Friday, February 28, 2014

European Christian volunteers in Syria

Agenfor Media, an Italian non-profit network, published an interesting video report about Europeans of Syriac heritage who are fighting inside Christan militias in Syria. Among them is a former Swiss soldier, who is working as an instructor for the Syriac Sotoro militia in the eastern province of Hasaka. The video is in Italian but there is also a BBC Arabic report and multiple newspaper articles on that issue (link).

Al-Monitor: "European Christians fighting with Syria Kurdish factions"
Mein Kommentar über syrische Kirchenvertreter als Propagandisten des Assaad-Regimes ist in überarbeiteter Form auf dem interessanten neuen Internetportal Shabka erschienen:

"Syrische Kirchenvertreter im Dienst von Assad" von Tobias Lang

Monday, February 24, 2014

Blick auf das Dorf Hadar von der israelischen Basis auf dem Hermon

Ein Team der deutschen Tagesschau hat die israelische Basis auf dem Mount Hermon (Golan Höhen) besucht. Unter anderem wird in dem Beitrag von einem israelischen Offizier die prekäre Lage des drusischen Dorfes Hadar auf der syrischen Seite der Waffenstillstandslinie veranschaulicht. Das Dorf ist eine pro-Regime Enklave in einer von Rebellen kontrollierten Gegend.

Aymenn Al-Tamimi did an extensive posting on "Christian Militia and Political Dynamics in Syria" for Syria Comment. Especially the analysis of the dynamics in the Assyrian sector is outstanding and introduces some new points of view.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Interesting piece on regime-minorities relations in Syria

An interesting piece on regime-minorities relations in Syria was was published recently: "The early reversal on minorities in Syria" by Yahya Alaous for The Syrian Observer. It has some very interesting arguments, which deserve some further discussion.

The author argues that the regime might turn on the minorities (not the Alawites of course) once their service in the civil war is not any longer needed because their freedom threatens the regime's authority. Here a comparison is drawn to the war of Saddam Husain against Kuwait, his former ally against Iran. Even if I don't think the Syrian minorities can be compared to oil-rich Kuwait by any means, the main argument is definately valuable:
What was accepted reluctantly by the regime in the past because of considerations concerning the minorities will no longer acceptable in the same way because the regime has enough burdens. So the regime will not hesitate to alleviate the burdens whenever it can—and it seems now is the opportunity enabling the regime to proceed with a reversal of its approach to minorities.
Yahya Alaous determines a change of the minorities-narrative by the regime:
At the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the regime tried to represent those who supported it, including the minorities, as patriots.  The policy adopted by the regime pushed the members of the minorities to adopt its speech and appear in the media as defenders of the regime. [The goal was making] the regime appear to have a complementary relationship with the minorities, with the regime appearing as their protector in the eyes of the international community, a saying that the Syrian regime has been repeating for so long.
Nevertheless, the regime did not succeed in turning these minorities into active combatant militias on the ground, which could have protected the regime or created a balance with the forces of the revolution. But this does not negate the involvement of hundreds of members of minorities in combatant militias on the side of the regime such as the “Army of National Defense” and others. The regime, unable to bush minorities further, made his intention of bringing the sectarian militias such as Hezbollah and Abu al Fadl al Abbas very urgent. Soon the regime’s media began to propagate the idea of minorities being in the cause of self-defense and supporting the regime rather than protecting it, which means their role was transformed from protecting the regime to protecting their areas. Thus, the regime has exempted itself from the future consequences if it manages to survive. 
Read the full text, it's definitely food for thought:  "The early reversal on minorities in Syria" by Yahya Alaous 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

As Syria Crumbles, Israel Woos the Golan Druze*

*This article first appeared on the Carnegie Endowment's blog Syria in Crisis edited by Aron Lund

by Tobias Lang

More than thirty years after its annexation of the Golan Heights, the civil war in Syria seems to have presented Israel with a chance to draw the Druze population of the Golan Heights closer to itself. The Druze of the Golan Heights have been under Israeli control since the area was occupied in 1967 but have never accepted their new rulers. Almost all have opposed Israel’s 1981 decision to annex the Golan Heights, and more than 90 percent have refused to accept Israeli citizenship. But as Syria fragments, this long-standing orientation toward the Syrian motherland is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain.
While there are larger Druze communities in Israel proper, as well as in Lebanon and the rest of Syria, the Druze of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights number some 20,000 people. They live concentrated in four main villages: Majdal Shams, Masada, Buqata, and Ein Qiniyye.
Until 2011, the inhabitants of these villages were able to remain in touch with Syria to a limited extent, despite the official state of war between Israel and Syria. For example, the Golan Druze were allowed to export their yearly apple harvest to Syria for a price higher than the actual market price in Israel, and Druze students from the Golan were allowed to attend Syrian universities.


