Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Syrian Spring Blossoms Again


  "I still remember that day clearly, the February 11, 2011. The people of Egypt succeeded in overthrowing the regime that held it for three decades. The windows in our house were closed that day by my mom; she was fearful like any other parent in Syria. My mom always told us not to have any political discussion with anybody out of the walls of our place. My mom closed the windows and started dancing, clapping and ululating. In Arab countries ululation is commonly used to express celebration - that day we celebrated the feeling of freedom in our house for the first time.

 Many people thought at the beginning that the Syrian revolution is a copy of the other revolutions in the Arab world, but this is false. Syria was a very specific situation which pushed the people to be unintentionally ready for a change which was demanded years ago. People had been fed up with injustice and all the regime needed to do is make one more mistake.

 As time passed, the regime had almost the complete comfort to react violently to the peaceful chants. The regime's brutality increased and many massacres were committed in different Syrian cities and towns.

 The number of political detainees reached unbelievable numbers. Syrians raised their voices again and again but the international community did nothing serious to stop the bloodshed. Some Syrians lost hope in getting any international support, so the Free Syrian Army was established by officers who quit the regime's army, the ones who refused to join the regime that was committing war crimes.

 Five years have passed and everybody is trying to cover up what really happened and is still happening in Syria. They want Syria to turn into black and then they can be satisfied with their scenarios about extremism and Syria being a field for a civil war, but they are not going to be able to hide the truth which is as clear as the sun.

 Syrians are the doctors in the field hospitals who are keeping Syrians alive. Syrians are the civilians who are sharing their last amount of food under siege and shelling. Syrians are the teachers who are volunteering to teach the children under siege and doing their best to feed their minds even though they can't feed their stomachs. They are the refugees who are still holding Syria inside their hearts wherever they are going and trying to show the best in them to the whole world. 

 The revolution flag was all over Syria for the last two Fridays, and the black flags that the regime and regime's supporting entities wanted to look like as if they belong to the revolutionaries just disappeared!

The color that they tried to make Syria stick to for the last 3 years was demolished in two days and by hundreds of peaceful demonstrations. The Syrian revolution is still alive against all the faces of oppression in Syria. And if you are not able to see it after all, that would be because you don't want to."

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Meeting the Syrians who helped start the revolution

 'Mohanned: "We stood defiant, facing the police and the shabiha militia, demanding freedom, justice and democracy. They opened fire, some of us fell dead, but we held on, unarmed, in a peaceful manner. It was an incredible feeling, it's indescribable.

 I'd rather sacrifice myself for 5 or 10 years, to put an end to this régime, than be controlled by this régime for centuries on end. In most countries, people are allowed to protest, as part of their fundamental rights, but in Syria, it was suicidal."

 Riad al-Asaad: "The entire world has turned a blind eye to the situation. Now there are talks of a political solution, but the régime should put an end to its offensive, and to its bombings. During the last conference in Geneva, the Syrian régime kept on advancing towards Deraa, and on the coast, and besieged Aleppo. The régime prevents access to humanitarian aid, and starves civilians, while the US and Europe do nothing about it."

 Aziza Jalad: "Just last week, we saw that many protests broke out in Syria. If the bombings ended, and if the régime stopped killing or arresting demonstrators, I believe the entire country would keep on protesting, including in territories controlled by the régime."

Yassin: "The ceasefire could pave the way for a permanent solution in Syria. But for that to happen, things need to change. There will not be any solution if Bashar al-Assad stays in power. Syrians are fleeing their homes because of the war. If the war ends, they will stay in Syria. But the war started because they wanted Assad to step down, so if the current régime stays in place, the migrant crisis will continue."

 Ziad Majed: "Russia pretended it was there to fight Daesh [ISIS], and we see that Daesh is still occupying 40% of the Syrian territory. What Russia really did was save the Assad régime from military collapse, they gave it the possibility to regain some territory. The peace talks are starting, and maybe the Russians thought that Assad was asking too much, the analogy used by his state affairs minister about refusing any discussion concerning the transition, is challenging the Russian, American and de Mistura discourses about the necessity of having a transition. Putin wanted to show he is back internationally, and is imposing himself on the Syrian situation, and maybe he is telling Assad to calm down a little bit, because Assad was saved due to this military intervention.

