Monday, 23 May 2016

Deadline: 1 June • Break the Sieges • Protect Civilians



Deadline: 1 June • Break the Sieges • Protect Civilians

Join us at Downing Street, London, 6pm daily,
29, 30, 31 May, and 1, 2, 3, 4 June.

Hold the UK Government and the international community to account.
Keep the promise to break the sieges, with air drops if necessary.

Facebook event page.

From the 17 May statement by the International Syria Support Group:

The ISSG insisted on concrete steps to enable the provision of urgent humanitarian deliveries to the following locations: Arbeen, Darraya, Douma, East Harasta, Mouadhimiyeh, Zabadin and Zamalka. Regular humanitarian deliveries must continue, according to the UN’s monthly plans, to all other besieged and hard to reach locations, including Fouah, Kefraya, Kafr Batna, Ein Terma, Hammura, Jisrein, Madaya, Zabadani, Yarmouk. Starting June 1, if the UN is denied humanitarian access to any of the designated besieged areas, the ISSG calls on the World Food Program to immediately carry out a program for air bridges and air drops for all areas in need. The ISSG pledges to support such a program, and also calls on all parties to the cessation of hostilities to provide a secure environment for that program. Air deliveries should also continue to Dayr al-Zour. The ISSG stressed that such access, as in other areas, must be continuous for as long as humanitarian needs persist. Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step toward full, sustained, and unimpeded access throughout the country.

Full statement here.

Syria Solidarity UK welcomes this commitment by the International Syria Support Group to start air drops of food to all besieged areas on 1st June should the UN continue to be denied ground access to besieged areas in Syria.

We are particularly pleased that this proposal came from the UK since we and others have been active in promoting the idea in the UK Parliament and elsewhere over the last months. Since January 2016, almost 64,000 UK residents have signed the petition to Government calling for air drops of aid. Now we want to make sure the promise is kept.

Please join us at Downing Street, London, 6pm daily, on 29, 30, 31 May, and 1, 2, 3, 4 June.


Read: UK Syrian groups respond to the international commitment on air drops

Sunday, 22 May 2016

To the participants and organisers of the ‘Crossing Borders’ Conference

Refugees conference invites Assad supporter as keynote speaker

The Cooperative Institute for Transnational Studies in collaboration with the University of Aegean (Laboratory EKNEXA-Department of Sociology) have announced a conference on the refugee crisis, ‘Crossing Borders,’ in Lesvos, Greece, on 7-10th July.

We are very concerned to note that the list of speakers includes Tim Anderson, a supporter of the Assad regime, for the reasons given in the open letter below.




To the participants and organisers of the ‘Crossing Borders’ Conference

Your conference has been brought to our attention as one of your keynote speakers is outspoken Assad regime supporter, Tim Anderson. As the vast majority of Syrian refugees are fleeing the brutal oppression of the Assad regime, it is extremely disquieting to see an open supporter of the regime invited to speak at the conference.

Anderson has been open about his beliefs, having written numerous articles defending the Assad regime, published an ebook titled ‘The Dirty War on Syria’ and has taken part in a ‘solidarity’ delegation to visit Syria in December 2013 where he met with Bashar al-Assad. That Anderson chose to visit Syria after the regime had committed the August 22nd chemical weapons massacre against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus, shows his real level of concern for the lives of Syrian civilians. Academics who provide political cover for dictatorships should not be invited to participate in conferences concerning refugees fleeing those dictatorships.

We also note the conference does not appear to have any Syrian activists invited to speak, despite the violent suppression of the Syrian revolution being one of the central drivers of the refugee crisis. The conference statement actually makes no mention of the Assad regime at all, despite its central responsibility for the Syrian exodus. The fact the conference is sponsored by the Stop The War Coalition and stopimperialism.org, two organisations which have been unwilling to condemn or criticise the actions of the regime, causes us further concern.

