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Middle East Press ( 20 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Middle East Press On Atatürk, Shamima Begum, Assad and Iraq: New Age Islam's Selection, 20 March 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

20 March 2021

• Why Is Atatürk Still So Dear To Turks?

By Guven Sak

• Shamima Begum and the Conditionality of British Citizenship

By Fatima Rajina

• As The Resistance-Axis Crumbles Is Assad Leaving The Door Open For Peace With Israel?

By Hanin Ghaddar

• Foreign Interference Plagues Iraq 20 Years after US Invasion

By Sinem Cengiz

• Syria’s Medical Workers Are Still Fighting for Justice

By Houssam Al-Nahhas


Why Is Atatürk Still So Dear To Turks?

By Guven Sak

March 20 2021

Kemal Atatürk


The British and French naval forces launched a campaign against the Turkish positions in the Dardanelles on March 18, 1915. They failed. The date has been drilled deep inside my head since childhood. On every March 18, my grandfather Ömer Kemal, may God rest his soul, use to start the day by asking all of us the significance of the date.

Later, perhaps budging to sarcastic remarks around the breakfast table, he would put reading material on the table. It was something like a sheet of paper from the calendar with basic information on the Dardanelles. He was trying to share a part of himself too big to fit into young heads – the immense pain of an empire lost, gratitude for what was salvaged from it.

Why was March 18 so significant for our little family? My grandfather was one of the Turkish soldiers in the Dardanelles in 1915. He was forever proud to have been there. He was born around the turn of the century in Ottoman Silistra, present-day Bulgaria. Remember that the Ottoman Empire was European from the start – Bosnia became part of the empire before the Anatolian town of Kayseri.

My grandfather’s world began to crumble with the Balkan wars in 1910-1912. He was drafted at an early age and fought on the eastern front against the Russians and was later sent to the Dardanelles in 1915. After that, he was stationed in Palestine, where he fought the British and became a prisoner of war in Egypt. He was released and returned to Bursa, my hometown, around the early 1920s. By that time, he had spent more than 10 years fighting and moving around, and for what? The empire he defended fell apart in the end.

Have you read Eugene Rogan’s “The Fall of the Ottomans”? Rogan went to Gallipoli because his granduncle, Lance Corporal John McDonald, was killed there. McDonald was born in Perth, Scotland, and died in Gallipoli on June 28, 1915. At the beginning of the book, Rogan writes, “While my great uncle’s unit had suffered 1,400 casualties and British losses reached 3,800, as many as 14,000 Ottomans fell dead at Gully Ravine… All the books I read … treated the terrible waste of British life on the day my great granduncle died. None of the English sources had mentioned the Turkish war dead. It was sobering to realize that the number of bereaved Turkish families would have surpassed the number of those grieving in Scotland.” That revelation gave us the book.

It must indeed have been very similar for Turkish soldiers. When my grandfather was fighting in the Dardanelles, his uncle was killed right beside him. He was just a kid at the time. A year before, he saw his younger brother, who was being treated for a gunshot wound, on his way to the Eastern front. That was the last time they saw each other. They said their farewells one last time in a long-forgotten place, at a long-forgotten time.

So why is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk so dear to our hearts in Turkey? It’s because he gave us reason to be proud of after a long string of defeat, and people don’t forget that, not for generations. Together with a handful of open-minded officers of the cosmopolitan empire, he led the Turks in building a new homeland.

That pride is felt across formerly Ottoman lands, mind you. It was that same pride that led Amin Malouf’s grandfather to announce that he would be to name his new baby boy, Kemal, as his wife was expecting in 1921. However, his wife gave birth to a baby girl, yet the stubborn Lebanese has not changed his decision and named the baby girl Kemal.

My grandfather was engaged to my grandmother in Bursa (ancient Prusa) around the same time when Malouf’s aunt was born. At that time, Izmir (ancient Smyrna) was still under Greek occupation. All were sons and daughters of the Empire, but they no longer knew what kind of country they would raise their children in. Atatürk led the War of Independence that gave shape to the new nation and recast the Ottoman state in Republican form. He made us proud once again in the community of nations.

It must all have happened with mesmerizing speed. How do you control the dissolution of a vast empire stretched across three continents? Uncounted soldiers moved from one front to the other, trying to hold on to pieces of land.

They were fighting the tides of history, with wave after wave remorselessly crashing down on them. Strangely enough, they did not entirely fail, which I think is the meaning of the First World War to us in Turkey. We were lucky to come away with our own country in the end, thanks to a handful of open-minded officers of the cosmopolitan empire and Atatürk leading them. Ömer Kemal was a lucky man, and so is his grandson.


