Posts Tagged With: Syrian Revolution

White Helmets, Not White Collars

The Independent

Source: the Independent.

White Helmets, Not White Collars

By .

Last autumn, Max Blumenthal’s commentary on the White Helmets in Syria went viral in the international media. At the same time, the 2016 White Helmets movie and the “Hollywoodization” of civilian search and rescue operations became objects of discussion and even suspicion in the intellectual realm. Accused of being “hyper-partisan”, the Helmets are portrayed as the Trojan horses of American soldiers in Syria, as they are said to rescue lives while calling for military intervention.

Even though a few months have by now passed since last October, I think it is still worth it to address the couch-based counter-narrative which builds on Blumenthal’s argument. I will therefore highlight the ways in which ‘southern’ humanitarian action is chronically discredited, and how the intellectual critique of heroism in war practically leads to morally deny the White Helmets’ action and outcomes on the ground.

While the White Helmets movie, which was awarded with the Oscar for Best Film Documentary, is an invitation to focus on the factuality of straightforward results — the mere material act and hopeful result of rescuing lives — the armchaired white collars’ tendency to undercut or sneer at ‘southern’ humanitarian action is still hard to die. The act of rescuing, as funded by western powers and trained in Turkey, has been shrugged off as a machiavellic political strategy.

Commentators and large segments of the public audience have foregrounded geopolitical agendas rather than focusing on the abovementioned factuality. This is the unfortunate result of the southern humanitarian discourse that struggles to get morally acknowledged and legitimized on the grounds of unmet neutrality standards.

Whilst I have always struggled myself to believe that there ever is something like apolitical humanitarian action insofar as aid provision becomes part of the conflict itself, such global skepticism toward a humanitarianism meant as a simple “bed for the night”is problematically unilateral from ‘North’ to ‘South’.

Using the same standards to question how political the “bed for the night” is in Saudi Arabia, the UK, or in Syria today can’t be appraised as a post-orientalist discourse, which would surely be much welcomed. Indeed, double standards are rather needed when the White Helmets’ search and rescue operations are only one symptom of a long story of domestic civilian resilience. It comes as no surprise to me that western countries and Turkey have capitalized on the primarily inner phenomenon of the White Helmets. Relying on a large number of civilians who take on different relief and care roles, the NGO cannot be compared in any ways[i] to Saudi Arabia first bombing and then succoring Yemeni refugees; or, again, to the US government providing generous funding for the reconstruction of Lebanon in 2006 after having supported the Israeli systematic aerial shelling. In the debates concerning the White Helmets, some flawed thinking has enabled political agendas to discredit both the agency and the victimhood of war-affected people.

The story of symbolic instrumentalization of human and political causes is way older than me and than the Syrian conflict, and it hurts. I remember the horrified eyes of western acquaintances in Cairo’s Tahrir Square back in 2012 at the view of the Saudi flag in a gazebo of Syrian revolutionaries. The moral denial of a possible social revolution as a result of such unaccepted symbolic connotation came in a similar form at that time.

This approach has given birth to the ‘fence-sitters’ category, which remained politically disgusted and staunch to the ‘this-is-not-going-to-be-my-cause-because-I-don’t-like-my-allies’ tenet.

But let me broach up what remains a thorny issue among the White Helmets supporters, and discuss the ‘Hollywoodization’ of von Einsiedel’s movie. Against the backdrop of the Asadist rhetoric of “terrorists invading the country”, and the often discussed lack of a political and – above all – moral leadership in the Syrian revolution, I find some degree of Hollywoodization not only kind of necessary, but even collectively liberating for some revolution supporters.

In my personal experience, the hurting question “Who are the heroes of this revolution?” frequently knocked on the door of many Syrian friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Many were the emerging figures in the street protests. Nowadays some cultural production is eventually attempting to stigmatize a moral leadership of the revolutionary process – such as the ‘Little Gandhi’ film on the figure of Ghiyath Matar.

In the contemporary era, which seems to be particularly doomed to historical denialism and revisionism — quick and fashionable explanatory tools — we sadly ended upneeding public heroes in order to finally believe in wars and facts. Plot and fabrication theories have marked the Syrian events to such an extent of making me hope for a return to compassionalism, despite all of its well-known problematic sides.

Nonetheless, there’s a story that the White Helmets movie doesn’t tell: that of the complex inner structure of the Helmets, which is not only limited to search and rescue operations. There are many jobs other than medical relief that people came to do within the Helmets, using the skills that they used to have prior to the war. Cooks and drivers are less ‘spectacularizable’ roles, yet they also constitute the functioning core of the White Helmets organization.

