University of Pittsburgh
May 9, 2013

Pitt Experts on Humanitarian Intervention, Political Islam Available to Comment on Syrian Civil War

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—As civil war in Syria has stretched past the two-year mark, the prospects for an end to the conflict—and for the country’s long-term recovery—remain uncertain. The University of Pittsburgh has faculty experts available to discuss the unfolding situation in Syria.

Taylor Seybolt, assistant professor in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, is available to speak about humanitarian intervention and civilian casualties.

Seybolt has authored Humanitarian Military Intervention: the Conditions for Success and Failure (Oxford University Press, 2007) and has coedited Counting Civilian Casualties: an Introduction to Recording and Estimating Nonmilitary Deaths in Conflict (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). He served as director of Pitt’s Ford Institute for Human Security from 2009 to 2011 and was also a senior program officer at the United States Institute of Peace, where he established grant-making programs in Nigeria and Sudan.

“Military units could provide security for aid organizations, but it is unlikely most aid organizations would want to be associated with a foreign military force,” Seybolt said. “More importantly, inserting troops, even for humanitarian purposes, would very likely escalate the violence and make the situation worse, not better.”

Considering the difficulties of estimating casualties in the conflict, Seybolt said, “It is very difficult to figure out the number of people killed in any conflict, and Syria is no different. The estimates reported in the news media are probably roughly correct, but they are surely imprecise. For purposes of figuring out who did what to whom, we need to dig much more deeply than even the difficult task of discerning the aggregate number of people who have died.”

Seybolt can be reached at 412-624-8691 or

Jennifer Murtazashvili, assistant professor in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, is available to discuss the Islamist movement in Syria, the nature of the rebellion against the regime, Syria’s prospects for postwar reconstruction, and the challenges the situation poses for U.S. foreign policy.

Murtazashvili teaches courses in political Islam, state building, and post-conflict reconstruction. She also has conducted extensive fieldwork in Afghanistan.

“In the long term, Syria’s prospects for recovery are fairly good,” Murtazashvili said. “Many of the urban centers have been hurt, but the country hasn’t been completely destroyed.”

Murtazashvili compared the challenges facing Syria with those of neighboring Iraq. “There’s a very serious sectarian conflict brewing that has a lot of regional players heavily involved, even more so than was the case in Iraq,” she said. “And I think that’s why a lot of people are very apprehensive about engaging in Syria, because our memory of engaging in Iraq isn’t necessarily a pleasant one.”

Murtazashvili can be contacted at 412-877-8763 or