If Bashar Falls, What Will Happen to Syria's Alawites and Kurds?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is facing immense pressure to step down from power to end the conflict in his country. Unfortunately, ending the Syrian conflict is not that easy. Syria, like most countries in the Middle East, has kept a precarious balance of power between religious and ethnic groups for centuries. Assad stepping down may be the drastic change that the Syrian people need, but it could also have disastrous consequences for some of these groups.


Let us examine two of the largest minority groups in Syria-- Alawites and Kurds-- and see how they fit into the scene of this ongoing conflict.



Map showing the presence of Alawites in the three countries where they are found: Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. NordNordWest and Supreme Deliciousness / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-1.0


The ruling al-Assad family is part of the Alawite community, which is a minority religious group in Syria and constitutes about 12 percent of Syria's population (2.1 million people). The term Alawite or Alawi comes from the name "Ali," referring to the fact that they are followers of Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb, a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad.

While Alawites are classified as a distant branch of Shia Islam, many Muslims consider Alawite practices, such as drinking wine and believing in reincarnation, to be heresy. As such, Alawites have long suffered persecution, and have taken to keeping their beliefs behind a veil of secrecy.

Alawites have held a disproportionate amount of Syria's political and economic power since Bashar's father Hafez seized power in the 1970s. Sunnis, who comprise about three-quarters of the population and ruled the area for centuries, have resented this imbalance. However, the mostly-Alawite Assad government has been largely tolerant of other ethnic and religious minorities. The government has also enjoyed the support of neighboring Shiite political groups, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Aside from Damascus, the Alawites of Syria are concentrated in the country's northwest, along the Mediterranean coast, in the provinces of Latakia and Tartus. They are joined by significant Alawite minorities in Turkey's southern Antakya Province (formerly Antioch) to their immediate north, and Lebanon's northernmost district of Akkar to their immediate south.

South of Akkar, the Jabal al-Mohsen neighborhood in Tripoli (Tarabulus) is also mostly Alawite in a bastion of conservative Sunnis, and has experienced clashes with the anti-Assad Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood for decades. The fighting in Tripoli has only increased with the escalation of the war in Syria.

Many Alawites in the country fear a backlash against their community if Bashar al-Assad were to step down from power. Even if they are not pro-Assad, they fear being "massacred" by Sunnis once they are no longer under the protection of the Syrian army.



Kurdish-inhabited area, by CIA (1992)

Most of Hasaka Governorate, which is in the northeastern tip of Syria, forms a small part of the geocultural region of Kurdistan. This historically Kurdish region includes the majority of southeastern Turkey, the northern border of Iraq, most of the western border of Iran, and a small portion of Armenia. There are some 30 million Kurds living in this region, making them the largest ethnic group in the world without their own country.

Kurds are also one of the largest ethnic minorities in Syria, consisting of about 10 percent of the Syrian population (2 million people). They have been regularly discriminated against by the Syrian government, and were considered stateless for decades until earlier last year, when Bashar al-Assad granted them Syrian citizenship in a bid to prevent them from joining the growing opposition against his regime. This bid was largely unsuccessful, and many Kurds have joined the uprising with the hope of securing their autonomy as a separate Kurdish state within Syria, if not establishing Kurdistan as a nation, to the dismay of neighboring countries.

When the fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army intensified in western Syria this July, Syrian forces withdrew from the Kurdish northeast to strengthen their fronts against the FSA in western urban areas such as Aleppo and Damascus. The withdrawal left Syrian Kurds almost completely in control of their own region for the first time, much to Turkey's chagrin, which fears that the Kurdish region in Syria could become a haven for the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

At the moment, the region is one of the safest and most secure in the country, due in part to Kurds preventing both the Syrian army and the FSA from entering. However, many are worried that once the greater conflict is resolved, either the Syrian regime or the opposition will try to take back the Kurdish region, something that the newly-autonomous Kurds will not take kindly to.

