Yesterday it was the Assyrian New Year, the year of 6766. Happy Assyrian New Year, everyone!
The Iraqi and the Assyrian flag
Girls in traditional Assyrian dresses
UNHCR Northern Europe wanted to launch a hashtag on Syria to remind people on how Syria was before the war. Little did they probably suspect that Syrian activists – these admirable, young, brave people – would take over the hashtag to remind the world of what was going on behind the beautiful scenery of their homeland. UNHCR even happily encouraged twitters to publish their photos of Syria before the war, seemingly disregarding the Syrian activists using Twitter as their main forum for resistance towards the regime.
Everyone agrees that Syria was a beautiful country before the war, but if you happened to be against the regime, to be one of those who wanted to speak, read and write whatever they wanted to, Syria could show a very ugly face. This, many people seem to have forgotten by now. The Twitter activists quickly took the opportunity to remind of this, and to show an excerpt of their remarkably dark humour:
“#SyriaB4War: is where you have to watch the criminal dictator pictures in all streets” (attached, a photo with the ever-smiling Bashar Al Assad)
“#SyriaB4War: Farm for Bashar al-Assad and his family”
“#SyriaB4War: Thousands of writers and the opposition were in prison”
“#SyriaB4War: is where the civil society activism was only for Asthma Assad and her entourage”
“#SyriaB4War: is where families dream of eating meat without being able to fulfil that dream with their miserable salaries”
And the last touché: one twitterer attached a photo of the Tadomour prison in Syria: “who goes there never return”.
I bet UNHCR’s communication department will think twice next time.
This is Bahgdad, too. The photos are from the Facebook page “Republic of Baghdad“.
I remember the beginning of the Syrian revolution. Young Syrians; girls in their pastel-colored clothes that marked the spring of 2011; young men in leather jackets protecting them against the chilly March weather.
They were so cool. They were hopeful. They were saying things in public that previously had made you, if you happened to be in Syria, shiver. They were forming cells; established independent news outlets; traded news about which activist was in which underground prison; helped kids who had become orphans when their parents disappeared; speaking openly about the sexual abuse the female members of the opposition endured in prison.
The activists that I knew were journalists, medical doctors, university scholars, NGO employees by day; activists by night. Keeping in touch with other fellow activists on social media and the in the Middle East so loved Blackberry.
The topics of politics and justice flowed easily among them; sitting with some Syrian activists, they always started talking politics, you could break night with them just to hear their ideas, their bright thoughts about the future, when their generation would be the first one to conquer the long-lived illness of living under a totalitarian regime. They would bring up their kids in a society where you could say whatever you liked. Where fear didn’t seep in everywhere. Where the beautiful, amazing country of Syria didn’t have that silenced cover over it all: where freedom prospered. Where you could talk as openly in the street as you could a few hours away from Damascus, on the other side of the border in Lebanon.
And soon we are at the five year landmark. In a few weeks it’s March 2016. What happened to the cool young Syrian activists, with their high-flying dreams? The one who were chanting in the streets?
My own answer is so sad that I have to write about it.
The Syrian activists that I know are tired and beaten and worst of all, forgotten. No one will assign them with a human rights award. No one will call them on a stage in front of an international audience and praise them for all the brave things they did for their own country. How they started free press online. How they cared for other people’s children. How they treated wounded civilians with a minimum of medical supplies.
The Syrian activists, the ones who started it all, before Daesh, before Al Nosra front, before the foreign interventions, are in worst case dead; tortured and starved until they caved in in one of the regime’s dreaded dungeons. If they’re better off, they’re released and living in constant fear of being detained again. Leaving the country starts to become more and more impossible for those who are still left.
If they’re better off they have been able to leave the country and are scattered around the globe, refugees in other countries. They are often unwelcome. They’re struggling with psychological problems many can’t imagine. They are depressed, suffering from anxiety attacks, insomnia. And being traumatised doesn’t always make you a better person. Being traumatised doesn’t make you nicer. It makes you angry, and you take out the anger on anyone. It makes you bitter and you take out the bitterness on anything.