Shamima Begum and the Conditionality of British Citizenship

By Fatima Rajina

19 Mar 2021

On February 26, the United Kingdom’s highest court ruled Shamima Begum, a 21-year-old woman of Bangladeshi descent who was stripped of her British citizenship after travelling to Syria to join ISIL (ISIS), should not be allowed to return to the country to challenge the decision.

The ruling made headlines across the world, as millions have been following Begum’s tragic story closely since she ran away from her East London home aged just 15 and travelled to Syria with two of her friends. It also brought to the surface the anxieties long felt by members of my community, British Bangladeshis.

East London is home to the largest Bangladeshi community outside of Bangladesh. This is where Shamima Begum was born, raised and attended school until she decided to travel to Syria in 2015. After spending several years in Syria, Begum was “found” by a Times journalist in a Syrian refugee camp in 2019.

The Times’s so-called “discovery” started a nationwide discussion about whether she should be allowed to return home to Britain. Then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid, however, cut this conversation short by swiftly announcing the government’s intention to strip her of her British citizenship. Javid justified this decision in legal terms by claiming that Begum “holds Bangladeshi citizenship” by descent through her parents. Begum at the time of the revocation was 19 and was eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, but she would have had to claim it by 21. The state minister of foreign affairs of Bangladesh, Shahriar Alam, asserted in a statement to the British media just days after Javid’s announcement that Begum was not a citizen of Bangladesh and would be denied entry to the country.

Begum and her lawyers appealed against the decision to revoke her British citizenship and asked for her to be allowed to return to the country to make her case. Three Court of Appeal judges ruled in the summer of 2020 that she should indeed be allowed back into the UK to challenge the revocation. However, the case was then taken to the Supreme Court, and it ruled last month that while Begum does have a right to challenge the decision, she should do so from outside Britain due to “security concerns”.

The decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship demonstrated how racialised bodies are always in a limbo state in Britain. It made it clear to us that we are all on the margins of this nation. That the state can revoke our citizenship at a whim and our British passports do not necessarily guarantee us access to British justice.

The British state’s treatment of Begum confirmed our worst fears and forced us to ask ourselves some very difficult questions. Can the British state take away our passports if we commit an indiscretion? Are we too “foreign” or “brown” to be tried in British courts? If the state decides we committed an “unforgivable” crime, can it just ship us back to Bangladesh?

These are, of course, not new questions or fears. We have long been aware that our status in Britain is precarious. As influential writer and activist Ambalavaner Sivanandan aptly put it back in 2006: “We wear our passports on our faces.”

Always the ‘other’

Revocation of Begum’s citizenship highlights how racialised communities are defined by hyphenated identities, such as British-Bangladeshi, in this country.

The latter part – Bangladeshi – serves to show where one actually stands within the racial hierarchisation of communities in this country. The prefix “British” is only added to signal temporary decorum – it can swiftly be removed if and when the person steps out of line.

Members of racialised communities are expected to continuously prove that they are worthy of British citizenship. Begum’s case clearly demonstrates that for those of us with hyphenated identities, citizenship is conditional, and the country we call home can easily banish us if we commit a perceived indiscretion.

This is not an issue that only affects the British-Bangladeshi community. In Britain, one’s racial, ethnic and religious heritage, not their passport, determines their citizenship and place in the country.

Following the revocation of Begum’s citizenship, some argued that she should have been allowed to keep her passport because she was born in Britain. But this is also a dangerous argument that perpetuates the idea that there are different levels of British citizenship. Yes, she was born in the UK. But even if she was not, it should not have made any difference. The state’s racism needs to be fought without creating new conditions to determine who has the right to be in the country.

The Windrush generation, the immigrants from Caribbean countries who arrived in the UK after World War II to address labour shortages, is another racialised group that the state tried to purge from Britain. As they faced unlawful deportation orders, many argued they should be allowed to stay in the country because “they came here to help us rebuild Britain”. Such arguments, however, are counterproductive as they attempt to make these immigrants’ citizenship rights conditional to their contributions and servility to the state. After all, British citizens who are white are never asked to be servile to the state or make substantial contributions to the nation to hold on to their passports and remain in the country.

