Donor countries and aid organizations are protesting a UN decision to centralize coordination of aid operations for Syria in Damascus—a move they say hands more power to the regime of Bashar Assad, and will make it harder to deliver aid to millions in rebel-held parts of the country. UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock's decision was announced at a closed-door meeting in early April to alter the system the UN has used for the past four years. That system was designed to ensure aid is delivered on the basis of need to both government and rebel-held territories—known as the "Whole of Syria" approach.
On the 104th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, revolutionary forces in Rojava established the Martyr Nubar Ozanyan Armenian Battalion. The battalion is named after Armenian guerrilla Nubar Ozanyan, who fought in the ranks of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and later as a commander with the Liberation Army of the Workers and Peasants of Turkey (TİKKO) in Rojava, the autonomous zone of the revolutionary Kurds and their allies in northern Syria. Formation of the brigade was announced April 24, the Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, which is especially commemorated by Armenians within Syria, where much of the genocide actually took place.
Turkish occupation forces are building a three-meter high security wall through Afrin, the enclave in northern Syria that was a canton of the Kurdish autonomous zone before being taken by Ankara's troops and allied Arab and Turkmen militia last year. Local residents report that lands in the villages of Kimare and Cilbil (Sherawa district) and Meryemin (Shera district) have been confiscated to erect the wall, with some 20 houses destroyed. Reports indicate the wall is ultimately to be 70 kilometers long, stretching from Afrin to Azaz, encircling much of the Turkish "buffer zone" in northern Syria, and completely cutting it off from the now-reduced Kurdish autonomous zone. Construction of the wall spurred the first public protests in Afrin under Turkish occupation, as farmers marched against the land seizures May 2.
In Episode 32 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg reads from George Orwell's 1945 essay "Notes on Nationalism," and explains why despite his anarchist politics he is willing to march under the Mexican flag but not "Old Glory," under the Palestinian flag but not the Israeli, under the Tibetan flag but not that of the People's Republic of China—and under the Free Syrian flag but not that of the Assad dictatorship. The Free Syrian flag flown by the rebels and opposition is the original flag of an independent Syria, and now represents the struggle to free the country from a one-family dynastic dictatorship massively propped up by foreign powers. Weinberg especially calls out the depraved Max Blumenthal for purveying a version of events in Syria starkly at odds with reality. Weinberg invites listeners to join the Syria Solidarity NYC contingent at New York's May Day march, gathering 5 PM at the Sixth Ave. entrance to Central Park. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Reports are emerging of a clash between Russian forces and an Iran-backed militia in Syria—pointing to mounting tensions between the two most significant foreign powers backing the Assad regime. At least 11 were killed in the fighting in the city of Aleppo April 16. The clash began near a vegetable market in Khaldiya district, and quickly escalated to the use of heavy weaponry, with ground-to-air missiles fired on nearby areas within the city. At least some of the casualties are believed to be civilians. The militia was unnamed, but Tehran is backing numerous Shi'ite militias in Syria, many made up of volunteers from Iran and Iraq. The clash followed recent Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets near Aleppo, and Tehran-backed factions apparently accused Russia of green-lighting Israel's attacks, or even coordinating with Tel Aviv on the strikes. (Syria Call, Middle East Monitor, Arab Weekly)
Syria's last opposition-controlled province of Idlib has receded from the headlines since a joint Russian-Turkish deal was announced last September, forestalling an Assad regime offensive on the province and establishing a "demilitarized zone" policed by the two foreign powers. But shelling and bombardment of the province by Assadist and Russian forces has escalated over the past month—and much of the shells and missiles are falling within the "demilitarized zone." Most recently, five civilians were injured April 14 in a regime air-strike on the Idlib villages of Urum al-Jawz and Bsanqul and Jabal al-Arabaeen, outside the town of Ari, within the demilitarized zone. UN Senior Humanitarian Advisor for Syria Najat Rochdi told reporters in Geneva last week that over 100,000 Idlib residents have fled their homes since February as a result of increased fighting. More than 90 civilians, half of them children, were killed in the province in March. As ever, medical facilities and schools continue to be targeted.
In an amusingly grim development April 8, Donald Trump formally designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a "foreign terrorist organization," and Tehran's Supreme National Security Council immediately retaliated by issuing a statement declaring the Pentagon's Central Command a "terrorist organization." Both moves mark a first, in applying the designation to actual government entities. Trump's signing statement charged that the IRGC "actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft." Iran's state news agency IRNA said in a statement that the Islamic Republic "declares that it considers the regime of the US a 'state sponsor of terrorism' and 'the Central Command of America, known as CENTCOM' and all forces related to it 'terrorist groups.'"
Authorities in the Netherlands have arrested a Dutch volunteer—known by the nom de guerre Andok—who fought with the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) against ISIS in northern Syria's Raqqa in 2017. The Dutch Public Prosecution said in a statement April 2 that Andok, 24, had traveled to France in December 2016 and later went to the Syrian battle zone. He was identified in a broadcast for the Dutch TV program EenVandaag in September 2017, the prosecutor's office said. However, in the interview he did not show his face nor reveal his real name. He was detained upon his arrival at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, and appeared the following day before an examining judge in Rotterdam, who placed him in custody for two weeks pending formal charges.