Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kurds - More on Khaznawi and the aftermath

Megan Stack of the LA Times has finally published the story she wrote on the Khasnawi murder in June and its effects on the Kurdish community of Qamishli. (Copied below) She traveled to Qamishli in a rented car with two other reporters - Nick Blanford of the Christian Science Monitor and Hassan Fattah of the NY Times. Blanford drove and they did an in-and-out, which allowed them to avoid the attention of local police and intelligence. I have posted both Fattah's and Blanford's articles. Here is Megan's, which compensates for its delay by being the most analytical.

The much hoped for new nationality law for the Kurds has not resulted from the June Baath Party Congress, as many hoped it would. In fact the bill seems to have been shelved alltogether and many Kurdish leaders have been arrested during the last month. People in Dardari's office of State Planning and in the UN worked furiously to prepare proposals and new laws in the weeks leading up to the Baath Party congress. This activity led to raised hopes that something would be done to give citizenship to the more than 200,000 stateless Kurds living in Syria. Plans do seem to being going ahead to invest money and carry out development projects in the Jazira. Dardari's office is now working on them. A friend of mine and businessman from Dayr az-Zor recently called to say that people from the Deputy Prime Minister's office had recently contacted him about a proposal for a large development program in the region. He is very excited and coming to Damascus today to lobby for it. But the economic stimulation package for the Jazira will do little to quell Kurdish discontent if Kurdish demands for political equality and citizenship are not met.

It is also worth reading this story from the NY Times about the Kurdish uprising in Iran. Both Syrian and Iranian Kurds have been emboldened by the success of Kurdish Iraqis to carve out a homeland and get it enshrined in law, even if under the guise of federalism.

Cleric's Slaying a Rallying Cry for Syrian Kurds
By Megan K. Stack, August 14, 2005, LA Times

The sheik had advocated equal rights for the minority in the mainly Arab nation. To the regime, he symbolized a separatist threat.

QAMISHLI, Syria — The cleric had been missing for nearly a month when his family had a taste of relief: A man who identified himself as a government official approached the missing man's sons on the street and said, "You will hear happy news of your father."

A few days later, state security agents took the sons to see the cleric. His thick beard, a badge of his religious devotion, had been hacked off. His body bore marks of torture — broken teeth, badly burned skin. The cleric was dead.


The security agents told the sons that criminals had confessed to killing Sheik Mohammed Mashuq Khaznawi and burying him in a shallow grave. But his family didn't believe them.

"The Syrian authorities fabricated an ugly play and gave us the corpse," said Sheik Morshed Khaznawi, the slain cleric's 30-year-old son. "In the end, the Syrian authorities have complete and total responsibility for what happened and for assassinating the sheik."

In early June, the sons brought his body home to Qamishli and laid the remains to rest wrapped in the Kurdish flag, a defiant symbol of a people without a country. Since then, Khaznawi's torture and death have become a rallying cry for an increasingly restive Kurdish people.

The death of the mild-mannered sheik robbed Syria's Kurds of a charismatic, grass-roots champion for their demand for equal rights in the predominantly Arab country. But with many Syrian Arabs fearing that the Kurds would manage to cleave Syria and found a Kurdish homeland, the government saw Khaznawi as the figurehead of a volatile separatist threat.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein, Sunni Arab rule over the majority Shiites and Kurds in the heart of the Arab world also came to an end. The U.S.-led invasion has inadvertently upended traditional notions of minority rights throughout the region.

Excitement was particularly keen in the Kurdish heartland, the swath of desert, lush mountains and ancient riverbeds straddling Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. After years of harsh poverty, crippling discrimination and second-class status, Syrian Kurds were galvanized by the liberation of their Iraqi brethren. Riots and demonstrations erupted last year in Qamishli and spread throughout the country. Hundreds of Kurds have been held incommunicado and reportedly tortured.

The sheik was at the center of the struggle in the tumult last year. He called for rights; he spoke out against the imprisonment and torture of Kurds. And then he disappeared.


Long before he vanished from the streets of Damascus, the capital, Khaznawi was considered a dangerous man.

Just 47 when he died, he'd already gained a reputation as one of the country's most respected, and subversive, religious minds.

Khaznawi, a sober-faced father of 16 who wore flowing tunics, a tidy turban and unruly beard, was from the small Kurdish village of Khazna, an outpost in the deprived eastern desert where Syria fades into Iraq.

In a country of pervasive want, these borderlands are one of the bleakest corners. It is a landscape of almost unbroken brown, a deadly stretch of desert animated by dust devils and listless, bleating flocks, where farmers in mud huts struggle to scrape a living from the inhospitable earth.

