Archive for the ‘Maps’ Category

 

BY SAMANTHA FALCIATORI
The Syrian situation is hell on earth. To understand what is happening is our human duty, as well as being indispensable for the comprehension of those phenomena that cross over the natural confines of that land. For this reason, our Magazine will always follow the Syrian war as closely as we can; a war which is in fact many different and overlapping wars, so as to provide an always up-to-date picture that is as accurate as possible.

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We have interviewed a volunteer of the Red Crescent, witness of the massacre of Al-Bayda and Banyas in May 2013 in which over 400 civilians were slaughtered, house by house, to then be buried in mass graves. His is a testimony that at 4 years from the massacre tells the story of one of the darkest and most bloody pages of the Syrian war.

What you are about to read is a unique testimony of one of the bloodiest pages of the Syrian war, the massacre that began on 2 May 2013 of the civilian population of two towns in the coastal area. The National Defence Force (NDF) and the Shabeeha, pro-government militias comprised of Shi’as and Alawites (the religious group to which the Assad family belongs), attacked the Sunni-majority towns of Al-Bayda and Banyas, nestled in the Alawite-majority zone between Tartous and Latakia, stronghold of the Syrian regime, with summary slaughtering the inhabitants (Sunni), breaking into their homes, setting them on fire, burning alive those who were inside, including infants.

The Banyas Local Council has identified a total of 410 victims, the Syrian Network for Human Rights has counted 459. The UN Investigation Commission on Syria has investigated this massacre, among many similar ones, identifying the perpetrators, ascertaining that there was no presence of armed opposition, nor were there any military clashes in the city during the massacre, and concluded in its report A / HRC / 24/46 (pages 32-33) that there was “reasonable evidence that the perpetrators were governmental forces”.

It is the Syrian regime itself that has confirmed the responsibilities of its militias carrying military operations on Al-Bayda and Banyas, broadcasting images of the carnage (as in this news report from al Manar) on the government-friendly TV channels, but always claiming that only terrorists had been killed. The images of women and children, including newborns, mutilated and burned alive, as well as the testimony of the survivors, tells another story.

We were able to interview an eyewitness of that massacre, already heard by Human Rights Watch investigators for their No One’s Left investigation. The man was in Banyas and was part of the team that the Syrian security forces sent after the massacre to arrange the corpses in the mass graves and clean up the streets. He accepted, asking for anonymity for security reasons, to tell Zeppelin what happened and what he saw, providing a rare and precious testimony also about the planning of the massacre (which had been in the planning for several months) and its political / religious motives. This is the transcript of the interview.

The massacre of Al-Bayda and Banyas can be understood in the wider project of ethnic cleansing of Syria, and it fits within the framework of the efforts of international justice to take the first steps toward punishing those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, thanks also to those eyewitness accounts, like this one, that, though they are brutal, should be listened to.

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Testimony of a volunteer of the Red Crescent from Banyas. 

He witnessed the 2013 massacre and disposed of the bodies in a mass grave afterwards. He requested anonymity for security reasons. The interview was recorded over Skype on January 5, 2017. 

Q: What can you tell me about that day? What happened and what did you see? 

[..] The Syrian Red Crescent could enter the city only 3 days after the massacre, because the army prevented all the people from coming in or out of Banyas [..] Banyas is a coastal town between Tartous and Latakia, the two biggest cities in the coastal area; Banyas is a smaller town, of about 50,000 people. It was one of the first which took part in the revolution, when people took to the street for many reasons, regarding what was happening in Deraa, the lack of freedom, but also because there were tensions between the rural areas of Banyas, mainly Alawite, and the city, mainly Sunni, and they felt the injustice because all the employees, all those working in courts, hospitals, in the oil industry of Banyas are all Alawites, and people felt injustice and took to the street. This was a choke for the regime because it thought that a coastal city, where the coastal area was the stronghold of the regime, would not participate in any kind of demonstrations. So Banyas was a surprise for the regime, they hated it, because they saw people demanding the fall of the regime in the heart of its stronghold.

Q: And the demonstrations were in the Sunni part of the city or all over the city?

In the Sunni part. In Banyas you have the Sunni part which is the old city of 50-60 years ago. Then when the Alawites took power, they came from rural areas, so all the officers, State employees settled in Banyas and built new neighbourhoods, so Banyas was getting bigger and now it is in two parts: the southern part, which is Sunni, and the northern part, which is Alawite. Christians are living in between, in the two parts. The Christians who are originally from Banyas are living with the Sunnis because that is the old city, and the new Christians who came to Banyas from other towns are living in the new neighbourhoods, the Alawite ones [..]. The demonstrations were 100% in the Sunni part. Christians, for many reasons, did not take part in them. I did, but secretly, because the regime tried to prevent Christians and Alawites from participating in the demonstrations because it did not want them to look like a national thing whose demands came from everybody[1], so it tried to emphasize their Sunni trait.

Q: So there was dissent also among the Christian and Alawite community? 

Yes, they tried to prevent them from getting in because when Alawites and Christians would come to the demonstrations it looked like it was not religious or radical [as the regime wanted to depict the demonstrations] but it would be a Syrian demonstration. But still, in the first 3 or 4 demonstrations, there were Alawite people coming from the Alawite neighbourhoods secretly who participated in the demonstrations. I have videos of this, many Alawite people came, they had speeches, they were welcome and people were crazy about them because they were Alawites supporting their demands, it was great. But after that, in May 2011 the Syrian army surrounded the city, they cut electricity in the Sunni part, they cut food [deliveries] preventing it from coming in, the siege lasted for 2-3 weeks, and after that they rolled the tanks and got into the city. They took a lot of prisoners, they were tortured in the Banyas stadium, where they took the people, 10,000 maybe, tortured them and humiliated them[2]. People were taken to the military prison in Tartous, Damascus and Homs, some people were never returned. We think they were killed under torture. After this, when the army came back to the town, patrolling the city, there were a couple of people trying to make very small demonstrations, like putting some homemade bombs where government forces were coming or going, but nothing as serious as it was happening in other parts of Syria[3], I think just 2 or 3 soldiers died in all these actions. This was still 2011, early part of 2012, then in Banyas everything was back to [normal] [..].

Suddenly, in early 2013 [..] all the Alawites involved in the militias of the regime, some were my friends […] they started to say that the people of Banyas were planning for something big. I said: “What are they planning for? Come on, the demonstrations have stopped, nothing is happening anymore”, so this kind of propaganda became to spread among the Alawites […]. There is a militia, the National Defence Forces (NDF), they are mainly civilians, 100% Alawites, and they are very tough, with a very strict point of view with the regime, they want all opposition dead, they started getting arms from the government and to participate in the battles all around Syria. One of them was called Ali Shaddoud, he is very famous in Banyas, he is a pharmacist. He is the founder of the NDF in Banyas and he told me personally that something big is happening in Banyas. Frankly I did not believe him.

Q: Because the opposition was not strong in Banyas? 

Yes, because in 2013 it was defeated. The government was in full control of the city, so “what will happen? Nothing”. But he told me “something very big is happening”. When I tried to understand from some friends of his, some told me that the regime was trying to focus on Damascus and the coastal area and it did not want anything to happen there, so if there are Sunnis remaining in this area they wanted them to have a lesson, so they cannot oppose the regime anymore […] Then there was no intervention by Hezbollah, Iranians or Russians, so the regime was afraid that it could not control all Syria, so it was trying to preserve Damascus and the coastal areas.

Q: They did not target the political or military opposition: they targeted the Sunnis.

