Monday, 11 December 2017

Stories Of Syria's Uprising, And Its Backyard Funerals, In 'Gardens Speak'

 'Tania El Khoury splits her time between London and Beirut, where she helped found an artists' collective. Three years ago, moved by stories she was hearing about the Syrian uprising, she created an interactive work called "Gardens Speak." It grew out of an image she saw of a mother digging a grave for her son in her home garden because public funerals had become too dangerous.

 "I didn't know that this was happening," El Khoury says. "And I started to collect these stories and interviews. And this is when I had the idea that gardens can now speak all of these stories that [have] been buried in them."

 One grave tells the story of a man identified as Abdel Wahid. He tells visitors — lying down with their heads close to his tombstone — that after taking part in protests against President Bashar Assad's regime, he was detained and tortured. When he was released, he joined the resistance.

 "I don't know how," his testimony reads. "But I don't care about anything other than taking part in the revolution.

 "The army had intensified its attack. I ran quickly. I was in such a hurry that I wore my T-shirt backwards. I carried my rifle. And then before I could use it, I was shot 10 times from afar."

 "Gardens Speak" was first mounted in Lebanon in 2014 — in Arabic. Since then, it's been translated to English, French and Italian, and traveled widely. It opened in Miami Beach two days after the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration's ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim countries to go forward.

 That gives new perspective to stories like those of Abdel Wahid, whose family buried him quietly, out of sight in their home garden.

 "They put me under the pomegranate tree my mother planted for me," his testimony reads. "There were no other noises than the sound of shelling and soil falling on me, bit by bit." '

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Demonstrators of Syrian Liberated areas rejecting Trump's decision and solidarity with Jerusalem

Demonstrators of Syrian Liberated areas rejecting Trump's decision and solidarity with Jerusalem (Photos - Video)

 'Mass demonstrations broke out in several liberated areas of north and south Syria on Thursday, rejecting the decision of US President "Donald Trump" on the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the US Embassy to the Arabic city.

 The demonstrations took place in the town of Azaz and Mare' in the northern countryside of Aleppo, in addition to organizing a solidarity stand with Jerusalem in the town of Ma'rat al-Nu'man in the governorate of Idlib.

 Hundreds of children with the teaching staff at the Hamuriya school in the besieged eastern Ghouta carried out a protest against the Trump decision and solidarity with the Palestinians.

"The Syrian activists and the Palestinian Authority of Syria called for demonstrations and attended by the people of the area in addition to the Palestinian refugees," one of the organizers of the demonstration in the city of Azaz said.

It is noteworthy that hundreds of demonstrations rejecting Trump's decision came out in many Arab and Islamic countries while the Assad regime-held areas have seen nothing to protest such great incident.'

Demonstrators of Syrian Liberated areas rejecting Trump's decision and solidarity with Jerusalem (Photos - Video)

Syria: the revolution is alive, but buried under rubble

 'The Syrian revolution is “still there, but it is buried under all this rubble”, the writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh told a London audience on Tuesday.

 The situation facing Syrian civil society was formed in layers, Saleh said.

 The first layer was the first two years of the revolution (2011-13), when there was an explosion of collective community action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

 The second layer was the struggle of regional powers including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey who feared the spread of popular rebellion.

 The third layer was the intervention in Syria of American and Russian forces in 2014.

 The world had stood by when the Assad regime launched a chemical attack on civilians at Ghouta in 2013: after that, Syrians had felt “isolated and betrayed”, Saleh said.

 Those who had participated in the revolution were “exhausted”, he continued. A quarter of the population had been displaced, many of whom were now living outside the country.

 The regime was being restored, with the support of the international powers, but none of the economic and social problems that caused the 2011 uprising had been solved. Even Syrians who were not opposed to the regime wanted their lives to change for the better, and no such change is likely.

 Outside Syria, Saleh said, groups of activists are working in the field of culture, and on human rights issues.

 “We are still in struggle. We are not pessimists”, he said.

 Saleh was speaking over skype to a meeting on Tuesday organised by the Syrian Society of students at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He is a long-standing radical political activist, a political prisoner under the Assad regime (1980-1996) and the author of The Impossible Revolution, published this year in English.

 Saleh argued that the Syrian revolution faced three “monsters”: the Assad regime (“fascists in neckties”), the Salafist militia (“fascists with beards”) and the “world order” headed by the USA and Russia.

 Saleh responded passionately to a question about whether any of the sides could be regarded as a “lesser evil”.

 “It’s disgusting and unethical to talk about a ‘lesser evil’. It’s despicable that the great powers now base their Syrian policy on Bashar al-Assad, who has been responsible for 90% of the destruction and responsible for gassing his own people.”

 These evil actors on all sides had to be confronted. The Syrian people had resisted both the regime and the Islamists, “and we were betrayed”, he said.

 The meeting on Tuesday, addressed by Saleh and researcher Husam Al-Katlaby, was held to highlight the case of four Syrian community activists, victims of forced disappearance: Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hammadeh, Samira Al-Khalil and Nazem Hammadi.

 The four were kidnapped in December 2013 from their workplace, the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC), in the city of Douma. There has been no news of their whereabouts since.

 The VDC monitors human rights violations committed by all actors in Syria. The four were all active participants in the revolution, and, before that, in struggles against the Assad regime.

 Razan Zaitouneh, a human rights lawyer, defended political prisoners in Syria since 2001. She helped establish the VDC and co-founded the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), among other organisations.

 Samira Al-Khalil is a long-time political activist, and had been detained by the Syrian authorities as a result. She worked to help women in Douma support themselves by starting small income-generating projects.

 Wa’el Hamada was an active member of the VDC and a co-founder of the LCC network.

 Nazem Hammadi is a Syrian human rights lawyer and poet, who played a crucial role in providing humanitarian assistance to besieged civilians.

 In his opening talk to Tuesday’s meeting, Yassin al-Haj Saleh – who is the husband of Samira Al-Khalil and a good friend of the other Douma 4 activists – spoke from a personal standpoint about the effect of forced disappearances on the victims’ families.

 “Death dies – forced disappearance kills”, he said. While the effect of the loss of a loved one who has died gradually reduces over time, the suffering of the families of people who have been forcibly disappeared grows over time, he said.

 Researcher Husam Al-Katlaby, the chief executive of the VDC, also addressed Tuesday’s meeting. He said that, in total, the number of victims of forced disappearance in Syria is estimated at between 75,000 and 85,000.'

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Siege versus prison in Assad’s Syria: a comparison

 Osama Nassar:

 'Many are the cities and neighborhoods that have been besieged in the past, in Syria and around the world. A number of them remain so to this day. It’s not news to anyone that the Assad regime has used besiegement as one of its most effective weapons against areas outside its control, where ‘outside its control’ here refers only to the regime’s inability to physically detain the areas’ residents. The regime’s fire, of course, can still reach any area it likes, as can its fighter jets, and certainly its chemical weapons. It goes without saying, too, that the regime uses detention and torture till death against its opponents as yet more tools of subjugation brought back from bygone eras.

 The situation in Ghouta, however, is different. The siege here is not like the siege of Gaza, or Leningrad, or Vienna, or Qatar. And without wishing to belittle any suffering, past or present, inflicted on any of the world’s persecuted peoples, the word ‘siege’ seems insufficient to describe what is happening in East Ghouta.

 It is not merely a besieged neighborhood, but resembles instead a concentration camp; a giant lockup containing half a million humans. A concentration camp readied for genocide by gas or incineration. Ghouta, like other areas, has been struck with banned chemical gas multiple times, of which the worst—so far—was that of the summer of 2013. Near Ghouta, the regime created a crematorium inside Saydnaya prison, in which to burn those killed by torture, or starvation, or cold, or lack of medical treatment, or other, unconventional causes of death invented by minds whose creativity is confined to the production of death and ugliness.

 The siege is often compared to prison, and ex-prisoners often find benefits in the practical and psychological skills they learned in jail, dealing with the hardships of siege as people of experience. The reverse can also happen: that the prison experience increases their ordeal under siege, particularly when the jailor of yesterday is the same as the besieger of today.

