News & Events

Who gets to ask the questions? Media, academics and NGOs at risk in the Near East

March 10, 2021

When: Thursday, March 11, 2021, 12:30 p.m. - 1:45 p.m.
Where: Virtual panel discussion
Sponsors: This panel is organized within the context of VCU Media and Society course (SOCY370), as part of Student-Faculty Engagement Committee (SFEC) event series.


Prior to the presentation by the speakers, Dr. Volkan Aytar will provide a general background on how the media, the universities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are being threatened in the Near East countries. With the rise of political authoritarianism and cultural conservatism, state and non-state actors step up their efforts to silence alternative voices from civil society. Media organizations and professionals come under increasing legal and informal pressures, while the university academics are sacked and are unable to enjoy their freedom of expression. Sometimes, scientific work that may be seen as "threatening" for those in power are targeted. In many cases, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) their professionals are criminalized for their work, including being targeted by pro-government media outlets and internet trolls.

While this panel discussion will concentrate on the cases of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Kurdish region as well as Lebanon, we will try to highlight that the question of "who gets to ask the questions" is worthwhile to pose in the US too. The discussion will be followed by a Q & A session when we hope to open up a lively conversation to address the present and future of democracy, freedom of expression and civil societal actors.

Hanzade Germiyanoglu's presentation is entitled "Between a rock and a hard place: Change Agents in Young Democracies." She will discuss the similarities and differences of work by scholars, journalists and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Professionals. She will also address the issue of how they are perceived by authoritarian governments in developing democracies.

Sirwan Kajjo's presentation is entitled “Media Professionals in Peril: Syria, Iraq, Kurdish region and Lebanon." He will discuss the ways in which both states and non-state actors threaten the work of journalists and other media professionals.


hanzade germiyanoglu holding a feather

Hanzade Germiyanoglu

Following her international relations and human rights law studies at the university, she got engaged in social change, working several years at a grant making foundation, developing programs geared towards vulnerable communities. With the growing refugee crisis in the Middle East, she shifted her focus to humanitarian work and coordinated programs for national and international organizations in the region. She has been a facilitator in social justice movement spaces in Turkey and the Middle East for over a decade now. In late 2018, her experience with refugees suddenly went from professional to deeply personal, when her own government tried to silence voices of dissent in the country through prosecuting her and 15 other civil society leaders with egregious criminal allegations related to a world-renowned non-violent activism movement. Currently based in Washington, DC, Hanzade serves as YES!'s Coordinator of Community Learning and Partnership and she is exploring new ways of living and creating a community and a home for herself and others like her.

sirwan kajjo

Sirwan Kajjo

Sirwan Kajjo works as a multimedia journalist for Voice of America (VOA), where he focuses on Islamic militancy, extremism, and conflict in the Middle East and beyond. Prior to joining VOA, he worked for a number of news outlets and research centers in Washington and abroad. Sirwan started his journalism career in 2006 when he worked as a correspondent for an Iraqi Kurdish news channel in Beirut, Lebanon. He has written two book chapters on Syrian Kurds, published by Indiana University Press (2013) and Cambridge University Press (2020). He is also the author of Nothing but Soot, a novel set in Syria. Sirwan Kajjo's presentation does not represent the views of VOA.

Vokan Aytar

Volkan Aytar

Volkan Aytar received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Amsterdam. His recent academic work concentrated on the processes of gentrification and the patterns of leisure consumption in multicultural cities including Istanbul and Amsterdam. He previously worked as the director of Bahcesehir University (BAU) Creative Industries Center and as the chair of the Department of New Media at BAU Faculty of Communication in Istanbul, Turkey where he taught for the last decade. He was a guest researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Ethnic and Religious Diversity in Goettingen, Germany. Apart from his academic studies, he worked as an administrator at the non-governmental sector in Istanbul, coordinating research and advocacy activities geared towards supporting Turkey’s democratization efforts. He has previously taught sociology at Sabanci University, Istanbul. In the US, he taught at the State University of New York at Binghamton, Department of Sociology. While in New York, he also worked as an editorial staff member for the Political Handbook of the World.

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