Turkey

Call for Papers for Sixth Istanbul Human Security Conference 2016 (19-20-21 October)

image4Call for Papers for the panel—“Protecting People or Protecting Orders? Displacement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region” to take place at the sixth Istanbul Human Security Conference, The Human Security Implications of the Refugee Crisis: Evaluating Current Policies and Discussing Potential Solutions, 19-20-21 October 2016. This panel will be under the “Responses to Refugee Crises in the World” conference theme.

Please send 200 word (max) abstracts to Estella Carpi at estella.carpi@gmail.com no later than Friday, May 27. Authors of accepted papers will be notified Monday, May 30 for final panel submission June 1.

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Panel proposal for: “Responses to Refugee Crises in the World”

Panel Title: “Protecting People or Protecting Orders? Displacement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region”

Estella Carpi (New York University – Abu Dhabi) and Giulia El Dardiry (McGill University)

From domestic affairs to international politics, “human security” has been associated with a reframing of political discourse in which the “human” rather than the “state” has become the fundamental objective of political action. In emergency contexts, this has resulted in increasing humanitarian efforts to provide personal, political, economic, community, environmental, health, and food security to distressed communities.

Characterized by protracted conflicts, a precarious economy and endemic political instability, the MENA is a region where humanitarian and political action in service of “human security” continues to be urgent. However, in the long shadow cast by the defining experience of the Palestinian refugee displacements, international actors are increasingly framing the transnational mobilities of Sudanese, Somalis, Iraqis, Libyans, and Syrians as an instantiation of the global threat posed by open borders.

This panel asks how humanitarian practices deployed on the ground with the explicit aim of guaranteeing “human security” contribute instead to maintaining the Middle East geopolitical order. The selected papers will critically interrogate how the discourse of “human security”—rather than shifting political priorities from states to people—re-inscribes state power and interests, successfully vesting geopolitics with the moral aura of a people-centered approach, even as it displaces millions from their homes.

Categories: Middle East, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

Beyond Legal Definitions: Migrants and Refugees as Ungraspable Categories (by Estella Carpi, August 2015)

Beyond Legal Definitions: Migrants and Refugees as Ungraspable Categories. The Syrian Kurdish Exodus and the Lebanese Akkaris.

Beyond Legal Definitions: Migrants and Refugees as Ungraspable Categories. The Syrian Kurdish Exodus and the Lebanese Akkaris.

August 20, 2015

Social Science Researcher at TRENDS Research & Advisory

Migrants are definable as people who spontaneously choose to leave their country and build a better life elsewhere. Before their departure, migrants are therefore able to ask for information about their destination and what opportunities they may have there. Moreover, they remain free to go back to their home country whenever needed or desired. The United Nations defines a ‘migrant’ as an individual who has resided in a foreign country for longer than one year regardless of the causes, voluntary or involuntary, and the means, regular or irregular. Nevertheless, at the international level, no universally accepted definition for “migrant” exists.

Conversely, refugees have no other choice but leaving their country because they are persecuted, tortured, being their life somehow jeopardised if they remained in their home country. In specific, Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”. In such cases, the very reasons behind refugee influxes are political and human rights, safety and security, rather than individual and collective economic upgrading. People’s departure is mostly unexpected and unplanned due to warfare or natural disaster. Their journey towards the so-called “host-countries” is full of risks, yet in relentless search for protection and safety. In most cases, refugees, unlike migrants, cannot return unless the political and social scenario back home changes in their favour.

If those described above are the de facto and legal defining conditions according to which we are supposed to distinguish a migrant from a refugee, the latest flows of people on the move throughout the Middle East point to a less clear-cut category of mobile populations. In the cases of Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey, and Lebanon, which will be discussed later, the 1951 Geneva’s Refugee Convention has not been ratified by the governments: thus, until the time individuals seeking refuge do not receive their official status from UNHCR[1] (or UNRWA[2] in the case of Palestinians), they are to be legally considered asylum seekers or forced migrants. Even once they obtain the official documentation, refugees fear repatriation and detention, in that UNHCR and UNRWA simply clinched bilateral agreements with most of the Middle Eastern governments hosting the newcomers, as they are not signatories to the 1951 Convention. This explains the chronic indoor life that many refugees, other than the Palestinians, lead to be able to reside in the Middle East.

Yet, international law’s regulations and the orthodox language of the human rights campaigns seem to create more confusion in addressing changing and blurred mobile groups of people, by engendering a gap between real needs, rights’ achievement, and programs meant to addressing social and political issues on the basis of forced and non-forced migrations. It is how “forced” such migration flows are which increasingly become ungraspable. As mentioned above, international law does not contemplate cases in which people who are not subjected to persecution are eligible for such a legal status. However, it became evident that people, even when not directly persecuted or personally endangered, still find themselves in the condition to have no other choice than leaving, as the Syrian exodus is currently proving. Consequently, speaking of and tackling migrants as a different category from refugees – and vice versa – becomes misleading on a pragmatic and a legal level, rather than ensuring rights and meeting needs appropriately.

For instance, in the first instance, UNHCR did not consider external compelling reasons for migration as mandatory criteria for registering refugees from Syria. In Lebanon, the rash policy of considering anyone coming out of Syria as aprioristically eligible – as potentially subjected to persecution by one of the warring parties – led to a daunting and premature shortage of aid which the humanitarian agencies were supposed to provide, as well as to an unbelievable number of registered refugees (now 1,172,753) until the January 2015 tightening of the new Lebanese immigration laws.

Therefore, to make up for resources’ waste, UNHCR subsequently introduced refugee status cancellation policies in accordance with the Lebanese government when registered families or individuals did not collect their assigned aid packages more than three times in a row. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that Syrian refugees often reported the lack of successful communication between them and aid providers. Many of them therefore found themselves in extreme need of assistance after being cancelled from the UNHCR list. In a nutshell, the random registration of refugees at the outset of the refugee crisis, and the consequent UN compensation policy to make aid suffice for all, have unavoidably been perceived as aggressive policies by the refugees, for whom such measures were standing for the carelessness of the international community.

A further example is provided by the paradox that defining an individual as ‘economic migrant’ rather than ‘refugee’ can mean denying her/him access to the process of applying for asylum. Likewise, those who do not have the status of asylum seeker can legally be returned to their country of origin whenever the latter is considered safe. The distinction inevitably leads legal institutions to introduce a list of countries from which either only asylum seekers or economic migrants can come. For example, countries ridden by longstanding conflict like Syria are viewed as merely producing influxes of refugees and not economic migrants. The complexity and differentiation of the types of mobility that the Syrian political crisis has gradually given birth to goes here unheeded.

It is of use to recall that many Syrians were undergoing political harassment and persecution from the side of state institutions in the 1970s and later, who were therefore fleeing to neighbouring and western countries in the capacity of ‘economic migrants’ rather than ‘political refugees’. The lack of officially declared emergencies, and the unwillingness to deal with the Hafez al-Asad regime at an international level at that time, influenced the definition and the management of Syrian people’s mobility in those years, in a bid to depoliticise or simply undercut the matter for the sake of regional and international stability.

A further suitable example nowadays is offered by the North-Eastern region of Syria, the semi-independent area which is co-ruled in practice by Bashar al-Asad’s regime and the Syrian Kurdish Party PYD (Democratic Union Party), despite the highly controversial relationship that these two political actors have intertwined.

Especially in 2013, two years after the outset of the Syrian uprisings taking place across the whole country, Syrian Kurdistan produced big flows of ‘refugees’ and ‘economic migrants’ altogether towards the neighbouring Turkey and Iraq. A large number of those who fled into Iraqi Kurdistan (where over 90% of Syrian refugees are now Syrians Kurds) and Turkey – where segments of their families were already living – should properly be defined as ‘economic migrants’, if the very reasons for their migration were considered. Indeed, the traditional inhabitants of Syrian Kurdistan had long been neglected by the central state’s services, and the regime’s politics of meeting the Kurds’ needs and granting Syrian citizenship to many of them only at the beginnings of the Syrian revolution (April 2011), were primarily aimed at averting a greater turmoil, therefore limiting the use of force to curb the popular protests in these areas. Similarly, the regime’s aviation has never bombed the Kurdish-majority areas since 2011, except for the territories presently held by the so-called Islamic State (mainly al-Hasake’s governorate).

Aside from chronic poverty, hence, longstanding lack of social services, schools, and roads, and the decreasing presence of basic goods, electricity, and clean water during the ongoing conflict, Syrian Kurdistan mostly became a region of spontaneous migration rather than refugehood caused by indiscriminate political persecution and bombing against the local population (i.e. the Hama governorate in central Syria). Nonetheless, the life conditions of the average Kurdish Syrian citizen were dire to the extent at which migrations towards an unknown future and a refugee-camp life in Turkey or Iraq were still considered as a better option.

