Monday, December 22, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Conclusion: July 2013 to June 2014 Period

During 2013 and 2014, the foreign government-backed Syrian rebel groups’ attempt to violently overthrow Bashar Assad’s historically undemocratic Baath regime continued. In a Sept. 2, 2013 message “to all Communist Parties and Unions around the world,” the secular left Syrian Communist Party (Unified) group indicated, from its point of view, what had happened in Syria between late 2011 and the fall of 2013, in the following way:

“You know that our country- Syria- has been being exposed for more than twenty months, to a war lunched against it by scores of imperialist states, besides other countries that move round them as satellites.

“Their aim is to destroy the Syrian state that stands as an obstacle on the road of those trying to impose the plan of a `greater Middle East’, after breaking down the states in the region and replacing them with small entities fighting one another, to impose absolute domination on the oil and gas resources; to eliminate the Palestinian problem in a way extremely opposite to the interests of the Palestinian people.

“These countries manipulated the mistakes and shortcomings of the regime on the one hand, and the popular movements opposing these shortcomings. The movements were peaceful at first, later they turned into armed ones, which received support on a wide scale from the alliance that emerged consisting of U.S.A, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Turkey occupied the border exits with Syria, to help weapons being smuggled, the entrance of thousands of mercenaries calling themselves as Jihadists who built camps for training supporters and allies…These actions are flagrant violation of the international law which prohibits any country to use its territories to attack its neighbors. We know that Turkey, alone, can never do these things without American, European and Gulf States support….

“Syria never believes that the solution of the problem is a military one, rather, it has ever since the birth of the problem called for a peaceful and political solution through a comprehensive national dialogue…. Importantly enough, the Syrian government has declared a new peaceful initiative.

“The initiatives, farther, emphasize the need for democratic reforms, a new constitution, besides a new general and national pact which is to be prepared by all forces including the opposition….Unfortunately, the initiative has been refused instantly by the armed… groups and those who support it and demand that violence…continue…

“So far the Syrian people have paid a very heavy price, tens of thousands of innocent civilian have been killed. Today Syria is exposed to a human catastrophe.
About three millions Syrian citizens have fled their houses and become internally displaced refugees in neighboring countries living in unbelievably miserable conditions needing food and medicine….”

Estimates of the number of Syrians who have been killed since the initial non-violent street protests began in March 2011 are varied.

As of July 2013, United Nations officials estimated that over 100,000 people in Syria had been killed during the post-March 2011 uprising and armed conflict in Syria, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC]’s website; while a Wikipedia entry indicates that estimates of the number of people killed during the uprising and armed conflict in Syria between March 2011 and May 2014 vary from 108,000 to 162,000.

Of the people in Syria killed between March 2011 and early 2014 during the uprising and armed conflict, an estimated 30,000 to 37,685 of the slain were members of the Assad Baath regime’s Syrian military and police forces, and an estimated 23,000 more were members of Syrian militias that are loyal to the Baath regime, according to the same Wikipedia entry; while an estimated 42,000 to 62,000 of the dead—including an estimated 13,500 slain foreign Islamic fundamentalist fighters—were members of the armed Syrian insurgent groups attempting to overthrow Assad’s Baath regime.

United Nations officials also estimated that--by the beginning of 2014--of the estimated 22.4 million people who lived in Syria in early 2010, around 2.4 million Syrians had fled from Syria due to the post-March 2011 uprising and armed conflict; and that 75 percent of the refugees from Syria were women and children, according to the CBC’s website. In addition, the same website also noted that United Nations officials estimate that since March 2011, over 4 million people still living within Syria’s own territory have also been displaced, due to the impact of the uprising and armed conflict.

But the history of people who live in Syria seems to indicate that neither Turkish, UK, French, or Israeli military occupation or bombing of Syrian territory--nor the continuation of covert or overt foreign government funding and arming of secular or religiously sectarian armed rebel groups--has ever brought much democratization, freedom, economic justice or domestic peace for the majority of the people who have lived in Syria during the last 150 years.

(end of conclusion. Epilogue to follow.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 29: January to June 2013 Period

According to a timeline of Syria’s civil war by Thomas Plofchan that was posted on May 14, 2014 on The Cairo Review of Global Affairs website, in the Syrian parliamentary elections that were held on May 7, 2012 which were boycotted by Syrian opposition groups, “reports say that ruling Baath Party and allies won 60 percent majority, with most of the other seats going to pro-regime independents.”

