Two Weeks of Unimaginable Horror in Aleppo

[December 28-23 Covered]

[Survivors of a barrel bomb dropped on a school in Mare, 23rd of December 2013]

The past two weeks have seen the worst phase so far of the tyrant’s genocidal campaign against Aleppo. In this short period, fighter jets and helicopters have massively bombarded the residential areas of dozens of Aleppo’s neighborhoods and its countryside’s towns and villages with missiles, barrel bombs, vacuum bombs in addition to ground missiles, mortars and artillery shelling, killing hundreds of civilians and injuring and displacing thousands more. Yesterday, on the 28th of December, more than 80 civilians were killed as 7 residential areas in and around Aleppo were hit by all sorts of bombs and missiles of mass destruction. The worst massacre occurred at the crowded vegetable market in the Tariq al-Bab neighborhood, where a barrel bomb dropped from a helicopter killed at least 30 innocent people. This was the aftermath:

[Tariq al-Bab:]

Among the martyrs was Ahmad al-Hajji, a prominent youth activist who defied the regime’s lies live on state t.v. in the heart of the city at the beginning of the revolution in 2011. Aside of explosives, barrel bombs contain nails and other sharp metal to inflict maximum casualties which are most “effective” in a crowded market such as the one in Tariq al-Bab.

In Myassar, the old city, al-Sukkari, Zibdiye, Bayanun and Shaykh Isa, residential buildings were the target which often collapse as a result of the explosion. People are neither safe in marketplaces, nor at home. They’re sliced to pieces by flying metal or buried alive under the bricks of their own homes.



[Shaykh Isa:]

With such a brutal onslaught, the reported number of confirmed dead and wounded can only be taken as a conservative estimate of what actually takes place. On the same day, Ansari Mashhad, Qaterji, Shaykh Maqsoud, Sakhour, Taraqin, Shaykh Najjar, al-Bab, Hraitan, Anadan and other neighborhoods, towns and villages were shelled by mortars and artillery. This occurs on a daily basis in dozens of locations throughout Aleppo and its countryside’s residential areas.

The 27th of December was a relatively calm day, without barrel bombs and missiles, not so the 26th for Dar al-Izza or Anadan in Aleppo’s countryside. On the 25th, Sakhour, Deir Hafer and Hraytan were hit by barrel bombs:


On the 24th, vacuum bombs dropped on al-Sukkari killed 30 civilians, and 20 more in other neighborhoods.


Some this footage that was shot on the 24th portrays the destruction caused the day before, when the same neighborhood was attacked by missiles and barrel bombs. On the 23rd, more than 80 civilians lost their lives as a result of bombardments in Haydariyye, Ansari, Karam Homad, Sukkari, Salihin, Marja and many other places. In Mare the target was a functioning primary school, during school hours and crowded with children:



[Bab al-Nerab:]



Assad’s Neo-Nazi Supporters

Assad supporters and apologists around the world have constantly accused the free Syrian people and those who stand in solidarity with them of siding with American imperialism, Zionism and most of all Al-Qaeda. Aside of the fact that anyone who might see an enemy in the Assad regime doesn’t necessarily share the values or aims of the Syrian revolution against it, there is nothing worse to support or be apologetic about in Syria than Assad. Such people have apparently have no qualms with standing on the same side as his Shabbiha, or Russian and Iranian imperialism, Khomeinist foot soldiers from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places either.

It should therefore matter little that neo-Nazis around the world could be added to this list as well. And why should it when the Nazi practices of the Assad regime are something to be apologetic about and too insignificant to take the focus away from those horrible freedom seekers that oppose him. It’s only natural that neo-Nazis, too, have been charmed by the Syrian Fuhrer. After all, he’s one of the few who can add the gassing of children to his fascist resume.

There are many reasons for them to support Assad, not in the least his role in the war against Muslims and his perceived opposition to Jews and America, and surely the fear that the masses fleeing from him will end up in Europe plays an important role as well. Considering the violent and aggressive nature of the neo-Nazi culture, it’s also not very surprising that some of them would travel and fight for him. Recently in the media, news reports of the neo-Nazi fiasco in Greece were commonly followed by updates on Assad’s chemical disarmament process. None, however, caught this nice “bridge” to put between them:

[A recent Black Lily demonstration in Athens in support of the Assad regime]

Believe it or not there is a far more dangerous extreme right group in Greece besides Golden Dawn. It’s name is Black Lily and they are a Nationalist Socialist organisation… They do not hesitate to use guns to defend their ideological beliefs… In Syria members of “Black Lily” are not using words or bathing people with cans of fizzy drinks. In Syria they are armed and dangerous. A whole platoon of volunteers are fighting side by side with Assad’s government forces.”Democratia” newspaper journalist Panagiotis Liakos contacted Stavros Libovisis member of the editorial group of “Black Lily” and in an interview asked him about the involvement and role of the organisation in the Syrian conflict. – Syria: The Greek Nationalist Socialists that are fighting alongside Assad’s regime

Vice’s Brian Whelan did pick it up and wrote an excellent article about it:

I spent the subsequent weeks emailing the group, looking for pictures or video evidence to prove that their fighters are on the ground. The group’s responses were guarded, as they were apparently worried for the safety of their members, but their claims weren’t totally implausible. “These days, more Greeks are in Syria with the Syrian Armed Forces,” they told me. “Very soon we are going to have news.” – ARE GREEK NEO-NAZIS FIGHTING FOR ASSAD IN SYRIA?

