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Rawa Remains Resilient

Petite and demure Rawa’ wears a strict hijab (headscarf). She looks like a typical Syrian woman – but she isn’t. Hiding behind the calm exterior there are nightmarish memories that almost bring her heart to a stop-particularly around this time of year, for this is when it happened - 6 years ago!

Rawa’ with her husband and two children were residents of Adra Industrial Complex. It was a new house in a high rise building and Rawa and her husband had saved to buy it. The events that occurred from 11/12/2013 until 29/12/2013 would turns this safe and comfortable home into a place directly from hell – a house of horror.

In 2013 the war on Syria was intense-across the borders terrorists infiltrated urged by Turkey and paid by Saudi and Qatar. The west turned a blind eye and followed a foolish policy that brooked no change despite evidence that proved this policy false.

The Syrian army was fighting on its own and its sacrifices were steep. All this Rawa knew but she just never guessed how fatal and deadly was the combination of money and ignorance.

On that Wednesday 11th of December 2013 Rawa woke to the chanting of “Allah Akbar”- she checked her watch. It wasn’t the time for morning prayer. It was five thirty in the morning! The chant grew nearer and nearer and looking out of her window she saw them with their black hoods and black flags.

They had replaced the Syrian flag that used to fly off the police station with their own version of a flag. In minutes the whole house was awake and Rawa had to deal with a pressing problem.

Rawa herself was Damascene but her husband wasn’t. He came from the village of Ain Al Laban (North East Lattakia countryside) and belonged to the Alawite sect- though both she and her husband were Moslem his different sect could be a deadly problem. Quick witted she was just in time to hide the family identity cards behind a painting on the wall. Then came the dreaded Knock on the door! The first time they knocked on that first day the family took the decision not to open the door.

Other families followed suit and doors were not opened. Building residents attempted to barricade the building and they were successful for one day-one day only. The next day the terrorists threw a mortar on the first floor, completely wrecking the entrance of the building and so gaining access.

That was when the second knock came. This time Rawa had to open the door! And so they entered! Hooded, she recognized none of them although some were locals. When asked about their identity cards Rawa said this wasn’t her house, that it was only a temporary abode as her family were displaced and lost all their identification papers when a mortar fell on their house and burned it. Not really believing her tale the men ushered Rawa’ and her family into the basement of the building. There she met the other residents of the building. And so the interrogation began. They were looking for a man called Wasim Salhab because they had been told that he was Alawite. They called out his name but he was too scared to come forward-they suspected one of the men as they also had an idea of what he looked like. Disastrously the phone of Wasim rang and they forced him to answer on loudspeaker- it was his brother calling and they knew immediately that this was their man. A hard beating followed and Wasim lay on the floor. That was when Rawa realized that there was an alien presence in the basement-that of a Saudi Sheikh (Rawa could tell his nationality by his accent) and he spoke one sentence only and that sentence was enough to chill her to the bone!! “We agreed not to beat them. We said we would slaughter them.”

Wasim Salhab was never slaughtered not because they were good and decent men but because they discovered that he was an assistant anesthetist and so could be put to use by them.

Chaos and confusion reigned and was to Rawa’s benefit for she was able to smuggle her husband whom she had disguised as a woman into the women’s room where he remained safe but only for a short time. In the women’s room in the basement was the third floor neighbor who had been shot in her waist. After an unsuccessful operation she died, yet neither would they bury her nor would they allow for her burial. She remained a corpse ever present with the women and children until the smell became unbearable and the men at four in the morning two days after her death risked their lives to take her out and bury her-not in a proper cemetery of course-but in the back garden of the building where her grave remains until today. A grave that is witness to the horror and terror that Syria suffered from.

 Food was becoming scarce and the only way that it could be obtained was in the early hours of the morning when all the women would gather at the bottom of the stairs and by flash light creep to the house of one of them only-there they would take all the food available. Pantries were soon emptied from houses, house by house and children began to cry due to hunger pangs. No electricity and no running water (phones were charged in secret using car or motorcycle batteries) added to their despair and deprivation and the ill grew more ill and hope was absent from the horizon.

On the 28th of December. the residents of the building were given an ultimatum- they could choose to go either to Douma or the Mleha. The women would have to face “Majles Al Tobah” (the council of penance) in both places. That was when Rawa and her family had to take the hardest decision of their lives - to flee and possibly get caught and die – or to remain, face more interrogation, humiliation, abuse and possible death too.

In the end they decided to escape. Gathering their few, few belongings they readied their souls for the onslaught that awaited them. In the very early hours of the morning of the 29th of December 2013 Rawa, her family and other residents who had taken a similar decision crept out of the basement that had been their prison for more them forty four days. They formed a sorry line as they trudged through the snow. In a scene reminiscent of the “Hunger Games” hanging posts had been erected at the exists of the city and bodies hung from these posts. Only one exit remained that could still be usable-the one behind the bakery and that was the one they used.

Trudging through snow for six and a half hours with mortars and bullets falling around them it was so easy to surrender and return, but it was the women who were resilient and who urged their men to continue the march.

Rawa’s children Khaled (12 years) and Yara (9 years) were part of that line and it was then that Rawa made an observation that almost stilled her heart.

Her daughter’s beautiful corn colored hair had a white streak running through its middle. Fear had taken its toll on the little girl – a fear that would remain with her for years yet to come. Even today six years later the sound of thunder in the beautiful village of “Ain Laban” jolts Yara and she is taken back to the days of Industrial  Adra’ and the fear and horror there.

Rawa recovered from her ordeal and hardship and today she has returned to her original work as a journalist.

