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To Encourage Malians of Burkina Faso to return, Refugee Musicians use Music to send Powerful Message of Peace and Understanding

A jihadist takeover of the north, did the unthinkable, they banned music, something Malians cannot imagine

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FILE - The Mbera refugee camp in southern Mauritania was set up for people fleeing violence in northern Mali and is home to more than 64,000 people, May 23, 2012. It was the unlikely site of a concert of Malian music. VOA

Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), November 25, 2016: In 2012, a coup kicked off a diaspora of Malians from which the country has not yet recovered. Malians fled by the hundreds of thousands and ended up in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.

After a Tuareg rebellion, a coup in Bamako, and then a jihadist takeover of the north, religious extremists held sway and did the unthinkable — they banned music, something Malians cannot imagine.

“That’s the power of culture.” Click To Tweet

Music to unite

But some refugee musicians hope they can use music to encourage Malians to return, unite and shun the extremist groups that briefly controlled the country’s north.

Malians call them jeli — storytellers — whose work is to conserve history and make social commentary. Their existence is absolutely central to Malian identity.

This music comes from a tradition that goes back 800 years. It has been kept alive by families, in this case the Kouyatés and Diabatés.

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When the Malians fled, some arrived in the remote Mbera Camp in eastern Mauritania, where they remain.

‘Partied for two nights’

Manny Ansar, the director of the celebrated Festival in the Desert, recounts how he arrived at the camp with a group of artists from all corners of Mali. He did not quite know how the welcome would be.

“If you’re a minister or another politician,” he said, “and you show up at the camp, the refugees will throw stones at you.”

But in the end, the reception was warm and overwhelming.

“That’s the power of culture,” Ansar said.

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In Mbera Camp, an unlikely setting for a concert, people pulled together to build a stage using sandbags as support material. For 50,000 people living so far from home, this was the first time they could reconnect with their country and its music.

“We just partied for two nights,” Ansar told VOA.

Concerts on three continents

The concert in Mauritania is one of a series of concerts on three continents. It’s called the Cultural Caravan for Peace, and Ansar has been the driving force behind it.

The caravan has two main aims, he said. One is to contribute to reconciliation in Mali. And nothing can carry this message more effectively than music. Seeing singers and musicians from the northern, central and southern parts of Mali on a stage together sends a powerful message of peace and understanding.

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The other purpose of the caravan is to offer a different voice to the seductive sound of jihadist extremism, the ideology that sent so many of Mali’s musicians into exile.

This call for unity and against extremism is traveling around the world. There are stops in Morocco, where the caravan joins with the Taragalt Festival on the edge of the Sahara Desert; Ségou, on the Niger River, Burkina Faso. And next year, Malian music will dazzle crowds in Europe and the United States.

The Cultural Caravan for Peace will be in the United States, May 1 to June 7, 2017. (VOA)

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Beyond Borders : Syrian Refugee Re-unites with Family After a Year, Shares Kisses Through Wired Fences in Cyprus But Hopes to go ‘Home’ Someday

Survival in Syria has become increasingly difficult- the refugee revealed that natives have to either be a jihadist, or align with President Bashar al- Assad, or anyone else, and steal or kill

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Refugee
Ammar Hammasho from Syria, who lives in Cyprus, kisses his children who arrived at the refugee camp in Kokkinotrimithia, outside Nicosia, Cyprus (VOA)

Cyprus, September 14, 2017 : After more than a year of separation, Syrian refugee Ammar Hammasho was finally, albeit briefly, reunited with his wife and four children through a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire in Cyprus.

Hammasho, who is from the war-ravaged Idlib region, fell to his knees and kissed each of his three eldest children through the three-meter-high barrier encircling a migrant reception center at Kokkinotrimithia, west of the Cypriot capital Nicosia.

The youngest son of the Syrian refugee, Jumah — named after their second-born who was killed in an air raid in 2015 — was held up by his wife, Shamuos. He kissed the protracted palm of Sham, his tiny daughter, who was dressed in a black frock neatly tucked in at the waist with a belt, small white jacket and pink sandals.

“The policeman told me to wait half an hour to finish the count. I couldn’t wait, I saw the kids through the fence and I did this,” he said, waving his hands over his head.

“The kids ran over. I just wanted to see them, for my heart to go back into its place,” the 34-year-old construction worker told Reuters on Wednesday.

The reunion came on Sunday, just hours after Hammasho’s wife and their children — aged 7, 5, 4 and 18 months — came ashore with 300 other Syrians in northwestern Cyprus after a 24-hour trip on a small boat from Mersin in Turkey, in what was one of the largest mass landings on the island since the Syrian war began.

Refugee
Ammar Hammasho from Syria, who lives in Cyprus, kisses his children who arrived at the refugee camp in Kokkinotrimithia outside Nicosia, Cyprus (VOA)

Hammasho knew his family was trying to leave Syria, but didn’t know precisely when.

