Friday, 13 November 2015

Letter from Douma: 'Our children are being killed'

 'It usually begins in the morning, at around 8am, and lasts all day. But recently there has been a new development: now we sometimes have air strikes at night as well. We wake up when we hear the first bomb and say Alhamdulillah (thanks to God): we are still alive.

After breakfast, I go to my office - it's located in the building I live in, which helps me to minimise how much time I have to spend out on the streets. I work for the Syrian Nonviolence Movement, a civil society NGO founded in 2011, during the early days of the uprising. In terms of food, my family are among the lucky ones, as both my wife and I work. For breakfast we have labneh (strained yoghurt) or cheese and sometimes jam. And then later we have a second meal - today we had rice and tomatoes. Sometimes we have meat.

When I arrived, the city was newly liberated and there was an atmosphere of hope. Alternative schools, which do not run the state curriculum, and new organisations such as the civil defence forces and the new Douma city council were set up. There were also new cultural centres, newspapers, magazines and FM radio stations. It felt like the regime would soon fall. By October of that year, the siege had tightened. It was really hard. There was no food in the markets, no fuel, almost nothing at all, and no smugglers bringing anything in. There was no bread, and no flour to make it, no rice or potatoes.

 I was here when the regime used chemical weapons to attack the eastern Ghouta area in August 2013, and we really thought that something would happen after that to stop things. If a chemical attack against children isn't a "red line", then what is? That was the international community giving Bashar al-Assad a licence to kill. They basically said - you can kill more, and you can even bring in other armies to kill people if you are short of weapons and soldiers. 
 The entire world is watching Syrian children and women being killed by barrel bombs and air strikes, and yet nobody is taking any action to stop this massacre. The only way I find to stay positive is by carrying on. After losing loved ones, houses, jobs, savings … people have no choice but to go on. I stick to my ideas of nonviolence. We see now how the situation is getting worse and worse with more violence. Even if it does not look like peace is coming any time soon, that doesn't mean we should support more weapons and more violence now.
 I think the international community knows what could stop the killing in Syria, but they don't seem to care about Syrian lives.'

Syrian activists are repairing the fabric of civil society, even as it comes undone

 'The main impediment and biggest threat to civil society in Syria today is the indiscriminate bombing by the Syrian regime, especially the aerial onslaught with barrel bombs. It is no surprise that the Syrian regime wants to push these civil groups outside the country. The biggest threat to the regime today is from the progressive culture of political-truth telling embodied in newly empowered civil society. Only Syrian civil society offers a clear alternative to collapsing state institutions.

Syria’s most promising future could, without  doubt, emerge from these grassroots initiatives, instated and reinstated by unwavering activists in the face of a multitude of challenges. If the liberated territories which saw the emergence of these groups were to be given total protection, with anti-aircraft defences, from Assad’s daily onslaught of barrel bombs, this base would start to flourish, refugees would return and an alternative order to that of Assad would quickly emerge. But, for now, the bombs continue to bury people under the fragments of their destroyed neighbourhoods. And if the world defiantly continues to insist that what is happening in Syria is too complex, too confusing, no one can blame the revolutionaries for this lack of clarity for they have obsessively documented every infringement on their basic rights in front of a largely apathetic audience.

 We are tired of foreign commentators projecting tired and well worn assumptions onto the uprising—warning that any intervention by the international would encroach on Syria’s national sovereignty. We are tired of being warned that so-called political engineering by the west will achieve nothing beyond exacerbating sectarian and ethnic cleavages. The well-known risks of external political engineering must not lead us to dismiss the struggle of the Syrian people as pointless and doomed. It does these brave activists a great injustice to characterise their popular uprising as a scheme managed by imperialist forces. Syrian revolutionaries cannot afford to give up on what they started, even if they wanted to. If they give up they will be living on borrowed time, until the regime locates them and tortures or kills them. Syrian civil society is alive and well, and growing despite the most inauspicious conditions. It needs the support of the international community and an accompanying narrative which privileges civil activism over the militarised binary of ISIS and Assad.'


