Disappointing Weather Takes its Toll on Gaza Wheat Crop 

A Palestinian man grinds wheat during harvest season on a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip May 24, 2023. (Reuters)
A Palestinian man grinds wheat during harvest season on a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip May 24, 2023. (Reuters)
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Disappointing Weather Takes its Toll on Gaza Wheat Crop 

A Palestinian man grinds wheat during harvest season on a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip May 24, 2023. (Reuters)
A Palestinian man grinds wheat during harvest season on a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip May 24, 2023. (Reuters)

Shifting weather patterns and disappointing rains in Gaza mean Palestinian farmer Itaf Qudeih has managed to harvest only a quarter of the wheat she once grew on her land.

"The wheat was taller and the grain was bigger, it is now very weak. The late winter influenced the crop and the quantity of the produce," said Qudeih, 60, as she joined fellow workers for the harvest in her fields in southern Gaza.

"This land used to produce a ton of grain, it is now making a quarter of a ton because of weaker rainfall," she added.

Mohammad Odah, of the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry, said the annual wheat harvest has fallen by 1,000 tons from last year because of the late winter season and unreliable rains. Last year production was 5,000 tons.

Usually, the local wheat harvest accounts for 2% of consumption in the enclave, whose 2.3 million people regard traditional flat breads as an indispensable part of their diet. The rest is imported.



Israeli Veteran Calls 1973 War a Necessary ‘Slap in the Face'

A sign warning against landmines from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War is placed at a field at a position near the Syrian border in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights on September 5, 2023. (AFP)
A sign warning against landmines from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War is placed at a field at a position near the Syrian border in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights on September 5, 2023. (AFP)
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Israeli Veteran Calls 1973 War a Necessary ‘Slap in the Face'

A sign warning against landmines from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War is placed at a field at a position near the Syrian border in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights on September 5, 2023. (AFP)
A sign warning against landmines from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War is placed at a field at a position near the Syrian border in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights on September 5, 2023. (AFP)

A decorated Israeli veteran of tank battles on the Syrian front in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Avigdor Kahalani remembers the conflict, despite its heavy toll, as a "slap in the face" Israel badly needed.

The twin attack by Egypt and Syria on October 6 caught Israel by surprise on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar -- Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement -- when the nation comes to a virtual standstill.

When the fighting erupted, Kahalani was a 29-year-old lieutenant-colonel commanding the 77th tank battalion in the Golan Heights that overlook Syria.

He had only just returned to active duty after spending a year in hospital for follow-up treatment of severe burns he had suffered in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict.

That war had seen Israel conquer the Golan Heights, Sinai, West Bank and east Jerusalem, dramatically redrawing the regional map -- but also creating what was later deemed a dangerous sense of complacency.

As soon as the new war broke out on two fronts, Kahalani knew that Israeli forces were badly outnumbered, the 79-year-old recalled in an interview with AFP at his home in Tel Aviv.

Syria had eight to 10 times more tanks than Israel and "their tanks were better than ours", he said.

"All of a sudden we understood that it's a total war, we're losing territory," he recalled, adding that within 24 hours the Syrian forces "had conquered almost all of the Golan Heights".

'Critical moment'

Within three days, the Israeli forces seemed on the verge of defeat, with Syrian forces directly threatening Israel's core territory.

But, in a dramatic turn of events on the battlefield, Kahalani's unit and battalions of the 7th Armored Brigade were able to halt the Syrian momentum.

"I had to lead the attack to reconquer the hills from where we could stop them," the former tank commander said.

After days of fierce fighting, the Syrians retreated.

"That was a critical moment, when you've strained every muscle in your body, after four days of combat with nearly no food, without sleep, with just a few ammunition rounds left in your tank.

"You utilize every muscle, every thought, to be better than them, to win," said Kahalani, who is celebrated as a living legend in Israel and regularly speaks with young conscripts.

In 1975, Kahalani received the Medal of Valor, Israel's highest military distinction. The citation honored his "wondrous leadership and personal heroism in a difficult and complicated battle, whose outcome changed the course of the Golan Heights campaign".

Wake-up call

After the initial floundering, Israel, mobilizing all reserve units and supported by a US airlift, was able to redress the battlefield situation.

Israeli forces counter-attacked Egypt and crossed the Suez Canal, while in the north its soldiers retook the Golan. Fighting ended with a UN-validated ceasefire on October 25.

