Thursday, 7 January 2016

Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War

Yassin T03090

 'On 20 January Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, a book I co-authored with Robin Yassin-Kassab, will be launched. The book would not have been possible without the help of many courageous and inspirational Syrians who shared their stories with us.'

 'Bristol 2014. A compact old lady in red hair and a flowery dress says, "I've lived in England for over thirty years, but I didn't realise until the revolution that I had a fear barrier inside. But those brave youths gave me courage; they gave me back my identity, and my freedom." This is where revolution happens first, before the guns and the political calculations - in individual hearts, in the form of new thoughts and newly unfettered words. Revolutionary Syrians often describe their first protest as an ecstastic event, the regime's savage response was a baptism of fire after which there was no going back.'

Praise for Burning Country:
 ‘For decades Syrians have been forbidden from telling their own stories and the story of their country, but here Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami tell the Syrian story. Their words represent the devastated country which has denied them and their compatriots political representation. Burning Country is an indispensable book for those who wish to know the truth about Syria.’
– Yassin al-Haj Saleh
 ‘Burning Country is poised to become the definitive book not only on the continuing Syrian conflict but on the country and its society as a whole. Very few books have been written on ‘the kingdom of silence’ that effectively capture how we all got here while not omitting the human voice, the country’s heroes and heroines — a combination that is rare but essential for understanding the conflict and its complexities. Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami have written a must-read book even as the conflict still rages to understand what happened, why it happened and how it should end.’
– Hassan Hassan, co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (New York Times bestseller), Associate Fellow, Chatham House, London
 ‘By far the best account of the Syrian uprising yet. It is a comprehensive and nuanced analysis of a multifaceted geopolitical conflict and myriad grassroots struggles. Anyone interested in comprehending the highly convoluted situation in Syria must read this extremely sophisticated book.’
– Dr. Yasser Munif, professor of sociology at Emerson College, co-founder of the Global Campaign of Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution
 ‘Burning Country could have been titled “A People’s History of the Syrian Revolution and War”: it provides a view from below that constitutes the perfect antidote to geopolitical reductionism. This book is unique in its combination of first-hand material derived from fieldwork, factual and analytical rigour, and unshakable faith in the Syrian people’s struggle for justice and dignity.
– Thomas Pierret, Lecturer in Contemporary Islam, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Edinburgh, and Director of the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World

Assad Starving His Own People In Mountain Idyll

filmed by activist in town as appeal for help

 'When Syria rose against the violence authoritarianism of the Assad regime, the citizens of Madaya hid the award-winning writer and film maker Ramita Navai. As Assad's forces dragged activists away and hunted for opposition figures from house to house in the mountain paradise, Ms Navai was kept safe in the bosom of a town that fervently believed that the West would join them in their battle for democracy.

 "These people saved our lives while we were making a film*. They gave us a safe house and believed with all their hearts that the world would come to their aid," she said.

That was four years ago. The Syrian revolution was forsaken by the West back then. And its people are now dying over that misplaced faith.'

*[] See also her interview with Anderson Cooper. "The Syrian régime, which has been lying about an awful lot, and lying for months, say that these are all terrorists, say that these are armed groups." "Well that's rubbish. We didn't meet any terrorists, none of the protesters we met were armed. We saw thousands protesting, men, women, and children, These are ordinary people. So the guys that we were with in the safe house, two of them were college graduates."

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The Story Behind The Viral Photo Of A Syrian Couple Hugging At An Airport

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 'British-born and raised in the UK, Rose visited Syria every year, and her family and Ahmad’s were close. In 2009, they became a couple and he asked her to marry him but she turned him down. “My education was my priority, not marriage,” she explained. “He also lived in Syria, and I still had the whole ‘no way will I marry someone living in Syria’ mentality!”
 When the civil war began, the pair lost touch as both families suffered huge loss. Ahmad’s father was killed by the Assad regime, and his sister was killed by crossfire in Homs, leaving behind two young girls. His uncle was among those shown tortured to death and photographed by Caesar, the Syrian military photographer.
 Rose spent her time “trying to get the word out” about the government attacking Syrian civilians, using Twitter and Skype to translate and send reports to media and human rights groups. She later continued her work at the Baba Amr media centre in Homs, in “the same besieged area where [Sunday Times correspondent] Marie Colvin was killed”.
 When the siege ended, Ahmad returned to Damascus to finish his studies as a medical doctor. The pair met again in February 2013, and began preparations for their engagement, but their plans were halted when Rose’s uncle and his son were killed by the Assad regime. Shortly afterwards, the couple were separated once again.
 Ahmad finished his studies and worked in field hospitals across Damascus and Homs in his free time. As a doctor, he was at high risk of being killed, and every day Rose anxiously checked the news to see if he was still alive.
 Rose said: “A doctor, who later died under torture, told me just before he was detained, ‘A doctor who treats injured is a bigger threat to the regime than someone carrying weapons.’ It turns out that was true.”
 Then, in late 2013, Ahmad was detained in Damascus. “I look at him with me today and he is still suffering,” said Rose. “He can barely stand on his feet, his shoulder dislocates if he lifts too much, his back is still marked, he is in pain all the time. He has never told me the full story – he gives me tiny snippets here and there, and it just makes me freeze. He feels guilty he is now safe and his friends inside aren’t. Inside, there were women and children.”
 On his release, Ahmad’s aunt and cousin were detained, and he heard rumours that Assad’s forces wanted to take him in for a second time. It was then he knew he had to leave Syria, and with no passport, medical degree, or belongings, he fled to Lebanon and registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross. Eventually, Ahmad and Rose worked towards gaining a spouse visa, and by mid-2015, they were legally married.
 “It feels like he will be taken again,” Rose said. “I’m so used to barriers and separation… it will take time to sink in. My friends have waited and supported me so much, they stopped me from getting depressed, and they cried and cried when they saw the picture of us at the airport. I was happy to have him arrive safely – not through the sea or in the back of a lorry – as Syrians suffer and die trying to reach safety daily.” '