 In prison, you are inside a (communal) cell. If the jailor brings you food—any food—you eat, and if he doesn’t, the hunger will contort you, perhaps to death. It might be that food comes, but medicine doesn’t, or medicine comes that’s of no use to your condition, or is expired. You don’t know when you’ll be released, or when your circumstances might improve, and you don’t know what you can do, or stop doing, to change your situation.

 You find yourself using gadgets it had never before occurred to you existed, let alone that you’d use them. You enter a world wondrous in its inventions and alternatives: alternative electricity and water networks; an alternative hospital; alternative medicine; alternative transport; alternative fuel; alternative power; alternative food; alternative agricultural soil; alternative residence; an alternative family; an alternative loaf of bread…

 The besieged dream of the opening of the road, in the way that the imprisoned dream of the emptying of the prisons or the issuance of an amnesty.

 The besieged live in terror of bombardment, while the perennial terror of the imprisoned is to be called for interrogation.

 Under siege, as in prison, the vocabulary narrows and is abridged, so that a group of mostly locally-hewn words and terms suffices, or a vocabulary that previously existed acquires new local meanings. Thus:

 Injured = Returned from interrogation

 Abducted = Was in our cell, and we don’t know what happened to him

 Sound of airstrike = The knocking of the iron bolt of the cell door

 Ceasefire = Outdoor time

 The siege vocabulary: firewood – piston – generators – 12 volts – shrapnel – al-manfush (a notoriously extortionate seller of dairy products in besieged Douma) – tunnel – airstrike – martyr – wannana (the buzzing sound of drones) – security official – humanitarian aid – under the rubble.

 The prison vocabulary: sufra (literally ‘dining table;’ but in this case a piece of cloth placed on the ground underneath food) – solitary – lice comb – kreeza (fit of craziness) – insubordination – Abu Haydar (stock name for prison guard) – bowl – jailor – shawish (an inmate who communicates with the guards on behalf of the others) – tasyeef (being unable, for space reasons, to sleep on one’s back, thus having to sleep on one’s side) – air vent – dulab (car tire, inside which prisoners are forced as a means of torture) – the interpretation of dreams.

 In prison, and in East Ghouta, you are not permitted to receive visits. Your family and loved ones are meters away from you, but many years may pass without you seeing them or them seeing you.

 If you’re a student, your classmates graduate from university, and might take up further studies, while you stay ruminating on your woes, and the memories of the months you spent with them on campus, or on the seats of the amphitheaters, or in the library and the college cafeteria. If you’re an employee, you lose your employment, and your salary, and your career, and your colleagues. If you have a father or a mother, you don’t attend their funerals, or anyone else’s. If you are a father, your children grow up far away from you, as you do as well. You don’t make the acquaintance of your nephews and nieces, nor do they make yours. Your fiancée grows old and withers, as do you. You’re deprived of cities, and countries, and places—and they’re deprived, too.

 The mother residing in Damascus sees her émigré son in the diaspora more often than she does her other son besieged/imprisoned a stone’s throw away in East Ghouta.

 When you’re imprisoned, for one of your acquaintances to ask about your location or your fate is deemed a risk that could cost them an exorbitant price. And, likewise, when you’re besieged, if a friend contacts you from a non-besieged area, they are gambling with their life.

 In both cases, every detail of your life is governed by what those other than you decide.

 You withdraw within yourself, and rot. Your greatest skills are counting, dreaming, and being tortured.

 However good or bad your situation is in prison, you don’t leave it; indeed it’s forbidden that you change your cell for another one. Transferring inmates from one prison to another is a complicated matter, mostly done as a punitive measure, as with the transferral of an inmate from Adra prison to Saydnaya, or to the desert prison, or from Hama Central prison to Homs’ al-Baluna, or returning a prisoner to one of the torture branches from which he was previously sent. And, by analogy: transferring the besieged in Qudsaya, Daraya, East Aleppo, or al-Wa’er to Idlib, or returning them to the ‘embrace of the nation’ (i.e., regime-controlled areas).

 None of the usual givens is a given in prison or under siege: food, drink, coffee, going to the bathroom, showering, sleeping, light, colors, air, the mother’s touch. Diseases and epidemics thought by medicine to have been extinct make a return. Ailments not normally fatal—indeed easily treatable—can take the lives of the besieged or imprisoned. Whether myiasis, gangrene, or polio in East Ghouta; scabies in Saydnaya; diarrhea in the Air Force Intelligence prison; or a simple cut inflicted in one of the State Security Branch cells; it will aggravate and suppurate in the contaminated air crammed with mounds of humans and their waste, until it becomes fatal.

 In the summer of 2003, in the ‘Palestine Branch’ detention facility of the military intelligence in Damascus, a man in his fifties suffering a heart attack needed to be rushed to hospital. The shawish knocked on the cell door, and when the guard arrived, everyone inside the cell—including the vicious ones—implored him to summon a doctor, or at least fetch a pill, for their dying cellmate. “When he dies, knock on the door so we remove the corpse,” came the reply. And that, indeed, is what they did.

 In the fall of 2017, in East Ghouta, after much effort, delegations from the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the Red Crescent, and others inspected the emergency evacuation list prepared by the doctors of Ghouta. The list comprised 500 cases of grave illness requiring immediate treatment unavailable in Ghouta. They saw the patients with their own eyes, and expressed sympathy and concern, and promised all would be well. Then they got back in their Land Cruisers and left the emergency evacuation list to await death. And death, indeed, came to them.

 Death alone broke the siege for the young man Nabil, afflicted with cancer, making him the tenth person so far to be liberated from the list. The child, Osama, preceding Nabil on the list, was in need of a box of medicine that can be bought from any pharmacy outside the East Ghouta concentration camp. Before Osama and Nabil, the girl Aisha spat on the list, and on this wretched world, as she departed from it. And before them, and after them, the only thing that succeeds in lifting the siege of Ghouta, and raising them above the subjugation and shabbiness of the world, is death.

 In 2000, in the Air Force Intelligence prison in Mazze airbase, the guard shouted to the shawish: “How many do you have?” The shawish replied, “28,” so he threw him, in the food bowl, a single spoon smeared with halawa (a sweet substance).

 In 2017, after a long wait, a supposedly ‘large’ UN aid convoy arrived to East Ghouta containing food insufficient for a single meal for each of the half a million besieged. We don’t know if the convoy came with the phrase “Hopefully it’s poisoned,” as the prison guard in the Mazze airbase yelled while slapping the stunned expression on the face of the shawish, who carried the spoon of halawa to the 28 starving inmates.

 Prisoners grow suspicious of any improvement in the guards’ dealings with them, such as a reduction in torture, or an improvement in the food, or a promise of release. They’ve learned that such things are bad omens; liable to be followed by ‘execution parties,’ or exacerbations of one kind or another.

 The besieged, likewise, have grown accustomed to ‘breakthroughs,’ such as the opening of the road, or the entrance of aid, being accompanied by escalations in massacres and punishments. The arrival of a UN aid convoy comes with virtually unending bombardment beforehand, and afterward, and sometimes even during.

 These are not isolated, one-off cases, which makes them something to think about, perhaps, for those searching for the causes of extremism and the flourishing of nihilist thought in this subjugating, and subjugated, world.

 Both in prison and under siege, both the highest and lowest of what lies in the soul are brought out, for yourself and those around you. You see manifestations of love and sagacity and altruism, as well as hatred and depravity and selfishness and treachery. You get lost in existential questions about rebuking the starving or the naked or the imprisoned if they seek to meet the natural needs of mankind.

 In prison, you’re a loser at all times: the whips hurt you if it’s your turn for the torture festivities, and you’re also pained as you count the whips shredding your cellmate. And under siege, the hunger bites you, and you writhe in pain, and you’re no happier if you eat, as long as the whip of starvation lashes the poor fellow next to you.