As Whelan also suggests, without casualty reports and other evidence from Syria it’s very difficult to prove that Black Lily or any neo-Nazi movement is fighting alongside Assad. The claim that other European neo-Nazis are doing the same and that among them are Russians, Poles and Ukrainians are in the end their own claims. However, it is exactly such claims that makes it all the more relevant. Whether they have actually fought or not, they have certainly gone there and no part of their ideology or movements they belong to would stop them from doing so. They are, after all, self-proclaimed warriors who support the Assad regime. Whelan writes:

My Black Lily contact also “revealed” that they are part of the European Solidarity Front for Syria (ESFS), a group that has organized protests and rallies in support of Assad across the continent. The ESFS have also held talks about Syria in Italy—hosted by the fascist group CasaPound—that have been exposed as fronts for fascist Third Positionist group meet-ups, with Belgian Third Positionist Ruben Sosiers listed as the main speaker at a June event in Rome. Flags from CasaPound, the ESFS-affiliated Sempre Domani and the fascist-inspired group Zenit were all on display at a later meeting.

[The ESFS together with Assad's army as posted on Black Lily's blog]

The ESFS website is a collection of links to their Facebook pages and websites in 16 countries. Other than their militancy, they don’t seem to be neo-Nazi in their appearance beyond their Assadism, which is fascist enough on its own. However, considering the role played by this movement it is all the more telling. Even more so is the following:

While the ESFS have been able to make contact with pro-Assad members of the Syrian community, it’s unclear whether the people who have shown up to their protests in Rome and other European capitals are fully aware of who is behind them. One thing that has been made clear by a number of photos is that the ESFS have infiltrated larger antiwar protests, passing themselves off as anti-war activists, and have built some support within Syrian migrant communities.

But this infiltration is only telling to us, not to Assad’s supporters and apologists, unless they happen to spot one and engage him in a conversation about his favorite topics: inferior races and cultures. Assad’s blue eyes might give way for some leniency, but Arabs as such will always remain a step too far. Until then, the following should also be of interest:

Since the conflict began in 2011, far-right groups from across the world have been courting the Syrian government. On the slightly more moderate end of the scale, BNP leader Nick Griffin rode into Damascus a few months back to have his photo taken with the prime minister, Wael Nader Al-Halqi, and publicly rail against the Free Syrian Army. On the more extreme end, fascist Greek mercenaries may now be training in Syria to help defend Assad and have formed a European support network to spread pro-regime propaganda.

[Griffin with Al-Halqi]

Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, said that Syria was “under attack” as he embarked on a surprise visit yesterday sponsored by the Assad Government. – Life here is normal, says Nick Griffin

What is more interesting even is that Griffin wasn’t the only one there. On the same day last year and meeting the same people was a delegation of Polish fascists who reported about their trip to another, somewhat more eccentric neo-Nazi movement, the American New Resistance which is also supportive of Assad and is led by former American Front leader James Porazzo. The Poles had the following to say:

In recent days, as Polish revolutionary nationalists, editors of and activists of Organization Falanga, we went to Syria, where they weigh the fate of the war between the national government forces and the “rebels”… During the night of 10 to 11 June, our delegation arrived in Damascus… Bartosz Bekier, Leader of the Falanga, Chief Editor: “We met today with the Prime Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic Wa’il al-Halki and Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mokdad. During one of the meetings there was a double suicide bombing in the center of Damascus – Falanga delegation immediately went to the scene. …Polish nationalists are standing with an independent Syria, approaching the final victory.

Whether they joined Griffin’s trip or bumped into him, what’s noteworthy is that apparently an entire delegation of fascists from multiple countries visited the Assad regime last year. But there’s more to it. A couple of months later, these same Polish fascists had been demonstrating their support for Assad in front of the Syrian embassy, reportedly upon their invitation:

[Not at the embassy in August]

Suddenly at 1st P.M. on the pro-Syrian side appeard people from All Polish Youth. Only local activists without any leader. This group although known as Neonazi gang nowadays is group of catholic bigots which try to enter mainstream. Last time they started declarating support to Iran government. A few minutes some strange guy started giving maoist leaflets to Syrians trying to explain that people who were killed in last two days were imperialist agents. Second far right group who supported Al-Assad was Niklot. This is not political group, just association of culture led by Slavic Pagan Neonazis. It is difficult to say why did they join. But the main role in this spectacle was played by Falanga and their leader Bartosz Bekier (on the picture). Bartosz Bekier is former leader of Mazovian National Radical Camp who was kicked out with all his group because of their strange political views. Although Bekier used to be against all kinds of Communism now he cooperates with Maoists and National Bolshevics. That is why Falanga was officially banned on National Radical Camp actions and was not active in Warsaw for a few years. This time they came. Bekier had his own megaphone and shouted slogans to people who opposes as “rats go home” and “yankees go home”. Because of this many people whose relatives are persecuted in Syria could not stand it and decided to go. Only the most militant people stayed. Somebody shouted “Bartosz Bekier, bitch of Al-Assad”. Although Syrian embassy organized Fascist event there was no comments about that in mass medias. – Syrian embassy invites Polish fascists to demonstrate solidarity with Al-Assad

[Polish Falanga leaders together with those of the fascist movement Slovenska Pospolitost in Slowakia]

Their Slovak friends seem less connected or occupied with the Assad regime, though their views are the same. German neo-Nazis on the other hand have been following the outspoken path of their Polish colleagues:

According to the uploader of this photo, it came from a recent neo-Nazi demonstration in Dortmund, Germany. Their own website forwards to the fascist “The Right” party in Dortmund. In Berlin, neo-Nazis have been “heckling Syrian refugees“. Neo-Nazis also appeared at last year at Khomenist “Quds Day” in Berlin, though this guy doesn’t really look like one:


I met one neo-Nazi, who called himself Gene and was wearing a homemade T-shirt that read Assad Ist Gut (Assad is Good). I asked him how such a collection of politically disparate people could come together. His new friend, Tuna, who was Turkish, translated: “Today we put apart our differences for Jerusalem and to stop the Jews. It’s easy.” – Talking With Neo-Nazis and Pro-Israel Germans

Perhaps Turks or even Arabs aren’t step too far, considering that many of his Russian, Polish, Slovak and other Slavonic colleagues were considered untermensch by their great examples in the ’30′s and ’40′s. It didn’t stop such people and far beyond from joining either, and doesn’t stop them today.

