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© UNHCR / Bassam Diab
Destruction in Homs, Syria

Series convened by: Dr Leïla Vignal

This seminar series focuses on the unfolding conflict and human catastrophe in Syria.

The Syrian conflict started in 2011 as a popular and pacific uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Asad. It mutated into an armed conflict between numerous opposition armed groups and the Asad regime. External actors have since started to intervene, either directly in support of the Damascus regime (Iranian Pasdarans and numerous other foreign militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, organised by Iran since 2013, Russia since the autumn of 2015), or indirectly in support of some of the very diverse armed groups of the opposition (e.g. funding and provision of armaments from Western countries to Free Syrian Army-related groups or from private donors in Gulf countries to Islamist-leaning groups). From 2014, the group Islamic State, originating from Iraq, opportunistically exploited the situation when it expanded across the border into Syria.

Since Russia stepped directly onto the military scene in 2015, the conflict has entered a new phase, characterised by the central role played by external powers in propping up the Asad regime, and the side-lining of all peace talks and other political processes. The retaking of the opposition-held eastern areas of Aleppo in December 2016, following massive campaigns of bombing and shelling, is in this regard a clear turning point - although it is far from signalling the end of the conflict.

The Syrian population is bearing the brunt of this conflict. Estimates vary as to the number of civilian deaths directly linked to the conflict, but they could reach more than 300,000. Poverty affects four in five Syrians. In 2017, Syria holds two world records: it is the country with the most Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and more refugees come from Syria than any other country (five million registered with the UNHCR, possibly over six million in total).

This seminar series aims at shedding light on different aspects of the Syrian conflict in order to provide a better understanding of it. It also discusses the consequences of the situation in Syria for the international community, for humanitarian organisations, but also for the legal infrastructures put in place since the Second World War with regard to international humanitarian laws, human rights, and refugee protection.

This Syria seminar series is supported by the Maison Française d’Oxford. Maison Francaise d'Oxford

Time and location

Seminars take place on Wednesdays from 5.00-6.30pm in Seminar Room 3, Oxford Department of International Development, Queen Elizabeth House, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford, OX1 3TB. No registration is required.

If you would like to receive updates about our public seminars and lectures, please visit our Connect With Us page and subscribe to our email alerts.

Download pdf details of the series here >>

Hilary term seminars

18 January

Syria and its refugees: a historical perspective

Dawn Chatty, Emeritus Professor in Anthropology and Forced Migration, Refugee Studies Centre

25 January

Divided by a shared agenda: the humanitarian response to the crisis in Syria

James Darcy, Lead consultant for the UN-commissioned Whole of Syria Review and former Vice-Chair of Oxfam GB


1 February

The ethics of protection in Syria

Jennifer Welsh, Professor and Chair in International Relations, European University Institute, Italy


8 February

The struggle for Syria

Ziad Majed, Associate Professor of Middle East Studies and International Affairs, American University of Paris, France


15 February

Syrian trajectories: from local revolutionary actors to exiled humanitarian workers. Meanings of humanitarian action in the Syrian post-2011 context

Laura Ruiz de Elvira Carrascal, Postdoctoral researcher, ERC programme WAFAW (When Authoritarianism Fails in the Arab World), CNRS/IREMAM, Aix-en-Provence, France


22 February

Writing in times of war and revolution

Samar Yazbek, Syrian writer, Paris, France


1 March

The Syrian internal displacement

Leïla Vignal, Marie Curie Fellow, Refugee Studies Centre, and Senior Researcher, Wolfson College, University of Oxford


8 March

From revolution to jihad, and back. Syria's Islamist insurgents in the face of people’s power 

Thomas Pierret, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES), University of Edinburgh