In a Syria at war chronically pictured as civilian-less, contrarily, civilian resistance has long pre-existed the Helmets: local committees and councils, street protests against the government as well as against the self-declared Islamic State (IS). Similarly, protests in Idlib that have been claiming civilian resilience with no need for military interventions. They’re all stories which have been barely told.

The spectators’ tout court rejection of the diabolic psychology of war has sterilely remained the only predominant approach to understand violence. Do you remember theSyrian “rebel” who ate a piece of heart of a Syrian army’s soldier back in 2013? An image, again, which managed to highly discredit the civilian efforts for social and political change.

As others have already argued months ago, I’m afraid Max Blumenthal, by conveying the image of “Qaedist Helmets” celebrating victory on the corpses of Syrian soldiers, has been watching war for too long from his couch — like myself and surely the most of you — but without having any clue of what war may imply.

So what I advocate for is a post-Hollywoodization approach to look at the White Helmets. In this sense, the movie is a public invite to acknowledge nude factuality, which we tend to miss as spectators enraptured in the megaphonic magnificence of our intellectual considerations.

What I rather see in the White Helmets movie is simply people rescuing other people, in whom the rescuers, in turn, often see their dead beloved ones. This way, the nude act of rescuing comes as palingenetic; an atrociously unacknowledged moral claim that, moreover, will not even be able to compensate for their losses.

 

The writer’s opinions do not necessarily reflect SyriaUntold’s views.

[i] Unlike Saudi Arabia in Yemen and the US-Israel alliance in Lebanon, the White Helmets are neither the oppressive force in the territory of intervention, nor they are funded by forces that directly oppress the addressed areas (which, instead, are Syrian and Russian). Indeed, the western-led shelling has mostly targeted IS-held territories. The misconception that the White Helmets’ presence in the war-affected areas is ambivalent has stemmed from the grounded belief that most of them advocate for a no-fly zone.

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The challenges of covering Syria (2011-2013)

I was asked to write this piece in November 2013, immediately after I left Syria (and unfortunately that was the last time I have been there). I am not a fan of self-referential journalism and I think the less we talk about ourselves the better it is, unless it is functional to understanding our interaction with the context and the way locals react to our (Western) presence. Still, I accepted to write this and I think there are some insights into freelance labor and all the troubles you face to “get the story out” at your own risk…

(In the photo: Me (right) and Abu Wa’el (left), the commander of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Dir’ul-Muslimin (The Shield of Muslims) brigade in Ras al-‘Ayn (al-Hasakah, Syria)) (photo by Bahzad Hajj Hamo)

The challenges of covering Syria

con Abu Wael

BEIRUT — Reporting from Syria has become an ordeal of illegal border crossings, where journalists face all sorts of restrictions from both the Syrian government and neighboring countries.

I started covering Syria from Damascus at the very beginning of the uprising in March 2011. I didn’t apply for a press visa, as it would have just meant further restrictions on my movements by security forces. During my five-month stay, I reported on demonstrations, circumventing the regime’s checkpoints, driven around by an aging taxi driver sympathetic to the opposition.

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ar/contents/articles/originals/2013/11/syria-journalism-reporting-war.html

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Rojava: What about the Arabs?

An article I wrote for Al-Monitor in October 2013. Kurdish autonomy in north-east Syria will struggle if Syria’s Kurdish forces do not reach an understanding with local Arab residents. (Forget about the nonsense title given to this piece on Al-Monitor: the content has nothing to do with the PYD’s rise…no comment 🙂

a Syrian beduin woman source ICRC

RAS AL-AIN, Syria — The Mesopotamian Al-Jazira plain is populated by a majority of Arabs, but the northern districts of the province of Hasakah, including the two main cities Qamishli and Hasakah, will soon see the first steps of a Kurdish-led administrative and political decentralization. Arabs here hold different views on Kurdish autonomy, ranging from support to skepticism and opposition. Regardless of the political shape of these regions, it is urgently necessary to reconcile both communities and solve the land disputes caused by the presence of Arab settlers, in order to ward off a Kirkuk-like ethnic strife.

“The self-management plan won’t discriminate among the different communities,” said Ahmad al-Ahmad, an Arab staff member in the Ministry of Education from al-Jabriyya, a village next to Amuda. “Therefore, I support it. We want to see locals, whether Arabs or Kurds, managing and developing these regions,” he told Al-Monitor. Ahmad is originally from Tabqa in Raqqa province and he settled in al-Jabriyya 37 years ago. He belongs to the so-called maghmurin, “flooded,” Arab tribes resettled by the government along the northern border of the province of Hasakah in the 1970s, in order to compensate them for the loss of their lands flooded by the construction of the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates between 1968 and 1973. It was part of the Arabization plan drafted by Hasakah’s police chief, Mohammad Talab Hilal, in 1963 to change the demographic balance at the expense of Kurds.