Khaznawi grew up here against a backdrop of rising tensions between Arabs and Kurds. He'd clashed with the Syrian regime for decades. His book on Islamism was banned. He was forbidden to travel for most of the 1990s and barred from delivering sermons at Friday prayers.

"Security agents used to say that a traditional religious man keeps the people ignorant, and one security agent is enough to control everyone," said Morshed, Khaznawi's son. But he "enlightened people, so they needed a lot of agents to keep an eye on everyone."

Khaznawi was hungry for change, both religious and political. He advocated passionately for women's rights, scorning Islamic tradition that valued a man's testimony on par with that of two women.

"He crossed a lot of red lines which the others couldn't cross," Morshed said.

Khaznawi made weekly trips to Damascus, working as deputy to Mohammed Habash, a moderate Islamist member of parliament and director of the Islamic Studies Center. Both men preached an Islam so tolerant that they were branded kafir, or nonbeliever, by fundamentalist preachers.

"My friend, my brother," Habash said of Khaznawi in a recent interview. "We were in the same struggle against the darkness and corruption of religion."

Both received death threats, Habash said. On a single day this year, Habash got seven menacing calls on his cellphone.

But relations between Habash and the Khaznawi clan have soured badly since the body was found. Habash didn't go to Khaznawi's funeral, and he did not send condolences, Khaznawi's family said.

Apparently pressed by the Interior Ministry, Habash signed a declaration absolving the government of guilt. The cleric's sons say Habash is protecting the regime and dismiss him as a government mouthpiece. But Habash says his conscience is clear. He believes Khaznawi was killed by "fundamentalists."

Khaznawi's sons agree that their father was threatened. But they don't blame shadowy Islamists; they blame the regime's security services, even though it is extremely dangerous for them to point the finger at the government.

"He always said, 'If something ever happens to me, it will be from the authorities,' " said Sheik Murad Khaznawi, the cleric's eldest son.

Khaznawi apparently had angered Syrian intelligence in February by meeting in Belgium with Ali Sadreddin Bayanouni, the exiled leader of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. The meeting was a brazen act; the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed by the Syrian regime, and membership is punishable by death. Many analysts believe this meeting was Khaznawi's fatal mistake.


Descended from the mountain warriors and nomads of ancient Assyria, the Kurds are a colorful fixture in northeastern Syria, working the vegetable fields, spilling from overcrowded pickups in brilliant dress, calling out in their rolling tongue.

But the history of Syria's 1.7 million Kurds — and those in the rest of the region — is darkened by ethnic suspicions and an ongoing struggle to find a place in often hostile countries.

Their troubles date to the 1960s, when Arab nationalism swept the region and caught ablaze in Syria. In a rush to "Arabize" the oil-rich tail of land near Turkey and Iraq, the Syrian regime settled Arabs between traditional Kurdish villages. The next blow was a controversial census in 1962 that stripped 120,000 Kurds of their Syrian citizenship.

Culture, too, came under fire. The Kurdish language was banned, and Kurdish villages lost their names in favor of new Arabic designations. Many of the restrictions have since been lifted by a regime eager to ease tensions, but the memory of oppression sticks.

"It was a lot of mistakes, one after the next, over and over," said Kurdish writer Dildal Filmez. "And in the end, the mistakes blew up like bombs."

In light of the decades of hurt and grudges, the effect of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was predictable: It destabilized northern Syria. In a part of the world where tribes and clans are much older than the nations they inhabit, the Kurds of Syria and Iraq have always lived an intertwined existence. And for decades, both lived under Arab nationalist Baathist regimes that considered their ethnicity a threat.

But as the months passed after the fall of Baghdad, excitement boiled into impatience. The riots that erupted in March 2004 left at least 24 people dead and were the bloodiest unrest this rigidly controlled land had seen in decades.

Even amid hundreds of arrests, there were signs of conciliation from a rattled regime after the riots. Diplomats, analysts and even some Syrian officials say that the government understands that it can't afford the dissent and dissatisfaction roiling the Kurdish hinterlands.

But after a year of promises, the hopes of the Kurds have hardened into skepticism.

"After 30 years, their promises have no credibility," said Mishal Tammo, a leader of the outlawed Future Party. "We can't believe in anything unless we see it. Their talk is just to win time."


Amid rising tensions over the last year, an ever-more-outspoken Khaznawi tried to use his popularity to win some ground for his people.

"The real problem [for] the government," said his son Murad, was "that he demanded rights for the Kurds and he demanded equality for the Kurds."

Khaznawi vanished on a clear morning in May. He got a telephone call, an invitation for breakfast. "I'll be back in two hours," he told his colleagues at the Islamic Studies Center. That was the last time they saw him alive.