It is impossible to deny that the legacies of colonialism shape and frame Britain’s racialised citizens’ lives, especially those who have roots in former colonies. Irrespective of where they were born or how much they contributed to British society, racialised citizens are seen as “others” whose presence in Britain is merely tolerated and whose most basic rights can be denied at will.

Britain’s continued attempt to dump Begum on Bangladesh, a country she had never stepped foot in, came as no surprise. This act was possible only because of who Begum was and the most obvious fact that she is a British Bangladeshi Muslim. The lesson we can take away from Shamima Begum’s case is that it represents the institutional racism endemic within the British state.

The ordeal of Shamima Begum should not shock anyone. In Britain, there is a two-tier system of citizenship, and those of us who exist in racialised bodies are being reminded that we never truly belong to this country we call home on a daily basis.


As The Resistance-Axis Crumbles Is Assad Leaving The Door Open For Peace With Israel?

By Hanin Ghaddar

20 March 2021

Last week, Israel agreed to finance a supply of Russian-made COVID-19 vaccine to Damascus, to secure the release of one of their citizens being held in Syria. According to media reports, Russia was paid $1.2 million, who then mediated the deal to send Sputnik V vaccines to the Assad regime.

The Israeli national could have been released easily in a prisoner exchange. It begs the question: Why didn’t they do this instead?

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Israel has been bombing Iranian military bases successfully, and it could target the Syrian regime, a strategy it hasn’t followed.

Could Israel realize there might be an opportunity, and a relatively cheap and riskless one, to send Assad vaccines? In the volatile history between the two countries, if Assad is serious about starting to collaborate with his traditional enemies it could become a watershed moment. The question remains: Maybe he needs to be put to the test, and will the vaccine shipment do this?

What does Assad want, but what does he need?

Before the Israeli civilian-vaccine deal was made, media reports suggested secret meetings between Israeli and Syrian officials had happened in Cyprus, and in Russian military bases in Syria. All were organized and mediated by Russia, the reports claimed.

Russia had three goals in mind: to sell its vaccine; strengthen the power base in Syria by allowing the regime to maintain a level of popular support with a vaccine rollout, and to secure a connection between Israel and Syria, with eventual peace an option.

Iran will continue to oppose any peace prospects in Syria, but Putin might disagree: An inflated Iranian presence in Syria will eat away at Russia’s foothold in the region, its power, and will hamper international diplomacy efforts that he is championing – or at least pretending to.

As for Assad, this is not the first time he has shown an interest to build peace with Israel. He needs Iran’s help, and he understands that he would have been ousted a long time ago without it, along with Russian military support.

The price of Iran making key decisions in Syria has become too high, with his support base unhappy.

As the Syrian economy crumbles, in parallel with neighboring Lebanon, the discontent is expected to increase. Assad needs a way out, but he cannot confront the Iranians. Despite his condemnation of Israeli bombings of Iranian bases in Syria, privately Assad may view favorable relations with Israel appealing.

Israel is trying to block Iran’s presence and power in Syria, and has been successful. Assad is vulnerable without Iran’s protection. Would an Israeli-Russian coalition offer the same support, allowing him to retain power?

Assad knows that he can’t maintain any public support if the economy is collapsing, and as COVID-19 cases climb it’s clear he needs serious financial and medical health support. Neither Russia nor Iran can provide this. Israel – on the other hand – can assist. By paying for the vaccines (which Putin refused to provide for free), perhaps Israel will offer financial aid.

Time to give Assad an ultimatum

The vaccine deal has secured Assad around 150,000 doses, according to Israeli media. This might help him tighten the small circle around him, and protect the regime from imminent collapse.

Assad has kept the door open to welcome the Israelis for a very long time, but has so far halted any real progress. He has been successful in giving the impression that he is interested in peace, but hasn’t made practical steps in this direction. Accepting to meet with Israelis, and talking about peace is one thing, but getting results is something completely different.

It is time for Israel to tackle his approach, and find out if he will defy Iran’s decisions for Syria. Assad should not be allowed back to the Arab League, for example without concrete steps for peace.

Iran knows this and is in denial. Their rhetoric about defending Syria, and the idea of the country being part of the resistance axis will collapse if admitting that Assad is talking to the Israelis. In a way, Iran hasn’t got to a point of feeling the threat because the Assad regime hasn’t made any clear moves of peace with Israel.

The fissure in the resistance axis is now apparent, and will eventually crack. Nothing breaks alliances and shatters rhetoric more than financial difficulties. When the countries that Iran controls – from Yemen to Lebanon, through to Syria – are crumbling under economic crises, the resistance narrative will eventually become meaningless.