In sum, the Syrian Kurdistan region, called in Arabic “Rojavà”, has long been neglected by the Syrian central state as well as by international media before the Syrian crisis. The mechanic and aprioristic association of Syrians with refugee influxes in the Middle East and elsewhere, operated from outside, has also induced many Syrian Arabs and Syrian Kurds living in this region to abandon their homes and look for a better life outside of the country. The use of the refugees’ label and the livelihoods at their disposal – the emergency aid supposedly destined only to the war-stricken – have turned out to be great assets for disadvantaged people desiring to find a job and a higher economic status far away from home.

Likewise, many among the older date Syrian migrants in Lebanon decided to leave their previous life of exploitation and social marginalisation to opt for a more hopeful life in Europe or elsewhere. Their Syrian passports have helped them to pursue their mobility purposes and concretely move towards an economic betterment and a “life of dignity” only in times of regional emergency.

The typical phenomenon of viewing refugee status as opportunity, whenever the international community legally acknowledges an emergency and its political consequences, also appeared in recent times with chronically poor Lebanese citizens, especially from the Akkar region, which is deemed as the poorest in Lebanon. Akkar’s residents started “capitalising” the miserable status of Syrian refugees to comply with their own very needs and legitimate desires of migration. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the drowning of seventeen Akkaris from the village of Fneideq who had bought fake Syrian passports in order to be shipped towards the Australian coasts. After the tragic episode, Akkar’s roads were blocked as a sign of “protest and solidarity, to express our frustration… When will we redeem ourselves from chronic poverty and deprivation?!”.[3]

Neither the status of economic migrant nor that of refugee seems to be able, per se, to redeem diversely needy people, as long as such international labels remain embedded in the increasingly laborious applicability of legal definitions, the way in which the latter discipline the material management of people’s mobility, and the predominant political order which is strategically upheld by these labels.

While law should sort out social issues on the basis of social justice and overall security, its recurrent submission to international politics keeps on labeling departures, resettlements, continuous movements, personal decisions, and human lives at its will. Nothing more ungraspable. Nothing more fruitlessly ambitious.

[1] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

[2] United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

[3] Quotations taken from in-depth interviews undertaken 13 October 2013, in Lebanon.

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Analisi dei media curdi tra stampa e televisioni satellitari

Un analisi che ho scritto per ArabMediaReport sui media curdi tra Turchia, Siria, Iraq e Iran…

kurd media

Dall’oppressione al nazionalismo, le emittenti satellitari consolidano un senso di appartenenza transnazionale, nonostante l’assenza di una lingua condivisa. Come i media di un attore anti-istituzionale come il Partito dei lavoratori del Kurdistan, Pkk, siano diventati uno strumento di pressione difficilmente arginabile dagli Stati nazione. La regione autonoma curdo irachena e suoi media istituzionali, tra interessi commerciali e repressione del dissenso. I curdi della Siria e dell’Iran ancora relegati ad attori secondari.

Anche se la televisione non è in grado di rivitalizzare linguaggi e culture da sola, riesce a conferire credibilità e legittimità a un idioma, specialmente se si tratta di un lingua minacciata. Così si esprime lo studioso Amir Hassanpour, nel descrivere la missione dei neonati media curdi. La lingua in questione è stata repressa in tutti i modi immaginabili nelle quattro ‘province’ del Kurdistan- Siria, Iran, Iraq e Turchia- e gode di un riconoscimento ufficiale solamente nel Governo Regionale del Kurdistan, Grk. Le emittenti della regione irachena, divenuta de facto autonoma nel 1991, hanno pertanto giocato un ruolo fondamentale nel legittimare lo stato di questa lingua ostracizzata.

Al di fuori dell’isola felice del Kurdistan iracheno, dove da oltre un ventennio il sistema educativo è quasi interamente in curdo, ben poche persone hanno studiato la propria lingua e ancora meno hanno avuto accesso alle pubblicazioni clandestine.

La repressione continua a dominare il panorama mediatico curdo. In Iran, dopo la parentesi riformista di Khatami (1997-2005), l’intolleranza si è abbattuta nuovamente sulle pubblicazioni indipendenti. La Turchia detiene il primato mondiale di giornalisti detenuti, tre quarti dei quali lavoravano per media filo-curdi. Se si esclude l’introduzione di corsi universitari di curdo lo scorso aprile, il regime siriano non ha mai concesso alcuna apertura. Anche quest’ultima mossa però è stato solo l’ennesimo tentativo di mantenere la minoranza neutrale nella rivoluzione in corso dal 2011.

 

Un nazionalismo senza una lingua condivisa

In un simile contesto repressivo, la stessa nascita della stampa coincide con l’emergere del movimento nazionalista: il primo periodico curdo (Kurdistan) venne pubblicato al Cairo nel 1898 con l’intento dichiarato di sostenere il popolo curdo. Considerato il pubblico ristretto di lettori politicizzati, in Kurdistan Identity, Discourse and Media, Jaffar Sheyholislami descrive la stampa come artefice del nazionalismo, mentre riserva alle televisioni satellitari la definizione di veri e propri mass media, in grado di formare una coscienza curda transnazionale. Le televisioni terrestri sono invece rimaste sotto il controllo delle propagande governative, anche quando hanno accettato di includere programmi in curdo.

Le emittenti satellitari che si sono dedicate alla diffusione del nazionalismo curdo hanno dovuto innanzitutto ovviare all’assenza di una lingua unificata. Esistono infatti vari dialetti molto diversi tra loro, i più diffusi sono il Kurmanji nell’area turco-siriana e il Sorani in quella iracheno-iraniana.

Non esiste nemmeno una scrittura condivisa, dato che i curdi di Siria e Turchia utilizzano l’alfabeto latino codificato negli anni ’30 da Jaladat Ali Badarkhan, editore della rivista letteraria curdo-siriana Hawar, mentre in Iraq e Iran si ricorre all’alfabeto arabo. Ciononostante, il progetto nazionalista di canali satellitari come Kurdistan TV, KTV, prevede un’unità linguistica forzata. Come osservato da Sheyholislami, nelle lezioni di Kurmanji per bambini oggetto di un programma chiamato Zimanî Kurdî, lingua curda, il dialetto Sorani non viene nemmeno preso in considerazione. L’unità linguistica matrice dello Stato nazione ottocentesco europeo viene perseguita combinando i diversi dialetti all’interno dei notiziari, nei quali, per esempio, il presentatore si esprime in Kurmanji e l’inviato in Sorani.

 

Il satellite vettore di un senso di appartenenza transnazionale

Come sottolineato da Sheyholislami, KTV cerca di consolidare una memoria storica comune e promuove il modello della regione autonoma al di là dei confini iracheni. La memoria storica viene resa omogenea al costo di distorsioni nel programma Emřo le Mêjû da, Oggi nella Storia,in cui il Trattato di Sevres firmato nel 1920 dall’impero ottomano e dalla potenze alleate viene ricordato come documento fondante della “nazione curda”, senza specificare che si trattasse esclusivamente di parte del Kurdistan turco.

Allo stesso tempo, nei notiziari si parla di “Kurdistan iracheno e turco”, tessendo i legami transnazionali nel rispetto dei confini nazionali. Al contrario, i corrispondenti dall’estero della stessa emittente tendono a riferirsi al “Kurdistan meridionale e settentrionale”, a testimonianza di una maggiore libertà nel dar voce alle rivendicazioni indipendentiste: la loro visione è quella di un’unica patria avversa ai confini nazionali.

 

 Il Pkk e i suoi canali satellitari: guerriglia senza confini

Oltre a Kdp, il Partito democratico del Kurdistan, che controlla anche Zagros TV e Korek TV, l’altro impero mediatico e’ quello degli insurrezionalisti del Pkk turco: Roj TV -emittente principale del partito- Newroz TV -voce del Partito della Vita Libera del Kurdistan, sezione iraniana del Pkk- MMC -canale musicale che predilige canzoni curde e straniere dai contenuti rivoluzionari- Ronahi TV –emittente legata alla frangia siriana del partito, il Pyd, Partito dell’unione democratica.

Il linguaggio politico di tutte questi canali é esplicitamente “pan curdo”. A differenza di KTV, non vi è alcuna necessità di edulcorarlo a tutela delle relazioni estere. La programmazione dedica ampio spazio al folclore curdo, oltre che alla glorificazione della lotta armata dei “compagni” di partito, tramite numerosi videoclip musicali girati nella roccaforte dei monti Qandil iracheni.

L’aspetto più interessante del Pkk è la sua capacità di sfruttare la natura deterritorializzata del satellite per resistere ogni misura repressiva: l’esempio più noto è quello di MED-TV, la prima stazione satellitare curda nata nel 1995, la cui licenza venne revocata nel 1999 in seguito alle pressioni turche sul governo inglese che la ospitava. Il canale ‘rinacque’ in Francia comeMEDYA TV , ma fu immediatamente obbligato a sospendere le trasmissioni nel 2004. L’ultimo anello della catena è Roj TV, basata in Danimarca dal 2004.