 Your productivity is linked to the extent of your conviction about the immutability of the situation; that is, what the inmates call your istihbas, which is your dealing with imprisonment as a permanent, unchangeable reality. Your thoughts of the imminent opening of the road, and other ‘breakthroughs,’ increase your suffering, and impede your acclimatization.

 You’re astonished by your ability, or the ability of your imprisoned/besieged colleagues, to persist; to persist in anything, even moving and breathing and the rest of the vital functions.

 Your aspirations and dreams diminish in size. The utmost that the prisoner in one of the torture branches desires is to sleep on his back, or to stretch his body out fully. In one of the lockups, a young man confided in his cellmate his wish: to ride the Mazzat Jabal-Karajat service from start to finish. And in one of the towns of East Ghouta, a young girl longed for a cup of coffee in the Sarouja market.

 Should it happen that you exit from this prison/siege, you’ll remain encumbered with many scars, on body and soul. You’re supposed to have acquired the blessings of comfort and plenitude, and, most importantly, the blessing of freedom. Yet the bad news is you won’t live them once you attain them. It’s true you’ll carry your scars as medals, which may provide a source of power if you survive, but at the same time the survivors’ guilt will prevent you from carrying on your life as others do.

 Finally, there are people sharing the imprisonment/siege with you whose fundamental mission is to increase your suffering, and that of the rest of your unfortunate counterparts. It might be that the jailor commissions them to execute this task, or they may do it of their own volition. And the jailor is certainly pleased whenever they relieve him of the work of torturing you, and imprison you a second time inside your imprisonment.' logo

Saturday, 2 December 2017

No stability without liberty

 Jean-Pierre Filiu:

 'Syria has been undergoing a revolutionary process since 2011, while the Assad regime unleashed a ruthless counter-revolution under the pretence of a “civil war.” I never thought such “war” could be won or lost by any party, but I do believe that introducing war dynamics was a deadly trap laid by the Assad regime to divert most of the revolutionary energies into a desperate fight for survival. I spent part of the summer of 2013 in the “liberated” part of Aleppo, which had been under the control, for a year at the time, of the revolutionary forces. The military dimension of the confrontation between “liberated” East Aleppo and “loyalist” West already appeared to me as being secondary when compared with the crucial development of an alternative self-government in the “liberated” areas. This is what the Assad dictatorship and its unconditional backers in Russia and Iran wanted to suppress at any cost: the very possibility of an alternative. I was appalled when the “liberated” East thought it could “conquer” West Aleppo during the summer of 2016. This military delusion led to the collapse of the following autumn. So it is now obvious that the Assad regime cannot be defeated militarily. But I never thought it could be. Likewise, I never thought the dictatorship could “win” since it can only conquer ruins rather than cities.

 It has to be crystal-clear that, for the Assad regime, the so-called “reconstruction” is the continuation of its merciless war against its own people, now using other means. There is absolutely no possibility for a credible, sustainable, and inclusive reconstruction if operated under the sponsorship of such a dictatorship. First, because this regime will treat as hostile the populations in the areas formerly held by the opposition, prevent their return home, and coerce the remaining inhabitants. Second, because the so-called “reconstruction” is the only way for the Assad regime to pay part of the colossal debt it has accumulated towards its Russian and Iranian patrons. Criminal networks connected with the centers of power in Moscow (or Grozny, for the Chechens) and Tehran (or Beirut, for Hezbollah) are already active in this very profitable business. Donors have to understand once and for all that the Assad regime is not a state interested in the welfare of its citizens but a regime obsessed by its own logic of predation and suppression. Such a regime would never hesitate to refuse any international aid that would come with even a minimal string attached. There should be no hope of using the “carrot” of reconstruction money to extract any concession from the Assad regime. Contributing to the so-called “reconstruction” of Syria in those circumstances means collaborating with a dictatorship accused of the worst crimes against its own people.

 My main thesis in From Deep State to Islamic State is that dictatorships unleashed—voluntarily in Syria, involuntarily in Egypt—unbridled jihadi violence in order to catch the revolutionary forces in a crossfire, forcing them to fight on both sides. Obviously, [Abd al-Fattah] Sisi’s coup in Egypt, in July 2013, despite the unprecedented repression that has followed ever since, has not managed to counter the steady escalation of jihadi violence, first in the Sinai peninsula, now on the Egyptian mainland. As such, pure military repression cannot defeat the jihadi threat it contributes to nurture, even when the balance of power between the Egyptian army and the jihadi insurgency is at least one hundred to one in favor of the security forces.

 The situation was very different in Syria, when the first major defeat of ISIS unfolded through the “second revolution” launched by anti-Assad forces in January 2014 in the northern and eastern parts of the country. But the Assad regime, and of course Russia and Iran, were more interested in crushing those very forces that had defeated ISIS than in fighting jihadists. Remember that ISIS could regain control over Palmyra, already under its domination from May 2015 to March 2016, while the pro-Assad forces were too busy fighting the opposition in Aleppo in December 2016. It is only last March that ISIS was finally ousted from Palmyra. If you compare ISIS today with the first “Islamic State in Iraq,” proclaimed in 2006 and largely defeated in 2007, ISIS is now much stronger, with a vast range of branches over the Middle East and beyond. And the same factors that allowed ISIS to strike back after 2007 are still there, just much worse, with at their forefront the exclusion of the local populations from decision making processes.

 The fall of the “wall of fear” in the Arab world in 2011 was as important for the fate of Europe as the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. But only a minority of Europeans felt their collective future was bound to what was happening on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Instead of organizing an effective solidarity movement with the progressive forces of the democratic uprisings, most European decision-makers remained aloof. Their tacit choice for “stability” versus “liberty” facilitated the disastrous outcome of the refugees’ waves and terror attacks.

 There is no authentic “stability” without the guarantee of the basic collective and individual freedoms. Contrary to the usual clichés, dictatorships are basically unstable; first because they function on a “civil war” logic internally; second because those nefarious dynamics nurture the “exportation” of terrorism outside of their borders. I was a diplomat for nearly two decades before joining academia in 2006, so I know from experience that morally-flawed options can lead only to more crises and troubles. Look at the result of nearly seven years of supposedly “realist” policies in the Middle East: millions of refugees, historical cities turned to ruins, entire communities displaced and exiled, unprecedented levels of sectarian hatred, economies in shambles, education and health systems devastated, and all this at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars that could have been better spent on development projects and institution building. Such blind and heartless “realism” has completely lost touch with the reality of the lives and aspirations of the women and men living in the region. An ethical approach is the only way to reconnect with this human reality that will shape, for better or for worse, the future of the Middle East, which matters so much for the rest of the world.'

Image result for jean pierre filiu

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

As Syrian Government Trumpets Military Wins, Fear Continues to Grip Locals in Damascus

 'Salma was scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed when an unverified piece of news struck her as bizarrely funny: Halloween celebrations have been banned in public places in Syria.

 ”Apparently they have taken pity on us. Our lives here are already a never-ending Halloween.”

 In a country gripped by a devastating conflict like the Syrian war, Halloween's flippant, playful quips contrast with serious, gruesome horrors that have become part of the Syrians’ macabre reality. Although the capital city Damascus has been spared the worst of fighting, different shades of fear diffuse the lives of the Damascenes.

 Salma, 29, lives in a squalid neighborhood with a heavy military presence in southern Damascus. Armed, bearded men dressed in military outfit affiliated to the so-called National Defense Forces, a pro-government militia, man checkpoints.

 ”I have to run this gauntlet every day on my way to work and back home,” she says.

 One might assume that after more than six years of military checkpoints, set up to tighten the Assad regime's grip on the capital since protests first flared up in 2011, locals would have reconciled themselves to their presence. The case is far from it, according to many, including Salma.

 ”They have made our lives difficult, causing delays and congestion. They are choking our city. I hate it when I have to return home after sunset. My pulse races under their fixed gaze. I feel ill at ease to say the least. Sometimes they are tipsy, laughing out loud and carousing. They can do anything and get away with it. Who is there to protect us after all? There is a state of chaos and lawlessness everywhere. The state is busy coping with the consequences of war.