This is the perfect moment to put Assad to the test. If he cannot make concrete, and practical steps toward fulfilling his peace promises, his regime will collapse. Israel should not protect Assad any longer if their meetings, talks, and deals, are only benefiting him and his Russian allies, and indirectly Iran. If he fails the test, he should be treated as part of the resistance axis, and treated accordingly.


Foreign Interference Plagues Iraq 20 Years after US Invasion

By Sinem Cengiz

March 19, 2021

Eighteen years ago on Friday, then-President George W. Bush announced that US forces had begun a military operation in Iraq, vowing to destroy Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and end the rule of Saddam Hussein. In the years since, more than 4,700 American and allied troops have been killed, along with more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians.

On Monday, seven rockets targeted an Iraqi air base housing US troops north of Baghdad — the latest in a string of attacks that Washington routinely blames on Iran-linked factions. There have been many attacks on American personnel since President Joe Biden took office in January, including a Feb. 15 attack on the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, which killed a civilian contractor with the US-led military coalition and wounded six others, including a US service member.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last month said that the military alliance would expand its security training mission in Iraq. NATO’s decision to expand its footprint in Iraq came on the heels of the deadly rocket attack in Irbil.

Iran has a long record of proxies attacking its rivals in order to create a degree of plausible deniability. Tehran has thus denied any role in any of the latest attacks. Iranian Ambassador Majid Takht-Ravanchi told the UN that claims it was involved were “completely baseless and lacking legal credibility.”

In response to the recent attacks, Biden ordered an airstrike on facilities in eastern Syria, near the border with Iraq, which the US claimed were used by Iran-backed militias. According to a report last week, these Tehran-backed Iraqi paramilitaries agreed to stop attacks against US forces in Iraq on the condition that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi formally demands an American withdrawal.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was the most controversial regional incident of recent times. With much of its state apparatus having been destroyed in the past two decades, Iraq is going through a period of instability and foreign intervention. The recent US military drawdown in Iraq is reshaping political dynamics not only in Baghdad, but also in the broader Middle East. The vacuum created by this withdrawal is expected to be filled by several actors. The intervention of these actors adds a new burden to Iraq and the Iraqi people, while weakening the current government’s efforts to gradually restore the country’s role and status.

The Middle East order that had been in place since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 evolved further following the Arab uprisings that swept the region at the beginning of the last decade. With these uprisings, Iraq has once again emerged as a regional spot where diverse interests both align and conflict. The country has been caught between several external actors — such as Iran, Turkey and the US — that are perceived as seeking regional hegemony. Each of these countries has its allies in Iraq.

Both Iran and the US continue to control state policy, with each side having established some proxy institutions within the Iraqi state, which is now divided between the Iranian and the American spheres of influence. While Washington is influential in the official structure, Tehran has intervened through unofficial institutions.

Iran and Turkey both share borders with Iraq and they are rapidly becoming the most influential external actors in the country. Tehran views Iraq as a focal point through which to shuffle relations in the region and the security architecture of the Gulf. Iran’s expansionist Iraqi policy has, since 2003, caused alarm in the US, the Arab world and, to some extent, Turkey.

Ankara also intervenes in Iraq. It carries out military operations against Kurdish militants in the north. From the Turkish perspective, the American intervention in Iraq and its aftermath worsened Turkey’s security problem. An important aspect of Turkey’s security approach is ingraining the NATO mission in Iraq with an anti-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) theme. As the number of NATO personnel in Iraq increases, Turkey will likely expand its presence in the mission.

Then there are the European actors, which aim to reduce Iraq’s dependence on the US and Iran. However, further foreign meddling in Iraq may worsen the country’s economic, security and political situation, which will have a negative impact on European interests in areas such as counterterrorism and migration. A number of European countries also have military deployments in Iraq as part of the anti-Daesh coalition and are concerned about the protection of their forces.

Thus, the US invasion of Iraq did not solve a regional problem, but rather created a larger ground for foreign intervention, further destabilizing the country and the region for the next two decades.


Syria’s Medical Workers Are Still Fighting for Justice

By Houssam Al-Nahhas

19 Mar 2021

Every day when I wake up, I think about August 18, 2012 – the day I finally saw the sun after weeks in captivity.

For the “crime” of providing healthcare to injured protesters, the Syrian government imprisoned and tortured me at the Military Intelligence Directorate in Aleppo for 17 days. It felt like I was stuck in a cemetery for the living dead – all we could do was breathe, and scream.

