On Oct. 26, Colgate University hosted two members of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) for a panel conversation titled “Exposing War Crimes in Syria and the Connection to the Ukraine Crisis.” The event was sponsored by Colgate’s departments of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Russian and Eurasian Studies.
The panel was moderated by Associate Professor of History Noor-Aiman Khan, and panelists included SETF members Omar Alshogre and Olga Lautman as well as Professor of Anthropology Nancy Ries. Together, they discussed the Syria-Ukraine Network, activism, accountability, international conflicts, and accounts of atrocities in Syria.
The Syrian-Ukraine Network is a coalition of peace organizations working to expose Russian war crimes and publish truths from the conflicts happening in Syria and Ukraine. Common cause between Syrian and Ukrainian citizens prompted the union for collaboration and shared expertise during adversity.
“I came into the picture when the Syria-Ukraine Network was born,” Lautman said. “I started coordinating [Syrian] groups, based on their expertise, with Ukrainian groups in order to share practices and documentation efforts, as well as keep Syria in the news.”
Russia officially entered Syria in 2015, Lautman explained, and has been committing war crimes ever since. This year, as tensions rose between Russia and Ukraine, many Syrians realized that the citizens of Ukraine were dealing with a similar situation.
“Syrians have the experience and the tools to document war crimes,” Lautman said. “They have the best practice in the case of chemical attacks, and they wanted to share this with Ukrainians.” Beyond immediate survival techniques, network members from the two countries are also able to exchange methods for gathering facts and combating disinformation published by Russia.
Alshogre, a Syrian activist and detention survivor, fled his homeland at age 20 after being arrested and imprisoned for participating in demonstrations against the Syrian regime.
“People went out to the street, peacefully, holding flowers and olive branches in their hands, asking for their freedom. When we did not receive international support and our families were killed and our schools were bombed, people had to defend themselves,” said Alshogre. “Twenty eight days after the protests started, I was arrested for the first time by the Intelligence Services. When I was released for the first time, that’s when I realized that we needed to change everything we have in [Syria]. It is our right to have freedom and democracy, and we do not regret protesting even if we lose everything we have.”
An aggressive Russian regime, a repressive Syrian dictator — these are the consequences of long standing power structures, according to Lautman.
“One of the biggest issues is people like Putin sitting in power for 20 years; they find loopholes in our democracy and they exploit them. They count on different [United States] presidents, different foreign policy approaches, and they know that they are able to infiltrate and move money through into political parties and influence politicians internationally,” Lautman said.
There’s a science to the technique, said Ries. “Thinking about continuities of military personnel in a long stretch is important to understanding how militaries that weaponize atrocity and attacks on civilians do this in a scientific way — as a part of tactic and strategy,” she said. “It’s the perfection of their military strategy, but it’s also … the perfection of their disinformation campaign that absolutely diminishes the opportunity for accountability.”