Syria

Iraq/Syria

Survivor

Akram Al-Saud

Artists

Tobi Dahmen

Team

Research Cluster Co-Lead: Uğur Ümit Üngör (PhD)
Researcher: Kees Ribbens
Community Liaison: Leyla Ferman (Women for Justice)
Film Director & Photographer: Lidija Zelovic
Assistant Filmmaker:
Susan Koenen

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In February 2023, Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at NIOD, Uğur Ümit Üngör, introduced Syrian survivor Akram Al-Saud to our project team. Üngör has worked with Al-Saud for many years, as his unique story of surviving a series of Syrian prisons is featured and mentioned in the book Syrian Gulag: Inside Assad’s Prison System (London: I.B. Tauris, 2023). They met with graphic artist Tobi Dahmen in the Dutch cities of The Hague, Utrecht, and Amsterdam, allowing Tobi and Akram to connect and get to know each other within the project. As the Netherlands is small country with short distances, Tobi and Akram were able to meet quickly, in a rapid series of interviews, both at their home residences and at various cafés.

Beginning Conversations

Akram, Uğur, and Tobi in conversation.

The photographs in this carousel were taken by Susan Koenen.

Documentary Film - Coming Soon

Filming the documentary happened at the NIOD Institute in Amsterdam, where Tobi, Akram, and Uğur met on November 21, 2023. Documentary maker Lidija Zelović filmed an interview between Uğur and Akram, with Tobi drawing sketches and Susan Koenen taking photos. We were very fortunate that Tobi and Akram had already established a close relationship, and Uğur’s two-decade friendship with Lidija facilitated the group to spend time together, while the camera was running. Akram spoke of his childhood growing up in Damascus and visiting his grandfather’s farm in a village near the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. He recounted how regional, class, sectarian, and ethnic differences were not a problem in and of themselves, but were mobilized by the Assad regime in a complex interplay of cooptation of supporters and coercion against potential dissidents. Part of that coercion was the Assad regime’s vast system of arrest, imprisonment, and torture.

Putting the methodology to the test

In April 2024, Uğur Ümit Üngör (NIOD) and Peter Klein (UBC) joined us for a conversation about the challenges of visual communication as part of our Art and Testimony webinar series.

When is the camera a tool of violence? How can the creation of graphic novels uphold the agency of the survivor and what does this look like in practice? These questions guide the ongoing work of the Syria Research Cluster.

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