On a scorching August day in 2011, in the city of Homs, the Syrian conflict nearly swallowed Monzer Darwish. The 23-year-old graphic designer, who grew up in nearby Hama, had stopped at a cafe with his fiancée, only to take cover in the establishment at the sound of screaming outside. When they finally ventured into the street, they heard a pop—pop, pop, and someone fell. Then everyone ran. “The whole street was literally on fire,” he recalled.
Fleeing the violence, Darwish wrestled with the kinds of questions many face during war. What do you do if you don’t want to take a side? If you don’t want to take up arms? If you want to keep your community from being torn apart? If you can’t escape? Many of his friends found themselves in a similar situation, and they sought emotional refuge through music, even live heavy-metal concerts near the frontlines. Reconnecting with these peers, Darwish decided to film how this alternative community—musicians and fans alike—was surviving amid the country’s three-year civil war.
Heavy metal, with its macabre poetry, thundering elegies, and violent moshing, has often resonated with young people and helped them express solidarity with one another during periods of political and social tension. But Darwish wanted to show how Syria’s “metal heads” and alternative youth, like their peers in Iraq and Afghanistan, are turning to the music not only as a way to cope with mass trauma, but also as a means of conducting a brutally honest dialogue about how to survive war and reform society.
The result: a rockumentary called Syrian Metal Is War. For much of the last year, Darwish has crisscrossed the country to film every metal musician he can find. He’s uploaded a trailer to YouTube, and he hopes to screen a rough cut of the full film in Beirut by late spring.
Read more. [Image: Daniel J. Gerstle]
Syrian Children Are Drawing to Heal the Trauma from War
In an upscale district of Downtown Beirut, two pre-teen boys rapped in Arabic during an exhibit showcasing the artwork of Syrian refugee children. Ramzi, a 12-year-old originally from Daraa, Syria, beatboxed as his friend Ayham, who is also from Daraa, spit rhymes. Guests watched quietly, impressed, as the two boys recalled life before the uprising-turned-civil war wreaked havoc on their country.
This was part of an exhibit, called “Light Against Darkness,” the result of a three month art workshop that focused on helping children overcome the trauma of war through creative expression. Forty-three children produced about 166 works of drawings and clay sculptures, many of which depicted colorful renditions of schools, kids playing together, and families bonding.
Others, however, were not so cheery. Suha Wanous, a young girl originally from Latakia but who arrived to Lebanon from Damascus, the Syrian capital, drew a daughter holding her mother’s hand while a gun is pressed to her head point-blank. In the background of the picture, it’s raining and a helicopter is opening fire on a home while two small children lay on the grass bleeding, presumably dead. The organizers of the exhibit explained how Suha used to pass an army checkpoint daily before going to school back in Syria. She used to greet the soldiers Assalamu Alaykum (meaning “peace be upon you” in Arabic.)
Today is Day 1,104 of the Syria conflict.
The members of the Arab League can’t agree which group should be representing Syria at the summit in Kuwait, which opened today. Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria don’t want to give the role to the Syrian opposition (for reasons why, check out this interview with an Iraqi politician).
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman, on the other hand, insisted that, despite the increasing presence of terrorist groups in the Syrian opposition, “there is a legitimate resistance in Syria that was betrayed by the international community and left as a prey in the face of an oppression force.” He also called on the international community to combat the terrorist presence on the ground in Syria.
The international community’s “betrayal” of the Syrian opposition appears to be the theme of the day.
Last weekend marked the third anniversary of Syria’s civil war, a conflict that has, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, claimed the lives of more than 146,000 people, at least a third of them civilians. As forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appear to be making slow progress against rebel forces, the humanitarian crisis has grown astronomically — as many as 2.5 million Syrians have now fled the country. Fractured rebel groups continue to fight each other, as well as Assad’s troops, with civilians bearing the brunt of attack and counterattack, their neighborhoods reduced to rubble by mortar shells and barrel bombs. Gathered here are images from Syria over the past few months.
