Photos of Tishrin Dam, Liberated from IS

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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.

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The dam

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

 

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Control room of the dam

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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

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.

All About Damascus, a Sign of Normal Life

War may torment larger parts of Syria and the Middle East, but few signs of the beautiful country that once was and in some places still is, exists and pops up like butterflies here and there. One of them is the Facebook page All About Damascus, a page that started before the war, in 2010, and that is still going strong.

Today, on July 13, the page uploaded a few photos from the every day life in the colourful city of Damascus, the life that is still going on despite the war.

In the politicised debate over Syria, some might say this page is a part of the regime’s propaganda to show that they are able to reign over some parts of the country, that they are able to keep some of the city calm. But I would prefer to say it might as well be a sign of normal life. A sign to remind of what life that can remain during the dirtiest of wars.

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Photo copyrights: All About Damascus Facebook page 

I Love Syria, That’s Why I’m Writing This Post

The old city in Damascus

I am a, for now, retired humanitarian aid worker, who have worked in many countries across the world, mostly in the Middle East. In my former profession I tried not to be too wrapped up in the countries that I lived in, since it’s important to remain calm and neutral as much as possible. Plenty of young Westerners have been travelling to countries in what we used to love to call the third world and start to identify with the countries, the politics and the people. As a humanitarian aid worker you’re not supposed to do that; overly identifying means you loose part of your focus.

But here’s a confession to make from my side: when I see the current news from Syria, and when I hear other aid workers talk about Syria in the most general ways, it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart, because people who didn’t know Syria before the war don’t know anything about the country. Aid workers and people outside who have never been, seem to see it as just another country where conflict has been going on and will be going on forever. They see it as a country where every person is a potential islamic fundamentalist. They see it as a country where there are few functioning schools, few functional hospitals, where water and electricity is a luxury. A country like any other country they have worked in.

What breaks my heart is, people who only have seen Syria in a state of conflict, have never seen it as it really is. I have been living in many countries in the Middle East and Syria is my absolute favourite. Not by choice, it was just one of the places where I grew really attached to the place, where the good by far outweighed the bad. Syria is my pearl in the ocean. Let me tell you why.

Syria is the country that has a beautiful capital, a capital where night clubs takes place just like late-night cafés and restaurants; beach resorts; mosques and ancient buildings.

Syria is a country that lacks the superficiality that sometimes takes over in Lebanon, a country that has the night life that you won’t find in Jordan (with or without alcohol), a place where men and women; people from different religions; locals and foreigners, easily mix.

Syria is the country where people will keep their promise, they pick you up when they say they will pick you up, call you when they say they will call you.

Syria is a country where liberal people are next door neighbours with conservative.

Syria is a country where you sit in a café playing dawla with your girlfriend until midnight and no one bothers you.

Syria is the country where you go to have ice cream with your colleagues after work at Abu Shaker’s restaurant in Damascus on a weekday, or hit the swimming pool in your bikini in Damarose Hotel on a hot summer’s day, working on your tan and ordering plenty of arabic coffees to have at the pool, or go to Lounge 808 on a Friday night for a drink.

Syria is not a country of extremists, it’s a not a country of terrorists, it’s a country where people used to live and prosper in some of the most dynamic ways in the Middle East, before the civil war started.

Syria was once a place where friendship, love and beautiful things took place – now it’s a country that’s reduced to the international headlines of terror and misery, and humanitarian aid workers whose beer drinking and generalised ideas of a country full of war and terrorists, have taken over a place where beautiful things once was. That is what breaks my heart.

Photo copyrights: Sweden and the Middle East Views

Syrian Red Crescent Volunteers Attacked When Assisting War Victims

Hussain Saad

In the ever-ongoing hell of Syria’s civil, one of the few actors that are actually trying to assist the civil population without having a political agenda of their own, is the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Throughout the civil war their volunteers have been assisting the victims; driving injured people to the hospital, picking up dead bodies and brining them to the grave yards, treating victims with first aid. The Red Crescent volunteers are unpaid and are carrying out their work for free.

