Saturday, 28 November 2015

A letter to David Cameron from Syrians in Britain


 "We want more than anyone to be freed of ISIL and so we welcome international commitment to rid the world of this disease. But simply bombing ISIL will not defeat them. If anything it will make them stronger.

 The only way to defeat ISIL is by stopping the Assad regime’s indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, including areas controlled by moderate rebel groups. Once this happens, Syrians will be freed up to drive out ISIL themselves, as they have proved themselves capable of doing.

 We are urging you Prime Minister to prioritise the resolution of the conflict in Syria over the bombing of Raqqa. It is simply not possible to defeat ISIL while Assad maintains his grip on power and keeps the war burning and refugees pouring over the borders."

‘No IS group in Aleppo, so who is Russia bombing?’

Rami Jarrah:

 "The morale of the people of Aleppo is very low at the moment. They feel vulnerable, since they have three enemies: the IS group, Assad’s regime, and now Russia. That the international community allows Russia to continue these air strikes on civilians – while lying about their reasons for them – has left Aleppo residents feeling that freedom, democracy and human rights are just phrases. They’ll seldom say it on camera, but off-camera, people will often tell you that they don’t believe in these principles anymore."

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The sound and the fury: how Syria's rappers, rockers and writers fought back

 Robin Yassin-Kassab

 'In the first heady weeks of the Arab spring, commentators made much of the role played by social media, but far more significant was the carnivalesque explosion of popular culture in revolutionary public spaces. Protests in Syria against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship were far from grim affairs. Despite the ever-present risk of bullets, Syrians expressed their hopes for dignity and rights through slogans, graffiti, cartoons, dances and songs.

 Assad’s barrel bombs, and to a lesser extent the ravages of Isis, have displaced almost 12 million people, most internally, huddling in unregulated camps along the border fences or under trees outside their destroyed villages. More than four million are abroad, the vast majority in neighbouring states, others washing up on unwelcoming European shores. It seems the only Syrian who doesn’t want to leave is al-Assad.
 The refugees have carried their creativity with them. One of the most pressing cultural initiatives has been how to educate the lost generation of Syrian children. In the Atmeh camp –inside Syria close to the Turkish border – for instance, the basic Syrian curriculum is taught, but pictures of the president are ripped out of the textbooks and the propagandistic “nationalism” class is dispensed with. School days begin and end with a revolutionary song and a shouted question and answer (Our Aim?… Freedom!). For the Kesh Malek organisation, now based in southern Turkey, this is depressingly reminiscent of the old Ba’athist catechism. The organisation’s Zaid Muhammad wants to build an alternative: “Our aim now is to build a generation through non-ideological education. For this reason, we don’t accept the revolutionary flag in the classrooms of our schools – even if we’re ready to die for it on the streets.”
 Syrians are rightly infuriated by their abandonment by the world’s states. But there’s good reason to hope their responses will be more positive and diverse than mere terrorism. Already Syrians have changed the image of refugees in Europe. Before, clandestine migrants crossed borders in silence, in the dark. Today – thanks to their revolutionary training – they march in broad daylight, in their thousands, still demanding dignity.'

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Art of war: Syrian artist Imranovi's graphic portrayal of his country's struggle

Syrian artist Imranovi creates graphics to remind us that while the world focuses on ISIS, Bashar al-Assad is still waging war on the people of Syria. <br /><br />"My main message was spreading the news. But now after this amount of time, everybody knows what's happening. So now the purpose of my art is to say this is us, whatever you can do, think, just think about these people."

 'This is the Modern Face of Syria according to Syrian artist Imranovi. The image is the centerpiece of his first ever solo exhibition in London, and part of a collection of graphics about the destruction of his home country at the hands of, as he sees it, one man:

 "It's all because of him. This man is still ruling the country, he's still in power. He's the main reason but everyone has forgotten him. Now all their attention is on ISIS."

