From Tara Kangarlou & Other Journalists Covering The Syrian Crisis, Middle East, & International Affairs
Raqqa Mothers Recount Horrors of Life Under IS As City Liberates
By Tara Kangarlou
BEIRUT — For nearly three years, Raqqa, Syria’s sixth-largest city, served as a slaughterhouse for the Islamic State (IS). Today, Raqqa is an emancipated wreckage. It was liberated Oct. 17 by a US-backed alliance of mainly Kurdish-Syrian fighters. IS forces are now physically defeated, but their shadow continues to darken the lives of those who will forever remember the apocalyptic horror, savagery and bloodbath.
Foza, who refused to reveal her last name, is a 36-year-old mother who escaped Raqqa at night and is now among the thousands of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. “I put my 3-year-old daughter on my shoulders and my 12-year-old son put his younger brother on his back and we crawled over dead bodies in our neighborhood to escape the militants,” she said.
"Trauma, PTSD, and mental health issues are some of the most damaging wounds among the refugee population; a tragedy that 7 years into the crisis the international community is not addressing properly."
A Conversation with Syria’s Civil Defense
By Tara Kangarlou
NEW YORK — Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, is a civilian-run organization that according to their code of conduct aims to provide “disaster and war response in Syria, to carry out search and rescue operations and to save the maximum number of lives.” The organization was founded in 2013, two years after the civil conflict broke out in Syria. To date, the organization has saved 60,000 lives and currently has 3,600 members that carry out its mission primarily in Hama, Daraa, Aleppo, Homs, Al Qusayr, and Damascus among other cities across this war-torn country.
In honor of World Refugee Day, we sat down with Tara Kangarlou, an award winning journalist. After spending time on the ground in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and witnessing the heartbreaking dynamics of the Syrian crisis, she founded Art of Hope, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that helps Syrian refugees overcome trauma, PTSD, and psychological wounds through art-therapy and vocational training in the Middle East. Today she shares the inspiration behind her work and how everyone can make an impact in bettering the lives of individuals affected by this crisis.
Arsaal, Lebanon, The last standing children's hospital in Aleppo collapsed just before the weekend--only to deepen the wounds on the already catastrophic wave of attacks medical facilities and personnels in Syria. We often think of casualties as civilians, but as this new flood of deadly attacks storm through the war-torn country, it's critical to note that doctors, hospitals, and medical clinics are on the forefront of these assaults. According to the Physicians for Human Rights campaign, since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, more than 269 hospitals endured over 400 attacks — 90% of them conducted by the Assad government and its allies, whose defense department is in charge of the country’s blood banks. It was the least we could do, but over the weekend as doctors and children took shelling and bullets side by side, we got to help some Syrians work toward a bright smile by distributing toothbrushes and toothpastes among them and also teaching them how to care for their dental hygiene.
Beirut, Lebanon, "Just this past week--once again-- children were front and center in the ongoing Syrian crisis.For the next two weeks, myself, along with Art of Hope 's wonderful board member Dr. Annie Sparrow will be in Lebanon to tackle some of the pressing issues that are impacting the Syrian refugee population in this country and beyond. We will be working toward launching ArtOfHope 's first program for Syrian refugee children & women in an effort to help alleviate some of the traumas of war and other psychological challenges through art -therapy and vocational training.
I caught up with Tara Kangarlou, Founder of Art of Hope. Her story and intention will inspire you to no end.
Q : Your main project is Art of Hope. What inspired you to create the organization?
A : For the past couple of years I covered the Syrian crisis closely from the border regions of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and spent a significant amount of time across Lebanon. Being a journalist allows you to watch history unfold and have a front row seat to events that shape, impact, and influence people lives all over the world. I had that opportunity but felt the need to do more; especially in light of so much bureaucracy, injustice, and poverty that I got to witness in the Middle East. With regards to the Syrian conflict, one of the biggest needs and challenges in this catastrophic humanitarian crisis was and continues to be the issue of psycho-social support, trauma relief, and PTSD support.