We call on the conference organisers to disinvite Tim Anderson and issue a strong statement condemning the repression of the Assad regime against the Syrian people. If they are unwilling to do this, we call on other participants like Paul Mason and Nina Power, activists who are committed to the struggle for social change and against oppression, not to participate in the conference alongside known regime apologists. We welcome discussion and debate about the causes and solutions to the refugee crisis, but pro-regime apologists should not be a part of this discussion.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Boothroyd, Syria Solidarity UK
Yasmine Nahlawi, Rethink Rebuild, Syrian Community of Manchester
Dr Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community South West
Oz Katerji, Journalist
James Bloodworth, Journalist and Author
Emanuel Stoakes, Journalist
Richard Seymour, Author
Thomas Pierret, Lecturer, University of Edinburgh
Hussein Kesvani, Journalist
Eliot Higgins, Bellingcat
Shakeeb Al-Jabri, Syrian activist
Tom Dale, Journalist
Idrees Ahmad, Lecturer, University of Stirling
Razan Ghazzawi, Syrian activist
Nick Cohen, Journalist
Tom Rollins, Journalist
James Sadri, The Syria Campaign
Shiraz Maher, King’s College London
Sharif Nashashibi, Journalist
Thomas van Linge, Researcher
Şenay Özden, Hamisch Syrian Cultural House in Istanbul
Robin Yassin-Kassab, Writer
Joseph Daher, Syrian-Swiss activist and academic
Antony Loewenstein, Journalist and author
Thomas Rieger
Jamie Dettmer, Journalist
Paul Raymond, Journalist
Kyle Orton, Journalist
Patrick Hilsman, Journalist
Molly Crabapple, Artist and author
Heydon Prowse, Broadcaster
Sam Charles Hamad, Journalist
Luke Cooper, Lecturer in Politics
Danny Postel, ​Center for Middle East Studies, University of Denver
Lydia Wilson, Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford
Haid Haid, Syrian researcher
Dr Jamie Allinson, Lecturer, University of Edinburgh
Michael Karadjis, University of Western Sydney
Maroin Al Dandachi, French-Syrian Student
Dr Rola Hallam, Doctor and humanitarian
Bissan Fakih, The Syria Campaign
Kenan Rahmani, Activist
Kelly Grotke, Cornell University
Clay Claiborne, Director
James Snell, Blogger
Henry Langston, Journalist
Fionn Travers-Smith, Campaigner
Charles Davis, Journalist
Clara Connolly, Women4Syria
Jafar Hassan, Green Party
Louis N Proyect
Andy Wilson
Yasser Munif, Syrian activist, Emerson College
Dr Ludek Stavinoha, University of East Anglia
Dr Francis Sedgemore, Journalist and science writer
Pete Klosterman, Humanitarian
Annie Power
Andreas Graube, Activist
Rosalind Stewart
Fred Mecklenburg
Paul Canning, Blogger and activist
Jonathan Brown, Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace & Reconstruction
Natalie Sedacca, Civil liberties lawyer
David Spiers, Jnr
Henry Lowi
Zachary Medeiros, Student, Socialist Party USA
Rafif Jouejati, FREE-Syria Foundation
Stanley Heller, The Struggle Video News
Bassam Barabandi, former Syrian diplomat, co-founder of People Demand Change
Dr Gregory Kent, Roehampton University London


PDF version.

If you would like to add your support to this letter, please contact: info@syriauk.org



Picture: Tim Anderson meeting Assad in Damascus, December 2013.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Khiyana: Daesh, the Left, and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution

Khiyana: Daesh, the Left, and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution, ed. Jules Alford and Andy Wilson, published by Unkant, London.

Review by Clara Connolly

This book should be required reading for every leftist, as an antidote to the growing mountain of ignorant comment on the subject of Syria. The title Khiyana (betrayal) is an accusing cry; the book is a trenchant denunciation of the Western Left for its abandonment of the principles of internationalism and solidarity in favour of an alignment with the ‘anti imperialist’ camp, a hangover from the geo-politics of the Cold War.