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ar/contents/articles/originals/2013/10/pyd-kurd-autonomy-syria.html

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Syria’s rebels not unified on US strike

An article I wrote for Al-Monitor on the conflicting stances of several Syrian rebel brigades on the US intervention…

(Ihfad al-Rasul and Ihfad al-Ghouta are actually Ahfad al-Rasul and Ahfad al-Ghouta: my mistake)

Syria’s Rebels Not Unified on US Strike

srebels

(photo:worldtribune.com)

AMUDA, Syria — As the horizon is still cloudy concerning the date and details of the announced Western strike on Syria — officially intended to punish the regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21 in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta — the rebels on the ground are divided on whether the intervention will benefit their cause.

Those who support foreign action are actually placing their hopes on a wider involvement than the limited punitive strike mentioned by US officials and aimed at deterring further use of chemical weapons.
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The case for foreign intervention in Syria (Intervention als kleineres Übel)

An article I wrote for WOZ while there was big fuss about US military intervention in Syria. That was the time  when Western anti-war activists took the streets rejecting foreign intervention, regardless of their silence on the massacres perpetrated by the regime in Syria over the last two years and a half

Syria cannot wait for more red lines

By Andrea Glioti

(Amuda- Syria)

dont bomb syria

.

(photo: windsorstar.com)

The use of chemical weapons in Syria, the umpteenth ‘red line’ drawn by Barack Obama to postpone any kind of intervention, seems to have been crossed by the regime once again on Wednesday 21 in the countryside of Damascus (al-Ghutha al-Sharqiya wa al-Gharbiya). There is a lack of consensus among experts on whether chemical weapons have been used or not and the UN inspectors have been allowed to visit the site only on Tuesday 27.

Regardless of chemical weapons, Syrian civilians have been slaughtered in countless ways over the last two years and a half, but this has not prompted a firm response from the international community.

The first harsh comments I heard upon my return to Syria last April were uttered by an old lady walking into a grocery in Amuda: “We thought you would have helped us, but you Europeans left us on our own.”

I heard the same bitter accusations in Damascus in 2011, when the uprising was mainly peaceful, and then from refugees scattered across Lebanon, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

“I believe every Syrian abroad should blow himself up and kill civilians,” suggests laughing a Syria Telecom employee in Amuda, “maybe the international community would start caring about the destruction of our country

What has been the response of the international community to the slaughter of Syrian civilians until today? The UN Security Council is paralyzed by the undemocratic veto system reserved to its five permanent members, so that Russia and China succeeded in blocking any escalation against Damascus. Sanctions didn’t undermine the repressive apparatus, due to the military and financial support of its numerous international allies. The course of diplomacy has failed: the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi  insists on the roadmap to the Geneva II peace talks, even if no date has been set after months of meetings and the regime is stubborn on Bashar al-Asad staying in power at least until the elections scheduled in 2014, a condition clearly rejected by the opposition.

In order to brush off the guilt of more than 100.000 Syrian victims, the international community (i.e.: the UN, but also NGOs and media) started employing the term “civil war”, that means a ‘general amnesty’ putting the regime and the rebels on the same level.

 It is worth noting that no one in Syria talks about a “civil war” (harb ahliyya), most accept the terms revolution (thawra), whereas those supporting the Government prefer talking about “events” (ahdath) or “crisis” (‘azma). The prevailing vision is that of a country sacrificed at the hands of an international plot (mu’amara). If the supporters of the regime phrase this conspiracy as aimed at weakening the allegedly anti-Israeli  Syrian axis of the “resistance” (muqawama), the opposition talks about a conspiracy aimed at settling scores (tasfiya al-hisabat) at the expense of civilians: the reference is in particular to those armed groups financed by regional powers and rooted abroad like Hizbullah, Al-Qa’ida and the Kurdish PKK, who rose to prominence in the second year of the uprising.

This is to say that the international community cannot turn its eyes away by labelling the bloodshed a “civil war”, as if it was an internal strife whose responsibility is entirely Syrian.

The main argument of those opposing a Lybia-styled no-fly zone- as no one is supporting a “boots on the ground” option, not even the American republicans- is that it would throw the country in the hands of Al-Qa’idist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). On the contrary, differently from Iraq, where the Shi’a Government installed by the American occupation provided Al-Qa’ida with the needed legitimacy, the rise of these experienced and well-funded groups at the expenses of moderate factions like the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Syria has been a development of non-intervention and unbalanced warfare against a regime backed by the Iranian and Iraqi Shi’a Governments.

