Workers from the St. Paul’s and St. George’s Foundation prepare to install a statue of Jesus on Mount Sednaya, Syria
This is the latest in a series of ongoing dispatches about Syria. I attach six articles below.
* Unlikely as this may seem, in the midst of the brutal Syrian civil war, and inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s towering Christ the Redeemer statue, a giant 12.3 meters (40 feet) high bronze statue of Jesus has just been put up on the Syrian mountain overlooking ancient pilgrim route to Jerusalem. The statue is tall and stands on a base that brings its height to 32 meters (105 feet).
* So why put up a giant statue of Jesus in the midst of so much danger? Because “Jesus would have done it,” a church leader says.
* For the first time, a Syrian refugee gave birth in an Israeli hospital today. With all the doctors gone from her town, she walked across the border alone. “To my joy, the Israeli army saw I was suffering from terrible pains, and picked me up and transferred me to the hospital,” she told Israeli TV tonight. “I really don’t feel like I’m in an enemy country; everyone is helping me and caring for me.”
* Update: Video here.
* Syria’s polio outbreak demands an immediate response, as does the enforced genocidal mass starvation Assad is imposing on some Sunni areas of Syria – Meanwhile Russia is rushing to send Assad more arms to continue the killing, while Iran and Hizbullah are supplying much of Assad’s manpower for his death squads.
* More than 200,000 Syrian Kurds flee into Iraqi Kurdistan.
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. “In first, Syrian woman gives birth in Israeli hospital” (By Lazar Berman, Times of Israel, Nov. 3, 2013)
2. “In midst of Syrian war, giant Jesus statue arises” (By Diaa Hadid, Associated Press, Nov. 2, 2013)
3. “Syria’s polio outbreak demands an immediate response” (Washington Post Editorial, Nov. 2, 2013)
4. “Cut Off: Starving Syrians hope to live through winter” (By Christoph Reuter, Der Spiegel (Germany) Nov. 1, 2013)
5. “Russia stepping up arms shipments to Syria, U.S. official says” (By Paul McLeary, Defense News, Nov. 1, 2013)
6. “The Kurds get a second chance in Syria” (By Fouad Ajami, Bloomberg News, Oct. 30, 2013)
A SYRIAN IS BORN IN ISRAEL
In first, Syrian woman gives birth in Israeli hospital
‘I don’t feel like I’m in an enemy country,’ says 20-year-old who came across border alone
By Lazar Berman
Times of Israel
November 3, 2013
For the first time, a Syrian refugee gave birth in an Israeli hospital on Sunday. The woman, a 20-year-old nurse, came across the border alone, and gave birth to a healthy 3.2-kilogram (7 pound) boy.
When the woman felt the baby coming, she was stuck in her home near Quneitra, with no access to a Syrian hospital and no medical care in the town. So she decided to take a huge risk for the sake of her unborn child, and made her way to the border.
“I feared for the baby’s welfare if the birth went through complications at home,” she said. “To my joy, the Israeli army saw I was suffering from terrible pains, and picked me up and transferred me to the hospital.”
When the IDF found her on the border Saturday night, she was already in labor. They brought her to Ziv Medical Center in Safed, where many of the dozens of Syrian medical cases brought into Israel are treated.
Since she came across the border with no family, midwives at the hospital took their place, holding her hands and coaching her through the birth. “At the end of the birth she thanked everyone and hugged everyone with joy,” one of the nurses said.
“The team of Israeli midwives and doctors treated me with sensitivity and respect,” noted the mother.
“She received warm and embracing care from the entire birthing staff,” said Mira Eli, a nurse in the birthing room at Ziv, “just like every mother needs – and even more.”
After surviving on a rice diet for the past two months, the mother received meat and vegetables at the hospital.
“I really don’t feel like I’m in an enemy country; everyone is helping me and caring for me,” she told Channel 2. (Syria and Israel are formally at war, and have fought three major conflicts – in 1948, 1967 and 1973.)
Since February, over 250 Syrian civilians have been admitted to Israeli hospitals for treatment. Many less serious cases have been treated by Israeli medical teams at an IDF field hospital in the Golan Heights.
Israel has said it offers the care as an act of humanitarian assistance, while endeavoring to stay out of the Syrian war, in which an estimated 100,000 people have been killed since March 2011.