Of course. From the Alawite point of view when they say “opposition” they do not mean the political meaning of the word, they cannot say “Sunni” in the street because that would be rude and sectarian, but by “opposition” they mean “the Sunnis”. And when they said “we want them to have a lesson”, they meant the Sunnis. This was clear since the early months of 2013. But it was not before the early days of May 2013 that… it happened very fast, we started to see tanks coming to the town, and it was not 100% weird, Syria was at war […] we thought maybe they are moving troops and vehicles, ok. But then they put tanks and mortars on the hill of Banyas, in the Alawite part of the town, the hill that overlooks the city. We started to see people that were not from the town, they were wearing regime uniforms but they did not sound like they came from Banays. Some people who saw them, including my brother, saw Lebanese people having dinner in a restaurant in the Alawite part of Banyas, this restaurant is famous because the NDF gather there. They were clearly Lebanese, so Hezbollah or close to Hezbollah, I do not know, and they were talking about a big operation that was coming to Banyas. There was this guy, Kayalli, the commander of a militia, he comes from Turkey, from the Alawite minority in Turkey, they are fighting for the regime and this Kayalli lived in Latakia, where he went on TV and said, literally, “Banyas is the only weak point for the government in the coastal area and we will put an end to this, the traitors can come in the coastal areas through Banyas and we need to end  it”, he said this 2 or 3 days before the massacre[4].

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The Alawite General Ali al Kayalli, better known as Mihrac Ural (he is of Turkish origin, but has Syrian nationality) is the head of a pro-government militia, composed of Alawites and  Shabeeha, called Syrian Resistance, based in al Baseet, North of  Latakia. He was among those responsible for the massacre of Banyas. In this photo, he is in the centre, with flowers in his hand, together with his men. Credits to: sbs.com.au.

On the day of the massacre I was in the church because it was the Thursday before Easter[5] and suddenly […] we heard gunshots, we went out and saw the army and militia telling people to go home, so we went home. In the evening, we started to see… not from my home, but I went to the Alawite part, I saw 200-300 men coming from the highway, they were walking on the bridge that comes down to Banyas, some of them wearing masks on their faces, and also Alawite people, some of them were my friends, started to join them and I asked them “what are you going for with your guns?” They said “there is an operation in Banyas and al Baida”, al Baida is south of Banyas and it was famous in the first months of the revolution because it was actively participating in it […] so they began with al Baida, which is Sunni. Families of Banyas are living in al Baida and vice versa, so they are very close to each other. They started in al Baida and I was on the phone with a friend, and he was shaking, he was very afraid. I was surprised and asked “what is happening?”, because we thought they were going to take some men to prison, or beat and humiliate them as they did every day everywhere, but he told me “no, it is not beating nor humiliating, they are killing people”.  And I was like “What? Killing people? Why?” and he said “Yes, they are killing people.” He told me that his mother’s family were burnt alive, some people were killed by gunshots, some were burnt, they gathered people in a shop and burnt them, like 60 or 70 dead bodies there, and people started to flee the city. So this is what they [regime people] wanted. It was May 2nd.

On May 3rd […] they came to Banyas and made a massacre […] in the heart of the Sunni part of the city. My home is very close to this so I went on the roof and I saw clearly the tanks bombing the city, I was able to see clearly the shells coming over my house, I saw them with the naked eye, and dropping down in the middle of the town. Then again these masked men came and did these atrocities. I did not see it, but many people told us, they started to kill people with swords, axes, guns, by burning, and I know families by name. They came and killed whole families…for example the Taha family had 17 people killed, they killed father, mother, sons, the son’s wives and sons and so on.

 

Q: So was it a deliberate ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population of the city?

Of course, because they targeted [Sunni] families, like the Taha family, the Shighri, even when they see “Shighri” on your ID card the government forces would be upset because they see that you are 100% from Banyas, so 100% opposition, so 100% Sunni. So they did ethnic cleansing of [Sunni] families. People started to flee, to Latakia. Also my family wanted to go there and they were accepted. I did not go there but my sister did and at the entrances of Latakia there were regime checkpoint and they were screening people from Banyas, if they knew they were Sunnis they sent them back, if they were Alawites or Christians they let them in. This lasted until May 4th, when they moved to another Sunni village […] called al Basateen, where they did not do ethnic cleansing but they took 95-96 men to prison and we have not heard of them since. So we assume they were also killed under torture. After the killing was over, it was a real shock to see even the Alawites who are 100% with the regime, being shocked and upset. A friend of mine, she was working in my same company, told me that her brother, an Alawite who supports the government, was part of these NDF and went to Al-Bayda to participate in what he thought was a regular operation of the regime, and he was shocked by the amount of atrocities done, the amount of killings, burning bodies, killing children, he fainted and they had to take him to hospital. He could not eat for two days, he was in shock, even people who are very radical with pro Assad [positions] were in shock, it was completely unprecedented, unexpected. After that they began to steal, they took a lot of cars, family homes’ furniture, we could see them putting them on army trucks. After 2-3 weeks they let people go back to Banyas, but not to Al-Bayda. Al-Baida is still empty to this day. 

Q: But they didn’t let the Sunnis come back, or also the Sunnis?

Also the Sunnis. But of course after this a lot of, and by “a lot” I mean A LOT, of Sunni families in Banyas left. As my Alawite friend said, it was a lesson. So many families went to Turkey, and from there they came as refugees in Europe. […] Now in the Sunni part of the city you can only see old men, children and Sunni people coming from other towns, like Aleppo, these are the pro-regime Sunnis of Aleppo so the regime lets them stay in Banyas.

Q: When could you enter the targeted neighbourhoods as a Red Crescent volunteer?

We entered on May 7th, 8th and 9th for three consecutive days to bury the bodies, because they were in the street. I didn’t go to al Baida, because other teams were going there. Some members of the Red Crescent managed to smuggle out some photos of the dead bodies and these are the only photos we have of this massacre. They put us in a lot of trouble because they did not expect members of the Red Crescent, which is controlled by the regime, to smuggle photos out. These are the only photos because no media was allowed to go in and I know the people who took the photos and smuggled them out.

Q: There is a lot of disinformation about the photos because they don’t have a source, being smuggled out secretly. So some people say they are Christians killed by Daesh [ISIS] or Palestinians killed by the Israelis, or whatever, so…

Look, the regime is not stupid. It is evilly smart. It tried to confuse us, its supporters put together some photos of Banyas, Palestine, Iraq and said “look, this is not Banyas!” but I can know exactly which photos were taken by us and I can tell you where they were taken, I can pinpoint them on Google Maps, and some of the photos are taken in such known streets that people know it is Banyas. These photos are taken by members of the Red Crescent. [..] I have an Alawite friend, he is the one who took the photos of the children. So let’s see the photos[6].

 The first one with children with a yellow shirt, another one with jeans, this is in Banyas. And this [scene of the] photo, I saw it personally, with the naked eye. I can assure you 100% that I saw this horrific scene. The second one, the two babies, I did not see this personally but it is in Banyas, and also the other one. The fourth one  is in Al-Bayda, I know this street, it is not Banyas, it is Al-Bayda. The other one, with the blood, the boy and the men, also this is in Al-Bayda and I know the guy, the family of the guy. The photo with the woman and the children, this is also in Banyas, in a neighbourhood called Ras Al-Nabe’. The last photos, with another woman and children, which is by the way the same as above, this is Banyas, and I know these stairs, everybody in Banyas knows them, this small street is in Banyas, in Ras al-Nabaa. The regime ordered us to open mass graves and put people in them. We were not able to put all the families in the mass grave together, respectfully. I will not forget where it is. We put a lot of bodies in it, I think 40-50 bodies and I heard from my friends that there are also mass graves in al Baida. We managed to bury all the bodies. […] We know from the Local Councils in al Baida and Banyas that there were 300 killed in al Baida and over 100 in Banyas. So totally 410. Half of them, more or less, women and children.