Yet by the middle of 2013, the Democratic Obama administration was apparently involved in an even deeper way in providing arms training and weapons directly to the armed Syrian insurgent groups than it was in 2011. As the Los Angeles Times noted in a June 21, 2013 article by David S. Cloud and Raja Abdulrahim, titled “U.S. has secretly provided arms training to Syria rebels since 2012”:

“CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders.

“The covert U.S. training at bases in Jordan and Turkey, along with Obama's decision this month to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels, has raised hope among the beleaguered Syrian opposition that Washington ultimately will provide heavier weapons as well…. The training has involved fighters from the Free Syrian Army, a loose confederation of rebel groups that the Obama administration has promised to back with expanded military assistance, said a U.S. official, who discussed the effort anonymously because he was not authorized to disclose details.

“The number of rebels given U.S. instruction in Jordan and Turkey could not be determined, but in Jordan, the training involves 20 to 45 insurgents at a time, a rebel commander said…The two-week courses include training with Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter antitank rifles, anti-tank missiles and 23-millimeter antiaircraft weapons, according to a rebel commander in the Syrian province of Dara who helps oversee weapons acquisitions and who asked that his name not be used because the program is secret.

“The training began in November [2012] at a new American base in the desert in southwestern Jordan, he said. So far, about 100 rebels from Dara have attended four courses, and rebels from Damascus, the Syrian capital, have attended three, he said.

`Those from the CIA, we would sit and talk with them during breaks from training, and afterward they would try to get information on the situation’ in Syria, he said….

“Since last year, the weapons sent through the Dara rebel military council have included four or five Russian-made heavy Concourse antitank missiles, 18 14.5-millimeter guns mounted on the backs of pickup trucks and 30 82-millimeter recoil-less rifles…Asked Friday about the CIA training, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. had increased its aid to the rebels in the Free Syrian Army, but he refused to provide details…

"CIA officials declined to comment on the secret training programs, which was being done covertly in part because of U.S. legal concerns about publicly arming the rebels, which would constitute an act of war against the Assad government….

“Brig. Gen. Yahya Bittar, who defected as a fighter pilot from Assad's air force last year and is head of intelligence for the Free Syrian Army, said training for the last month or so had taken place in Jordan.

“The training, conducted by American, Jordanian and French operatives, involves rockets and anti-tank and antiaircraft weaponry, he said.

“Between 80 and 100 rebels from all over Syria have gone through the courses in the last month, he said, and training is continuing. Graduates are sent back across the border to rejoin the battle…”

(end of part 29)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lawrence, Massachusetts `Not Seasonally Adjusted' Jobless Rate: 10.4 Percent In October 2014

Eight major Massachusetts cities had “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rates in October 2014 that exceeded the national “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for that month of 5.5 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data:

1. The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate in Lawrence, Massachusetts was 10.4 percent in October 2014;

2. The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate in New Bedford, Massachusetts was 8.9 percent in October 2014;

3. The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Fall River, Massachusetts was 8.2 percent in October 2014;

4. The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Springfield, Massachusetts was 8.4 percent in October 2014;

5. The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate in Brockton, Massachusetts was 7.1 percent in October 2014;

6. The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Worcester, Massachusetts was 6.3 percent in October 2014;

7. The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate in Lowell, Massachusetts was 6.3 percent in October 2014; and

8. The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Lynn, Massachusetts was 6.1 percent in October 2014.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate in Boston, Massachusetts was still 5.3 percent in October 2014.

According to the Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development’s December 18, 2014 press release, between October and November 2014 “Construction lost 400 (-0.3%) jobs over the month” and “Information lost 200 (-0.2%) jobs over the month.”

In October 2014, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data, 187,300 workers in Massachusetts were still unemployed; and nearly 50,000 of these officially unemployed workers lived in Boston, Brockton, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Springfield or Worcester.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 28--section 2: January to December 2012 Period

A few weeks after armed Syrian rebel groups gained control of Aleppo, Syria on July 18, 2012, a Reuters article by Mark Hosenball, titled “Exclusive: Obama authorizes secret U.S. support for Syrian rebels”, revealed on Aug. 1, 2012 some more details about the U.S. government’s covert and overt support for the armed insurgency in Syria:

“President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

“Obama's order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence `finding,’ broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad…Precisely when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorization, an action not previously reported, could not be determined…A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

“Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad's opponents.