Possible consequences of regime change

Neighboring countries fear that the fall of the Assad regime will lead to the fracturing of Syria along ethnic and religious lines, which would almost inevitably create complications in the greater region. King Abdullah of Jordan has said that the creation of an Alawite state along the predominantly-Alawite Syrian coast may be Bashar al-Assad's "Plan B." The creation of an independent Kurdish state in Syria's east may lead to more calls for Kurdish autonomy, even for a unified Kurdistan, in the surrounding Kurd-populated areas. Additionally, the influx of Syrian refugees will change the demographic makeup of the countries surrounding Syria, which could upset other precarious balances of power and lead to new conflicts years down the line.



1. Map showing the presence of Alawites in the three countries where they are found: Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. NordNordWest and Supreme Deliciousness / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-1.0

2. Kurdish-inhabited area, by CIA (1992)


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Was Yasser Arafat Killed by Polonium Poisoning? and More

A Palestinian woman walks past a mural depicting late leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza City July 4, 2012: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem


Was Yasser Arafat killed by polonium poisoning?

Al Jazeera - The Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland found abnormally high levels of polonium on the personal belongings of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. If an analysis of Arafat's remains produce similar results, experts say it proves that the Palestinian leader was poisoned with this material, since it is usually only produced in nuclear reactors. The Geneva-based Forum for Human Rights and Development indicated that it is ready to send an independent investigative team that includes experts in forensic medicine and criminal investigation to find out if the late Palestinian leader was assassinated.

Sudanese activists protest for third week in hope of sparking popular uprising

BBC Arabic - Sudanese activists organized new protests today dubbed "Vagabonds Friday," in response to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's description of protestors as a handful of rogue vagabonds with no prospects. This is the third week of protests in Sudan, which is witnessing unprecedented popular anger due to deteriorating living conditions in the aftermath of the government's attempt to implement austerity measures, in response to worsening economic conditions, especially after the secession of the South one year ago.

Syrian Republican Guard General Tlass defects to Turkey

New TV - A high-level Syrian security source confirmed that Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, the brigade commander of the 105th Republican Guard, has fled to Turkey. Tlass is the highest ranking officer to defect from the regime. The source added that Tlass is an important witness to the crimes of the Syrian regime, and that rejected the destruction that killed thousands in his city of al-Rastan.

Libyans set to vote in first post-Gaddafi election amid fears of violence

Dubai TV - Amid fears over the inability of Tripoli's government to maintain security, Libyans are preparing to hold their first free general elections in over half a century. Nearly three million voters will head to the polls tomorrow to elect 200 foundation council members out of the 3,700 mostly Islamist candidates. However, the election process is facing significant challenges, mot notably security threats and anti-election groups, which include pro-federalism protestors who closed the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf in protest of the allocation of seats in the General National Congress.

Egypt's Morsi orders investigation into killing of protestors

Al-Alam - Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a presidential decree ordering the formation of a fact-finding committee to investigation the killing and injury of protestors during the January 25th revolution. The decree orders a review of the investigations and a reexamination of sites that witnessed acts of violence and killings.


Image: A Palestinian woman walks past a mural depicting late leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza City July 4, 2012: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem


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Egyptian President-Elect Takes Oath in Tahrir Square and More

Egypt's Islamist President-elect Mohamed Mursi (R) delivers a speech while surrounded by his body guards in Cairo's Tahrir Square, June 29, 2012. Mursi took an informal oath of office on Friday before tens of thousands of supporters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, in a slap at the generals trying to limit his power. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egyptian President-Elect takes oath in Tahrir Square

New TV - Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi took an oath before the Egyptian people in Tahrir Square, and vowed to respect the constitution and the law. In the evening, he took an oath to begin his term under the eyes of the Military Council; and away from formalities and the usual protocol, the Egyptian president-elect chose to address his opponents before his supporters. He went to Tahrir Square, which is packed with Egyptians denouncing military rule. Morsi began his presidential term from al-Azhar al-Sharif Mosque, where he performed Friday prayers amongst thousands of Egyptians. The holy mosque was packed with Egyptians who welcomed him in their own way. Al-Azhar’s courtyard held a demonstration giving their allegiance to the president-elect, on a Friday that Egyptians named "The Friday of Handing over Power."