“The premise of this blog is that it matters whether people read about the Syria conflict, because it matters whether people care about the Syria conflict. No publication can make the situation in Syria simple. But we want you to be able to see at a glance, while you are holding your phone on the subway or scanning the headlines at work, what’s going on in Syria, today.”
- From “Meanwhile, in Syria”
The Syrian war has entered its fourth year.
And it’s showing no signs of ending. The United Nations, which gave up tracking how many have been killed, says the number of children impacted by the civil war has doubled since last year to 5.5 million.
When the Syrian death toll first hit 93,000, we produced three visuals to help you grasp the magnitude of the number.
This is an updated graphic.
We will also be keeping track of the Syrian conflict here.
Graphic by Kyle Kim/GlobalPost
ARSAL, Lebanon — Syrian government forces supported by Lebanese Hezbollah militants on Sunday took control of the Syrian town of Yabroud after a month-long battle.
The town was the last rebel stronghold along the Lebanese border and a key supply route for weapons and fighters between the two countries. Analysts speculate that this latest defeat may signal the conflict is swinging in favor of the Syrian government against a factionalized opposition.
For 19-year-old Yousef, this latest conflict has shattered the life he once knew. Ten days ago he lived and worked on a property owned by his family on the outskirts of Yabroud. Now he lives in a makeshift tent with 13 extended family members across the Lebanese border, in Arsal, where they rely on aid donations to survive.
“There was shooting everywhere. We couldn’t leave the house. Eventually we escaped by car. We couldn’t bring anything with us, just a little food,” said Yousef, as his grandmother brewed tea for the family inside their crowded tent. “I heard they are now bombing the road that we used to get here. We can see the planes from here. I think there is no hope for us to go back.”
Photos by Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost
Members of an armed rebel group previously affiliated with Al-Qaeda retreated Friday from parts of the northern province of Aleppo in Syria, ahead of a Saturday deadline issued by another rebel group that could spark more infighting, opposition activists said.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) withdrew from several towns north of Aleppo, including Azaz near the Turkish border, Aleppo-based activists who go by the names of Ibrahim Saeed and Abu Raed said. Rival fighters moved in shortly after, activists and the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group confirmed.
The pullout came three days after the leader of a rival Al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria, the Nusra Front, gave ISIL a five-day ultimatum to accept mediation by leading clerics to end infighting or be “expelled” from the region.
Syrian army troops killed 175 rebel fighters in an ambush Wednesday south of Damascus, state media reported. The attack purportedly targeted Al-Qaeda-linked fighters as part of a government effort to secure the capital from rebel groups attempting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The dawn attack by Assad’s forces in the opposition-held area of eastern Ghouta will likely push rebel groups further away from the capital. Damascus’ suburbs have been strongholds of the opposition since March 2011, when the revolt against Assad’s regime began.
If confirmed, the attack would be one of the deadliest known assaults by government forces against rebels in the area.
KILLIS BORDER CROSSING, Turkey — The white Hyundai Accent with Syrian license plates from Aleppo drove quickly across the final stretch of no man’s land from Syria, with four young children packed into the backseat with luggage and blankets. In the front seat, a woman held another child in her lap.
After a final passport check by Turkish border guards, the vehicle crossed over to the safety of Turkish territory. The driver, a man who gave his name only as Mahmoud, out of a fear of reprisals by Syrian authorities, said he had put his family through enough in Aleppo.
"We are leaving because of the barrel bombs," he said. "We can’t take it anymore."
Photo: Saad Abobrahim/Reuters
"Jihad is the best tourism," a young Dutchman who calls himself Chechclear posted on his Tumblr. He was riding a camel, grinning, his face filtered into an Instagram haze. Chechclear is one of an estimated 1,700 Europeans fighting in Syria. He’s part of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which Al-Qaeda has just officially disowned, and seems to be having the time of his life. He documents his adventure for adoring fans across several social media platforms.
This is the reality of modern jihad, where the faithful chronicle their response to the cause in real time. But if Europeans like Chechclear are living out their Call of Duty fantasies, they do it at the expense of Syrian lives. In the territory it holds in Syria’s North, ISIS is imposing its harsh interpretation of sharia law with torture and beheadings. Its Western fighters are tweeting selfies in the ruins.