Q: I wonder something: after the massacre the regime blamed terrorists…

Actually no [..] they said the government attacked Banyas because there were terrorists hiding weapons there.

Q: But how can they justify the fact that in al Baida and Banyas many women and children died because of the massacre? How could they all be “terrorists”?

I know what you mean, but if you think that the people who support the regime try to find excuses, maybe you are wrong. From my friends, my colleagues, at work, at university… more than 75% of the people who are pro-regime, like Alawites and some Christians, they do not need excuses. Actually I hear some neo-fascist-nazi things, like “kill them, they are insects, they are animals, let them be taken out”. Of course some of them say “Yeah, killing children is not ok, but this is all their parents’ fault, they want the Islamic State, they want to kill minorities, so they had the right punishment”. You can hear this [being said] without any shame, so people do not need excuses, they know, they knew that the regime killed them, but they try to defend it, they try to convince themselves that they are terrorists, and maybe a couple of mistakes have been done, but they are living well with this. You cannot imagine how much hatred there is. Mainly the minorities feel like this, really, they are like Nazis, I’m sorry to say it but…of course some of the minorities are with the revolution, they stand bravely, but I’m talking about the mainstream.

Q: Many people say that before the revolution the Syrians lived together peacefully…

No, this is a big lie, we lived in a lie. We had a secretive regime that controlled every aspect of life and society […] In my classroom, we were like 20-25 guys, and 10-11 of us did not have the father because they were imprisoned and were never seen again. People tried to forget what happened in the 80’s, the horrible Hama massacre, but the hatred is real. […] The Alawites took all the positions in the coastal areas, all State employees are Alawites and many young Sunni were forced to go abroad to work.

Q: One last question: when I was reading the Human Rights Watch report… 

“No one’s left”? I was interviewed for that report[7].

Q: So maybe you remember that it says that the regime started the operation in al Baida because a man confessed there were deserters. What do you think about it?

No, I think that’s irrelevant. Banyas took part actively in the demonstrations, we hid some deserters, there was an assassination operation against a regime officer, all this happened. But I know it was deliberately planned months before, you cannot make such an operation in a city where there is no violent engagement like in Homs, Aleppo, Damascus or the rural areas. You cannot kill 400 people just to get a few deserters, the amount of forces that came to Banyas but are not from Banyas, all the talking to my Alawite friends about a lesson [to give] to the Sunnis in the coastal areas, I think it was well planned.

[…] The regime didn’t even bother to emphasise this confession as a pretext, it said “it was an operation, maybe some mistakes were done, but the rest is propaganda against us”. Since the early days there was a lot of talking about tanks, Lebanese and militia men coming to town having conversations, it was all obvious. But we were shocked by the size of it, it was huge to kill 400 in two days! […]

I think it was a deliberate ethnic cleansing. It was not part of the daily activities of the war […] We have not seen this elsewhere, in Latakia I saw a shooting on a demonstration that killed 30 people, but still that was “regular activity”.  But this and the Ghouta attack are beyond the clashes between regime and opposition. It was ethnic cleansing, also in Ghouta they were 100% Sunnis and in Banyas no Alawite or Christian was injured, not killed, not even injured. [..] My friend, who took the photos of the massacre, is still having nightmares to this day, after more than three years […] Those two days changed everything, I had friends and family who are with the regime, two of my cousins tried to defend the massacre and we are not talking anymore since the massacre. So divisions are also in the families, imagine in the society. They say there were terrorists, but in that area there was not jihadist or ISIS presence, it was a stronghold of the regime […]. I remember one thing, I was talking with a guy whose uncle was a prominent Alawite officer who worked for Hafez al Assad, Ali Douba, he was very famous because he was the head of the Military Intelligence Services, and this guy told me once: “Do you know why they chose Banyas?” and I said “No, why?”. “Because they could not do it in Latakia or Tartous because they are big cities and by doing it there they would risk to paralyse the city, so they decided to punish Banyas because it is small and even if life stopped in Banyas, that would not have affected the economy”. […]

Q: Ok, thanks a lot for your time and testimony [..].

Thank you. I don’t want this story to die, I want people to know. It’s very important what you and others are doing.

Source: http://www.thezeppelin.org/al-baida-e-banyas-massacro/

[1] Regardless of ethnicity or religion, as the demonstrations actually were.

[2]This episode is well documented. See Amnesty International, Syrian student tells of torture ordeal in mass stadium detention, 24/05/2011.

[3]For an overview of the story of Banyas from the early demonstrations to the massacre and the development of local councils and brigades, see S. DARWISH, M. DIBO, Cities in Revolution. Baniyas. Al-Bayda: The White City, 24/05/2011.

[4]Video online: https://youtu.be/y0P4rhRjR9I.

[5]The Orthodox Easter was on May 5th in 2013, the massacre started on Good Thursday, May 2nd.

[6]Yallasouriya, The Baniyas Massacre: Why Assad Did It, 6/05/2013. Online: https://goo.gl/km1NY9 In this link videos of the aftermath of the massacre can also be viewed.

[7]“No One’s Left”. Summary Executions by Syrian Forces in al-Bayda and Baniyas, ibid.

Interview by Samantha Falciatori. Introductory text by Samantha Falciatori, translated by Mary Rizzo

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WRITTEN BY SAMANTHA FALCIATORI
The nearly 1,400 people poisoned to death on Aug. 21, 2013 do not have an official murderer yet, but ballistic analysis leaves little doubt. Here is what we know and what cannot be told of that terrible night.

Between 2:00 and 5:00 am on August 21, 2013 in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta nearly 1,400 people, including 400 children, were killed in Syria’s largest chemical attack. According to Doctors Without Borders, in just 3 hours their hospitals received 3,600 people with symptoms of neuro-intoxication.


Victims of the chemical attack.

It was not the first time that toxic gas was used: as early as May 2013 in Jobar (another Damascus suburb in the opposition’s hands) a team of reporters from the French newspaper Le Monde was involved in a chemical attack,  presumably by government forces against the FSA (the moderate forces of the opposition). The team was there to document even more earlier reported cases of chemical attacks in the district. Among them there was Laurent van der Stockt, the most affected of the team: tests conducted in France on his biological samples revealed, as he himself declared, traces of sarin nerve gas. Their reports and testimony describe a terrible reality that was already widespread. In April the use of chemical weapons was also recorded in other areas, but never on a large scale. Until the attack in Ghouta, in the densely populated neighborhoods of Zamalka and Moadamiya. But why Ghouta?

Credit, BBC

Credit, BBC

Because in July 2012 the FSA offensive on Damascus had been successful and the opposition had taken control of some areas surrounding the capital, including Ghouta, threatening the Assad government as never before, who denied responsibility in the chemical attack and accused the rebels. The FSA and the civilians of Ghouta, however, accused the regime of having used chemical weapons to crush the opposition near Damascus.

The UN immediately opened an investigation with a fact-finding mission – which was already in Damascus on August 21 to investigate other cases of chemical weapons use in Khan al Assal and Sheik Maqsood (Aleppo) and Saraqeb (Idlib) – and confirmed the use of chemical weapons in the September 2013 report. The mission interviewed survivors, doctors, nurses and rescue workers, collected many samples (urine, hair, blood, soil, metal, etc …), including fragments of the missiles used, then analyzed them in the laboratories of the Organization for the Prohibition of chemical Weapons (OPCW), which confirmed the use of sarin nerve gas dropped through surface-to-surface missiles.

