Posts Tagged With: Hasakeh

University students forced to drop classes due to Syrian conflict

A report I wrote for Al-Monitor on the aftermaths of the ongoing conflict on the daily lives of university students in the province of Hasakeh. 

Syrian Conflict Keeps
University Students at Home


AMUDA Syria — “The governorate of Hasakeh is a swamp, I need to get out of here,” said red-bearded Abu Wa’el, the commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) Dir’ al-Muslimin (Armor of Muslims) brigade in Ras al-Ain. FSA fighters crave fighting with the regime, but they remain stuck in the barracks most of the time because the front line is elsewhere. Themujahedeen are not the only ones burdened by inertia in one of the regions largely spared from government shelling, as thousands of university students waste at least one year without attending classes.

Even if their situation were not comparable to their compatriots under the bombs in Aleppo or Homs, where thousands of schools have been destroyed or converted into shelters for refugees, the students in Hasakeh are often left with the only option of migration.

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Syriac Christian and Kurdish security forces boost cooperation under Syrian regime’s eyes

A piece I wrote for Al-Monitor about the ties between Syriac Christian and Kurdish security forces and how they both deal with the regime, since their presence is tolerated within a specific plot…

Syriac Christians, Kurds
Boost Cooperation in Syria











QAMISHLI – Over the last months the Syrian government has encouraged the activities of ethnonationalist parties and the formation of sectarian security branches, such as the Kurdish Asayish and the Syriac/Assyrian Christian Sutoro. These ethnic minorities immediately took the chance to voice their demands, but some of their representatives remain wary of the regime’s intention to preserve its political leverage.

Syriacs and Kurds shared similar grievances under the thumb of Baathist pan-Arabism, and the recent rebellion has prompted their political parties to strike an unwritten alliance to maintain their distance from the regime as well as the opposition. The backlash of this decision, however, could be the further entrenchment of sectarian divisions, thus serving the regime’s interest in keeping minorities away from the opposition by bestowing concessions upon them.

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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.

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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


(photo from

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.

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Clashes between Arabs and Kurds in Syria (October-November 2012)- Faida arabo-curda in Siria (ott-nov 2012)

The first piece (published on November 5, 2012) was written for Taz.die Tageszeitung It was translated in German, but I wrote in English, here’s the original version. I wrote it in early October upon my return from Iraqi Kurdistan, before clashes started between Arab and Kurdish factions in Northern Syria. 

L’ho anche tradotto in Italiano.

The second piece was published by The Majalla later on (Nov 26, 2012), when the clashes had already started. 

Syrian Kurds ready to fight Arabs once Asad is gone

By Andrea Glioti

ERBIL (Iraqi Kurdistan), 17 October 2012.

On July 11, the main Syrian Kurdish factions signed an agreement in Erbil to reassure Turkey of their peaceful aspirations and to reach unity for a possible confrontation with the Arab opposition’s Free Syrian Army (FSA), after the downfall of Bashar al-Asad. However, these two aims are likely to collide, being the FSA hosted and sponsored by Turkey. The risk of a transnational conflict is high and both Turkey and Syria have interests in provoking a conflict between Arabs and Kurds.

No trust in the (Arab) Free Syrian Army

The North-Eastern Kurdish areas in Syria are not anymore under the control of Damascus, despite the presence of security officials: the regime has prioritized the fight against the Arab opposition in the two main cities, Aleppo and Damascus, while allowing Kurdish parties to manage their regions.

The agreement sponsored by the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Mas’ud Barzani, was thus signed in a critical phase of military escalation in the rest of Syria and led to the formation of the Kurdish Supreme Committee. Such a coalition is formed by the pro-Barzani (i.e. pro-Turkish) Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Popular Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK), the body comprising the PKK-proxy Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Even the more moderate KNC has no sympathy at all for the Arab Free Syrian Army. “Our [Kurdish] regions reject terror, hence the FSA cannot hide there,” affirms Nuri Brimo, head of KNC media and one of the signatories of the Erbil Agreement.  According to Brimo, the rapprochement with the PYD, despite skirmishes and different regional allegiances, was a consequence of the “chauvinist approach” of the Arab opposition with the Kurds, who were allegedly refused recognition as a people during the conference held in Cairo in July.