Both sides suffered heavy losses in the three weeks of fighting. More than 2,600 Israeli soldiers were killed and more than 9,500 Arab troops were dead and missing.

Many historians argue that Israel's 1967 victory had instilled a sense of invulnerability among its political and military leadership.

So, despite the heavy losses, Kahalani, who lost a brother in the conflict, argues the 1973 war was a necessary wake-up call.

Its effect was like "a very strong slap in the face", he said, arguing that it "brought our sanity back to a certain extent".

"Had the reservists been mobilized two days earlier, it's likely that the war could have been avoided," he said.

But members of then-prime minister Golda Meir's government were "hesitant," Kahalani noted, "even when they had all the indications that there was about to be a war".

The shock of Israel's unpreparedness changed everything, he said of the deep soul-searching and high-profile resignations that followed.

'Moment of truth'

A year after the war, a commission was set up to investigate Israel's level of military preparedness and its reaction to the outbreak of the war.

The army's top commander David Elazar and the head of military intelligence Eli Zeira resigned. Meir, while not directly implicated by the commission, stepped down as prime minister in 1974.

Kahalani stayed in the army, reaching the rank of brigadier general, before resigning and joining the Labour Party in 1992.

He later left to form a centrist party and served as public security minister in Benjamin Netanyahu's first government from 1996-1999.

To Kahalani, the 1973 war was the trigger that pushed Israel to develop more sophisticated weapons, such as the Iron Dome missile defense system, and to achieve the military technological edge it enjoys today.

But above all, the conflict served as a timely warning of Israel's "existential problem" which Kahalani argues is now embodied by arch-enemy Iran.

Israel charges that Iran, whose leaders have called repeatedly for its destruction, is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, a goal Tehran denies.

"The moment of truth will come, I have no illusions," Kahalani said of a potential showdown with Iran.

When that day comes, he said, he hopes that "Israel will have courageous leadership".


Ankara Blast Echoes Past Attacks in Türkiye

Members of Turkish Police Special Forces secure the area near the Interior Ministry following a bomb attack in Ankara, on October 1, 2023, leaving two police officers injured. (AFP)
Members of Turkish Police Special Forces secure the area near the Interior Ministry following a bomb attack in Ankara, on October 1, 2023, leaving two police officers injured. (AFP)
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Ankara Blast Echoes Past Attacks in Türkiye

Members of Turkish Police Special Forces secure the area near the Interior Ministry following a bomb attack in Ankara, on October 1, 2023, leaving two police officers injured. (AFP)
Members of Turkish Police Special Forces secure the area near the Interior Ministry following a bomb attack in Ankara, on October 1, 2023, leaving two police officers injured. (AFP)

Türkiye’s interior minister said on Sunday that two terrorists carried out a bomb attack in front of the ministry buildings in Ankara, adding one of them died in the explosion and the other was "neutralized" by authorities there.

The bombing, the first to hit Ankara in a number of years, comes almost a year after six people were killed and 81 wounded in an explosion in a busy pedestrian street in central Istanbul on Nov 13, 2022.

Türkiye blamed Kurdish militants for the Istanbul blast, which reminded Turks of a wave of attacks carried out by various militant groups in Turkish cities between mid-2015 and early 2017.

Following are some of those deadly attacks:

Jan 5, 2017 - A Turkish police officer and a courthouse employee were killed by a car bomb in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir while at least 10 people were wounded. Authorities said Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants were behind the attack.

Dec 31, 2016 - ISIS claimed responsibility for a New Year's Day mass shooting in which 39 people were killed after a lone gunman opened fire in a packed Istanbul nightclub.

Dec 17, 2016 - A car bomb killed 13 soldiers and wounded 56 when it tore through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central city of Kayseri. An offshoot of the PKK claimed responsibility for the attack.

Dec 10, 2016 - Twin bombings, one planted in a car and the other strapped to a suicide bomber, killed 44 people, most of them police officers, and wounded more than 150 outside an Istanbul soccer stadium. A PKK offshoot, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), claimed responsibility for the attack.

Aug 26, 2016 - A suicide truck bombing at a police headquarters in Türkiye’s largely Kurdish southeast killed at least 11 and wounded dozens. The PKK claimed responsibility for the attack.

Aug 20, 2016 - A suicide bomber carried out an attack on a wedding party in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep that killed at least 51 people. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attacker had worked with the ISIS.