“This `nerve center’ is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence….Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly equipment.

“European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels…Current and former U.S. and European officials previously said that weapons supplies, which were being organized and financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were largely limited to guns and a limited number of anti-tank weapons, such as bazookas….Separately from the president's secret order, the Obama administration has stated publicly that it is providing some backing for Assad's opponents….Recent news reports from the region have suggested that the influence and numbers of Islamist militants, some of them connected to al Qaeda or its affiliates, have been growing among Assad's opponents…”

According to a 2013 Amnesty International human rights group report, in Syria during 2012, “government forces…carried out indiscriminate attacks on residential areas using aircraft, artillery shells, mortars, incendiary weapons and cluster bombs” and “together with their support militias, they arrested thousands of people.” In addition, “at least 550 were reported to have died in custody, many after torture,” others were extrajudicially executed” and “security forces’ snipers continued to shoot peaceful anti-government demonstrators and people attending public funerals.”

But the same 2013 Amnesty International report also noted that in Syria during 2012, the “armed groups fighting against the government also committed gross abuses, including war crimes,” “tortured and/or summarily killed government soldiers and militia members after taking them prisoner and carried out indiscriminate bombings that killed or injured civilians.”

The 2013 Amnesty International report described how the lives of many people in Syria were impacted by the continued foreign government-backed armed revolt against Assad’s Baath regime in 2012:

“…Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes; the UN estimated that over 2 million people were internally displaced and living under conditions of extreme hardship within Syria, and that since the beginning of the conflict almost 600,000 had fled as refugees to neighboring countries, where conditions were often harsh….A bomb attack in the capital Damascus on 18 July, for which the Free Syrian Army [FSA] claimed responsibility, killed the Defense Minister and his deputy, the Assistant Vice-President and the Head of the National Security Bureau. Two days later, armed opposition groups launched an offensive that spread the armed conflict to Aleppo, Damascus and elsewhere….

“Armed groups fighting against the government, including some linked to the FSA, …carried out suicide and other bomb attacks, and at times fired imprecise weapons such as artillery and mortars in densely populated neighborhoods, used inherently indiscriminate weapons such as anti-personnel landmines, and prepared or stored munitions and explosives in residential buildings, endangering civilian occupants…By the end of the year, armed opposition groups were reported to be increasingly threatening and attacking minority communities perceived to be pro-government…

“Government forces and militias routinely used lethal and other excessive force to quell peaceful protests calling for the `fall of the regime’. Hundreds of people, including children and bystanders, who posed no threat to the security forces or others, were killed or wounded by government snipers during protests and public funerals of “martyrs”. ..At least 550 people, including children, were reported to have died in custody, most apparently as a result of torture or other ill-treatment. Many of those who died were suspected government opponents…

“Government forces launched frequent, indiscriminate air strikes against opposition-controlled areas, prompting almost all residents of these areas to flee. Others, particularly those from minority groups, also fled their homes fearing attacks from armed opposition groups. Many camped in the countryside or sought refuge in caves; others went to live with relatives or left the country. Refugees from elsewhere resident in Syria, including Palestinian refugees, faced particular difficulties in accessing safety…By the end of the year, thousands of people were living in camps beside the border with Turkey in dire conditions…”

But the 2013 Amnesty International Report also noted that in 2012, “in February, the government held a referendum on a new Constitution that ended the Baath party’s long monopoly on power, but fell short of opposition demands for sweeping political reforms,” “parliamentary elections were held 90 days later,” and Assad’s Baath regime “announced general amnesties in January and October” of 2012.

