Archive for February, 2017

Syrian Arab women battle IS, social stigma

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

by Middle East Online

Arab female fighters battling Islamic State group in Syria are also facing off against disapproval from their relatives, wider society.

SDF now counts more than 1,000 Arab women in its ranks

DAMASCUS – They are fighting the world’s most feared jihadists, but hundreds of Arab female fighters battling the Islamic State group in Syria are also confronting the disapproval of their relatives and society.

“I braved my tribal clan, my father, my mother. Now I’m braving the enemy,” says 21-year-old Batul, who is part of an Arab-Kurdish alliance battling to capture IS’s Syrian stronghold of Raqa.

She is one of more than 1,000 Arab women who have joined Kurdish male and female fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, according to a spokeswoman.

Standing in the desert some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Raqa, Batul speaks passionately about her decision to fight IS, which holds the nearby village of Al-Torshan.

“My parents told me: ‘either you put down your weapons or we disown you’,” she says, wearing an ammunition vest and a floral scarf around her shoulders.

Her parents have not spoken to her since.

Batul comes from the Al-Sharabiyeh tribe, one of the best-known of the conservative Sunni Arab tribes of northeast Syria.

Her family views her as a rebel, who removed the headscarf worn by many Muslim women and refused her father’s orders to pray in front of him.

But she is proud of the decision she took two years ago to join the YPJ, the female counterpart to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which is a key component of the SDF alliance.

“I joined the YPJ to liberate my homeland, but also to free women from slavery,” she says.

“We must no longer remain cloistered behind four walls.”

– ‘My weapon is part of me’ –

Syrian Kurds and Arabs has been fighting IS since late 2015, with air support and other backing from the US-led coalition against the jihadist group.

But the current battle for Raqa is the first time Batul has been on the front line, where warplanes roar overhead carrying out strikes, and mortars boom in the distance.

“The first time I held a weapon, I was very afraid,” she admits.

“But now, my weapon has become part of me. It frees me and protects me.”

She speaks in Arabic, but her sentences are peppered with Kurdish words picked up from her fellow fighters.

“The relations between us and the Kurdish women are good. We don’t speak the same language, but we’re all here to free the country and women.”

Jihan Sheikh Ahmad, spokeswoman for the campaign on Raqa, said the SDF now counts more than 1,000 Arab women in its ranks.

“The YPJ’s experience has had a positive impact on society,” she said.

“The more territory we liberate, the more Arab female fighters have joined us.”

In a tent near the front line, six young Arab female fighters joke and share secrets as they sip tea.

– ‘Same rights as men’ –

“My goal is to liberate women from the oppression of Daesh (IS), but also societal oppression,” says Hevi Dilirin, an Arab woman who adopted a Kurdish nom de guerre when she joined the YPJ.

“In our society, women have no say. But they should have the same rights as men,” she says, dressed in a camouflage jacket and white-and-grey sneakers.

Syria’s Kurds have emphasised gender equality in both their militias and nascent autonomous institutions.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011, they have sided with neither rebels nor government forces, concentrating instead on developing a semi-autonomous region in north and northeastern Syria, as well as fighting IS.

But the Arab tribes there are among the more conservative segments of the population, and 21-year-old Doza Jiyan says most Arab families find the concept of female fighters “hard to accept.”

“In our Syrian society, we find it bizarre for a woman to take up arms,” adds Jiyan, from the town of Ras al-Ain in Hasakeh province.

But she speaks confidently as she discusses the military situation with male colleagues.

“IS is no longer invincible, they’re only fighting on motorbikes and mining the villages,” she says.

IS’s extensive use of IEDs and mines has slowed the SDF’s progress towards Raqa, the jihadist’s group most important remaining bastion in Syria.

The SDF announced a new phase in their bid to capture Raqa on February 4, pressing towards the city gradually from the north and northeast.

Jiyan is convinced that the SDF’s military successes will eventually sway the opinion of her relatives and society, and she has no plans to leave.