"I spent several months in Syria in protest; it was true freedom that we experienced. That was three years ago." 
He left Syria for the UAE and began work as an animator, but is worried about his family still living in Damascus. "It's all still under the control of the regime, full of barricades. There are lots of house raids and they just take whoever they find to prison. That's what happened with my two uncles. And my father. They took him as a detainee but recently we found his image as one of the people who died under torture."
 Imranovi most recently created artwork Deluge for the exhibition opening. As a depiction of Syrians in a boat floating on the debris of war, it represents a shift in the focus of his work to the people desperately trying to escape.
 "The sad thing is that I can't make something that represents the level of suffering that they are facing," he says. "I blame myself because I can't design or find any idea that fits this level. When you see the real image, it just cancels everything else."
 "The purpose of my art now is to say: think, just think about these people. Teach your children, teach your family, or find some organization that helps these refugees. If you can do anything about it, please." '

"There go the Syrian people, always have their heads up high."

Rami Jarrah:

 'Trying to get doctors to speak regarding the strikes on Aleppo, all of them are saying they won't go on camera and that we are not allowed at all to film in or near the hospital. They say the Syrian regime will attack them if they try to show any of what they are doing to a public.
 Usually the assumption was that the location would be identified by the Syrian regime then the hospital would be attacked but this is unrealistic given the fact that it is no hard job to have spies in the area who would easily provide coordinates to them.
 So they know where these key services are but they only attack them when they are shed light on in the media and especially the western press, Assad's propaganda machine wants to make sure that those that oppose Assad never come across as a civil society and maintain the "extremist" image. unfortunately it seems to be working because as I said noone wants to be filmed, they say we "will certainly be punished".'

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Telling the Truth About ISIS and Raqqa

The group Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered faces unceasing peril from ISIS as they smuggle out information about what's happening in their city.

 'When anti-regime demonstrations broke out in March, 2011, in Dara’a, a city in the south, and reports spread throughout Syria that Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces were firing on civilians, Al-Hamza and many others joined in protests, in Raqqa. “We wanted to be free,” he said. “It seemed simple.”

 As the uprising against Assad spread throughout Syria and the casualty counts rose, tens of thousands of people left Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and other embattled cities and towns and arrived in Raqqa, which is on the northern bank of the Euphrates River. The city swelled and became known for a while as “the hotel of the revolution.”

 By March, 2013, Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) troops, as well as Islamist rebel forces, including al-Nusra, controlled the city and tore down a statue of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, to celebrate. “Raqqa was the first liberated city in Syria,” Al-Hamza said.

 But at around the same time, members of ISIS, or the Islamic State, bearing black flags, began accumulating in the nearby town of Slouk. “At first, there were only around fifteen people,” Al-Hamza said. “None of us knew about it” until fighters from al-Nusra began switching over to ISIS, which had its origin in Iraq. “Over time, around ninety per cent of the Nusra fighters in the area became ISIS, and only ten per cent of them refused,” Al-Hamza said.

 In May, 2013, ISIS fighters started making kidnapping runs and attacking F.S.A. leaders, and, by late summer, there were full-scale battles with F.S.A. troops. As the F.S.A. began to suffer defeats, car bombings, kidnappings, and executions, one of the journalists at the table said, some F.S.A. soldiers “out of complete fear” also joined ISIS. People in Raqqa could see that ISIS was growing stronger, as they brought in heavy weapons from Iraq and seasoned soldiers who had fought in the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein. By the beginning of 2014, ISIS had absolute control of the city. They now overran the mosques, drove out Christians from the city, and turned major municipal buildings into their various headquarters. The propaganda campaign that ISIS mustered following the capture of Raqqa brought on a wave of foreigners.

 The member of R.B.S.S. are utterly frustrated with the efforts of the West to defeat both Assad, who has fended off the opposition so far, and ISIS, which has suffered recent losses in Iraq and Syria, but which has proved capable of exacting suffering from Sinai to Beirut to Paris.

“The problem the Syrian people have with the United States is that we are suffering for five years with barrel bombs,” one R.B.S.S. journalist said. “Assad has killed so many innocents, and many people have lost hope. After Assad’s chemical attack, when he crossed the so-called ‘red line,’ the U.S. just took the weapons. It made America look like a liar and weak.

“When you say ‘Raqqa’ the first thing people think of is ISIS,” he continued. “They forget hundreds of thousands of civilians, normal people like us. I am not a terrorist. There are so many people, normal people, who want to live in a free, democratic Syria. We want to rebuild Syria, and the only way we can do it is through our civil-society group and others like it. If the United States government and other governments want to fight ISIS on social media, their Twitter accounts are seen as propaganda. But when real life is shown through us, and you see what life is like, normal people believe it.” '