On most days she thinks of what happened and why it happened but trying to make sense of the senseless is futile – and so she spends her time teaching the orphaned children of the martyred in the village of Ain Al Laban. The village is her home now for although Adra Industrial complex was liberated by the Syrian Arab Army in 2014, in Rawa’s mind that area will not be cleansed from all the innocent blood that was shed there anytime soon.    

Editor in Chief

Reem Haddad 

Let's Talk Turkey

Part II

Armenian Genocide:

Never have there been a people more badly treated and abused by the Turks than the Armenians. Everybody has heard about the Armenian Genocide except Turkey. Up till today Turkey refuses to acknowledge the horrendous events of 1915 and indeed even before that from 1894-1896.

But it all started well before that – in 1514 the Ottomans occupied Armenia (the first nation in the world to make Christianity its official religion) after the battle of Galdiran. The Armenians skilled craftsmen even then were taken advantage of by the occupiers and their skills put to use without being given a just reward. In general under Ottoman rule things took a turn for the worse and many Armenian families felt that they had no option except to move elsewhere. This was the first movement of Armenians to Syria-for many sought Syria and found sanctuary there. Others chose Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan.

The main reason for the Armenian genocide was Turkey's wish to Turkify the whole region. In 1909 the Armenians of Adna were slaughtered and those residing in 'West Armenia" were forced to emigrate. This was not a whim of the moment policy but one that was well planned for.

Let's Talk Turkey

Part I_Cilicia

Let's talk Alexandretta and before that Cilicia. Let's talk Armenian genocide. Let's talk Cyprus 1974. Let's talk Syrian and Armenian displacement from Kassab in Syria in 2014. Let's talk Hasekeh, Kamishli and Idleb October 2019. In short let's talk Turkey.

 The sad story of Alexandretta and how it was stripped off Syria by Turkey and France is a lesson taught in history to every child attending Syrian schools.

 It all started with Cilice early on. Cilice was in the region of north Syria. At the start of WW1 and in a correspondence between Sherif Hussein and Mac. Mahon Sherif Hussein asked that Cilicia be returned to Syria after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. That request was denied.

 In 1921 and in a reconciliatory gesture by France to the Ottoman Empire one hundred and sixty thousand square Kilometers (approximately the area of Syria now) was ceded to Turkey. Syrian land given to Turkey by French authority.

 Possibly a rehearsal of what was to happen later in Palestine when the British gave Palestine to the Jews (the Balfour declaration 1917).

 The inhabitants of Cilicia then were Arabs, Armenians (who were the original inhabitants) Kurds and Circassians. Previously the Armenians had been forcefully evicted from Cilicie and massed in camps in Aleppo, Damascus and Beirut.

 Under the French mandate Armenian return to Cilicie was facilitated and offices were established solely concerned with the return of Armenians to Cilicie. This was done not because the Armenians had a right to return to Cilicie (and they did) but because the French wanted to weaken the Ottoman hold on the area by returning its original ethnicities to it. By July 1919, very few Armenians remained in Damascus. The situation of Armenians in Cilicie improved because the French were able to see the possibility of using them to solidify French hold on the area- and the Armenians at that point were convinced that they had French sympathy and had hopes of establishing a self rule area there.

 In 1919 a Colonel Bremond was posted to the area of Cilicia and in a celebration hosted in his honor he said that he had come to put his skill to use as "jurisdiction organizer" of to the area and put it under the control of the Armenians-that Armenians will form the backbone of the army in Cilicia.

 Sadly the contrary happened and hardly a year passed before France dismantled the Armenian volunteers and lost its control over the area and it fell again under Turkish power (the Ankara agreement 1921where Turkey also acknowledged the French mandate over Syria).

 France did that in a gesture of goodwill towards Kemalist Turkey in the hope that it would win them over from forming any kind of bond with Soviet Russia.

 It is that particular agreement that resulted in great misfortunes for Syria later on. By giving Cilicia to Turkey, Henry Franklin Bouillon (who had no idea of course of the exact geographical location of Cilicia or what ethnicities inhabited that area), Syria's natural northern borders were pushed southward 50 km thus giving Syria a fluid border with Turkey, a very difficult border to protect against a very dangerous neighbor.

 The Ankara Agreement is also illegal because it is illegal for a mandate power (France) to cede any part of the country under its mandate to a foreign country (Turkey) without even a representative from Syria. By losing Cilicia, Syria lost a greatly productive area its own size. It also lost its own solid natural borders with Turkey.

Turkey's promises of protecting different ethnicities were fake as Turkey forced displacement upon them and committed genocide. By 1923 all different ethnicities were uprooted, their land and money seized by Turkey.

Most important of all, water remained in Turkey's hands and from that time until the present day Turkey has used this issue politically to pressurize both Syria and Iraq.  

And it is through these very borders that Erdogan today has sent his mercenaries and terrorists to wreak havoc and destruction on Syria.

Editor in Chief

Reem Haddad

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A tale told by Hayat

This is the harrowing tale of a woman called Hayat who comes from Zebdeen a village in the Ghouta of Damascus. Hayat is an educator and this is her passion. From a young age she started working in a kindergarten and after completing her education she became a full time teacher there and then a headmistress.

Hayat wears a headscarf and lives in an ultra conservative society, yet she is very secular. She believes in education for girls strongly-that girls should be independent and shrug off the yoke of subordination. Hayat was given her own fair chance in life by another woman who saw her potential and urged her to continue her education.

It is the moral and ethical duty of a journalist to tell the truth. To report with an open mind and a beating heart.

On August 21st of this year, New York Times published an article with the following heading " What victory looks like: A Journey through shattered Syria" – The innuendo here is that victory has led to the shattering of Syria leading the reader to think the crisis in Syria and the blood and destruction are all the fault of the Syrian Army and the government. The article says, very much tongue in cheek, "We-three journalists with the New York Times – had come to Syria to see what his victory looked like".