 Maybe with the new Russian position, it will put pressure on the régime to accept compromises. What continues to be the problem, is the place of Bashar al-Assad in a transition. For the opposition and for the majority of the Syrian people. After 45 years of rule by the Assad family, the only condition of success for the talks, is the departure of Bashar al-Assad. So that the fight against Daesh will start, so that the many challenges facing Syrian society can start being addressed. If they agree on how to deal with the Assad question, many of the other things, I'm not saying they would be easy, but at least negotiations on that could start.

 The problem today is, what kind of transition? The Syrian régime uses the term, 'coalition government', meaning the régime will stay, and add some opposition figures. While Geneva I stipulates a transitional body, that will lead to elections, and then to turning the page of the past. So I think the negotiations will mainly be about that, and how to deal with Daesh later.

 I think the Syrian population has benefitted a lot from the ceasefire, because for four years now it has been under the bombing of the Assad's aeroplanes, of barrel bombing, of the Ruusians recently, and the consequences of all sorts of fighting. We've seen that as soon as the ceasefire was respected, partially, all kinds of demonstrations against the régime; peaceful gatherings, started again, and there was a kind of rebirth of civil society, that in the last years emerged, tried to organise itself, to survive, and now is feeling some help to end the conflict. On the other hand, without a political horizon for the ceasefire, all parties will try to benefit from it, militarily speaking, to reorganise their troops, to prepare for the next phase. Unless they understand that this is a long-term ceasefire, and in parallel the peace process will lead to long-term changes in Syria. The priority would be the régime change, at least the Assad change, if some structures of the régime would be preserved for the next phase.

 There are three or four reasons why Assad didn't fall in 2011. Unlike in Tunisia, in Syria the structure of the régime is a mixture of security services, military, and a family clan, based on sectarianism and the confessional configuration in Syria. The reaction of the régime was not to look for a political compromise, but to crack down on the demonstrators, to destroy the society of the demonstrators, and use all sorts of force, exactly as Bashar's father did in 1980 and 1982. The the reaction of the régime was quite different, and led to the militarisation.

 The second thing is the geo-strategic location of Syria. On the Israeli border, on the Iraqi border, on the Turkish border, with all that meant with regional actors becoming involved.

Thirdly, the Syrian régime had a strong ally in Iran, that from day one supported it, and then Russia also jumped in, because it considered it was its ally that was being targetted, and Putin wanted to show that he is loyal to his old alliances, and will protect them.

 All that generalised the conflict, and internationalised it, plus Daesh, but at the origin, and I think the major responsibility, is of course that of the régime, that refused all kinds of political compromises, of dealing politically with its own society, and preferred to just use violence against it, to crack down on it. This has also been the history of Syria, unfortunately, since 1970, where the régime replaced politics in the society with violence, that is the killing machine that operates against all kinds of dissidence and opposition, and preserves politics for regional and international questions. So I think it's a mixture of that, and the timing did not play for a quick change in the régime. We saw in 2015 with all that, that the régime was very close to collapse, and that's probably why at that moment Russia decide to restore the balance, in order to make a compromise where they were part of the new Syria.' 

Syrian revolutionaries: ‘Carrying arms was not a choice’

 'Mohammad al-Ibrahim, 23, was one of thousands of young men who took part in the early, initially peaceful demonstrations. He told Al Arabiya English that the uprising forced him to switch paths and take up arms to defend himself. He was 17 when he said he led some of the demonstrations, shouting anti-government slogans, reciting poetry, and singing revolutionary songs. His personal turning point was towards the end of 2011, during a peaceful protest. He said none of his fellow demonstrators were armed when regime soldiers opened fire, killing two of his cousins.

 “I don’t regret using weapons against a monstrous and brutal regime… and if I can go back in time and pick up arms in the face of a regime that destroyed my homeland, my future, and killed my beloved ones I would not hesitate,” said Ibrahim. “I don’t believe that the revolution ‘failed’ because it became armed,” he said, adding that the Syrian regime had been behind the creation of Islamist militant groups and had been aided by foreign intervention.

 Ibrahim’s mother, who refers to herself as Umm Mohammad, said she had not wanted her son to take up arms, but felt she had no right to interfere in his decision. “I told myself my son isn’t of more value than the rest of the Syrian men who are dying to protect us.” Repeating what she claims is the sentiment of most of the wounded men, she said “[It turned out] the only reaction the regime understood was the same weaponized response they used against us, even though the revolution was initially peaceful. The very regime that drowned out our voices with its bullets had to hear us when we picked up our guns. They took our land, homes, memories, everything beautiful, even our beloved ones, and their actions led to my son becoming crippled in front of my own two eyes. What do you think our reaction is going to be? Of course were going to resort to arms… to protect ourselves.”

