Genesis and evolution of parallel economies during the Syrian crisis: A political economy view

  • Igor Matveev Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia, Moscow State Institute of International Relations, MGIMO University, 119454 Moscow City, Russia
Keywords: political economy; armed conflict in Syria; parallel economy; economy of divided cities; siege economy; autonomous administration of North and East Syria; ISIL/ISIS; Syrian Interim Government; Syrian Salvation Government; Idlib


A highly internationalized domestic armed conflict in Syria, active since 2011, has caused deep territorial fragmentation, accompanied by the genesis of numerous parallel economies. Those include the economy of the self-proclaimed “Kurdish autonomy” encompassing the northeast, partially the north and the east of the country, as well as the historical transboundary criminal-terrorist economy of the “Islamic State of Syria and the Levant” (ISIL or ISIS) (this organization is banned in the Russian Federation), which existed during 2014–2019 in Iraq and Syria, the economy of “the Turkish occupation zone” in the north, and finally the economy of the part of the north-western Idlib province, remaining under control of the radical Syrian opposition. Unlike the previous materials on the Syrian conflict published in Russia and abroad, the author analyzes parallel economies from the angle of political economy, i.e., the “state-economy-individual” trichotomy, using current and retrospective lenses. In addition to a scope of Russian, English, and Arabic resources and literature, he uses the data obtained empirically during his previous stint as a senior diplomat at the Russian Embassy in Damascus. In certain cases the reviews are illustrated by the statistics. The article covers the genesis and evolution of parallel economies, including the phenomena of divided cities and siege economies, highlighting the restrictions on the access of the central authorities to the state borders and the dissolution of transport and communications. Besides, it analyses the external orientations of parallel economies, in many cases being tied more to the neighbor states (Türkiye, Iraq) than the rest of Syria. In conclusion, the author compares the levels of sustainability of the parallel economies in Syria in the light of perspectives for national economic reintegration. Which could be important not in scientific terms only but as a practical imperative for seeking the modalities of a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis as well.


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