Despite the huge effort from these volunteers – who often are having a job or their studies on the side – they are continuously targeted by one of the militant groups, sometimes even the government forces themselves.

The latest news was translated from Arabic and sent to me by a Syrian friend who has been active in the Red Crescent in Damascus:

15 /05/15 15:43

An ambulance car for the Syrian red Cresent Rural Damascus sub branch – al Domayer sub branch, got a shooting during a mission to drive a patient to a hospital, the team leader get bullet in his head and now he is in the intensive care room. The team leader is a SARC volunteer and his name is Hussain Saad and he is a mechanical engineer student.

I decided to share this news on my site so that Hussain, the mechanical engineer student who dedicated his free time during the civil war to assist suffering people, would not just be another number in the statistics – whether or not he will survive or pass away. Another Syrian whose case will go unnoticed.

A Massacre Among Massacres

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Massacres have become so common these days that we seem to forget them as quickly as we hear about them. A few minutes of horror, then we shake the information off and go on with our day. IS has contributed to this phenomenon, killing people video-game style where nicely chosen colours frame the scene of the killing. Many internet users click on the Youtube video click without thinking twice, without thinking on how for each click, IS or the ones performing the massacre grows in fame and celebrity. Just because it doesn’t happen next to us, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us – we are growing numb for the lives lost in this uttermost horrifying way. We loose the respect for the right to live.

To remind myself about how massacres challenges the very core of our humanity, I went back to read my own story from the Banyas massacre in Syria 2013. It was a massacre among many massacres, exactly two years ago today, May 2nd 2013. Please let me share this story again so as to remind us all, myself included, about how massacres really affects the surviving community, the world’s population, all of us who calls ourselves humans. The original blog post is found here, the text is copied below.

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Who told me this story? It doesn’t matter. When did I here this? In June this year, one month after the Banyas massacre had taken place on May 3 2013, conducted by governmental troops on civilians. In Damascus noone mentioned the massacre by name, instead we called it “unrest” or “outbreak of violence”. The result of the systematic killing of everyone in the village is easily found online, but in the heart of the government controlled capital that is nothing you can talk about.

Why did the person tell me this story, despite the danger of talking about the ongoing crimes against humanity in Syria? I guess some things are just too unbearable to keep to yourself. I couldn’t share this story while I was still in Syria, but I can now. And why am I sharing it? I want the world to know. I hope all of you readers do, too.

“Do you know what happened in Banyas? They did something horrible there. They did something that no God allows, no religion allows. What they did is forbidden in all religions!What does the persons want, who are controlling our country? What do they want from God?

There was a couple here some weeks ago. They left me their number, look, here’s the note… When I heard about what happened in Banyas I tried to call them, I was worried. But the line was shut down, I didn’t even get a signal. I heard that they had shut down the lines to all the telephones in Banyas. I called and called.

First after a couple of days the man answered. He said:

They came in the night, they killed my wife and my two children‘.

His wife was pregnant when she was here, I saw it myself, she was seven or eight months pregnant. Do you know what they did to her? They cut her in the chest, like this. Then they cut open her stomach, her whole stomach, and took out the baby. Her husband cried when he said:

They killed her, they killed my unborn baby, they killed our two little children. I’m the only one left. They are all gone.

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Photo credit: pngimg.com

My Friend in Syria Has Lost All Her Rights as a Woman

I lived in Syria last year, and I made a few amazing friends despite the ongoing war. I still keep in touch with them and am surprised how I could meet so many fine people in so short time.

One of them, we can call her Sarah, had made an incredible journey in life. Coming from a working class conservative family, she had been married off against her will when young. The marriage had been abusive, something she was not unused to: in her world, as she described it, “almost all men hit women”. But the violence Sarah had been subjected to had been of the extraordinary kind.

When she left her husband it was because she knew she wouldn’t survive if going back. Trauma to her head had made her loose parts of her memory and she had suffered three miscarriages as a result of the abuse. When leaving her husband Sarah had to leave her children behind and was not allowed to see them. She had the right to visit her children but was deeply traumatized, had no support from her family and no lawyer to help her access this right.