Saudi women launch campaign to defy driving ban

BBC Arabic - The "My Right to Dignity" campaign, in which many Saudi women are active, continues to promote "The Friday of Women Driving". It is an attempt to urge the women in the kingdom, and those in solidarity with them, to drive in the streets of the kingdom today, in order to push for a lift of the driving ban imposed on them. It is a ban among many others, social and political, that are imposed on Saudi women. Advocates for women's driving rights insist that the key to the car may be the key to change in the kingdom.

Sudanese opposition fails to sign post-Bashir political charter

Dubai TV - International condemnation did not prevent Khartoum's government from waging a new arrest campaign targeting Sudanese opposition parties, especially since they started a new movement under the banner of "toppling the regime." But the meeting that was held to sign two proposed charters to manage the country during the transitional period following the regime's collapse, was postponed until next week after they failed to reach an agreement.

UN warns of rising sectarian killings in Syria as gunmen attack pro-Assad TV channel

BBC Arabic - Emad Sara, Director of the news channel Al-Ekhbariya, denounced the attack on the channel. He said the opposition has no desire to convey the opinions of others. He said "Three of our journalists were martyred, and of course, their only crime was conveying words; words that you all know well, words of truth, words that express the other point of view. They conveyed the message of their freedoms in their own way. As such, they were targeted". Human rights investigators in the United Nations released a report today that says the violence in Syria is spiraling out of control. According to the report, the Syrian government is using combat helicopters and artillery to shell residential neighborhoods. It points to the increasing number of sectarian attacks. The report adds that a number of Syrian regions have descended into civil war since the UN-backed ceasefire this past April.

Yemenis take to streets of Sanaa in a massive car rally

Al-Alam - The streets of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, witnessed demonstrations that were the first of their kind, in the form of a procession of cars. Protestors chanted slogans demanding the ouster and trial of those loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, stressing the importance of continuing to mobilize the revolutionaries. Revolutionary youths say that it symbolizes the beginning of a new revolutionary mobilization with the aim of protecting the revolution through various methods.


Image: Egypt's Islamist President-elect Mohamed Mursi (R) delivers a speech while surrounded by his body guards in Cairo's Tahrir Square, June 29, 2012. Mursi took an informal oath of office on Friday before tens of thousands of supporters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, in a slap at the generals trying to limit his power. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh


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Developments in Libya and the Middle East

REUTERS/Ismail ZitounyLibyan court revokes law banning Gaddafi glorification

Al Jazeera - Libya's Supreme Court ruled that a law, passed by the National Transitional Council, was unconstitutional. The law criminalizes the glorification of Gaddafi and his ideas, and punishes with a prison sentence anyone who harms the February 17 Revolution. The court's ruling ended the debate between the law's opponents and proponents. Some viewed the law as a restoration of the former regime's tools of governance, while others considered it a rupture with the Gaddafi era.

Egypt's high court dissolves parliament two days before presidential elections

New TV - Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved parliament, and confirmed the presidential run-off elections will be held on time. the struggle between Egypt's judges and the dissolved parliament seems ongoing, after parliament insulted and defamed the Egyptian judiciary and Judge Ahmed Rifaat, who presided over Mubarak’s case. This led the chairman of the union of judges to respond in kind, as the battle continues between the legislative and judicial powers. The ruling also found the disenfranchisement law invalid, keeping Ahmed Shafiq in the presidential race.

A look at Gaza after five years of Hamas rule and Israeli siege

BBC Arabic - Tuesday marked the 5th anniversary of Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip following an internal battle with its opponent Fatah, that lasted many months and shaped the beginning of the Palestinian political division. Attempts to remedy this division continue today. It also paved the way for an economic blockade by Israel on Gaza's crossings, the price of which is being paid by Gaza’s residents.