 Salma fumbles for the right words to describe how she feels. ”You feel naked, unarmed and powerless in the presence of this heavy-handed arrogant military prowess.”

 Doaa, a university student at the Faculty of Dentistry, echoes her thoughts:

I have long stopped wearing makeup or revealing clothes, although I have always been a free girl, just to avoid getting myself into trouble. Soft catcalling or flirtation in the street used to be a stroke to a woman's ego. But during war, you can only find men dressed in military outfit, usually armed, in the streets. It makes me jittery. They are arrogant about the power they have over the locals.
 If my name is found, I will be dispatched to one of the front lines.

 For military-aged men, checkpoints continue to be a constant source of horror. The government has been using these checkpoints to conscript new soldiers to the Syrian forces, which are depleted from a protracted conflict. Fear of arrest and conscription has prompted many between the ages of 18-42 to flee the country in waves of undocumented immigration to countries next door and in the European Union. Those who have stayed behind grapple with daily difficulties, pushing many to shut themselves in.

 ”My permit to postpone military service is about to expire. I am not going out unless on urgent errands,” says Hisham, who has a law degree from Damascus University. 
They would search databases saved on their computers. If my name is found, I will be dispatched to one of the front lines. Every time I passed one of these checkpoints was an outright nightmare. I would wait with bated breath for the military man to beckon to the driver to move on. You can be arrested for evading military service, for having a similar name with a wanted man. Everything is possible.

 Hisham relates the story of what happened to his friend: He was on his way to his own wedding party when he was stopped by a checkpoint and summoned to military service. The friend had to pay a hefty amount of money to postpone it for a few days.

 This has made men thin on the ground. Women often joke that in the near future, they will not need to don a hijab, for there will be no men on the streets.

 ”Damascus is a testosterone-free city,” a pithy Facebook post reads.
 Everything smacks of war. Look at the people's weary faces.

 Ruba, an English literature student, tells Global Voices that she ironically recalled an article she read lately listing the most romantic cities in the world when she passed by a military vehicle in her densely populated neighborhood.

 ”Damascus used to be called city of Jasmine, which symbolizes purity, romance and love. Now look at the situation on the ground. Everything smacks of war. Look at the people's weary faces.”

 Fear extends to the use of social media. A pro-opposition activist based in Damascus who asked to be identified as Osama already goes by a fake name on Facebook to engage in solidarity campaigns with areas under government siege. He says fears of arrest are now more pronounced than ever.
 ”It was unthinkable when the revolution started seven years ago that today we will be fearful to express our thoughts on social media. Unfortunately it is happening.

 Osama anticipated a wave of arrests and score-settling by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad against opponents, emboldened by a military superiority on the ground.

 These accounts belie regime attempts to project an impression that life is back to normal following recent military wins, the latest of which was the recapture of al-Bukamal city in Deir Ezzor that sealed the fall of Isis in Syria. These attempts have included the holding the Damascus International Fair after a six-year hiatus, celebrating much-vaunted achievements of the Syrian football team which came close to qualifying for the World Cup, and the restoration of basic services, mainly electricity.

 However, these so-called pessimistic perspectives receive pushback from those who see a clear improvement in the situation, as the regime has managed to claw back significant swathes of territory from opponents.

 ”There is a predominant sense of relief in Damascus compared to previous years,” says Salem, a government employee. ”Some checkpoints have been removed. Electricity is back 24 hours a day, the prices of some basic commodities have gone down. I believe that this is very promising.”

 Others will find these wins too little and hollow.

 ”It is ridiculous to assume that war is over and the locals’ woes have come to an end just because some services are back and prices have slightly dropped. Rocket and mortar attacks continue on near daily basis. Just yesterday, there have been eight deaths,” Hisham says.
 Rocket and mortar shells continue to hit the city, with a recent spike in the death toll after a brief lull that followed the establishment of de-escalation zones in the Damascus countryside, shattering a temporary sense of relief that prevailed in the Syrian capital. This came on the heels of a government offensive in eastern Ghouta, a rebel enclave under government siege near Damascus.

 ”The thunder of artillery and rockets hitting Ghouta echoes all across the city. Buildings here are literally shaking,” says Samar, who lives in Bab Sharqi neighborhood. ”We have not heard these sounds in a while.”

 ”Incoming or outgoing?” People ask in jest when they hear a sudden boom, wondering whether it is a rebel rocket hitting Damascus or the sound from the army's artillery pounding opposition-held areas.

 Clearing this kind of ambiguity is part of what a Facebook page called Diaries of a Mortar Round in Damascus does.

 The page, originally set up to track rebel rocket attacks on Damascus city, occasionally tells people in Damascus not to worry because the source of the noise is the Syrian military's shelling of opposition areas. Many in the comments express relief and urge the Syrian army to do more to eradicate ”terrorism” and restore security to Damascus.

 But others criticize what they consider a chilling lack of sympathy for the tragedy unfolding in their close vicinity.

 ”Few mortar shells can disrupt life here. The sounds of artillery cause panic, especially among children. I find it impossible to imagine the horror visited on those on whose heads these rockets are falling,” says Manar, a teacher at an elementary school in old Damascus.

 Asked if the Damascenes feel more safe after seven years of war as the regime touts new military wins, she says ”fear in Damascus ebbs and flows, but is always there. Many years will pass before the Syrians can feel safe and secure again.” '

Monday, 27 November 2017

Dirty Deal

 'Map that shows the dirty deal between Assad regime and ISIS to transport ISIS fighters towards Idlib to fight the rebels and ultimately destabilize the free North region in Syria so the régime can recapture the North later.'

 "Rebels mobilized en masse to repel ISIS advance in Hama. The first phase has been very succesful, and the Baghdadis have been all repelled back to the Hama province borders."


"Report from NE. Hama fronts showing how ISIS shifted its focus westwards after Regime kicked off own assault in "de-escalation zone", backed by Russian Su-25s & advanced jets."

Sochi Assad: Syrians show their anger at Russian summit

Sochi Assad: Syrians show their anger at Russian summit

 'Syrian opposition activists have launched a social media campaign in opposition to talks about Syria’s future held in Sochi, Russia.

 The discussions so far have involved Russia and Iran, who support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which has supported rebel groups but is increasingly close to Russia and fearful of the influence gained by Kurdish militias, including those backed by the US.

 The latest talks ended on Wednesday, but opened the way for a further, theoretically broader, conference, also in Sochi, which is expected to take place next week.

 Turkey, Russia and Iran released a joint statement after the talks, which called on the Syrian regime and mainstream opposition to join the planned conference “constructively”.

 The Hashtag Revolution campaign has urged people around the world to join its social media activism using the hashtag #SochiAssad, and is in solidarity with street protests against Sochi in Syria itself.

 “We, the Syrian people who joined the revolution against the Bashar al-Assad regime, believe that the Sochi conference is a distraction,” Ghossoun Abou Dahab, one of the campaign organisers, told the Lens Post.

 “We reject any negotiations outside the UN and will continue to insist that Assad must step down and face charges in the International Criminal Court because he is a war criminal.”

 Many activists feel that the voices of ordinary Syrians have been drowned out by talks between world leaders, especially those who they see as leading the violence against them. The campaign calls on all foreign entities to leave Syria, and insists on keeping the country united as one.

 “Surrounding countries are looking out for their own interests in Syria, and that is the reason Assad has remained in power until now,” said Ghossoun.

 “Russia is Assad’s partner in crime in Syria, so we do not trust it and it is not acceptable that it would be part of any negotiations to defend the Syrian people.”

 Ghossoun also had little faith in a rival conference held by opposition groups in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

 “In all honesty, we no longer have any trust in negotiations,” said Ghossoun. “We wish that the results of such negotiations will be better than its predecessors.

 “The best way for peace would be for a transitional government without Assad.”

 A string of protests has also taken place in Syria against the Sochi talks.

