Posts Tagged With: Turkey

Refugee Hospitality in Lebanon and Turkey. On Making the “Other” (June, 2018)

We’ve been literally inundated with refugee hospitality accounts… Indeed, it’s primarily a discourse, which problematically speaks the language of the nation-state when it’s paraded as a political virtue. As a matter of fact, over the last 7 years it paradoxically ended up acting as a social fragmentation force in the Syria neighbourhood.
Read our latest article, where Lebanon converses with Turkey, co-authored with Dr Pınar Şenoğuz from the University of Gottingen.

Abstract:

This paper examines the hospitality provided to Syrian refugees during the refugee crisis spanning from 2011 to 2016 in the border areas of Gaziantep (southeastern Turkey) and the Akkar region (northern Lebanon). Hospitality, apart from a cultural value and societal response to the protracted refugee influx, is a discursive strategy of socio‐spatial control used by humanitarian agencies, local and national authorities. This paper, first, argues against hospitality as an assessment to ethically compare host countries (i.e. more welcoming versus less welcoming states). Second, drawing on Walters’ notion of “humanitarian border”, it shows how the governmental, humanitarian, and everyday workings of hospitality exercise an assertive politics of sovereignty over the social encounter between locals and refugees. We examine the state‐centered hospitality in the Turkish case and a humanitarian‐promoted hospitality in the Lebanese case. We also show how the hospitality discourse shapes the spaces that refugees, citizens, and earlier migrants partake in.

To access the entire article: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/imig.12471#.WxemBx-bkyM.facebook

 

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

Teaching humanitarianism in Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy (April, 2018)

http://publicanthropologist.cmi.no/2018/04/26/teaching-humanitarianism-in-lebanon-turkey-and-italy/

