The “Lottery of Life and Death” in Revolutionary Syria

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AntiNote: The following article, written almost exactly two years ago, has special significance to us for several reasons, primary among them of course the subject matter—the gas attack in the outskirts of Damascus whose second anniversary was just observed by Syrian liberation activists and allies around the world—and the author.

Razan Zeitouneh is an award-winning Syrian human rights lawyer and activist who was abducted along with her spouse and two colleagues just a few months after writing this heartbreaking eyewitness account of the Ghouta massacre. Her story is one that should be far more widely known, and that provides a glimpse of the shape that the civil society movement took (though the assumption is widespread that it disappeared completely) after the Assad regime decided to counter the uprisings of 2011 with barbarous violence. Efforts to find her and secure her release have not ended.

Resources in English about the movement of which Razan Zeitouneh was a part and the context in which she worked are relatively rare but not inexistent. A good place to start is a medium-length documentary in Spanish and Arabic (with English subtitles), Ecos del Desgarro, which we recently shared in the Cinema Utopia section of this site.

A Search For Loved Ones Among Mass Graves
by Razan Zeitouneh
Originally appeared at Now. Media on 23 August 2013

“We have grown accustomed to the fact that anything is possible in this war and that the sole means to confront it is to prepare for anything.”

East Ghouta, Syria
I am trying to replay that day in slow motion in the hope of bursting into tears as any “normal” person is supposed to do. I am terrified by this numbness in my chest and the fuzziness of images running around in my mind. This is no normal reaction after a long day of tripping on bodies lined up side-by-side in long and dark hallways. Bodies are shrouded in white linen, and old blankets show only faces that have turned blue, dried foam edging their mouths, and sometimes, a string of blood that mixes with the foam. Foreheads or shrouds bear a number, a name, or the word “unknown.”     Continue Reading

Suruç: The AKP and the Turkish “Deep State” Are Also Guilty

by Joseph Daher for Syria Freedom Forever
Reprinted with permission (original post)

On Monday, 20 July 2015, the ultra-reactionary movement Daesh (known as the self-proclaimed Islamic State) targeted a cultural center in Amara (in the district of Suruç, Turkey) which was hosting a meeting of 300 young Kurdish leftists, members of the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF). They were preparing to go to the nearby town of Kobanê in Syria, in order to participate in its reconstruction.

These young revolutionaries had left Istanbul the day before, to present themselves as “Children of Gezi”—children of the protest movement that began in Istanbul in June 2013. In a video for their campaign, a socialist youth of the SGDF said: “We will plant five hundred trees in the name of revolutionaries who were killed in the resistance against the Islamic State in Kobanê. We will also plant fruit trees in the name of Berkin Elvan [who was killed during the Gezi protests at the age of fifteen], reconstruct the war museum in Kobanê, rebuild the library and nursery at the cultural center, build a playground, and join the cleaning efforts in the city center of Kobanê.”

These young people were bringing books, toys, and clothes, as well as young trees to plant. The terrorist attack caused the death of more than thirty of them, and injured over one hundred. Continue Reading

Novorossiya’s ‘Leftist’ Friends

The frenzied world-wide front is expanding
 Mercy to no one, no one, no one!
Stanza from 1989 Russian anarchists’ song Vintovka – eto prazdnik (The Rifle is a Holiday) by the Russian punk band Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense)

By Aleksandr Volodarsky, originally published by Chetvyortaya Vlast’ and Translated by Michal Pszyk

The annexation of Crimea, the “Novorossiya” project, and the fight against the “Kyiv junta” are not supported in Russia alone.  There are political forces around the world, both marginal and relatively respectable, which voice their support for the separatists in the Donbass.  At times, activists themselves travel to the war zone as volunteers, but they mostly hold demonstrations in support of the separatist republics and pressure their governments to renounce their support for Ukraine and “stop the aggression against Russia.”Continue Reading

Einige Gedanken zu Syrien

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Von Leila Al Shami, übersetzt von AntiDote

Ich wurde gebeten, für das anarchistische Treffen in Tunis, an dem ich leider nicht teilnehmen konnte, eine Übersicht der Ereignisse in Syrien zu verfassen. Das Folgende ist eine leicht editierte Version . . .