As rhetoric intensifies, the Syrian conflict nears global proxy

Al-Alam - In light of the on-the-ground developments of the Syrian crisis, and as clashes continue between armed groups and government forces while a political solution is still lacking, the positions of European and world capitals have differed on the situation in Syria. In contrast to the UN position expressing concern over the eruption of a civil war in Syria, France's position explicitly urged an escalation of the situation in order to topple the regime. It also threatened to impose harsh sanctions on Syria.


Tunisia arrests dozens of Salafi Islamists rioting over art show

BBC Arabic - Clashes in some areas of the densely populated capital continued until the early morning hours. According to the Interior Ministry, the clashes erupted overnight between security forces and groups affiliated with Salafi forces, and vandals in several neighborhoods of the capital Tunis. Vandalism, burning and looting affected security and judicial institutions, and syndicates. Protesters say the reason is the display of portraits they considered offensive to Islam.


Image: Judge Kamal Bashir Daham, head of Libya's Supreme Court, and members of the court panel meet to approve the constitutional invalidation of a law that will criminalise the glorification of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi or any of his supporters in Tripoli June 14, 2012. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny


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Palestinians Honor Their Returned Dead and More

REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Palestinians honor the dead returned by Israel

Al Jazeera -  The Palestinian Authority received the remains of 91 Palestinian martyrs, including 12 from the Gaza Strip. For years, the remains were nothing but a number in a mass grave inside Israel. Today, they are reclaiming their identities. And on their tombs, a story of life, revolution, and martyrdom will be written. The oldest remains belong to seven martyrs who carried out the Savoy Hotel Operation in Tel Aviv in 1975. The Palestinian Authority hopes to receive another wave of martyrs in a few weeks.

Angry Egyptian portesters torch Shafiq's campaign headquarters

Al Alam - Egyptians took to the streets to express their anger towards presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who is participating in the runoff round, and possibly becoming Egypt's first president after the revolution. Once again, the revolutionaries took to the squares in different governorates to protect their revolution, which would be at stake if Shafiq won the elections, given that he was one of the figures of the regime they revolted against.

The enraged protestors reached Shafiq's campaign headquarters in several governorates and set them on fire, throwing his campaigns'advertisement materials outside his headquarters in the Dokki area in Cairo, where some of his supporters gathered.

Syria faces diplomatic backlash over Houla massacre

BBC Arabic - The Geneva-based UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that in its preliminary investigations, at least 20 of the victims in the Houla massacre, which took place last Friday, were killed in artillery shelling. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department told the BBC that the U.S. administration decided to expel the Syrian charge d'affaires in Washington, Zuheir Jabbour. French President Francois Hollande announced the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador in Paris, and Australia also announced that it has requested the charge d'affaires, as well as other diplomats in the Syrian embassy in Canberra, to leave Australia within 72 hours, all in response to the massacre.

UAE revokes citizenship of seven rights activists

Al Alam -  A United Arab Emirates court issued its final decision, withdrawing the citizenship of seven activists. Another Emirati court is looking into the case of blogger Ahmed Abdel Khaleq, who is expected to be exiled to the Comoros Islands. Media and legal reports indicate that in 2009, the Emirates paid 200 million dollars to the Comoros Islands to issue Comorian citizenship to residents of the Emirates who do not have one, or the stateless who are subject to persecution, abuse and are deprived from citizenship rights. It is a chronic problem in the Emirates and several countries of the Persian Gulf.

Six bomb attacks in Baghdad kill at least 17 people

Dubai - In the bloodiest attacks on the Iraqi capital in weeks, six bombings rocked Baghdad today, killing at least 17 people and wounding dozens. These attacks broke the weeks of relative calm in Baghdad as the country is witnessing conflict inside the Iraqi government over a political crisis that threatens to fuel sectarian strife again. The bustling residential neighborhood of Shuala in the northwestern part of Baghdad was the most targeted by a wave of bombings that also hit the areas of al-Ghazaliya, al-Ameriya, al-Yarmouk, al-Zafaraniyah and al-Dora. As usual, booby-trapped vehicles and explosive devices claimed the lives of dozens of innocent people, and a state of emergency was declared at the hospitals in the Iraqi capital amid today's new wave of violence targeting civilians.