Assad An-Nar, like most of the authors, situates himself on the Marxist left, and his prefatory chapter could be considered a direct response to Tariq Ali’s infamous dismissal of the Arab Spring in What is a Revolution? (Guernica, Sept. 2013). He sets his critique in the context of the changing nature of revolution in an age of global neoliberalism, where post colonial states are collapsing because neoliberal policies have slashed the limited social protections they used to offer. In this world, he says, the principles of self emancipation and of collective and democratic struggle are ‘ideas in search of a subject.’ Ideas about democracy, socialism, and anti-imperialism used to run in the same direction, but now they are counterposed.

With the collapse of the progressive moment of secular Arab nationalism, Islamist organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood can rise beyond identity/sectarian politics in resistance to tyranny. Though not necessarily opposed to neoliberalism, they are the voice of those who are excluded from its benefits. Hezbollah’s current role in Syria shows that such movements can swing between revolution and counter revolution without moving in a socialist direction.

The role of socialists is not to counterpose themselves to democratic revolutions, which gave rise (in Egypt) to the first democratic government, and (in Syria) to emancipatory projects such as networks of local councils against the existing state, but to take the democratic side against tyranny. Instead the left has responded by either supporting their favourite dictatorships (the neo Stalinists) or by re-hashing theories of ‘permanent revolution,’ i.e. insisting that revolutions can only end in socialism or defeat (the Trotskyists). Yes, he says, a democratic revolution is possible in these countries, but the outcomes are uncertain; the socialist left, while recognising its marginal role, should not condemn itself to irrelevance by denouncing the struggles for democracy because they are not socialist. Instead he urges the left to make the ‘democratic wager,’ in hope that the outcomes lead to more collective forms of struggle. There is little to lose for socialists, he believes, since neoliberalism has led worldwide to the fatal weakening of working class self-organisation.

The subsequent chapters examine and demolish the standard left myths about the Syrian revolution: the ‘jihadist’ nature of the ‘rebels’; the selective anti imperialism which admires Rojava but has no time for similar experiments in local democracy elsewhere in Syria; the role of regional imperialisms like Iran and Russia in propping up a monstrous regime; and above all the lies and distortions peddled by the institutional left (Stop the War Coalition, and the éminence grise of left journalism like Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, and Seymour Hersh) who place the national interests of states they consider to be in the ‘axis of resistance’ above solidarity with the struggles of the oppressed in those countries.

In a short review I can refer only to two further articles in the core of the book; but I cannot resist a passing mention of the glorious satirical piece by M Idrees Ahmad, The Anti-Imperialist Guide to Inaction in Syria. Anyone familiar with debate on Syria will recognise the strategies he lists: ‘Don’t defend Assad, attack his opponents; sympathise selectively; functional doubt where straight denial is risky; defend peace and sovereignty; champion the minorities; talk about ISIS, not Assad; talk about refugees but not the cause of flight,’ etc. Most of these strategies are shared with the establishment and the extreme Right.



Mark Boothroyd describes the responses of Stop the War Coalition (STWC) to Syria, in a case study that echoes the critique in the preface. It has consistently viewed developments through its relation to the US and the UK. In a multi polar world system with competing imperialisms, it persists in viewing events through the prism of the Cold War. The agency of Syrians is erased altogether.

In 2013, STWC opposed the proposed intervention of the UK and when this proposal was defeated in Parliament, it claimed victory; but Boothroyd claims that if the West had really wanted to intervene in Syria it would have done so—its actual strategy is to let the country bleed. I think he underestimates the power of popular protest in democratic countries, and the degree to which STWC was able to tap into post Iraq war weariness. But he is right in pointing out that STWC has missed a trick in failing to expose the real cruelties of the Western role.

In its weaker response to the 2015 intervention against ISIS, STWC has consistently refused to allow oppositional Syrians on its platforms—who have opposed the Coalition campaign against ISIS as useless and counter-productive, but have also proposed more positive measures for the protection of Syrian civilians. Once again, its failure to listen to Syrians has weakened its moral stance even in its own terms—in opposing its own Government.

It could have been different, he believes: the anti war movement could have risen beyond its current ethnocentric, isolationist positions to meet the challenge of changing times, and been a movement to build solidarity with the revolutions in the Middle East.