 Obeda Abo Omar, an activist in eastern Ghoutta, an area being devastated by regime attacks and siege, told the Lens Post, “All the towns of Ghoutta stood up against Sochi. Here in Ghoutta, these events have been taking place since the proposal of the Sochi conference.”

 Omar added that a large event was being planned for the near future, but that so far up to 50 people had attended each of the Syrian protests and vigils. He said they would have been bigger were it not for the constant “fear of targeting and shelling”.

 The six-year war in Syria, which started when the Assad regime brutally tried to crush the Arab Spring movement against him in 2011, has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and has forced millions of people to flee the country, creating the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

 The Syrian regime saw signs of being defeated at the hands of the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups, but recovered after support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. This military onslaught, which has included the dropping of barrel bombs and chemical gas on opposition areas, turned the tide in the conflict, with Russian airpower reducing cities to rubble.

 The coalition of Syrian revolutionaries behind the #SochiAssad campaign released a statement online that also rejected the Sochi conference.

 “Russia has spilled the blood of our people due to the use of its veto power as well as its aircraft strikes that caused the destruction of infrastructure, especially hospitals, which is contrary to international norms,” said the statement. “We therefore categorically reject any political solution sponsored by an occupier.”

 It continued, “We also demand that the opposition forces, represented by the coalition and the High Commission, all who speak on our behalf, stick to our revolution and the aspirations of our people with freedom and dignity, and any negotiations should be under the umbrella of the United Nations and the Security Council in accordance with the decisions of Geneva and the rejection of any outside interference in the drafting of the Syrian constitution.”

 Journalist Salwa Amor used the #SochiAssad tag to post on Facebook, “Russia has senselessly bombed civilians in Syria for the sixth year straight, it seems surreal that it is now entrusted with deciding what is best for Syria and Syrians.”

 Twitter user Robert Robert also used the hashtag, tweeting, “Self-determination means that Syrians, not the Russian/Iran government, determines the fate of the people.”

 The activists, both in and out of Syria, are planning to build on their campaign.'

Friday, 24 November 2017

We are not a people who love murder and killing

Eastern Ghouta: A ghetto of hunger and fear

 Sam Charles Hamad:

 ' "In Eastern Ghouta we drink a lot of water," one activist from the area who wishes to remain anonymous tells me.

 "It's water for breakfast and water for lunch, but we're able to have something solid for dinner." He tells me that he and his friends jokingly call this the "Ghouta diet", but the situation in this suburb of Damascus - under siege by Assad regime forces four years - is no laughing matter.

 Approximately 400,000 of the residents face starvation. Food has literally run out to the point that one meal-per-day is now the norm. People must eat whatever they can, including, as a new report has detailed, animal fodder, expired food and refuse. Nothing edible can afford be wasted.

 The impenetrable siege imposed on the area by Assad has restricted resources to the point of making life as hard as it gets for human beings in this world - for others, it's fatally unbearable. The weakest of course have it worst.

 According to a conservative estimate by UNICEF, over 1,100 children suffer from potentially fatal malnutrition, while in October images of skeletal babies starving to death aroused fleeting condemnation from some of the international community.

 It's slightly surreal then, when Abdelmalik Abod, a 22-year-old activist from the besieged area of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, reels off the statistics to me.

 Surreal not because he seems to repeat the statistics as if they're indelibly burned into his mind, but because his entire life has been shaped and continues to be shaped daily by the war and the siege - experiences that the statistics can't ever pick up.

 No one except for people like Abdelmalik who live with this, can ever understand what it's really like to exist in one of the most precarious places in the world. As well as consuming most of his adult life, Abdelmalik lost his mother due to the siege. The Assad regime blocks all kinds of medical equipment from getting into the area, including surgical equipment and medicines. Abdelmalik tells me of "helplessly watching" as his mother died of a neurological condition that was worsened by, as he puts it, "the constant fear of nearby bombing".

 And fear is as prevalent as hunger in Eastern Ghouta. As Abdelmalik reminds me, the precarity of their lives is determined not just by Assad's brutal siege that holds the area in a death grip, but also because of Assad and Russia's "daily bombardment of the areas outside of their control" including, as he knows only too well, "using all types of illegal weapons".

 Abdelmalik has an intimate knowledge of the kind of weaponry Assad and Russia use against residents in Eastern Ghouta. His first proper job, aged just 17, was as a volunteer in one of the impromptu rescue services better known as the White Helmets, in Douma.

 As he puts it: "At the beginning of the revolution, young people had two choices, either to be with the FSA or to be a paramedic for civilians - I chose to rescue people."

 But it was also part of his job to know what kind of attack happened and the munitions involved. He mentions cluster bombs to me perhaps only because these officially outlawed and particularly vicious weapons have been a favourite of Russia since their intervention in 2015, but it has been a veritable free for all in Eastern Ghouta when it comes to the method of slaughter used by Assad and his allies.

 International law has absolutely no substance in the face of Assad's infamously deadly use of sarin gas on Eastern Ghouta in 2013, leaving as many as 1,429 people dead.

 In a recent attack on Douma, Assad targeted White Helmet volunteers and killed three of them - the regime has perpetrated attacks on rescuers with ferocious consistency in Ghouta. It's something Abdelmalik knows only too well, explaining "in the many rescue operations I participated in, I lost many friends".

 And this reveals the brutal reality of Assad's endgame when it comes to Eastern Ghouta. As with other areas of Syria, the tactic is to destroy as much of the civil infrastructure as possible - to make the every day functioning of normal life impossible.

 This is reflected on the targets of the attacks. As well as suffering depleted resources, many of Eastern Ghouta's hospitals have been destroyed or damaged, while schools have faced the same fate.

 For Abdelmalik, schools are a particularly affecting subject, as before the war he had started a diploma in teaching, but was forced give up when the revolution broke out. "There are 52,000 children studying in semi-destroyed schools, while the regime has completely destroyed 37 schools". He tells me of the situation in Eastern Ghouta now, "children have to write on old newspapers because they can't even get access to blank paper."

 There ought to be no doubt what Assad's purpose is in Eastern Ghouta, and Abdelmalik puts it as succinctly as possible, "Assad is seeking to pressure the civilian population of Eastern Ghouta to the point that we submit to him and then leave for Idlib."

 This is exactly what we've seen in other areas such as Homs or Aleppo that have been besieged or bombarded by Assad; populations in rebel-held or rebel-supporting areas "cleansed" by the regime, often in the name of "de-escalation".

 When I bring up the term "ethnic cleansing", Abdelmalik immediately says "yes, that is what he wants, to eliminate all revolutionaries and keep his murderous gang in power".

 Assad might be prospering in Syria due to the raw power of Russia and Iran, but he still faces the fundamental of contradiction of being opposed by vast swathes of pro-revolution civilian populations. It's these civilian populations that are the bedrock of the revolution, and the reason Assad and his allies have opted to cleanse them.

 While Assad remains in power due to foreign intervention, the revolution is a solely Syrian phenomenon rooted in the communities like Eastern Ghouta's. Abdelmalik knows precisely the nature of the vultures that circle the area, telling me,

 "We've seen Iran's militias play a crucial role in supporting Assad to besiege and kill the people of Eastern Ghouta… they direct the military campaigns against the rebels, using their own forces and Lebanese Hizballah mercenaries, as well as Iraqis and Afghans."

 It's easy for an outsider to look at the situation in Eastern Ghouta and completely lose hope that anything good could emerge from Syria. With the international community and former allies abandoning anti-Assad Syrians, things have never looked so dire.

 As the everyday brutalities in Eastern Ghouta play out, Assad was seen swanning around Sochi with his veritable master Vladimir Putin, who has sought endorsement from Donald Trump to bring the Syrian war to an end on Russian and Iranian terms.

 But hope lies with people like Abdelmalik. In the face of daily brutality, and the knowledge that the raw power of Assad, Iran and Russia want him and his fellow residents of Eastern Ghouta dead or cleansed, he does not hesitate in vowing "to remain steadfast against Assad and his gang". "We will not accept expulsion from our land and we will continue to struggle for freedom and dignity and the fall of Assad," he states bluntly.

