A farewell to Majdi, my Syrian friend

In the summer of 1988, a young passionate football fan and technology addict from Syria was overwhelmed by the fantastic football of Oranje, the Dutch National Team. Not only the way they played and won the European Championship but also the constellation of the team. Gullit, Rijkaard, van Basten, a beautiful colorful team with sensational football. Majdi was impressed by it all and that summer he decided that he wanted to study in The Netherlands, that small country in Europe where football was an art and integration was normal, and universities offered esteemed programs in Information Technology which was Majdi’s wish since he was in high school. Getting a permit to study in The Netherlands turned out to be more difficult and complicated than Majdi had imagined but that didn’t stop this young man. Majdi had a goal and he did everything to achieve that.

So late 1989, I received a long letter from that young motivated Syrian in which he requested me to support his wish to study Information Technology in The Netherlands and all the wonderful details why studying in The Netherlands was so important to him. I was moved that someone felt so passionate about our beautiful country. Many calls were made, paperwork was done, obstacles were taken, making this happen was something personal because of how this guy reached out and how his motivation touched everyone who was involved, including myself. Majdi arrived in The Netherlands in the summer of 1990, accepted to start his studies at his preferred University and he impressed everyone how much Dutch he had already learned through an online course. That was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship, in which my friend Majdi never stopped to amaze me with his personality and passion.

Majdi concluded his studies with fantastic grades and I demanded he would accept the job I offered him, Majdi did and became a valued member of our team. Majdi had friends everywhere, was highly involved in our society and did volunteer work as translator. Majdi was a free-thinker, an open minded person and a bridge builder. Passionate about his country and his culture, passionate about history and always looking for opportunities to learn. Majdi strongly believed that dialogue is the only way to develop understanding, and understanding is the only way to achieve acceptance and acceptance being the only path towards peace. With that mindset, Majdi had many friends in all areas of our society, amongst Arabs, Jews and Christians alike, and among supporters and opponents of the Syrian Presidency. In so many ways, Majdi reminded me of my mother. Continue reading

Opinion: who fights who in Iraq and Syria and who doesn’t

On the ground in Syria, we see various rebellion groups fighting against Assad and among themselves. Besides the notorious ISIL/ISIS (IS), there are different groups which are aligned with the just as notorious Free Syrian Army (FSA) or Al Qaida (AQ) or both and in all cases there are also at least indications of alliance with IS in the battles against Syrian Armed Forces (SAF) in Syria. Assad gets support from Iran and Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and various volunteers in the same manner as other combatant groups do. In the middle of this turmoil, Kurdish Armed Forces (KAF) have carved out an area of Syria in which they basically engage in battles against all but mainly against IS and SAF.

In Iraq, the KAF have long before the conflict in Syria started already carved out the Northern area which was at time even protected by a no-fly-zone and seriously contested by Iraqi Armed Forces (IAF) between the 2 Iraqi wars. In the middle of the vacuum created by those Iraqi wars and the withdrawal of the Western International Coalition (IC), IS was able to conquer large parts of Iraq and defeat IAF rapidly before their campaign was finally brought to an halt. Iraq becomes direct support from Iran in its struggle against IS and indirect support from remaining small units from IC.

In the air, the picture is entirely different. In Syria and Iraq, the International Coalition conducts daily missions and the local Air Forces only play a minor role in the combat operations. IC mainly operates from bases in Jordan and Iraq with support from naval vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. Besides ongoing negotiations with NAVO-partner Turkey to use its bases for operations in Syria and Iraq, Turkey itself has engaged in sorties in Northern Iraq which appear to focus mainly against Kurdish forces and/or PKK.

And since a few days, Russia has entered the equation in Syria and continuous to expand its operations Syria and is obviously preparing to do the same in Iraq. In Syria, Russia has opted for direct air support from bases in Syria and added naval launched cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea earlier this week. A similar or even wider combination can be expected for Iraq in case Russia would join the campaign there. With this new development and further expansions to be expected in the near future, it is interesting to take a closer look at the constellations so far in Syria and Iraq. Continue reading

Opinion: How Russia goes ALL-IN for Syria and Iraq

The current development of Russia’s military actions in Syria show that Russia means serious business and has no intention to leave the equation before the job is done. What started with the deployment of additional Russia warplanes and supply flights for Syrian Armed Forces, rapidly developed into active bombardments of rebel-held positions by Russian warplanes and as of today, Russia deployed guided missiles against targets in Syria from warships in the Caspian Sea.

The deployment of these missiles are an important development which significance reaches far beyond the impact of those missile itself. To be able to launch missiles against targets in Syria from the Caspian Sea, Russia will have to cross the airspace of either Turkey and other countries, or the airspace of Iran and Iraq which seems to be much more likely. Assuming that Russia is not looking for a confrontation with Iran and Iraq while it is seeking to setup a coalition with those countries, it is safe to assume that the launch of these missiles and their flight-path was agreed and approved.

We can expect that Russia will continue to use the option of guided missiles, especially since today’s deployment turned out to be efficient and effective. As the military operations of Russia develop, we might even see a significant increase in missile launches against hard targets, air-defense systems and Communication, Command & Control of rebels of all kinds.

Continue reading

Nederland en de windstreken of toen we integratie nog samen deden

Mijn schoolmaatjes Roeland, Hakan, Youssef, Erik, Tino en Jan waren een hele hechte groep en we hebben samen heel wat kattenkwaad uitgespookt. Wij waren schoffies, altijd buiten zodra de school eindelijk voorbij was. Een bonte groep waren we ook, dat is nu eenmaal normaal in Nederland. De ouders van Jan kwam uit Hongarije en de goulash op zondag was geweldig. Hakan was een trotse Turk die reuze blij was dat hij nadat zijn vader, die eigenlijk architect was, 2 jaar in Nederland in een fabriek had gewerkt en iedere Gulden had gespaard, eindelijk met het hele gezin naar Nederland en zijn vader mocht komen. Maar hij mistte Turkije best wel in ons regenachtige kikkerland en iedere keer als Hakan ons foto’s liet zien van zijn vakanties in Turkije begrepen wij dat best. Youssef, onze bloedeigen Marokkaanse Johan Cruyff, vond het heerlijk om met mijn moeder Frans te kunnen spreken. Youssef was reuze blij dat mijn moeder hem bijles Nederlands gaf, een taal die zij zelf ooit ook eens als buitenlands kind had moeten leren en dat leidde op een zeker moment tot de vraag waar mijn ouders dan eigenlijk vandaan kwamen.

Nou, dat was een moeilijk verhaal en toch ook weer niet omdat veel Nederlanders in Nederland nu eenmaal ouders hebben die helemaal niet uit Nederland komen. Mijn moeder was Frans-Portugees en had in het verre verleden zelfs een Italiaans-Libisch overgrootmoeder, en mijn vader was een bonte mix van Zweeds, Russisch, Russisch-Oekraïens, Armeniër en een klein beetje Pruisisch, en dat vertelde ik natuurlijk met mijn heerlijke platte accent want zo spraken wij schoffies onder elkaar. Thuis niet, dan moesten we netjes praten en op school ook natuurlijk maar zodra wij schoffies onder elkaar waren, spraken we plat, dat vonden we toen stoer. Vanaf dat moment had ik de bijnaam “Vuilnisbakkie” want alle schoffies van de straat hadden een bijnaam en die bijnaam was onder elkaar belangrijker dan je echte naam. Continue reading