IN MIDST OF SYRIAN WAR, A GIANT JESUS STATUE ARISES
In midst of Syrian war, giant Jesus statue arises
By Diaa Hadid
The Associated Press
November 2, 2013
BEIRUT (AP) – In the midst of a conflict rife with sectarianism, a giant bronze statue of Jesus has gone up on a Syrian mountain, apparently under cover of a truce among three factions in the country’s civil war.
Jesus stands, arms outstretched, on the Cherubim mountain, overlooking a route pilgrims took from Constantinople to Jerusalem in ancient times. The statue is 12.3 meters (40 feet) tall and stands on a base that brings its height to 32 meters (105 feet), organizers of the project estimate.
That the statue made it to Syria and went up without incident on Oct. 14 is remarkable. The project took eight years and was set back by the civil war that followed the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Christians and other minorities are all targets in the conflict, and the statue’s safety is by no means guaranteed. It stands among villages where some fighters, linked to al-Qaeda, have little sympathy for Christians.
So why put up a giant statue of Jesus in the midst of such setbacks and so much danger?
Because “Jesus would have done it,” organizer Samir al-Ghadban quoted a Christian church leader as telling him.
The backers’ success in overcoming the obstacles shows the complexity of civil war, where sometimes despite the atrocities the warring parties can reach short-term truces.
Al-Ghadban said that the main armed groups in the area – Syrian government forces, rebels and the local militias of Sednaya, the Christian town near the statue site – halted fire while organizers set up the statue, without providing further details.
Rebels and government forces occasionally agree to cease-fires to allow the movement of goods. They typically do not admit to having truces because that would tacitly acknowledge their enemies.
It took three days to raise the statue. Photos provided by organizers show it being hauled in two pieces by farm tractors, then lifted into place by a crane. Smaller statues of Adam and Eve stand nearby.
The project, called “I Have Come to Save the World,” is run by the London-based St. Paul and St. George Foundation, which Al-Ghadban directs. It was previously named the Gavrilov Foundation, after a Russian businessman, Yuri Gavrilov.
Documents filed with Britain’s Charity Commission describe it as supporting “deserving projects in the field of science and animal welfare” in England and Russia, but the commission’s accounts show it spent less than 250 pounds ($400) in the last four years.
Al-Ghadban said most of the financing came from private donors, but did not supply further details.
Russians have been a driving force behind the project – not surprising given that the Kremlin is embattled Assad’s chief ally, and the Orthodox churches in Russia and Syria have close ties. Al-Ghadban, who spoke to The Associated Press from Moscow, is Syrian-Russian and lives in both countries.
Al-Ghadban said he began the project in 2005, hoping the statue would be an inspiration for Syria’s Christians. He said he was inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s towering Christ the Redeemer statue.
He commissioned an Armenian sculptor, but progress was slow.
By 2012, the statue was ready, but Syria was aflame, causing the project’s biggest delay, al-Ghadban said.
Majority Sunni Muslims dominate the revolt, and jihadists make up some of the strongest fighting groups. Other Muslim groups along with the 10-percent Christian minority have stood largely with Assad’s government, or remained neutral, sometimes arming themselves to keep hard-line rebels out of their communities.
Churches have been vandalized, priests abducted. Last month the extremists overran Maaloula, a Christian-majority town so old that some of its people still speak a language from Jesus’ time.
On Tuesday a militant Muslim cleric, Sheik Omar al-Gharba, posted a YouTube video of himself smashing a blue-and-white statue of the Virgin Mary.
Al-Ghadban and the project’s most important backer, Gavrilov, weighed canceling it.
They consulted Syria’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yaziji. It was he who told them “Jesus would have done it.”
They began shipping the statue from Armenia to Lebanon. In August, while it was en route, Gavrilov, 49, suffered a fatal heart attack, al-Ghadban said.
Eventually the statue reached Syria.
“It was a miracle,” al-Ghadban said. “Nobody who participated in this expected this to succeed.”
SYRIA’S POLIO OUTBREAK DEMANDS AN IMMEDIATE RESPONSE
Syria’s polio outbreak demands an immediate response
Washington Post Editorial
November 2, 2013
ON TOP of all the human misery inflicted upon the people of Syria by civil war, now comes the polio virus. The disease, which can lead to irreversible paralysis and death and strikes mostly children 5 and younger, can be spread in situations with poor hygiene and sanitation. The World Health Organization has confirmed 10 cases of wild polio virus in samples taken from Deir al-Zour province in northeastern Syria.