At her family’s house noone spoke to her, they didn’t approve of her leaving her husband. She stayed most of her time in a dark room, often not remembering the day before or where she was. She knew her family wanted to get her into a mental hospital, and she also knew that if they were able to make her admitted there she would never be able to get out.

“How did you make it?” I asked Sarah the one evening she opened up and told me her story, which I would have had no clue of if she hadn’t told me, despite her sad eyes, this pretty girl in modern clothes and pastel earrings. We had been hanging out for a while and were drinking wine in one of the laid back cafés in the inner city of Damascus.

“I just had to”, she said. “I read every book in the house… And I tried to remember the books I read.”

She became able to make appointments with a psychiatrist at a public hospital. She gradually became better and was able to enroll in a beauty school. One day when she was well enough she left her family’s house. She had been making money by working in beauty saloons in downtown Damascus, saving so she could rent a small flat on her own.

“You’re not allowed to move out!” her brother had told her. “You’re nothing but a whore if you live on your own!”

But the verbal abuse didn’t take hold of her, she was so used to it.

Sarah took off her abaya and hijab (“I believe in God, but I never wanted these”). She started going to the gym, started going out, started dating. After a few years she was strong enough to fight for her kids. In the meantime her ex husband had remarried and had a new child with his second wife. And the war had started.

Sarah got a female lawyer who threatened her ex husband with legal actions if he didn’t allow Sarah visitation rights. The legal system was weakened and they might not have been able to push it further, but her ex husband got scared and gave in. The children slept next to her each time they visited and cried when it was time to go back to their dad, desperate not to go.

War dragged on and effected everyone, even the people living in the regime controlled capital. Sarah wasn’t able to make a living despite working 12 hours a day. Her employer paid her a small sum of her salary and said “It’s war, I have no money to pay you”. In the breakdown of the system there was nowhere to go to claim your salary. Benefits didn’t exist. Sarah had to move back to her family, and they didn’t accept her children coming to visit. Her ex husband was happy and Sarah was back in confinement again. The war had made her loose all her rights. But worse was yet to come.

The other day she called me and told me her children were back with her. Great news! But how had it happened?

Her ex husband had been taken by the authorities and noone knew where he was. His new wife had refused his extended family to see the children. But the childrens’ uncle had spoken to them on Skype and seen them having bruises and marks on their faces. Something wasn’t right and in the end he called Sarah and told her to try take the children. He didn’t want to take them himself as the war made him having enough financial constraints with his own family.

There was no legal system anymore that would support Sarah’s attempt to get her children back. Instead she called the woman and asked if she could invite her and the children to a nice restaurant. When they met, Sarah was all smiles with the woman. In the middle of the meal she got up with the kids to go to the bathroom, then rushed them through the back door of the restaurant, and jumped in to a taxi.

Sarah’s family in the end accepted the children staying with them when they learned that Sarah’s ex husband was gone. The truth about what had happened to the children unravelled when back in Sarah’s care. Sarah’s ex husband’s new wife had abused them already when her husband was still present, probably as a revenge for the abuse she herself suffered in the hands of her husband. The children had told their father what their stepmother did but he didn’t believe them. When he disappeared the abuse escalated: she had tortured them with electricity and starved them. If Sarah hadn’t intervened I don’t know what had happened.

“They are so angry”, Sarah said. “And hungry. It’s like they hadn’t had food for weeks. You can’t believe how weak they are.”

“So what will you do now?” I asked when we were on the phone.

“I can’t do anything, Jenny. There is nowhere I can go.”

She can’t report the woman to any police authorities. There is hardly nowhere to take the children for psychological counselling. If her ex husband comes back and forces the children to return to their abusive stepmother, there is nowhere for Sarah to turn for legal help. She’s also no longer financially independent and has no control over her own life, she’s back in the hands of her own abusive family. In Syria, once a functioning country with a stable infrastructure, everything is collapsed.

When I speak to Sarah on the phone there is nothing I can say that will help her. That’s why I write about this on my blog. I want everyone to know what it’s like to be a woman or a child in Syria during this war. That’s all I can do.