June 28, 2016 - A triple suicide bombing and a gun attack killed 45 people and wounded more than 160 people at Istanbul's main airport. Türkiye handed down life sentences to people linked to the perpetrators of the attack, believed to have been involved with ISIS.

May 12, 2016 - Explosives that detonated in a village in southeastern Türkiye killed 16 people, had been intended for use in a suicide bombing in the nearby province of Diyarbakir. Kurdish militants were believed to have been transporting the explosives, security sources have said.

March 19, 2016 - A suicide bomber killed four people in a busy shopping district of Istiklal Street in the heart of Istanbul. Authorities confirmed three Israelis, two of them holding dual US citizenship, and an Iranian citizen died as a result of the blast. Authorities said a Turkish member of the ISIS group was responsible for the bombing.

March 13, 2016 - Thirty-seven people were killed when a bomb-laden car exploded at a crowded transport hub in the heart of the Turkish capital Ankara.

Feb 17, 2016 - Twenty-eight people were killed and dozens wounded in Ankara when a car laden with explosives detonated next to military buses near the armed forces' headquarters, parliament and other government buildings.

Jan 12, 2016 - A suicide bomber killed at least 10 people, most of them German tourists, in Istanbul's historic heart in an attack then authorities blamed on ISIS.

Oct 10, 2015 - Twin bombings in Ankara killed more than 100 people outside the city's main train station. Turkish courts jailed perpetrators, who are believed to be linked to the ISIS, for life.

Sept 8, 2015 - Kurdish militants killed 15 police officers in two bombings in eastern Turkish provinces of Mardin and Igdir.

July 20, 2015 - An ISIS suicide bomber killed more than 30 people, mostly young students, in an attack on the mainly ethnic Kurdish town of Suruc near the Syrian border.


Armenia Grapples with Multiple Challenges after the Fall of Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan leads a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Armenia, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (AP)
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan leads a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Armenia, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (AP)
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Armenia Grapples with Multiple Challenges after the Fall of Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan leads a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Armenia, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (AP)
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan leads a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Armenia, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (AP)

Tens of thousands of now-homeless people have streamed into Armenia from the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, controlled by its emboldened adversary, Azerbaijan.

Swarms of protesters are filling the streets of the Armenian capital of Yerevan, demanding the prime minister's ouster. Relations with Russia, an old ally and protector, have frayed amid mutual accusations.

Armenia now finds itself facing multiple challenges after being suddenly thrust into one of the worst political crises in its decades of independence following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Developments unfolded with surprising speed after Azerbaijan waged a lightning military campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority ethnic Armenian region that has run its affairs for three decades without international recognition.

Starved of supplies by an Azerbaijani blockade and outnumbered by a military bolstered by Türkiye, the separatist forces capitulated in 24 hours and their political leaders said they would dissolve their government by the end of the year.

That triggered a massive exodus by the ethnic Armenians who feared living under Azerbaijani rule. Over 80% of the region’s 120,000 residents hastily packed their belongings and trudged in a grueling and slow journey over the single mountain road into impoverished Armenia, which is struggling to accommodate them.

Enraged and exasperated over the loss of their homeland, they will likely support almost daily protests against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who has been blamed by the opposition for failing to defend Nagorno-Karabakh.

"There’s a tremendous amount of anger and frustration directed at Nikol Pashinyan," said Laurence Broers, an expert on the region at Chatham House.

Pashinyan’s economically challenged government has to provide them quickly with housing, medical care and jobs. While the global Armenian diaspora has pledged to help, it poses major financial and logistical problems for the landlocked country.

While many Armenians resent the country’s former top officials who lead the opposition and also hold them responsible for the current woes, observers point to a history of bloodshed. In 1999, gunmen barged into the Armenian parliament during a question-and-answer session, killing Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, the parliament speaker and six other top officials and lawmakers.

"There is a kind of tradition of political assassination in Armenian culture," said Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank.

He and other observers note that one factor in Pashinyan’s favor is that whatever simmering anger there is against him, there is just as much directed toward Russia, Armenia’s main ally.

After a six-week war in 2020 that saw Azerbaijan reclaim part of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories, Russia sent about 2,000 peacekeeping troops to the region under a Kremlin-brokered truce.

Pashinyan has accused the peacekeepers of failing to prevent the recent hostilities by Azerbaijan, which also could make new territorial threats against Armenia,

Russia has been distracted by its war in Ukraine, which has eroded its influence in the region and made the Kremlin reluctant to defy Azerbaijan and its main ally Türkiye, a key economic partner for Moscow amid Western sanctions.