(end of section 2 of part 28)

A People's History of Syria--Part 28--section 1: January to December 2012 Period

According to a Mar.9, 2012 article, titled “The Bloody Road to Damascus: The Triple Alliance’s War on a Sovereign State,” by The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack author and Binghamton University Sociology Professor James Petras, there was “clear and overwhelming evidence” by 2012 in Syria “that the uprising to overthrow President Assad of Syria” was “a violent, power grab led by foreign-supported fighters who have killed and wounded thousands of Syrian soldiers, police and civilians, partisans of the government and its peaceful opposition;" and that “the outrage expressed by politicians in the West and Gulf State and in the mass media, about the killing of peaceful Syrian citizens protesting injustice’” was “cynically designed to cover up the documented reports of violent seizure of neighborhoods, villages and towns by armed bands, brandishing machine guns and planting road-side bombs.” In Professor Petras’s view:

“The assault on Syria is backed by foreign funds, arms and training….An objective analysis of the political and social composition of the principle armed combatants in Syria refutes any claim that the uprising is in pursuit of democracy for the people of that country. Authoritarian fundamentalist fighters form the backbone of the uprising. The Gulf States financing these brutal thugs are themselves absolutist monarchies…The armed groups infiltrate towns and use population centers as shields from which they launch their attacks on government forces. In the process they force thousands of citizens from their homes, stores and offices which they use as military outposts. The destruction of the neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs is a classic case of armed gangs using civilians as shields and as propaganda fodder in demonizing the government.

"These armed mercenaries have no national credibility with the mass of Syrian people… The kings and emirs of the Gulf States bankroll these fighters. Turkey provides military bases and controls the cross-border flow of arms and the movement of the leaders of the so-called `Free Syrian Army’. The US, France and England provide the arms, training and diplomatic cover. Foreign jihadist-fundamentalists, including Al Qaeda fighters from Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, have entered the conflict…This is an international conflict pitting an unholy triple alliance of NATO imperialists, Gulf State despots and Muslim fundamentalists against an independent secular nationalist regime. The foreign origin of the weapons, propaganda machinery and mercenary fighters reveals the sinister imperial, `multi-national’ character of the conflict….

“…The Western backed militias have seized neighborhoods by force of arms, destroyed oil pipelines, sabotaged transportation and bombed government buildings. In the course of their attacks they have disrupted basic services critical to the Syrian people including education, access to medical care, security, water, electricity and transportation. As such, they bear most of the responsibility for this `humanitarian disaster’…A majority of Syrians prefer a peaceful, negotiated settlement and reject mercenary violence. The Western-backed Syrian National Council and the Turkish and Gulf States-armed `Free Syrian Army’ flatly rejected Russian and Chinese calls for an open dialogue and negotiations which the Assad regime…accepted. NATO and Gulf State dictatorships are pushing their proxies to pursue violent `regime change’, a policy which already has caused the death of thousands of Syrians. US and European economic sanctions are designed to wreck the Syrian economy, in the expectation that acute deprivation will drive an impoverished population into the arms of their violent proxies…”

According to Thomas Plofchen’s May 14, 2014 timeline on The Cairo Review of Global Affairs website, on Jan. 23, 2012 the Al-Nussra Front (Jabbat Al-Nursa)—a Syrian opposition armed rebel group affiliate of the Al-Qaeda group—announced its formation. And in an article by Eric Schmitt, titled “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition,” the New York Times reported the following on June 21, 2012:

“A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.
The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

“The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks…The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.

“The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited American support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington’s attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria…The United States and its allies have…turned to…aiding allied efforts to arm the rebels to force Mr. Assad from power.

“…`C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,’ said one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts…The struggle inside Syria has the potential to intensify significantly in coming months as powerful new weapons are flowing to both the Syrian government and opposition fighters…Spokesmen for the White House, State Department and C.I.A. would not comment on any intelligence operations supporting the Syrian rebels, some details of which were reported last week by The Wall Street Journal

“The State Department has authorized $15 million in nonlethal aid, like…communications equipment, to civilian opposition groups in Syria…What has changed since March is an influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels. The increasingly fierce air and artillery assaults by the government are intended to counter improved coordination, tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, according to members of the Syrian National Council and other activists.

“Last month, these activists said, Turkish Army vehicles delivered antitank weaponry to the border, where it was then smuggled into Syria….The United States, these activists said, was consulted about these weapons transfers….The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, has recently begun trying to organize the scattered, localized units that all fight under the name of the Free Syrian Army into a more cohesive force…”

(end of part 28--section 1)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 27: May to December 2011 Period

According to an article by Sibel Edmunds that was posted on Nov. 21, 2011 on the website, in late April or May 2011 a “joint U.S.-NATO secret training camp in the U.S. air force base in Incirlik, Turkey, began operations…to organize and expand the dissident base in Syria,” “weekly weapons smuggling operations” were “carried out with full NATO-U.S. participation since” May 2011 and, subsequently, deserters from the Baath regime’s army such as “Col. Riad al-Assad” and “several other high-ranking” defecting “Syrian military and intelligence officials” were then “added to operations’ headquarters in the U.S. base.”