Il governo turco continua a esercitare pressioni su questo canale danese accusato di sostenere un’organizzazione considerata terroristica dall’Unione Europea. La questione Roj TV continua a rischiare di compromettere le relazioni tra i due Paesi. Nel luglio 2010, Wikileaks aveva già pubblicato un documento dell’ambasciata americana di Ankara, datato gennaio 2010, dal quale si apprendeva che la diplomazia turca attendeva la chiusura dell’emittente in cambio del consenso di Ankara all’elezione del danese Anders Fogh Rasmussen alla presidenza della NATO (2009). Lo scorso 21 marzo però, Erdogan è riuscito a ‘strappare’ al primo ministro danese la promessa di chiudere Roj TVin cambio di un aumento del volume degli scambi commerciali da 1,7 a 5 miliardi di dollari. Ciononostante, la licenza di Roj TV non è ancora stata revocata. La vicenda presenta delle somiglianze con l’esperienza di al-Zawra’ , canale filo-Saddam dell’iracheno Mishaan al-Juburi, capace di eludere a lungo le pressioni governative trasmettendo dall’operatore egiziano Nilesat.

Il dossier Roj TV ha inoltre influito sulla decisione del governo Erdogan di inaugurare la prima emittente curda del Paese, TRT 6, nel 2009. Le ripercussioni della controversia hanno dimostrato come le emittenti satellitari siano divenute uno strumento di pressione politica ancora più efficace delle armi nelle mani del Pkk, seppur in assenza dell’apparato istituzionale di cui dispone la regione autonoma irachena.

Barzani: partnerariato commerciale in formato televisivo

Se le piattaforme del Pkk cercano appoggio all’estero, sapendo di poter innescare crisi diplomatiche tra Ankara e i suoi partner commerciali, il presidente della regione semi-autonoma del Kurdistan iracheno, Masud Barzani, utilizza il soft power televisivo per promuovere nuove intese commerciali.

Basta pensare alle serie televisive sudcoreane divenute un vero e proprio cult nel Kurdistan iracheno, sulla base dell’alleanza militare e commerciale tra i due Paesi. Le radici vanno ricercate nello stazionamento degli oltre tremila soldati del contingente sudcoreano Zaytun nella regione autonoma dal 2004 al 2008. Si tratta del più massiccio dispiegamento di truppe sudcoreane all’estero dalla fine della guerra del Vietnam. Le autorità del Kurdistan si mostrarono particolarmente favorevoli alla presenza delle truppe di Seul, vero e proprio trampolino di lancio per una serie di intese commerciali: l’ultima joint venture riguarderebbe la realizzazione di un raccordo anulare tra Mosul, Erbil e Kirkuk. Prevedendo i margini di profitto derivabili dal business della ricostruzione post-bellica, Seul ha promosso un’immagine positiva delle proprie truppe. La biografia televisiva del primo monarca della dinastia coreana Goguryeo, Jumong Taewang (37-19 a.c), continua a riscuotere un enorme successo nella versione doppiata in Kurmanji.

 

I limiti della libertà d’espressione nel Kurdistan iracheno

Il governo del Kurdistan iracheno è ormai consapevole delle potenzialità dei media e ne fa pieno uso per promuovere la propria immagine e consolidare rapporti commerciali. Allo stesso tempo, come qualsiasi altro esecutivo in Medio Oriente, il Grk è consapevole delle minacce poste dai media indipendenti. A dispetto dell’oppressione di cui sono stati oggetto i principali partiti curdi iracheni, le autorità non si fanno scrupoli a reprimere brutalmente le forme di dissenso, seppur in proporzione minore rispetto ad Ankara, Bagdad, Teheran e Damasco.

Nel 2008, il quotidiano indipendente Hawleti è stato oggetto di una causa da tredici milioni di dinari per aver tradotto un articolo del giornalista americano Michael Rubin sull’entità abnorme del patrimonio di Barzani e dell’altro veterano della politica curda irachena, il presidente iracheno Jalal Talabani dell’Unione Patriottica del Kurdistan. Nel 2010, il governo ha chiesto un risarcimento pari a un miliardo di dollari e la chiusura del settimanale Rozhnama, a causa di un articolo sul contrabbando di petrolio diretto in Iran. La stazione televisiva Nalia è stata assaltata dai sostenitori di Barzani nel 2013 dopo aver trasmesso una telefonata critica dell’icona del nazionalismo curdo, il padre dell’attuale presidente, Mostafa Mullah Barzani (1903-1979).

I giornalisti continuano ad essere oggetto di intimidazioni, se non rapiti e uccisi, quando osano criticare le ‘sacre’ famiglie Barzani e Talabani. Questa è stata la sorte di Sardasht Osman, uno studente noto sul web per le critiche rivolte alla famiglia Barzani, assassinato nel 2010 senza che sia mai stata fatta giustizia. Il suo omicidio è stato attribuito a dalle cellule islamiche della città di Mosul. 

 

Nell’ombra: Iran e Siria

Rispetto alla vitalità del Pkk e delle autorità curdo irachene in ambito televisivo, il Kurdistan siriano e quello iraniano rimangono due contesti secondari, per via dei mezzi limitati, dell’impreparazione e di una diaspora dimostratasi meno propositiva.

Tra le poche eccezioni vi sono le emittenti di partito curdo-iraniane, inaugurate nel 2006 dai comunisti del Komala –Komala TV-, dall’Organizzazione rivoluzionaria dei lavoratori del Kurdistan orientale –Rojhelat TV– e dal Partito democratico del Kurdistan Iraniano (Tishk TV). Le emittenti sono tutte basate in Europa. Tuttavia, si tratta di stazioni satellitari con una programmazione ridotta, inferiore alle realtà collegate al Pkk e al Kurdistan iracheno.

In Iran la morsa dell’ex presidente Mohammad Ahmadinejad si è abbattuta sulla stampa curda, dopo la momentanea apertura di Khatami, sotto il quale venivano stampati ben sette settimanali curdi. Tra i pochi sopravvissuti vi sono il settimanale Sirwan e il bisettimanale Hawar.

D’altro canto, una simile repressione in patria viene compensata dall’appoggio fornito ai media di proprietà di Jalal Talabani: il presidente curdo iracheno alleato di Teheran che controllaKurdsat,Gali Kurdistan, al-Hurriyah TV e PUK TV. Secondo alcuni dei suoi critici, sarebbe stato proprio l’Iran a sponsorizzare Kurdsat per bilanciare l’appoggio fornito dalla Turchia alla KTV di Barzani, in funzione di contenimento delle emittenti del Pkk. I vari canali negano di aver ricevuto un simile sostegno, ma la repressione interna dei media curdi non impedisce a Turchia e Iran di sostenerli, quando vengono fondati da alleati strategici all’estero.

Per quanto riguarda la Siria, se si esclude Ronahi, l’unica realtà satellitare esistente, anch’essa collegata al Pkk , i rimanenti partiti curdi hanno avuto modo di agire liberamente solo da un anno, da quando il regime ha ritirato le sue forze di sicurezza dalle regioni a maggioranza curda. Si tratta di un panorama politico frammentato, dipendente dall’appoggio dei partiti curdi iracheni e privo di una consolidata rete di espatriati in grado di dare vita a dei canali satellitari.

La nuova libertà di movimento di cui godono i curdi siriani si è tradotta nella circolazione alla luce del sole di diverse pubblicazioni in curdo, ma si tratta di una fase ancora prematura e dominata dalla partigianeria politica per poterne effettuare una valutazione compiuta.

 

Categories: Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La strategia della tensione siriana tra Turchia, Pkk e petrolio

Articolo pubblicato su Left (Avvenimenti). Ho cercato di tracciare una linea continua tra attentati di Reyhanli (Turchia), trattative di pace tra Pkk e Ankara e i possibili movimenti di Damasco nei confronti delle regioni petrolifere finite nelle mani dei curdi siriani (e in particolare della frangia siriana del Pkk, il Pyd). Nel sottotitolo pubblicato sul sito (e purtroppo in quello andato in stampa) compare la frase: i curdi “vorrebbero vendere il greggio all’Europa”, ma si tratta del frutto di un’aggiunta della redazione che non trova fondamento nell’articolo. Dovrebbero provvedere al più presto ad eliminarla.

Ostaggi del Petrolio

S1100007 

di Andrea Glioti

(Maabadeh-Hasakeh-Siria)

I curdi non si meritano la pace. Specie se vogliono il petrolio. L’11 maggio a Reyhanli, estremo sud della Turchia, due enormi esplosioni hanno fatto 51 morti e circa 200 feriti. Un attentato orchestrato al di là di quel confine che corre a pochi chilometri dalla città. È il tentativo siriano di boicottare i negoziati di pace tra i guerriglieri curdi del Pkk e il governo Erdogan. Il regime di Bashar al-Asad intende dimostrare alla Turchia che non può conseguire una stabilizzazione interna se non smette di sostenere l’opposizione siriana. Pacificare il fronte curdo, proseguendo nei negoziati con Ocalan, non è la strategia giusta per assicurarsi la quiete al confine.