Whelan continues:

Although it might seem odd, the story isn’t particularly shocking. Assad’s door has been open to far-right groups for years. In 2005, five years after Bashar had assumed power, American white nationalist and KKK grand wizard David Duke visited Damascus to give a televized speech where he attacked Israel and told the Syrian leader, “Your fight for freedom is the same as our fight for freedom.” The regime was charmed, and clearly happy to play host to an American Holocaust denier who would back their dislike of Israel.

David Duke’s more recent Assadist propaganda rants can be found on his website. In a different article, Whelan exposes an sad ignorance that admittedly does exist among more than a few ordinary Syrians:

Strangely, each visitor harbors a deep-seated, urgent need to share his eerie fascination with Adolf Hitler the moment he finds out I’m German. “Adolf Hitler, strong man. Adolf Hitler, very good man. Ah, Germany! Adolf Hitler. Do you like Adolf Hitler?” I try to dissuade them. No, no. Hitler was a bad man. Very bad. Unfortunately I speak no Arabic, and the debate soon falters. Comparing Hitler with Bashar al-Assad seems to provoke the desired effect, but it never lasts long. “Hitler not good?” they ask, a look of disappointment on their faces. – DODGING BULLETS WITH SYRIAN REBELS WHO LOVE SOCCER AND ADOLF HITLER

It is not something for other societies who have their own demons to be judgmental of, but it is nevertheless an ignorance that exists in the Muslim world, more so in the Arab world [and not at all particular to Muslims] and most certainly in Syria. It is an ignorance born out of, obviously ignorance as such, religious misconceptions and their misuse, and a political culture that stimulates and facilitates it. In Syria, most of this ignorance comes from the Assad regime and the fascist ideologies it inherited, and can mostly be found among, but is not limited to, the supporters of this regime. Aside of being a Nazi in practice, Assad himself is an anti-Semite and a nationalist [in words that is, in reality he is nothing]. Both ideologies have been adopted from Europe and the latter in particular has developed in response to the establishment of Israel and what followed.

This regime’s political culture of xenophobia, hatred and fascism directed at opponents has influenced Syrian society to the extent that such ignorance is not out of the ordinary. Therein Hitler is considered to have been a good man because of “the Jews”, when in reality he was one of the worst enemies of God because of the beliefs that he put to practice, especially in regards to Jews and many other innocent human beings. He was one of the greatest monsters to have walked this planet and Assad is trying his utmost to follow in his footsteps. Of course, it is just one example of so many things that have to be overcome. The somewhat related belief that Khomeinist terrorists are the protectors of Islam and Muslims is another, though there’s fortunately little left of that one nowadays. Seeing is believing. This one is fading too, in Syria that is. It must be thriving in Egypt. But the Assad regime did and inherited more than that:

[Eichmann aide, SS Lieutenant Alois Brunner]

But the number one most-wanted, potentially-still-alive Nazi war criminal on the list is suspected to be in Damascus, possibly in the Meridien Hotel, living — last we know of, anyway — under the protection of the Syrian government. The Wiesenthal Center admits that the chances that Alois Brunner, born in 1912, and last spotted in 2001, is still among the living are ‘slim’ – “but until conclusive evidence of his demise is obtained” the hunt for Brunner should continue, the Center says. How did Brunner, Adolf Eichmann’s second in command, who deported at least 128,000 Jews to Nazi camps, come to find refuge in Syria where he built a “safe and glowingly prosperous” life?

During the 1950s and 1960s, the names of prominent Nazis living in Syria began to surface. One was SS Captain Theodor Dannecker, who had helped Adolf Eichmann implement Hitler’s genocide policy in France, Bulgaria, and Hungary. When the legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen took up residence in Damascus in 1962, his Syrian acquaintances introduced him to Karl Rademacher, a senior Eichmann aide who had been involved in the mass murder of Jews from Belgium, Holland, Croatia, and elsewhere. After the war, Radmacher had fled to Syria and became an official in the Syrian Secret Service. – Syria Sheltering War Criminals? Not the First Time

The most famous “Nazi safe haven” has always been Argentina, a country that happens to have a large and long standing Syrian community as well. Of course the two are completely unrelated, but it might be the ideal breeding ground for the flourishing relationship between neo-Nazis and the Assad regime. The above image is taken from the blog of Argentinian neo-Nazi movement Bastion as was pointed out on Argentinian Indymedia. Whether it has gone beyond the mere expression of support in this case is unclear.

To get an overall impression of how neo-Nazis and fascists see the Assad regime the well known international forum StormFront suffices. Proper research into these movements and their followers would certainly reveal the sympathies of many more groups towards Assad and his war against the Syrian people. Further research will also reveal how more groups than the ones mentioned here will actually have some sort of relationship with the regime, and how they are aiding it in terms of propaganda as well as finances. And, if anyone could dig as deep as Whelan with perhaps another group, like the Poles, some of those fighters inside Syria might be found. Nothing is stopping them from it and Assad does maintain friendly relations with some. While having to pay for professional mercenaries from Russia and the Ukraine, these lot would bring money with them instead.

