In Chaos-Ravaged Syria, Truth Gets Tossed Out the Window

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In two new articles for TIME, Rania Abouzeid touches upon the myths and shifting perspectives of those caught up in the ongoing Syrian conflict. First, she details her quest to confirm reports of mass rapes and sexual assaults in Syria by interviewing refugees in Turkish camps. Although nearly every refugee interviewed was able to relate stories of atrocities committed by Syrian troops, Abouzeid was not able to find any of the actual victims. Cultural taboos could be influencing the silence — but also adding flame to the reports — so it remains difficult to distinguish between rumors and truth. Abouzeid writes:

That’s hardly surprising. Sexual assault is a difficult subject to raise in any society, but especially so in conservative rural Arab communities — like those of northern Syria — where a family’s honor is often tied to the virtue of its women. The mere suggestion of compromised chastity, even if it was stolen, is a shameful stain, one that can make the victim and her entire family outcasts. The refugees on the Syrian side who spoke of these acts said they heard the victims had been taken to a particular Turkish camp. Calls to several camp residents seemed to confirm the claims. They had heard that there were raped women among them.

Read that full story here.

Next, Abouzeid reports on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s televised speech on Monday. The Assad regime has cracked down brutally on protests throughout the country, all the while paying lip service to reform and reconciliation. Few place much stock in these overtures. Although Assad said that he has already initiated a national dialogue, and he promised to make political reforms, demonstrations reportedly broke out in more than a dozen cities after his talk. Abouzeid writes:

[Assad] spoke of amending or even tossing out the constitution and drafting another, of wanting the army to return to its barracks and a resumption of “normal life.” But Syria is unlikely to ever be the same again. Assad specifically appealed to the 10,000 or so refugees from the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour to return from the official Turkish camps or makeshift shelters along a sliver of Syrian territory hugging the Turkish border they have fled to. “The army is there to protect the people,” Assad said. Still, many of those refugees told TIME recently that they will not return to their homes unless Assad’s nepotistic regime falls. It wasn’t enough that the president’s first cousin, the billionaire businessman Rami Makhlouf, announced several days ago that he would be stepping back from business to focus on charity work. “We want Bashar and everyone associated with him to go. What did they teach or offer us except corruption, oppression and death?” said Sharif, a 25-year-old refugee from Jisr al-Shughour camped out near the Turkish border.

Read that full story here.