Zeitouna Kids in their Own Words

February 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Mohammad Ojjeh made a short film in which the children of the Salam School for Syrian refugees in Reyhanli, Turkey, speak about their experiences and the Karam Foundation’s Zeitouna programme.

Something Worse?

February 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Down with ISIS, from Kafranbel

Down with ISIS, from Kafranbel

In a hotel lobby on the Turkish side of the Syrian border, Yasser Barish showed photographs of his bombed family home in Saraqeb, Idlib province. One room was still standing – the room Yasser happened to resting in on September 15th 2012 when the plane dropped its bomb. The other rooms were entirely obliterated – ground level rubble was all that remained. Yasser’s mother, grandmother, sister and brother were killed.

Saraqeb is a much fought over strategic crossroads, invaded wholescale by Assad’s army in August 2011 and March 2012. Since November 2012, the regime has had no presence in the town (though its artillery batteries remain in range). At first the Local Coordination Committee provided government, but through the spring of 2013, the al-Qa’ida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gradually increased its presence in the town.

Yasser told me how they took over Saraqeb. At first only ten representatives came, and they brought with them large amounts of medicine and food. They were humble and generous, and warmed the local people’s hearts. They also brought money, with which they recruited ammunition-starved and hungry local fighters. Then reinforcements arrived – “Libyans, Algerians, a lot of Iraqis, some Afghans and Turks, one white Belgian and one white American” – enough to frighten thieves into good behaviour, which at first increased the organisation’s popularity. But in May 2013 they whipped two men in a public square for an infringement of Islamic family law. In June they took absolute control, forbade drinking and smoking, and made prayer compulsory.

Yasser is part of an independent team which publishes magazines for adults and children – a sign of autonomous revolutionary success in terribly difficult circumstances. The slogan “I have the right to express my opinion” graces the cover of Zeitoun wa Zeitouna, the children’s magazine. Since the culling of his family, Yasser doesn’t care if he lives or dies. But so long as he’s here, he’s dedicated himself to improving local lives – teaching children how to read and encouraging them to tell stories and draw pictures. (The local schools, of course, are closed, and most of the teachers killed or fled.) « Read the rest of this entry »

A Widow of Bayada

February 5, 2014 § 1 Comment

photograph by Mohamad Ojjeh

photograph by Mohamad Ojjeh

An edited version of this piece was published by the National.

Our car turns through the crowded alleyways of single-storey breezeblock houses, foggy with coal smoke in the icy December morning. This is the poorest quarter of Reyhanli, a Turkish town just across the Syrian border, and it’s crammed with Syrian refugees.

The woman whose story I’ve come to hear puts on a niqab when the camera comes out. And she prefers to be nameless, because she fears for her two married daughters still living in regime-controlled territory.

She lives in an empty, unheated house. Her son sits with us, and her small daughter shivers under a blanket. The woman is in early middle age but looks older. Her face is long, worn, and haggard, her voice pain-strained and sharp.

Her husband, born in 1972, worked with the military security for seventeen years but retired early when he needed an operation on a vertebral disc. After that he opened a roast chicken place in his Homs neighbourhood, Bayada. The family lived what his wife describes as a working-class life “of an acceptable standard”. They had six children. Bayada comprised both Sunni and Alawi families, “and the relationship between us was very good, even if the state favoured Alawis. We drank maté together. There was no problem.”

The revolution broke out less than a year after her husband’s retirement, and the newly-pressured military security began asking him to return to work. He refused. “How could he work for them? At that time Bab Dreib was being shelled. In our area there were house searches and random arrests of young men. They even took women, those who attended demonstrations and those who shouted ‘God is Greater!’ from their windows at night.”

Her husband supported the revolution and was part of a local network which helped the revolutionaries, finding shelter for those on the run and collecting food, medical supplies and money. His wife believes an Alawi neighbour informed on him. On the other hand, it was an Alawi friend who warned him that his name was on the wanted list at regime checkpoints.

« Read the rest of this entry »

All Things Considered (Again)

January 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Again I was on All Things Considered, a BBC Radio Wales programme, talking with Nadim Nassar, Bishop Angelos, and Harry Hagopian about Muslims, Islamists, Christians, Syria and Egypt. Follow the link to listen (it may only be available for a few days).


Download Mp3

Accountability in Syria

January 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

An excellent présentation by Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch (begins at the 5:45 mark):

Call for Immediate Aid to Syrians Dying of Starvation Due to Siege

January 9, 2014 § 2 Comments

Doctors, Faith, and Peace Leaders Gather at UN to Announce International Solidarity Hunger Strike for Syria, Demand Lifting of Military “Starvation Siege”

Photo by Maysun Aleina

On Friday, January 10, at 10:00 a.m. a working group of leaders representing the Syrian American Medical Society, the Syrian Nonviolence Movement and the Minnesota-based Friends for a NonViolent World will hold a press conference in the United Nations Plaza to announce an International Solidarity Hunger Strike for Syria, a major global campaign, and to demand the lifting of the starvation sieges of dozens of Syrian towns that are preventing hundreds of thousands of Syrians from eating or getting medical treatment.

To address the background of the siege, they will be joined by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch and Dr. Annie Sparrow, an expert in complex humanitarian emergencies at Mount Sinai Global Health Center. Leaders representing interfaith and peace organizations will express their support for the hunger strike.

 WHEN:       Friday, January 10, at 10:00 a.m.
WHAT:      Press Conference about the International Solidarity Hunger Strike for Syria
WHO:         Doctors, Faith and Human Rights Leaders Representing the Syrian American Medical Society, the Syrian Nonviolence Movement, Friends for a NonViolent World and Other Organizations
WHERE:   Bahá’í International Community’s United Nations Office, 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 120. The entrance is on East 48th Street, just off of 1st Avenue, on the same side of 1st Avenue as the UN. It’s the first building north of the UN gardens.
 
The speakers at the press conference will include:
  • Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch
  • Zaher Sahloul, President of the Syrian American Medical Society
  • Mohja Kahf, Member of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement & Professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Arkansas
  • Dr. Annie Sparrow, Pediatrician, Teacher in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, Professor at Mount Sinai Global Health Center
  • Haris Tarin, Director of the Washington, DC office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
  • Rev. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY)
  • Leila Zand, Fellowship of Reconciliation

The Syria Dilemma: A Critical Dialogue

January 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

This discussion took place last month at Columbia University. It was based partly on our friend Danny and Nader’s fine book The Syria Dilemma:

SPEAKERS:
 

The Agony of Syria

December 30, 2013 § 1 Comment

This made me cry.

She is one of the 1.5 million people besieged by Assad’s genocidal armies. (A Facebook friend identified this location as the Yarmouk camp, but I can’t confirm).

Robin Returns from Syria

December 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

Pulse editor, Robin Yassin-Kassab has returned from Turkey & Syria and is here interviewed by the ITV News team.

Stop Starvation in Syria | End the Blockades

December 19, 2013 § 13 Comments

Call to Join the International Hunger Strike

Picture source

Syrians are slowly dying of malnutrition – but not for lack of food.  A military blockade surrounds dozens of Syrian towns.  This starvation siege prevents 1.5 million Syrians from receiving food or medicine.

Qusai Zakarya is one of them.  He is 28 years old.  Qusai declared a hunger strike on November 26, to demand food and medicine be allowed to reach civilians across military lines in Syria.  “We are all hungry here in my hometown anyway.  Let me be hungry for a purpose,” Qusai says.

We are starting the first phase of a “rolling” solidarity hunger strike onFriday, December 20, where someone will do a hunger strike every day in support of the hunger strikers in Syria through the rest of December.

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