 A UN chemical weapons inspector in Ghouta (Credit to: Ammar al-Arbini/AFP/Getty)

A UN chemical weapons inspector in Ghouta (Credit to: Ammar al-Arbini/AFP/Getty)

In December 2013, the UN published another report on 16 chemical attacks registered before and after August 21, of which only 7 had been investigated. For none of them the responsible could be assessed. However, in some of these attacks, like the one on April 29 on Saraqeb and on Sheik Maqsood on April 13, 2013 the alleged gas was dropped, according to eyewitnesses, by Syrian army helicopters (which is only force in Syria to have aviation). To this regard, the report says on page 79: “Syrian government officials said they have no information to offer on the alleged incident.” More doubts remain on the case of Khan al Assal, the only case that also Russia looked into, producing a 100-page report, which was never published but delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in which Russia accused the rebels.

Assigning blame is not easy for a political body such as the UN, considering that at the Security Council sit both allies of the Syrian government and of the opposition. This is why the report does not determine who has used chemical weapons even in the case of Ghouta: the purpose of the mission was to ascertain the use, not those who used them, as explained by Ban Ki-Moon. If on the one hand not determining who is responsible may be politically convenient, on the other hand it is a double-edged sword: it means that the report can be interpreted in favor of the 2 opposite thesis. In fact, Russia has blamed the rebels, going as far as to accuse the UN inspectors of having conducted a “prejudicial and biased” work, while the US, France and Britain have blamed the Assad government.

Let’s start with what is certain: the details that emerge from the report and from the ballistic missile trajectories makes it possible to trace the launch site. Among the most accurate independent works are those by Human Rights Watch and the New York Times. In the report on pag. 26 it is stated that of the 5 missiles launched on August 21 only 2 allow one to calculate the trajectory: the 1st and 4th, respectively launched on Moadamiyah and Ein Tarma. The 1st has an angle of 35° and an azimuth of 215°, while the 4th has an angle of 285° and an azimuth of 105°, which means that tracking back the launch site, the only result is the 104th Brigade of the Republican Guard.

Credit to: Human Rights Watch

Credit to: Human Rights Watch

It is one of the Syrian government bastions, on Mount Qasioun, a place overlooking the Presidential Palace where the Republican Guard and the infamous 4th Army Division (led by Assad’s brother, Maher) are located, which would mean that the order came directly from Maher Assad, as some UN officials believe. The issue is complicated: according to some frantic phone calls between high-ranking Syrian officials intercepted by the BND, the German intelligence service, by Israeli and American intelligence, it would seem that Bashar Assad is not personally involved in the chemical attack. Indeed, the intercepted calls reveal that 4th Division commanders had been asking the Presidential Palace for the authorization to use chemical weapons for 4 and a half months and that Bashar had always denied. It is likely that Maher Assad made the decision alone. In any case, there is broad agreement that it was the Syrian government who used chemical weapons.

In fact, Mount Qasioun is one of the strongholds more firmly in the hands of the regime, where government troops launch their attacks on rebel areas. The argument put forward by the Syrian government and its ally Russia is that, as Putin himself wrote for the New York Times: “No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke [military] intervention”. Which in fact, after the attack seemed to be imminent, when Obama found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to act on the threat made to Assad the previous year to use force in the event of a chemical attack, which was a red line.

But if so, it should at least be explained not only how the rebels would have been able to steal nerve gas from the regime, but also how they managed to penetrate the stronghold of government troops and self-launch sarin. To this regard, it is useful the statement of prof. Ake Sellstrom, head of the UN mission, who in this interesting interview (page 10) admits: “If you try the theory that it was the opposition that did it, it is difficult to see how it was weaponised. Several times I asked the government: can you explain – if this was the opposition – how did they get hold of the chemical weapons? They have quite poor theories: they talk about smuggling through Turkey, labs in Iraq and I asked them, pointedly, what about your own stores, have your own stores being stripped of anything, have you dropped a bomb that has been claimed, bombs that can be recovered by the opposition? They denied that. To me it is strange. If they really want to blame the opposition they should have a good story as to how they got hold of the munitions, and they didn’t take the chance to deliver that story”.

_69784568_chemical_weapon_624_v4

In September 2013 a military intervention in Syria to eliminate the chemical threat, opposed by most of global public opinion, seemed imminent, although the US themselves were not excited at the idea. In fact, they seized the Russian proposal to dismantle the chemical arsenal of Damascus with the regime’s consensus.

The Syrian government had denied for years that it possessed any chemical weapons, but, when pressed, not only had it to admit possessing them (revealing, to the surprise of the inspectors, also production plants artfully disguised, such as labs on mobile trucks with 18 wheels), but it also had to access the Chemical Weapons Convention to dismantle them and to allow OPWC inspectors  into the sites. On paper the mission was successful; in reality, not quite. In May 2015, when the mission was virtually over, OPCW inspectors found other  undeclared sites where the Syrian government was working on Sarin and VX nerve gas. This shows that the Syrian government has lied regarding its arsenal and therefore could still possess chemical weapons. All this seems to confirm many claims, spread by several parties from 2013, that the Syrian government was moving chemical weapons into friendly countries, such as Lebanon and Iraq, so that more than once (as in January and May 2013) Israeli jets bombed Syrian convoys bound for these countries to prevent arms transfers.

More detailed are statements from Syrian army deserters who warned several times of chemical weapons transfers across borders and of their use. But perhaps the most important testimony comes from Brigadier General Zaher Saket, former commander and chemical weapons officer in the 5th Division of the Syrian army, who defected in March 2013 and who now works with the OPWC mission. He revealed the chain of command behind the use of chemical weapons and that the orders are to use them in those areas in opposition hands where the army is unable to eradicate the enemy. Saket also revealed that he was ordered to use chemical weapons three times, the first time in October 2012. The order to release poison gas on Sheikh Maskeen, Herak and Busra (in the province of Deraa) came from Brigadier General Ali Hassan Ammar, but Saket did not execute the orders and replaced the mixture of phosgene and chlorine gas that he was supposed to use with a harmless water-based mixture. The third time was in January 2013, but his supervisor became suspicious about the lack of victims after the attacks, so Saket was forced to flee to Jordan. As of September 2013, according to Saket, chemical attacks by the regime had been 34.

One of the weekly Kafranbel protests marking the first chemical attack anniversary. Credit to: Occupied Kafranbel

One of the weekly Kafranbel protests marking the first chemical attack anniversary. Credit to: Occupied Kafranbel

On August 7, 2015 the UNSC unanimously approved resolution S/RES/2235 that should create for the first time an investigation mechanism to determine who is responsible for the chemical attacks in Syria. Perhaps one day truth will be ascertained and those responsible will be judged. For now, we have the terrible testimonies of survivors.

Al-Ahwaz1WRITTEN BY AHWAZNA, Prepared and presented by: Committee for research and studies in The Arab Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz

Ahwaz is an occupied Arab country located in the southwestern region of the Republic of Iraq and also in the southwestern region of Persia. It is bounded on the north by the Kurdistan Mountains the eastern border of the Lorestan Mountains which are known as the mountains of Zagros. These mountains in the north and the east create a natural border that separates the Ahwaz Arab lands from Persia. To the south, Ahwaz lies along the northern coast of the Arabian Gulf.

In terms of climate, the areas of occupied Ahwaz are quite similar to the plains of Mesopotamia as well as being entirely different in all respects with the climate of Persia.

Arnold Wilson, the British civil commissioner in Baghdad in 1918-1920, also asserted when he visited Ahwaz or Arabistan, “Ahwaz (Arabistan) is quite different from Iran. Ahwaz is surrounded by mountain chains forming a wall completely surrounding Al-Ahwaz and constituting a geographic division. The interval between Ahwaz and Persia and the difference between Ahwaz and Persia resembles the differences between Germany and Spain. In addition, this difference is not only confined to the geographical landmarks of Ahwaz, but includes culture, language, customs and traditions, history and population, fertility of the land and agricultural crops”.