 Hadi Abdullah, an independent Syrian journalist and activist from the city of Al-Qusayr, Homs, said that many Syrian men had no other choice other than to pick up arms. “The crimes committed by the Assad regime pushed the Syrian protestors to carry arms… many Syrian men carried arms not by choice but were forced to defend themselves. We hoped that our revolution would continue as a peaceful movement and attain freedom and democracy without a single bullet,” Abdullah told Al Arabiya English.
“No one can sit and watch Assad’s Shabiha [thugs] slaughtering entire families than resist taking arms to defend their family. No one can sit and watch the regime forces detain women and abstain from picking up weapons. It’s human nature to fight to live and defend those you love.”
 Bashar al-Zoubi, who is also referred to as Abu Fadi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Front and is head of the Yarmouk Brigade, also said that picking up arms was never a choice and that they were ‘welcomed with tanks and bullets’ while peacefully protesting. “We are revolutionaries and not opposition. We took the streets demanding freedom, and a better future for Syria. Our words were not heard, so we were forced to take up arms. The opposition might have a different agenda than the revolutionaries, but this is what we’re fighting for. The ceasefire in Syria has brought back the wonderful old days of the revolution, where we went out as one and demanded for our rights.”
 Mohamad, 24, who asked to not have his full name disclosed, said he decided to join one of the early rebel groups, the Free Syrian Army, after his mother was killed in the town of Manbij in the northern Aleppo province. He said he was at home when Syrian airstrikes hit the market where his mother and sister had gone to buy clothes for his sister’s soon-to-be-born child. She had lost both her legs and there weren’t enough medical professionals and supplies to save her. After losing my mother, I felt I had nothing left to lose. If someone keeps hitting you, and you tell them to stop through words over and over, and they continuously hit you... you're going to strike back, am I correct?" '

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

"Doctor, Your Turn," The Young Men Who Started Syria's Revolution Speak About Daraa, Where It All Began

 'Omar first heard about the graffiti at morning recess. It was winter, he was 14, in the middle of 10th grade, and his friends said it was just a prank. The day before, just after school, a handful of Omar's classmates found some red paint and scrawled, "Your turn doctor," on the school's wall. The "doctor" was Bashar al-Assad, Syria's dictator, and in Daraa, Syria, in February 2011, those words could get you killed.

 It's been five years since Omar's friends wrote on their schoolyard wall; now the city of Daraa is divided between enclaves controlled by the Syrian government and parts that Omar says have been "liberated" by the Free Syrian Army. Omar avoided arrest, but his friend Yacoub, who was 14 at the time and also in the 10th grade, was not so lucky. Over the course of weeks, the police in Daraa completely brutalized Yacoub. They forced him to sleep naked on a freezing wet mattress, they strung him up on the wall and left him in stress positions for hours, and they electrocuted him with metal prods.

 It was in Daraa, a mostly Sunni city well known for its well-to-do families and close military and financial links to the state and the Assad family, that the first full-blown rebellion broke out.
Omar remembers going to mosque on one of the first Friday protests and watching the imam — who had for years read out a pro-government message at the end of his sermons — throw the regime's talking points on the ground. After prayers, the families and friends of the boys who had been arrested poured onto the streets, and began chanting "We want our kids out of prison." The police responded with tear gas, live ammunition, and sniper fire. Omar was among that first group of protesters, and remembers fondly how the people of Daraa — even those who had no connection to his friends — rallied around them.
 "I thought the people in the neighborhood would be against us, and think we were just stupid kids," Omar remembered. "In the end, writing on that wall was viewed as something heroic and courageous."
  Ismael, now 43, worked as an administrator at Daraa's main hospital during the early days of the uprising. One of his young cousins had been rounded up in the graffiti arrests, and Ismael was one of the first to join the protests. A few weeks into the uprising, Ismael secretly filmed medical workers uncovering a mass grave on the outskirts of town, he passed the film to a relative in the US, and it was eventually aired on CNN. Afterwards, Ismael was arrested, but his family managed to scrape together $20,000 to bribe an official and get him released. He immediately fled the country, and he's now a refugee in Toledo, Ohio. He says countless cousins and uncles have disappeared into Assad's prisons, or wound up dead on the streets.
 An official with the Free Syrian Army, Khaled now lives in rebel-controlled Daraa and he's had a few close calls, dodging the explosive-filled metal drums the Syrian military shoves out the back of helicopters. Since Russia, the US, the Syrian government and rebels agreed to a partial ceasefire last month, the front line that divides the Daraa city center has been largely quiet. But the years of barrel bombs, offensives, and counteroffensives, have taken a serious toll. "This generation is pretty much destroyed emotionally — now kids' toys are weapons." Khaled says. "We all need therapy." Khaled has the means to flee Syria, but he's decided instead to devote his life to overthrowing the Assad regime. He spends his days coordinating rebel activity around Daraa: he helps train new recruits, and make sure that some government services continue to function. "I want things to go back to normal, that's my real hope." '