Im Jahr 2011, im Zuge eines Aufstandes, der durch die Mittelmeerregion zog, ­erhoben sich die Menschen in Syrien in gewaltigen Zahlen um das Abtreten des Regimes zu fordern. Es war ein spontaner Volksaufstand, der seine Ursprünge in den benachteiligen ruralen und urbanen Gebieten hatte. Es war eine Antwort auf Jahrzehnte der Diktatur, eines repressiven Polizeistaats, einer mafiösen Elite und der neoliberalen Politik des Baath Regimes, welche weite Teile der Bevölkerung verarmen ließen.

BurningSyria von Tammam Azzam

BurningSyria von Tammam Azzam

Es war eine Bewegung ohne AnführerInnen, die Menschen verschiedener Klassen, Ethnien oder Religionen verband. Junge Männer und Frauen organisierten sich horizontal in den Komitees, die in Dörfern und Städten sprossen, und versuchten die Proteste und den zivilen Ungehorsam zu koordinieren. In den belagerten oder bombardierten Gebieten versuchten sie direkte Hilfe, zu leisten.Continue Reading

Four Years Out: Thoughts on the Syrian Revolution

By Leila Al Shami
(visit her excellent blog)

I was asked for an overview on Syria for a meeting of anarchists in Tunis which unfortunately I couldn’t attend. This is a slightly edited version.

In 2011, the Syrian people, as part of a transnational uprising sweeping the region, rose up in huge numbers to demand the overthrow of the regime. It was a spontaneous, popular uprising, originating in the disadvantaged rural and urban areas. It was a response to decades of dictatorship, a repressive police state, a mafia-style elite and the neoliberal policies of the Baathist regime which had impoverished large sections of the population.

It was a movement without leaders which united people across class, ethnic and religious boundaries. Young men and women organized horizontally in the committees which sprang up in towns and villages across the country to coordinate protests and civil disobedience campaigns and to send aid to besieged or bombarded communities. The activists in the committees worked to coordinate the demands of the revolution across the country – for the fall of the regime and a transition to a democratic, non-sectarian, civil state.

Over time, in the face of increasing and savage state repression, people armed themselves and organized in popular militias to defend protesters and their communities from attack. By 2012 there was a full blown military struggle between, on one hand, a multitude of popular militias loosely grouped under the ‘Free Army’ label and, on the other, the State.

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The False Friends of Rojava

AntiNote: This article first appeared in Jacobin Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

All parties to the collaboration which brought this article to English-language readers were conscious and wary of the anti-imperialist/anti-anti-imperialist sideshow currently preoccupying parts of the Western Left, and we expected to hear from these quarters. We were not disappointed. Some of the article’s critics, who complained that Babacan and Çakır do not make concrete proposals, can be dismissed immediately for reasons apparent to anyone that reads the article in its entirety. In more urgent need of response are allegations of propagandizing—that the social structures in Rojava are described too glowingly and that the righteousness of the PYD and PKK is not sufficiently interrogated.

Fair enough. The AWC’s initial reaction to these jabs (and the authors surely have their own) is that in situations as complex, fluid, and violent as either the Syrian civil war or the Kurdish struggle for self-determination—which happen to overlap here, wonderful—accusations of propagandizing can be leveled at any of the information flowing from any source with an obvious stake in the conflict. More specifically, the equally propagandistic claims that the PYD is guilty of repressing Rojava’s population or that the Kurdish Movement is ‘on Assad’s side,’ have not been substantiated to the extent that Babacan and Çakır’s contrary claims have been, and certainly not to our satisfaction at the AWC.

(To deflate this entire argument, though, we suggest turning our critical attention to this week’s article by Syrian revolutionary-in-exile Yassin al-Haj Saleh, and thus on ourselves.)

Finally, in the month since this article’s publication in English the situation in Kobanê has continued to evolve. We have updated the language in a few places to reflect this, though a full appreciation of the ultimate liberation of the city, confirmed only last week, is necessarily absent. Babacan and Çakır’s calls—especially for the opening of an aid corridor through Turkey—are, however, no less relevant as the city rebuilds and its inhabitants begin to return.

