Syria Kurds mark grim Nowruz after fleeing Afrin

A Lebanese Kurdish boy is seen during a gathering to celebrate Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year, in the capital Beirut on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Syria Kurds mark grim Nowruz after fleeing Afrin

ZIYARA: With tears in her eyes, Rasheeda Ali said she would not celebrate the Kurdish New Year this week after she and her family were forced to flee under fire from Syria’s Afrin.
The annual Nowruz holiday which was being marked on Wednesday had always been a time for Syrian Kurdish families to gather together and mark new beginnings, but this year is different.
Tens of thousands have been left homeless after abandoning their homes and loved ones in the northwestern city of Afrin, now controlled by Turkish troops and allied fighters.
The fall of Afrin on Sunday was a major blow for Syria’s Kurds, who have proudly run autonomous local governments since 2013 — finally speaking Kurdish and marking customs long banned by the Damascus government.
With her hometown overrun, Nowruz this year is nothing but “tragedy and displacement,” Ali said, a mauve scarf wrapped around her hair and her eyes moist with tears.
“Death would have been easier than leaving our home,” said the 40-year-old Arabic language teacher, in an area outside Afrin that is jointly held by Kurds and the Syrian regime.
“I left my home — which looks like a palace — and now I live in this house with 50 other people,” she said, gesturing to the small room in a collective shelter in the Ziyara area.
Children huddled around her as she spoke. A mattress was propped up against a wall behind her and scant belongings were stacked on bare metal shelves.
Around 100,000 civilians streamed out of Afrin, using the only escape route available into government-held zones to the south and east, the UN says.
They hit the road on foot, in cars, on motorbikes and in pickup trucks, with what little belongings they could carry or cram into their vehicles.
Once in regime territory, they sought shelter in mosques, schools and buildings under construction.
Some have nowhere at all to go and have been sleeping in their vehicles, others are still on roadsides sleeping in the open.
For Syria’s Kurds, Nowruz symbolizes the deliverance of Kurdish people from a mythical tyrant — but that was hard to imagine now.
“I’ll never forget fleeing. Looking back and getting a last glimpse of Afrin, feeling helpless and torn,” said 38-year-old Rohan, also displaced.
“Away from Afrin, Nowruz means nothing. Afrin was our paradise,” she told AFP in the nearby Zahraa area.
In Ziyara, Mohammed Zaki, a middle-aged man, recounted how he and his family fled farmland on which they had lived for generations.
“We fled on foot carrying just the clothes we wore,” he said, now living with several other displaced families.
Women and children packed the room, as a small child slept bundled up in a donated blanket behind him.
“We have no money to buy food. We left everything and came here penniless,” Zaki said.
It may be Nowruz but “we wouldn’t dream of celebrating,” he said. “We just dream of ending this tragedy for our children.”
Afrin, an agricultural area famed for its olive trees, was part of territory in northern Syria where the Kurds have been setting up systems of self-rule.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) recaptured eastern areas of the territory from the Daesh group, with backing from a US-led coalition.
The Kurds have otherwise largely stayed out of Syria’s complex seven-year conflict, instead focusing on building their own institutions including in Afrin.
But Turkish-led forces on Jan. 20 launched a deadly assault on Afrin, dragging Kurds into conflict and capturing the city in a major setback for the dream of autonomy.
His boots and a bag of flat bread by his side, 82-year-old Khalil Tamer sat on a blanket atop a layer of straw — thin cushioning for the hard concrete floor underneath.
With his head hung low, he recounted how he and his family escaped fighting in the neighboring province of Aleppo to Afrin.
When Turkey began its assault on the YPG, whom it considers “terrorists,” Tamer and his family were forced to flee a second time.
“We walked out on foot for four days straight,” he said. But in the chaos, he was separated from some of his loved ones and will mark Nowruz without them.
Smoking a cigarette in a holder, he repeated his fate in disbelief.
“We lost the children. I lost them. I lost my children.”


Egypt races to reduce impact of $5 billion Ethiopian dam

Updated 22 min 47 sec ago
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Egypt races to reduce impact of $5 billion Ethiopian dam

  • Research group warns of ‘dire humanitarian consequences’ over disputed Al-Nahda project
  • Ethiopia plans to store 74 billion cubic meters of Nile water behind the dam

CAIRO: An international research group has warned of “dire humanitarian consequences” if a controversial Ethiopian project to dam the Nile leads to conflict with Egypt and neighboring Sudan.

The $5 billion dam is a source of friction between the three countries that could spill over into open hostility, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report.

Egypt and Sudan fear the dam, now being built near the Sudanese border, could reduce available water to both countries.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or Al-Nahda dam, has been under construction since 2011 and is due to be completed in 2022. When finished it will be the largest dam in Africa, generating about 6,000 megawatts of electricity for domestic use and export.

Dr. Abbas Al-Sharaki, a water resources expert at the Institute of African Studies at Cairo University, told Arab News that Egypt is likely to face a water crisis in the future because of the dam.

Planned negotiations on the dam between the leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia are unlikely to succeed, he said. 

Ethiopia plans to store 74 billion cubic meters of Nile water behind the dam, which would affect the 55.5 billion cubic meters of water that Egypt currently gets from the Nile. Ethiopia’s leaders insist the dam will also benefit all three countries.

Dr. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the former Egyptian minister of irrigation, said that the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Egyptian water quota is inevitable, but Egypt is looking to reduce its effects and delay it as long as possible until other resources are raised.

Dr. Hisham Bakhit, professor of water resources at Cairo University, said that Egypt is conducting large-scale research to reduce the impact of the dam.

Egypt has many sustainable solutions to manage the Nile’s water, he said.

The country gets 90 percent of its irrigation and drinking water from the Nile, and has “historical rights” over the river guaranteed under treaties in 1929 and 1959, Bakhit said.

MP Mustafa Al-Jundi said that Egypt has the right to appeal to the African Union, the African Parliament, the UN and international courts in the case of Ethiopia’s intransigence.

Mohamed Abdel-Ati, Egypt’s minister of irrigation and water resources, said this week that Cairo does not oppose the development ambitions of any country “as long as they don’t harm any shares in water or threaten national security.”

The ministry is working to tap all sources of water and implement modern methods in irrigation. Desalination and wastewater treatment plants, and experimental studies into salt water farming are among Egypt’s plans to ensure reliable future supplies, he said.

The Al-Nahda dam was 60 percent complete before work stopped in August as a result of a funding crisis. In January, a Chinese company, Voith Hydro Shanghai, signed a deal to build the turbine generators at the dam.