Foreign Policy Blogs

Syria Hashtag Explodes!

Before I start off today’s post I want to thank the OLLI program of Portland for having me yesterday. I gave a presentation there on my experiences in Syria, and could not have had a more pleasant experience. It’s very rewarding to get the opportunity to speak with such an involved and engaged group of people.

On to Syria.

The past few days have seen a whirlwind of activity. The title of today’s post of course refers to the Twitter hashtag system, with so many confusing, and heart rending stories coming out over the past two days, the interwebs have had a bit of a meltdown. I’m not sure where to begin, but here goes.

Northern Exposure

There have been several big stories to come out over the past few days, none bigger than what is currently going on in the north of the country in the town of Jisr al-Shagour, in Idlib province, near the Turkish border. Ironically/interestingly/sadly/tragically enough, Jisr al-Shagour was also a hotbed of dissent and violence during the reign of Hafez al-Assad, coming under government bombardment in 1980.

In 2011 the Syrian government is claiming that 120 police, army, and security personnel were massacred by armed terrorists there yesterday. (several international media outlets have put the word massacre in quotation marks in their reporting) This is now being used as justification for a Dera’a style crackdown by the government, with the use of helicopters featuring prominently. I mention the choppers only because the use of Libyan air power by Col. Ghaddafi seemed to be a tipping point in that conflict and this is the first I’ve heard of its use in Syria.

In response the people of Jisr al-Shagour are fleeing en masse. NPR is reporting that the town is essentially abandoned, with residents fleeing to both surrounding villages, and across the border to Turkey.

UPDATE 6/9 The BBC is now reporting that as many as 1600 Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey. There are also rumors of violent clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces. The Turkish government has forbade Syrian refugees from speaking with the media, so everything is a bit hazy as of this morning. (End of updated material)

Syria Hashtag Explodes!

Syrian civilians, fleeing the town of Jisr al-Shagour, head for the Turkish border.

Many believe that the 120 government forces who were killed had in fact defected, and were killed by the government for refusing orders to fire on civilians. The issue of defectors has been on the radar for some time, with the opposition claiming that there have been defections since the earliest days of the uprising. More credible reports are starting to filter out that enforce the idea that military defections are indeed occurring. There are at least two documented cases of defections. You can watch them here (arabic) and here (translated). Defections is gonna get its own post here at FPA Syria in the next day or two, really central question in terms of the regime’s staying power.

Free “Amina”?

Syria Hashtag Explodes!

Who are we trying to free, exactly?

Another headline grabber has been the story of the Damascus Gay Girl. For those who haven’t been reading, A Gay Girl in Damascus has been a very popular blog amongst the twitterati/facebook set since the uprising started in March.

Supposedly DGG was written by Amina Arraf. According to the blog, Amina is a young Syrian woman who hailed from a VERY prominent family in Damascus, who also happened to be a Lesbian. Yesterday DGG claimed that “Amina” had been detained by three men belonging to the secret police. Calls for her release sprang up almost instantaneously, and the media sprang on the story.

Turns out that no has actually ever met Amina Arraf. The whole DGG blog, and the personage of Amina, might have been a hoax the whole time. The photos of “Amina” used on the blog are actually of a Croatian woman, alive and well in London, named Jelena Lecic. Check here for pretty compelling visual evidence. Apparently “Amina’s” “girlfriend” hadn’t ever actually met her, having conducted their relationship exclusively through the exchange of approximately 500 e-mails.

I don’t really know what to say other than that if this is indeed a hoax it will do a lot of harm. There is a pervasive distrust of western media and journalism in Syria. Anything that serves to perpetuate myths about western media biases, a hoax like this for example, will surely be used to plant seeds of doubt within the Syrian population.

The Palestinians, At It Again

Syria Hashtag Explodes!

Palestinians mourn at a funeral in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Palestinian protestors had stormed the de-facto Israeli Syrian border in the Golan Heights, and how they actually penetrated the Israeli fence. Well they tried again, only this time with much less success.

Something that is certainly new is the fact that violence broke out between Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp the following day. It takes a lot to surprise me anymore, but this I did not see coming. Details are still pretty unclear, but I hope to write more on this in the next few days.

Another Hoax?!? Of Course France is Involved.

I kid the French. But yeah, another “who do you believe” hoax story to come out of Syria. Yesterday someone called into the French News Station France24 claiming to be the Syrian Ambassador, Lamia Shakkur, and resigned. The voice claimed to be resigning due to the ongoing cycle of violence inside Syria.

Syria Hashtag Explodes!

And still Syrian Ambassador to France, Lamia Shakkour sworn in with the Syrian President and Foreign Minister

Well today, Lamia Shakkur invited another French news station into her office to witness her hard at work, apparently unfazed by violence, cyclical or otherwise. She does not have a girlfriend. That we know of.

Wash-rinse-repeat my words on how damaging a hoax like this can be.

Maher Assad, The Bad Seed

Before I go, make sure to read this piece on Maher Al-Assad, brother to the president. A developing narrative within the story of the uprising is the internal dynamics of the Syrian regime. Maher commands several of the elite sections within the Syrian Army, and this is going to prove very important in the weeks and months ahead; especially if defections continue, or increase.

Syria Hashtag Explodes!

Maher al-Assad, left, could prove VERY influential in the next phase of the Syrian uprising



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.