“We are not scared by the strength of the [Arab] opposition, but by its ideas, its dictatorial conduct,” adds Mohammad Rasho, the Ocalan-looking PCWK representative in Iraqi Kurdistan, who seems to hint at the PYD’s readiness to clash with the FSA.  Nuri Brimo is even more explicit: “24 hours after the downfall of the regime, the language will be a different one from the peaceful adopted so far [by the Kurds]: if we need to, we will get ready to fight and defend our regions.”

Syrian Kurds are already ahead in their preparation: the number of fighters trained in the two camps set up in January by Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Iraqi Governorate of Duhok will reach soon 3700. Dilshad*, a 38-year-old Syrian from Qamishli, had previously joined the FSA, but he quit due to its “Islamist, racist behavior” against religious and ethnic minorities and joined the Kurdish training camp last February.  “We are trained in street guerrilla by the PKK in order to face the Free Syrian Army in the future,” whispers Dilshad over the phone, walking away from his companions to avoid being overheard.  The PKK was originally recruited to work under the surveillance of Barzani’s armed forces (peshmerga), however, the Kurdish internal divisions began to surface in the last days, when all the militiamen outside the control of the President were expelled from the camps. Dilshad informed me today that he was also forced to leave, adding that “the situation is changing and internal Kurdish strife might break out in Qamishli [A/N: strategic city in Syrian Kurdistan].”

Syrian and Turkish interference

The possibility of a confrontation between Kurdish and Arab opposition is clearly in the interests of the Syrian Government, who could hope to drag the PKK and Turkey in the conflict. As a matter of fact, Damascus is periodically interfering in the neighboring countries in an attempt to find salvation in the internationalization of the crisis.

The unprecedented suicidal bombing occurred in Qamishli on September 30 seems to confirm the Syrian role in fostering tensions between Arabs and Kurds. “The Syrian intelligence staged the explosion […] in order to convince Kurds that the Free Syrian Army entered Qamishli,” reveals Dlshad, the Syrian Kurdish military trainee. Damascus is also capable of exploiting its historical ties with the PYD-PKK, if it wishes to cause Kurdish-Arab strife.

For what concerns Turkey, both the Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish parties are aware that Ankara is watching closely their moves, therefore even Barzani’s KDP prefers denying the existence of the military camp where Syrian Kurds are trained by the PKK.  “There is only the Domiz refugee camp and we didn’t set up any military camp,” says Abdul-Wahhab ‘Ali, the KDP spokesperson in Sulaymanya, “during the Kurdish revolution in 1961, Kurdish fighters came [to Iraq] from Syria and Iran, they earned a very good military knowledge and settled down here.”

On the other hand, the Erbil Agreement seems conceived to tame factions hostile to Turkey like the PYD. “We bring the PYD to think like us and we want recognition from Europe that we tried to drag the PKK away from Syria and Iran,” states proudly Nuri Brimo. Even though there is no explicit reference to Ankara, such an agenda aimed at changing the Pkk’s stances cannot be considered unrelated to Turkish pressures. Turkey has also been reassured about the lack of separatist ambitions by the text of the agreement. However, the PYD predictably refuses to recognize it signed a deal to please Turkish interests. “Turkey is opposed to unifying Kurdish parties,” objects Mohammad Rasho, “[Turkish FM] Davutoglu came here and visited only the Kurdish National Council to create division at the time of the Erbil Agreement.” Ankara remains wary of an agreement including the PYD and, according to Rasho, military intervention would be preferred, if there was enough international support. “The buffer zone [Ankara talks about] aims at limiting the achievement of Kurdish rights and not at supporting the Syrian revolution”, claims Rasho, “there are confirmed Turkish demands from the FSA to attack the PYD.” In June, an allegedly leaked document from the Turkish consulate in Erbil has been spread by the pro-PKK Firat News Agency to prove the Turkish attempts to bring the Syrian Kurdish regions under the FSA control. According to this reading of the situation, Turkey is pursuing a parallel agenda to the Erbil Agreement, based on backing the Arab opposition against the Kurdish factions hostile to Ankara.

Under these premises, Kurds risk to see the fight to defend their territories turned again into a greater conflict serving the interests of other actors. Remember all the Gulf Wars.

*A pseudonym has been used for security reasons.