NEW YORK — “When you meet these children and you sit down with these women you realize the only difference between them and you, is that you were born in a different country," Tara Kangarlou said. This is the difficult truth for Tara Kangarlou when talking about the Syrian Crisis. “The issue of psychological trauma and PTSD challenges among the refugees is not being addressed," she explained. "One of my missions is to bring awareness to this challenge, what many people are calling invisible wounds.”
Today, terrorism and the global refugee crisis are two of the world’s most daunting challenges, seemingly with little end in sight. While the correlation between extremism and the refugee crisis is complex, history indicates that people will rely on desperate measures in desperate times of need; and these actions may, or may not, be aligned with those desired of stable nation states.
Baalbeck, Lebanon, "In late August, the Obama administration announced that by the end of October 2016, the US will fullfill its pledge to host 10k Syrian refugees. This is while, 5 million Syrian refugees are currently living across the Middle East, with the majority of them taking refuge in Lebanon—a country of only 4.5 million with close to 2 million Syrian refugees including those unregistered and un-accounted for in addition the the 500K Palestinian refugees. Imagine if 170 Million refugees enter the US; that's what its like in Lebanon. Almost everyone I speak with in Lebanon tells me funding continues to decrease as the influx continues to grow. Syrian refugee students make up twice the number of Lebanese school-aged children and are severely held back due to language barriers (Lebanese curriculum is in English/French) while Syrians only know Arabic. In addition we see a huge lack in the number of schools and teachers, topped with high-cost of transportation; these are just some of the many challenges in this volatile landscape.
"BAALBEK, Lebanon — This week, as the international community marked the annual World Refugee Day, the Syrian crisis has entered its sixth year. Nearly 5 million Syrians are taking refuge all across the Middle East while others, including many Syrian children, continue to risk their lives for a chance to reach Europe’s doorsteps.
In 2014, only three years into the conflict, UNICEF reported that “Syria is now one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child.” Nearly half of the war-torn country is displaced. According to the United Nations, children make up almost half of the refugee and the internally displaced populations. Life expectancy has fallen by 20 years."
Zahle, Lebanon, As millions of Americans celebrate a Turkey feast with friends and family all across the world, we decided to spend our Thanksgiving with almost 1000 Syrian refugees in Zahle', Lebanon. We got to share Turkey sandwiches with all of them and talk about their needs as winter nears, but also, what they're thankful for in life. Art of Hope sends its special thanks to Mothers Against Poverty for their generous donation and to the Lebanese Red Cross for their support in delivering our mission to these camps.
"As a journalist, you’re trained to be objective. Your sole responsibility is to report with accuracy and fairness, and to never get emotionally involved in the story.
In my craft, detachment is the code of conduct; but my human sympathy was deemed antithetical to my professional guidelines.
I’ve covered the Syrian crisis intimately. From the front-lines of the conflict overseas to newsrooms in the States, I’ve seen it far too close to smell the blood and far too distant that only rough contours emerge. Each day, whether in the field, roaming the borders of Syria in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, or behind my desk back home in America, I was able to objectively report and produce on this profound crisis."
"BAB AL-TABBANEH, Lebanon — In just one year, the number of people uprooted from their homes due to war and forced displacement has increased worldwide from 50 million to 60 million — an average of 42,500 individuals per day, enough to form the world's 24th largest country. Today, the heavy burden of the refugee crisis is not exclusive to the Syrian people, but is deeply felt among the communities hosting their vulnerable neighbors. These host communities have themselves sometimes endured years of sectarian violence, war and poverty, such as those in Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey."
"BEIRUT — Armed with their black veils, open ears and expertise in forensic psychology, two young Saudi-raised Lebanese sisters spend hours each week tapping deep into the lives and minds of terrorists of the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda and other groups imprisoned in Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh prison."