Coincidentally, according to a timeline of Syria’s civil war by Thomas Plofchan that was posted on May 14, 2014 on The Cairo Review of Global Affairs website, on July 29, 2011 “defectors from the Syrian Army announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army, led by former Col. Riad Al-Assad;” and in 2011 James Gelvin’s The Arab Uprisings observed that “Syrian opposition leaders” said “that, should they remove Bashar al-Assad from power, they will reorient Syria toward the United States and the West and away from Iran.”

So, not surprisingly, in 2011 “the United States and the European Union both imposed their own escalating sets of sanctions on Syria.” On Aug. 17, 2011, for example, the Obama Administrations “Executive Order 1358” banned “Syrian oil imports and new U.S. investments in Syria and” blocked Syrian “government property in the United States,” according to Thomas Plofchan’s timeline on The Cairo Review of Global Affairs website.

According to a May 13, 2013 internet article by Musa al-Gharbi, “Wikileaks cables reveal that the U.S.” government “had begun cultivating opposition groups against the al-Assad regime, inside Syria and around the world, as early as 2006” and “these policies continued under” the Obama Administration. As an Apr. 18, 2011 Reuters article, titled “U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition: report,” noted, The Washington Post reported on Apr. 17, 2011 that the U.S. “State Department has secretly funded Syrian opposition groups, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks” and “the cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million since 2006 to a group of Syrian exiles to operate a London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, and finance activities inside Syria.”

According to the Apr. 17, 2011 Washington Post article by Craig Whitlock:

“The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad…Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles….The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus…

“The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush…in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama...The cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010. While some of that money has also supported programs and dissidents inside Syria, The Washington Post is withholding certain names and program details at the request of the State Department...The State Department declined to comment on the authenticity of the cables or answer questions about its funding of Barada TV…

“Syrian exiles in Europe founded the Movement for Justice and Development. The group, which is banned in Syria, openly advocates for Assad’s removal. U.S. cables describe its leaders as `liberal, moderate Islamists’ who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood…Several U.S. diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the State Department funneled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit….Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, said the Middle East Partnership Initiative has allocated $7.5 million for Syrian programs since 2005. A cable from the embassy in Damascus, however, pegged a much higher total — about $12 million — between 2005 and 2010.

“The cables report persistent fears among U.S. diplomats that Syrian state security agents had uncovered the money trail from Washington….”

According to Musa al-Gharbi’s May 13, 2013 internet article, “as conflict erupted in Syria” after March 2011 “the U.S. attempted to create a shadow government (the Syrian National Council), comprised largely of expatriates, pro-Western ideologues, and Washington insiders, handpicked years before;” but “due to America’s obvious imprint, both this government and its successor enjoy little credibility with the Syrian people or the opposition forces on the ground” and “even should Bashar be deposed, it seems implausible that `a football dad from Texas’—Ghassan Hitto, the Syrian-American IT Executive from Dallas who is now the SNC’s prime minister—will end up governing Syria.” In Musa al-Gharbi’s view:

“As with Libya and Iraq, the U.S. believed Syrians loathed Bashar, the rebellion was popular, and the regime’s collapse was inevitable and imminent. In fact, none of these were true. Yet the U.S. designed their Syrian strategy around these falsities, relying on half-measures and `light footprints,’ believing these would be sufficient to topple the regime. They interfered with negotiations within Syria, saying there could be no dialogue until Bashar resigned. As a result, U.S. involvement in Syria propagated and escalated the violence, rather than stopping it.”

According to a 2012 Amnesty International human rights group report, Assad’s undemocratic Baath regime responded in 2011 to street protests that called for the democratization of Syrian society, the relinquishment of power by Assad or the overthrow of the Baath regime in the following repressive ways:

“Government forces used lethal and other excessive force against peaceful protesters who took to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand political reform and the fall of the regime…More than 4,300 people reportedly died during or in connection with the protests and during funerals of demonstrators, most apparently shot by members of the security forces, including snipers. Tanks were used in military operations in civilian residential areas….The protests spread rapidly as government forces tried to quell the protests by brute force, including by using snipers to shoot into peaceful crowds while claiming that shadowy `armed gangs’ opposed to the government were responsible for the violence.”

