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Accepted Paper:

Land, Trees, and People: Rooted and Uprooted lives in Afrin, Syria  
Katharina Lange (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient)

Paper Short Abstract:

The paper asks how human and arboreal biographies in Afrin/Syria intertwine materially and metaphorically. It probes how in forced displacement, representations of human-tree-relations may express (dis)connectedness to specific places through analogies and metaphors as well as practices of planting.

Paper Abstract:

Syria’s Afrin region shows that the displacement of agrarian populations may add material and embodied layers to metaphors of up-/re-/rooting, which are often used to describe forced displacement and emplacement of humans in conflict situations.

In Afrin, agriculture, notably olive cultivation, has long sustained livelihoods, provided income and work; and has been closely associated with specific local, ethnic, and political identities. The region’s occupation by Islamist militias under Turkish control in 2018 brought far-reaching demographic, political and ecological change. It not only displaced a large part of the region’s Kurdish population to refugee camps in Syria, to neighbouring countries or to Europe, and brought an influx of settlers opposed to the Asad regime (many of them forcibly displaced themselves). Violence has also touched the non-human population. Since 2018, thousands of olive trees have been cut, sold, and uprooted, literally putting an end to long-standing, rooted connections between farmers and their land. On the other hand, parties on different sides of the conflict have engaged in tree planting projects, investing ostentatious acts of “rooting” with heavy symbolic and political claims to territory.

Drawing from reports and accounts on social media as well as conversations with former inhabitants of the region, the presentation maps these violent changes, asking how analogies drawn between human and arboreal lives and deaths serve to support political claims. It traces how uprooted humans from Afrin seek to put down new roots through practices of planting in places of exile, and probes the limits of vegetal translocal connections.

Panel P204
Roots and their undoing: ethnographies of connection and dislocation
  Session 2 Wednesday 24 July, 2024, -