#SyriaB4War – Hashtag Gone Wrong

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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”

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And the last touché: one twitterer attached a photo of the Tadomour prison in Syria: “who goes there never return”.

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I bet UNHCR’s communication department will think twice next time.

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The Poison

You believe you are a decent person. You believe you never do harm. Then you open your mouth and intolerance comes out.

You believe you are a tolerant person. You believe you are a humanitarian. Then you open your mouth and ignorance comes out.

You’ve never been to places. Never left your hometown, never broadened your views. You don’t have friends a different shade then your own. Never rubbed against other cultures. Never rubbed against what could be good and could be bad. Still you know everything. Know about Them and the Bad Things They Do. You open your mouth and hate comes out.

It doesn’t come from you. It comes from what seeps in everywhere. The wrongs where we once were more right. It’s the Poison.

The Forgotten, Beaten and Tired Syrian Activists

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.

“Not a Single Mention of Release of Political Prisoners or Human Rights Violations” – an Iranian’s Opinion on the Lift of Sanctions

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.

The Dying Girl

I’m a seasoned humanitarian aid worker and it takes quite a lot to upset me. Even though I moved back to Sweden I work with refugees, most of them are from Syria, so I comfort people a lot in my daily work and I hear the most horrifying stories. I keep tissues in my bag for these reasons, because women have a tendency to collapse in my arms, crying over everything lost and the horrifying things they’ve been through.

Then recently a new friend showed me a clip on his cellphone, from the underground hospital in Homs where he had worked – without formal medical training – as a nurse. Underground hospitals in Syria are run by ICRC and other organisations that treat patients impartially; in Syria it means without reporting opposition members to the Syrian regime. They operate without proper equipment, and often with staff who have little medical training. My friend had recorded quite a lot of the work in the unit and brought the movies with him to Sweden.

The footage was of good quality. Could it be useful for Swedish media? Everyone knows that there’s a civil war in Syria but few knows what it actually looks like when you’re in the middle of it. And these kinds of footages rarely make it to the international media.

I watched the clip in a coffee shop where we met during Christmas in Sweden. It was rainy and damp outside and people around us rested from their shopping sprees. I used the headphones not to disturb the other guests. I’m used to misery but I do respect people who are not.

The sounds of airplanes and bombs outside were suddenly drenched in the voice of a medical doctor. He came running with a small girl, 3 or 4 years old, in his hands, that he placed on a small bunk. But the girl wasn’t bleeding, she had no bruises, her skin was smooth and perfect. She looked like my niece that I had spent the previous day with; chubby and with her curly hair framing rosy cheeks. She seemed to be half-asleep. The girl wasn’t crying, only wailing softly. Why was the doctor in such a hurry?

“Internal injuries”, my friend said.

Then I realized: she was dying from the inside and out. The girl was in such pain that she was beyond hurting. As the doctors inserted a hose through her mouth she half-heartedly raised her hand to try and prevent it, she looked like a child who don’t want to take their medicine, nothing else. The doctor put her hand back to her side. The small natural efforts of a child to escape discomfort slowly faded. I knew what was coming before the movie was finished. I unplugged the headphones so I didn’t have to listen to it all. Life was slipping out of her by the second, under the panicky ways of the staff with sometimes little medical training in a make-shift hospital in the basement of a shabby, abandoned building in the previously so beautiful city of Homs.

Only then it struck me that there was no other people in the hospital that were worrying about the little girl than the staff. No crying mother or a father.

“She was the only survivor of that attack,” my friend confirmed. “Her mother and father, her sister, they were all gone.”

Someone was crying at the table that day, despite me not being at work. It wasn’t my friend, despite all the traumatizing things he has been through. It wasn’t anyone of the women that usually collapse in my arms when I visit one of the refugee camps. To my surprise I realized it was myself.

Christmas in Baghdad

Christmas Eve yesterday in Baghdad, Iraq. The photos are from the Iraqi photographer Ahmad Mousa, founder of the @everydayiraq project. The captions are the original ones from Ahmad Mousa’s Facebookpage.

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Iraqi Christian girls light candles on Christmas Eve at a church in Baghdad

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Christmas mass in Baghdad, at Our Lady of Salvation church

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Christmas mass in Baghdad, Iraq

Kurdish Humor

There’s something appealing with the dark Kurdish humor. The sarcasm, the self-awareness, the way of using humor to deal with difficult things.

These pics were shared with my by a Swedish-Kurdish friend, originally posted on the Facebook page “The Typical Kurd“.

Enjoy, we all need something to laugh about!

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