The actual total area of this occupied Arab land is 375 thousand square kilometers, but the subsequent Iranian occupying governments have proceeded to usurp vast areas of this Arab land and have annexed adjacent Ahwaz areas to the Persian regions, all for the reason of legitimizing the diminishment of the area of Ahwaz. This organized plundering, shrinking the area through a land-grab and pernicious policies had been sought since 1936 up to the present day where Persian governments, under the pretext of conducting modern administrative regulations have truncated the following parts of Ahwazi lands:

  • Cutting off 11 thousand square kilometers of southern lands of Ahwaz and annexing it to Fars Province.
  • Cutting off 10 thousand square kilometers of eastern lands of Ahwaz and annexing it to Esfahan Province.
  • Cutting off 4400 square kilometers of northern lands of Ahwaz and annexing it to Lorestan Province.
  • Other regions such as Elam, Bushehr, and Bandar Abbas also have been cut from Ahwaz and exposed to Persianization policies by displacing its indigenous Ahwazi Arab inhabitants and settling Persians there. In Bushehr and Bandar Abbas large numbers of Ahwazi Arab inhabitants have been forced into Arabian Gulf countries after experiencing oppression, poverty, the appropriation of their property and possessions, particularly through forcible confiscation of their lands.

Consequently, the map of Al-Ahwaz has dramatically been shrunk from its original size to 159,600 thousand square kilometers according to current Iranian statistics.

Despite the lack of accurate statistics on the precise amount of the Ahwaz population, the number of residents of this occupied Arabic country is estimated to be eight million people. According to the most recent census issued by the Persian government in 1962, the population of this country that remained after the annexation of large regions from it was approximately 3.5 million Arabs. In addition to the 100,000, settlers who came from the Persian cities to this country after Reza Shah Pahlavi invaded Ahwaz.

According to other statistics recognized by the Persian occupation which was carried out after administrative divisions led into truncation, large parts of this usurped Arabic country the Ahwaz or Khuzestan area, as Persian rule calls it, is 64,236 square kilometers and the census of Arab people is 374,6772 residents.  So, if we retrieve the population of the separated areas and add it to the aforesaid number, then the number of Arab inhabitants of Ahwaz will reach nearly eight million people.

Since 1925 and right after the fall of its last Arab ruler through the military occupation of Reza Shah, Ahwaz has been the target of racist policies of successive governments of Persian regimes.

The most vile, dangerous and destructive policy inflicted on Ahwaz is the plague of Persianization that is changing the demographic composition of Ahwaz with the goal of eliminating the Arabic identity and destroying all its major pillars of nation building.

ahwazThis policy in the long-term has drawn a vicious vision for the Persian occupation that is the requisite of dragging the Ahwazi Arab nation to a stage in which calling it a nation will no longer be possible. They have spared no effort to make this vision a reality on the ground. The practices and policies undertaken by Persian occupation can be divided into two eras.

The overt racist philosophy of Farsism began in the form of the pan-Iranist party during the Reza Shah Regime. But our intended concept is the inherent popularized idea of Farsism that has penetrated deeply into the mind and the characters of the Persian people, even those who are seemingly combating racism.  However, they are more Catholic than the Pope when it comes to anti-Arab sentiment or fighting against Arabs.

The contemptuous attitude toward other non-Persian, people particularly toward the Ahwazi nation, constitutes the backbone of Farsism as an ideology. In fact, the policy of racial discrimination is being applied at the beginning of the founding of the state – the nation.

The Ahwazi Arab people have been the first victims of this policy. Because the radicalism of Farsism, which seeks to maintain and stabilize its illegal roots in the land that was occupied it by force, has committed mass murder and genocide of Ahwazi Arab people in different ways. Before the occupation, Ahwaz had a homogeneous Arab population with various clans and tribes.  After the conquest of Ahwaz and consequent overthrow of Arabic rule, Reza Shah by applying the recommendations of Farsism theorists such as Foroughi, Mirza Malcom, Akhound Zadeh and Taghi Zadeh, practiced the policy of forced migration and displacement of populations against the Arab people. In his first criminal acts, we can refer to the mass exile of Arab sheikhs outside Ahwaz.

Then, he ordered the banishment of a large number of Ahwazi Arab tribes to the Khorassan region, forcing them to walk barefoot long distances day and night without water and food, having to cross grueling mountain routes as so many women, children and elderly people were killed due to extreme fatigue, thirst and starvation.

For years, Reza Shah had widely practiced the policy of reverse migration of Ahwazi people to the central Persian regions and in contrast promoted the settlement of Persian people in Ahwazi regions.

AHWAZ MAPThe nomadic Lur and Bakhtiyari tribes, as their original homelands is beyond Zagros Mountains and because of their proximity to the northern regions of Ahwaz, had frequently travelled  with their herds to Ahwazi areas to find pasture lands to feed their flocks of sheep and goats. This situation helped Reza Shah to resettle them quickly in Ahwazi areas especially in Qenitra (Dezful) and Susa (Shush).  The Bakhtiyari tribes were only living in mountain regions and foothills of the Zagros in Izeh and Masjed Soleyman and in winter and summer they were commuting between their original homeland and the Ahwazi areas (Izeh and Masjed Soleyman. This meant that they left Ahwaz in the summer and returned to Ahwazi areas in the winter. These areas had the greatest potential for changing the demographic composition of Ahwaz. However, the industrialization of the cities of Abadan and Ahwaz had created the basis for the massive migration into the cities.

The Pahlavi regime repeatedly sent groups of Persian laborers into cities and through the granting of privileges, established a Persian middle class in the heart of Ahwazi cities, thereby enabling and reinforcing its occupation policies. Since 1925 the systematic migration of Persians has been carried out through the settlement of the “Lor and Bakhtiyari” tribes in Izeh, Masjed Solyman and Qenitra (Dezful), agricultural projects in Toster to Muhammarah, and industrial and oil projects in Ahwaz and Abadan.

Once Persian immigrants started to descend on Ahwazi cities, it did not take long for the total political domination of the Persian state over Ahwaz. Further development of the Abadan oil refinery in 1938 led it to become one of the largest refineries in the Middle East, providing thousands of job opportunities and paving the way for the arrival of many immigrants.

Iran_Oil_Arab_Population_MapApproximately 25 years after Reza Khan entered the region, the population of Abadan increased to 227,000, more than ten times that of 1956. The arrival of Persian settlers was to such an extent that there was not sufficient housing to lodge them. It followed that the English-Iranian Oil Company had to construct exclusive residential buildings for their workers and employees, and these buildings are known as “Bangleha”. According to government statistics, 62 percent of these immigrants are from the Isfahan and Yazd provinces, 24 percent are from the Fars province and 8 percent from the Kermanshah province.

These government settlement programs resulted in an influx of large numbers of Persian settlers to the cities of Abadan and Mahshor. The occupation authorities ever since have sought to build new industrial hubs in other major cities in an effort to further spread the scale and scope of Persian settlement of the cities of Al-Ahwaz.

Through the establishment of governmental centers, industrial factories in and around the Ahwaz capital, in addition to promoting and strengthening the military’s role in establishing large military bases, improving roads and routes leading to Ahwaz city, they created another new industrial hub in the region that brought tens of thousands of Persian immigrants to the city.

The consequence of this policy led to the population of Ahwaz city in 1977 to reach half a million people, surpassing Abadan and other cities.

The outbreak of the Iran revolution in 1979 and after the Iran-Iraq war, the migration of Iranians to Ahwazi regions had relented for a while. But after those ethnic statistics were excluded from the official statistics of Iran, it was the beginning of a lack of transparency in statistics related to immigrants coming to Ahwaz.

As every year, the hideous assimilation phenomenon (Persianizing land and human settlement) plagues Ahwaz, mainly the northern and the eastern bordering regions. This monstrous occupying Persian state aims at devouring the entirety of Arabic characteristics of Ahwaz.

