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S.I.G.N. - Syrian International Geography Network

The S.I.G.N.-convention is already the second international Syria-conference hosted by the Department of Geography of Giessen University. At their first Syria conference in February 2016, the initiative “Syrian International Geography Network” (S.I.G.N.) had been established to facilitate communication, exchange and especially to be able to prepare project activities for reconstruction in a post-civil war Syria.

Following the network’s foundation and several announcements in the media (e.g. Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Phoenix), the platform of S.I.G.N. grew rapidly and Giessen became a veritable hub for willing partners for reconstruction. Meanwhile, not only geographers joined the community of the Syria network, so that it had been considered to rename the “G” in S.I.G.N. into “geoscientific“, as geologists, agronomists, hydrologists, soil scientists and meteorologists were increasingly interested. However, even this broadening idea would no longer work, because scientists from many other non-geoscientific disciplines have joined the network.

At the moment S.I.G.N is profiting greatly from its collaboration with architects and archaeologists, in particular in projects concerning the planning of rebuilding war-damaged cities or the Syrian cultural heritage. Coordination and mutual information are therefore the key tasks of S.I.G.N. This is highly important for the plans of Aleppo’s reconstruction.

Even though the current political and security situation does not allow to become active on site, time until then can be used efficiently.
Geographers from Giessen already have experience in academic reconstruction in Afghanistan. One of the “lessons learned“ since 2002 is the recognition, that the implementation of working, sustainable and reliable networks is one of the most important basic prerequisites for project activities in the field of reconstruction. This is exactly where S.I.G.N. is engaged.

The key contributor for the establishment of S.I.G.N. was Prof. Dr. Hussein Almohamad (University of Aleppo), an endangered scientist, who was first funded by the SRF (Scholar Rescue Fund) of the Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York and now by the Philipp-Schwartz-Initiative of the Alexander-von-Humboldt-Foundation. He currently works as a visiting professor at the Department of Geography at the University of Giessen. Geographers from various, more or less destroyed university locations (Aleppo, Deir-ez-Zor, Rakka, etc.) get together in Giessen for discourse, after they have come to Germany over very risky paths and refugee-routes.

In dealing with experiences made by refugees and the situation in the regions of their origin, sensitive interaction is required. Aside from a public registration S.I.G.N. therefore offers the possibility to register concealed, so the scientists can take an observer status. According to this, it is necessary to send differentiated applications to S.I.G.N. to Prof. Dr. Hussein Almohamad () or Dipl.-Geogr. André Staarmann ().

Within the forthcoming conference, S.I.G.N.’s current research foci will be covered in four thematic blocks. These are:

  • Prospects for Reconstruction in Syria
  • Rebuilding War-damaged Cities in Syria
  • Revitalizing the Syrian Economy
  • GIS and Remote-Sensing in Damage Assessment.