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Turkish journalist reports from Aleppo; finds Syrians oppose Jihadism, support Assad, grateful to Hezbollah and Russia

Turkish journalist Fehim Taştekin in second report from Aleppo casts further doubts about Western claims about the Syrian war.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Turkish journalist Fehim Taştekin has provided Al Monitor with a highly interesting follow up to his previous report on the situation Aleppo, which cast doubt on some of the claims the Western media made during the fighting there.

As I have said previously, Taştekin is the only mainstream media journalist of a NATO country I know of to have visited Aleppo since the end of the fighting there apart from the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen.  However in contrast to Jeremy Bowen’s bland and disappointing report, Taştekin’s reports are informative and interesting.

Based on interviews Taştekin straightforwardly contradicts Western claims that the Syrian conflict is a religious civil war pitting President Assad’s Alawite regime against Syria’s Sunni majority

Contrary to persistent popular analysis from abroad, the country is not divided. Despite sectarian campaigns and clashes by jihadis financed with money they received from the Gulf, Syrians did not split along sectarian lines. There was no sectarian divide between the Syrian army and the people, as some said. When you carefully observe the internal dynamics, you can see it was not a war between Alawites and Sunnis or Christians and Muslims.

Only in Homs, when the clashes began, did systematic attacks by Sunnis against Alawites, Shiites and Christians trigger a sectarian divide, but that was short-lived.

Aleppo is the best example that this was not a sectarian war. At least six Sunni religious notables were killed in Aleppo because they rejected an armed uprising. Sunni religious figures were constantly under threat for not joining the war. The most annoying question you can ask soldiers on the Aleppo front is whether they are Sunni or Alawite. Nothing angers Syrians as much as this question.

Though I have never visited Syria my numerous interactions with various Syrians over several decades tend to bear this out.  I wrote about this back in February 2016.  Here is what I said

The reality of Syria [……] is of a society that prior to the war had successfully avoided the sectarian divisions that disfigured politics in neighbouring Lebanon, and where the prevailing ideology not just of the state but also of the great majority of the people was founded not on religion but on Arab nationalism.

People in Syria identified themselves first and foremost as Arabs and Syrians, not as Sunnis, Shias, Alawites, Christians or Druze.

My own experience in dealing with many Syrians is that the fact the country’s leader – whether Hafez Al-Assad or his son Bashar – was from an Alawite family was always of much more interest to outsiders than it was to Syrians themselves. In the case of Hafez Al-Assad his undoubted intelligence, and his success in defending Syrian and Arab interests by standing up to the US and Israel, earned him a grudging respect even from those Syrians who deplored his regime for its arbitrariness and corruption……

This is not to say that there has not always been in Syria a minority of people who are hardline sectarian Sunni religious fundamentalists. Whilst it is impossible to say what proportion of the population before the start of the war held these views, the best estimates I heard from people who know the country is that they were less than a tenth of the total population, and that they were concentrated disproportionately in a small number of provincial cities such as Hama, Idlib and Homs.

At this point it is necessary to say that the common view that religious sectarianism in places like Syria is a rural peasant phenomenon is wrong. Most rural Sunnis in Syria and elsewhere are devout. However extreme Sunni religious sectarianism of the sort that spawns violent jihadism is – as shown by numerous studies of the background of violent jihadis – overwhelmingly an urban phenomenon.

Note Taştekin’s comment that

Only in Homs, when the clashes began, did systematic attacks by Sunnis against Alawites, Shiites and Christians trigger a sectarian divide, but that was short-lived.

Which corresponds exactly with what I had previously told by my Syrian informants that “hardline sectarian Sunni religious fundamentalists” account for

less than a tenth of the total population, and that they [are] concentrated disproportionately in a small number of provincial cities such as Hama, Idlib and Homs

(bold italics added)

I would add the “hardline sectarian Sunni religious fundamentalists” my Syrian informants spoke about before the war were supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.  By comparison with today’s Wahhabi Jihadists who are waging war against the Syrian government they might even be judged ‘moderates’.