Assad’s Troops Are Raping Children to Silence Dissenters

1111_Syria Children

Khaled Rawas

 ' “I will not forgive him, nor will I let God's mercy descend onto him,” uttered a woman activist working to support rape victims at a secret humanitarian organization in Damascus.
 The activist leveled this charge not against the regime and its Shabiha militias—which use this most cruel weapon of war systematically to intimidate, suppress and humiliate Assad’s many opponents—but in reference to the father of a twelve year-old girl who was brutally gang raped by pro-Assad factions in her own home in front of her family.
 The Assad regime utilizes its incredibly harmful effects on the victim and her society to suppress any form of dissent. Clearly, a 12-year-old girl was no threat to the regime, but raping her in front of her family was a means to repress the opposition and callously silence those who long for freedom.
 After the young girl gave birth to the child, the activist received additional reports that she and her baby were physically assaulted by her father for bringing dishonor upon the family. In the end, the young girl took her newborn child and fled from her home, prompting the activist’s earlier comment of the father who mercilessly forbade his daughter from aborting the child of a Shabiha-rape, but then displayed no mercy toward the child of that rape. Already stripped her of her humanity, her family’s shame and humiliation stripped her of it a second time.
 “During my detention, I saw many female detainees whose families refused to recognize them on the assumption they had been raped, even if that wasn’t true. For example, the regime forced one activist [detainee] to conduct an interview on national television and claim that twenty-one Free Syrian Army fighters gang raped her to spread its false version of who revolutionaries are by playing on the religious and social tension of regime supporters. This was not the only injustice that she faced. After being transferred to the Adra civilian prison, her father visited her and disowned her, ordering her never to return to her community. Even if she was ever released from prison, she could never go back home.”
 As a Syrian, I hope that the revolution will not only fight the Assad regime, but also the damaging traditions and mores that oppress our society. The fight for freedom calls for us to think and act logically, not to listen to overzealous religious leaders and a brutal regime.
 Syria’s honor does not depend on the female hymen, but in eradicating the ruthless Assad regime and its cruel system of gender-based oppression. This is the revolution that we need.'

The local journalist shining a light on Aleppo

 "After the Free Syrian Army entered Aleppo in mid-2012, media workers started acquiring more freedom, and international news outlets made their way to the city.

 Life in Aleppo does not resemble life anywhere else in the world. My city has been ripped apart by war and has seen things that defy the imagination. Words can’t do them justice. It's a city full of love and war, childhood and death, pain and suffering. It's considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world as it gets bombed every day with barrels of explosives and slaughtered with a knife by Islamic State in the eastern countryside. I've seen the lives of innocent people destroyed by death and disability. Houses are no longer safe in Aleppo. There is nowhere left to hide. And no one knows how long it's going to last as the international community turns a blind eye to these forgotten tragedies.

 I hope one day to see smiles back on the faces of the country's children after Assad is overthrown and the Islamic State group is disposed of. Only then can we build a free and peaceful Syrian state."

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians

 'The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a 
democratic and free Syria. Our membership is made up of Syrians, and friends of Syrians. Our positions are led by the needs and demands of Syrians suffering brutally at the hands of a criminal regime.

Stop the War oppose any action against Assad. This puts Stop the War against the Syrian civilians who are being bombed by Assad, it puts them not just against Syrian revolutionaries but also against Syrian doctors, against Syrian White Helmets rescue volunteers, and against Syrian civil society activists, all of whom call for international action to stop Assad’s bombs. This is why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians.

Their statement lists three claimed lies about their 2nd November meeting: that Stop the War’s Andrew Murray had called for support for the Assad government to fight ISIS, that Syrians were prevented from speaking at the meeting, and that Police were called to the meeting to control protesters.

 Andrew Murray’s “strong and credible government” is one where there is no change of regime, and no demand for Assad to step down: in other words, a continuation of the Assad regime. Stop the War did allow Muzna Al-Naib to speak in the meeting, but only when other members of the audience called for her to be heard. She was the only Syrian allowed to speak, she was interrupted, and for the rest of the meeting all other Syrians were deliberately ignored by the Chair, Diane Abbott, even when other speakers Catherine West MP and Caroline Lucas MP said they wanted to hear from Syrians.