Dopo un periodo di relativa calma, il popolo curdo deve tornare alla realtà. Anche nelle città del nord est siriano come Tell Tamr e Hasakeh si sono intensificati gli scontri tra tribù arabe e milizie lealiste al regime da una parte, e frangia siriana del Pkk (Pyd- Partito dell’unione democratica) dall’altra. Il messaggio è inequivocabile: l’autonomia de facto conseguita nell’ultimo anno dalla minoranza curda siriana è frutto della necessità del governo di Damasco di garantirsi una regione cuscinetto al confine turco. Una riconciliazione curdo-turca vanificherebbe però il piano, trasformando quell’area in provincia occidentale di un’altra comunità ostile. Se questo dovesse succedere, il regime di Bashar non esiterà a volgere la sua artiglieria verso il Kurdistan siriano, anche perché c’è un altro interesse da salvaguardare: buona parte delle risorse energetiche di Damasco si trovano qui, e oggi sono finite in mano al Pyd.

Damasco conosce bene l’importanza della provincia di Hasakeh, dove si concentra oltre metà del petrolio del Paese. Il regime, infatti, ha sempre negato l’autosufficienza alle regioni curde, collegando i loro pozzi petroliferi alle raffinerie di Homs e Banyas nella Siria occidentale. Oggi le trivelle si stagliano inerti all’orizzonte, ma per la prima volta i pozzi sono stati “affidati in custodia esente da cauzione” al Pyd. La notizia emerge da documenti governativi pubblicati dal settimanale indipendente Jisr. «Circa il 60 per cento dei pozzi è in mano al Pyd e il rimanente 40 per cento si trova sotto il controllo dell’opposizione araba», precisa K., che lavora come ingegnere specializzato in trivellazione nelle Direzione locale del ministero del Petrolio. Il Pyd sta approfittando della situazione di stallo nel conflitto siriano per gettare le fondamenta di un’autosufficienza energetica. Tra i suoi progetti c’è anche quello di avviare l’importazione di gas dal Kurdistan iracheno e di comprare elettricità dalla Turchia.

Il progetto di autonomia del Partito curdo ha preso avvio nell’estate del 2012, quando il Pyd ha colto l’occasione del ritiro della maggioranza delle forze di sicurezza governative per creare una rete di nuove istituzioni: corpi di polizia, esercito, associazioni e scuole. Tutto ciò è stato possibile con il tacito consenso del regime, nonostante i dirigenti del Pyd neghino ogni forma di coordinamento. La realtà sulle relazioni con Damasco è sotto gli occhi di tutti: a Qamishli, dove l’intelligence siriana non ha abbandonato le proprie sedi, i posti di blocco delle milizie curde distano pochi isolati da quelli del regime e le gigantografie del presidente troneggiano ancora sugli edifici governativi.

Per sradicare il regime, però, la Ue tenta di sostenere l’opposizione anche in Kurdistan. L’ha fatto abolendo, il 22 aprile, l’embargo petrolifero. Ma i risultati sono stati opposti. Il fronte anti regime si è diviso, perché il Pyd intende presentarsi come partner commerciale indipendente, diverso sia dal regime di Damasco che dall’opposizione araba. «La Commissione suprema curda (la maggiore coalizione politica della regione, dominata dal Pyd) è l’unico soggetto autorizzato alla compravendita del petrolio in nome dei curdi», sottolinea Bashir Malla, membro del Pyd, «ma la Ue non l’ha nemmeno menzionata nel suo appello rivolto esclusivamente all’opposizione araba». La decisione europea ha irritato anche i leader militari della ribellione araba. «Siamo contrari alla vendita del petrolio prima della formazione di un governo a interim nelle zone liberate», ci dice il maggior Muntasir al-Khaled, comandante del consiglio militare dell’Esercito siriano libero (Esl) di Hasakeh. «Per il momento i pozzi sono in mano a una moltitudine di forze armate che non dialogano tra di loro». L’obiettivo dell’esercito dei ribelli è di unificare politicamente le regioni petrolifere attraverso un’offensiva militare. «Se ora l’opposizione decidesse di accettare l’offerta europea, il regime bombarderebbe immediatamente qualsiasi cargo di petrolio diretto all’estero», commenta M., ingegnere elettrico che lavora a Hasakeh. Finora le regioni curde sono state risparmiate dalla devastazione, ma il petrolio potrebbe portare la guerra anche qui.

Il Pyd conosce i propri limiti da “custode” delle regioni petrolifere: sa di non potersi ancora permettere di riavviare le trivellazioni e di dover mantenere aperto il dialogo con Damasco. «L’interruzione della produzione petrolifera sta danneggiando l’intero Paese e, per il momento, il regime rimane l’unico possibile acquirente del greggio», ammette Bashir Malla. Il Pyd viene accusato di aver continuato a pompare petrolio verso le raffinerie governative per diverse settimane, dopo aver preso in consegna i pozzi. «Il Pyd si è impadronito delle trivelle il primo marzo 2013, ma il petrolio ha continuato ad arrivare a Banyas fino al 20 del mese, quando alcuni gruppi dell’opposizione araba hanno chiuso le valvole a Tell Hamis», ricorda l’ingegnere elettrico.

Oggi, per il regime, le aree amministrate dai curdi sono diventate meno affidabili. E in caso di un avvicinamento tra la Turchia (che sostiene i ribelli siriani) e il Pkk (alleato dei curdi del Pyd) Damasco potrebbe decidere di puntare su nuovi partner per la tutela delle sue riserve energetiche. Nella frammentazione siriana, infatti, ci sono rivalità etniche che il regime di Bashar può essere sfruttare per trovare referenti affidabili. Basta camminare per le vie di Ma’abadeh, cittadina curda nei pressi del confine iracheno, per accorgersi degli inconfondibili volti olivastri dei profughi arabi provenienti dalla martoriata provincia di Deyr az-Zor. Tra il Pyd e alcuni clan di quella zona non corre buon sangue dal 2004, quando il regime li utilizzò per reprimere una rivolta curda scoppiata a Qamishli. E nella cittadina di Tell Tamr un’ altra tribù lealista, la Sharabin, è stata coinvolta di recente in alcuni scontri con le milizie del Pyd. Si tratta solo di una delle carte a disposizione del regime, ma anche l’opposizione trova orecchie ricettive alla sua propaganda etno-nazionalista contro i curdi: l’episodio più recente è stato il coinvolgimento di parte del clan Baggara nella fallimentare offensiva lanciata dall’Esercito di liberazione a Ras al-’Ayn. Gli arabi volevano “liberare” le regioni curde ma non ci sono riusciti. «Abbiamo accettato di rispettare una tregua, ma non consideriamo liberate le regioni sotto il controllo del Pyd», chiarisce il comandante dell’Esl, Muntasir al-Khalid. «Quando cadrà il regime dovranno innalzare la bandiera della rivoluzione e non quella del loro partito».E quando si tratta di gas e petrolio, persino gli accordi tra opposizione e regime non sono da escludere. «Sappiamo per certo che, in passato, il regime ha pagato alcune fazioni dell’opposizione per assicurarsi il passaggio degli oleodotti tra Hasakeh e Deyr az-Zor», afferma K., l’ingegnere petrolifero.

Mentre i contendenti trattano sotto banco, la gente comune continua a convivere con la carenza di derivati petroliferi fondamentali come il mazout, l’olio combustibile più utilizzato a scopo domestico. Le strade sono costellate di venditori ambulanti di mazout raffinato in casa, il cui prezzo conosce rialzi vertiginosi a seconda dell’oscillazione del dollaro sul mercato nero. In più, la raffinazione casalinga non prevede nessuna protezione dall’inalazione di gas tossici come l’idrogeno solforato. «Abbiamo riscontrato un aumento dei casi di ustioni e infiammazioni polmonari causate da questi processi artigianali di raffinazione», conferma Wa’el Abu Ahmad, medico che lavora a Ras al-’Ayn, presso la falange dell’opposizione Ghoraba’ Sham. «La scarsità di mazout potrebbe anche causare un’epidemia di colera quest’estate, perché senza carburante si fermano gli automezzi che ritirano la spazzatura e puliscono le strade». Perché nella terra delle trivelle, la benzina è un lusso che i curdi non si possono permettere.

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The dispute over energy reserves in North-Eastern Syria

An article I wrote for Al-Monitor after a set of interviews with warring factions, engineers and normal people, who are not even getting electricity out of all these energy reserves.

Syrian Oil Becomes Fault Line
In War

A man works at a makeshift oil refinery site in al-Mansoura village in Raqqa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Andrea Glioti for Al-Monitor Posted on May 16.