In late May, Khaznawi's sons staged a demonstration in Damascus to demand news of their father.

A man drew near, identified himself as a senior government official with the rank of general, and spoke of the forthcoming "happy news."

A few days later, they were taken to see their father's body.

Security officials arrested a band of men they called "the criminals" and aired a tape of the leader's confession on state television. The confession did nothing to convince Khaznawi's followers, thousands of whom surged into the dust-caked streets of Qamishli shouting slogans in Kurdish and demanding an investigation of the cleric's death.

Khaznawi's slaying has driven another wedge between the Kurds and the Syrian regime, renewing the anger of generations and deepening the sense of despair.

"We now have a recipe for disaster in Qamishli," said Abdel Hamid, director of the minority rights program. "Emotions are being radicalized. They see this [Syrian] Baath as a continuation of Saddam Hussein, and they see this as a continuation of the struggle for independence."


At 8/15/2005 08:33:00 AM, Anonymous The Agha said...

Responding to that Syrian surf
Tarek from previous commnet:

My dog poop is more honorable than all those that are born and yet to born in your family. And sure you don't care about anyone family history because your is famed for cleaning our toilets. Soon you will be caught, charged and back continuing your family traditions of cleaning the notable Syrian family toilets. You days are numbered and I know how many days left for ya.

At 8/15/2005 09:01:00 AM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

As long as the Syrian Kurds continue to seek independence they will not improve their situation. Only when they realize that they are part of a modern nation called Syria that they will start to have the same shitty minimal rights that the majority of Syrian has.

The Kurds are not the only people suffering under 43 years of Baathist rule and Arab Nationalist Ideology. Everyone in Syria is suffering, including Alawites and the majority of Sunni Syrians. Even Baathist in many way are paying the price of this dogmatic political system called Baathism.

The solution to the Kurds trouble and everyone else is changing the system in Syria, getting President Assad convinced that he can do it and still hold on to power by nothing more than popular support. Modernizing Syria political and economic system is the first step into modernizing the society and instilling a sense of pride about the country in people hearts so they can be proud to be Syrians and belong to that larger society.

At 8/15/2005 11:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rif'at Al-Asad, brother of the late Syrian President Hafiz Al-Asad, is reactivating his 'Red Knights' dissident organization in Lebanon's Alawite-populated regions surrounding Tripoli, reports the Lebanese daily A-Nahar, according to a press release issued by the Reform Party of Syria (RPS).

Rif'at Al-Asad was exiled from Syria by his elder brother Hafiz. He has announced plans to return to Syria despite official Syrian warnings that he would be arrested upon setting foot on Syrian soil.

A-Nahar revealed that Rif'at recently began reactivating his 'Red Knights' organization in cooperation with Alawite notables on Tripoli's suburban Jabl Mohsin and Alawite-populated villages bordering Syria.

Rif'at founded the 'Red Knights' in northern Lebanon in the early 1970s. He served for years as vice president before Hafiz exiled him in the mid-1990s for alleged schemes to seize power on his own. A-Nahar reported that dozens of Rif'at's exiled supporters, who have acquired European nationalities, have been buying apartments in Tripoli and Jabl Mohsin in the last few weeks. Rif'at Al-Asad is, according to RPS, resurrecting Tripoli's 'Red Knights' to stage a comeback to Syria.

RPS added in its news bulletin, that Rif'at Al-Asad is one of the most hated people in Syria because of his undemocratic lifestyle, violent tendencies, and corrupt practices. He was instrumental, says RPS, in the killing of thousands of Syrians in the early eighties, and now there is an attempt by some Syrians to make the International Criminal Court in The Hague hear his case and for him to stand trial.

At 8/15/2005 12:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SPIEGEL ONLINE - August 12, 2005, 03:53 PM
The Future of Terrorism

What al-Qaida Really Wants

By Yassin Musharbash

If there is anyone who might possibly have an inkling as to what al-Qaida are up to, it is the Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein. He has not only spent time in prison with al-Zarqawi, but has also managed make contact with many of the network's leaders. Based on correspondence with these sources, he has now brought out a book detailing the organization's master plan.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is blamed for some of the worst terrorist attacks and hostage killings in Iraq.
There must be something particularly trustworthy about the Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein. After all, he has managed to get some of the the most sought after terrorists to open up to him. Maybe it helped that they spent time together in prison many years ago -- when Hussein was a political prisoner he successfully negotiated for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to be released from solitary confinement. Or is it because of the honest and direct way in which he puts his ideas onto paper? Whatever the reason, the result is that a film which Hussein made about al-Zarqawi has even been shown on al-Qaida affiliated Web sites. "That showed me that they at least felt understood," the journalist says.