[The ESFS in Damascus]

I’m sure they’re not that many, perhaps not even hundreds let alone thousands, but it has happened before. Neo-Nazis flocked to fight for the Croats during the war, while Greeks in particular, as also mentioned and linked by Whelan, fought alongside the Serbs. The latter were much more likely religiously and culturally driven, and surely not like the neo-Nazis who fought on the opposing side. However, the two have come together in Syria which means that one shouldn’t only look at neo-Nazis when it comes to the Greeks. In fact, around the region and throughout the world there are so many different kinds of foreigners coming in to support Assad that it has become very hard to keep track.

Even if we would take all of these neo-Nazi’s put together, it’s not exactly the other “type of international engagement playing out in the country” in comparison to the “jihadists” That role is already taken by their Khomeinist counterparts from around the region who have become much more significant to Assad’s survival than any foreigners fighting him threatens his downfall. They are better armed and there are likely more of them. Neo-Nazis, ideologically driven adventurers and mercenaries of sorts may be a growing part of Assad’s foreign legion, but surely not the main one. What makes this a topic has more to do with who neo-Nazis are and that they’re trying to contribute to Assad’s cause, rather than the extent and ways in which they do so.

[UPDATE 27-12-2013]

An excellent article by Leila Shrooms:
Who are Assad’s Neo-Nazi fascist supporters?

Bosnia and Syria: Genocide, Extremism and Intervention

[Members of the Seventh Muslim Brigade on parade in Zenica, Bosnia, in 1996 - BBC]

While the opponents of intervention have been eager to remind us of the war in Iraq, they rather not be reminded of the war that took place in Bosnia. In many ways, Bosnia may be the most striking and relevant comparison to what has been happening in Syria. Not only because of the shared aspirations of its people, the genocide that they suffered from and the heroic resistance they offered against it. Perhaps even more so because of what didn’t occur. NATO intervened in Bosnia, this allowed for a political solution to be reached that ended the war. But the most notable difference lies in the way the world perceived and reported about the war compared to Syria today. It’s hard to conceive a more strikingly similar case to which reactions have been so extremely different.

The genocide in Bosnia, also known as the Bosnian “civil war”, took place between 1992 and 1995 and was part of the breakup of Yugoslavia which itself came in the aftermath of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. What took place in the small country of 4.4 million people went into the history books as a war between Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, resulting in acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape. More than 35 thousand civilians were killed during the war, over 25 thousand of them were Muslim. At least 60 thousand soldiers were killed as well, and almost half of them were Muslim.

Croats and Serbs have always been divided by region, religion and politics, but their Serbo-Croatian language and ethnic roots are essentially the same. Bosnia, being situated between Croatia and Serbia, was no different with the exception that it has had a tradition of great religious diversity. Bosnia was a country of religious minorities in which Muslims had come to form the largest one among them. Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics lived mixed throughout Bosnia, as majorities in some areas and as minorities in others. Having lived this way for centuries, the nationalist revival that would begin to take shape a decade before Yugoslavia’s break-up would impact Bosnia the most and Bosnia’s aspirations for freedom would be crushed in the most gruesome ways.

Many in the Catholic and Orthodox majority areas no longer identified themselves as Yugoslav or even as primarily Bosnian, but as Croats and Serbs respectively, seeing themselves as a part of the population of their “homelands” of Croatia and Serbia more than “the other” in Bosnia. Hence they were known as Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs, rather than Catholic or Orthodox Bosnians. Muslims had no ethnic identity other than being Bosnian [or Yugoslav], and were therefore called Bosniaks. The nationalist trend that swept away Croatia and Serbia, as well as their coreligionists in their respective majority regions in Bosnia, did not find resonance among Muslim Bosniaks. For them, the pluralistic society they have traditionally been part of continued to be the norm. Many if not most of the Orthodox and Catholics inside Muslim majority or heavily mixed city areas continued to see themselves as being part of this same religiously diverse society at the heart of Bosnia as well, but they were minorities among their nationalist coreligionists elsewhere.

Bosnian Genocide, 1992: On 31 March 1992, Serbian paramilitary group, led by Zeljko Raznjatovic (ARKAN), slaughtered hundreds of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) civilians – women, children, and elderly men – in the town of Bijeljina in northeastern Bosnia, near the border with Serbia.

Following the Croatian and Slovenian secession from a more and more nationalist Serbian Yugoslavia headed by Serbian Pres. Slobodan Milosevic, and the wars resulting from it, pluralistic Bosnia, under the leadership of Pres. Alija Izetbegovic, also seceded and declared its independence after an extremely favorable referendum. Bosnian Croat nationalists already prepared to secede from Bosnia, while Bosnian Serb nationalists wanted to remain part of Yugoslavia. Right after Bosnia’s proclamation of independence, the Bosnian Serbs under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic declared themselves to be the “Republika Srpska” and, with the help of what remained of the Yugoslav army, waged war against the Muslims in order to carve out a Serbian state inside Bosnia.

For nearly four years, they ethnically cleansed the territory that was or came to be under their control from its non-Serb population through massacres, mass displacement and mass imprisonment. They took control of 70% of Bosnia and displaced nearly 2 million people. They also imposed the longest siege in the history of modern warfare on Bosnia’s capital of Sarajevo, whose Mosques, Churches, residential areas, marketplaces were indiscriminately bombed and shelled with missiles, tanks, mortars and artillery on a daily basis. Even queues in front of bakeries and pharmacies were not spared, while snipers murdered anyone that dared walking on the streets. These attacks targeted the entire city and didn’t discriminate between Muslim, Orthodox or Catholic. “We were all under siege in Sarajevo” was the spirit of its population. Many of the victims who were registered as “Bosnian Serb” in fact died as a result of Bosnian Serb shelling into Muslim majority areas.