Sahab – Swedish-Iraqi Counselor with a Different Approach

When Sahab Saheb started her therapy service Authentic Dialogues she had decided that she wanted to offer counseling in three languages: Swedish, Arabic and English. At 32 years old with a master’s degree in social work and sexology, she wanted to offer her counseling services to such a wide range of clients as possible.

“There’s a challenge in working in different languages,” she says. “But I wanted to use my full potential.”

I wanted to write about Sahab not only because of her interesting character as a Swedish-Iraqi woman, but also since her approach to counseling seemed different. According to her, psychological counseling should be accessible and of low cost. Based in Malmö, Sweden, she also offers counseling via Skype, and on her website, under description of fees, it states: “Fee reductions are available for people on low incomes and this can be negotiated on an individual basis”.

The aspect of wanting to reach out to the many Arabic speaking people in Sweden is not a coincidence. In her master thesis Sahab researched an integration project for Arab immigrants, where she examined factors that determined the effectiveness of the program. The thesis published this year and is titled “Transformation of newcomers, responsibilities and consequences. An evaluation of the project ‘Newcomers, Shortest path’” (Malmö University, Faculty of Health and Society, Department of Social Work). The research gave her new insights in the world of social work and psychological assistance. Through the research she met many immigrants who tried to integrate themselves in Sweden and learned about the challenges they faced.

“The most important aspect is the gap between the experience from the home country and Sweden. The main difference between the two countries is the role that the state plays. People from the Middle East, Syria for example, come from a society where the state has a very negative reputation. People associate the state with fear and betrayal, and it’s not responsible for the individual’s welfare and personal development. Here in Sweden, the state is in charge of everything and a lot of mistrust is going on (from the newly arrived immigrants, my comment) that the Swedish authorities have no clue about.”

In contrast with some other Western countries, where immigrants that have received asylum are left on their own to find housing and work, sometimes with help from voluntary organizations, Swedish authorities offer a roof-over-the-head-guarantee and financial assistance until the person is able to provide for him. However, the choices of where to live or what to do (financial assistance requires the person to take part of mandatory Swedish classes or work programs in return) become reduced to a minimum when being dependent on the system, which many are until they have learned enough Swedish to manage on their own.

Having seen the clash between the Swedish society and the newly arrived immigrants and how the society sometimes fails to help people who suffer from traumas and psychological illnesses, Sahab wanted to create her own service instead of being part of the system.

“The professionalism of the Swedish bureaucracy has a distanced approach to people, and this approach is by many immigrants perceived as something personal against them, it becomes the only thing that the immigrant experience during the first years in Sweden. Even if we have to carry out the integration aspect through the institutions, since this is the way it works in Sweden, we have to implement more of a personal reception since these persons come from a society where there are stronger bonds between people. We shouldn’t dehumanize people the way the system sometimes does now.”

Still, the failures of the system served as an incentive for her to contribute with what she believed would be the best way to help people with psychological problems from experiences of war and terror.

“Instead of being bitter over the fact that I can’t implement what I think is right, I wanted to start my own thing to help people in a way that I believe in”, she says. “If we learn how to be more empathetic we’ll have better dialogues and a stronger society.”

The therapy Sahab offers is based on the existential humanistic psychology, which she says pays respect to people’s own inner potential and responsibility for their actions.

“I wanted to work with counselling that derives from an equal dialogue between the therapist and the patient. I believe that an illness in the society is that we don’t communicate between each other. I believe that this therapy is very helpful since you can carry it with you the whole life and apply it to new relationships. In the therapy you help people to have more confidence in themselves so that they can take more initiative and thereby enhance their own self-esteem.”

She emphasizes that it’s still important not to see people as solely traumatized and damaged individuals, since people have a lot to offer that you can encourage and build on.

“You also have to be very careful in how you create a dialogue with people who come from traumatized societies,” she says. “This therapy is non-directive, there is no right or wrong, it’s up to the client how he or she thinks. I believe this is very important in a multi-cultural society where people have different values. This will create less guilt and insecurity.”

I ask her how she deals with people that might have twisted or reversed values as they come from countries where war or a repressive state have been prevailing for so long that it affects the persons and their personal values. What does she say to them if they have internalized what they have seen and for example believe that violence is justified?

