Mini-Republics: A Syrian Village Seeks to Survive amid Carnage

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Christoph Reuter in Korin, Syria, Jan 13, 2016 (Photo Gallery).

Even as war continues to rage in Syria, normal people in the country are doing their best to survive in places like the village of Korin. It has transformed into a kind of mini-republic and has WiFi on the town square. But its population is slowly dwindling.

The St. Lucie cherry trees were in bloom when the calamity began. It was not unexpected. Indeed, the men of Korin and surrounding villages had done their part to bring it about. Since winter, after two years of an almost static front line, they quickly overran several of the Syrian army’s last outposts in the Idlib Province. And soon after regime troops fled the eponymously named provincial capital at the end of March, the bombs arrived. It is a pattern that has often been seen in Syria: Soon after rebels take an army base, an airport or a city, the air force arrives to pound them from above … //

… Mad Max’ in Tuscany: … //
… Village Solidarity: … //
… WiFi in the Town Square: … //

… A Dangerous Cycle:

  • The Western view of the war in Syria tends not to look beyond the Assad regime and the brutally murderous and propagandistically adept Islamic State. The group has taken over huge swaths of land in the sparsely populated desert steppes of eastern Syria, but hasn’t made much headway in the more densely populated strongholds of the insurgency — in Idlib and Aleppo in the north, in Hama in central Syria and in Daraa in the south. For the people living there, however, IS is no less fearsome than it is to Westerners. Indeed, the radical group is often seen as being more threatening in that it is often just a few dozen kilometers away.
  • Beyond Islamic State, religious groups receive support from people in many villages in the Idlib Province. The reasons for such support are multifaceted and often rather worldly: It frequently has to do with the desire to strengthen moral norms in the absence of functioning institutions or with consolation in the face of ongoing violence. But it also has to do with power and money. In 2012, when moderate rebels belonging to the Idlib Martyrs’ Brigade began kidnapping regime henchmen to then exchange them either for prisoners or money, it kicked off a dangerous cycle. Two members of the Idlib Martyrs’ Brigade from Korin began to also kidnap rich farmers and businesspeople. One of the people they kidnapped was a businessman from the nearby city of Ariha who later joined the militant Nusra Front in order to get at the kidnappers. And indeed, a Nusra Front delegation traveled to Korin to arrest the perpetrators. Only after long negotiations, and in exchange for a promise that he would be tried before a court instead of killed, did Korin turn over one of the two kidnappers. The other had fled.
  • Even as people from Washington to Moscow are warning of radicalization, a fundamental dilemma facing the opposition is largely being ignored. Village republics such as Korin embody both the promise and the limits of the revolution. On the one hand, the inventiveness and tenacity of these mini-states is astounding. Despite the adversity they face, they work on a local level. But only on a local level. What is happening in Syria is a revolution of localists. They vehemently deplore — and usually rightly so — the incompetence of the opposition in exile. But they cannot supplant it. They are aware of conflicting interests even among their supporters — such as Saudi Arabia in opposition to Qatar, and both against the US — but they don’t join together. They want Assad to fall and they want a halfway fair, functioning state. But nobody knows who should achieve those goals.
  • The sovereign miniature republic of Korin, with WiFi on the main square and hushed fear of everything beyond the nearby hills, remains subject to the ebbs and flows of this war.

Couldn’t Take It Any Longer:

  • The Russian airstrikes hit northern Syria just as hard in September as the spring bombardments struck the village. Russian warplanes and helicopters flew up to 100 sorties a day, heading for those areas that were to be taken over by Assad’s troops or their Shiite allies. But it remained largely quiet around Korin. It is a bit of geographical good luck amid the country’s general disintegration. The Russian intervention notwithstanding, the Iranian military leadership in Syria negotiated a locally restricted, yet far-reaching cease-fire directly with one of the largest Islamist rebel brigades, Ahrar al-Sham. According to the deal, two isolated Shiite villages not far from Korin are not to be touched. In return, no airstrikes are to be flown in the entire region.
  • It is a bit of calm in the middle of the storm. Some residents have given up anyway and are trying to flee from Korin to Europe. Around 30 people from the village have already made it to Germany, including the son of English-teacher Ajini. He now lives at a farmhouse in eastern Germany.
  • Those who have remained behind spent the late autumn preparing for winter and felled additional olive trees so as to have wood for heating, a necessary measure which will make next summer’s harvest that much smaller. Those who left have sent back reports of their weeks of walking and their fear during the crossing of the Mediterranean.
  • Only Abdulhakim, one of the teachers in the village, can tell stories of the journey in person. He spent all of his savings to flee to Europe and made it all the way to Berlin. But a few months later, he returned to Korin. “I was in safety, but I couldn’t do anything for my wife and my children as the bombs were falling here,” Abdulhakim says. “I couldn’t take it any longer.”

(full long text).


A New Era of Global Protest Begins, on Dissident Voice, by Rajesh Makwana, Jan 14, 2016;

New Zealand: Labour MP flirts with Danish work-model, on, by Nicola Middlemiss, Jan 14, 2016;

The End of the Enlightenment, a Fable for Our Times, on Dissident Voice, by Christy Rodgers, Jan 13, 2016;

Our only fear was that he might pull his punches, BBC Caught Manipulating the News, on Dissident Voice, by Media Lens, Jan 13, 2016;

Ellen Meiksins Wood (April 12, 1942 – January 14, 2016): on en.wikipedia; on JACOBIN;

Pelham council briefs, on St. Catharunes Standard, by Wayne Campbell, Jan 13, 2016;

Bedford Public Library To Offer Free Income Tax Assistance, on WBIW, Jan 13, 2016.

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