In The Rise of Daesh in Syria, Sam Charles Hamad attacks the myth of Saudi funding and support for Daesh; instead, in a detailed study, he convincingly shows their deadly rivalry despite their similar ideologies. He demonstrates the origins of Daesh in post invasion Iraq, and its nurture by the sectarian regimes in Iraq and Syria. He shows, by tracing its sources of income, how it is self sustaining. Finally he argues that the current tactics of the west, in fighting Daesh from the air but hampering the oppositions in their fight against the sectarian regimes of Assad and Maliki, are counter-productive. And the left’s narrative is complicit in this.

The book, and particularly its opening chapter, is weakened by a failure to examine more closely such terms as ‘democracy’ and ‘emancipation,’ given their ambivalent history among Marxists; and to analyse the demands of the revolution—Freedom Justice and Dignity—in more detail. This is particularly the case since there is little discussion of class, and no accounts of the role of women in the Syrian revolution, nor of the role of Western women’s peace groups or feminists in relation to Syria. My own recent experience of organising solidarity events with Syrian women suggests that the hostility to, and silencing of, Syrian voices is much less prevalent among feminist organisations than in the left as a whole. The ‘democratic wager’ which is urged upon us might be weighted more favourably with the inclusion of women activists, within Syria and in the West.



Videos via Al-Hamra’s Syrian Democratic Revolution blog.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

UK Syrian groups respond to the international commitment on air drops



PDF Version.

Response to the 17 May ISSG Statement

As UK-based Syrian groups and organisations, we welcome the statement by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) on 17 May calling on the World Food Programme (WFP) ‘to immediately carry out a programme for air bridges and air drops for all areas in need’ if by 1 June there has been no progress on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

At the same time, however, the world must forgive us for being only cautiously optimistic. Particularly, we are fearful that this will become yet another broken promise, yet another failed international decision, of which the Syrian have people seen time and time again over the past five years.

To ensure that the 17 May ISSG decision does not become another such broken promise, we urge the following key steps that will ensure the delivery of the ISSG’s intent:

1. Enforcement of the 17 May statement should be intensive and sustained. Other international decisions, such as those banning the use of barrel bombs or instating a ceasefire, witnessed initial implementation which waned as the international community failed to address the Assad regime’s continuous breaches of these respective agreements.

2. Delivery of humanitarian aid must be comprehensive, thus spanning the entire geographic area of Syria.

3. The delivery of humanitarian aid should in no way be conditional, whether explicitly or implicitly, upon the consent of the Assad regime.

4. Humanitarian organisations, including the WFP, must be guaranteed their security by ISSG Member States, including military escorts for airdrops if necessary.

5. If the WFP is not able – or is not permitted by the Assad regime – to provide humanitarian assistance across the entirety of Syria, then the onus is on Member States of the ISSG to unilaterally take necessary measures that alleviate the humanitarian suffering.

6. In parallel, the ISSG should intensify its focus on the effective enforcement of the Cessation of Hostilities and press for progress on the detainees track.

We are also seeking clarification as to the specific means of support that Member States of the ISSG will provide to humanitarian operations in Syria, in line with their pledge to ‘support such a program’ of air drops. The credibility of the ISSG and its Member States is now on the line. There needs to be a significant response if at any point after 1 June the Assad regime denies aid access to Syrians in need.

As UK-based organisations, we welcome the UK’s leadership on the humanitarian track and call on call upon the UK to be at the forefront in delivering humanitarian aid to besieged and other at-need communities in Syria, whether through ground deliveries or through air drops if necessary. We stress that there is a clear legal mandate for doing so.

We hope that the full and long-term implementation of the 17 May ISSG decision will help save lives and deliver life-saving assistance to at-need communities. We also hope that it can represent one step forward towards achieving a political solution in Syria after five years of war.