“Even if I tell this person that this and that is wrong it won’t help him if he doesn’t realize this himself.  We need to understand why the person has chosen to believe in this, because it’s a defense mechanism. And the less we use our defense mechanisms, the more we get out of life.”

She adds:

“I believe in this small effect. If we help one person, we will also help many others that will exist down that person’s road.”

So what is her dream with her service, which she recently started earlier this year? She laughs when I ask the question.

“I don’t believe that much in dreams, I believe in being present in the moment and enjoy that. I try not to be too much in the future, my challenge right now is to be able to assist people in need of help. And well… maybe sometime in the future I’ll be able to work together with other people, who want to work in the same way I do.”

Photo copyright: Sahab Saber

To get in touch with Sahab please visit her website: authenticdialogues.com

Ay hawar! Hawar! Hawar! (HELP US! HELP US! HELP US!)

A number of my Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian friends in the countries and abroad are horrifyed of the ISIS terror, and at times are unable to talk about anything else. A number of websites and social media pages are dedicated to launch news about the terrorists so as to create awareness and ask the world for help. Today I stumbled upon a heartbreaking message from a Facebookpage that is updating with news from Kobane in Northern Syria that is under immense threat of being abducted by ISIS. I thought I should share their message and let it speak for itself.

From: Kurdish Resistance & Liberation community 

Our hearts are breaking at the moment. Kobane is under serious siege at the moment and our brave YPG/PKK forces are left to fight with outdated and limited weapons on the streets of Kobane. Kobane has a strategic, symbolic and psychological significance for the Kurds, but the lack of help from the west and lack of arms to the Kurds is allowing ISIS to succeed! An imminent genocide of the Kurdish forces as well as civilians is on the horizon all because they do not have the appropriate military supplies. The Kurdish forces have been fighting non stop for the past 48 hours. SHAME on the West for your inaction while these brave men and women die defending humanity, defending civilians, women and children and defend the West from ISIS. Shame!

Friends PLEASE share so that the Western community realizes that if Kobane falls it was not for lack of trying on behalf of the brave YPG/YPJ/PKK forces. It was because of Western cowardice and THEIR betrayal of humanity!

Ay hawar! hawar! hawar! (HELP US! HELP US! HELP US!)

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Kurdish resistance 1

Photo credit: Kurdish Resistance & Liberation Facebook page, source and location unknown

I Love My City Damascus

View from 4 Seasons Hotel in Damascus

News from Damascus are always depressing nowadays. But it used to be a vibrant city, full of life. When I lived there last year the fear of the war was present in the city, but here are the words of a young woman from Damascus and how her life used to be before the war.

“I grew up in Damascus and when we went to visit the village my parents came from, I just wanted to go back home. My parents’ village is beautiful, green and with fresh air, but it’s not like the city. In Damascus I had everything; freedom and friends.

Summers were the best. My cousin was older and worked in Saudi Arabia and used to come home for vacation in the summers. She got divorced and when she came home she wanted to have a good time, to live a free life, a life she couldn’t live over there. When she was in Damascus I packed a bag with all my stuff and moved in with her. She rented a flat downtown and I stayed with her there all summer. My family was angry with me for moving out from them, they thought my cousin had bad influence on me, but there was nothing they could do. I had become so independent from them since I started working and making my own money.

Me and my cousin never cooked, we just ordered take out to the house or went to restaurants. We went to the swimming pools somewhere in the city and ordered sheesha. In the evenings we went clubbing, there were many nightclubs to go to, and there were always a lot of guys after us. We had a good time with them, we let them pay for everything, then when we got bored with them we just hopped in a taxi and left” (she shows how they teasingly waved goodbye from the car window while laughing) “We never talked politics back then. She supported the president, she thought it was because of Bashar al Assad that she could live a free life in Syria comparing to the life she had as a divorced woman in Saudi Arabia. I was against Assad, just like my father was, but me and my cousin never spoke about it. We just had a great time together. I loved my city.”

Photo: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Views Blog