Even for an Arab journalist it is no easy matter getting in touch with al-Qaida's inner circle. Nevertheless, Hussein, who is based in Amman, Jordan, has succeeded in turning his correspondence with the terrorists into a remarkable book: "al-Zarqawi - al-Qaida's Second Generation."

If you meet Hussein, as you might when he is relaxing in Amman's Café Vienna, you see he is calm and laid-back, without any of the glamour of a secret service spy. But what this small, slim man has to report is nothing less than the world's most dangerous terrorist network's plan of action: al-Qaida's strategy for the next two decades. It is both frightening and absurd, a lunatic plan conceived by fanatics who live in their own world, but who continually manage to break into the real world with their brutal acts of violence.

One of Hussein's most sensational sources for the book, according to what he told SPIEGEL Online, was Seif al-Adl. The Egyptian terrorist, who is suspected of taking part in the attacks on the American Embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998, has a ransom of US$5 million on his head from the FBI. Secret services suspect that al-Adl is now in Iran.

Have you seen this man? If so, you could earn yourself 5 million dollars. Seif al-Adl is not only wanted by the FBI but is also one of Hussein's main sources in the book.
To prove that he really has had contact to al-Adl, Hussein includes in the first two pages of the book a copy of a hand-written letter the wanted man sent to the author. In the original document, which is 15 pages long, al-Adl describes the disagreements between al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden during the Afghanistan war. "Statements from Seif al-Adl have also crept into the chapter on al-Qaida's strategy," explains Fouad Hussein.

An Islamic Caliphate in Seven Easy Steps

In the introduction, the Jordanian journalist writes, "I interviewed a whole range of al-Qaida members with different ideologies to get an idea of how the war between the terrorists and Washington would develop in the future." What he then describes between pages 202 and 213 is a scenario, proof both of the terrorists' blindness as well as their brutal single-mindedness. In seven phases the terror network hopes to establish an Islamic caliphate which the West will then be too weak to fight.

The First Phase Known as "the awakening" -- this has already been carried out and was supposed to have lasted from 2000 to 2003, or more precisely from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington to the fall of Baghdad in 2003. The aim of the attacks of 9/11 was to provoke the US into declaring war on the Islamic world and thereby "awakening" Muslims. "The first phase was judged by the strategists and masterminds behind al-Qaida as very successful," writes Hussein. "The battle field was opened up and the Americans and their allies became a closer and easier target." The terrorist network is also reported as being satisfied that its message can now be heard "everywhere."

The Second Phase "Opening Eyes" is, according to Hussein's definition, the period we are now in and should last until 2006. Hussein says the terrorists hope to make the western conspiracy aware of the "Islamic community." Hussein believes this is a phase in which al-Qaida wants an organization to develop into a movement. The network is banking on recruiting young men during this period. Iraq should become the center for all global operations, with an "army" set up there and bases established in other Arabic states.

The Third Phase This is described as "Arising and Standing Up" and should last from 2007 to 2010. "There will be a focus on Syria," prophesies Hussein, based on what his sources told him. The fighting cadres are supposedly already prepared and some are in Iraq. Attacks on Turkey and -- even more explosive -- in Israel are predicted. Al-Qaida's masterminds hope that attacks on Israel will help the terrorist group become a recognized organization. The author also believes that countries neighboring Iraq, such as Jordan, are also in danger.

The Fourth Phase Between 2010 and 2013, Hussein writes that al-Qaida will aim to bring about the collapse of the hated Arabic governments. The estimate is that "the creeping loss of the regimes' power will lead to a steady growth in strength within al-Qaida." At the same time attacks will be carried out against oil suppliers and the US economy will be targeted using cyber terrorism.

The Fifth Phase This will be the point at which an Islamic state, or caliphate, can be declared. The plan is that by this time, between 2013 and 2016, Western influence in the Islamic world will be so reduced and Israel weakened so much, that resistance will not be feared. Al-Qaida hopes that by then the Islamic state will be able to bring about a new world order.

The Sixth Phase Hussein believes that from 2016 onwards there will a period of "total confrontation." As soon as the caliphate has been declared the "Islamic army" it will instigate the "fight between the believers and the non-believers" which has so often been predicted by Osama bin Laden.

The Seventh Phase This final stage is described as "definitive victory." Hussein writes that in the terrorists' eyes, because the rest of the world will be so beaten down by the "one-and-a-half billion Muslims," the caliphate will undoubtedly succeed. This phase should be completed by 2020, although the war shouldn't last longer than two years.