MALEKIYYAH, Al-HASSAKAH PROVINCE, Syria — The province of Hassakah is the Syrian oil tank. Before the revolution, its 170,000 barrels per day accounted for more than half of the country’s oil production, thus representing the backbone of those oil exports covering a third of national export revenues. Syrian oil engineers working in the province told Al-Monitorthat the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — currently controls around 60% of the oil fields, leaving the remaining 40% in the hands of several factions of the Arab opposition. Since the conflict engulfed the route of the pipelines to the refineries, however, the drills have stopped working.

Despite such a fragmented context, the European Union on April 22 decided to lift the oil embargo on liberated regions in Syria in an attempt to support the opposition. The move, though, is likely to stir up Kurdish-Arab strife and catalyze regime raids on a region that has largely remained immune to the conflict so far. The war for control of Syria’s energy resources has not even started, but mutual allegations are already circulating between the parties involved, which accuse each other of cutting power supplies and dealing with the regime.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/syria-oil-kurds-pyd-eu.html#ixzz2Tw2s2NL7

 

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The road to Kurdish autonomy still passes from Damascus

My first article from the province of Hasakeh (Syrian Kurdistan). It appeared on Al-Monitor on May 7. (follow the link to keep reading, unfortunately I cannot post the whole article here for copyright issues…)

Kurdish Group Gaining Autonomy
In Northern Syria

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(photo from http://i.images.cdn.fotopedia.com/flickr-9390681-original/People_around_the_World/Arab_States/Iraq/Kurdish_people/105_NEWROZ_2005.jpg)

QAMISHLI, Syria — Bilingual signs, “Western Kurdistan” (Rojava in Kurdish) on car license plates, Kurdish security forces (Asayish), Kurdish courts, municipalities, flags, unions and schools teaching Kurdish. This is the new look of the Kurdish-majority Syrian northern regions, the outcome of the withdrawal of regime security forces in July 2012 and the result of a delicate coexistence between Baathist and Kurdish institutions.

Syrian Kurds now have the chance to reap the benefits from the stalemate between the regime and the Arab opposition. But all this would not have been possible without a certain degree of connivance with the regime by the main Kurdish militia on the ground — the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Regardless of the de facto autonomy achieved and the growing popularity of the PYD, some fear the authoritarian features of the party’s agenda.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/pyd-pkk-syria-kurdistan.html#ixzz2T3dRtsm2

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Reports from the Syrian-Turkish border: the failure of Kofi Annan’s ceasefire

April 2012: Two of the Associated Press reports I contributed to while based in the Turkish border provinces. The first one is about accounts of mass graves in Taftanaz, the second one on the killing of some Syrian refugees in Kilis (Turkey), after the Syrian tropps opened fire across the border. In those days UN envoy Kofi Annan witnessed the failure of his truce plan. 

Thousands of Syrians flee into Turkey with tales of mass graves, massacres

April 6, 2012

By Andrea Glioti and Elizabeth A. Kennedy(Associated Press)

REYHANLI, Turkey — After days of relentless shelling and sniper attacks, thousands of Syrian refugees streamed across the border into Turkey with horrific accounts Friday of mass graves, massacres and burned-out homes.

The latest reports of escalating violence fueled accusations that President Bashar Assad is rushing to stamp out as much of the year-old uprising as he can before a United Nations-brokered cease-fire next week.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the Syrian government Friday. Ban said in a statement that the situation was rapidly deteriorating, affecting more than 1 million people, with an alarming number of refugees streaming into neighboring countries.

“The (April 10) time line to fulfill the government’s implementation of its commitments, as endorsed by the Security Council, is not an excuse for continued killing,” Ban said, adding that such actions violate the consensus position of the Security Council. “The Syrian authorities remain fully accountable for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. These must stop at once.”

The trigger for the new waves of refugees was an offensive in Idlib province, which borders Turkey and has become increasingly rebellious against the Assad regime.

Activists reported about 100 dead in the villages of Taftanaz and Killi in recent days.

A photograph provided to the Associated Press by a Syrian activist showed at least a dozen corpses wrapped in blankets in what appeared to be a mass grave in Taftanaz. The AP could not verify the authenticity of the photograph, but witnesses also described a mass grave.

Hikmet Saban, a Syrian refugee who reached Turkey, described the devastation in Taftanaz, located several miles outside the city of Idlib.

“Helicopters and tanks are bombarding continuously,” he told Turkey’s government-run Anadolu agency. “Taftanaz has been burnt to the ground for three days.”

Activists posted video they said showed a helicopter gunship firing a missile at Taftanaz and a mosque hit by shelling.

The escalating violence has dimmed hopes that the fighting, which the UN says has killed more than 9,000 people, will end anytime soon.

The country appears to be spiraling toward civil war.

Syria, a vital geopolitical linchpin, borders five other nations and has close ties to Iran and powerful militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hizballah.

Last week, Assad accepted a cease-fire deadline brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan, which calls for his forces to pull out of towns and cities by Tuesday and for everyone to lay down their arms by 6 a.m. local time Thursday.

Syria denies that the revolt is a popular uprising at all, saying instead that it is facing a foreign conspiracy by armed gangs and terrorists who want to destroy the country.

On Friday, Syria’s government-run news agency, SANA, appeared to acknowledge the recent spike in violence, but again blamed terrorism.

Syria sent letters to the United Nations and UN Security Council that said “acts committed by terrorists groups escalated especially after the agreement over Kofi Annan’s plan was reached,” SANA reported.

But witnesses who streamed in Turkey said regime forces were driving the bloodshed.

The stream of Syrians fleeing to Turkey has picked up considerably, with about one-third of the total of 24,000 refugees arriving in the past two weeks. Some 2,500 crossed the border on Thursday alone, said Ankara’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, adding that the daily flow has doubled since Syria promised last week to abide by the truce.

Syrians fleeing to Turkey

Syria fires over borders with Lebanon, Turkey

AP foreign, Monday April 9 2012

ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY

Associated Press= BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian forces opened fire across two tense borders Monday, killing a TV journalist in Lebanon and wounding at least six people in a refugee camp in Turkey on the eve of a deadline for a cease-fire that seems all but certain to fail.

A witness at the Turkish camp said he saw two refugees killed, although that account could not be independently confirmed.

Across Syria, activists reported particularly heavy violence with more than 125 people killed in the past two days.

The Obama administration expressed outrage at the violence spilling over the frontiers, saying the Syrian government appeared to have little commitment to the peace plan that was negotiated by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.

The latest bloodshed was a sign of how easily Syria’s neighbors could be drawn into a regional conflagration as President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on a year-old uprising becomes increasingly militarized, despite desperate diplomatic efforts.

Annan brokered a cease-fire that was supposed to begin with Syria pulling its troops out of population centers by Tuesday morning, with a full cease-fire by both sides within 48 hours. But hopes for the plan collapsed after a fresh wave of violence and new demands by the regime for written guarantees that the opposition will lay down arms first.

Naci Koru, Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, said Tuesday’s deadline for the withdrawal has become “void at this stage,” state-run TRT television reported.

The U.N. estimates some 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, when the uprising began with mostly peaceful protests against Assad. But a government crackdown led many Syrians take up weapons, transforming the conflict into an insurgency.

On Monday, Syrian forces fired across the border into a refugee camp in Turkey, wounding at least six people, authorities said.

The soldiers were believed to be firing at rebels who tried to escape to the refugee camp after ambushing a Syrian military checkpoint, killing six soldiers, according to the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The troops kept firing as they pursued rebels who made a run for the camp, sending bullets whizzing across the frontier, the Observatory said.

Turkish authorities said four Syrians and two Turks were wounded, including a Turkish translator who had entered the camp to try to calm an anti-Assad protest.

But one witness, Tareq Abdul-Haqq, told The Associated Press by telephone from the camp that he saw two refugees killed in front of him.

He said the two were in a crowd that was shouting anti-Assad slogans during a demonstration that erupted after word got through the camp that rebels had ambushed the Syrian checkpoint.

“They started chanting ‘God is Great!’ and the army and the security forces targeted them,” Abdul-Haqq, 26, told The Associated Press by telephone.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry also reported two deaths, but under different circumstances.

According to the ministry, 21 wounded Syrians were brought to Turkey on Monday, but that two of them died soon after. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the two accounts.

“Syrian citizens who have fled the violence by the current Syrian regime are under the full protection of Turkey,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Turkey shelters some 24,000 Syrian refugees, including hundreds of army defectors, and has floated the idea of setting up a buffer zone inside Syria if the flow of displaced people across its border becomes overwhelming.

The countries share a 911-kilometer (566-mile) border, and parts of southern Turkey are informal logistics bases for rebels, who collect food and other supplies and smuggle them to comrades across the border in Syria.

Monday’s shooting was believed to be the first inside Turkey, although there have been similar cross-border attacks into Lebanon.

Syrian troops fired about 40 rounds across the border into northern Lebanon, killing a cameraman for Lebanon’s Al Jadeed television station, the station said. The camera crew were in Lebanese territory.

Ali Shaaban, who was born in 1980, was shot through the chest as he sat in a car and died on the way to the hospital, Lebanese security officials said.