Since the outbreak of the revolution in Syria in March 2011, it has become increasingly difficult for the Syrian Druze living in the Golan Heights to maintain these links to the motherland. The apple export was suspended in 2012 for security reasons, even though it resumed in 2013. Meanwhile, most students from the Golan Heights have returned home because of the war. It is not certain whether the students will be able to return to Syria in the near future or if the security situation will allow the apple export this year.
Every Golan Druze has family in Syria, on the other side of the ceasefire line. The precarious situation now faced by the Druze in Syria contributes to a general sense of uncertainty. For example, the Druze village of Hadar, on the Syrian side of the fence, is less than 5 miles away from the neighboring village of Majdal Shams in Israeli-occupied territory. Most Syrian Druze support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war, and their villages generally remain under government control. Both Hadar and the village of Arna—some miles to the north—have seen heavy fighting with anti-Assad Islamists over the last year.
The civil war in Syria has divided the inhabitants of the four Druze villages in the Golan Heights between supporters and opponents of Assad. Given the length of the occupation, most Golan Druze have never personally experienced the Baath Party regime in Syria, and a full two generations have grown up under Israeli control. Some Golan Druze were therefore deeply shocked by the brutal repression of their own people by the regime. Yet, support for Assad remains strong within the community, and a few Golan Druze have even appeared beyond the fence, fighting on the regime’s side.


These tensions have the potential to turn violent, and they threaten the collective solidarity on which the Golan Druze’s rejection of Israel is based. Most Golan Druze are well aware that a return of the Golan Heights to Syria is now more unlikely than ever. Some younger Golan Druze may also feel that returning to a country ruined by civil war, where sectarian tensions have grown into an existential threat for religious minorities, is no longer desirable.
There are now recurring reports of young Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship, breaking with the firm anti-Israel stand taken by the community over the past half century. However, most of these reports seem overstated, given that the phenomenon was limited to about 100 cases last year.
More significant is the fact that a meeting took place in Majdal Shams in late June 2013 between Druze dignitaries and Harel Locker, the director general of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. It was the first time in decades that an Israeli government representative was welcomed to Majdal Shams. Significantly, Sheikh Taher Abu Salah, who is the spiritual leader of the Golan Druze, also attended the meeting. The religious leadership has long been seen as a guarantor of the rejection of Israeli citizenship by threatening those who apply for it with social and religious banishment.


The Israeli government has recognized the current war as an opportunity to bind the Golan Druze closer to Israel and strip them away from Syria. So far, the Golan Druze villages have been extremely neglected by the Israeli government, and much of the existing infrastructure has been built through grassroots efforts by the community itself. Now, however, the Israeli government has declared that in the period up until 2017, it will invest some $59.8 million in the Golan Druze villages.
We’re not likely to see widespread acceptance of Israeli citizenship among the Golan Druze anytime soon. But even so, if the civil war continues and the situation for the minorities in Syria remains as poor as it is today, the Golan Druze will probably try to keep their Israeli option open. A cautious rapprochement by broader segments of the Golan Druze toward Israel is therefore likely in the longer-term perspective, and there are undeniably some strong signs that this dynamic has already begun.

The Christians of northeastern Syria

Watch this interesting documentary, which illustrates the cooperation between Syriac Christians and Kurds in Syria's Hasaka province. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Finally there is an informative piece on the Syriac Military Council or Mawtbo Fulhoyo Suryoyo (MFS) in Syriac. It was published in French and English by Cedric Labrousse of Rennes University on his Blog The Arab Chronicle.

"Le Conseil Militaire Syriaque en Syrie | The Syriac Military Council in Syria" by Cedric Labrousse

Wenn westliche Konservative pro-Assad Kirchenvertreter hofieren

Um die Gefahr, die Islamisten für die Christen im Nahen Osten darstellen, zu veranschaulichen werden gerne Kirchenvertreter herangezogen. Gegen diese Praxis ist prinzipiell nichts einzuwenden, allerdings sollte man sich immer genau ansehen mit wem man es hier zu tun hat. Im Fall von Syrien stehen Kirchenvertreter, die besonders laut und schrill die Gefahren für Christen anprangern, oftmals in einem Naheverhältnis zum Assad-Regime. Ein prominentes Beispiel ist sicherlich die Nonne Agnes Mariam de la Croix, die ganz offensichtlich Propaganda für das Regime im Ausland betreibt und der schon so mancher Journalist auf den Leim gegangen ist. So kann es leicht passieren, dass sich westliche Konservative auf diese Kirchenvertreter beziehen, ohne freilich zu wissen, welche politische Agenda diese befolgen. Oftmals vertreten diese Geistlichen Positionen hinsichtlich Assad, Hizballah oder auch Israel, die sie eigentlich von selbst als Gesprächspartner ausschließen würden, wie Michael Weiss für das libanesische Onlineportal Now. ausgeführt hat. 

Bei der Heritage Foundation, dem vermutlich konservativsten großen außenpolitischen Think Tank in Washington, hat man vor einer Woche gesehen, welche Positionen bei solchen Gästen zu Tage treten können.