Image: A Palestinian woman shouts as others carry a flag-covered coffin containing the remains of a Palestinian militant following a ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah May 31, 2012. The remains of 91 Palestinian militants whose attacks killed hundreds of Israelis were returned to the West Bank and Gaza on Thursday in a gesture Israel said it hoped could help revive peace efforts. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside


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This Week's Headlines 4/27/12

Jordanian protestors demand a change in policies instead of governments

BBC Arabic -
Demonstrations were held in several Jordanian governorates with a variety of slogans and chants, and diverse affiliations and demands. But they were united in their call for accelerating the reform process and combating corruption. The protestors also sharply criticized the council of ministers, and the way in which governments are formed in Jordan. In the capital Amman, the Islamic Action Front had a prominent presence in the protests and participated alongside different popular and youth movements. The protests come one day after the Awn al-Khasawneh's government resigned, and after the Jordanian king, Abdullah II, appointed Fayez al-Tarawneh to form a new government.


Deadly bombing rocks Syrian capital

New TV - A suicide bombing shook the neighborhood of al-Midan in the center of the Syrian capital Damascus. At least nine people were killed as a result, and dozens were injured with body parts seen scattered across two medical centers. The same site had witnessed a similar explosion in January that led to the killing of 27 people. The official news agency SANA described the blast as a terrorist operation carried out by a suicide bomber. Syrian TV raised the death toll to 11, adding that 28 civilians and members of the security forces were injured, broadcasting videos of the explosion site under al-Midan's bridge, near Zein al-Abidin Mosque.

Humanitarian crises in Sudan and Yemen

Dubai TV - The war between Khartoum and the northern command of the People's Movement, the armed confrontations between rebel movements in Darfur, and the Heglig battles are all factors that have contributed to the humanitarian crisis raging in the regions witnessing an armed conflict. According to a new UN report, nearly four million displaced people are at risk of starvation, due to a sharp shortage of food supplies and the difficulty of delivering aid to the famine-stricken because of the violence. The humanitarian situation is far worse in the region of Darfur, especially at the refugee camps scattered along both sides of the Sudanese-Chadian border.

Al Jazeera - Many Yemenis are facing a food crisis due to the high prices and food shortages, especially since the spark of the revolution more than a year ago. Yemeni children are suffering from a number of diseases due to a sharp shortage in food and poor medical care. When a child gets sick and requires hospitalization in the city, transportation is a real challenge due to the shortage of fuel. The bumpy roads and the high cost of medical care pose another challenge.


Egypt announces list of presidential candidates

BBC Arabic - The Presidential Electoral Committee in Egypt announced a list of candidates running in the presidential elections, which are expected to be held next month. There are now 13 candidates, the most prominent of which are Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League and a former foreign minister, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. The committee's surprise decision was allowing Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister during Mubarak's era, back into the presidential race after accepting his appeal. He was initially disqualified by the disenfranchisement law.


Today, Press TV reported that thousands of Islamists rallied in Tahrir Square against an attempt to revive the Mubarak era. They also demanded that the remnants of the former regime be banned from running for president.

Palestinians rally in solidarity with hunger strikers, clash with Israeli troops

Al Jazeera - The area near Ofer Prison, located west of Ramallah, witnessed clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli occupation forces. Israeli soldiers fired large amounts of tear gas at the protestors who organized a sit-in in solidarity with the prisoners waging a hunger strike in the occupation's prisons. Meanwhile, over 1,600 Palestinian prisoners are continuing their open-ended hunger strike for the 10th consecutive day.