The mental health care system in my own country often can’t cope with their traumas. Psychologists I’ve heard of break down in tears themselves when hearing the horrific ordeal the Syrian regime put the activists through, the civil war that tore the country in pieces.
Being a Syrian activist in 2016 – you’re forgotten. The pastel colours from the spring of 2011 has faded a long time ago. The activists were left with no support and here we have the results. What’s left is a regional war, a war by proxy, that’s escalating into an international war, in a place where the so promising feelings of hope and trust once grew.
Despite the ongoing threat from Daesh, Kurdistan is trying to hold the fort. Many Kurds I know try to keep up the vibes by sharing positive photos and news from their country.
Travel to Kurdistan is a beautiful Facebook page with one clear aim in mind.
Wanna go somewhere exciting? Somewhere different? Try Iraqi Kurdistan next time. here’s a few reasons why (all captions, when there are, are from the Travel to Kurdistan’s page):
“Our colourful flag must wave in all weather and at all time to survive.”
Photo credits: Travel to Kurdistan’s Facebook page
Women of Egypt Women of Egypt is dedicated to showing the world different sides of Egyptian women, outside the box of the regular ones in Western media.
Please let me take the opportunity to introduce them to you. The captions are the group’s own.
“1956 seven beauty queens across the republic were crowned, competitions in Alexandria, Cairo, Beni Suef and other cities.”
“Military training for Egyptian girls in the 60s”
“Folk dancers Farida Fahmy and Mahmoud Reda”
Photo credits: Women in Egypt
Today when the world celebrates the lifting of US sanctions against Iran, and CNN’s headline blasts out “Flight to Freedom”, on the previously imprisoned Americans that has been released as a part of the peace agreement, I wanted to have an Iranian’s point of view. A friend of mine gave his opinion, on the condition of anonymity.
“Today, 17th of January 2016, Iranians woke up to their first day without sanctions. Whilst a lot of people will rejoice and feel relieved from an economical sense, pragmatically this just means Iran has gone back to 2006 when (the latest) sanctions were put in place.
During the sanctions the wealthy, those with connections, those who succumbed to corruption found ways to bypass international laws and got richer. Of course as a consequence the country as a whole got poorer because a lot of oil and other resources were sold far below market price to China, India and elsewhere or re-branded as some other country. Whilst people were complaining about medicine shortage, sports cars were being imported at a never seen rate.
People similar to Babak Zanjani and countless others are now eagerly awaiting the influx of money. 100 billion dollars of assets are set to be released and Western companies can do business again.
Except, no one asks themselves, who will the money go to? Will the removal of sanctions act like some cataclysm to unlock the gross unemployment, the gross violations of human rights and everything else that is wrong with the system?
Of course not. To understand why, you simply have to look at the terms of the nuclear negotiations.
The West wanted Iran to stop pursuing even the ability to obtain an atomic bomb and Iran wanted to export its oil again and buy stuff from the global market. What’s missing?
Not a single mention of release of political prisoners, human rights violations, indictment of international criminals, free elections, gender equality and so much more. In the end it was about protecting interest. Iran could continue to do whatever it wanted internally to its population as exemplified by the record number of executions in 2015 so long as it stayed off course for an atomic bomb. If the West was serious about handling the Iranian regime it could have easily put further terms in the negotiations that meant release of all political prisoners and a return to free elections. In all likelihood they probably could have got the Iranians to agree sooner or later.
In the end the removal of sanctions will simply mean that those with power will now have access to more cheap capital to invest in their projects and assign their family members and friends to various positions.
Yes, probably there will be jobs created. Someone after all has to do the hard labour work.
But will Iran change for the better? Will the arrest of those who dare to oppose with nothing but their words, stop?