“When I read on the internet that about 250 were heading to Cyprus I knew it was them,” he said with a smile.

‘I will go home’ after war

Hammasho had taken a similar route one year ago, landing in Cyprus on Sept. 6, 2016. Working as a construction worker, he managed to amass the $6,000 to pay a trafficker to get his family to Cyprus.

He now has “subsidiary” protection status, which is one step short of being recognized as a refugee.

“I’m told they will be back with me on Friday, or maybe Sunday,” Hammasho said from a tiny bedsit in Limassol, a sprawling coastal city 100 km (60 miles) away from the reception camp.

ALSO READ Ground Report: How ISIS is ruining lives of people in Syria and Iraq

Speaking in the distinct Cypriot Greek dialect, he has the benefit of language and friends, having already worked four years in Cyprus from 2004 to 2008.

“I thought the minute I left [in 2008], that would be that. I built a house [in Syria]. I got married. I bought a field. Sixteen skales,” he said, using a Cypriot measurement term to describe his 1.6 hectares.

“I worked day and night, do you understand? Now I [still] have a field. But my house is dust.”

Hammasho’s second-eldest child, Jumah, was almost five when he was killed. Remaining in Syria was simply not an option, he said.

“Look, in Syria right now you cannot live a life. I don’t have a home. I lost a baby. … I don’t want to dirty my hands with blood, do you understand?

“If you want to eat bread … you have to have blood on your hands. You have to be either a jihadist, or be with [President Bashar al-] Assad, or anyone else, and steal or kill. And if you start that, you are finished. That is what life is like there now. I can’t do it. There are those who can.”

The table is strewn with his identification papers and the classified sections of newspapers, pinned down by an untouched pot of Arabic coffee.

His bedsit is small. Hammasho is looking for a house so he and his family can start anew. But he says it will only be temporary until the family can return to Syria one day.

“As soon as it stops, I’m leaving. I will go back to my field. I have a machine to extract water. I have fields to water. It’s my country and I will go home.” (VOA)

 

 

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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June 21 is World Music Day: Here is what some Musicians have to say!

21st June 2017 is World Music Day. We take a look at the messages that musicians would like to give out today

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World Music Day
June 21 is World Music Day. Attributes of music, Wikimedia

June 21, 2017: Wishing all music lovers on the occasion of World Music Day on Wednesday, some of the Indian musicians say the celebration of music should not be restricted to one day since the “world breathes music, every moment, every day”.

While legendary sarod player Amjad Ali Khan gave his blessings to all music enthusiasts, fusion group Midival Punditz shared a song from their archives on social media.

Here is what musicians had to say on World Music Day:

Amjad Ali Khan: A day in honor of Music. Wish all music lovers a very peaceful World Music Day. God Bless.

Midival Punditz: One from our archives. This was a recording we did in 2006, on World Music Day.

Ayaan Ali Bangash: To be a musician is in itself a blessing as you are really not answerable to anyone but yourself.

Amaan Ali Bangash: Wish you all a very Happy World Music Day!

Papon Angaraag: Wishing everyone a very happy world music day. Though every day should be a music day! Leaving for Spain to perform at IIFA Rocks!

Prosenjit Chatterjee: The music is not in the notes but in the silence in between.

Rekha Bhardwaj: Celebrating World Music Day today!

Zaeden: Happy World Music Day. What are you currently listening to?

Amit Trivedi: Happy world music day to all you lovely people who love music. Music forever

Harshdeep Kaur: Aaj Bhangra paun nu jee karda (Today I feel like dancing) Celebrating World Music Day with friends!

Karsh Kale: Wow… I am on a mural created for World Music Day in Bandra. I have officially tagged Mumbai.

Benny Dayal: Wishing everyone a world music day… May all your lives be inspired with more n more music.

Kailash Kher: Happy world music day to all my awesome fans and music lovers listen and dance to the beats of your soul. Love and live music. When I started in music in 2001, didn’t even know there is a day particularly called World Music Day, now feels every day is World Music Day.

Clinton Cerejo: Does World Music Day apply to all music or just world music?

Sunidhi Chauhan: It’s World Music Day today. Just realized… A very happy and prosperous one to all my musicians and music lovers.

Shekhar Ravjiani: Music and love know no boundaries and languages. That’s why I am releasing my second Marathi single ‘Saavli’ on World Music Day.

Meiyang Chang: Tamilian, Indian Chinese, and Assamese singing a Punjabi song on World Music Day! Funjabi! Sarsa, Agnee Mohan, Papon.

Sona Mohapatra: World Music Day? The ‘world’ breathes music, every moment, everyday. Today is no different, me thinks. (IANS)