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Arab Refugee Crisis in the 21st Century Conference 

The Syrian refugee crisis, in its scale, intensity and duration, has served as a clarion call regarding the urgency of an ever-growing global refugee population. To foster an atmosphere of conversation and broadened perspective, this interactive conference will explore the way the crisis is being interpreted in the international arena through the lens of international law, domestic U.S. policy and [social] media - as well as its direct impact on its victims and survivors as shared through the increasingly vibrant arts scene that has emerged from this besieged population, and anecdotes from those who have worked with them in refugee camps.

Our panelists are undergraduate and graduate students, professors, activists, journalists, and artists and hail from around the world.

Our opening address will be delivered by noted Lebanese scholar Ziad Majed, who has written extensively on political reform in the Arab world and most recently on the Syrian revolution. Anne-Marie McManus, a scholar of Arabic literature who has explored the language to capture the experiences of dispossession, loss, migration and hope, will deliver our closing keynote.

Conference Program


4:30 pm     Art of Resilience Dir. Raghad Mardini.       

5:00 pm    Prof. Ziad Majed (Political Science, American University in Paris)

"Revolutions, Counter-revolutions and Proxy Wars: Observations on Syria, the Refugee Crisis and the Struggle for the Levant"


9:00 am     Introduction: Prof. miriam cooke (AMES, Duke) 

9:10 am    Syrian Poetry Collective Recitation: Dr. Hussam Bahloul (University of Massachusetts Medical School)

PANEL I – Global Hospitality

9:45 – 11:15 am

Facilitator: Renée Ragin (Literature, Duke) 

Histories of the Geneva Convention and international obligations during global wars; crisis and population displacement; global state and civil attitudes and responses to the presence of refugees; rethinking nation-state boundaries.

Cemil Aydin (History, UNC-CH), "Competing Narratives of Ottoman Refugee Experiences"

Robin Kirk (Human Rights Center, Duke), "The 1951 Refugee Convention: Context, Categories and Contemporary Challenges."

Sarah Adamczyk (Law School, Duke), “Law in the Context of Displacement”

11:15 Break

PANEL II – Between Statistic and Survivor: Media Representations

11:30 – 1:00 pm

Facilitator: Prof. Hanadi Al-Samman (Arabic Studies, University of Virginia-Charlottesville).

How the United States media industry covers (or fails to cover) the ongoing refugee crises in Europe, the US and the MENA region; regional coverage.

Khaled Saghieh (Lebanese Journalist, LBCI), "Refugees without Refuge: The Syrian Tragedy and the Challenges of the Lebanese Media"

Ammar al-Ma’mun (Syrian Journalist in Paris), "Syrian memories

(now\here) in conflict with (there\now) -Via Skype 

Renée Ragin, "#SummerinSyria: Discordant War-Time Narratives of Life and Death"

 Ranjanna Khanna (English, Duke), "Archiving Disaster"

 David Graham (Duke 09, Atlantic Monthly), "Trumped: How the American media turned a humanitarian crisis into a horserace story."

 1:00 pm LUNCH BREAK

PANEL III- Crisis Culture

2:15pm – 3:45 pm

Facilitator: Zaid Khatib (Mellon Fellow, UNC-CH)

The displacement and dislocation of cultural artifacts and organizing rubrics of identity for refugee populations; cultural production far from home.

Raghad Mardini, (Art Residence Aley), "A Transformational Journey"

Thao Nguyen, (Mellon Fellow, Duke) “Refugee Art and Literature: Palestine”

Rebecca Joubin (Arabic Studies, Davidson College), Images of Syrian Refugees in Current Syrian Television Drama”

Julie Whittaker (Public Affairs, Princeton U.), "Syrian Youth Art from Zaatari Camp" 

Fadi Skeiker (Theater Studies, University of Jordan), "My Name My Identity: Applied Theatre Practice Among Syrian Refugees in Jordan"- Via Skype

PANEL IV- States of Exception

4:15 – 5:45 pm

Facilitator: Zeina G. Halabi (UNC-CH)

Presentations from Mellon undergraduate oral history fellows who have worked with refugee populations in the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

Abdul Rahman Latif (Mellon Fellow, Duke)  in conversation with Saad.