 “The regime sent ISIS here to eradicate the FSA,” told me a FSA commander in Ras al-‘Ayn, who is still fighting on the side of the ISIS against the Kurdish YPG (Popular Protection Units) affiliated to the PKK. Numerous Syrian dissidents accused the regime of having granted amnesty to radical Islamists in June 2011 in order to tarnish the reputation of the opposition: the FSA commanders are aware of the threat posed by the ISIS, but they prefer to avoid clashes before the overthrow of the regime.

The result of two years and a half of paralysis of the international community is that ideologically authoritarian militias like the ISIS and the YPG gained the upper hand in the liberated areas thanks to their military supremacy.

Those arguing against a no-fly zone stress how Libya descended into chaos after the NATO intervention, but is this slow-motion Syrian holocaust a better option? At least, a no fly-zone would extinguish the main source of civilian deaths: Government shelling. This is not meant to deny double standards on foreign intervention and that the US should also support Bahraini or Palestinian protesters, but Syria is left with two options to halt the massacre, due to the failure of the international community: Western military intervention or daily massacres consolidating the regime’s military supremacy, while it gains time from the preparation of sterile peace talks. Pragmatism is needed and a form of military intervention seems the lesser of two evils: those against it should come up with better options, as waiting is definitely not a good one.

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18/3/2015 This piece came to my mind yesterday. Four years after the beginning of the Syrian uprising, I think my protracted staying inside Syria in 2013 and the prolonged paralysis of the international community in dealing with the Syrian tragedy prompted me to write this. Emotions played a role too: my undeniable empathy with the Syrian revolutionary cause. I still find hypocritical the position of those leftists who clearly sided with the Syrian regime under the pretext of ‘anti-imperialism’. Having said that, military interventions for humanitarian purposes are certainly biased and doomed to failure when they are unilaterally led by an imperialist force. In 2014, the US-led NATO coalition decided to intervene against ISIS, even though this organization clearly lags behind the Asad regime in terms of the civilian deaths caused in Syria. ISIS has been turned into the ideal boogeyman for the Western public, to the extent that there was no public outcry against the US intervention. Double standards? yes, and not only in the eyes of numerous Sunni Muslims. There is an urgent need to challenge the world powers’ hegemony on military interventions for humanitarian purposes (Russia falls in this category too, see Ukraine), but I cannot stand one-sided ‘stop the war’ coalitions and selective solidarity (see Kobane).

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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

Syria-Birke-7-21-10-Education-Computer-EDIT

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.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/07/syria-war-education-kurds-fsa-1.html#ixzz2ajWJkNX8

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27 June 2013: Syrian Kurdish YPG stifles dissent in Amuda by killing protesters

A piece I wrote from Amuda for Al-Monitor after the massacre occurred on June 27 in this city.

Syrian Kurdish Group Linked to PKK  Kills Protesters

amuda tenzif

AMUDA, Syria — “There are 35 million Kurds and only 30,000 of them live in Amuda. Now, if you have 35 kilograms of meat for a meal, you are not going to eat them because of a bunch of flies?” a Kurdish fighter with the Popular Protection Units (YPG) asked cynically while relaxing outside the military barracks. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) — the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the political affiliate of the YPG — has carefully consolidated its project to manage the Syrian Kurdish areas. It will not accept anyone interfering with its hegemony — especially if this happens ahead of the Geneva II conference, where the party has been promised a seat by Russia.

In Amuda, the PYD’s hegemony has become increasingly under threat from the pro-Free Syrian Army youth committees and other Kurdish parties, prompting its first military crackdown last week. Between June 27 and 28, seven civilians were gunned down by YPG forces following protests. According to witnesses, only one of them was armed. The United States issued a statement on Monday saying it was “appalled” by the PYD crackdown, calling on the PYD to “respect the human rights and dignity of all Syrians.”