Changing the demographic structure in favor of non-Arab immigrants, changing the Arabic names to Farsi ones, the ban on teaching the Arabic language and breaking up Ahwazi territories by annexing parts of Ahwaz and inserting them into Persian regions adjacent to Ahwaz are all part of the agenda, seeking the corroboration of the occupation authorities in targeting all the pillars of the national Arabic identity of the Ahwazi people.

In addition to forced migration and deporting Arab people to Persian regions and reverse migration of non-Arab people into Ahwaz, the Persian state has adopted other evil methods against the Ahwazi people.

The confiscation and plundering of agricultural lands by Persian feudal owners followed new approval of agrarian reforms.  Under the new and unfair law, the non-indigenous feudal entities had seized the chance to illegally become the owners of the lands that had previously been usurped from Arab farmers. In this regard, the death of Majid Khan, the great feudal owner, had been a perfect opportunity for the Persian central government to take control of 25,000 hectares of the lands that were virtually usurped.  Later, the occupation government has established the “Karoon Sugar Cane Development project” on these confiscated lands in the Toster (Shushtar) region.  As a matter of fact, the agrarian reforms made by the government were not so different  when compared to the feudal ones with respect to giving the possession of lands by its main Arab owners and once again it was a lose–lose situation for Ahwazi Arab farmers. Although some feudal lands were granted to Arab farmers, the majority of lands that were under the possession of feudal ownership, once again were confiscated by the central government and  Arab farmers were deprived of their lands forever. Additionally, those nomadic Lor tribes that forcibly settled on Ahwazi lands according to the agrarian reform Law become the owners of lands that formerly had belonged to the Arab people.

In Mahshor, Temimiyeh (Hendijan), Khalafeyeh, Ramez and Omideyeh the Pahlavi government claimed that the lands belonged to a Persian person named “Hosseinqoli Nezam Alsalteneh Ma’âfi” and after his death the government declared the confiscation of all these lands.

The Pahlavi government’s argument that apparently based is on speculation and lacks any credible evidence was announced as follows:

It seems that before the ownership of lands by Hosseinqoli Nezam Alsalteneh Ma’âfi, these lands were under the authority of Sheikh Khazaal (the ruler of Ahwaz) but when Sheikh Khazaal married Batul Ma’âfi, the daughter of Hosseinqoli, he endowed the lands to Hosseinqoli Ma’âfi.  After the fall of Sheikh Khazaal and occupation of Ahwaz, Hosseinqoli Ma’âfi gave half of these lands to the government endowment organization and kept the rest in his ownership until the end of the Pahlavi regime. Later the Islamic Republic seized the part of lands owned by him. Now the Ahwazi Arab people, the original inhabitants of these lands, remained tenants residing on the lands that mainly belong to them and every time the landlord (government) wishes it can expel them from these lands.

Most statistics and evidence show that the government has put more focus on changing the demographic structure of Al-Ahwaz. Because they know well that a divided and heterogeneous nation is no longer able to stand against colonialism for this reason, the government has ever since been targeting the Ahwazi Arab nation from the inside.

It is a silent killer policy aimed at exterminating the entire Ahwaz population, and it has been pursued in the form of changing the demographic structure of Ahwaz.  This inhuman act is conducted without adequate news reflection or attention. In silence, its annihilating consequences are disintegrating the Ahwazi nation from the inside.

In addition to the above methods, the government has deployed modern methods for changing the demographic structure, such as constructing Persian settlements to make a rapid and widespread change in the fabric of the population in favor of Persian settlers.  New Yazd and New Isfahan settlements built in Khafajah city are only examples of these grave crimes that not only have not stopped under the current Islamic Republic regime, but have continued with greater frequency and intensity.

Of course, these are just a few cases of the Pahlavi regime’s crimes in the demographic structure of the Arab nation of Al-Ahwaz. In the second part of this article, we will shed more light on the current policies of changing the population structure of Al-Ahwaz under the Islamic Republic regime.

 

By Wissam Al Jazairy

There are two ways of experiencing a social upheaval of epic proportions: directly or indirectly. Naturally, if one is directly affected by restrictions, uprisings, detention, revolution, attacks, blockades, shortages of utilities, medicine and food, migration and so forth, they are going to be connected to the event in a visceral way and this of course helps to define the nature of the event as being positive or negative.  There is a DIRECT relationship between what is happening and an improvement or a worsening in their lives. It is a relationship that is dependent upon reality and the “timeline” of their narrative is going to be “before” the event and “after” it. There is little abstraction going on, as, for example, you simply know that “before” you lived in your home and “after”, you were marching towards a refugee camp because not only your home, but your entire town no longer exists, and you know who did that to you as well!  No one has to inform you that this is a bad situation. No ideology could ever be more meaningful to you than the fact that your life has been totally changed (for the worse) from what it was before.

It’s obvious that those who live outside areas of upheaval are not going to have these experiences in order to judge the events, and judging them is what we tend to do naturally if we are “activists”. We tend to see them in a bigger picture and part of a greater struggle. Therefore, as indirectly involved, we have a few choices at our disposal. We can view events (and people) in a prism that comforts us or at least fits into what we think we already know (our ideology or beliefs), we can take the road of empathy and identify with the persons directly involved, we can remain indifferent, uninvolved and choose to ignore any information until it DOES directly involve us, if it ever would have that destiny. We can even attempt to tightrope walk in a combination of all of them, depending upon our mood, our social interactions, our interests.

Then there are degrees of indirect involvement. It often relates to the concept of “identity politics”: where a person relates to an event according to a perceived degree of identification with those directly involved in any event. Taking the Syrian uprising into consideration in this paper, it is clear that all Syrians around the world have a connection to Syria and have its interests at heart. I doubt that there is even one Syrian who washes his or her hands of the entire situation, even if they may find themselves on diametrically opposed sides. However, one important matter must be acknowledged: that there are indeed persons who are directly affected and whose lives have been shattered, and that the facts supporting the amount of destruction, the number of deaths and refugees and even the dynamics of the various massacres can in no way be denied. It is beyond ridiculous to imagine that we can turn back the clock to a time when we were not connected in real time, when news of massacres only reached a small public in whispered tones, knowing that the details were too horrible to even be believed. Any town in the world that has some sort of access to communication is fully able to see documents such as photographs and films of the real events happening in Syria at this very minute. They can judge if there are protests, battles, massacres by what they see.

Dealing with cognitive dissonance

There is actually a tricky part of this whole thing though: if we AREN’T directly involved, whatever decision we make will turn out to be an ethical choice. Unless we are completely alienated and detached from the suffering of others, not to mention living in a vacuum, the suffering going on in Syria smacks us in the face day after day and hour after hour. If the sight of torture, destruction and death makes us feel bad, chances are we are normal and we will experience some level of cognitive dissonance. We know that things we are witnessing (or being shown) are “bad” or even “unacceptable” or “evil”, depending on our linguistic habits, but since we are not in the habit of outspokenly endorsing evident ethnic cleansing and carpet bombing of Arab cities and villages, we may find ourselves taking refuge in the cosy world of “punditry” and “analysis”, where the idea and intention (real or imagined) bears more weight than isolated events (even if they are repeated thousands and hundreds of thousands of times). It is clear that punditry is the easiest road for the self-identifying human rights activist, because we all have a body of literature that slips all events into a meta-narrative (in the case of punditry that calls itself “anti-imperialist”, but is actually the sum equivalent of counter-revolutionary thought, where the leader is preferred and supported over the rebelling masses for perceived value he has in an ideological framework) and we can selectively analyse specific events in order to prove our points and especially settle our painful cognitive dissonance.