 It might sound like sloganeering, but coming from someone who has lived most of his teenage and early adult life in the grip of such a vicious war, you can tell he means every word. The outside world often forgets, but Syrians know who the main enemy is.

 Despite the sheer scale of Assad's brutality and the sectarianisation of the conflict, Abdelmalik remains merciful and resolutely opposed to the kind of sectarianism upon which Assad has thrived. "Assad and his gang should be given a fair trial for their crimes… we are not a people who love murder and killing - we want a Syria that enjoys freedom, democracy and equality for all its people," he says.

 This is precisely why Assad fears him and the people of Eastern Ghouta.'

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

No warplanes = Enjoyment

 'Children's marathon and civilian activities in Maarat al-Nouman town earlier today, the longest Revolution flag was made today by tiny hands painting print.'

Resigned Syrian opposition figure: We were asked to accept Assad or leave

Member of the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee, Suheir Al-Atassi, resigned from her post on 20 November 2017 because of pressure to accept Bashar Al-Assad as president of Syria.

 'A member of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, Suheir Al-Atassi, who resigned from her post said there was international pressure to force the opposition to accept that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad will remain in power.

 Al-Atassi stressed that she, along with the committee members, had resigned in opposition of this proposal.

 The head of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, Riyad Hijab, chief negotiator, Mohamed Sabra, Al-Atassi and eight others members announced on Monday that they had resigned from the committee ahead of the Riyadh Conference scheduled for today.

 Reuters reported Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, saying that their resignation will help unite the opposition.

 Al-Atassi said yesterday that the international community is pressing the opposition to accept Al-Assad under the pretext of political reality and the Russians’ control over the Syrian file.

 “The dispute between the countries now is about the duration of Al-Assad’s control and the possibility of his candidacy for a new term as well as his powers if he remains president, not his departure,” she added.'

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

So anyone who participates in the survival of Bashar al-Assad and accept him with any kind of deal, his blood is wasted in the regions of the revolution

 Colonel Abdul Hamid Zakaria:

 "We are here from inside Syria, sending a warning message to those who are willing to accept Bashar al-Assad to stay in power. Many of you went to Astana, accepted Iran and Russia to be a ''state guarantor'' to stop the escalation in Syria. They have sold Aleppo, Homs and many others areas, now we see some factions preparing to go to Riyadh, to participate side by side with the mercenaries from the platforms of Cairo and Moscow. He added: We will not accept any fatwa from the Syrian Islamic Council, which became a joy in the hands of the backing states. So anyone who participates in the survival of Bashar al-Assad and accept him with any kind of deal, his blood is wasted in the regions of the revolution. Now everyone know we have warned."

"Remember while you negotiate that we buried our martyrs promising them to follow their path towards a Syria without the Assad regime"

 'Displaced fighters from Daraya and the Damascus region protest the attempts to waive the principles of the Revolution in upcoming conferences.

 "We will not accept a resolution that doesn't include the Assad regime’s removal."


Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Syrian revolution: Between negotiating and being used as a bargaining chip

The Syrian revolution: Between negotiating and being used as a bargaining chip

 Khaled Khoja:

 'Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry announced this week it will host a meeting of the Syrian opposition later this month. The meeting, which will be held in Riyadh, aims to bring together opposition factions and form a joint negotiating delegation ahead of a new round of UN-brokered peace talks with the Syrian regime set for 28 November.

The Riyadh meeting allegedly comes at the request of the Syrian opposition, according to the ministry statement, which failed to make any mention of the umbrella body representing the Syrian opposition - the High Negotiations Committee [HNC] - despite initial recommendations to increase its members in order to enhance its negotiating powers.

Failure to mention the body in its foreign ministry statement on the Riyadh meeting has meant the end of the role of the HNC and the birth of a new body that will bring together parties from the Cairo and Moscow talks.

 The move should not be suprising following regional and international pressure on the Syrian opposition to be "more realistic" in their political demands and to keep up with recent international developments. This became clear following a joint statement between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the APEC summit on 11 November.

 The statement - which was a clear indication of Trump's alignment with Putin on Syria - reduced the conflict there simply to "a war on terror" and found that the only political way forward is through constitutional reforms followed by elections, for which dictator Bashar al-Assad will be allowed to run.

 The joint statement also makes no reference to the UN Security Council Resolution 2118, which calls for a political transition and the establishment of a transition governing body as a fundamental starting point for resolving Syria's political crisis - and so effectively renders previous statements by the US administration that there is no role of Assad in the future of Syria as useless.

 This notable shift in position will undoubtedly become the basis of any future negotiations for a political process under international auspices.

 This became particularly evident when the UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura announced earlier in his briefing to the Security Council that the 28 November talks will address constitutional reforms and an election in Syria, marking no real difference between the Geneva talks and the conference Putin plans to hold in Sochi.

 During the meeting, the request to have Assad removed will be overlooked and a political solution will be based on constitutional reforms and participation in a general elections, The outcome will be pre-determined - all of which were attempts previously rejected by Syrian opposition forces.

 Recently, the Syrian revolutionary and opposition forces have garnered huge amounts of international attention, particularly after the emergence of the Friends of Syria Group.

 Since the establishment of the Syrian National Council -through to the formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and the HNC - intensive efforts were made in regional and international capitals to gather support for the demands of the people of Syria.

 Diplomatic efforts were based on their legitimacy due to the popular uprisings and revolutionary forces on the ground in Syria.

 However, with the emergence of support for Assad's counter-revolution, cracks began to appear over the intentions of some states within the Friends of Syria Group. This included five Arab states - Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar - as well as the US, France, UK, Italy, Germany and Turkey. It was followed by the occupation of Syria by Russian forces, which some saw as an opportunity to weaken Iranian influence in the region.

 Based on these mistaken assumptions, efforts were made to "alter" the revolution - reversing the balance between diplomatic efforts and the influence of the opposition on the ground.

 This meant that regional countries worked to link the legitimacy of the opposition with international recognition and containing the rebel forces on the ground.

 The revolutionary momentum has helped political bodies involved in the movement overcome recent dilution - beginning with the Ford-Seif initiative that was signed by the former US Ambassador Robert Ford - and the current head of the coalition, Riad Seif.

 This was aimed at ending the National Assembly, and limiting the influence of the Syrian opposition in Doha, including local councils and national figures and components to the National Council.

 Furthermore, there was also the expansion that was imposed on the coalition, including the introduction of the Ahmed Jarba bloc and his inauguration - and then subsequent overthrow - as the head of the coalition.

 This was then followed by the resignation of most members of the bloc, as well as the formation of the HNC at the Riyadh conference, which saw Russia introduced as a key international player in the Syrian conflict for the first time.

 Over the past five years the revolutionary forces on the ground in Syria have lost the majority of its military leadership. The political bodies abroad and the internal revolutionary movement have also lost influential members, and the burden of the revolution has become greater on those who seek its victory. In what seems to be apparent infiltration attempts, some corrupt individuals are making crucial decisions on behalf of the revolution.

 It is also worthy to note that the role of UN envoy Steffan de Mistura in contributing to the gradual dilution of the opposition and transforming the Geneva talks from negotiations formed on the basis of Security Council resolution 2118 into somewhat useless dialogue between the HNC and delegates formed by de Mistura and his team in Moscow and Cairo.

 This includes the meetings in Geneva and Lausanne - a move that was presented as a political consensus among all parties, including the opposition.

 It is remarkable that most of the characters who emerged from the political stampede between the revolutionary demands and international pressure were invited to participate in the new opposition conference in Riyadh.

 This meant that the new engineering output of the opposition would fit the new international framework in an unprecedented manner. But is this the way to solve the crisis?

 Dictator Bashar al-Assad began his campaign against the Syrian people's movements and demands for dignity with mottos including "None but al-Assad" and "Without al-Assad, the country burns".

