A dozen Syrian women scheduled to perform the play “Syria: Trojan Women” on campus later this month will no longer be coming to Georgetown, after the U.S. government denied their visa applications.
The women, who are currently living as refugees in Amman, Jordan, are not permitted to enter the United States because of uncertainty about whether they will leave.
“These women so clearly have been through so much and have such a powerful story to tell. They have a chance to be one of the very few and rare humanizing voices we hear out of the Syrian conflict,” Davis Center for Performing Arts Artistic Director Derek Goldman, co-founding director of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, said. “It seems absurd that in 2014 there shouldn’t be a way to move such an extraordinary and well-documented project from one free country to another with some sense of protection and support for the work they’ve done to tell their story.”
The production reworks Euripides’s “Trojan Women” to include the stories of the refugees. The event at Georgetown was scheduled to be the group’s first performance outside of the Middle East. The performance at Georgetown was supposed to launch Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics’s Myriad Voices: A Cross Cultural Performance Festival, a two-year program series that will focus on generating a deeper understanding of Muslim communities around the world. The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics is a joint initiative between the School of Foreign Service and the Theater and Performance Studies Program.
“We really wanted to have the chance to give the women the platform to tell their stories and to tell them through this incredible production,” Ambassador Cynthia Schneider, the other co-founding director for the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, said. “This play that was written 2,500 years ago about the devastating impact of war, particularly on women suffering the impact of defeat, resonates so strongly with a situation today.”
The State Department’s decision came after months of communication with the Jordanian embassy and top-ranking consulate officers in the State Department on behalf of the 12 women.
“We had been working for about nine months, very steadily and on a daily basis on the visas for these women. We were fortunate to be able to hire a top immigration attorney,” Schneider said. “We have left no stone unturned.”
Evidence such as documentation proving that the women have young children in Jordan and will leave the United States to act in scheduled performances around the world did not prove sufficient in convincing the State Department that the refugees do not plan to stay in the United States, Goldman said.
The group is scheduled to perform in Switzerland in November, and the Swiss government has already approved their visas.
“We hope that if we do go to Switzerland and return from Switzerland, that will be an added piece of information in their favor and we could then potentially reapply with that piece of information,” Schneider said.
In lieu of the play, the festival will commence Sept. 19 with a summit about “Syria: Trojan Women.” The summit will include video footage from the production, a conversation with the show’s artistic team and producers and a forum with policy experts who will talk about the situation in Syria. There will also be a live video chat with the group of women in Amman.
“The summit is basically a solidarity event and an awareness and advocacy event in a moment for the community to come together around this project and hear from the women,” Goldman said.
Additionally, Goldman said that he hopes that the summit will garner attention about the visa denial.
“There’s been a lot of impassioned response in reaction to this news from everyone from government officials to the press,” Goldman said. “I think awareness is the first step. People are feeling outraged that they missed something.”
Schneider and Goldman will continue to work with the State Department and the Jordanian embassy to bring the women to the United States. They are calling the cancellation of this month’s scheduled performance an “indefinite postponement.”
“We certainly hold out hope that the project has a future life in person in the United States and indeed at Georgetown, but we also are realistic about … how difficult the challenges of getting that to change are going to be,” Goldman said. “We believe there could be a way, but it’s going to take some imagination and some open-mindedness and open-heartedness on the part of a range of people including state department officials to really see the reality of the situation.”
Amin Gharad (COL ’16) said that he was disappointed to hear that the refugees will not be coming to campus this month. Gharad, along with 13 other Georgetown students, met four of the 12 Syrian women in the production last month during the Office of Global Education’s Summer in Amman program.
“Spending an evening in Amman with these inspiring women and hearing their stories, in their voices, on their terms, brought the Syrian crisis to life in a painfully real, but necessary, way,” Gharad wrote in an email. “Their visit would’ve gifted us with true voices from a conflict that are often lost in the sea of figures and detached reports. It’s shameful that realpolitik and selfishness could be allowed to stonewall such an opportunity and bring further difficulty to individuals who have already suffered so much.”