Sunday, 13 March 2016

'Curse your soul, Jolani': The inner-struggle of Syria's opposition

Image result for 'Curse your soul, Jolani': The inner-struggle of Syria's opposition

  'Hundreds of anti-regime demonstrations have taken place in Syrian opposition towns over the past week after a five year hiatus.

 One of the most surprising twists to this tale has been how the Syrian population have remained largely "unradicalised", despite nothing more than superficial support from democratic powers. 

 Popular songs have even take aim at the jihadi fighters in the neighbourhood.

 [The revolution] was hijacked by the bearded men,

 Curse your soul Jolani [Nusra leader] and your soul Hassoon [pro-regime Sunni cleric],

 Curse your soul Baghdadi [IS leader] wherever you are too!

 This combined with the fact that, in many areas, Islamist fighters such as the Nusra Front - al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise - are their only lines of defence against pro-regime militias is proof that Syrians have not fallen victim to Stockholm Syndrome. Chants in support of the Free Syrian Army accompanied by energetic singing and dancing relive the heady days of 2011. The relative peace means the war - but not the fight - has been temporarily put on hold.

 Such secular "slights" to the puritanical sensitivities of local Salafi-jihadi fighters have rattled some elements within Nusra, which angrily broke up one demonstration in Idlib province this week, threatening to shoot at protesters.

 "Both fundamentalist extremists and Assad regime supporters have been embarrassed by the protests. Supporters of both groups have claimed that the protesters are being paid by foreign agents," said Oz Katerji, a Middle East analyst. "Democracy and free speech terrifies reactionary counter-revolutionary forces more than anything else."

 "As soon as the bombing lightens then immediately the jihadists are weakened," said Robin Yassin-Kassab, a British-Syrian writer and co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. "Assad produces jihadists. When a battle takes place, Nusra is seen as a friend of the revolution because it is fighting the regime. When a battle isn't taking place then Nusra is seen as an authoritarian power trying to enforce an unjust political project. Nusra's project is not democratic and it must be upset that after five years of trying to embed itself in revolutionary Syria, still the people on the streets are calling for freedom, democracy and the Free Syrian Army, and not the jihadist militias."

  Michael Karadjis, from the University of Western Sydney College and a writer on Syrian affairs, believes that a reduction in bombing has given moderate revolutionary forces a shot in the arm. "The FSA supporters and civil uprisings were very tactically wise in coming out all over the country as soon as there was a lull in the bombing... or perhaps people spontaneously came out," he said. 

 If Russia and the regime re-launch major bombing raids on rebel towns to suppress these protests, as has been reported today in eastern Ghouta, then it would no doubt backfire and likely trigger a more unified and extreme military response from the opposition, particularly if international condemnation remains muted. Groups such as Nusra, which have been among the best-performing armed opposition groups, would no doubt be among the main benefactors. The West and regional powers would also be in no position to ask rebels to cut ties with the extremist groups.

 "It is futile to demand the FSA not to have military coordination with groups like Nusra to fight the regime as the US has demanded for years. I'd go further, it is a call for mutual destruction of anti-Assad forces," Karadjis added. "With a regime like Assad's, some military element in [the resistance] is almost essential. But the greater the response, the less the civil component of the FSA's military struggle can raise its hand."

 The longer the bombing continues, the greater the potential that groups such as Nusra have to expand their ranks. "The ceasefire does have an isolating effect on groups like Nusra precisely because they thrive on the extremist atmosphere that inevitably comes from war," said Karadjis. "That is why Assad pushed for civil war from the moment the civil uprisings began." '