On edge of Mo­sul, shop­pers savour mar­ket life again

Syr­i­ans’ suf­fer­ing fails to strike a chord in Europe

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A month ago it was on the front line of Iraq’s bat­tle to re­take Mo­sul, but now the vil­lage of Gogjali echoes with shouts of “Chicken! Toma­toes! Cig­a­rettes!” A lively mar­ket has sprung up here on the east­ern edge of Mo­sul, where just a few kilo­me­ters away Iraqi forces are fight­ing street by street with the Is­lamic State group.

The mar­ket has be­come a place not just to shop, but to work and to talk-to savour the new­found free­dom of life with­out the ji­hadists.

His head wrapped in a tra­di­tional kef­fiyeh head­scarf, Khaled Mo­hammed Saleh chops meat at an im­promptu butcher’s shop he

As the bombs rain down on the be­sieged city of Aleppo the scenes of suf­fer­ing are hor­rific, yet the Syr­ian war fails to move peo­ple to protest in the way that the US in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq or the siege of Sarajevo did.

In Paris’ tra­di­tional place of protest, Place de la Republique, demon­stra­tors spelled out “Free Syria” in can­dles last Fri­day as forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad in­creased their con­trol of rebel-held ar­eas of Aleppo.

But barely a hun­dred peo­ple took part in the protest. “I find it hard to un­der­stand. This is a cause which peo­ple should rally around,” said one of the par­tic­i­pants, Ah­mad Darkazanli, who orig­i­nally comes from Aleppo but has lived in France for half a cen­tury. It has been a sim­i­lar story in Lon­don, Ber­lin and Rome-the plight of the Syr­ian peo­ple fails to strike a chord. “Aleppo is al­ready a Sarajevo, a black chap­ter in the his­tory of mankind and of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics,” Jan Ege­land, the head of the UN-backed hu­man­i­tar­ian task­force for Syria, said re­cently.

In­tel­lec­tu­als across Europe took up the fate of Sarajevo, the de­stroyed cap­i­tal of Bos­nia, dur­ing the 1992-1995 war and the con­flicts in Gaza brought thou­sands of peo­ple into the streets.

The US in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq un­leashed mas­sive demon­stra­tions, in­clud­ing an es­ti­mated one mil­lion peo­ple who marched through Lon­don in Fe­bru­ary 2003.

Yet Syria fails to stir the same feel­ings of sol­i­dar­ity. As the war has ground on for five years, the main­stream me­dia and so­cial me­dia have been filled with images of bar­rel bombs, chil­dren strug­gling to breathe af­ter chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks, dead pris­on­ers, and des­per­ate fam­i­lies scram­bling through the rub­ble of their shat­tered homes. “It’s so bar­baric that it’s hard for peo­ple to take in,” Ziad Ma­jed, a pro­fes­sor at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Paris, said.

Pho­to­graphs of Ay­lan, the lit­tle Syr­ian boy found drowned on a Turk­ish beach, and the blood-streaked face of an­other child, five-yearold Om­ran, who had emerged from the rub­ble of his bombed home in Aleppo, caught the world’s at­ten­tion for a few days. But, said Ma­jed, “it’s one hor­ror af­ter an­other and be­cause peo­ple don’t un­der­stand who is killing whom, they feel pow­er­less and they don’t want has erected with red zinc pan­els. “Se­cu­rity here is much bet­ter than any­where else in the area,” the man in his 50s says.

Elite Iraqi forces re­claimed con­trol of Gogjali in the early days of the of­fen­sive they launched to re­take Mo­sul on Oc­to­ber 17, more than two years af­ter IS seized Iraq’s se­cond largest city. Rem­nants of the bat­tle to cap­ture the vil­lage can be seen in the rub­ble piled at the side of the road and the shells of de­stroyed build­ings.

But nearby are signs of new life-boxes filled with toma­toes, aubergines, pota­toes and onions. Fares Ma­her, 27, has come from the Mo­sul neigh­bor­hood of Zahra, now to look at it or think about it any­more.”

The com­plex na­ture of a con­flict that be­gan as a civil war af­ter Pres­i­dent Bashar alAs­sad cracked down on the op­po­si­tion but has grad­u­ally spread to the whole re­gion and sucked in ji­hadist groups may be to blame for the gen­eral pub­lic’s in­dif­fer­ence.

“Who is against As­sad? And who is on his side? Should tyrants be ousted? We saw where that led in Iraq and Syria,” Stephan Polon­ski, an artist in Paris, said.