The Bosnian Muslims and the minorities among them were united in their purpose and as a people, but stood defenseless against the advancing Bosnian Serb war machine. The Bosnian Serb Army, led by Gen. Ratko Mladic, had the Yugoslav Army at their disposal, while the Muslims had to rely on local civilian militias at first and later mass defections from the Yugoslav Army. As they formed the Bosnian Army, which consisted as much as a fourth or even a third of non-Muslims, they were very poorly armed compared to the aggressor. A weapons embargo prevented them from being able to receive weapons from other countries, and so they had to rely on what they captured from battles and depots along with what they could manufacture themselves. A Bosnian made documentary about their war of liberation gives a particularly good insight into the Bosnian Army:

A documentary on how the Bosnian people defending themselves from aggressors on all sides, during the 1992-1995 war. Despite being ill-equipped because of the U.N, normal Bosnians came together to fight together and help each other. 3 years later, they won, and the sovereign nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina exists in the heart of Europe.

After some months into the war, the international community became involved in Bosnia through NATO and the UN. Aside of the detrimental weapons embargo, a no-fly zone was imposed, peacekeepers were sent, humanitarian safe zones established and humanitarian aid reached Sarajevo’s airport. What started out as a mostly monitoring mission, gradually changed into one of enforcement and a more aggressive role for NATO as a result of the failure to stop the Bosnian Serb advance. By 1994, air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets were taking place and confrontations increased. None of this, however, sufficed to halt the genocide. Things started to change after the massacre took place that Bosnia is remembered for:

A Cry from the Grave tells the story of the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, in which the Bosnian Serb army killed an estimated 7,000 Bosnian Muslims. It follows hour by hour the story of the killings.

Not only was the U.N. present, they were armed and in charge of the Srebrenica “safe zone” and responsible for the tens of thousands Muslim refugees who fled the territories under Bosnian Serb control. It meant nothing as they were taken on, taken over and expelled. And nothing is more telling than the meeting between Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic and the Dutch-bat Com. Col. Thom Karremans:

This footage gives an impression of how tyrants present themselves to others, in this case the U.N. on the ground, while an insight into the dynamic that takes place between their “political” and “military” counterparts can be gained from Mladic’ “War Cabinet Meetings” with Karadzic:

Which one of them is ultimately responsible for the massacre at Srebrenica and the remaining genocide, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity that took place in Bosnia, neither of them eventually got away with it. Although already involved, NATO’s intervention came to take a far more serious turn in the aftermath of Srebenica. It turned out to be the beginning of the end of a war in which so many innocents had been massacred. The last straw came only a month later with the second Markale massacre, where 38 people were killed as a result of another mortar attack on the marketplace in Sarajevo. The first happened more than a year before and killed 68 people. However, things had now changed:

For over four years following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the onset of war, first in Croatia and then in Bosnia, the United States refused to take the lead in trying to end the violence and conflict. While many have written eloquently and passionately to explain Washington’s—and the West’s—failure to stop the ethnic cleansing, the concentration camps, and the massacres of hundreds of thousands of civilians, few have examined why, in the summer of 1995, the United States finally did take on a leadership role to end the war in Bosnia. – Decision to Intervene: How the War in Bosnia Ended, By Ivo H. Daalder

It wasn’t at all pretty. No person can be happy about his country being bombarded, however, the people of Sarajevo welcomed it because they had been suffering from a brutal and murderous siege on their capital city for years, surrounded as it was by Bosnian Serb forces and already bombarded on a daily basis. Operation “Deliberate Force” lasted for a month and targeted hundreds of Bosnian Serb positions, forcing them into retreat and to concede to the political solution that was reached at Dayton and which ended the war. The genocide was stopped and Bosnia gained its freedom and independence, but it also lost a significant part of the country to the Bosnian Serbs whose Republika Srbska continues to exist today. Karadzic and Mladic were made to disappear, only turn up again years later at the Hague where they are currently being tried for their crimes. A limited number of U.N. peacekeeping forces continue to have a presence in Bosnia today.


The Syrian revolution began as a part of the wider Arab spring which primarily took place in impoverished Arab republics whose dictatorial regimes were similar to the dictatorships that used to rule Eastern Europe. Two decades after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, things had changed quite a bit in the Arab world. However, the core of the regimes and their ruthless ways did not. Much like the people in Eastern Europe two decades before, Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis and Libyans massively took it to the streets. It was different in Syria. The Assad regime and even most of the Syrians saw themselves in a different light and somewhat immune even to what had been going on around them. It took much violence on the part of the Assad regime, for the Syrian people to massively rise up. The break-up of Yugoslavia and war in Bosnia in particular proved to become the bloodiest of all Eastern European revolutions; and this was no different for Syria compared to the rest of the Arab spring countries.

Much like the heart of Bosnia, the Syrian people were pluralistic and sought nothing but freedom from the tyrannical clutches of the Assad regime. Although the conditions in Syria were far worse than they were in Bosnia before the war, the Syrians did not outright seek to overthrow the regime and rule themselves. While Bosnia made a political decision to become independent which was responded to with war and genocide, Syrians were forced into it when their mere demands for reforms and dignity were met with bullets and artillery. The result, however, was the same: peaceful, pluralistic and democratic aspirations were violently crushed by a power hungry tyranny. The Bosnian Serbs together with Serbian Yugoslavia couldn’t seek to rule all of Bosnia, simply because of Croatia and the Bosnian Croats. However, they sought to rule as much as they could, namely the majority of the country including its capital Sarajevo.