Image: BBC Arabic


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The Latest From the Middle East

REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Bahraini activists demand a 'stop to bloody Formula One'

BBC Arabic - The Bahraini opposition escalated its protests, in a number of Shiite villages in and around al-Manama, on the eve of the opening of the Formula One car race. The demonstrations that started Wednesday night continued until Thursday morning. The authorities are heightening the security measures ahead of the event, but denying they expect the protests to impact the sporting event. Eyewitnesses say security forces were forced to use teargas and stun grenades to disperse protesters who threw Molotov cocktails and stones at the police in confrontations that left dozens injured.
Egypt rises against military rule on the 'Friday of self-determination'

Press TV reports that earlier this week, Egypt's electoral body rejected appeals filed by candidates disqualified from running for the May presidential election. Three main disqualified candidates are Egypt's former main intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, Khairat al-Shater from the Muslim Brotherhood, and the ultra-conservative Salafist, Hazem Abu Ismail.

Future TV - Under the banner of self-determination, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square, in the center of Cairo, to demand the protection of the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak over a year ago. This Friday's protest also demanded the transfer of power, and the unification of all political and revolutionary factions. Activists called for the protest today to demand that those who worked with the former president be prevented from running in the presidential elections, the first round of which will be held next month.


However, the Islamists joined the demonstration under the banner "protecting the revolution." And, as an indication that protesters are intent on pushing the ruling military council to fulfill the promise of transferring power to an elected president, the stage set up by the Muslim Brotherhood in the square included a banner that read, "power-transfer on June 30th."

Sudan declares 'liberation' of Heglig as Juba pulls out

Dubai TV -  The Sudanese defense minister has announced that Heglig was "liberated" from the grips of Juba's army, confirming the region was recaptured by force, ten days after South Sudan seized control of the area. This announcement was intended to refute a South Sudanese army statement claiming that its forces voluntarily withdrew from Heglig. Meanwhile, demonstrations broke out in a number of northern cities to celebrate the North's victory in the battle. President Omar al-Bashir stressed the victory marks the beginning of a war to liberate the South from the rule of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

UN chief calls for an expanded monitoring mission in Syria

New TV - On the fourth day of the international observers' presence in Syria, Damascus signed an initial agreement with the United Nations on the terms of the team's work. And in a closed-door meeting, the Security Council discussed sending an expanded monitoring mission to Syria, consisting of 300 observers, for three months. The team will monitor and encourage the halt of armed aggression in all its forms and from all parties, and comes as part of the Annan plan. The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed this agreement comes within Syrian efforts aimed at ensuring the success of Annan's plan, and facilitating the observers' mission within the context of Syrian sovereignty and commitment to the concerned parties. The spokesman for UN envoy Kofi Annan announced that his office is holding similar negotiations with representatives from the opposition on the obligations and responsibilities of the armed opposition.


Hunger Striker Khader Adnan's hometown celebrates his release

Palestine TV - It was "a national wedding," "a massive popular festival," "the festival of the dawn of freedom." These were the names given to the celebration in Jenin organized in honor of freed prisoner Khader Adnan, who underwent an open-ended hunger strike that lasted 66 days in protest of his administrative detention in an Israeli jail. Thousands of citizens from all provinces and political factions, both official and popular, attended the festival to honor him.

1,200 Palestinian Prisoners begin an open-ended hunger strike in Israeli jails

Al-Alam - In occupied Palestine, events were held to mark the Prisoners' Day. 1,200 Palestinian detainees in the Israeli prisons began an open-ended hunger strike in protest of their maltreatment and continual detention. Participants in the events demanded to release the prisoners. At the Prisoners' Day festival, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council called for escalating the armed resistance to free the prisoners.


