Conflict pushes Syrian-Armenians to their ancestral homeland

In the final few days of July 2012, conflict broke out between rebels and the Syrian regime in the ancient city of Aleppo. Sarkis Rshdouni’s father was driving him to the airport, opting for the longest route in order to avoid the fighting on the main road. But they couldn’t escape it entirely.

“It was my first time seeing a military helicopter firing,” Mr. Rshdouni said of the trip.

The threat of violence was not what compelled the now 26-year-old to leave. Rather, it was Syria’s political leanings after the death of former President Hafez Al-Assad and rise of his now-embattled son, Bashar. According to Mr. Rshdouni, a Syrian-Armenian, the country became more aligned with Turkey, and this affected his community.

Aleppo
Aleppo city centre, June 2012. “The neighbourhood is partly damaged due to the ongoing war,” says Sarkis Rshdouni.

“Syria still hasn’t recognized the Armenian genocide…so why should I live there?” said Mr. Rshdouni, who is studying for a B.A. in history at Yerevan State University and working in the tourism industry.

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The Etymology of the Islamic State

Prior to adopting the name “Islamic State”, the terrorist organisation referred to by American President Barack Obama as ISIL and French President François Hollande as Daesh went through many different iterations, each with its own name.

Islamic State flag in Mosul
A motorist drives beneath a flag of the Islamic State at the entrance of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul (via Associated Press)

Aaron Zelin, founder of the fantastic Jihadology.net website, outlined the group’s development since its establishment in Iraq in early-1999. The group that has come to be known as the Islamic State was founded as Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (جماعة التوحيد والجهاد)– Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad — by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The group did not gain notoriety until in 2004, following the American invasion of Iraq, it adopted the name Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين) — Al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers (Mesopotamia), better known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). For a brief period in 2006, prior to Zarqawi’s death, the group was organised into Majlis Shura al-Mujahedin (مجلس شورى المجاهدين) — the Mujahedin Shura Council. Following Zarqawi’s death in a US targeted strike in June 2006, the group was rebranded in October 2006 as dawlat al-iraq al-islamiyya (دولة العراق الإسلامية) — the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

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U.S. Lacks Long-Term Strategy in the Fight Against ISIS

There is a lot of confusion about the American strategy toward the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This is partially due to the President Obama’s lack of specificity and the shortsighted nature of Congress. The conversation now revolves around a question of how we can prevent “lone wolf” attacks at home, when perpetrators are inspired by ISIS or Al Qaeda-affiliated groups. But this still falls in the context of the war America currently fights against ISIS in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, congressional counterterrorism policy advisor Harlan Geer spoke to the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University about Congress’ lack of a long-term strategy on the issue.

U.S. airstrike on Kobani
Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in November (via Associated Press)

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Egyptian-Qatari Rapprochement Could Push Hamas Back into Tehran’s Orbit

Post-Arab Spring regional realignment broke Hamas’ ties with Iran, now normalisation of relations between Egypt and Qatar could bring them back


There are recent indications that Egypt and Qatar are on the path to reconciliation. Qatar’s relations with a number of states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been strained due to the small Gulf state’s support for Islamist movements, namely the Muslim Brotherhood. While meetings between Egyptian and Qatari diplomats may not lead to a full thawing of relations, normalisation does have major implications for the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (known better by its Arabic acronym: Hamas).

The Syrian conflict precipitated a shifting of alliances in the MENA region. The Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, as well as Iranian support for military operations against a nascent rebellion in early-2012, led Hamas leadership to withdraw from its headquarters in Damascus and relocate to the Qatari capital of Doha.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal delivering a speech in Damascus in 2005 (via LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Hamas envisioned an opportunity with the so-called “Arab Spring.” Long-marginalised Islamist political organisations mobilised with strong showings in post-revolutionary elections, heralding a shift toward Sunni Islamist rule in the region. Hamas viewed this new status quo as more favourable to its struggle for Palestinian liberation, especially compared to the Arab dictators who had made peace with Israel. In Tunisia, the Ennahda party won October 2011 parliamentary elections and in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood — Hamas’ parent organisation — and the Salafist Hezb an-Nour won a plurality of votes in late-2011/early-2012 parliamentary elections. Additionally, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi claimed victory as Egypt’s first democratically-elected president in June 2012.

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