Siria: una volta caduto Asad, ci si prepara per la faida curdo-araba


Di Andrea Glioti


ERBIL (Kurdistan Iracheno), 7 Ottobre 2012


L’undici luglio scorso, il Presidente del Governo Regionale del Kurdistan (Grk), Mas’ud Barzani, è riuscito a riconciliare le maggiori fazioni curdo-siriane, il Consiglio Nazionale Curdo (Cnc), vicino alla Turchia e a Barzani stesso, e il Consiglio Popolare del Kurdistan Occidentale (Cpko), comprendente l’ala siriana del Pkk, il Partito dell’Unione Democratica (Pud). Un accordo è stato firmato a Erbil, dando vita al Comitato Supremo Curdo (Csc).

Le regioni curde nord-orientali della Siria non sono più sotto il controllo di Damasco, nonostante la presenza degli ufficiali delle forze di sicurezza: il regime ha dato la priorità alla battaglia contro l’opposizione araba nelle due maggiori città, Aleppo e Damasco, finendo per concedere ai partiti curdi di gestire le loro roccaforti.

L’accordo di Erbil tutela da una parte gli interessi turchi e dall’altra unifica gli schieramenti curdi in vista di un possibile scontro con la maggiore formazione armata dell’opposizione araba, l’Esercito Libero Siriano (Esl), all’indomani della caduta del regime di Asad. Tuttavia, questi due obiettivi non sono di certo compatibili e la precaria stabilità conseguita nelle regioni curde rischia di saltare da un momento all’altro, se si considera che l’Esl riceve supporto logistico e militare proprio dalla Turchia. Il rischio di un conflitto internazionale rimane alto, anche perché Turchia e Siria potrebbero trarre vantaggio dallo scoppio delle ostilità arabo-curde.


Nessuna fiducia nell’Esercito Libero Siriano (Arabo)


Persino il più moderato Consiglio Nazionale Curdo non ha alcuna simpatia per l’Esl. “Le nostre regioni [curde] ripudiano il terrorismo, di conseguenza l’Esl non vi si può nascondere,” afferma Nuri Brimo, responsabile dei media del Cnc e uno dei firmatari dell’accordo di Erbil. Stando alle sue parole, il riavvicinamento con il Partito dell’Unione Democratica, a dispetto degli scontri violenti e delle diverse alleanze regionali, è stato una conseguenza dell’ “atteggiamento sciovinista” dell’opposizione araba nei confronti dei curdi, ai quali è stato negato il riconoscimento come popolo durante la conferenza tenutasi al Cairo a inizio luglio.


“Non temiamo la forza dell’opposizione araba, ma le sue idee, il suo comportamento dittatoriale,” aggiunge Mohammad Rasho, il rappresentante del Consiglio Popolare del Kurdistan Occidentale nel Kurdistan iracheno, che esibisce dei folti baffi neri degni del suo mentore Abdullah “Apo” Ocalan. Rasho sembra pertanto alludere alla preparazione militare del Pud in caso di scontri con l’Esl. Nuri Brimo è addirittura più esplicito: “24 ore dopo la caduta del regime, sarà tutto un’altro discorso rispetto al pacifismo adottato finora [dai curdi]: se ne avremo bisogno, ci prepareremo a combattere e difendere le nostre regioni.”

I curdi siriani si stanno già preparando:  il numero di combattenti addestrati nei due campi allestiti a gennaio dal Partito Democratico del Kurdistan (PDK) di Barzani nel governatorato di Duhok raggiungerà presto i 3700 effettivi. Dlshad*, un siriano trentottenne di Qamishli, racconta di aver militato nell’Esl, per poi abbandonarlo a causa del suo “comportamento islamico e razzista” nei confronti delle minoranze etniche e religiose. Da febbraio si trova nel campo di addestramento curdo, dove i miliziani del PKK mettono a disposizione la loro esperienza, sotto la sorveglianza delle forze armate (peshmerga) di Barzani. Al telefono Dlshad parla sotto voce, dopo essersi allontanato dai suoi commilitoni per evitare di essere udito: “Veniamo addestrati per la guerriglia urbana dal PKK, al fine di affrontare l’Esl nel futuro.

Se si intromettono la Siria e la Turchia…

Il possibile scontro tra opposizione araba e curda è chiaramente negli interessi del governo siriano, che spera di trascinare il Pkk e la Turchia nel conflitto. Di fatto, l’esercito siriano continua a sconfinare nei Paesi vicini alla ricerca di una via di salvezza nell’internazionalizzazione della crisi.