Taştekin also reports something else: that over the course of the war President Bashar Al-Assad’s stature and authority has massively increased, as Syrians have rallied behind the strong leadership he has given.  Interestingly this extends to the numerous critics of the regime he leads

As far as I could see, Assad is more popular today than before. Of course, this popularity doesn’t cover his entire regime.

According to bureaucrats, politicians and citizens Al-Monitor spoke with in Aleppo and Damascus, the system is mired in bribery and corruption and cannot survive for long. People will want to see some of the ruling officials punished. The country has paid an extraordinary price for the war and will not tolerate those profiting from cronyism, nepotism, corruption and abuse.

An Aleppo University professor who requested anonymity spoke of the war’s influence on politics.

“I oppose the regime, but I have to admit Assad managed the crisis well. At the moment, we have no alternative to him. If there were an election today, he would get more than 70% of the vote. Of course, my criticism of the regime hasn’t changed. People put their criticisms on the back burner temporarily because they realized the country was about to disintegrate. It wasn’t the right time to settle scores with the regime. But when the war is finally finished, people will want drastic changes. The government is aware of this mood and is trying to change some things. Be assured, nothing will be the same as before,” he said.

An academic who joined our discussion said, “Many heads will roll. [There is] no other way.”

As the regime has been given some period of grace by its opponents, there is no serious debate on Assad’s presidency and his legitimacy. What we have is the foreign-supported opposition holding Assad responsible for the bloodshed, and then those identified as legitimate internal opposition seeing Assad as the guarantor of the country’s integrity.

This exactly corresponds with my own impression, which I recently gave in a panel discussion for Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear.  In it I said that I had got the impression that President Assad’s stature and support had hugely increased during the war, and that any hopes or fears he would be gone when the war was over as a consequence of a peace settlement are profoundly wrong.

Lastly, Taştekin reports respect and gratitude towards Russia and Hezbollah, but considerable suspicion of Syria’s other ally Iran

Nobody challenges the role Russia will play. But it is not the same for Iran, the other major ally. It’s not hard to detect resentment among the people and even government officials of Iran’s interventionist attitude. Many Syrians even prefer an alliance with Russia because they believe Moscow is not interfering in their domestic affairs. Moreover, Al-Monitor was told that Iranians’ overbearing, superior attitude especially annoys the Syrian army.

A veteran Syrian journalist told me Iran’s assistance won’t result in Iranian influence on Syrian politics. “You have to understand the political structure in Syria. Syria’s alliances don’t allow [for] influence on the country. Assad is balancing Iran with Russians and vice versa. If Iran presses too hard, he cites Russian reservations. If Russia presses too hard, Assad then refers to Iranian objections.”

Curiously, Syrians’ unease with Iranians doesn’t apply to Iran-supported, Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which hails from the same cultural basin as Syrians. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is no less prestigious in Syria than Assad. In Damascus, Homs and elsewhere — even in Aleppo, with its prominent Sunni identity — you will see Nasrallah posters all over, and there is widespread affection for him among Christians.

In the government offices I visited, all I saw were joint photos of Nasrallah and Assad. Some shops even have Nasrallah’s portrait painted on the shutters. Street vendors sell lapel pins, cigarette lighters and wallets with photos of Assad and Nasrallah. I didn’t see a single photograph of Iranian leaders. You see Iranians on the front lines but not in city centers. In short, people distinguish between Hezbollah and Iran.

Though Taştekin does not report the fact, it is possible that some of the resentment towards Iran is due to a fairly general belief – not just in Syria but also in Russia – that last year Iran did less than it promised, sending poorly trained Shiite militias from Iraq rather than the properly trained Iranian ground troops both the Syrians and the Russians had been expecting.  However the greater part of the reason is surely the one that Taştekin says: Russia intervened in Syria in order to save the country from being overrun by Jihadi terrorists, whereas for Iran Syria is a pawn in its greater geopolitical play, which is directed at the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.  It is not surprising if some Syrians resent this.

Altogether Taştekin’s two reports from Aleppo are models of how proper reporting should be done.  They give a clear picture of the state of opinion in Aleppo and Syria.  That his reports are not being given wide coverage is a reflection of how unpopular the image he gives of the mood in Syria is with some people in the West.

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen explains Washington’s latest foreign policy strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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