SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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Is there any hope at all that a New Year’s wish for Syrian peace and quiet will be fulfilled? Yes, there is always hope. But if there is anything to be learned from the sad spectacle of Western (mainly American) Syria policy over the past nearly seven years, it is that hope—accompanied only by lofty rhetoric and plaintive protest—is the emptiest and most useless of sentiments. Absent real commitment to protect Syrian civilians, 2018 and the years that follow will be marked by the emptying of a country where hope is as homeless as millions of Syrian men, women, and children.

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Following the agreement and the subsequent withdrawal of the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, Daesh) from Raqqa on October 15, 2016, ISIS fighters warned “the land will fight for us,” in reference to the large number of mines planted by the group where practically every house and street is laced with dozens of them. Throughout the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has made deadly use of mines in diversion operations and simultaneous attacks, killing those fighting against the militant group, civilians attempting to flee their assaults, or those returning to their homes after the group’s defeat in Raqqa.

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On October 10, 2017, al-Jabha al-Shamiya (the Levantine Front) handed over the Bab al-Salama checkpoint along the Turkish-Syrian border, to the Syrian interim government along with all its staff and financial resources. This was part of a bid to empower the interim administration, born out of the Syrian National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (Etilaf), and to strengthen its legitimacy in the liberated areas.

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During 70 months of chaos in Syria, the United States had protected not one Syrian civilian from the homicidal rampages of Bashar al-Assad and his remorseless regime. Yes, America had come militarily to the aid of Syrian Kurds besieged by ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State). Yet the United States had protected no one in Syria from an Iranian client regime’s campaign of civilian mass homicide.  The consequences were profoundly negative for Syrians, their neighbors, Western Europe, and the United States.  And they were avoidable.

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The Kurds in northern Syria have established their own education system in what they call Rojava, unfettered by the central government in Damascus, after taking control of the area following the Syrian regime's withdrawal. This has been achieved through rolling out a Kurdish curriculum, which has so far been introduced for Kurdish (non-Arab) pupils in the primary and preparatory stages of their school education. They hope to follow this with a Kurdish secondary school curriculum, before opening universities in the three Kurdish provinces of Al-Jazira, Euphrates, and Afrin.

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A few months ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech to Syrian expatriate businessmen announcing his imminent military victory over “terrorism” thanks to the support of his Russian and Iranian Allies. In his speech, Assad promised loyalists and businessmen a share in reconstruction while stressing that the US, Gulf, and other western companies would have no role to play in reconstruction whatsoever.

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As the year winds down, we look back at insight from experts that resonated with our readers. In case you missed them, we have listed our top blog posts of the year in order of popularity. Take a look at impactful analysis on the MENA region with excerpts from the articles below.

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Jordan, a country of roughly ten million people, is currently home to nearly three million refugees from various countries. Traditionally, the overwhelming majority of refugees in Jordan were from Palestine. However, the number of Syrian refugees seeking sanctuary in Jordan has drastically increased since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. UNHCR registered Syrian refugees now stands at more than 650 thousand people. When unregistered refugees are considered, that number is estimated to be over 1.3 million.

Lately, an increase of Syrian refugees from Jordan are returning to Syria; the UNHCR remarked on the “notable trend of spontaneous returns.” Since July, around 1,000 Syrian refugees return to Syria from Jordan every month; in part due to the de-escalation zone, established by the US, Russia, and Jordan, across southwest Syria.

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The quick visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hmeimim airbase in Syria was all about Russian domestic politics. The first—and Putin hopes last—round of Russian presidential elections is scheduled for March 18, 2018. In his pre-Christmas proclamation of victory over “terrorists” and in preserving Syria as a “sovereign independent state,” Putin reiterated his central, Syria-related message to his nationalist domestic audience: Russia is back as a great power. In declaring to Russian pilots that “you are going home to your families, parents, wives, children and friends,” Putin sought to assure Russian voters that Syria would be no quagmire. Yet Putin’s second announcement of military withdrawal from Syria may, like the first (in March 2016), be more rhetorical than real.

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In his book entitled Barzani and the History of the Kurdish Liberation Movement, Masoud Barzani President of Iraqi Kurdistan, wrote that his father Mullah Mustafa once said: “We are willing to become the fifty-first American state if that is what it takes for our cause to succeed.” However, once the 1975 Algiers Agreement between Iran and Iraq was ratified with American’s blessing, the Mullah’s dream quickly faded. Kissinger later wrote in his book Years of Renewal that aid to the Kurds had amounted to “20 million USD and 1,250 tons of ammunition.”

Kurds refer bitterly to the first American betrayal: American Abrams tanks entering the city of Kirkuk bearing the Oh Hussein banner, a flag carried by some Shiite militants. Kurds point to two factors that were decisive in bringing about this violent end to their ambition to create an independent state: the American stance, and divisions between the leading Kurdish forces. As they enter the city of Raqqa, Syrian Kurds are wondering if the Americans will abandon them too. Are Kurdish forces being used to confront ISIS, only to be left to the mercy of neighboring countries and the Syrian regime?

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