In Syria, the battle for territory waged on the ground is matched by a battle for meaning waged on the Internet. Whether they’re Kurds carving out an independent state, revolutionaries or TEDx organizers sympathetic to Assad, Syrians use Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to tell their stories. It’s contested ground, filled with both propaganda and truth. Posting can be deadly. Both the Assad regime and ISIS target citizen journalists for arrest. In the embattled Lebanese city of Tripoli, I interviewed an aid worker who, at the start of the revolution, smuggled memory cards over the border that contained footage of demonstrations. Once he was in Lebanon, he’d upload the footage to Facebook. Assad had blocked access to the Internet once. Activists were terrified he’d do it again.
The Syrian government’s representatives and the opposition observed a moment of silence on Thursday to honor the victims of the three-year long conflict.
The peace talks in Geneva ended on Friday with little progress, but on the ground in Syria, the brutal war continues.
A report released by Human Rights Watch this week says entire neighborhoods are being leveled not just by missiles or bombs, but by bulldozers.
“As I was walking I looked back and I saw the bulldozer demolishing my shop,” a local restaurant owner told HRW in Qaboun, Damascus.
"Before my eyes, all of my family’s hard work was destroyed in one second."
The HRW report concluded that the demolitions seemed to be aimed at “intentionally punish[ing] the civilian population.”
Tracey Shelton, who reported from Syria last year, remembers: “In May 2012, Maarat al Numan was a bustling city. When I returned in January 2013, it was rubble.”
“Not one building remained unscathed. Few were standing at all. The only sign of civilian life was a truck loaded with women and children fleeing the area.”
Photos via AFP/Getty Images & Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost
Syrian government officials could face war crimes charges in the light of a huge cache of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the “systematic killing” of about 11,000 detainees, according to three eminent international lawyers. Read the full story
Meanwhile, the Syria peace conference set to begin in Switzerland later this week is now in disarray, after the United Nations issued an invitation to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ally Iran.
Rival Islamist rebel groups fought in the Syrian city of Raqqa on Monday, residents said, as local fighters tried to drive out a foreign-led Al Qaeda affiliate which has also seized towns across the border in Iraq.
Activists opposed to President Bashar al-Assad said dozens of Syrian members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had changed sides to join other Sunni Islamist factions which have taken advantage of a local backlash against the ISIL and the foreign Al Qaeda jihadists prominent among its commanders.
The battles in Raqqa, a provincial capital on the Euphrates river in Syria’s largely desert east, left bodies clad in the black favored by Al Qaeda fighters lying in the streets. They followed similar violence elsewhere in recent days that have seen the ISIL lose manpower and abandon some of its positions.
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
If it were being done entirely in secret, it would be history’s greatest international spy thriller. The world’s biggest global players, not all of them exactly friendly, have to cooperate to pull off the impossible: collect and destroy Syria’s vast stores of chemical weapons. And as fast as possible.
The world this week learned some of the details of the otherwise classified plan to rid Syria of its wildly dangerous stockpile — including the target deadline of Dec. 31, 2013, by which these world powers aim to have removed all chemical weapons from Syrian soil.
While the Syrian government has agreed to the plan (PDF), devised by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, seeing it through remains no easy task.
Photos by AFP/Getty Images
While the use of chemical weapons in Syria made the world sit up and take notice, conventional weapons continue to wreak havoc on the country’s civilian population.
A crude but effective weapon has seen a resurgence in the conflict in recent days — the barrel bomb. The imprecise, incendiary weapons — oil barrels or cylinders filled with petrol, nails and TNT — are rolled out of low-flying helicopters.
The regime bombarded Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, for four straight days this week, according to rebels. Its use of barrel bombs in the aerial assault claimed massive casualties, with nearly 200 people reported killed.
In one instance, a witness said a barrel bomb was dropped near a food distribution line, killing about 30 people, including a one-year-old child.
"A helicopter came, and suddenly out of nowhere a barrel hit this area," the witness told NBC.
"About 30 people died, including women and children who were waiting their turn so they can get the bread."
Photo by AFP/Getty Images