“I’m very happy here,” she says.

Kurdistani delegates to carry out meeting in Moscow

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

by(A.K) ANHA

Party representatives from all four parts of Kurdistan (North, West, South and East) will come together for a meeting expected to take place in the Russian capital Moscow on February 15.
PYD Russian Representative Ebdulselam Eli told ANHA that they aimed to make a joint Kurdistani meeting on the status of Kurdistan in the Middle East with the participation of Kurdish parties.
Eli, who made explanations on the subject, noted that there had been preparations for a conference at this level and said, “We are going through a delicate process. Moreover, discussions on the future of Syria in Geneva and Astana were carried out. With this, the role of the Kurds in international arena is on the rise. For this, the Kurdish powers need to be gathered around for a common evaluation.”
According to Eli, a road map about the status of the Middle East and Kurdistan will be followed at the meeting.
Ferhad Batîîf, Chairman of the Syrian Kurdish Autonomy Council, said that they invited all Kurdish circles in connection with the preparations for the conference.
The names of Kurdish officials who have been invited to the Moscow talks are: PYD Co-Chair Asya Abdullah, Chairman of Executive Council of Kobanê Canton Enwer Muslim, HDP Urfa MP Osman Baydemir, Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Öcalan’s lawyers, PUK, Gorran Movement and KDP representatives, along with other figures.
Also invited are Russian Foreign Political Affairs President Kasachev Kostantin Yusofovich, Russian Justice Organization Politicians, Middle East Political Experts and some personalities.
Relations with Russia
Regarding relations with Russia, PYD Representative Ebdullselam Eli stated that relations with the Russian Government were good, and noted that the Ankara Government was uncomfortable with these good relations and therefore wanted to create an obstacle. “Although Turkey is uncomfortable, our relations with Russia are at a good level. This meeting we will do after Moscow now is important in terms of improving our relations. Russia has an active role in the Kurdish region, and no power can reverse it.”
Sihanok Dîbo: The role of the Kurds in the region in the future will be evaluated
PYD Representative Sîhanok Dîbo made evaluations on the matter, saying that there were radical initiatives for the political solution of the Syrian crisis, stating, “The Moscow meeting which took place before was already an example of this. Kurds are the main actors for the political solution [in Syria] and it is not possible to solve the crisis without them. The February 15 Conference is the continuation of these initiatives.”
Dîbo noted that Russia is a country which follows the developments in Syria and its regions, especially those happening in the autonomous regions. Dîbo added that they had offered the draft of the Democratic Federation Project to the parties in Moscow and opened it to discussions. The PYD representative stressed that the second meeting in Moscow will therefore discuss the role of the Kurds in the region.

Kurds’ language in official settings sees new life in Syria

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

Kurdish officials have reclaimed their tongue, reintroducing Kurmanji dialect of their language into the school curriculum Kurdish-majority regions in Syria.
Middle East Online

International works of literature translated into Kurdish

QAMISHLI – Abdo Shehu sits in an office in Kurdish-majority Qamishli in northeast Syria, surrounded by copies of the first Western novel available in the city in his own language.

The novel is “Snow” by French writer Maxence Fermine, the first fruits of a new project to translate international works of literature into a language that was effectively banned in Syria until recently.

The 29-year-old is working as part of the “Hunar” project, named for the Kurdish word for pomegranate, launched two months ago to translate literature into the Kurdish language in Kurdish-majority parts of Syria.

For years, Syria’s Kurds were banned from using their language in official settings and prevented from learning it in schools or publishing magazines or books in the tongue.

The restrictions were parts of a larger programme of constraints placed on Kurds, who make up around 10 percent of Syria’s pre-war population, including depriving them of Syrian nationality.

“I spent three months in a prison in Damascus in 2009, and was threatened with expulsion from university, because I was found with books in Kurdish,” said Shehu.

“Our language and our culture were banned by the authoritarian Baath party, which wanted to get rid of the Kurds and their culture,” he added.

