Weekly media digest

NYC's lost Syrian enclave, a doctor lost to COVID-19, and Syrian mercenaries at war

SyriaUntold brings you the latest edition of our digest. We want to share with you the news, features, investigative pieces and long-form essays that we're reading this week.

18 December 2020

Illustration by Rami Khoury

America’s war on Syrian civilians (The New Yorker

“On the face of it, scrupulous adherence to the law is a victory for the cause of humane war. Yet the ruins of Syria tell a more complicated story. Not long before the U.S. assault on Raqqa, Russian and Syrian forces launched a major offensive to capture the rebel-held eastern side of Aleppo. Paying no heed to international law, they retook the city with savage efficiency, laying waste to crowded markets and hospitals. Yet the end result looked no different from Raqqa: a large civilian death toll, honeycombed apartment buildings, streets choked with rubble, entire neighborhoods flattened.” Read more

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‘My goal is justice for all Syrians’: One man’s journey from jail to witness for the prosecution (The Guardian)

“Bunni is a wiry man, with a bushy moustache, who favours slightly rumpled suits with an open-necked shirt. He has spent most of his adult life in a dangerous and largely fruitless struggle for human rights in a country that has become a byword for their abuse. Somehow, that has not diminished his energy or dulled his sense of humour. He is rarely without a smile on his face, and a cigarette or vape pen in one hand, the latter more a consequence of Germany’s ban on indoor smoking than an attempt to kick a habit.” Read more

“This is finally happening”: Syria’s torturers on trial (Al-Jumhuriya)

“In the small German city of Koblenz, at the intersection of the Rhine and Moselle rivers, half way between Frankfurt and Bonn, a landmark trial of historic significance for the Syrian conflict has been underway since April...It is the world’s first prosecution of Syrian regime officials for crimes against humanity; human rights lawyers hope it will not be the last.

One such lawyer is Dr. Patrick Kroker, a Syria specialist at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, who currently represents nine of the victims of the acts attributed to Raslan and al-Gharib.” Read more

Return from ISIS (Frontline)

“Return From ISIS follows an American mom and her kids from Indiana to the heart of the self-declared ISIS caliphate and back. In this special report three years in the making, producer Josh Baker (Battle for Iraq) investigates how the family ended up in Syria and what happened when they came home to the United States.” Watch documentary

Lives Lost: Doctor chose to stay, work in war-torn Syria (AP)

“Dr. Adnan Jasem had every reason to leave war-torn Syria after surviving a bomb blast that broke his legs four years ago and receiving job offers from abroad.

Still, Jasem stayed, committed to treating the people in his homeland. It was no surprise that he would be on the front lines when the first coronavirus cases appeared in northwest Syria this summer.

By Sept. 6, Jasem started feeling ill. Four days later, the 58-year-old was dead.” Read more

Little Syria (Kerning Cultures)

“The lower west side of Manhattan used to be home to the biggest population of Arab immigrants in the US. In the early 20th century, streets were full of people speaking Arabic, with street vendors selling ka’ak, storefront baklava displays; this was New York’s ‘Little Syria.’ Today though, it’s all gone.” Listen to podcast episode

The Syrian mercenaries used as 'cannon fodder' in Nagorno-Karabakh (BBC)

“Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed enclave that fell under Armenian control during a bloody conflict that ended in a ceasefire in 1994. Tens of thousands died and hundreds of thousands were displaced, both from the enclave itself and from surrounding territory occupied by Armenian forces. The international community has not recognised the self-declared Republic of Artsakh (the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh) and this year, sensing its growing military superiority, Azerbaijan decided to go on the attack.

Although Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey deny the use of mercenaries, researchers have amassed a considerable amount of photographic evidence, drawn from videos and photographs the fighters have posted online, which tells a different story.” Read more

In Syria, put humanitarian aid ahead of a political solution (War on the Rocks)

“In congratulatory calls with foreign leaders, President-elect Joe Biden recently told his soon-to-be counterparts, ‘America is back. We’re going to be back in the game.’ This message builds on his rhetoric throughout the campaign that he will ‘rebuild confidence in U.S. leadership … and once more have America lead the world.’ Yet what that looks like in practice when dealing with intractable conflicts like Syria is unclear. Some have argued that leadership means taking a more forceful position against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Others have suggested it means charting a responsible course toward normalization. And while everyone agrees Washington should improve the flawed humanitarian assistance paradigm, efforts to do so inevitably flounder amid disagreements over America’s broader goals in Syria.” Read more

New York Times says ‘Caliphate’ podcast fell short of standards (The New York Times)
"After an internal review that took more than two months, The New York Times has determined that 'Caliphate,' its award-winning 2018 podcast, did not meet the standards for Times journalism.

The 12-part audio documentary featuring Rukmini Callimachi, a Times correspondent who has frequently reported from conflict zones, sought to shed light on the Islamic State terrorist group. The Times found that 'Caliphate' gave too much credence to the false or exaggerated accounts of one of its main subjects, Shehroze Chaudhry, a resident of Canada who claimed to have taken part in Islamic State executions." Read more

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