But the 2012 Amnesty International Report also noted that in 2011:

“…Bashar al-Assad announced various reforms in response to the protests. In April, he lifted the national state of emergency that had been in force continuously since 1963, abolished the notoriously unfair Supreme State Security Court that had jailed thousands of critics and opponents of the government, and decreed that some members of the Kurdish minority should receive Syrian citizenship…A new Peaceful Assembly Law was introduced under which only demonstrations `properly licensed’ in advance by the authorities are considered lawful. In March, June and November, the President granted five separate amnesties for different categories of prisoners; among those freed were prisoners of conscience and people detained during the protests, although the vast majority of such detainees remained behind bars. Laws covering new Parties, elections and the media were passed in August [2011]...”

(end of part 27)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 26: March to May 2011 Period

The initial incident which sparked a new wave of resistance by opposition political groups in Syria in 2011 to the undemocratic Baath regime of Bashar Assad was the arrest on Mar. 6, 2011 of ten to fifteen Syrian children under the age of 16 in Daraa, Syria—for spray painting “Down with the regime [nizan]” on a wall—by local Syrian police.

Only about 200 to 350 people had initially joined a “Day of Rage” demonstration in Damascus on Mar. 15, 2011 in which Syrian political opposition groups demanded that Assad’s Baath regime rescind the Emergency Law of 1963 and release all remaining Syrian political prisoners. But when the families of the arrested schoolchildren in Daraa then held a street protest on Mar. 17, 2011 to demand the release of the ten schoolchildren, local Syrian security forces “opened fire” and killed several of the protesting family members, according to James Gelvin’s The Arab Uprisings; and, in response to the shooting down of these non-violent Syrian protesters, the following events happened in Syria after Mar. 17, 2011, according to the same book:

“…The next day [Mar. 18, 2011], their funeral procession brought out 20,000 demonstrators who chanted anti-government slogans and attacked government buildings…Protests erupted the same day far to the north in the coastal city of Banias…Protests soon spread to other cities including Latakia, Homs, Hasaka, and Qamishli, as well as to the small towns surrounding Damascus…”

Initially, the Baath regime cited the Emergency Law of 1963 as its legal basis for using its security forces and soldiers to attempt to violently suppress the initially non-violent opposition political groups’ street demonstrations of the post-March 2011 uprising in Syria, by overruling the Syrian constitution and detaining and arresting demonstrators indefinitely.

But on Apr. 16, 2011, the Baath regime agreed to repeal the Emergency Law of 1963, as demanded by the Syrian opposition groups coordinating the post-March 2011 Syrian uprising. In addition, to win more popular support for the Baath regime from Syria’s Kurdish minority, Assad’s regime also had agreed on Apr. 6, 2011 to grant citizenship “to 250,000 Kurds who, it maintains, had crossed into Syria from Turkey illegally in the early sixties,” according to The Arab Uprisings.

The same book also characterized the Syrian opposition political groups which were seeking to democratize or overthrow Assad’s Baath regime during 2011 in the following way:

“The opposition in Syria consists of 5 main components. The…spontaneous, mostly peaceful crowds…A variety of pro-democracy, pro-human rights, and social media groups…These groups have not been particularly successful at mobilizing substantial numbers…The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood…has been present only at opposition conferences outside Syria because it is illegal in Syria…Once the uprising broke out, however, the brotherhood declared its support for pro-democracy protesters, and called for a multiparty democracy.

“The final group that has participated in the uprising is deserters from the [Syrian] army and their support networks. Included among the latter are merchants and smugglers, who have armed those who abandoned the [Syrian] military without weapons…and the Turkish government, which allowed deserters to establish a cross-border presence in Turkey…”

The Arab Uprisings indicated why some of the lower-level conscripted Syrian soldiers—without needing any U.S.-NATO encouragement—might have started to desert from the Syrian Army after the post-March 2011 uprising against the Baath regime began: “Sunni conscripts, repelled by the level of violence their Alawite officers were willing to inflict on protesters, began to defect from the army in increasing numbers.”

(end of part 26)