But Syria’s central government no longer has much sway over the Kurdish-majority regions of the country, in the north and northeast.

– ‘Very few authors’ –

It withdrew its security forces from Kurdish-majority regions in 2012, a year after the uprising broke out against President Bashar al-Assad.

And since then, the Kurds have walked a careful line between the government and rebels, while focusing on building a semi-autonomous region.

Kurdish officials have reclaimed their tongue, reintroducing the Kurmanji dialect of their language into the school curriculum and restoring Kurdish names to villages and towns.

The project has already translated three more works, including “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, a poem from ancient Mesopotamia and among the earliest known literary writings in the world, from Arabic, and a study of the Kurdish people, from English.

Those books will soon go into publication, and work will continue with new volumes, which are chosen by a committee that weighs various criteria, including whether the works are relevant to Kurdish life.

It is a non-profit initiative, and funded by private donors, with translators working on a volunteer basis.

The translated version of “Snow” has already gone on sale, for just over one US dollar a piece, enough to cover the costs of printing, according to Shehu.

After translation, each work is reviewed by a committee for approval, which tried, without success, to reach Fermine to obtain copyright permissions before publication began.

After decades of marginalisation, today very few Kurdish authors write in their mother tongue, encouraging avid readers like Shehu to translate works from other languages.

“There are only very few authors who write literature in Kurdish,” writer Hussein Zido, 45, said.

“Kurds never obtained their cultural, social or political rights throughout their long history in the Middle East,” he said.

The “Hunar” project aims to save the Kurdish language from extinction by translating books from the rest of the world into Kurdish, Shehu said.

“We’re doing our best not only to translate literature, but also philosophy and thought… so that Kurds can read world literature in their mother tongue.”

To swell the body of homegrown books, Malfa Ali, one of the founders of the project, is also compiling traditional Kurdish folktales and songs to put them into print.

The 37-year-old said he spends long exhausting hours collecting these tales directly from the storytellers themselves.

They have never been formally recorded because publishing Kurdish-language books was forbidden.

“We’ll start gathering all the stories told in the area and then we’ll move on to the songs,” he said.

The project also hopes one day to produce a complete dictionary of the Kurdish language, including words and phrases from the tongue’s spoken form.

– Protecting Kurdish –

Kurdish areas have seen a cultural revival since 2012, with new cultural associations and magazines taking life.

Syrian authorities forced the Kurdish magazine “Sormi” to close down in its original Arabic-language form in 2008, but since the uprising it has reopened, this time publishing in Kurdish.

The latest issue of the bi-monthly, which relaunched in 2015 offering readers articles by Kurdish authors, is themed “Identity and Language”.

“The Kurdish language is the first thing we have to protect. It never had its chance before, despite representing the identity of a whole people,” said Abbas Musa, a member of the magazine’s editorial team.

“We’re striving to offer something different and varied to those interested in culture,” he said of the magazine, which is published in Qamishli and distributed in two other cities.

The 31-year-old said he hoped highbrow articles in Kurdish would show his mother tongue is “not weak”.

Fellow “Sormi” editor Bahar Murad, 39, also translates children’s stories from English to Kurdish.

In his office at the culture magazine, he points to a recent translation of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.

He wants to see children reading in their mother tongue, he said.

“They’ve asked me to translate Little Red Riding Hood.”

Germany largely bans fracking with new laws

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

Particularly risky fracking is now banned until at least 2021, and “conventional” fracking will be governed by much tighter rules. For environmentalists, the laws do not go far enough: They want a complete ban.

A new legislative package on the use of fracking in Germany went into effect on Saturday, following much heated debate.
The legislation largely bans a particularly controversial form of fracking and imposes stricter rules on fracking overall. The German parliament and the 16 German states had approved the laws in June and July of 2016 after years of push-and-pull over environmental concerns and economic interests.
For environmentalists, the new laws don’t go far enough: They want a complete ban on all types of fracking. “If we want to meet the climate goals set in Paris, we need a clear ban on every type of oil and gas fracking,” said Kai Niebert, the chairman of Deutscher Naturschutzring, an umbrella organization for German environmentalist groups.

