a refugee. The account describes the perils of such a journey, however these harrowing details are interspersed with Mustafa’s deeply personal observations, humour and optimism – as such the memoir lends the refugee crisis and the history of the Syrian civil war a human face. As Mustafa asserts, ‘the year 2015 was when I became a fact, a statistic, a number. Much as I like facts, we are not numbers, we are human beings and we all have stories. This is mine.’
Similarly, the memoir describes the final stages of Mustafa’s crossing to Europe in vivid detail noting, for example that, ‘the beach was not sandy as I had imagined it would be but pebbly – impossible for my wheelchair.’ In addition, Mustafa obliquely reflects on the wider refugee crisis and provides a reminder that each refugee has their own individual story. She comments, ‘I knew the sea only from National Geographic documentaries and now it was as if I was part of one… Some people swapped stories but most didn’t say much. They didn’t need to. To be leaving all you knew and had built up in your own country to make this dangerous and uncertain journey, it must be bad.’
Wolfgang Bauer’s work also documents the journey undertaken by Syrian refugees from Egypt to Europe through first-hand accounts. A journalist by trade, Bauer posed as an English teacher in order to witness the refugee crisis and report on all stages of the crossing to Europe. Thus the volume, and the series of photographs by Stanislav Krupar contained within it, highlights individual stories from both the civil war and the refugee crisis.
Bauer writes, ‘in April 2014, photographer Stanislav Krupar and I joined a group of Syrian refugees trying to get across the sea from Egypt to Italy. We put ourselves in the hands of people smugglers who have no idea that we are journalists. That’s why we get herded forward with sticks like the rest…Only Amar and his family know who we really are. He is an old friend from my time reporting on the Syrian civil war. It was desperation that drove him here; he dreams of living in Germany. He will translate and interpret for us along the way. We have grown long beards and adopted new identities. For this journey, we are English teachers Varj and Servat, two refugees from a republic in the Caucasus. We are now part of the great exodus.’
In addition to these newly acquired works, the Library also holds journal articles on the civil war, for example Salwa Ismail’s ‘The Syrian Uprising: Imagining and Performing the Nation’, in Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 11, No.3, (2011). Professor Ismail will speak on ‘The Civil War in Syria‘ at the IHR’s Winter Conference. The Library also has electronic access to Human Rights Watch Report, No Room to Breathe: state repression of human rights activism in Syria, Vol. 19, (2007). However, please note that some electronic articles and resources are only available onsite from library PCs, with offsite access limited to staff and students of the IHR due to current licencing restrictions. More information on the library’s electronic holdings is available here.
The IHR Library’s collections will continue to expand as new memoirs and testimonies from the on-going Syrian conflict emerge. Whilst such contemporary materials would not normally fall within the library’s collection profile, the Library has decided to selectively acquire material due to the historical importance of the current crisis. These invaluable sources will enable historians to question not only the ‘uniqueness’ of the civil war, but also to give voice to individual narratives caught up in a conflict that shows no sign of abating.