In an attempt to reflect on some lectures I have delivered on humanitarianism in Lebanese, Turkish, and Italian universities over the last three years, I would like to advance a few reflections on the “public afterlife” of my experience of teaching, the language I used in those classes, and the response I received from different cohorts of students. Delving into the afterlife of my humanitarianism classes allows me to tease out some of the current epistemological challenges of my primary area of studies and underscore the very importance of de-centring the humanitarian discourse.
Humanitarianism was born from the will to assist crisis-stricken populations and alleviate their suffering, thus humanitarian intervention has historically been a symptom that states are not doing too well. As such, speaking of and teaching humanitarianism cannot produce the same effects everywhere, especially when the framework used to explain theories and concepts is not culturally customised, but is rather drawn on the one developed in British and Northern American universities and institutions.
The act of teaching humanitarian ideologies, policies, and practices is thus necessarily an act of social positioning. It is about positioning the social and public Self as a teacher, and it is about the teacher presupposing the social positioning of her own audience.
More generally, in order to teach, we all rely on what Pierre Bourdieu used to define as “linguistic capital”, the set of linguistic capabilities, ways of expressing oneself, and embracement of normative terminologies which characterise everyone’s speech. In that sense, we are all linguistically political when we choose a term at the expense of another one.
As lecturers in class we own the biggest linguistic and epistemic power: But is the language I use legitimate in response to different students and backgrounds? I am not a native English speaker myself, but having received my postgraduate education in humanitarianism in an Australian university, English is my mother tongue for teaching humanitarianism. This became a factor which is worth reflecting on, especially when I delivered lectures in countries diversely familiar with the English language, and where English is not the official language.
What shapes the cultural pattern of students across Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy is certainly not their very national origin, but I here refer to an overarching cultural framing of a multiplicity of backgrounds that come to forming an identifiable “academic culture” within different countries. It is in this sense that I will now compare my teaching experience in Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy.
In this post, my primary goal is to explain how this long established theoretical framework, that increasingly populates academic books and media outlets, does not meet its listeners identically. I believe teaching humanitarianism particularly tests the students’ cultural dispositions – dually meant as both habitus and cultural capital – with respect to teaching something like physical quantum theory or algorithms. This is not because quanta and algorithms are bereft of imperial history: Let’s think of the way such scientific studies emerged, of the social classes in which they became objects of study, and the way these studies were funded and even traded worldwide. Rather, what I mean is that speaking humanitarianism overtly puts down the veils of the relationships between Others, breaks down the Other and the Self, demolishes certainties between the Self and the Other through the exploration of the necessarily dialogic act of assistance provision and aid reception.
Likewise, teaching exposes the lecturer to multiple encounters at once. The encounter with the students first – the immediate interlocutors of the teaching frame. Second, the encounter with one’s own society at large, which may identify with a single geographic space or more than one – as the teacher, by conveying knowledge and, hopefully, triggering critical stimuli, comes with an experiential baggage accumulated in one or more societies that historically shape the teacher’s way of thinking, speaking, and building the teacher-student encounter. Third, it is also an encounter with the multiple societies of the others, that is all of the societies “summarised” into the intellectual presence of each student in class.
It is exactly this collective moment, made of several encounters at once, that characterises the ways in which humanitarianism is both individually thought and culturally nuanced.
In light of this, each academic culture frames displacement, migration, and humanitarian action differently. The latter are undoubtedly tied up to broader politics and social processes which often intertwine, but each of them is differently thought and responded to in Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy. I experienced solipsism when I lectured in Turkey, as I realised how unfamiliar the students were with my Anglo-centric way of explaining humanitarianism-related topics. The most responsive to my lectures were the Lebanese students, who seemed to be highly familiar with the catastrophe discourse. This therefore led me to further reflections, as the fact that Lebanon has historically been more exposed to crisis than Italy and Turkey did not sound entirely convincing to me. There are, in fact, two factors that contribute to the students’ response to humanitarianism delivered in the form of an academic framework: The first is academic literature, and the second is postcoloniality – which, surely, to some extent, underlies the former. In fact, the Anglo-centric character of the humanitarianism framework – as it is globally discussed nowadays – is fully reflected in the academic literature which is delivered to students. Neither literature nor students themselves are bereft of political history.
Lebanon, having become home to several refugee groups, has often been studied in international academia in the context of the catastrophe discourse. Thus, humanitarianism has framed a large part of local learning about external interventions, especially since the years of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. In this vein, even local infrastructures and local populations in Lebanon have drawn greater academic attention when turning into humanitarian spaces, host communities, displaced people, or migrants. Contrarily, Turkey is a country where catastrophe does not need to be there to justify tough security, anti-democratic measures, and political states of exception. Therefore, Turkish scholars have set up a mostly legal and policy-oriented framework for discussing refugee influxes and humanitarian practices,. The catastrophe narrative neither needs to strengthen a state which is already centralised and has rather enhanced domestic accountability by carefully gate-keeping refugee-populated areas, international support and involvement in domestic humanitarian affairs. In other words, in Turkey refugee influxes have been studied as a means to capture domestic changes, e.g. in market, employment, and housing. In Lebanon, however, the very goal of humanitarian research has long since revolved around refugees and NGOs themselves. Scholars of humanitarianism now increasingly address Lebanese people, governance, and services in light of the Syrian crisis. However, local people and services are still approached in the light of their response to crisis and given their relationship with refugee-related issues. In Italy, humanitarianism-related issues start stimulating academic curiosity in the wake of the Kosovo war in 1999, the 2001 western intervention in Afghanistan, and more recently, the migration flows from African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. Often unfamiliar with the anglo-centric ways of setting and naming the humanitarian framework, Italian students increasingly find themselves in the need to manage a foreign language and tackle diverse conceptual universes (mainly published in English) before encountering humanitarianism in their own language and academic culture. It is indeed meaningful that domestic emergency crises and humanitarian management – such as the earthquakes in central Italy– have primarily been tackled through the lens of disaster and risk reduction.
The postcolonial character of Lebanon vis-à-vis Turkey and Italy also sets up different student responses to learning humanitarianism in class today.
The French colonial mandate in Lebanon between 1920 and 1943 consistently shapes today’s student response to humanitarianism; familiar with postcolonial governance and catastrophisation as a way of understanding the current humanitarian discourse, my Lebanese students seemed to rely on categories of thinking which easily suit the humanitarian framework. The colonial mandate and the intervention of international assistance providers to back domestic parties and local communities gradually overshadowed the pre-existing thick network of local community services in academic literature. The present literal inundation of international crisis managers in Lebanon makes local students suitable interlocutors on the humanitarian mainstream narrative as well as its critiques.
In Turkey, humanitarianism has been acquiring international colours way before the beginning of the Syrian refugee influxes and the latest intervention of several humanitarian agencies. The 1915 Armenian genocide and deportations from Ottoman Turkey prompted the first cases of foreign charitable assistance in the region, in addition to the international refugee regime set up to deal with the massive displacement caused by the First World War. Overall, Ottoman authorities were reluctant to accept unconditional international assistance because they did not want to see their political power undermined. Traditionally decentralised and domestically managed, humanitarian services to forced migrants during the Ottoman Empire were mostly delegated to local communities, making the contemporary humanitarian approach to crisis and assistance unsuitable in the Turkish context. Nevertheless, while the Turkish government has already been pursuing a politics of intervention in Somalia since 2011, the recent intervention of international humanitarian agencies inside Turkey in response to the Syrian crisis is unprecedented.
Italy seemingly looks to humanitarianism with an ambiguous gaze. Past colonial governors in the Horn of Africa, and historically imbued with the Christian Catholic culture of assistance to the vulnerable, Italian students responded to my humanitarianism classes with the curiosity of the potential missionary. Approaching the catastrophe discourse to understand how new migration flows are shaping politics and ethics in the Mediterranean doorway, Italian students tended to associate humanitarianism either with human rights – which would require several political steps ahead – or with philanthropic charity. Italian students were rather inspired by the future possibility of doing good, and focussed on humanitarian sentimentalism, such as the pros and cons of compassion: Humanitarian governmentality, managerialism, donorship, and bureaucracy seemed to scarcely inhabit their humanitarian imaginary.
These reflections of mine also suggest that alternative humanitarianisms should be taught at school to unlearn their “alternative” – that is non-mainstream – character. This can be done if students are also allowed to develop contents and critical consciousness in their first language too. Skipping these stages leads to the imposition of one among many possible understandings of – and ways of teaching – humanitarianism. Individual responses, cultural patterns, ideologies, and material circumstances will always colour humanitarianism differently. The teacher’s challenge should be expanding the students’ gaze across political histories, human behaviours and moral expectations, while conveying one’s own identity peacefully. This is certainly not an easy job.

 

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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.

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

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

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

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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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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