What is fracking?
Fracking – short for hydraulic fracturing – is a method used for extracting fossil fuels. A mix of water, sand and chemicals is pushed into the ground at high pressure to press out gas or oil. It allows the extraction of previously out-of-reach resources, but also poses environmental risks.
The new German laws distinguish between “conventional fracking” and “unconventional fracking.”
image©DW
Unconventional fracking is used when gas or oil is found not just embedded in rock strata but bound to the stone. In these cases, the fossil fuel often no longer has gaseous or liquid form. Extremely high pressure and high amounts of fracking liquid – often containing highly toxic chemicals – are needed to extract the fuel.
That practice is now banned in Germany until at least 2021, with the exception of up to four test drillings for scientific purposes. The German parliament is set to reassess the ban in four years’ time.
Conventional fracking is used when oil or gas can be reached comparatively easily. Less pressure, less liquid and fewer dangerous chemicals are usually needed to capture the fossil fuels. This method has been used in Germany since the 1960s, often in tandem with regular drilling: When a source is running low, conventional fracking is used to drive out the remaining oil or gas.
It will remain legal in Germany, but will be subject to tighter restrictions. It is, for example, no longer allowed in areas where drinking water is sourced.
Across Europe, laws on fracking vary from one country to the next. While France banned the procedure in 2011, the administration in the United Kingdom has plans to use fracking to explore its gas reserves to become more energy-independent in the post-Brexit era.
In the United States, unconventional fracking is particularly widespread. While some US states have banned the procedure, most states – especially those with large fossil fuel reserves – allow this type of drilling. President Donald Trump recently approved the Dakota Access pipeline, which is supposed to transport oil obtained through fracking in North Dakota across the US.
mb/tj (AFP, dpa)

Indigenous Peoples Under the Rule of Islam (Book)

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Frederick P. Isaac book (2003) gives an insider’s look at Iraqi human rights violations and first-hand account of persecution in the Middle East

excerpt:
Jihad. Many recognize this term, meaning “holy war” in Arabic, especially after deadly events during the last few years. Whether openly or secretly promoted by Islamic religious organizations, and with or without the approval of their governments, jihad forwards the cause of Islam through open threats and violence. While the whole world now knows the deadly effects of jihad, non-Islamic peoples living in Islamic countries have suffered its violence for decades. Now their story is told. Indigenous Peoples Under the Rule of Islam, a new book by Frederick P. Isaac, details the systematic mistreatment of non-Muslim natives, their denial of basic human rights, and their daily discrimination and persecution. This treatment, asserts Mr. Isaac, amounts to a clear-cut policy of genocide for aboriginal groups who refuse to convert to Islam.

Mr. Isaac, whose family lived in and fled from Iraq during the 1930s, details the use of terrorism, expansion, coercion, suicide bombing, and attacks on civilian targets as some of jihad’s aggressive methods, particularly in Israel and Iraq. He explains how mujahideen, or holy warriors, apply Islamic law and impose it on non-Muslims living in Islamic territory. Consequently, Mr. Isaac explains, the non-Muslim inhabitants become subjects of the Islamic policy of “conversion by the sword,” which seeks to eliminate the cultural identity, race, and faith of anything not Islamic.

He provides many examples, involving such diverse peoples as Jews, Assyrians, Arab Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian Christians, Egyptian Copts, and North African Berber Christians. The book also seeks to help people appreciate other aspects of Islam not thoroughly analyzed by the world media, aiming to raise the issue of human rights abuses of many indigenous people living under Islamic rule. Mr. Isaac hopes to encourage bodies such as the United Nations to take more active measures against inhumane and undemocratic practices, which he believes constitute a serious threat to world peace.