“If you see the car, you would think it was in a war zone,” Shaaban’s colleague, Hussein Khreis, told the station. “It is completely destroyed from the bullets.”

The station said on its website that its staff “crawled for around two hours, during which we were under constant fire from the Syrian army.”

“I ask forgiveness from Ali’s family because I couldn’t do anything for him,” Khreis said in a broadcast on Al Jadeed, breaking into tears.

Shaaban is at least the ninth journalist killed while covering the conflict in Syria, including award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier, photographer Remi Ochlik and Britain’s Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Syria is now the most dangerous place for journalists in the world.

The Obama administration condemned the cross-border attacks.

“We certainly have seen no signs yet of the Assad regime abiding by its commitments,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added: “We join the Turkish government in calling for the Syrian regime to immediately cease fire.”

“Not only has the violence not abated, it has been worse in recent days,” she said.

Annan, an envoy to Syria for the U.N. and the Arab League, has tried to broker a cease-fire which would pave the way for talks to end the crisis. But the Assad regime introduced a new, last-minute demand Sunday, saying it cannot withdraw without written guarantees from opposition fighters that they will lay down their arms.

Syria’s main rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, rejected the demand for a written guarantee, but said it will abide by its promise under Annan’s plan to stop fighting — as long as the regime does too.

“We as protectors of the Syrian people announce a cease-fire against the regime’s army starting on the morning of April 10 and we will stick to this promise if the regime abides by the clauses of the initiative,” a member of the FSA’s military council said in a YouTube video.

The Syrian opposition and Western leaders had been skeptical all along that Assad would live up to his commitment to a truce. He has broken similar promises in the past and escalated attacks on opposition strongholds in the days leading up to the deadline.

But Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, held out hope. When asked if Annan’s plan could still succeed, Fawzi told the AP: “His plan is viable — it’s up to the parties to implement it.”

Annan is scheduled to visit at least one refugee camp in Turkey’s Hatay province, bordering Syria, on Tuesday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.

On Wednesday, he then travels to Iran, a close Syrian ally, as part of his push to rally support for the cease-fire. The international community, which so far is unwilling to contemplate military intervention, has had little leverage over Syria.

Iran, Russia and China have been Assad’s strongest supporters. Annan already has traveled to Moscow and Beijing and got their backing for his peace plan.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China wants an immediate end to violence and hopes the international community will give Annan more time to see the cease-fire agreement to fruition.

“We think the final resolution needs all sides to sit down and talk,” he said.

Despite the diplomatic push, violence has continued.

The Observatory and other activists said more than 125 people were killed since Sunday in the Syrian cities of Homs, Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and elsewhere. The reports could not be verified because Syria has banned most independent media coverage.

Also Monday, Human Rights Watch said it has documented the killings by Syrian forces of 85 civilians, including women and children, and the killings of at least 16 wounded or captured opposition fighters. The New York-based group said it only included cases corroborated by witnesses, but has received many more reports of similar incidents.

Associated Press writers Andrea Glioti and Mehmet Guzel in Kilis, Turkey, Selcan Hacaoglu and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Zeina Karam and Karin Laub in Beirut contributed to this report.

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The first steps of the Syrian armed resistance: Jisr as-Shughur (June 2011)

Looking back at the massacre of Jisr as-Shughur (early June 2011), I gathered accounts from witnesses based in the Reyhanli refugee camp. An interesting episode, in consideration of the continuous attempts to portray the whole uprising as completely peaceful. This was not aimed at disregarding the importance of armed struggle in most uprisings, but the same episode of Jisr as-Shughur was originally misrepresented by some circles of the Syrian opposition, deeply concerned about preserving the peaceful image of the movement. The second part of the feature deals with the sectarian radicalization of some factions of the opposition.  Here is the original copy published on The Majalla

Secrets from Jisr Al-Shughour

Was this Syria’s Point of no Return?

Andrea Glioti looks back at the events in Jisr Al-Shugour, Syria, to investigate the issue of Syria’s armed opposition, and asks whether the resistance is on the brink of radicalization.
jisr as-shughur

Eleven months ago, the Syrian opposition resorted to armed resistance whilst it endeavored to preserve its peaceful image. This was an attempt to gain international support and contradict the narrative of President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, which focused on the threat of armed insurgency.

Unfortunately, the result has been counterproductive, as it has tarnished the opposition’s credibility and nurtured doubts in those who view the opposition as a nebulous movement. At the same time, it would be unfair to criticize the opposition exclusively. It could be said that the main responsibility for the increased militarization and sectarian trends of violence lies with the regime’s brutality.

What happened in Jisr Al-Shughour?

Things were not meant to go as in Egypt or in Tunisia, where the masses succeeded in occupying squares and peacefully overthrowing the local regimes: in Jisr Al-Shughour, near the Turkish border, this was clear by June 2011.

During the five months I spent in Damascus since the beginning of the uprising, I attended several peaceful demonstrations which were repressed by security forces. But the relationship between Jisr Al-Shughour and the regime had been growing increasingly tense for thirty years, since Hafez Al-Assad ordered a bloody military crackdown on armed rebellion of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city in 1980.

“I’m going to tell you what happened, even at the cost of damaging the cause of the revolution,” says Uthman, a refugee from Atma, who had to flee to the Turkish refugee camp of Reyhanli after the battle in Jisr Al-Shughour.

According to Uthman, in Jisr as-Shughour everything started around 20 May 2011, when 15 Syrian workers were killed by state security forces. People were already prepared to respond to the attacks with force. In Omar’s account, the armed protests started right after this massacre.

“On the third of June, we took weapons with us and hid them, while marching in the demonstration,” he recalls, “when the snipers of the military security (al-mukhabarat al-askariyyah) opened fire on us from the post office, we hit back—killing some of them”.

The protesters were then joined by the battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Al-Harmoush, the first high-ranking officer to defect, and planned an offensive against military security forces, which were the only intelligence branch that refused to hand over its weapons. Omar explained that military security forces are mainly made up of Alawis and hardcore loyalists.

“The siege of the post office lasted for 3 hours,” remembers Tareq Abdul-Haqq, a 26-year-old activist from Jisr As-Shughur, while showing me the videos he filmed during the clashes. “We tried everything: dynamite barrels used in construction, exploding a gas cylinder . . . in the end the last surviving officers came out because the noise of these explosions drove them crazy.”

The wider confrontation with military security forces lasted for two days, causing the government in Damascus to deploy a reserve security contingent to the restive city on 5 June 2011. Unexpectedly, the insurgents succeeded in resisting the offensive with Kalashnikovs seized from the security headquarters, and the contingent had to retreat. “After having defeated military security, we set up checkpoints and planted landmines [in preparation] to face the arrival of the army,” says Omar.

The people of Jisr As-Shughur already knew how it was going to end. According to Tareq’s account, Bashar followed the example of his father and deployed 11,000 soldiers to Jisr As-Shughur on 9 June. Tareq chose to flee on 12 June, one day before the army broke in the city to ‘restore security’ by destroying mosques and private property. By that time, most of those involved in the clashes had already escaped to Turkey.

According to Syrian authorities, at least 120 security officials were killed. Pan-Arab media, such as the daily newspaper Al-Hayat and the TV channel Al-Arabiya, reported that activists heard gunshots followed by “an explosion,” and believed that this was a response to defections within military security forces. “The head of the military security in Jisr As-Shughur, Abu Yarub, ordered the killing of 30 officers who had refused to shoot on us,” confirms Tareq. “We found their corpses in the toilets when we finally broke into the headquarters.”

It is undeniable however that some security officers were also killed during the armed confrontation; “the explosion” was possibly caused by the gas cylinder hurled at them. On 3 August, Joshua Landis pointed out the same incongruences on his blog, SyriaComment, and called on Western media to admit the presence of “armed elements” in the opposition, without denying the violence committed by the regime.

However there are some who believe that the peaceful image of the resistance should be defended, possibly fearing that the descent of the revolution into civil strife would decrease its support abroad.

We are all Syrians…apart from the Alawis?

The endless bloodshed led part of the military resistance to an alarming point, which was recently highlighted by the Human Rights Watch report on abuses committed by opposition armed groups (20 March 2012). One might excuse the executions and kidnappings of military personnel as natural developments of guerrilla warfare, though the opposition should have refrained from torture and sectarian attacks on civilians (especially as these echo the brutality of the Assad regime). On 25 March 2012, the two most prominent military figures in the opposition, Colonel Riyadh Al-Assad and Brigadier General Mustafa Shaykh, joined efforts under the banner of the FSA to strengthen coordination and distance themselves from the actions of other armed groups.

An even more worrisome development is that the year-long conflict has nurtured forms of sectarian resentment which were previously latent—or totally absent. The longstanding mantra of the Syrian political opposition has been to ward off sectarianism. This is represented by the legacy of people like Christian Prime Minister like Faris Al-Khouri (1944-45 and 1954-55), Kurdish President Hosni Al-Zaim (1949), and the Druze Commander of the Syrian Revolution (1925-27), Sultan Basha Al-Atrash.