Image: Protesters chant slogans after police used a flashbang stun grenade during an anti-government rally in Manama April 19, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah


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East Meets Lower East Side: Shanren Play Mountain Music at Pianos



About four years ago, when I was rooting around for Chinese music videos, I was sent a charming animation from a band called Shanren. The song "30 Years" was about the trials and tribulations of moving from the country to the big city to look for work. This is a motif that resonates with all working folks, and I won't even go into the hundreds of great songs dealing with this from the West's Industrial Revolution right through to today. "30 Years" describes what is going on in China currently, as its rapid industrialization is causing a vast shift in population from rural to urban centers. I was therefor already interested when I was contacted by the band's publicist, informing me that they would be playing on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, at Pianos.

The band comes from Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, with members from the Wa and Buyi minorities. The name Shanren means "mountain men." During a chat with James Pang, the band's Chinese manager, he mentioned that the people of these minorities live up in the mountains, are kind of wild living, like to brew their own liquor, and dance.


Being a lover of country music and bluegrass, I could not help but start drawing parallels between some of the characteristics of our own folk heritage and what I was about to see and hear. I was not let down. Listen to this music and tell me that you don't hear something that sounds remarkably like our own "Old Timey" music, with its trance-like repetitions. People like banjoist Abigail Washburn have been mining these parallels for years, and you can hear why. (The band even uses something that looks mighty like a banjo!)

The song is called "Left Foot Dance of the Yi".

The Yi people, as I mentioned before, are one of the ethnic minorities of southwestern China. There's a family of songs called left foot dance songs ("kind of Yi party music" their manager Sam Debell writes). This is the band's own arrangement of a very well known left foot dance song. It’s usually a circle dance, but the band adapted it, so they do it in a line (in a circle it must look positively Balkan... but I’m not going to get into that, at least not here).

A sample of the lyrics (xianzi is a stringed instrument):

- Brother play the xianzi.
- Sister sing the song.
- The moon is already risen.
- And we're waiting to dance.

And something from our own repertoire:

"Late in the evening about sundown
High on a hill and above the town
Uncle Pen played the fiddle, lordy how it would ring,
You could hear it talk, you could hear it sing."

To contact the band:
Sam Debell (Asia) at unitysam@gmail.com and +86 152-1027-0868.


For more of Michal's original music videos, visit inter-muse.com


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Link TV Continues to Build a "Bridge to Iran"

Bridge to Iran with Host Parisa SoultaniIf you read and watch entertainment news, you know that an Iranian filmmaker, Asghar Farhadiis, is racking up the Hollywood awards for A Separation even in a climate of US-imposed sanctions. And if you're paying attention to most media coverage, you're well aware of the nuclear issue. But other than that, do we have a lens into the lives and stories of Iranians? Does this kind of cultural lens matter as we settle into our perspectives about Iran? Yes. Without showing the lives, struggles and culture of everyday people living and working in Iran, we in the West have a potentially skewed image of Iranians.


In 2006, Link TV developed a documentary TV series, Bridge to Iran, to provide a window into the lives and struggles of everyday Iranians -- to respond to the cultural and political tensions that have developed between Iran and the US since the Iranian Revolution.  Over the years, Bridge to Iran has covered a wide range of social and political issues in modern Iran, including the experiences of young girls facing womanhood and uncertain futures, religious pilgrims who risk their lives to visit a holy site in war-torn Iraq, rural life and political awareness, an exploration of Tehran as an urban metropolis, and Iranian women's participation in the election process.

Bridge to Iran Host Parisa Soultani interviewing Siah Bazi director Maryam Khakhipour


The new season premieres on February 14. In each of the four episodes of Bridge to Iran, in-depth discussions between host Parisa Soultani and top Iranian filmmakers provide a unique lens into some of the challenges and realities facing Iranians during a time of increased instability -- including censorship, sanctions and safety concerns.


Here are the details about the films and when to catch the episodes, on Link TV or online:


  • Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution, directed by Nader Takmil Homayoun, explores the history and politics of Iran through its rich filmmaking tradition; premieres on February 14 at 7:30 pm ET / 4:30 pm PT and February 16 at 10:00pm PT. Watch online starting February 14.