Stop the War deny that Police were called to the meeting to control protesters. This is the most blatant and astonishing falsehood. Police in the Houses of Parliament were called to the meeting. Syrian and Arab audience members were repeatedly told “you are going to get arrested.” One Syria Solidarity activist was prevented from re-entering the meeting by Police who arrived in numbers and were visible to all at the doors of the meeting by its end.
 If Stop the War’s slogan “Don’t bomb Syria” is to have any meaning, let them demand the end of the regime whose bombs have killed so many.

 If Stop the War oppose imperialism let them demonstrate their sincerity outside the Russian Embassy. Let them demonstrate with placards calling for Russia to stop bombing Syrian hospitals.

 Lastly, if Stop the War are against war, let them stop denying war crimes; for this is their latest response, publishing a claim that Assad wasn’t responsible for the Ghouta chemical weapons massacre, “because it was so obviously not in Assad’s political and military interests.”
He asks “what would happen to the Syrians that have supported the regime” if the Free Syrian Army win. The question Matt Carr fails to grasp is what is happening to millions of the dictator’s victims right now? The Free Syrian Army are the people who have defended their homes, freedom and justice against Assad for the last five years and against ISIS for the last three, and who are now being bombed by Assad’s ally Putin. The Free Syrian Army are not the ones levelling neighbourhoods and driving millions from their homes.

 Syrian civilians need protection from Assad’s mass murder. Stop the War have nothing to offer them, and so they stop their ears.'

A perilous journey: Khalid's flight to Europe from Syria - an illustrated account

 "My name is Khalid. I'm 24. I escaped from Syria and I have been in this asylum centre for three months."

 The Syrian Revolution

 "I joined the protests – but kept it secret from my family. My mother would have locked me in my room to protect me. We marched in glorious unity. When the security forces shot us, it hardened our defiance ..."

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

How Syria's 'Rebel Mother' Rebuilt Her Life In Turkey

 'Early on, Najlaa brought her two sons, Hussein and Amr, with her to the protests, and rallied other women to join her. What began as a few women marching down the streets in their traditional chadors quickly evolved into an energized movement, with women chanting slogans and waving placards denouncing Assad.

 When she arrived in Aleppo, she didn't stop supporting the revolution. Najlaa worked to help injured people and made signs for the rebels. Soon, her work forced her to flee again, this time to Azaz, where some of her relatives lived.  Then her 9-year-old son, Amr, was injured by one of the many improvised bombs that rained down on the city as forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad battled the Free Syrian Army. Najlaa knew she had to flee. She arrived in Turkey with her two sons and the clothes on their backs.

 Najlaa has begun to rebuild Syria in Turkey. On a recent day at the center, women in hijabs carefully pulled needles through cloth, making the Syrian revolution’s equivalent of Barbie dolls. “We called her Hajier, first martyr of the revolution,” Najlaa said as she held a doll with a kind face and golden-brown braids made of string.

 The achievements of these women are now the only thing that brings her joy, Najlaa said. They also give her hope that someday they will be able to return to a peaceful Syria. “The war will end. Nothing lasts, the war will end, and it will then be clear to women that the more work they put in, the more they will harvest.” '

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Syria's Swimming Sisters Find New Home in German Waters

Image: Syria's Swimming Sisters Find New Home in German Waters

 ' "I was not afraid of dying, because if anything happened I could swim to arrive at the island. But the problem was that I had 20 persons with me," said Sarah. "In Syria I worked in a swimming pool to watch people not drowning, so if I let anyone drown or die I would not forgive myself." '

 Syria is dying every day in the Mediterranean, but humanity endures. Everyone who can leave is leaving.

 'After the conflict began, the Mardini family moved around to avoid the fighting and tried to ensure their daughters could keep on swimming. Ysra, now 17, even represented Syria at the short-course world championships in Turkey in 2012. But as the war intensified fellow swimmers drifted away.

"We were 40 or 50 swimmers, and now we are maybe 10 or 7 swimmers in Syria," said Sarah. "We want to have a future. I want to be in college, I want to be an international swimmer and my sister too. But if we stay there we will not reach that because the situation is not OK in Syria." '