A Serious Plan?

But just how serious is this scenario? "Al-Qaida makes no compromises," says the book's author Fouad Hussein. He obviously believes that this seven-point plan could well become the guiding principle for a whole range of al-Qaida fighters. Hussein is far from an hysterical alarmist -- in fact he is seen as a serious journalist and his Zarqawi book is better than most of the reports in Arabic on the subject. Only last year, the journalist made a film which was received with great interest and was shown on the German-French TV channel arte. In it he provided deep insights into al-Qaida's internet propaganda machine.

Sign up for Spiegel Online's daily newsletter and get the best of Der Spiegel's and Spiegel Online's international coverage in your In-Box everyday.

Nevertheless, there is no way the scenario he depicts can be seen as a plan which al-Qaida can follow step by step. The terrorist network just doesn't work like that anymore. The significance of the central leadership has diminished and its direct commands have lost a great deal of importance. The supposed master plan for the years 2000 to 2020 reads in parts more like a group of ideas cobbled together in retrospect, than something planned and presented in advance. And not to mention the terrorist agenda is simply unworkable: the idea that al-Qaida could set up a caliphate in the entire Islamic world is absurd. The 20-year plan is based mainly on religious ideas. It hardly has anything to do with reality -- especially phases four to seven.

But that doesn't mean that we should simply discount everything that Hussein has uncovered. A few of the steps in the agenda are plausible. The idea that Syria will become a focus for the Mujahedin is regarded by experts as highly likely. "Close ranks, concentrate on getting more recruits, set up cells," was the call to the "Mujahedin in Syria" which appeared on one Web site at the beginning of August. From the point of view of the jihadists, Israel and Turkey are also fairly logical targets for an escalation of the confrontation. "Al-Qaida views every fight as a victory, because for so long Muslims didn't have any weapons at all," says Hussein. He may not be far off. As for Jordan, al-Qaida leaders such as al-Zarqawi, have already made attacks on the country. They have also stated on numerous occasions that Jerusalem is the real target.

Equally, the idea that in the future al-Qaida could increasingly become a movement that attracts young frustrated men, is hardly a theory plucked out of thin air. The terror network puts a lot of effort into its propaganda -- assumedly in order to expand its support base.

Attacks on the West: a Means to an End

What is interesting is that major attacks against the West are not even mentioned by Fouad Hussein. Terrorism here cannot be ignored -- but it seems these attacks simply supplement the larger aim of setting up an Islamic caliphate. Attacks such as those in New York, Madrid and London would in this case not be ends in themselves, but rather means to a achieve a larger purpose -- steps in a process of increasing insecurity in the West.

Nowadays, it is harder than ever to truly understand al-Qaida: the organization has degenerated into branches and loosely connected cells, related groups are taken in, and people who hardly had anything to do with al-Qaida before, now carry out attacks in its name. It is hard to imagine orders which come right from the top because Osama bin Laden spends all his time struggling to survive. At the same time, the division between foot soldiers in the organization and sympathizers is becoming increasingly blurred. It is all too easy to fall prey to disinformation -- al-Qaida also excels in this area. Even Hussein's scenario should be judged skeptically.

His book should therefore be read for what it really is: an attempt to second guess how al-Qaida terrorists think, what they really want and how they propose to get there.

At 8/15/2005 01:24:00 PM, Anonymous shamee said...

We need to understand that the alwi regime did not mistreat the kurds alone but its brutality affected all Syrians, but lets pay attention carefully to this article when the west want to talk about the Syrian government they say [alwi regime and its practices against Syrians] but when they want to talk about kurds and Arabs they say Arabs mistreat Kurds not the alawi regime !!!!!!
I wonder who will benefit from the fighting between Arabs and Kurds let me ask this question what the religion of the majority of the Kurds i think the answer is Islam, so it will be fighting between brothers, I agree that Kurds suffered under the ba'th rule and so did all Syrians the answer is to reject the American interference in our land and to work together against this brutal regime and lets remember since when the Americans cry in other's funeral.

At 8/15/2005 02:19:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

Americans should intervene and they will. That is because I am asking them to do so, as some other people like me.

Joseph Ali Mohammed

At 8/15/2005 11:56:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/16/2005 12:01:00 AM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Assyrian were a semitic people. Kurdish descend from the hittites.

Apart of that the article is good. The syiran regime would do well to stop violating Kurdish rights. On the long term, this policy is not sustainable. It will only push kurds towards independence.

It's funny how the Baath says that Syria's borders are artificial and that the arab nation was divided by imperialism into many states. The Arab nation have the right to destroy these boundaries. The Kurds have no such right. Only the Arabs.


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