Bosnian Genocide, 1992: Serbian paramilitaries known as Arkan’s Tigers desecrate Mosque in the northeastern Bosnian town of Bijeljina on 31 March 1993, the first day of the Bosnian war. Serbian troops slaughtered hundreds of Bosniak men, women, children and elderly during the attack on Bijeljina.

Assad continues to claim the whole of Syria, even though he has in practice given up on more than half in terms of actually retaking it anytime soon. But because the Assad family came to power through the rise of their own Alawite minority upon which it has fundamentally relied throughout the military and security apparatus for its power, a separate state in the Alawite homeland along the coast remains to be the final resort when all else fails. The Bosnian Serbs were openly racist and hostile towards the “other” inside Bosnia and sought a separation from them the minute that Bosnia seceded, while Assad has tried to hide his xenophobia.

Considering that the Assad regime has no religion or ideology other than its own survival and the cult of the Assad family, it does in fact not represent any Alawite form of nationalism that is comparable to what Mladic and Karadzic had in mind. However, because of the fundamental reliance upon this minority, such nationalism has become very real within it. Though asleep, it may have been very real before as well. It certainly was during the 80′s. In Bosnia it had become a monster that continues to exist today without Mladic or Karadzic playing any role other than that of legendary heroes in the public’s mind, and it’s likely to remain a monster in Syria whether Assad is completely forced out of power or not.

A more powerful monster is what lies behind it. In Bosnia, this was the Serbian nationalism of Serbian lead Yugoslavia under Milosevic. They and the Bosnian Serbs were one, their aim was to establish a Greater Serbia. Iran, on the other hand, considers Syria to be a province inside of its Khomeinist empire. Such Khomenism is essentially a form of Shia nationalism, and great effort has been made in Syria over the past decade to convince local Alawites and other sects that find their origin in Shi`ism of it, while selling it to the Sunni and other non-Shia populations through all sorts of religious and political rhetoric.

Selling it to the Muslims did not happen so much in Bosnia, but there were certainly attempts at it and Bosnians from a Muslim background who came to consider themselves to be Serbs do exist. Clearly the implications were much more extreme. Normally, the Bosnian Muslims were considered to be the descendants of Turks which inspired Karadzic to openly advocate for all Muslims to leave for Turkey or face extermination. But there was also the notion that many Bosnian Muslims, particularly those who were the furthest from their religion, rather descended from Orthodox Serbs who were forced to convert to Islam. The famous film maker Emir Kusturica is a prime example. For many different reasons, in Syria it did succeed and continues to result in a significant minority of Sunni Muslims remaining loyal to the Assad regime.

Because of the apparent sectarian divisions, both conflicts have been termed as a “civil war” by some. Though it has been perceived as an ethnic war by the Bosnian Serbs and at least used in a sectarian way by the Assad regime, this approach was limited to the aggressors. The Sunni Muslims of Bosnia and Syria alike did not have such an outlook. They didn’t see themselves as being separated from everyone else, but were instead inclusive of others regardless of differences in religion or ethnicity. Their aspirations were pluralistic, and that is why among the minorities they lived side by side with for centuries there were those who joined them in their cause. In Syria, under extremely difficult circumstances, many Christian, Alawite and other minority youth joined the protests calling for freedom and the fall of the Assad tyranny. Lesser numbers defected from the army but, together with civilians, did find their way into the Free Syrian Army and even local resistance units that identified by their sect. Just as little known yet far more massive was the number of non-Muslims in the Bosnian Army, even in its leadership.

A Bosnian special forces soldier returns fire in downtown Sarajevo as he and civilians come under fire from Serbian snipers, on April 6, 1992. The Serbs were shooting from the roof of a hotel at a peace demonstration of some of 30,000 people as fighting between Bosnian and Serb fighters escalated in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Both the Bosnian Army and the Free Syrian army emerged out of defections and civilian militias which came in response to the aggression that the population faced. Both had very limited access to arms while facing a fully equipped army, and both were prevented from gaining better access because of a weapons embargo imposed by the international community. The Bosnian Army, however, was much more united and organized while it had a political leader in Alija Izetbegovic. Syria’s National Coalition, on the other hand, controls very little while the FSA’s Commander in Chief Gen. Salim Idris is stuck between their barely functioning Supreme Military Council and local military councils that by now may represent little more than half of the armed forces on the ground. A lack of control among brigades and battalions that joined the military councils has also allowed for corruption and thuggery to infiltrate and tarnish the FSA’s reputation.

Most of the other half of the armed forces that are not part of the military councils are dominated by various Islamic movements which have been growing apart from the FSA and became a large force of their own. On top of that, many foreign and some local extremists fighting under Al-Qaeda’s quasi-representatives having been running amok and caused much damage to the revolution. The Bosnian Army solved much of these problems by creating Islamic brigades to fight under its command [see the top-photo of the Seventh Muslim Brigade] and tried to register and integrate as many incoming foreigners as possible into them. With thousands of foreign fighters coming into Bosnia, many of them as extreme as they are today, this was a very serious challenge for the Bosnian Army. Consider this rare report from the Sky News archives:

Had it not been so old, it could have been mistaken for a report coming out of Syria today. Both in Syria as in Bosnia, the foreigners brought with them beheadings and added to the torture and executions of war prisoners, not to mention the deaths of countless civilians. Two of the Saudis among the hijackers of 9-11, a decade later, turned out to be veterans of the Bosnian war. One of the Jihadi anthems heard throughout the world ["sanakhudu" which, interestingly enough since Assad's Fatwa of Jihad against the Syrian people was released, was also heard on Syrian state TV] was first sung by a Kuwaiti fighter in Bosnia.