Anche l’attentato suicida verificatosi per la prima volta a Qamishli (Kurdistan siriano) il 30 settembre sembra confermare il ruolo siriano nell’alimentare tensioni tra arabi e curdi. “L’intelligence siriana ha orchestrato l’esplosione […] per far credere ai curdi che l’Esercito Libero sia entrato a Qamishli,” rivela il miliziano Dlshad. Damasco è inoltre in grado di sfruttare i suoi legami storici con il Pkk-Pud, fondati sul contenimento della Turchia, per istigare un conflitto arabo-curdo.

Per quanto riguarda invece la Turchia, tutti i partiti curdi iracheni e siriani avvertono benissimo lo sguardo di Ankara sulle loro mosse, motivo per cui il Pdk di Barzani preferisce negare l’esistenza del suddetto campo militare coogestito con il Pkk. “Esiste solo il campo profughi di Domiz e non abbiamo allestito nessun accampamento militare,” afferma ‘Abdul-Wahhab ‘Ali, portavoce del Pdk a Sulaymanya, “durante la rivoluzione curda del ’61, i combattenti curdi sono arrivati [in Iraq] da Siria e Iran, hanno acquisito ottime competenze militari e si sono stabiliti qui.”

D’altra parte, l’accordo di Erbil sembra concepito per tenere sotto controllo le fazioni curde ostili ad Ankara come il Pud. “Facciamo in modo che il Pud la pensi come noi e vogliamo che l’Europa ci riconosca il merito di aver tentato di allontanare il Pkk da Siria e Iran,” afferma orgogliosamente Nuri Brimo del Consiglio Nazionale Curdo. Il riferimento non è esplicitamente alla Turchia, ma non si può certo escludere un nesso tra Ankara e un simile proposito di “addomesticamento” del Pkk. Senza dimenticare che la Turchia è stata rassicurata sull’assenza di ambizioni separatiste dal testo stesso dell’accordo.

Abbastanza prevedibilmente, il Pud si rifiuta di ammetter di aver firmato un patto in cui abbiano messo mano i turchi. “La Turchia è contraria all’unificazione dei partiti curdi,” obietta Mohammad Rasho, “ai tempi dell’accordo di Erbil, [il Ministro degli Esteri turco] Davutoglu è stato qui e ha visitato solamente il Consiglio Nazionale Curdo per creare divisione.” Non vi è dubbio che Ankara rimanga diffidente su un accordo che include il Pud e, secondo Rasho, opterebbe per un intervento militare, se solo esistesse il sostegno internazionale necessario. “La zona cuscinetto [a cui fa riferimento la Turchia] è finalizzata a limitare la conquista dei diritti curdi e non a supportare la rivoluzione siriana,” afferma Rasho, “esistono richieste confermate da parte della Turchia, affinché l’Esercito Libero attacchi il Pud.” A giugno, l’agenzia stampa vicina al Pkk, Firat News Agency, ha diffuso un documento presumibilmente trapelato dal consolato turco di Erbil, volto a dimostrare i tentativi di Ankara di portare le regioni curde sotto il controllo dell’Esl, tramite la mediazione di alcune figure politiche curdo-siriane. Secondo questa lettura della situazione, la Turchia starebbe lavorando su un piano parallelo all’accordo di Erbil e finalizzato al supporto dell’opposizione araba contro le fazioni curde ostili ad Ankara.

Con delle simili premesse, i curdi rischiano ancora una volta di vedere la lotta per la difesa dei loro territori trasformata in un conflitto più esteso al servizio degli interessi altrui. Si ricordino le tre guerre del Golfo.


*Pseudonimo utilizzato per ragioni di sicurezza

The Second Syrian Front: Arabs and Kurds

In the latest development in Syria’s unrest, Arab and Kurdish opposition groups are battling over the Kurdish territories in Syria’s North-East. The Kurds themselves are far from a united front, with different militia groups competing over control of Kurdish towns.

For several months now, the north-eastern, Kurdish areas of Syria have been shaking off the control of Damascus despite the continued presence of security officials. The Syrian government has prioritized the fight against the Arab opposition in Aleppo and Damascus, whilst Kurdish parties have been allowed to gain ground in their regions. This unwritten agreement between the Baathist government and the main Kurdish militia, a proxy for the Turkish Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) called the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has not gone unnoticed by some factions of the Arab opposition, culminating in clashes between the Arabs and the Kurds during the last month. The main group of Syrian Arab insurgents, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is sponsored by Turkey. The risk of a transnational conflict is becoming an ever more likely scenario, and both Ankara and Damascus can reap benefits from provoking Arab–Kurdish strife.