It’s a bit of a disaster though, because it assumes that the indirect experience, nay, the ANALYSIS is actually more relevant than the direct experience. It puts us in the even MORE uncomfortable position of being the “great white hope”, the one who “knows better than “the other” what’s Best for the Other”, though we attempt to not let that fact bother us, as we are cognisant that most of us are unwilling and unable to leave the comfort of the West and its trappings such as banks, iPads and all the pluggable things we adore more than humans. We have the opportunity of justifying what we normally would not be able to justify by means of adopting a “more important” ideological stance, and we assume others will be able to understand that we are not any kind of privileged person, but instead we benefit of our years of activism and awareness and just plain “intelligence”, seeing things ordinary folk can’t see!

A few anti-interventionists in London are selective about what intervention they reject

In addition to our ability to be physically far from war, we are even lucky enough to have the assistance of critical distance, the only thing that allows analysis and lets us paint over the grey areas (we can decide even which meta-narrative we can focus on, tailoring our interventions to our public. If the consumers of punditry are Westerners like us, (as 90% of them are) we can assume they do not want to be involved in interventionist wars (Western intervention, that is) and they will respond to a group of code words, they will take on and utilise in discourse new ones such as “sectarian” without requiring mental strain of figuring out if this is truly the case in point. We can vary the theme a bit by going for the generic pacifism/no war framework if the complexities of historical events in mass movements in the Arab world is beyond our grasp. And there is a beauty to all of this: we can still consider ourselves as superior ethical beings, because we are not ignoring (and we would never admit we are facilitating something negative!) the situation, but instead we can remain great humanitarian activists who are looking out for the best interests in those populations who do not have the dialectical positions we have. We resolve our painful cognitive dissonance and at the same time give ourselves hefty pats on the backs for being so very clever and anti-imperialist.

I believe I am like most of the others reading this: not directly involved, but not able to avoid the empathic response of shock and disgust at the violence, yet also deeply entrenched in my “activist identity” that seeks to analyse what is seen within a larger framework. This means that I am a consumer of punditry, and for better or worse, the vast majority of it is done by those who might move onto the next “hot spot”, and that means that whatever the outcome, it’s not going to affect them personally, because it’s someone else’s lives, someone else’s country. So, the logical assumption is that if you are not personally involved, your stakes in the situation are completely different than those who are involved, and your “personal” stakes may not at all be lofty ideals such as “saving the Arab people from the evil empire”, since the evidence that imperial interests are the driving force in the uprising of the Syrian people is nil. The personal stakes may quite simply be learning to live with yourself after seeing what is objectively “unacceptable” violence committed by the regime with very little excuse for this except that they CAN.

How is that done? Simple! Claim that the justification of the violence is a greater cause or that “both sides” commit unacceptable deeds. The fact that you will always find a bit of evidence to justify that thesis comes in handy, and it avoids the need to actually ANALYSE, but to stick selected evidence into a pre-conceived analysis. You can use even contradict yourself, no one is keeping score! If in January there was NO such thing as Al Qaeda, in August they can be the driving force of the “rebels”.  If you spent years stressing the absolute right of the Palestinians to select for themselves parties that are overtly Islamic, no one will spend too much effort to point out the hypocrisy of determining that Assad “needs” to stay in power to guarantee a Secular Syria. No one will point out the vaguely Islamophobic comments that you might make as you lump all the freedom fighters into the “Salafist” bag. And do not worry that people are going to argue that the concept of a wider “homeland” has always been a part of uprisings in the Arab world, that the Umma should at least theoretically participate in the struggles and armed conflicts where called upon.

The kitsch aesthetic reigns supreme in self-styled pundits

If you are like me, you have read dozens of articles that bear lots of information but almost no factual data. Much of this information is by self-styled pundits, quite kitschy most of the time, who have no direct access to information, and what they actually do is pass off regime dispatches as being their independent analysis. RT, Press TV and Global Research are going to tell you about hundreds (and at times thousands) of troops of Libyan soldiers fighting in Syria, but that is pretty much all you will ever find out about them, though meaningless and fact-deprived mega titles like this will float from article to article:

The “Free Syrian Army” is Al Qaeda, led, armed, funded by Western-backed LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) terrorists.

No need to prove any of that! Just saying it is enough, and throw in the word “terrorist” referred to Arab fighters and you can actually take almost any analysis by the Neocon Think Tanks and arrange it to suit your needs.

And this is the problem: Those who are closer to the revolution / uprising because they identify with the persons actually undergoing these events are reacting empathically, humanely and emotionally. They believe that it is sufficient to show the world what is going on and human decency will do the rest, will stop saying “this is unacceptable” and will MAKE it unaccepted. Those who are farthest away, whose involvement with it is fickle, transitory and laden with the cognitive dissonance that forces them to justify atrocities are the ones analysing the situation. They are not presenting all that is seen, but are clipping out those things that support the effort they are making in order to continue to back a regime that is objectively engaged in violence against a civilian population that is obscene. They will point to the Palestinian cause, repeating the regime’s slogans that have no support in truth! It is clear that if the regime has shelled the Palestinian refugee camps (bringing about destruction and also the death of over 400 Palestinians) because these places are considered as supportive of the revolution, there is something in that argument that is enormously flawed!

Russian Veto serves Assad

If they are using the “no intervention” argument, they simply ignore the fact that there is heavy intervention and actual material support of the regime from Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. It is not a theory, it is actual fact. If they claim that the UN veto serves the interest of imperialism and the West and has been a grotesque miscarriage of Justice regarding Palestine, the veto of Russia and China to sanctions is seen in a completely different light. If the No Fly Zone was slammed for Libya, is labelled as a NATO device when applied to Syria we have to simply ignore that, “I Support a No Fly Zone Over Palestine” was a campaign that was adhered to particularly by these same pundits. Or, could it be that there are some humans who are more human than others and whose rights are worth stopping at nothing to protect?

The range of arguments that these people use is often contradictory, almost always lacks research and most of the time is detached from the will and reality of the persons who are directly involved. Even the idea borrowed from the pro-Assad people outside Syria who do not see the pro-regime intervention but are obsessed with that of the uprising, whether that intervention is real or imagined which states: “let Syrians settle it among themselves”. This is a way to avoid the internal conflict of being an “activist” in someone else’s struggle and urging that all issues are resolved without others butting in. Non-intervention is selective, and it follows the trends.

I would like to close this paper by making two points. The first is that since we have shifted much of this war into the “social sphere” where communication happens, we are aware of the weight of conformance to social conventions in our interactions. We are horrified at the prospect of clashing with those who in the past have had such accurate insights or at least who along general lines followed the same ideas we did, those of the revolutionary struggle for freedom from oppression and a people’s rights to self-determination. This means that many of us, accepting these paradigms of justification of human rights violations have removed our critical abilities in a lazy manner. We simply fail to recognise the hypocrisy that exists where Pro-Palestine activists are posting up hateful pictures of icons of the resistance, Shiehk Raed Salah, Azmi Bishara, or journalists and writers such as Khalid Amayreh or Elias Khoury only because they have insisted that the Syrian liberation struggle is a struggle of an oppressed people against a tyrant and that this tyrant has continually put the “rights” of Israel before the rights of the Palestinians and Syrians.

One of the more intricate “proxy war” maps, though it ignores Israel, unlike some of the simpler ones circulating

It is ironic that these pundits specialised in revolutionary slogans are busy labelling the uprising and revolution, brought ahead heroically by the brave Syrian people almost single-handedly, as a “Proxy War against Iran”, which is not only a meaningless phrase but it takes away any agency that the Arab and Syrian people have in determining their own fate and making their own history. They will also tie into this concept all the regional and international powers, as if they are the point and Syria is not an issue. And it’s not only the anti-imperialists who have a problem, there is something really wrong in pacifists who are busy equating the massacre of almost 700 people in a day to the throwing off the roof of two snipers who had been killed in combat. It simply defies a sense of measure, a sense of perspective and reality!