Signatories:

Rethink Rebuild Society ● Syrian Society in Nottinghamshire ● Scotland4Syria ● Syria Solidarity UK ● Syrian Community of the South West ● Syrian Platform for Peace ● Peace and Justice for Syria ● Syrian Association of Yorkshire ● Help 4Syria ● Kurds House ● Syrian Welsh Society

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Road to Freedom

Syria Solidarity UK spoke to Tania of Road To Freedom about their work with refugees in Idomeni, on Greece’s border with FYRO Macedonia. 

What is Road to Freedom?

Road to Freedom is an organisation that aims to provide refugees fleeing war-torn countries with immediate aid, which includes food, clothing and hygiene kits.Working with official NGO’s and charities on the ground at borders and refugee camps, Road To Freedom personally hand aid to those men, women and children in desperate need.

What have you been doing in Idomeni?

We spent eight days in Idomeni carrying out different tasks. These included helping Al-Khair Foundation prep for lunch and dinner distributions, organising a children’s party at the Idomeni Cultural Centre, and doing a PE lesson at the Idomeni Cultural Centre school. We travelled to a school squat in Athens, and distributed aid there. We distributed aid to individual tents in Idomeni, making sure every tent got what they required.

We sat and listened to many stories so we could share to the world.

What is the situation like in the camp now?

The situation is very tense at the moment, some people are refusing to be relocated to other camps, some people are setting up pop-up shops in order to survive, some are simply too tired to know what to do, many fights broke out between the Kurds and Syrians. Many families are being moved to other camps on a daily basis, this usually happens early in the morning. There is a very heavy police presence in the camp now.

Are there enough basic services for people?

There isn’t enough basic services available for everyone, the disabled people are affected the most because they’re unable to access such services.

What services and support are the volunteers providing?

Volunteers are providing food, clothing, medical services, psychological support, education and creative activities.

What is the attitude of the refugees to the situation, now that there seems no quick solution to their plight?

They’re in despair and anguish, they’re visibly exhausted and emotional. Many are reverting to alcohol to numb the pain.

Are people still determined to make it to Northern Europe?

Yes absolutely, I would say 70% of those in Idomeni are refusing to leave. Many try to cross the Macedonian border late at night; every night I would see small groups of men, women, children, carrying all their belongings, walking towards the back of the forest.

How are the refugees treated by the Greek government and police?

Unfortunately they’re treated like animals, according to the police they’re seen as an inconvenience to the Greek people, although it is the greek people that have stepped up and supported the refugees.

Are local Greeks welcoming of the refugees, or is there animosity?

The local Greeks are very welcoming, we know the owner of a local BP petrol station, he allows them to set up tents there, he built a large sink with fresh water for them, he also protects them when journalists come to interview them.

What is the next project that Road to Freedom is planning?

The next trip is RoadToCalais2, a one day trip to the jungle to provide food and hygiene parcels. Myself and Ellie are heading to Lagkadikia, a UN operated camp near Thessaloniki at the end of June, we know many families and friends who’ve moved there from Idomeni recently and would love to work closely with the UN for a week.

Where are the refugees from?

The majority of the refugees are from Syria, and half of those are Kurdish Syrians and a few are Palestinian Syrians. I have spoken to refugees from Pakistan, Somalia, Algeria, Morocco and Sudan.

How had they travelled to Greece?

They travelled from Syria to Turkey, where they paid thousands of dollars to cross the Aegean Sea in a rubber boat onto the greek islands, the most popular island is  Lesvos. From Lesvos they travelled to Athens via ferry, from Athens to Thessaloniki on a bus. Many walked from Thessaloniki to Idomeni, while others caught a bus to the border.


We’ve seen protests by refugees from Aleppo against the bombing of their home; what other examples have you seen of refugees protesting and self-organising?

Every day I would witness some sort of protesting in Idomeni, whether it was small children shouting ‘open the border,’ or men standing silently by the train tracks with placards, or new graffiti on tents and walls, or seeing small group discussing next steps by the assembly tent. Protesting in Idomeni has become a vital part of their everyday life; they see the importance of making themselves heard.

Find out where Road To Freedom are going next, and how you can help, on their website: roadtofreedom.org.uk