"Conducting humanitarian operations in war zones is inevitably challenging. Delivery of effective aid demands adherence to the four key humanitarian principles laid out by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 1965. The first two, humanity (alleviating suffering) and impartiality (prioritizing those in greatest need), are ethical principles that make the difference between merely doling out charity and providing humanitarian relief. The second two, neutrality (not taking sides) and independence (from the government), are pragmatic principles for operating in conflict settings. In combination with international humanitarian law governing the conduct of warring parties, which affirms the right to give and receive assistance, the four principles generate the humanitarian space required to operate in war zones."
The Terrorists the Saudis Cultivate in Peaceful Countries
By Nikolas Kristof, New York Times
"PEJA, Kosovo — FIRST, a three-part quiz:
Which Islamic country celebrates as a national hero a 15th-century Christian who battled Muslim invaders?
Which Islamic country is so pro-American it has a statue of Bill Clinton and a women’s clothing store named “Hillary” on Bill Klinton Boulevard?
Which Islamic country has had more citizens go abroad to fight for the Islamic State per capita than any other in Europe?
The answer to each question is Kosovo, in southeastern Europe — and therein lies a cautionary tale. Whenever there is a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists, we look to our enemies like the Islamic State or Al Qaeda. But perhaps we should also look to our “friends,” like Saudi Arabia.
For decades, Saudi Arabia has recklessly financed and promoted a harsh and intolerant Wahhabi version of Islam around the world in a way that is, quite predictably, producing terrorists. And there’s no better example of this Saudi recklessness than in the Balkans."
"RHODES, Greece — Gazing at Rhodes under a clear blue sky it occurred to me that the fury of attempts to draw neat ethno-national-religious lines through realities of mingling is matched only by its futility.
I climbed a clock tower. Below me, washed by the wind, lay the city of Rhodes: the castle of the Roman Catholic Order of the Knights of St. John, who for more than two centuries made Rhodes the headquarters of their fight for the Holy Land; the minarets of the mosques built by the Ottomans who vanquished the Knights of Rhodes in 1522; the Square of the Jewish Martyrs, where a memorial recalls the Nazi extermination in 1944 of the Jews of Rhodes and Kos."
"When the Syrian civil war broke in 2011, he was playing professional basketball in South America — little did he know that only a year after his return back home to Syria in 2013, he’d be fleeing his war-torn country to North America.
With his asylum case still pending, 29-year-old Hozaifa Al Maleh came to the United States in 2014. Like millions of other Syrian youth he was forced to leave his country — packing up his memories and hopes for a brighter future.
“When I went back home in 2013, the war had already begun in Syria and I felt I’ve entered a different country,” said Al Maleh, explaining that he could no longer play basketball for the Syrian national team."
"Besieging civilians—cutting them off from food, supplies, and fuel—is a war crime. It is also a strategy that several parties to the conflict in Syria use, chief among them the Syrian government. Estimates of the number of Syrians currently living under siege vary widely, according to who is doing the reporting. For example, last December, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Damascus communicated back to the UN secretary-general’s office that 393,700 civilians were besieged. For the same period, Siege Watch estimated that the real figure was more than one million."
"In a rare scene, Syrians engaged in peaceful protests on Friday ahead of the fifth year anniversary of the civil war."
"Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors."
"AKKAR, Lebanon — For many of these young Syrians, education is the fine line between survival and advancement; to others it is an inaccessible luxury or a lost dream. The education crisis — a calamity whose challenges far exceed funding issues and financial shortcomings — not only poses a threat to a lost Syrian generation, but is also weighing heavily on the educational infrastructure and future of children in Syria’s smallest neighboring country, Lebanon."
"International journalist, Tara Kangarlou talks about her newly founded NGO, Art of Hope on Lebanon's National TV, where she talks about the organization's mission, the importance of alleviating trauma, emotional vulnerabilities, and PTSD among the Syrian refugee population as well as the host communities. She explains why she decided to start the initiative in Lebanon, her role as both a journalist and also a humanitarian and the importance of partnering and empowering local NGOs in host countries. She is joined by Maya Yamout, co-founder of Rescue Me - Crime Prevention , one of Art of Hope's local NGO partners in Lebanon.