Nevertheless, some recurrent down-to-earth conversations I have had here in Turkey are partially changing my perspective on the influence of these historical figures on the revolution. “In Syria, it is forbidden for a Sunni to be employed,” complains Abdul Sattar, a refugee from Latakia whom I met recently, along with several of his peers. “Look at these guys here,” he says, referring to the seven other men at our meeting, “they’re all educated with degrees, but all the jobs are given to the Alawis.”

He then went on to praise his political mentor, Shaykh Adnan Al-Arur, a Saudi-based Syrian Sunni preacher known for his anti-Shi’a speeches. I asked him what would happen to Alawis in the event that Al-Arur will return to his homeland. His reply stressed that none of the Sunni religious figures could force someone to be an Islamist, even if that person was willing to join the ‘Party of Devil’ as he called it—the Lebanese, Shi’a Hezbollah. Referring to Hezbollah as the ‘Party of Devil’ is common among some Sunni demonstrators, mostly because of its alleged involvement in curbing the Syrian protests.

However, none of the seven Sunni defectors objected to Abdul Sattar’s praise of Al-Arur as the only respectable political figure of the opposition. It is worth mentioning a contrasting example: when I was in Beirut a few months ago, a member of a local committee from the Khaldiyyeh neighborhood of Homs was equally adamant in stressing that he was not a follower of Al-Arur, and accused Syrian Shi’a Twelvers (the largest branch of Shi’a Islam) of being promised paradise for killing Sunnis.

Interested to hear from others on the issue, while in Reyhanli Camp, I met with Bassem, a 40-year-old school director from Abdama. He was convinced that Burhan Ghalioun cannot lead the Syrian opposition because he is ‘not a real Muslim.’

While based in Istanbul, I had the chance to talk with Ibrahim Al-Hajj Ali from Aleppo, an officer expelled from the army for trying to set up a Sunni Islamist cell. Al-Hajj told me that “the war happening in Syria is a war waged on the Sunni sect […], a war of beliefs between the creed of truth and good and the creed of evil.” I also interviewed Abdul-Rahman Al-Shardub, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Syrian National Council, who praised the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein for being “one thousand times nobler than Bashar Al-Assad.” The majority of Syrians in the room seemed to agree with himIt appears that sectarian trends are spreading rapidly within the ranks of an opposition initially worried to distance itself from any form of religious intolerance.

In contrast, the perception of the regime needs to remain that of a system built on shared interests, and not a sectarian one shaped by the hegemony of one sect over the other. A sectarian conflict would persuade part of the public of the regime’s narrative, which has been attempting to divide the revolution along religious lines from the beginning.

An excellent example is provided in an account by Abdul-Rahman Batra, a member of the HCSR (an aid providing organization based in Istanbul, Antakiya, Jordan and Lebanon) who used to work with the video-blogger Rami al-Said in Homs: he says that the International Red Cross was granted access to the Sunni neighborhood of Bab Amro after the government offensive on 29 February 2012, but that the regime prompted Alawi residents from the neighborhoods of Al-Zahra and Al-Nizha to seize the provisions.

Indeed, these alleged forms of selective punishment of Sunni neighborhoods, coupled with the instigation of fears in religious minorities, have increased the risk of the revolution being completely hijacked along sectarian lines.


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Reportage dai campi profughi siriani di Reyhanli (Hatay- Turchia)

Articolo pubblicato su Europa Quotidiano mentre mi trovavo al confine turco-siriano…

Fuga dalla Siria, tra miliziani e spie del regime

Un reportage dai campi profughi in Turchia

Syrian_refugee_camp_on_theTurkish_border

Di Andrea Glioti

Reyhanli, Antiochia

Mentre il regime siriano porta avanti l’offensiva militare nella regione settentrionale di Idlib, i campi profughi si espandono a vista d’occhio in Turchia. Le cifre ufficiali fornite dalle autorità turche superano i 20mila profughi, oltre 1600 solo negli ultimi due giorni, ma la Mezzaluna Rossa turca aveva già messo in conto a metà marzo la possibiltà di trovarsi a ricevere mezzo milione di siriani. La cittadina di Reyhanli ospita il campo più grande dei sette presenti in territorio turco. A metà marzo vi si trovavano già tra i 2500 e i 3000 profughi, in media quattro o cinque per ogni tenda, ma il numero è in continua ascesa. Di conseguenza, Ankara ha avviato il trasferimento degli esuli stazionati da più tempo in territorio turco in un complesso di container diviso tra il distretto di Islahiye (nell’Hatay) e la provincia di Kilis.
Fonti ufficiali turche sostengono invece che le autorità stiano considerando la creazione di una zona cuscinetto al confine con la Siria, per evitare di dover assorbire nel proprio territorio la prossima ondata migratoria. La maggioranza dei profughi si dice soddisfatta dell’accoglienza turca, nonostante i frequenti blackout e le lamentele di chi è rimasto tre mesi con gli stessi vestiti, non potendo permettersi di acquistarli al di fuori del campo. Alcuni rifugiati non hanno avuto tempo di portare nulla con sé: «Le truppe del regime sono come dei demoni che calano sul tuo villaggio – spiega Mo’taz, un rifugiato arrivato un mese fa da Al-‘Atma (Idlib) – non siamo riusciti a portarci dietro nemmeno le carte d’identità e i vestiti».
Il campo è un microcosmo di diverse classi sociali, ma i più benestanti cercano di trasferirsi altrove, anche perché le tende non sembrano “impermeabili” alle inflitrazioni dei servizi segreti siriani. Tareq ‘Abdul-Haqq (i nomi che usiamo sono fittizi, per proteggere l’identità dei rifugiati, considerata l’abitudine del regime siriano di prendere di mira le famiglie dei dissidenti espatriati), un attivista di 26 anni di Jisr as-Shughur, arrivato a Reyhanli dieci mesi fa, mi racconta di essere sfuggito a un tentato rapimento nei pressi del campo: «Una macchina con i vetri oscurati e la targa inconfondibile dei servizi segreti si è avvicinata a me e un mio amico, con la scusa di chiederci delle informazioni…Io sono scappato poco prima che scendessero dalla vettura, ma il mio amico è stato catturato e da allora non ho più notizie di lui».
In molti non hanno perdonato alle autorità turche la consegna a Damasco del tenente colonello Hussein Harmoush, il primo ufficiale di alto rango unitosi alle file dell’opposizione e successviamente rifugiatosi in Hatay. Fonti ufficiali turche hanno confermato il coinvolgimento dell’intelligence locale nel rapimento di Harmoush.
La Turchia non è sicura nè tantomeno economica per molti rifugiati provenienti da Idlib, una provincia già di per sé non particolarmente benestante. Ad ogni modo, neanche in Siria il costo della vita è rimasto alla portata di tutti: «Un chilo di riso costava 60 lire siriane prima della rivoluzione, più o meno l’equivalente di un dollaro, – afferma Mo’taz – ora lo paghiamo due dollari». I disertori e quei civili che hanno deciso di entrare nelle file dell’Esercito siriano libero testimoniano come l’aumento dei prezzi non abbia risparmiato nemmeno il mercato nero delle armi: «Un proiettile di kalashnikov prima della rivoluzione lo pagavamo un quarto di dollaro, ora ci costa intorno ai quattro dollari», mi conferma Yusef, che comanda un manipolo di uomini all’interno della Falange dei martiri di Jabal al-Zawiyyah, a Idlib.
Le condizioni umanitarie in Siria sono in caduta libera, anche se in province come quella di Idlib non si è ancora raggiunta la tragicità dell’assedio di Homs. «Dalle mie parti tagliano l’elettricità ogni tre ore, acqua corrente non ce n’è, dobbiamo procurarcela da una sorgente». A parlare è Malek di Al- Younsiyyeh, anche lui di Idlib, 25 anni, ricoverato in uno degli ospedali di Antiochia dopo aver perso un piede su una mina al confine, mentre cercava di aiutare la sua famiglia a varcarlo. A Younsiyyeh ci si riesce ancora a procurare del pane, una pagnotta per famiglia al giorno, ma non è il governo a distribuirlo: ci si affida a un ragazzo che lavora in un forno di un villaggio lontano. «Ospedali non ne abbiamo o li evitiamo per non essere arrestati, medicine neppure…Se non si trovano a Jisr as Shugur, ci tocca scendere fino a Latakia», sulla costa, prosegue Malek.
La situazione sembra riservare anche scenari peggiori: «Alcuni hanno iniziato a cibarsi della spazzatura, il mazout (il gasolio per i riscaldamenti) è impossibile da trovare e ci si scalda con dei falò di ulivi – racconta Husam, un altro giovane disertore di Idlib arrivato tre settimane fa a Reyhanli – così la gente ha freddo in casa, continua a scendere in strada per protestare e continua ad essere ammazzata».
In alcune zone le riserve d’acqua non solo scarseggiano, ma, secondo diverse testimonianze, devono essere difese dai tentativi di avvelenarle. «Qualcuno ha iniziato a presentare sintomi da epatite…È il regime che sta avvelenando l’acqua, così i comitati popolari del nostro villaggio si sono organizzati per fare le ronde intorno alle cisterne», afferma Qassem, un 41enne di al Qah (Idlib), arrivato da poco ad Antiochia con il figlio di otto anni. Entrambi giacciono in un letto d’ospedale con ferite d’arma da fuoco, che avrebbero riportato mentre partecipavano a una manifestazione attaccata dall’esercito.
Come al solito, non ho modo di confutare le parole di Qassem, che potrebbe benissimo essere rimasto ferito in uno scontro armato. Damasco continua a impedire ai giornalisti di verificare autonomamente le testimonianze dell’opposizione.