I was released only after being forced to sign a pledge to not deliver health services to the government’s perceived adversaries. When I took my first breath under the bright sun as a free man, however, I made another pledge – that I would not only provide healthcare without discrimination, but also document the Syrian government’s heinous crimes against all civilians, including healthcare workers. And to this day, I am driven by this commitment.

A decade of persecution

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Syrian conflict. For a decade, my country endured unconscionable atrocities committed with impunity. Since March 2011, the Syrian government has consistently confronted the voices calling for freedom, democracy and social justice with various brutal means of suppression. In its relentless efforts to stifle dissent, the regime also targeted medical professionals, like myself, who dared to provide healthcare to anti-government protesters.

In the early days of the uprising, healthcare professionals formed several underground medical groups to help the civilians who were under attack by the government and in desperate need of healthcare. I was also part of one such group, “Noor Alhayat” (The light of life).

On June 7, 2012, the regime arrested three medical students from our group. That day, an officer from the security branch that arrested them called the mother of one of the students and said, “You did not raise your kid well. We will teach him how to behave.”

After 15 days, their bodies were returned to their families. They had blackened bruises from beatings, extracted nails and teeth, broken limbs and bullets in their heads.

With the violent murder of my three young colleagues, the regime sent a clear message to all healthcare workers in Syria: this will be your fate if you continue to treat injured and sick protesters.

We received the message, but refused to abandon our ethical duty to deliver healthcare to those in need.

And for this, we have been punished.

During the 10 years of conflict, hundreds of healthcare providers and medical students have been unlawfully imprisoned by the Syrian government, many never heard from again. At least 3,364 medical personnel in Syria are still detained or forcibly disappeared. The Syrian government and its allies have also killed more than 900 medical professionals and they have deliberately bombed and shelled hospitals. Since the onset of the conflict, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has documented 595 attacks on health facilities in Syria. Approximately 90 percent of these attacks are attributed to the Syrian government and its allies, including Russia. Even this is likely an undercount, as it is difficult to document such cases.

The regime specifically targeted medical workers because it knew that the Syrian people would be unable to continue their fight for justice and freedom without the support of healthcare professionals. When you kill a nurse or bomb a clinic, you cut off care to an entire community.

One doctor interviewed by my colleagues at Physicians for Human Rights reported that during an interrogation, an officer told him: “You [doctors] are far more dangerous than terrorists. We kill them, you bring them back.”

The Syrian government also tortured countless healthcare providers for the sole purpose of extracting information about their colleagues.

During my detention, I, too, was tortured for information about my peers. The interrogator forced me to lie on the ground and started beating my entire body. As he hit me, he kept asking “Who are you working with? What are the names of the other doctors in your group?”

His voice, and his insistent questions about those health professionals I worked with, continue to echo in my mind to this day.

Still waiting for justice

Victims and survivors of torture in Syria received a small measure of overdue justice in February, when a German court convicted a former Syrian intelligence officer for torture and crimes against humanity. This marked the first time ever that a member of the Assad government has been tried and convicted for aiding crimes against humanity.

With Russia and China having blocked the United Nations Security Council from referring the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), some countries like Germany are using “universal jurisdiction” and other similar laws to prosecute the Syrian regime’s violations of international human rights law and war crimes in domestic courts. This approach, however, likely won’t succeed in holding high-level regime officials accountable for crimes committed under their direction. The international community needs to take a united stance to ensure those responsible for the worst atrocities of Syria’s conflict are brought to justice.

Moreover, thousands of Syrians continue to languish in the regime’s prisons to this day. All efforts to deliver justice to the Syrian people should therefore prioritise guaranteeing the release of all political detainees – including the doctors, nurses and medical students who have been targeted only because they did their jobs and provided care to those in need.

Medical workers not only provide crucial care, but also play a vital role in documenting human rights violations and war crimes. Physicians are front-line witnesses: every doctor is a lens which can observe and record the smallest details of the violence inflicted on the human body and mind. Syria’s health professionals have documented countless atrocities over this appalling decade, from the use of chemical weapons against civilians and the indiscriminate bombing of residential neighbourhoods to the systematic targeting of the country’s health infrastructure.

So far, most of these crimes remain unpunished, and the perpetrators retain much power. But we are patient. As doctors, as Syrians, we will continue to raise the voices of victims and survivors. We will continue to pressure the international community to take action and bring those responsible for the suffering of our people to justice. We provided care, we witnessed, we documented, and we will never forget.



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