This is the scourge of war. Most of the polio cases are children 2 or younger, born and infected in the years in which Syria has been ravaged by violent conflict. The estimated polio immunization rate in Syria was 91 percent in 2010, but it fell to only 68 percent in 2012. The outbreak is a sign of what happens when health-care systems collapse. Most ominous, about half a million Syrian children have not been immunized. Vaccination is the most critical tool in the battle against polio, and a large-scale effort is being mounted to reach the unvaccinated children. Still, the World Health Organization has warned that the risk of further spread in the region is high, given the war, tides of refugees fleeing battle zones and big gaps in immunity. Efforts are being intensified to immunize children in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Israel and Egypt.
Elsewhere, impressive progress has been made in fighting polio. At the start of this year, the disease was endemic in only Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. Cases in these three countries are down 40 percent compared to last year, and southern Afghanistan has been free of it for a year. A major concern is North Waziristan, where vaccinators have been unable to reach children for more than a year, and where cases are on the rise. A severe outbreak in Somalia and one in Kenya have been tied to Nigeria. But polio has been stopped before in regions of conflict, and there is still hope that the disease can eventually be eradicated. Earlier this year, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, an umbrella group, unveiled a promising strategy to reach zero cases in five years. Last year, the world saw only 223 polio cases, the lowest level in history. This year, the total is 322 and rising.
Until genetic analysis is complete, it won’t be possible to pinpoint the origin of the Syrian polio virus, but there are fears it spread from Pakistan. The challenge for Syria now is to carry out vaccinations amid the shooting. It is absolutely essential for frontline health workers to have access to the endangered populations. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent must be able to work without hindrance. The United Nations and Syria’s neighbors ought to demand that all sides – government forces and the opposition – guarantee that volunteers immunizing children do not become targets or victims. Roadblocks can stop fighters, but they will not stop polio virus, which threatens all in its path, the children of rebel fighters and army generals alike.
STARVING SYRIANS HOPE TO LIVE THROUGH WINTER
Cut Off: Starving Syrians hope to live through winter
By Christoph Reuter
Der Spiegel (Germany)
November 1, 2013
As the world focuses on Syria’s chemical disarmament, thousands of people in the country face a more pressing concern: starvation. Cut off by ongoing violence, they are dying because they have no access to supplies. Many will not survive the winter.
Three-year-old Ibrahim Khalil survived the chemical weapons attacks on Aug. 21. But then, 10 days later, he died of hunger -- just as the next child died hours after him and a third died four days later in the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya.
When the world learned of the sarin gas attacks that took place in the suburbs of Damascus this past summer, it reacted with outrage, leading to Syria’s dismantling of its chemical arsenal, which was declared complete by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Thursday. Yet hardly anyone seems to be taking notice of these new deaths. After being under siege for months, cut off from food supplies, electricity, water and any form of aid, people are beginning to die of malnutrition.
Children are also starving to death in Yarmouk in the southern part of Damascus and other places sealed off by government troops. But nowhere is the situation as fatal as it is in Muadhamiya, where six children had died by mid-October “and dozens are already so weak that an ordinary cold would kill them,” says Dr. Amin Abu Ammar, one of the last doctors in the suburb.
The fact that President Bashar Assad agreed to destroy his stockpiles of chemical weapons is a piece of good news from a war that is not producing any other positive reports. In fact, it’s too good, so good that the chemical weapons inspectors were promptly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and it seemed as if the rest of the war had ceased. And while European governments are mainly concerned about foreign jihadists infiltrating Syria, there are about 1,000 armed local fighters in Muadhamiya who don’t even have any contact with neighboring towns.
PROTESTING NEAR SYRIA’S NERVE CENTERS
The location of the city, once home to more than 60,000 people, has become its undoing. As in hundreds of other towns and cities across Syria, the residents of Muadhamiya demonstrated against Assad in the spring of 2011. But of all the places where protests were held, Muadhamiya was the closest to the regime’s nerve centers: the headquarters of the Syrian army’s 4th Armored Division in the north, the quarters of the Republican Guard in the west and the “president’s airport” in Mezzeh in the northeast.
Muadhamiya was already surrounded before a single soldier was deployed. The fact that the population wasn’t poor but consisted of the well-educated middle class made the situation even worse.
