Sweida bloodshed marks a turning point for Syria’s Druze community

Smoke rises after an attack in the southwestern Syrian city of Sweida. (File photo/AFP)
Updated 06 August 2018
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Sweida bloodshed marks a turning point for Syria’s Druze community

  • The execution came “after the failure of talks between Daesh and regime forces over the transfer of Daesh militants from the southwest of Daraa province to the Badiya
  • Regime forces have in recent weeks ousted Daesh from all of the towns and villages in the Yarmouk Basin in the northwest of Daraa province

BEIRUT: Daesh has executed one of dozens of Druze hostages abducted from Syria’s southern province of Sweida last week, a journalist in the area and a monitor said Sunday.
Daesh went on a rampage in Sweida on July 25, killing more than 250 people — mostly civilians — in the deadliest attack ever to target the mostly regime-held province and its Druze religious minority.
The militants also kidnapped more than 30 people, most of them women and children, from a village in the province, which had previously remained largely isolated from Syria’s seven-year civil war.
On Thursday, Daesh killed a 19-year-old male student who was among the hostages, the head of the Sweida24 news website Nour Radwan told AFP.
Quoting relatives, Radwan, who was speaking from Sweida, said the young man was taken from the village of Al-Shabki on July 25 along with his mother.
His family received two videos, the first showing him being decapitated and the second of him speaking before being killed as well as images of his body after his death, Radwan said.
Sweida24 posted online part of a second video, which was seen by AFP, showing a bearded young man who appeared to be sitting on the ground in a landscape of grey rocks.
He is wearing a black T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, and his hands are tied behind his back. The video could not be independently verified.
Also on Sunday, sources said the head of a Syrian research facility that Western countries say was part of a chemical weapons program was killed when his car was blown up.
Aziz Asber was the director of the Syrian Scientific Research Center in Masyaf, near the city of Hama, which Western governments say was a covert Syrian regime installation.
“(Asber) died after an explosion targeted his car in the Hama countryside,” Al-Watan said in an online report.
The attack on Asber was claimed by a Syrian militant group affiliated to Tahrir Al-Sham. It includes the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which served as Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.
Militants have lost much of the territory they once controlled in Syria after overrunning large swathes of it in 2014, but they retain a presence in the east of the country and in the vast Badiya desert that sweeps through its south.
The regime has been fighting in recent weeks to expel Daesh fighters from a patch in the neighboring province of Daraa.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the young man’s execution was the first since the kidnappings.
The execution came “after the failure of talks between Daesh and regime forces over the transfer of Daesh militants from the southwest of Daraa province to the Badiya” desert, said the Observatory.
It also follows the execution of 50 Daesh fighters and civilians in Daraa province earlier this week at the hands of rebels, according to the monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
On Friday, a top Druze religious leader said Russia was in talks with the militants over the release of those abducted in Sweida.
Sweida24 said the oldest woman seized was 60.
Syria expert Khattar Abu Diab said that the events of July 25 in Sweida marked a turning point for the country’s Druze community.
“For this ancestral community, the abduction of women oversteps all red lines,” he said.
“Their reaction will depend on the outcome of negotiations but if all the hostages were killed” the Druze could directly intervene to expel Daesh from the desert, he said.
Regime forces have in recent weeks ousted Daesh from all of the towns and villages in the Yarmouk Basin in the northwest of Daraa province.
Syria’s state media have said regime troops are pursuing the last remaining militants who fled to nearby valleys.
In areas it has retaken from militants in recent years, the regime has sometimes negotiated to take back control of land in exchange for the transfer of fighters to other parts of Syria.
During the July 25 attack in Sweida, the militants abducted 36 Druze women and children from a village in Sweida’s east, the Observatory said at the time.
Four women had since escaped while two had died, leaving 14 women and 16 children in Daesh captivity, according to the Observatory.
At the time, another 17 men were unaccounted for but it was unclear if they were also kidnapped.
Local sources say the families of the abductees have been sent photos and videos of their loved ones via WhatsApp.
The Sweida killing is the first such execution of a kidnapped civilian by Daesh since the jihadists overran the town of Al-Qaryatain in central Syria for several weeks in October last year, the Observatory said.


Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

Updated 24 April 2019
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Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

  • Up to 1.5 million Armenians were wiped out by the Ottoman Empire beginning on April 24, 1915, a reality Turkey continues to deny
  • The day will be commemorated around the world today as a growing number of countries recognize the atrocity

DUBAI: More than 100 years on, Armenians and experts alike remember the brutal atrocities and forced exodus from what is now Turkey, which left up to 1.5 million Armenians dead.

April 24 marks the start, in 1915, of the Armenian Genocide. “Every Armenian is affected by the repeated massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire as family members perished,” said Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“My own paternal grandmother was among the victims. Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he added.

“We never kissed her hand, not even once. She was always missed, and we spoke about her all the time. My late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother.”

Every Armenian family has similar stories, said Kechichian. “We pray for the souls of those lost, and we beseech the Almighty to grant them eternal rest,” he added.

“We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so they too can find peace,” he said. “Denial is ugly and unbecoming, and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time.”

Donald Miller, professor of religion and sociology at the University of Southern California, said: “The ongoing denial of the genocide by the government of Turkey pours salt into the wound of the moral conscience of Armenians all over the world. On April 24, the genocide will be commemorated all over the world.”

On that day, the Ottoman government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals.

Ordinary Armenians were then turned away from their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.

Ottoman killing squads massacred Armenians, with only 388,000 left in the empire by 1922 when the genocide ended, from 2 million in 1914.

Many were deported to Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Today they are scattered across the world, with large diasporas in Russia, the US, France, Argentina and Lebanon.

To date, only 28 countries have officially recognized the tragedy as a genocide. The only Arab country that has done so is Lebanon, although a bill is pending in Egypt’s Parliament to do so as well, while Muslim clerics in Iraq have called on Turkey to end the denial.

“The other significant consequence of the Armenian Genocide is the denial that successive Turkish governments have practiced, even though the last Ottoman rulers acknowledged it and actually tried a number of officials who were found guilty,” Kechichian said.

“Denial translates into a second genocide, albeit a psychological one. Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to this dark chapter of their history and come to terms with it, but it seems we’re not there yet.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

For some 3,000 years, Armenians had made their home in the Caucasus, with Christianity their official religion. During the 15th century it became a part of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers were Muslim.

Soon enough, Armenians were viewed as “infidels,” having to pay higher taxes than Muslims and with very few political and legal rights.

Despite this the Armenian population thrived, causing great resentment among their Turkish neighbors.

And shortly after World War I began, atrocities against Armenians started taking place, with crucifixions, drownings, live burnings and mass murders.

Some children were kidnapped, converted to Islam and given to Turkish families. Meanwhile, women were raped and forced to join Turkish “harems” or work as slaves, and Armenian properties were seized.

“The Armenian Genocide was the first major calamity that hit an entire nation in the 20th century,” Kechichian said.

“Although the term genocide wasn’t in use at the time — it was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe’ — the Polish attorney applied it to the Armenian case.”  

Turkey still denies the persecution of Armenians after World War I. But Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international scholar in Saudi Arabia, said: “We know that the genocide happened. The Ottoman Empire in that era conducted many massacres against many people, including Arabs and Armenians.”

He compared the situation to that of Turkey today, with its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We still see that he wants to have his empire again,” Al-Shehri said. “He thinks he’s the sultan of that empire.”

Al-Shehri also drew a parallel with Iran and the Persian Empire. “They (Iran) want to control the whole region, so they’re living with that era in their mind and (trying) to apply it on the ground,” he said.

“This is the difference between us and them — they don’t want to leave countries alone, and this is what we’re facing with Iran.”

Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics, said the Armenian Genocide remains a “contentious” issue because of “the acrimonious debate over how to define genocide, particularly from the Turkish point of view. Ankara doesn’t recognize genocide because of many reasons, all of them extremely poor.”