 Today, the scene in Syria shows that Assad has indeed lost the basic elements of the state, which are represented in land, people, and institutions. Meanwhile, killings on the land and from the air continue, despite agreements to reduce the escalations in violence across the country. There is no longer a Syrian army, but an out-of-control group of foreign militias and mercenaries killing in its name.

 The guarantor in any agreement is the Russian occupier itself, which continues to violate the sanctity during every round of talks, whether in Geneva or Astana.

 Political realism stipulates that the political solution should root out the cause of the disaster, which in this case is Assad himself and the vicious circle of peers surrounding him. As long as the dictator Assad remains in power, the killing will continue. After Assad cut off the cord that once connected with the people, there is no longer a system that can be rehabilitated.

 Now, it is a gang run by a dictator under the supervision of the Russian occupier, which sees no solutions to a political crisis but burning land as was the case in Grozny, or agents like the President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov. In short, the country has been divided into areas of influence among countries that Putin has no power to remove.

 The Syrian revolution was a natural response to a region-wide revolution calling for restored dignity and it is has changed the course of history and altered the geopolitical map of the world.

 Despite this, it is a unique case that no force - no matter how large and mighty - can contain or handle it. The most powerful element behind the revolution is the general public, despite the considerable difference in power when compared to the Russian aggressor.

 But the current approach - which largely ignores the roots of the catastrophe in Syria - will only help spread the chaos and may accelerate the collapse of the region. No solution can be imposed on the ground if it is dismissed by the general public.

 The Syrian people, who sacrificed money and self to enjoy future generations of freedom and dignity continue to repeat the same lines that have echoed since the beginning of the revolution: "The people want to overthrow the regime." '

Image result for Syrian National Coalition President Khaled Khoja

Assadist Regime and its functions, IRGC's Financing, and Troop Strengths

 'Assadist System of Rule:

 Nominally, Bashar al-Assad is still 'President of the Syrian Arab Republic'. This title has all the top executive powers. The result is that Bashar's personal authority is the same like state authority and all of his powers are derived from it.

 Further down the chain of command, civilian authorities of Syria are divided into 14 governorates; the governorates are divided into a total of 60 districts, which are further divided into sub-districts.

 A governorate is governed by a governor, which is appointed by the President (and only nominally approved by the 'Syrian government'). The governor is responsible – only to the president – for administration and public work, health, domestic trade, agriculture, industry, civil defence, and maintenance of law.

 Each governor is assisted by a local council, which is elected by a popular vote for four-years terms: each council elects an executive bureau from its members, which works with district councils and administers the day-to-day issues.

 Nominally, district councils were administered by officials appointed by the governor. These officials served as intermediaries between the central government and traditional local leaders (village chiefs, clan leaders and councils of elders). After six years of war, the reality is dramatically different.

 Before the war, local councils were dominated by members of the Ba’ath Party. Meanwhile, and especially in northern Hama, there are also representatives of the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP); in Aleppo and Homs there are Hezbollah/Syria, etc., etc., etc..

 Now, the essence of understanding the current system is knowing - and understanding - how it came into being. The background of all the militias (some are still naive enough to call them 'NDF') fighting 'for Assad' is the same. As the war erupted and then spread, Ba'athist local councils began organizing their own militias. About 50% of staff of these were members of the Ba’ath Party with a minimum of military training, and armed by the regime already since earlier times (early 1980s).

 The importance of militias continued to grow with the dissolution of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA): more than half of its staff defected by spring of 2012, while a quarter was already lost in combat. The remaining units disintegrated through the orders to secure over 2,000 checkpoints all over Syria. In the course of this process, local militias absorbed all of the police and most of SAA’s functions (which was necessary due to massive defections). Correct me if you like, but AFAIK, no description of this - extremely complex - process is available online. The only description providing minute details for every single of 20 SAA's divisions is this one: Syrian Conflagration.

 Concluding that local militias are more reliable and combat effective than the SAA, Iranian officers of the IRGC-QF (IRGC's Qods Force, i.e. 'Jerusalem Corps') then decided to expand and provide 'proper military training' (that's really a relative description) to units in question, and formalize their status. Additional militias came into being, most of which...nah: nearly all of which were recruited, established, trained and armed by the IRGC-QF. Initially, the system worked with help of local criminal networks. See so-called Shabbiha. Contrary to original militias of the Ba’ath (staffed by unpaid volunteers on temporary basis), these groups were staffed by so-called Shabbiha that served as professional militiamen. Regardless of their backgrounds militias took over the tasks of the police and began providing security.

 The status of such militias was formalized through the establishment of the National Defence Force (NDF), in November 2012. There was never any kind of trace of doubt: the 'NDF' was established by the IRGC. Every single of its units. But mind: the IRGC never established a centralized command of the NDF. Instead, it dealt - and continues to deal - with every single of militia originally established as 'NDF' as a separate entity.

 Ever since, militias are bolstered through intentional criminalisation of remaining SAA personnel: these are paid wages that make them unable to support their families, prompting continuous defections. In turn, militias are offering much higher wages and full amnesty from prosecution (whether of prosecution for defection or any other crime).

 How is then the Assadist regime controlling this situation?

 In a very simple fashion: through control of supplies. Then, as every stupid studying wars should know: supplies are the essence of war. No supplies = no war.

 In Syria, all the stocks of food (including state-sponsored grain and egg-imports), fuel, electricity, arms and ammunition, public transport, telecommunications (Syria Tel), and water supply for large cities, are controlled by:

 The president,

 His ‘Inner Circle’ (Maher al-Assad, Mohammed Makhlouf, Rami Makhlouf, Havez Makhlouf, and Thou al-Himmah Shaleesh), and

 The ‘Confidantes’ (Ali Mamlouk, Abdel Fattah Qudsiya, Jamil Hassan, Mohammad Nasif, Rustom Ghazaleh, Rafiq Shehadeh, Ali Younes, Mohammad Deeb Zaytoun, and Bassam al-Hassan).

 Persons in question are in control over a conglomerate of major companies, some of which are in private hands (like Syria Tel, owned by Makhloufs), while others are state-owned. Control over all of related companies is exercised via intelligence services responsible directly to the President (Air Force Intelligence and Military Security Intelligence). Therefore, the President, members of the ‘Inner Circle’, and the ‘Confidantes’ are in control over the water supply, bread supply, electricity supply, phone and internet services, and fuel and fertilizer supply.

 This means: anybody who wants to fight there - no matter for what reason - is dependable on the president, the 'Inner Circle', and the 'Confidantes' for arms, ammo, food, water, electricity etc. If these do not provide, the militia in question can't fight.

 ...which brings us to the topic of financing. This is a very complex issue, and I've discussed it already about a dozen of times (at least; the last time in the thread here). So let me just summarise it as follows: Assad regime is bankrupt since November 2011. Ever since, it's living from loans from Tehran. As of 2015-2016, the situation reached a point at which Tehran had to provide for up to 60% of Assadist budget. Nowadays, it's probably more. There is clear evidence for this and this is available online (can provide all the necessary links, if somebody is curious to pursue that story further).

 With other words: the IRGC finances the president, his 'Inner Circle', and the 'Confidantes' - in turn making them able to exercise control over various militias (for which fools in the West still think are 'NDF').

 The system of that control - exercised through such gangs like Quwwat Nimr - and distribution of supplies, is the essence of what is nowadays the 'SAA'. Means: there are 'divisional headquarters', based and still designated on old divisional designations of the SAA. Each of these is responsible for specific geographic area - and thus for supplying militias in the given area. That's why not only the Assadists but the Russians too have it as easy to claim, 'SAA' is doing this, and 'SAA' is doing that.

 Is that all really that hard to understand...?


There are few basic laws about any armed conflict. Primary of these is that MONEY is the essence of every war. The party that has the money can pay its combatants and buy their arms, ammo and other supplies. The party that has no money, can't do that. Long wars - like the one in Syria - are gulping money at incredible rates.