Al-Qaeda did exist in the early 90′s, and though it could not reach Bosnia as an organization, its ideology was widespread among Jihadis around the world. Considering that the Muslims of Bosnia were facing genocide, many from across the globe were attracted to the war. This is what happened in Syria as well, but this time it came with a strong organisation behind it while the poorly organised Syrians didn’t know how to deal with this phenomenon. Jabhat al-Nusra introduced itself in Syria through the kind of bombings that free Syrians weren’t even capable of, not to mention unwilling to commit, and today the entire Iraqi “Islamic State” moved in. In Bosnia, the crimes that took place could not be prevented but the foreigners were prevented from becoming a power of its own and worse, yet another enemy on the battle field. As bad as it was in Bosnia, it could have turned out much worse had they been left to themselves; although not all of them were comfortable to join the Bosnians. This one actually did, his story appears in the Sky News report:

Of course, foreign extremists were not responsible for all of the civilian deaths on the side of their enemies, neither in Bosnia nor in Syria. Aside of local extremists and common criminals, average Bosnians and Syrians alike were themselves sufficiently capable of inflicting suffering upon innocent people as hatred and xenophobia are not exclusively ideological traits. Madness and the longing for revenge are things that average people have to deal with when faced with unimaginable suffering and injustice, and not always successfully. Being confronted with these horrors changes people, and some will put these changes to practice in yet another horrible way.

In the above Sky News report, it was a regular battalion of Bosnian Army that is desecrating the church. This didn’t even happen in Syria until very recently in Raqqa, where such desecration was committed by none other than the most extreme Qaedist faction in Syria namely the previously mentioned “Islamic State of Iraq and Sham”. Extremist ideology becomes an increasing factor when it’s constantly imported into a conflict and as it feeds from the misery and chaos in which it settles. But so does extremism of any other sort. The worst of such massacres in Bosnia at the hands of locals and foreigners took place in Bosnian Croat villages such as Bistrica, Grabovica and Uzdol where dozens of innocents lost their lives in each. Some of the Bosnians were tried and convicted for their roles at the Hague, none of the foreigners were. Yet they stood accused of several massacres, in so much that it lead to U.N. complaining to Izetbegovic about them.

In both Syria and Bosnia, foreign fighters took part on all sides. In Syria, the number of Hezbollah fighters, Iranian Republican Guards, Shi`a Jihadis from Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and other places, along with mercenaries from Russia and the Ukraine as well as neo-Nazis from Greece and Poland that have been fighting on the side of Assad has been larger than that of the foreigners fighting against him. In Bosnia, the Khomeinists stood on the side of the Muslims and may have sent in fighters along with arms shipments. Neo-Nazis flocked into the country to side with the Bosnian Croats and had sided with the Croatians before in their war of secession from Yugoslavia.

The third party in the Bosnian war, namely the nationalist Bosnian Croats who were supported by Croatia, were after their own [short lived] state of Herzeg-Bosnia not much different from their Serbian counterparts. And like them, they waged a genocidal campaign against the non-Croat population of the area inside of Bosnia that they controlled at the time in the so-called Croat-Bosniak war. This ended with a cease fire that grew into an alliance and the Washington accords of 1994 leading to the establishment of the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina. It changed the course of the war against the Bosnian Serbs.

In Syria, the Kurds make up the third party. Their majority region is currently governed by the PYD and the KNC, and protected by their armed wing that is the YPG. Although many consider them to be nothing but the Syrian branch of the PKK that operates in Turkey and Iraq and whose military wing, the HPG, has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. and others for obvious reasons, they’re guilty of little compared to the nationalist Bosnian Croats as well as Croatia proper who acted in the same genocidal way as their Serbian counterparts with whom they at first sought to cooperate, plotting against the Bosnian Muslims in order to divide Bosnia between themselves.

In Syria, this “PKK” stands accused of collaborating with the regime in return for the autonomy of the Kurdish region and is in the midst of battles and on the bring of an all out war against local FSA military councils, Islamic brigades and the various Al-Qaeda factions which have taken the lead. Whatever the truth of that, this would be a defensive war on mostly Kurdish majority territory, quite different from that of the Bosnian Croat aggressors.

‘You know, we have so many times said that we want to live together in Bosnia – and we are being killed because we want to live together. You see, we Bosnians are defending your principles – your principles in Europe. We are defending the principles of the United Nations and its Secretary-General – and he is the one who is breaking these principles. I ask you, is there anything left of humanity in the hearts of these people in the West? Is there anything left of justice or humanism? Because humanism is buried here in Bosnia . . . I don’t know who is going to resurrect it.’

‘We have suffered two punishments, you know. On the one hand, Serbian nationalism – Serbian fascism – is trying to eliminate us, to force us into an exodus. This is our first punishment. Our second punishment comes from the Western community, from the European Community, who gave us some hopes that they would help us, the victims. We believed them and they betrayed us . . . They don’t want to help us and they don’t even want us to help ourselves. It is illogical. It is immoral – it is a crime to hold captives and to say to them ‘we don’t want to lift the arms embargo against you because if we do that, there will be more killing.’ The killing is happening every day.’ – 1993. Sarajevo. Mustafa Ceric, Mufti of Bosnia

As Bosnia’s desperation echo’s into 2013, so much worse has it become in Syria with so much less being done to help. Complaints about foreign extremists deafen the ears of those who continue to suffer, while their desperate cries for help go by unheard. In Syria, there are no humanitarian corridors. There is no airport for aid to be delivered to. There are also no safe zones, although Srebrenica proved how little such zones mean in the face of genocidal tyrants. But they’re not there, neither are the peacekeepers, armed or unarmed, nor have there been any air strikes. A no-fly zone in Syria may have lead to Assad’s end by now, though it would not have stopped his genocidal campaign until that point. However, it would have prevented the tens of thousands of deaths and many more injuries, not to mention the extent of the destruction in so many places in such a short time. In Bosnia, a limited amount of arms came through Iran as they have been coming through Saudi and Qatar today, but without making much of a difference. A finally lifted weapons embargo in Syria led to little more than broken promises. There is no sight of even building up towards an intervention that eventually ended the war in Bosnia, and it doesn’t look like this is going to change any time soon. Chemical weapons are the topic, not genocide.