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Meet the Syrian opposition in Turkey…and its endless conferences

Something I wrote while based in Istanbul in February 2012, after lots of meetings with figures from the Syrian opposition…little seems to have changed one year later. Originally published on The Majalla.

Voice of the People?

Just another conference for the Syrian opposition

Syrian national council

One year has passed since the beginning of Syria’s uprising, and Turkey has been providing opportunities for numerous Syrian opposition figures to coordinate their efforts against the regime. However, the results are largely discouraging.

Sheikh Nawaf Bashir, head of the Baqara tribe from Deyr az-Zour and former member of the Damascus Declaration, acts frustrated when he receives a phone call to organize yet another conference in Istanbul: “Abu Ja’far… another conference! What’s this conference for? Why do we keep on organizing conferences, if there is no international support?!”

One year has passed since the beginning of Syria’s uprising, and Turkey has been providing opportunities for numerous Syrian opposition figures to coordinate their efforts against the regime. However, the results are largely discouraging: an endless proliferation of rival groups failing to achieve international recognition. The outcome of a conference entitled Friends of Syria, held in Tunis on 24 February, failed to overcome such a deadlock, because no country recognized the major opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), as the unique legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Having met with representatives of at least four different blocs, there appears to be no consensus on the way the international community should tilt the balance in favor of the uprising. The SNC and the vast majority of committees on the ground call for arming the revolutionaries and establishing a buffer zone to protect civilians and increase defections. In contrast, the National Coordination Committee (NCC), a group of veteran dissidents headed by Haytham Al-Manna and Hassan Abdul-Azim, opposes foreign military intervention and does not exclude dialogue with the regime.

According to activists, the death toll has reached more than 9,000 people, and any bloc still wanting to negotiate is perceived as a tool created by the Government. “The NCC is a bunch of traders of blood, they’ve been bought by the regime,” says Ibrahim Al-Hajj Ali, an activist from Aleppo, who was expelled from the army for trying to form a Sunni Islamist cell. “Haytham Al-Manna called on the demonstrators to return to their houses…We don’t want these people back in Syria, even after the collapse of the regime!”

Samir Nashar, a representative of the Damascus Declaration on the SNC’s executive committee, holds a more balanced view of the NCC, considering it a representative of the elites tied economically to the regime in Aleppo and Damascus. An NCC member and lawyer from Dara’a, Hassan Al-Aswad, defends Manna’s intentions to focus on “those who are scared to participate in the uprising, particularly the minorities.” At the same time, Aswad believes that the NCC’s insistence on non-violence and dialogue to confront the regime’s brutality is remote from reality.

In its bid for support, the SNC is also accused of being driven by power struggles and subject to foreign pressures. Emblematic of this was the renewal of the presidential mandate of Burhan Ghalioun, despite being a council based on replacing its leader every three months. Samir Nashar, the only member of the executive committee who voted against the extension, claims that “a month ago, some were against the re-election of Ghalioun and then they changed their position, due to ‘regional influences’ possibly coming from Qatar.”

The Antalya conference’s organizer, Ammar Al-Qurabi, a Syrian human rights activist who is about to launch his own bloc, is proud of having kept himself outside the SNC. He believes that group is divided between Qatari support for Ghalioun and Turkey’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite trying to shape a democratic body, the SNC seems to lack the required political and financial transparency, according to its members’ accounts: “There is a problem when it comes to the transparency of funding,” says Nashar, “because so far the support came from businessmen, individuals and not from countries.”

The SNC appears to be the formation closest to the streets, counting on the support of various networks of local committees, but its critics claim it should go further, by including activists in decision-making bodies like the executive committee, Al-Maktab Al-Tanfidhi. These are exactly the demands of Nawaf Al-Bashir: “Seventy percent of the SNC have no followers in the Syrian streets; we want a presidential committee elected by Syrian activists to have them in the ‘political kitchen.’”

No one really wants to meddle in Syria

After almost one year, what is clear to all sides is the scarce will of the international community to intervene in support of the Syrian opposition. Even the Gulf countries have shown little intention to support the opposition militarily until recently. According to a source close to the Syrian Minister of Finance, Mohammad Al-Hussein, the Assad regime received $500 million from some Gulf States and $300 million from the UAE after three months of bloodshed in Syria last June.

Contrary to some reports published on the Iraqi daily Al-Mada, Nawaf Bashir denies that any sort of contact occurred between Syrian-Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders and the Gulf countries. When asked about the allegations against the Gulf States and the UAE, Mohammad Faruq Al-Tayfur, representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in the SNC’s executive committee replied: “I cannot confirm this information, but it could have happened in the beginning, while the Gulf countries were still supporting the regime, mainly to contain the stability of the region.” However, during the Tunis conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Sa’ud Al-Faisal finally promised to have Bashar leave “either voluntarily or by force,” thus nurturing the SNC’s expectations of Saudi military support.

Turkey is praised for having hosted the Syrian opposition both politically and militarily, but the SNC places no hopes on a unilateral military intervention coming from Ankara. Both Nashar and Al-Tayfur are convinced that Turkey will not act without the consensus of the international community, though Nashar still hopes to see Turkish ground forces enforcing a buffer zone, supported by Libyan-style NATO air strikes.

However, following the conference in Tunis, there is growing frustration about the Western—and especially American—stance, as US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton voiced her fears that a foreign intervention could lead to civil war. In that respect, the opposition is united in ascribing America’s concerns to the border Israel has been peacefully sharing with Syria for almost 40 years.  Nevertheless, for liberals within the SNC, Western support still holds some relevance to contain the Gulf’s brand of political Islam, as Nashar notes, “if the intervention occurs under the UN monitoring, it would prevent Saudi and Qatari political interests from prevailing in Syria.”

Armed resistance beyond the Free Syrian Army

After one year of massacres, many of the demonstrators who started calling for reforms one year ago consider violence as the only option for a way out. Violence means arming the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), whose structure is still unclear to many.

The SNC tends to recognize the Turkish-based leadership of Colonel Riyadh Al-Asad, but everyone is aware that there are other groups on the ground. The last relevant group to emerge is guided by Brigadier General Mostafa Al-Shaykh, who defected last January. Former officer Ibrahim Al-Hajj belittles the importance of the FSA as a unified structure and stresses the autonomous nature of the armed resistance active in Syria. “There is no such a thing as the FSA, it is only a name for the resistance,” confirms Al-Qurabi.

Even the SNC has no clear ties with the FSA according to Samir Nashar, who admits that there is “scarce communication” between them.  In order to strengthen this feeble coordination, a group of SNC members have recently set up a National Front for the Support of the FSA, and the SNC has created a Military Advisory Council, a sort of Ministry of Defense based in Turkey. According to Tayfur, this second institution is aimed at reassuring the international community that the SNC is in control of the armed resistance, but the project has yet to meet expectations. Colonel Riyadh Al-Asad rejected the institution, claiming he had not been informed of it beforehand. Outside the SNC, some believe the best strategy to control armed resistance, and violence in general, would be to enhance the power of civilian committees: “The issue of having civilian committees is aimed at controlling the military departments within them, in order to know who the weapons belong to,” suggests Hassan Al-Aswad. His model is the local council of Zabadani, a body created when the opposition took temporarily control of this suburb.

War of Egos

Besides the differing views, what is most discouraging about the opposition is the abortive war of egos. “The fact that any kind of opposition has been forbidden for the last forty years had an influence on its current structure,” admits Nashar. “It is not institutionalized, the individual still plays a big negative role.”

To understand how some figures of the opposition see themselves, one need only quote Al-Qurabi when he said that that when he was “working to support the revolution, most people from the SNC were drinking milk from their mothers.”

Another well-known dissident in exile in London, Wahid Saqr, claims that SNC members Fida Al-Majzub and Shaykh Khaled Kamal were in Damascus in January to bargain Ministries with the regime. Are these, as his critics claim, groundless allegations from a former Alawi officer who cannot tolerate the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence over the SNC?

Amidst personal resentments, each faction competes with the other in claiming to represent the streets, whilst, in the words of Nawaf Bashir, “leading the revolution from five stars hotels.”


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