I'm now lazy to search for older links, so let me just observe that the Assadist regime went bankrupt already back in November 2011. It survived 2012 thanks to billions in fresh money printed in Russia, and the first few Iranian loans. Since 2013, Assadist regime cannot provide for more than 50% of its annual budget. Ever since, the situation is only getting worse. The last annual budget I attempted to reconstruct was the one for 2016, and it showed that the Assadist regime can't cover more than 40% of its (i.e. 'state') expenses. 

 The Assadist budget is in constant decline - from US$ 15 billion (real value) in 2011, to US$ 5.67 billion in 2017. During the same period, the World Bank's estimates for regime's reserves dropped from US$ 20 billion to US$ 700 million (by the end of 2015).

 With other words: under most favourable conditions, as of 2016, the Assadist regime was only able of buying food, fuel, electricity, arms and ammunition, public transport, telecommunications, and water supply for - at most - 40% of troops nominally fighting for it.

 Actually, that's the most enthusiastic assessment. Reason? Matter of fact is that the Assadist regime is NOT spending 100% of the money it earns for its military. On the contrary, it's unlikely to spend more than 50% of its money for the military, and this despite the war. This means that the regime can - at best - provide for something like 10-20% of troops nominally fighting for it (for number of troops in question, see below).

 This is imposing the question: who is then paying for the survival of the Assad-Regime?

 Answer: Tehran.

 Tehran has never published official figures for its spending for war in Syria - and is unlikely to ever publish anything of that kind. The only way to find out the approximate amounts of money Iran is spending there is 'circumstantial', i.e. with help of reports like this one:

 Iranian Economy, 2015 (PDF file)

 (Note: I'm sure there are going to be readers screaming, 'not the NCRI again!' I'll agree with them: anything from the NCRI must be enjoyed with a truck-load of salt. However, in this case the report in question is little else but a word-by-word translation of the Iranian budget law for 2016, with some commentary. I.e. no matter what's his motivation, the author couldn't do anything wrong, insert any fake figures or anything of that kind.)

 Under point 4 of the latter, you can find details on the Defence Budget. From what can be read there, it is obvious that this is gulping massive 23% of the entire national budget. Specifically:

 MOD gets US$ 5.2 billion

 IRGC gets 4.188 billion

 Army/Air Force/Navy are getting 1.9 billion

 JCS gets 0.6 billion

 Internal security services are getting 1.7 billion

 MOI and other intelligence services about 0.6 billion

 Construction projects related to security 0.4 billion

 'Subventions for loyalists' cost 3.8 billion (!)

 Spread of Islamic fundamentalism costs 1.5 billion.

 Note that the IRGC gets more than two times the budget of the entire conventional military. And that's not to talk about various intelligence services, 'subventions for loyalists', and even less so on IRGC's income from the Iranian, Iraq and (meanwhile) Syrian economy - which is no part of the Iranian budget, first and foremost.

 And then: this is still not all Iran is spending for defence: there are separate budgets for 'security issues', nuclear program (supposedly 'only' US$743 million; actual costs of the program between 1986 and 2013 are estimated at between US$100 and 170 billion!!!), missile program (alone the acquisition of North Korean know-how from 2009 cost Iran no less but US$ 11 billion!), Qods Force (IRGC-QF) etc.

 With other words, real spending includes the published budget + extra budgets for specific projects + secret budget + IRGC income (from parts of economy it owns) + subventions provided directly from the budget of the 'Leader of the Islamic Revolution'...

 Now, considering the IRGC and the IRGC-QF have no major arms acquisition projects running, while nuclear- and missile-related projects have their own budgets - question is: what for do they spend 4.188 billion from their official budget? Not to talk about: what for do they spend from their unofficial budgets...?

 Considering how much is the IRGC spending for 'unknown' purposes, I would say that the answer is crystal clear.

 Troop Strength:

 Estimates were ranging between a minimum and maximum of following troops:
 Assadists: 50,000-80,000
 Russians: 4,751-10,300 (here my estimate is slightly different; for details, see below)
 Hezbollah: 5,000-10,000
 IRGC: 13,000-16,000 (Iranian troops)
 IRGC: 40,000-47,000 (non-Iranian troops staffing various of IRGC's, Hezbollah/Syria's, Hezbollah/Iraq's and other allied formations).

 This meant following totals: - Assadists: 50,000-80,000 - Foreign Troops: 62,751-83,300


 1.) IMHO, the figure of 4,571 Russian troops in Syria can be seen as something like 'average' and 'conservative'. That number is based on the number of Russian citizens eligible to vote in Russian elections - i.e. at one, certain point in time. There are times when this number is much higher. For example, back in October 2015, up to 20 battalion-sized task forces of the Russian Army were identified as deployed in the country (I provided a detailed ORBAT for Russian ground formations in period October 2015-March 2016 in the thread here). Depending on its type, a battalion of the Russian army has between 360 and 700 troops. That would mean anything between 7,200 and 14,000 troops. Then add their two-regiments-sized aviation group to that figure - and you've got the picture.

 2.) Considering the average rate of about 450 casualties a month (based on people monitoring related reporting in the social media on Assad-controlled territories) - and that for Assadists alone - these figures are meanwhile obsolete. I.e. Assadists have lost about 5,400 KIA (just KIA!) over the last 12 months, and are thus at anything between 45,000 and 75,000 troops.

 3.) Unsurprisingly (because of Assadist losses), and considering [reports of this kind](), alone the IRGC meanwhile has 80,000 troops in Syria.

 4.) Finally, majority of Syrian nationals considered as serving for Assadists in these estimates are actually not serving in Assadist formations any more. On the contrary, as can be read here, no less than 88,723 Syrians nationals are serving under IRGC's control, meanwhile.

 Changes in Demography:

 For anybody who might be 'surprised' by conclusions and figures posted above, and especially for all the characters who are now going to scream and cry 'don't believe', 'nonsense' and anything similar... well, sorry: this is just showing the extension of parallel universe in which you live. Namely, widespread practice of mis-reporting about this war by the msm but especially by the social media - resulted in creation of an alternative universe in which the Assadist state and the military are fully intact. Actually, they are not the least: they are only 'nominally existent' - because they're serving Iranian and Russian interests.

The dissolution of the Assadist state and military is a direct result of the popular uprising of 2011-2012, then the provocation of a sectarian and religious war by Assadists, 2012-2013, and then the Iranian military intervention launched in late 2012.
 Conclusions about Troop Strength and Composition:

 Assadists have far less than '50,000 troops' mentioned above: the figure is unlikely to be higher than 30,000.

 The IRGC-QF is likely to have up to 160,000 combatants under its control in Syria, of which roughly 50% are Syrian nationals, and 50% foreigners.

 With other words: numbers alone are making it clear that there's not only no SAA any more: they're making it clear that there's no 'Assadists' to speak about any more. The entire 'Syrian Army' story is a scam of epic proportions.

 Correspondingly, anybody discussing terms like 'the Syrians who support Assad' is actually talking about figures that are not comparable even with with the pre-war population of Tel Rifat any more.

 Assadist Authorisations for IRGC-QF's Commanders:

 Of course, there are still going to be characters denying even the possibility of all of this happening - although it should be more than well-known, meanwhile, that the IRGC-QF's commanders have received sweeping authorisations from nobody else but Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, a summary of everything above should make it crystal clear: it's the IRGC-QF that has the final word in Assadist-Syria. Assad and his 'Inner Circle' are little more but 'puppets' or 'useful fools' nowadays.

Obviously, in a country hamstrung by a regime as oppressive as that of Assadists - and then since 40+ years - nothing of that kind is possible to happen without an official approval, i.e. Assad's orders to 'his' commanders to listen to the IRGC-QF.

 The situation in which the Assadist regime, its warlords and their 30,000 troops are supported by up to 160,000 IRGC-QF-controlled combatants is absolutely no surprise. On the contrary: it's a logical result of years long and very intensive conversion of the Assadist state into an IRGC-QF's fiefdom.'