Muadhamiya was to be subjugated. When the government failed to achieve this goal, despite mass arrests and shots being fired at demonstrators, they decided to take it by force. And when that plan could not be implemented, despite mortar fire and air strikes, rockets armed with sarin gas rained down on the city, killing 85 people, according to doctors there.
But what the chemical weapons failed to achieve is now being gradually accomplished by hunger: the annihilation of a city. And it is happening without any of Washington’s red lines being crossed or any public outcry in other countries -- and even without propaganda efforts from Damascus to conceal the problem. “Let them starve for a bit, surrender and then be put on trial,” a member of the newly-formed paramilitary “Defense Committee” from Assad’s Alawite faith told a reporter with the Wall Street Journal in early October.
MOSQUES TARGETED WITH MORTAR FIRE
The suburb of Muadhamiya has been cut off from the outside world since Nov. 18, 2012. Soldiers at checkpoints are not allowing anyone in or out. Snipers shoot anyone who tries to cross the lines. The physicians’ committee has counted 1,700 deaths since the beginning of the uprising, including 738 since the blockade alone. Almost all of the city’s 22 schools are in ruins. Classes were held in a few mosques at first, but that stopped when the mosques were targeted with mortar fire from the hills by the 4th Division.
The last shops closed in March because there was nothing left to sell. Electricity, water lines and the telephone network have been cut off. Bread is only available when someone manages to smuggle in some flour. Assad has turned Muadhamiya into a ghost town.
“At first, we survived on our supplies and what we found in the houses of those who had fled,” says Ahmed Muadamani, a former businessman and current member of the revolutionary town council, who is now in charge of outside contacts through one of the last Internet connections, via satellite phone.
“Then many people tried to grow tomatoes and potatoes in all open areas, but there were several deaths when the snipers kept shooting at people in the fields and gardens.” Women were shot in the chest and men in the head, says the doctor, adding that there is now nothing left to eat for the winter.
For a while, friends and relatives of the trapped residents were able to drive by along the road between Damascus and the Golan Heights, near Muadhamiya, and toss bags of food out of their cars. Residents would then perform the life-threatening task of collecting the bags. But the road has been closed for half a year now, and snipers have also taken positions there.
‘THERE ARE NO LAMBS ANYMORE’
Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, which is based on the Biblical tale of Abraham who, at God’s behest, went out to sacrifice his son Isaac, only to be stopped by an angel at the last minute, was held in mid-October. In Islam, the story mirrors the Biblical account, except that Abraham is known as Ibrahim and Isaac is Ismail. In addition, the salvation of the son is traditionally celebrated with the slaughtering of an animal, usually a lamb, and the meat is distributed among the poor.
Syrian friends in Germany wanted to give the starving residents of Muadhamiya a lamb, or more than one, if possible, to celebrate the festival. Using Skype, they asked how they should go about doing this and to whom they should send the money. They received their answer after three days: “There are no lambs anymore. Not a single lamb in the entire city. We have already eaten anything that crawls, runs and flies. And you can’t eat money.”
Up to 40,000 people have become trapped in Yarmouk, which has only been under siege for three months. For the Feast of the Sacrifice, an imam there issued a fatwa, or religious opinion. “We have permitted the consumption of dogs, cats, donkeys and cadavers,” declared Sheikh Salah al-Khatib. “Otherwise, there is nothing left. How much longer do you intend to look on?” he asked Muslims celebrating the holiday around the world. “Until we eat each other?”
The last animals that have not been slaughtered in Muadhamiya are three cows, although again, gathering grass for the animals has become dangerous because open meadows are within the target range of the snipers. But without the cows there would be no milk left for the children.
All attempts to organize subsistence are failing one after another. The undernourished are getting sick more quickly; medicine is in short supply. The two underground hospitals have almost no electricity, because there is no diesel fuel left to run the generators. The same soldiers who are shooting at them sometimes sell them sugar for the equivalent of €20 ($27) a kilo, “but never rice or milk,” says the doctor.
APPEALS FOR HUMANITARIAN AID
In recent months, the Red Crescent has tried to bring food into the city seven times, but to no avail. The United States State Department and the United Nations have appealed to Damascus in recent weeks to allow humanitarian aid for the besieged civilians, but there was no reaction from the Syrian government. The official position is that those surrounded by government troops are all terrorists or their supporters.