[Gen. Ratko Mladic, before and after]

Mladic was not worried about crossing any lines when he attacked a U.N. safe zone and engaged Dutch-bat in battle, shaming them and showing them the door with a bottle of wine on their way out. Karadzic apparently didn’t worry either when he, after NATO’s escalation against them, continued to stand as the head of a state whose army continued to massacre the people of Sarajevo and elsewhere, and continued to proclaim a “holy” war against his “own” people in Bosnia. But neither of them got away with it, and today they are being tried for their crimes at the Hague. Should Assad worry about such a future? There is little reason for it, when he or his brother Maher crossed the “red line” nothing followed other than for their murderous toys to be taken away, hopefully at least, and at some point. If there is any rationale behind crossing such lines beyond simply the inherent carelessness and ruthlessness that characterizes tyrants, then clearly it was perfectly rational compared to the acts of Mladic and Karadzic. So what if the U.N. was there and caught him red handed, for in his own words, the U.N. is just a game to be played.

[Pres. Radovan Karadzic, before and after]

To Assad, his opponents are all terrorists and traitors who need to be exterminated even if that means destroying the entire country and its population along with it. The Syrian people are facing genocide. At the very least 100 thousand civilians have been massacred, being either indiscriminately or purposefully targeted. Mosques, churches, hospitals, queues in front of bakeries have been bombarded. Entire neighborhoods of cities have been flattened by SCUD missiles and air strikes, schools have been attacked with napalm and indeed chemical weapons. This kind of terror is what the people of Aleppo, Homs and Ghouta are very familiar with. A third of the country’s population has been displaced as a result of all this unimaginable violence. And where the fighter jets, missiles and barrel bombs didn’t go, Assad’s Shabbiha went to murder thousands of innocent men, women and children and make sure that the area was “cleansed” from any Sunni families.

The greatest difference between Bosnia and Syria has been the way in which the world responded to it, the only exception being Russia who has remained consistent. Russian FM Lavrov recently reminded us of how wrong the interventions in Yugoslavia were. Perhaps the Russians were right all along? In terms of their own interests and world view, they were. The Soviet Union’s last war in Afghanistan was with some of the same people that would later end up fighting the Serbs, Russia’s historical allies. Russia would also start the first Chechen war in 1994 and the second one that would include Dagestan in 1999, and here too some of those same people would come to play a role. By then, the U.S. had become involved as well through what took place in Kenya and Sudan, and after 9-11 the world at large became involved in the “war against terror.” And so today, in Syria, the main topics the world is concerned with besides chemical weapons are Al-Qaeda and “Islamic” extremism. Russia’s self-proclaimed fight all along.

It wasn’t the first time then, nor is it the last time now, that crimes are being committed in the name of resistance, religious or otherwise, and standing up for a defenseless population that comes under attack. But when it came to the genocide of Bosnian Muslims, it was only the Serbs, the Greeks and the Russians who found such ways to blame the victim. Iran supported Bosnia at the time, and the West was not yet at war with Al-Qaeda’s terrorism. Most of all, public opinion and those shaping it sympathized with the Bosnian Muslims, their multi-cultural society and Sarajevo as a city. Perhaps it was because of the Winter Olympics that were held there a few years before, or perhaps it was because it was where Archbishop Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serb which started WW1. Perhaps it was because of the opposition to the Orthodox Serbs, Eastern Europe and Russia. Perhaps Islamophobia hadn’t kicked in that badly yet. Perhaps people simply cared, but surely many of those same people don’t care any longer. Whatever the reason, it was a different world back then which somehow wasn’t concerned with the great “Islamic” extremist threat that now dominates the Syrian discourse. Blind for it at first, now it has blinded the world for the immense suffering of the Syrian people as they struggle for dignity and freedom.

Bosnia is not remembered by photo’s of Islamic armies or beheadings. Genocide is what the world remembers about Bosnia, footage from Sarajevo and starving Muslims in concentration camps. A just and long overdue intervention is how NATO’s involved has been characterized. And that how it should be remembered, despite of the wrongs that the victims and whoever joined their struggle are responsible for. Those who have struggled in a righteous and justified way do not deserve to be blamed for the crimes of others, for they are never content with them. They did not raise their arms out of evil, but out of necessity. Innocent victims of mass murder do not deserve to be called the result of “atrocities on both sides.” They do not deserve to carry the blame of any politicians or activists who may or may not have taken irresponsible risks, nor are those politicians or activists to be blamed for the injustice that followed. Victims of blackmail are victims, they do not become criminals for not giving in. To be blamed are the tyrants and mass murderers who inflict such suffering upon a people.

On top of all the horror and terror of the Assad regime and its allies, that the Syrian people now have to deal with the likes of Al-Qaeda cannot be denied. It is disastrous, an attempt to hijack the sacrifices of others and use them to further oppress the weak. It is opposed to the revolution, detrimental to it and most of Assad’s fundamental weapon. However, it is not new, it is not particular to Syria, and it can neither dwarf the great tyranny at hand nor can it undermine the cause of the revolution. It wasn’t much different in Bosnia, but people have changed for the worst in their world views.