Memory and Justice

Saydnaya: Inside a Syrian Torture Prison

Memory and Justice: An exchange between art, law and civil society on human rights abuses, torture and methods of addressing past wrongs

Berlin, 29 September – 1 October 2016

Saydnaya Military Prison, 30 km north of Damascus, is one of the Syrian government’s most notorious torture and detention centres. Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria in 2011, thousands of regime opponents, including both peaceful demonstrators and military personnel have been held and tortured there. Many died in custody.  No journalist or independent monitoring groups have been allowed in. In 2016, Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International met with a number of former detainees now refugees in Turkey. Using spatial and acoustic modelling they help them reconstruct the architecture of the prison, their experiences of incarceration and incidents that took place inside. As the witnesses measured rooms, located windows, doors and objects and reconstructed the soundscapes of the prison, memories otherwise obscured by trauma and violence have returned.

The symposium Memory and Justice created a platform for interdisciplinary debates – spanning various epochs and regions – on legal proceedings, inquiries and other state responses to grave crimes and the extent of civil society participation in these processes. Forensic Architecture exhibited Saydnaya: Inside Syrian Torture Prison as a paradigmatic case where architecture reveals the role of memory in contemporary political conflict.

The project was exhibited as a video installation of eight synchronised channels with open ambient sound.


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