In the Mid­dle East­ern “Great Game” that the Syr­ian war has be­come with Rus­sia, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf states all play­ing a role, and the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group feed­ing off the re­sult­ing chaos, “the Syr­ian peo­ple and their as­pi­ra­tions for democ­racy are in­vis­i­ble”, Ma­jed said.

“I think the at­tacks car­ried out in Europe by Daesh (an­other acro­nym for IS) have ex­hausted the ca­pac­ity of peo­ple in the West to show em­pa­thy or anger at what is hap­pen­ing in Syria,” said Pauline Ha­mon, a journalist. “As far as we are con­cerned the real en­emy are these fa­nat­ics,” Charlotte Cruchet, a house­wife in her 40s, said. “Un­for­tu­nately, many peo­ple think that in the Mid­dle East we’re vi­o­lent, we kill each other, we’re in­ca­pable of be­ing demo­cratic and we’ve got the regimes we de­serve,” said Farouk Mar­damBey, a French-Syr­ian pub­lisher who is pres­i­dent of the French sup­port group for the Syr­ian rev­o­lu­tion, Souria Houria.

He points to the in­sid­i­ous ef­fect of “in­flu­en­tial” pro-regime web­sites who dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion from a war which is largely out of bounds to the main­stream me­dia. “Even among my left-wing friends, I often hear: ‘Who is to say these hor­ri­fy­ing images are not fab­ri­cated? Who is to say it’s true?’” he said.

Since the war be­gan, Souria Houria has or­gan­ised hun­dreds of meet­ings and events, but the peo­ple who at­tend are nor­mally the usual sus­pects-in­di­vid­u­als with a di­rect link to the war, artists and ac­tivists. “When the bomb­ing of Aleppo started (in Septem­ber), we saw faces we hadn’t seen be­fore, ‘or­di­nary peo­ple’ who took part in our demon­stra­tions in front of the Rus­sian em­bassy in Paris,” Mar­dam-Bey said. “But they were a very small group.” He sees one ray of hope, in Ger­many, which has taken in hun­dreds of thou­sands of Syr­ian refugees, and where young Syr­ian au­thors are be­ing trans­lated into Ger­man for the first time. — AFP un­der the con­trol of Iraqi forces, to stock up. “I come here ev­ery day to buy food and re­sell it to the res­i­dents of my neigh­bor­hood,” he says.

Women can again shop alone

A kilo­gram of toma­toes or abo­rig­ines is sell­ing for less than 1,000 di­nars, the equiv­a­lent of about 85 US cents.

Ma­her says that’s less than pro­duce used to cost un­der IS, which im­ported goods from Syria, the other coun­try in the ji­hadists’ cross-bor­der “caliphate”.

To­day the prod­ucts at the mar­ket are com­ing mainly from the city of Arbil, the Iraqi Kur­dish re­gional cap­i­tal, but also from fur­ther afield. Ab­de­laziz Saleh, who has laid out bags of sweets and boxes of pre­served goods, pulls out a cake im­ported from Iran. “Ira­nian prod­ucts were strictly for­bid­den” un­der IS rule, he says. “When the ji­hadists saw some­one sell­ing Ira­nian prod­ucts, they im­me­di­ately ar­rested them and seized their mer­chan­dise,” con­firms Ashraf Shakr, a 30year-old vegetable seller.

For Shakr one big change has been see­ing women out shop­ping by them­selves. Un­der IS, he says, “they al­ways had to be ac­com­pa­nied by a man or a child who would speak to the ven­dor for them.” Many of the vil­lage’s res­i­dents were un­able to find work while IS con­trolled Gogjali and were pleased to again have the op­por­tu­nity to earn some money. Many of those flee­ing fight­ing in­side the city have to pass through the vil­lage and sev­eral gro­cery stores have sprung up along its streets.

“There is a lot of work, peo­ple come ev­ery day to do their shop­ping,” says Hus­sein Haidar, a 24-year-old vegetable seller at the mar­ket. “Be­fore the ar­rival of Daesh, we were in paint­ing but the com­pany stopped work­ing when IS took con­trol of Mo­sul,” his brother Mo­hammed says. “So now we sell veg­eta­bles.” — AFP

ALEPPO: Syr­ian fam­i­lies, flee­ing from var­i­ous east­ern dis­tricts of Aleppo, queue to get onto govern­men­tal buses yes­ter­day in the gov­ern­ment-held east­ern neigh­bor­hood of Ja­bal Badro, be­fore head­ing to gov­ern­ment-con­trolled west­ern Aleppo, as the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive to re­cap­ture rebel-held Aleppo has prompted an ex­o­dus of civil­ians. — AFP

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