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Syria Today – Kurds Celebrate Nowruz

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Kurds Celebrate Nowruz

Nowruz – meaning “new day” – is an ancient festival celebrating the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

Syrian Kurds celebrated the event on Wednesday.

More than 300 million people celebrate the Persian New Year, which has been observed for more than 3,000 years in different regions, including the Balkans, the Black Sea basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Nowruz is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox, which usually takes place on March 21.

The festival that lasts 13 days is rooted in Zoroastrianism, a religion practised in ancient Persia that predates Christianity and Islam.

It is listed as part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 2021, the UN General Assembly proclaimed March 21 as International Nowruz Day.

Given its origins, the festival is marked in countries with significant Persian cultural influence, including  Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Syrian Kurds march with torches during the celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province,

Syria’s Kurds celebrate Newroz despite years-long oppression

For decades, Syria‘s Kurds celebrating Newroz have been subjected to attacks motivated by racial and ethnic discrimination. Even though the perpetrators varied between the security services of the Syrian government, the Islamic State group (ISIS), and the Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, aka the Syrian National Army (SNA) but the victim remained the same.

Yet the millennia-old holiday bears a special significance for Kurds. Newroz represents renewal, liberation, and the victory of justice over injustice in the context of the Kurds’ ongoing struggle for survival, recognition, and peace.

Syria Nuclear Probe Reactivated After UN Watchdog Meets Assad

 A stalled investigation into an alleged clandestine military-nuclear facility in Syria was renewed this week, signaling President Bashar al-Assad may be ready to resolve questions about a site bombed by Israel almost two decades ago, Bloomberg reported.

The International Atomic Energy Agency began investigating the Deir al-Zour site in eastern Syria in 2007, weeks after Israeli forces destroyed it in a midnight raid. Subsequent years of war and official stonewalling delayed the probe until Tuesday, when the IAEA’s Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi met Assad in Damascus.

“We are re-engaging,” Grossi said Thursday on the sidelines of a nuclear-power meeting in Brussels. “It was very important I had the opportunity to speak directly with President Assad.”

While Syria has always maintained the destroyed facility was non-nuclear, IAEA inspectors detected uranium particles on site. The case was referred to the UN Security Council in 2011.

“For too long, Syria has sought to put forward a public facade of cooperation without engaging on matters of substance,” Laura Holgate, the US ambassador to the IAEA, said earlier this month. “The only path to a meaningful process is for the Assad regime to finally provide the IAEA with access to all sites, information, materials, and persons.”

The IAEA’s visit yielded tangible steps that could move the investigation forward, according to Grossi.

“We are going to try,” he said.

One Year of the Islamic State Worldwide Activity Map

The analysis provided by Aaron Y. Zelin and Ilana Winter, based on the Islamic State Worldwide Activity Map by The Washington Institute, outlines significant insights into the global activities of the Islamic State (IS) over the past year. The main findings include:

  1. Diversification of Activities: Despite the degradation of core IS provinces in Iraq and Syria, the group has diversified its operations. The Khorasan province in Afghanistan (IS-K) leads external operations, while various African provinces have established territorial control.
  2. Major Terrorist Attacks and Law Enforcement Responses: IS supporters continue to plot significant terrorist attacks, particularly in Turkey, with most thwarted by law enforcement. However, bombings in Kerman, Iran, in January 2024, were a notable exception.
  3. Claims of Responsibility: IS claimed responsibility for 1,121 attacks, causing approximately 4,770 casualties. The West Africa province (ISWAP) and provinces in Syria, Iraq, Central Africa, and Mozambique were particularly active. The Khorasan province had the most devastating attacks on average.
  4. Designations and Sanctions: The U.S. government sanctioned 24 individuals for IS-related activities, targeting financial and operational aspects of the group. These actions spanned a variety of locations and aimed to disrupt IS’s funding and recruitment networks.
  5. Arrests: The IS Activity Map tracked 470 legal cases in 49 countries, covering attack plots, propaganda activities, financial transfers, foreign fighter involvement, and recruitment. Turkey, Iraq, and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria had the most cases.
  6. Policy Implications: The findings suggest an increasing global threat from IS, especially from IS-K plots, and an uptick in IS territorial control in Africa. There’s a noted potential for new foreign fighter mobilizations and the necessity for continued vigilance in counterterrorism efforts. Additionally, changes to the U.S. military presence in Syria or Iraq could have broad implications for global and regional security, potentially enabling IS to regain strength.

This analysis underscores the importance of maintaining focused counterterrorism efforts against IS and adapting to the evolving threat landscape.

I Was a US Embassy Officer in Syria—That Kid Still Haunts Me

In 1963, amidst a year marked by significant global and personal events, Otho Eskin began his journey as a Foreign Service officer in Damascus, Syria. During this tumultuous period, characterized by an attempted coup and a near-revolution, Eskin encountered various challenges, including dealing with the political instability and witnessing the harsh realities of conflict.

One of the most haunting memories from his time in Syria involves aiding an American undergraduate who suffered a severe drug overdose and was detained in a condition that threatened his sanity and well-being. Tasked with ensuring the safety and care of American citizens abroad, Eskin managed to arrange for a psychiatrist from Beirut to examine the young man and eventually secured permission to transport him to Lebanon for treatment, under the vigilant care of an embassy Marine and with the aid of diplomatic privileges.

This experience left a lasting impact on Eskin, prompting him to reflect on the vulnerability of youth to drug addiction and the devastating consequences it can bring. It influenced his later work as a fiction writer, where he explores themes of justice, the opioid crisis, and the moral complexities of combating such pervasive issues. Through his novels, Eskin seeks to expose the dark underbelly of the pharmaceutical industry and the societal injustices that continue to plague the world, all while holding on to the hope for a better future, inspired by his efforts to make a difference during his time in Syria.

Otho Eskin, now 89, is a published author with a career spanning law, military service, and the Foreign Service. His experiences, particularly the encounter with the young American in Damascus, serve as a poignant reminder of the human stories behind global crises and the enduring impact of individual acts of kindness and responsibility.

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