Suburbs in the northeast of Damascus have also been sealed off for months. But they cover larger areas, there are smuggling routes and, most of all, there are no snipers to shoot children as they gather firewood or grass for livestock. The tool of besiegement has become an omnipresent weapon, which is also employed by the rebels, who have surrounded the western part of Aleppo. The difference is that civilians there are not prevented from leaving, and food supplies are allowed in.
In mid-October, after weeks of negotiations, two groups totaling about 1,600 civilians were permitted to leave Muadhamiya. They included women and children, but no men between the ages of 14 and 60. When a third group arrived at the western checkpoint on Oct. 16 to be evacuated, as arranged, the artillery units on the 4th division’s hill opened fire without warning. Four people died and several were severely injured. The rest fled back into the city, where 10,000 people remain.
Abdul Rassak al-Hamshari, 65, was in the last group that was allowed to leave. He has made it to Lebanon, to a small village in the Bekaa Valley near the border. He is now living in an unfinished concrete basement shared by 10 people, which is luxurious compared to life in Muadhamiya. “At least there isn’t any shelling anymore!” says Hamshari.
His son is dead, but he holds out hope that his daughter-in-law will manage to escape. He has no illusions about the men who are still in Muadhamiya. “They are our sons, cousins and grandsons, and they will not give up, even if they all die. But what could I have done there? I’m old and useless.”
When told about the “cat fatwa” in Yarmouk, he laughs briefly and intensely. “It’s a good idea. But when we left, I hadn’t seen a cat on the streets in weeks. They’ve all been eaten already.”
(Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan)
PUTIN STEPS UP ARMS SHIPMENTS TO SYRIA
Russia stepping up arms shipments to Syria, US official says
By Paul McLeary
November 1, 2013
WASHINGTON – The fighting between the government and rebels in Syria continues to be “a grinding war of attrition” with no military or political end in sight, a top American diplomat said today.
“Neither the regime nor the opposition can throw a knockout punch,” Robert Ford, US ambassador to Syria, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The ruling regime of Bashir al Assad is increasingly relying on foreign forces, such as Hezbollah from Lebanon, Iranian Qods troops and Iraqi Shia militias to fight on behalf of the government since regime forces have melted away and new recruits are increasingly difficult to find.
“More and more, the regime is dependent on foreign manpower” as it struggles to hold its armed forces together and keep them supplied, he added.
The Assad regime is also being supplied by Russia, which has recently increased the amount of conventional arms it is providing to the regime.
“The Russian deliveries have become more significant, more significant than from Iran,” which had been Assad’s biggest sponsor up to now, Ford warned.
Earlier in the day, the Joint Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – United Nations Mission confirmed that Syria had completed the destruction of equipment used for chemical weapons production, and that OPCW teams have inspected 21 of the 23 sites declared by Syria, and 39 of the 41 facilities located at those sites. The last two sites are still unreachable due to security concerns.
Still, Thomas Countryman, the US State Department’s assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation, told the panel that Syria only just delivered a 700-page report to Washington on Monday outlining its chemical weapons and production facilities, and that the Obama administration is working though it.
The opposition forces continue to be a hodgepodge of loosely aligned secular and Islamist forces, some of which have been fighting one another for influence and power. US intelligence has found that the two main al-Qaida groups – the mostly indigenous Jabhat al-Nusra and the newer, mostly Iraqi and foreign Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant – have been fighting one another in northern Syria, Ford said.
In some cases, secular opposition groups have formed temporary, ad hoc alliances with elements of al Nusra to battle the foreign fighters as well.
The United States has delivered about $250 million worth of non-lethal aid to secular groups so far, including several trucks on Oct. 31st that can be used for logistics and to move fighters around.
But several senators scoffed at the Obama administration’s efforts in Syria.
Sen. Bob Coker, R-Tenn., said the Obama administration has “no real strategy relative to the opposition ... let’s face it guys, what really happened when the Russian offer came forward was it was less about seizing an opportunity and more about our country not having to stomach” developing a strategy for Syria.
“We don’t see a way for this to be solved militarily,” Ford shot back. “We have to build a political set of agreements between [Syrian] communities” or else the fighting will grind on with no end.
“Our help has been an embarrassment,” Coker told the witnesses. “I could not be more embarrassed by the way we have let down [the secular opposition.] I hope at some point this administration will sit down and develop a strategy not only for Syria but for the region”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., piled on, calling the White House’s insistence that the fighting in Syria is a civil war “a gross distortion of the facts, which makes many of us question your fundamental strategy,” both in the country and in the region in general.