On 26 October, an armed Arab opposition group sought to deploy in Al-Ashrafiyeh, one of Aleppo’s Kurdish neighborhoods, despite the resistance from residents hoping to preserve security. Instead, the Syrian government shelled the quarter, targeting Arab militias, and nine Kurds were killed. The military attack ignited a cycle of reprisals on both sides as the PYD stepped in to defend Kurdish residents. On 19 November, Arab–Kurdish clashes followed the same script in the frontier town of Ras Al-Ayn, where the entrance of Arab rebels brought about another government offensive. The local head of the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK)—the Syrian body comprising the PYD—was assassinated on the same day by Arab militiamen.

In between these two episodes, five others have fallen victim to clashes between the PYD and the Islamist Northern Storm Brigade, after the latter allegedly attacked members of the Kurdish Yazidi religious minority in the countryside of Aleppo. Most of the Arab militias blamed for attacks on Kurds are Islamic hardliners such as the Al-Nusra Front, Ghuraba’ Al-Sham, and Jund Al-Sham. The Islamist bent amongst certain Arab opposition groups has made members of the Kurdish community wary to join their cause. Dilshad,* a 38-year-old Kurd from Qamishli, quit the FSA to join Kurdish military training camps along the Iraqi border due to what he considers to be the FSA’s “Islamist, racist behavior” against religious and ethnic minorities.

However, the nebulous structure of the Free Syrian Army means that any direct links between the FSA and radical groups cannot be ascertained. On 19 November, the PYD media representative ruled out any connection between the FSA and the Islamist perpetrators of the PCWK assassination in Ras Al-Ayn. Nonetheless, the PCWK official spokesperson accused snipers of belonging to the Free Syrian Army.

In the Kurdish arms race, Iraqi–Kurdish media outlets have argued that the pro-Western Kurdish National Council (KNC), the other main Syrian–Kurdish formation, may lose ground in favor of the more militarized PYD. However, the KNC has the military backing of its main sponsor, the pro-Turkish President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, to fill this gap. “On November 28, between 1,500 and 3,000 Syrian fighters trained by Barzani’s peshmergas (armed forces) will enter Syria from Iraq,” said Dilshad, although it remains to be seen whether Syrian peshmerga boots will arrive on the ground.

“The new Syrian peshmergas won’t cooperate with the PKK, they will stick to those cities where the PYD is weaker, like Al-Malikiyah and Qamishli,” continues Dilshad. Syrian–Kurdish unity appears a distant prospect, especially after the Erbil Agreement signed on 11 July between the KNC and the PYD proved to be a farce. On 29 October, the two main parties met in Erbil to discuss a shared response to the Arab–Kurdish clashes, but the summit proved unfruitful. Half-baked negotiations are in the making for the establishment of a joint Kurdish army, but divisions continue to mar efforts towards a united front.

Nevertheless, a shared enemy in the Arab opposition is perhaps the most powerful unifying force, since even the moderate KNC has no sympathy for the Free Syrian Army. “Our [Kurdish] regions reject terror, hence the FSA cannot hide there,” affirms Nuri Brimo, the head of KNC media. “If we need to, we will get ready to fight and defend our territories.”

Regardless of party politics, the growing militarization will reduce the space for peaceful Kurdish youth committees, who are not willing to “sacrifice” their revolution for an ethnic conflict. They are likely to be overrun by militias, just like their Arab counterparts.

The possibility of a confrontation between the Kurdish and Arab opposition is clearly in the interests of the Syrian government, who could hope to drag the PKK and Turkey into the conflict in an attempt to find salvation in the internationalization of the crisis.

Regarding Ankara’s moves, “there are confirmed Turkish demands to the FSA to attack the PYD,” claims Mohammad Rasho, a PCWK representative in Iraqi Kurdistan. Last June, an allegedly leaked document originating from the Turkish consulate in Erbil was distributed by the pro-PKK Firat News Agency, advertising the Turkish attempts to bring Syria’s Kurdish region under FSA control. “The Turkish government is aware that four high-ranking PKK officials have just entered Syria,” explains the military trainee, Dilshad, “and the PKK agenda is a region independent from ‘the Syrian entity.’”

Given these premises, Kurds are likely to see the fight to defend their territories turned into a greater conflict serving the interests of other actors: a flashback to all three previous Gulf Wars in Iraq.

*A pseudonym has been used for security reasons.

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