Faris Barakat, "Reyhanli Refugee Camp in Turkey"

Peter Cooke (Mellon Fellow, UNC-CH) “Projet Revivre”, Paris (France)

Sandy Alkoutami (Mellon Fellow, UNC-CH) Zaatari Camp, Amman (Jordan)

Lily Doron  (Mellon Fellow, Duke), in conversation with Ghofran.

Closing Address

6:00 –7:00 pm 

Anne-Marie McManus (Washington U.), “Dirty Words: On the Possibility of Language After Assad’s Syria”


miriam cooke: Braxton Craven Professor of Arab Cultures at Duke University.  Her publications focus on Arab culture.  Dr. cooke is the principal team leader for the Mellon Humanities Writ Large grant documenting oral histories of Arab refugees. Her forthcoming book, Dancing in Damascus: The Aesthetics of the Syrian Revolution examines the role of creative arts in sustaining the people's revolution against the Assad regime.

Ziad Majed (keynote speaker): Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the American University of Paris.  His research interests include political transitions and reform in the Arab world, as well as civil society.  In 2013, Dr. Majed published Suriya al-thawra al-yatima (Syrie la revolution orpheline, 2014). He is a contributor to the Arabic-language newspaper, Now Lebanon, as well as various French media outlets.

Hussam Jefee: Assistant Professor, UMass Medical School. He is a published poet.  A collection of his poetry, The Opener of Canned Hope, was published in Arabic (2008).  In October 2015, Dr. Jefee’s research on mental health in the Syrian crisis was featured in the Lancet.

Cemil Aydin is Associate Professor of History at UNC-CH.  Dr. Aydin’s research focuses on conflict and identity in the imperialist and post-colonial eras.  He is the author of The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought (2007).

Robin Kirk is the co-director of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute and a lecturer in Cultural Anthropology. As a Human Rights Watch researcher, Kirk documented the displacement of tens of thousands of people in Peru and Colombia in the 1980s through 2012.

Sarah Adamcyzk is a Lecturing fellow and Supervising Attorney at the International Human Rights Clinic (Duke Law). Before joining Duke Law in 2015, Ms. Adamczyk worked with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) for four years, running legal and humanitarian programs in the Gaza Strip, Jordan and Ukraine, coordinating legal assistance to displaced populations and conducting research, advocacy, and strategic litigation.

Hannadi Al-Samman is Associate Professor of Modern Arabic Literature at the University of Virginia.  Dr. Al-Samman received a Woodrow Wilson National Foundation Fellowship in 2009 and she recently published Anxiety of Erasure: Trauma, Authorship, and the Diaspora in Arab Women’s Writings (2015).

Khaled Saghieh began his career as a journalist at the Lebanese daily As-Safir. He was the deputy editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Akhbar until 2011. Between 2012 and 2015, Saghieh worked as editor-in-chief of the news department at the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI). Saghieh earned an MA in Economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Ammar al-Ma’moun is a Syrian cultural journalist, essayist, blogger and dramaturge. Al-Ma’moun recently moved to Paris after leaving Syria and is currently working on an MA in cultural studies at the Sorbonne (Paris 1).

Renée Ragin is a Ph.D. student in Literature at Duke with a focus on the negotiation of national identity in the wake of protracted political violence. Her geographic areas of focus are the Middle East and Latin America. She is a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State; her last post was in Saudi Arabia.

Ranjana Khanna is Professor of English, Women’s Studies, and the Literature program at Duke University.  Her work focuses on transnational feminism, as well as postcolonial theory and film.  Dr. Khanna is the author of Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism (2003) and Algeria Cuts: Women and Representation 1830 to the Present (2007).

David Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic, covering U.S. politics and global news.  A graduating member of Duke’s 2009 class and former editor-in-chief of the Duke student paper, the Chronicle, Mr. Graham currently sits on the board of the Duke Islamic Studies Center.

Zaid Khatib majors in Philosophy and Global Studies at UNC-CH with a concentration in the Middle East. As a Palestinian-American, he is familiar with the refugee narrative and is passionate about the rights of those forced to flee their homes.

Raghad Mardini is the founder and director of Art Residence Aley Lebanon, an NGO that supports Syrian artists by providing them with workspace in the Lebanese town of Aley.  Since 2012, the Aley center has hosted dozens of Syrian artists and assisted them in organizing and publicizing their artwork. 

Thao Nguyen majors in Arabic and global health at Duke University. She plans to attend medical school after a gap year in the Arab world. She became involved with Arab refugees through the Refugee Lives course and SuWA. She is president of Duke-Injaz, a campus organization that connects Arabic students to local Arab refugees.

Rebecca Joubin is Associate Professor and chair of Arab Studies at Davidson College. She conducted fieldwork in Syria for a decade. Her current research focuses on gender dynamics in post-uprising Syrian television drama.  Dr. Joubin is the author of The Politics of Love: Sexuality, Gender, and Marriage in Syrian Television Drama (2013)

Julie Whittaker is a Master in Public Affairs candidate at Princeton University and co-founder of The Amal Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes education and skills development for refugees in the Middle East. The Amal Scholarship Fund supports higher education for refugees through partnerships with U.S. university communities.

Fadi Skeiker is Associate Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Jordan and founder of the Amman Theatre Lab.  He has written on the experience of applied theatre in Jordanian refugee camps and how applied theatre can promote women’s empowerment.

Zeina G. Halabi is Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature and Culture at UNC-CH. Her latest work, Writing Melancholy: The Death of the Author in Modern Arabic Literature, engages the elegiac writings of contemporary Arab novelists and poets and explores the ways in which Arab writers, who identify with different literary and historical generations, have commemorated the deaths of their peers.

Faris Barakat is a Business Manager at Smart Courier, Inc. and a relative of Deah and Yusor Barakat and Razan Abu-Salha, whose murders in 2014 sparked grief and outrage in the Triangle region.  Mr. Barakat continues his brother Deah’s work with Syrian refugees through Project Refugee Smiles that established two dental clinics in Turkey.

Peter Cooke majors in Arab Cultures and premedical studies at UNC-CH. In 2015, he was awarded the UNC Burch Fellowship and spent two months in Paris, aiding recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. He is president of UNC-Injaz, a campus organization that connects Arabic students to local Arab refugees.

Sandy Alkoutami majors in Public Policy, Economics and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, at UNC-CH. As a Syrian, she has seen silence written on the mouths of its citizens. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, she explored refugee chronicles that reflected narratives of loved ones left behind in Syria.

Abdul Rahman Latif majors in Religion and Linguistics at Duke University. He has worked with and learned from refugees in Istanbul, Atlanta, and Durham. He is passionate about storytelling and liberation theology.

Lily Doron is a Program II major studying ethics, human rights, and documentary at Duke University. Through the Kenan Refugee Project, she has worked with local refugee youth and women and she has traveled to Jordan and Nepal with the Bass Connections team to conduct oral history interviews with refugees. 

Anne-Marie McManus is Assistant Professor of Modern Arabic Literature and Culture at Washington University St. Louis. Her forthcoming Of Other Languages: Arabic Literature, Lived Experience, and the Critique of Postcolonial Authoritarianism explores literature from Syria, Iraq, Algeria, and Morocco to develop a concept of induced untranslatability that writers use to reclaim language from state discourse and propaganda.

This is a Mellon Humanities Writ Large Project sponsored by DUMESC
Co-sponsored by: Duke Islamic Studies Center; Office of Global Affairs; Duke University Center for International Studies; and The Center for French and Francophone Studies.

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