We have also not reproduced Jacobin’s link citations or, regrettably, their accompanying photo essay. Both can be found and enjoyed in the original.

The False Friends of Kobanê

by Errol Babacan and Murat Çakır

The significance of the struggle in Kobanê cannot be overstated. But real international solidarity won’t come in the form of military intervention.Continue Reading

Long Way From Maidan: A Report from Donetsk

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Transcribed from This is Hell! Radio’s 27 September 2014 episode and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the full interview here:

“There’s a lot of real old-fashioned class antagonism at the heart of this. When, on top of that class antagonism, you add an actual war with shooting, it becomes really ugly.”

Chuck Mertz: Our guest, live from New York City, is Keith Gessen, founding editor of n+1 magazine. Keith is co-editor of the new collection celebrating ten years of the cultural literary magazine n+1, Happiness: Ten Years of n+1. Keith also wrote the piece Why Not Kill Them All?” on Ukraine for the London Review of Books. Good morning, Keith.

KG: Good morning.

CM: You start your story about a Mikhail Mishin, who grew up in a large town next to Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, for several years playing football, rising to the Ukrainian second league. Eventually, as you write, “his father helped him find work in the sports section of city government, where he lobbied for money for sports facilities and attended their opening ceremonies, where he always gave a short speech about the moral and physical benefits of sport. No scholar of languages, he was never able to master Ukrainian fully, which perhaps would have kept him from climbing higher in politics if things hadn’t taken a strange turn for him in the Donbas region earlier this year.”


I think this is a good place to start, because we hear so much about a Russian-Ukrainian divide in Ukraine. How would you describe that divide?

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The Quiet Counterrevolution of Human Rights Idealism

Transcribed from This is Hell! Radio’s 27 June 2014 episode and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the full interview:

 

“Human rights really only make sense when we think about them in a world after empire.”

Chuck Mertz: On the line with us right now is historian Samuel Moyn. Good morning, Samuel.

Samuel Moyn: Hi, thanks for having me.

CM: Samuel Moyn is author of Human Rights and the Uses of History and is the Bryce professor of European legal history at Columbia University, where he has taught since 2001. His previous books include 2012’s The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Samuel’s book Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History, which he co-wrote with Darren M. McMahon, was published in paperback earlier this year, and he co-authored two books last year: 2013’s Global Intellectual History, which he wrote with Andrew Sartori, and The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s with Jan Eckel.

Here’s how you describe your writings in your new book: “the emphasis of these essays falls on distinguishing the abuses from the uses of history for thinking about the present and future of one of the most central notions and one of the most illustrious political movements of our time: Human Rights.”

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The Normality of War

by Gavin Rae for LeftEast

“What’s abnormal is not the worst. What’s normal, for example, is world war.”
Franz Kafka

The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War takes place in a growing atmosphere of global conflict. The world seems to be once again teetering on the verge of catastrophe. A wave of violence is spreading around the globe, leaving destruction and death in its wake. This surge towards war has developed a momentum that at times seems uncontrollable. Palestine, Ukraine, Libya, Syria, Iraq – the list of conflicts is growing and war is once again becoming normal.

The anniversary of World War One should be a time of deep reflection for the left. How was it possible that the vast majority of the socialist parties in Europe could drop their avowed internationalism and fall in behind the imperialist war adventures of their countries’ elites? How could they become so subsumed with nationalism and chauvinism that they allowed millions of young men to fall on the battlefields?

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Democracy Promotion at Face Value

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Transcribed from This is Hell! Radio’s 10 May 2014 episode and printed with permission. Listen to the full interview:

“Improving livelihoods and education among people never helps authoritarian regimes, which is why they don’t do it themselves. They know that their biggest threat is an empowered, educated populace that can read and feed itself.”

Chuck Mertz: On the line with us right now, live from Beirut, is journalist Thanassis Cambanis. Good morning, Thanassis; good afternoon in Beirut!

Thanassis Cambanis: Great to be with you.

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