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/07/syria-kurds-pyd-amuda-protest.html#ixzz2ajPxtsPC

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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

SyriaAssyrianMap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/06/syria-syriacs-assyrians-kurds-pyd.html#ixzz2XyQIeSnc

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The Suffering Grass (by Monica Macchi, April 2013)

Imagehttp://formacinema.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/the-suffering-grass-المتألم-العسب/

THE SUFFERING GRASS

In Cinema&TempiRecensioniUncategorized on April 25, 2013 at 8:56 am

Monica Macchi

THE SUFFERING GRASS   

Dice un proverbio africano

“Quando gli elefanti combattono, è l’erba che soffre”;

nel mio film gli elefanti sono

 gli attori statali e le potenze straniere

che tentano di utilizzare il conflitto in Siria

per promuovere i loro interessi geopolitici

e l’erba calpestata sono i diritti umani e i rifugiati.

lara Lee, regista del film

TRAILER https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9CdBjg2OIk

Nel mese di maggio 2012, la regista Iara Lee ha fatto parte di una delegazione che ha visitato i campi profughi siriani di Yayladgi e di Bohsin in Turchia, che alla data del film (giugno 2012) ospitavano 24.000 siriani per un costo stimato di 150 milioni di dollari.

Questo film ha due diverse componenti: una parte è, per usare la definizione di Chion, “verbo-centrista” cioè si configura come “parola-teatro” con una presa diretta di rumori che hanno una propria specifica identità ed un proprio ruolo. Così si alternano spezzoni di “Ugarit News” a interviste con esponenti dell’Esercito Siriano Libero (definito “l’unico rifugio alla brutalità del regime”), con attivisti per i diritti umani che sostengono la tesi del diritto all’autodifesa e con alcuni………

continua SufferingGrass

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What ways to combat populistic “protection for minorities”: let’s start from historical redefinitions (Estella Carpi, April 2013)

Image

(Picture source: The New York Times)

The media discourses and people’s everyday accounts increasingly talk of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria in terms of “Shi’a against Sunna”, as well as the Jihadist Sunni armed groups fighting against the “Shi’a cosmopolitanism” – as defined by Shehabi and Tafreshi in 2006 – that includes Iran, Iraq since Nuri al Maliki’s mandate, Syria and Hezbollah’s Lebanon.

Likewise, internationals engaged in the Syrian events have often called for the need to “protect” Syrian Christians and Syrian Alawites, by taking for granted what the concept of “minority” may indicate and, hence, by essentialising further this notion.

In this moment of political history, I therefore find extremely helpful to dwell upon the way we conceive and deal with ethnic and religious “minorities” in the middle eastern scenario. 

Our moral duty, in the capacity of bloggers, researchers, journalists or whatsoever knowledge space providers, is not to pride ourselves on the fact that we had already predicted that a confessional strife or the oppression of a certain minority would have taken place, as though confessionalisation of violence and politics in the Middle East were an inescapable human phenomenon. Rather, the duty of knowledge collectors, producers and commentators is to recall the manipulative nature of such discourses. To adopt the rhetoric of any rule-and-divide power, either western or eastern, leads us to perpetrate the power dynamics we are purported to fight.

Daniel Neep, scholar at the University of Exeter, exhaustively explains what social dynamics the divide-and-rule strategy, adopted by colonial as well as “native dictatorial” regimes, implies and deploys.

In the hope that one day we will liberate ourselves from such rhetorics, may the following words raise historical and sociological awareness around these chronically simplified definitions.

(Estella Carpi)

“Divide and conquer is a standard tactic in the colonial repertoire. Religious and ethnic diversity can be readily manipulated by foreign powers, which play minorities off against one another to prevent challenges to their rule. But the category of ‘minority’ is not a natural representation of an objective demographic reality. Instead, the worldwide appearance of ‘the minority’ in the early to mid-twentieth century is bound up with the processes of modern state formation which both divided those territories under colonial rule and moulded their populations into bodies politic whose social boundaries were now intended to be coterminous with political borders. ‘Minorities’ are neither primordial entities nor numerical facts, but a contingent social phenomenon, the existence of which deserves to be explained rather than taken for granted.

French Mandate Syria (1920–46) provides an excellent case study to explore this line of analysis. Specifically tasked by the League of Nations with creating what would eventually be a modern, self-governing state, France found exploiting Syria’s communal diversity to be a useful means of keeping the natives occupied while it consolidated its control of the country. As the traditional historiography observes, minorities such as the Alawis, Druze, Ismailis and Christians were disproportionately represented in the colonial army, which helped maintain order among the Sunni Muslim majority.

But a meticulous perusal of the historical evidence in French and Arabic allows to demonstrate that France’s minority policy was less consistent than was previously assumed. The term ‘minority’ was uncommon during the first decade of the Mandate, in both Arabic and French formulations; only in the 1930s did it become widespread. While Syria’s Christians had by then been recognised as a minority worthy of support and ‘protection’, other ethnic and religious groups such as the Kurds and Circassians were denied minority status and the legal right to representation that such status implied”. (Daniel Neep)

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