Assad Killed Nearly Nine Times as Many Civilians as ISIS in 2015


 'The Syrian Network for Human Rights, which has been tracking casualties and human-rights abuses in the Syrian revolution since 2011, said the regime of Bashar al-Assad killed nearly nine times as many people as ISIS in the country during 2015.'

'Children Are Eating Leaves Off The Trees': The Nightmare of The Siege of Madaya, Syria

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 'In the past month alone, 31 residents have died from starvation, or in attempts to run the Hezbollah-manned blockade that encircles the town. As the death toll mounted in December, residents of Madaya began posting desperate pleas on social media, along with disturbing images, reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps.

 According to Rajai, a 26-year old English and math teacher in Madaya, the Assad regime is punishing his hometown for its participation in the Syrian uprising in 2011. When peaceful protesters took to the streets in the nearby city of Zabadani in April 2011, Rajai joined in. "We wanted to clean this country of Assad," he said. He was arrested and tortured. Now, after five years of civil war, his outlook is bleak. 
 "In the early days of the revolution, we used to say no one could be made to feel hungry or afraid," he said. "But now we know we were wrong."
 In September, Hezbollah moved into the town of Zabadani, just two miles (three km) north of Madaya, and the town's only real lifeline to the outside world. A few beleaguered rebel fighters were allowed safe passage out thanks to a deal brokered by Turkey and Iran.
 As Hezbollah stormed the city, it forced people it considered hostile to move to Madaya, a tactic residents say was designed to separate out pro-regime and anti-regime civilians. Loay, a 28-year old student in Zabadani, was forced to relocate to Madaya with his mother when Hezbollah took over his town. "They said: go to Madaya," he told VICE News by phone. "There you will die, from starvation."
 In Madaya, he said, it's like "another world." "Everyone," he added, "is starving."

 As the siege grinds on, civilians are increasingly losing hope, and fear their plight will always be in the shadow of the war up north against the Islamic State. "Sure, people may read about us if you write something," Rajaai, the teacher, told VICE News. "But when they finish reading, they'll forget us." '

Sunday, 3 January 2016

FSA blows up regime military HQ in Daraa province

: "Footage of the operation last night by the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front in Daraa province which blew up the the regime’s local military headquarters near the village of Atman in the north of the region A senior officer with the Southern Front forces accompanied by a number of other fighters was able to infiltrate behind regime lines late last night, booby-trapping the crowded regime headquarters building before detonating the explosives once the rebels were safely out of range. Sources within the Southern Front’s command said that the brigade’s operation led to the total destruction of the headquarters building, killing all the troops and militia members in the building."

Russia is clearing the decks for Assad

  "Russia is ostensibly pushing for a political settlement between the Assad government and the non-ISIS opposition. On the ground, Russia is assassinating the leaders of the non-ISIS opposition and working to dismantle their militias. In other words, Putin is not only looking to torpedo the Vienna process, but also trying to change the facts on the ground so Assad is the only show in town so when it comes to any ceasefire or peace deal. And the only thing that could stand against ISIS in the final instance. That way, Putin will leave the West no option but to come on board with him and Assad if they want to fight ISIS.

The de facto military détente between Assad and ISIS continues, the trade in oil and gas continues (despite heavy American bombardment of the transport convoys), and all under the watch of Putin’s “fight against terrorists”. There should be no doubt, however, as to what Putin’s priorities are: to keep a genocidal maniac in power by using the pretext of fighting against terrorism to target any opposition to Assad except for the terrorists themselves. And once again, our Western leaders have no strategic response to this, and no real desire to do anything other than throw bombs at the problem and hope for the best."