Of course not. Internally things will continue and the everyone will be happy that diplomacy has worked.“
IS announcing their rule
IS are facing setbacks, pushed back by mainly the moderate Syrian opposition. One of the areas liberated from IS Tishrin Dam, a dam that supplies areas in Northern Syria; Syrian Kurdistan, with water. It was the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition group of different factions fighting the Syrian regime, that were able to capture the dam from IS, making them loose a strategic position.
An international group that is dedicated to the reconstruction of Kobane and areas that were destroyed by IS, Kobanê Reconstruction Board, recently went to visit Tishrin dam, and the member Hawzhin Azeez, also the woman behind the page The Middle Eastern Feminist, shared these photos and allowed them to be republished here. The only photos not republished are those portraying corpses. This is Hawzhin Azeez’s description of the visit:
“I am sharing some late images of Tishrin dam when we visited a few days after its liberation. Tishrin was liberated on the 26th of December by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SYD) after being under Daesh control for over two years.
Tishrin is an incredible dam, not least of all because of the fact that it sits cradled in a beautiful lush valley, in an otherwise dry and arid land. But also because of what Tishrin implies for the people of Rojava who have survived for the past two years under incredible economic and political conditions, exacerbated significantly by lack of access to water and electricity which Tishrin provides.
Tishrin dam’s 6 water turbines can be seen here
Daesh’s terrorism extended to not only physical violence and terror but also a deliberate and comprehensive policy of destroying or taking key infrastructure and service buildings. Make no mistake Daesh is a great strategist and despite issues with the lower rank terrorists the organisation has caused significant and long term damage to Rojava through its calculated infrastructural damage. This also included extensive placement of hand made booby traps, mines and other unexploded ordinances.
Booby trap making supplies
Inside Tishrin, Daesh had created an “education center” for children- literally a terrorist training centre, including small child sized Qurans. One of the pamphlets left over detailed the fact that members could take any women among the population so long as they received the emir’s permission.
The children’s training room
Another notable room was the “Palace Room” where the Emir would receive his guests, a grand room that now lay tattered following the fierce battle to liberate Tishrin.
The palace room
Tishrin city, now resembling an eerie ghost town, was empty of the Emirs and their families and supporters. On the streets children’s bikes, baby strollers and even passports lay scattered. The only reminder across the dam and the city was painted black signs of Dash flag but also, the dozens of dead Daesh bodies (luckily they did not smell too much as they were still relatively fresh corpses but also because of the cold winter) across the streets and the city. In one of the streets there were remnant of booby trap making supplies left.
Finally, at the end of the tour of the city we came across an Arab family, who tentatively came forward initially and then proceeded to hug and kiss us. The family had three daughters, two in early 20s and one that was perhaps no older than 15. The mother told us that she had hid her daughters for over two years in the basement of her house in fear of them being taken by Daesh. I hugged the girls who smiled back shyly as the hevals checked the village homes for remaining Daesh members. Their sweet shyness hid what horrors they may have experienced or what they had to do to survive under the two long years their family was terrorised by Daesh. The hevals told us that they had found a Daesh member, who claimed to be only a driver for Daesh hiding under a car the afternoon before.
A few days after our visit Daesh had launched a second offensive in a futile attempt to recapture the dam. Many have died defending her, but liberating Tishrin has brought Rojava a significant and decisive step forward towards consolidating her revolutionary goals and objectives. We are working hard to ensure that Tishrin provides services again asap to the people of Kobane and Rojava. For us, Tishrin represents and symbolises hope and life, liberation and self-sufficiency.”
Control room of the dam
The Kobanê Reconstruction Board having lunch with the engineers of Tishrin who had continued to run the dam under IS. The visiting group were asked not to show the faces of the men for security reasons.
Photo copyrights: Hawzhin Azeez
This photo is from the Facebook site King Farouk of Egypt, a site that’s dedicated to showing photos and stories from ancient Egypt. This photo is allegedly portraying the first demonstration for women’s rights in Egypt, on March 9, 1919.
The site is reminding us of hopeful times, when the Middle East and North Africa region wasn’t bleeding. I believe we all need it right now.