Ford explained that supplying the secular resistance with aid has been complicated by the fact that al-Qaida groups had captured key border points, making resupply almost impossible until secular fighters recaptured the border crossings.
He also said that the Islamist groups have increasingly become self-sufficient, having captured oil wells in the north, as well as by running extortion and smuggling schemes in order to finance their operations.
MORE THAN 200,000 SYRIAN KURDS FLEE INTO IRAQI KURDISTAN
The Kurds get a second chance in Syria
By Fouad Ajami
Oct 30, 2013
More than 200,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees have moved into Iraqi Kurdistan. They have crossed an international border to be sure, yet it is, in the Kurdish world view, a passage from one part of their homeland to another. The Kurds disregard these frontiers, imposed on the Fertile Crescent almost a century ago by Anglo-French power.
No Kurd is lamenting the erosion of the borders in this tangled geography. The partition of the successor states of the Ottoman Empire brought the Kurds grief and dispossession. The Persians, Turks and Arabs secured their own states. Indeed, the Arabs were bequeathed several states in the geography of “Turkish Arabia” that runs from the Iraqi border with Iran to the Mediterranean.
Kurdistan was singularly betrayed, its people divided among Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Kurdish history became a chronicle of thwarted rebellions. According to a deeply felt expression, the Kurds had no friends but the mountains.
Yet a new life is stirring in Kurdistan. Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, once a forgotten fortress town, is a booming city of shopping malls, high-rises and swank hotels. Oil and natural gas have remade the city, as has its political stability, remarkable when set against the mayhem of the rest of Iraq.
The Kurds are shrewd. They aren’t about to claim Erbil as the capital of a restored greater Kurdistan, but it has pride of place in their world. It is the home of Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish regional government, and of almost 5 million people, who are officially part of Iraq but in reality belong to an independent nation.
The realists among the Kurds know the power and ruthlessness of the nations that have divided and ruled their world, yet they are determined to make the best of this moment when borders and attachments are suddenly in flux.
It is the fate of Western Kurdistan -- Rojava in Kurdish -- that has given rise to this new sense of urgency. The war between the Damascus regime and the principally Sunni rebels presents peril and possibility for the 2 million to 3 million Kurds within Syria.
The Kurds inhabit fragments of Syria by the Turkish and Iraqi borders, in the northeast; their lands contain the bulk of Syria’s oil. Arab nationalism, the creed of the authoritarian Syrian state, was avowedly racist in its treatment of them, denying them the most basic and cherished right: use of their own language. The regime of the Assads, father and son, has been cunning and devastating in the way it pitted the Kurds against one another.
Yet in the civil war that erupted in 2011, the Syrian opposition has troubled the Kurds, too. The leaders of the Sunni Arab rebellion were committed to creation of their own centralized state. Turkey’s sponsorship of the rebels created suspicions as well. The foreign jihadists who made their way to Syria were yet another source of anxiety.
The Kurds had a small volunteer force of their own, but it was no match for Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, whose Islamist warriors had weapons aplenty, money and unchecked zeal. The group was determined to impose its rule in areas the regime had left. In mid-July, clashes broke out in Kurdish towns and have erupted intermittently since. Thousands of Syrian Kurds have made their way to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they receive help, even as the authorities in Erbil don’t want to encourage an exodus from Syria.
Turkey casts a large shadow. The line that separates the Syrian and Turkish Kurds is artificial. As the prominent Turkish columnist Cengiz Candar observes, the Kurds don’t speak of Turkish and Syrian communities. For them the line of separation was a simple railroad track that allowed them to move to and fro, with ease and freedom.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a dilemma. He is invested in a peace process at home with the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan. And Turkey has a flourishing relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan, whose oil and natural gas it needs desperately. Yet the permissive attitude of the Turkish state toward the jihadists battling the Syrian Kurds has been a source of trouble for Erdogan. He has gone a long way toward keeping the jihadists at arm’s length.
The dream of greater Kurdistan is just that. History has given the Kurds a second chance in Iraq and Syria, while Turkish democracy gives them a voice in the country’s direction. Matters are stagnant in Iran, where the oppression of the Kurds is of a piece with the tyranny of a theocracy.
The Kurds can’t erase all the hurts of their modern history and those who choose to stay in Syria remain embattled, yet the isolation that had been their lot is now in the past. At the foot of those once sheltering mountains, a new and a safer life has sprung forth.