The second point I want to make is that while the pro-revolution faction outside Syria is very busy in the noble task of disseminating the information that leaks out of Syria, at times with enormous difficulty, informing the entire world of the situation there, and honouring the martyrs with the testimony of their suffering, it is missing out on the “analysis” aspect. It is a shame that of the thousands of analytical items to read, half of them are reprints of the same 3 or 4 articles by faraway pundits (often without experience or credentials) in London, Chicago, Naples or Florida. If some of them are nearer, they have a specific dog in the fight, and they themselves are “obsessed” about sectarianism, so they see it in everyone else, whether it is there or not. I believe that we activists who are both empathic and who support the people of Syria in their struggle for freedom have to make an extra effort to fight the propaganda, to debunk the fallacy of the information presented as argument (lacking the evidence, the big words such as Imperialist fly!) The truth is on our side, but the Assad-supporting activists are beating us in the information game only because they are required to play it so that they can look at their faces in the mirror and not hate who they see.

EGYPT is 1 million square Kilometers of land located in the northeastern corner of Africa and through the centuries Egypt has been the link between Europe, Asia and Africa. It’s the cornerstone and the connecting nexus of this continental triad and that’s why it’s considered poly-dimensional. Through this post I’ll try to clarify how Egypt was ‘separated’ from its natural and cultural dimensions and how it was ‘isolated’ to prevent any further cultural contact, integration or fusion.

Since 1981, when Sadat was assassinated, and during the thirty years of Mubarak’s regime, Egypt has gone through two main stages in the relationship with neighbors. The first and shorter stage I like to call the ‘Openness & Reconciliation’ stage; when Mubarak was preaching his new reign and leadership, when Mubarak was trying to be the ‘wise’ leader who brought Egypt and glory back to the Arabs and the ‘wise’ leader who liberated Sinai and regained Taba without a drop of blood. The second stage is called ‘Chair First!’ , the Honeymoon was over, Mubarak began to wake up and realize that his personal interests lied with America and Israel only, not with the Arabs, Africans, Russians and others whose problems are more than their benefits, he thought. That’s when ‘Separation & Isolation’ in the reign of Mubarak began to take place on different axes and dimensions.

Asiatic dimension : 

Represented in Gaza (Palestine) and the Fertile Crescent region (historically parts of Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon), the Asiatic dimension remains the most vital and important because the Arab culture arrived to Egypt from there, because people in this region are closer to Egyptians in traditions, accent, food, culture and many other aspects than any other neighbor.Also because the parts of this ‘Fertile Crescent’ shown on the map complete each other and become very powerful when united. Remember that Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus dominated the cities of the world with knowledge, science and prosperity when they were united. You can guess now why the strange Zionist entity of Israel is existing and blocking the natural tide between Cairo and its Asiatic dimension. The regime of Mubarak strongly supported the Israeli-American policies in this region by unsubstantial rounds of negotiations and tightening the siege on Gaza. 

Sub-Saharan African dimension :

“Egypt is the gift of the Nile”, Herodotus said thousands of years ago. Life flows to Egypt from the headwaters of the Nile, from Sub-Saharan Africa. Egypt had a considerable influence in this region during the reign of Nasser, our relationship with Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and even with western African countries like Nigeria and Cameroon was very good; we sent them teachers, we invested in their industries and agriculture. This excellent heritage of connections with our Sub-Saharan African dimension was not respected by Mubarak and his regime and they let the soft power of Israel take over Africa and directly threaten our National Security.

North African dimension :

Accumulated problems and misunderstandings existed between us and this dimension from the 1960’s but Mubarak totally ignored this dimension, didn’t adopt any conciliatory approach and even created more problems and complications. 

European dimension : 

Politically, the relation between Mubarak and our European dimension was based on Mutualism, but compare between Egypt-Europe balance of trade and that of Egypt-USA to know what happened economics-wise. It is a crime against the Egyptians and the peoples of southern Europe adjacent to us. Imagine all the available jobs and investments if stronger economical relationships existed commensurating with the geography, history and needs. 

Who’s the enemy and who’s the friend ?

Mubarak, who followed the way of Sadat concerning this issue, created enmities, abandoned friends and friended enemies for others’ benefits and for his personal benefits not for Egypt. Why is Iran an enemy ? I don’t know. Why is Israel a friend ? I don’t know. Why don’t we have strong relations with Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil and India ? I also don’t know.

After what we have done and achieved in Jan25 revolution, I hope that reconsidering the policies and relationships of Egypt with its dimensions will be one of the top priorities for the next president.

Thanks to Miguel for forwarding this incredible map. (Strange Maps) The Bible contains at least two stories equating the aquatic with the amoral. As Red Sea pedestrians, Moses and the Israelites didn’t even get their sandals moist, while the Lord did some expert smiting on the pursuing Egyptians, by way of the gurgling waters closing in on them. And a few thousand years earlier, Noah kept his binary boatload afloat while all the rest of humanity (and the now extinct species of the animal kingdom) met their watery grave.

Even though this map of L’archipel de Palestine orientale (‘The Archipelago of Eastern Palestine’) is set in the same area and uses a similar theme, the cartographer behind it refutes any allegation that it is meant to reflect the same Biblical dry = good, wet = bad analogy. “The map is not about ‘drowning’ or ‘flooding’ the Israeli population, nor dividing territories along ethnic lines, even less a suggestion of how to resolve the conflict,” gasps Julien Bousac, the Frenchman who created this map.

A small excerpt of the map (focusing on the Greater Jerusalem area) was published a bit earlier on this blog, but the map in its entirety (sent in by Mr Bousac but also earlier by Baptiste Hautdidier) merits a separate entry, not only because “without a legend, it […] gives ground to various misinterpretations, due to the high sensitivity of the subject,” as Mr Boussac relates – but also because it just looks so nice. And strange, of course.

“Maybe posting the full map would help to take it for what it is, i.e. an illustration of the West Bank’s ongoing fragmentation based on the (originally temporary) A/B/C zoning which came out of the Oslo process, still valid until now. To make things clear, areas ‘under water’ strictly reflect C zones, plus the East Jerusalem area, i.e. areas that have officially remained under full Israeli control and occupation following the Agreements. These include all Israeli settlements and outposts as well as Palestinian populated areas.”

Mr Boussac took advantage of the resulting archipelago effect “to use typical tourist maps codes (mainly icons) to sharpen the contrast between the fantasies raised by seemingly paradise-like islands and the Palestinian Territories grim reality.” The map does have a strong vacationy vibe to it – but whether that is because of the archipelago-shaped subject matter, or due to the cheerful colour scheme is a matter for debate.

Those colours, incidentally, denote urban areas (orange), nature reserves (shaded), zones of partial autonomy (dark green) and of total autonomy (light green). Totally fanciful are of course the dotted lines symbolising shipping links, the palm trees signifying protected beachland, and the purple symbols representing various aspects of seaside pleasure. The blue icon, labelled Zone sous surveillance (‘Zone under surveillance’) has some bearing on reality, as the locations of the warships match those of permanent Israeli checkpoints.

Some of the paradisiacally named islands include Ile au Miel (Honey Island), Ile aux Oliviers (Isle of the Olive Trees), Ile Sainte (Holy Island) and Ile aux Moutons (Sheep Island), although the naming of Ile sous le Mur (Island beneath the Wall) constitutes a relapse into the grimness of the area’s reality.

SOURCE: http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/270-palestines-island-paradise-now-with-a-word-from-its-creator/

Palestine 1948

Posted: 03/17/2009 by editormary in Maps, Newswire, Palestine
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(Click to enlarge)

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