  • The Queen and I, directed by Nahid Sarvestani, documents the filmmaker's complex relationship with the exiled former queen of Iran; premieres on February 21 at 7:30pm ET / 4:30pm PT and February 23 at 10:00pm PT. Watch online now!


  • We Are Half of Iran's Population, directed by Rakhshan Bani Etemad, looks at women's participation in the controversial 2009 elections; premieres on February 28 at 7:30pm ET / 4:30pm PT and March 1 at 10:00pm PT. Watch online now!


  • Siah Bazi (The Joy Makers), directed by Maryam Khakipour, traces the demise of a popular form of irreverent street theater; premieres on March 6 at 7:30pm ET / 4:30pm PT and March 8 at 10:00pm PT. Watch online starting March 6.


Bridge to Iran offers a diverse perspective on a country on the receiving end of a torrent of media attention -- but with a lens that's inclusive of the people and the art found within Iranian borders. We hope you'll tune in and tell others.


* * *


Caty Borum Chattoo is a producer and communication strategist with Link TV, assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, DC, and media fellow with the AU Center for Social Media.


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Bahrain Denies Journalists' Entry Ahead of One Year Anniversary

In the week leading up to the one year anniversary of Bahrain's February 14 Revolution, many journalists have been denied visas to the country. Journalists from the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Associated Foreign Press, and Al-Jazeera English were all denied visas because of what the government is calling a "high volume of requests."


"This refusal to allow access for such prestigious media organizations is another ominous signal from the Bahrain government about what might happen this coming week,” said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. "The days approaching the anniversary are tense and rife with rumor. Bahrain's refusal to admit human rights and media organizations only fuels suspicions that the government wants to hide the truth about its ongoing abuses."


It is unclear how many journalists are allowed to enter the country for the February 14 anniversary, but the Information Affairs Agency maintains they are allowing many foreign media outlets to cover the events.


A girl flashes the victory sign with her fingers amid fellow anti-government protesters waving Bahraini flags during a rally held by Al-Wefaq, Bahrain's main Shiite opposition, in Sanabis, west of Manama January 12, 2012. Thousands of anti-government protesters participated in the rally shouting anti-government slogans demanding the downfall of the ruling family.

As part of the 2011 "Arab Spring" uprising, the protests in Bahrain were initially aimed at achieving greater political reforms and equality for the predominantly Shia population. However, following a bloody night raid on February 17, 2011 against peaceful protestors staging sit-ins at Pear Roundabout in Manama, the protestors raised their demands and called for an end to the centuries-long authoritarian rule of the Khalifa dynasty. On March 14, Hundreds of Saudi troops entered Bahrain to help protect government facilities amid escalating protests against the Sunni-led government.


Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, says his team has documented 60 deaths since February 14, 2011 and that the police's aggressive approach in countering activists has stiffened in the past two months. Meanwhile, hundreds of activists have been detained, injured, and tortured in the past year.


After almost a year, violence is still rife in Bahrain as the revolutionary youths remain resolute in their demands and Saudi-backed forces are increasingly brutal in their crackdowns. This week the February 14 Youth Coalition issued a "charter" saying the government crackdowns had gone too far. "The aim of this revolution has become to bring down the regime and decide our own fate after it became clear that trying to live with it and reform it has become impossible," it said.


As next week's anniversary approaches, many people are uncertain about how the events will unfold and worry of increased violence, chaos, and deaths. Emile Hokayen, Mideast Analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, tweeted, "Here in Bahrain, lots of uncertainty abt next week. Rumors galore, concern in some quarters, fatigue in others, real frustration among opp."


Photo: A girl flashes the victory sign with her fingers amid fellow anti-government protestors waving Bahraini flags during a rally held by Al-Wefaq, Bahrain's main Shiite opposition, in Sanabis, west of Manama January 12, 2012. Thousands of anti-government protesters participated in the rally shouting anti-government slogans demanding the downfall of the ruling family. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed


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