"Clearly, this Azerbaijani military operation would not have been possible if the Russian peacekeepers had tried to keep the peace, but they just basically stood down," de Waal said.

The Kremlin, in turn, has sought to shift the blame to Pashinyan, accusing him of precipitating the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh by acknowledging Azerbaijan's sovereignty over the region and damaging Armenia's ties with Russia by embracing the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long been suspicious of Pashinyan, a former journalist who came to power in 2018 after leading protests that ousted the previous government.

Even before Azerbaijan’s operation to reclaim control of Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia had vented anger at Armenia for hosting US troops for joint military drills and moving to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court after it had indicted Putin for war crimes connected to the deportation of children from Ukraine.

The bad feelings escalated after the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh, with Moscow assailing Pashinyan in harsh language that hadn't been heard before.

The Russian Foreign Ministry blasted "the inconsistent stance of the Armenian leadership, which flip-flopped on policy and sought Western support over working closely with Russia and Azerbaijan."

In what sounded like encouragement of demonstrations against Pashinyan, Russia declared that "the reckless approach by Nikol Pashinyan’s team understandably fueled discontent among parts of Armenian society, which showed itself in popular protests," even as it denied that Moscow played any part in fueling the rallies.

"The Armenian leadership is making a huge mistake by deliberately attempting to sever Armenia’s multifaceted and centuries-old ties with Russia, making the country a hostage to Western geopolitical games," it said.

It remains unclear whether Pashinyan might take Armenia out of Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, a group of several former Soviet nations, and other Russia-led alliances. Armenia also hosts a Russian military base and Russian border guards help patrol Armenia’s frontier with Türkiye.

Despite the worsening rift, Pashinyan has refrained from threats to rupture links with Moscow, but he emphasized the need to bolster security and other ties with the West.

It could be challenging for the US and its allies to replace Moscow as Armenia’s main sponsors. Russia is Armenia’s top trading partner and it is home to an estimated 1 million Armenians, who would strongly resist any attempt by Pashinyan to break ties with Moscow.

"Economically speaking, strategically speaking, Russia is still very deeply embedded in the Armenian economy in terms of energy supply and ownership over key strategic assets," Broers said. "It’s going to need a lot of creativity from other partners for Armenia to broaden out its foreign policy."

The future of the Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, which were supposed to stay through 2025, is unclear. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said their status needs to be negotiated with Azerbaijan.

Broers said Azerbaijan could allow a small number of Russian peacekeepers to stay in Nagorno-Karabakh to help promote its program to "integrate" the region.

"This would be face-saving for Moscow," he said. "This would substantiate the integration agenda that is being promoted by Azerbaijan."

Even though the peacekeepers didn’t try to prevent Azerbaijan from reclaiming Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian troops' presence in Armenia helps counter potential moves by Azerbaijan and Türkiye to pressure Yerevan on some contested issues.

Baku has long demanded that Armenia offer a corridor to Azerbaijan's exclave of Nakhchivan, which is separated from the rest of the country by a 40-kilometer (25-mile) swath of Armenian territory. The region, which also borders Türkiye and Iran, has a population of about 460,000.

The deal that ended the 2020 war envisaged reopening rail and road links to Nakhchivan that have been cut since the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but their restoration has stalled amid continuing tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has warned it could use force to secure the corridor if Armenia keeps stonewalling the issue, and there have been fears in Armenia that the corridor could infringe on its sovereignty.

"I think there is extreme concern about this in Armenia, given the very dramatic military asymmetry between Armenia and Azerbaijan today and given the fact that Russia has ostensibly abdicated its role as a security guarantor for Armenia," Broers said.

De Waal noted that Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Nakchivan on Monday and talked about southern Armenia as a historic Azerbaijani land "in a rather provocative way."

Despite Western calls for Azerbaijan to respect Armenia’s sovereignty as well as strong signals from Iran, which also has warned Azerbaijan not to use force against Armenia, tensions remain high, he noted.

"The issue is to what extent Azerbaijan and Türkiye, backed maybe quietly by Russia, push this issue," de Waal said. "Do they just sort of try and force Armenia at the negotiating table or do they actually start to use force to try and get what they want? This is the scenario everyone fears."


The Fall of an Enclave in Azerbaijan Stuns the Armenian Diaspora, Extinguishing a Dream

People hold a flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, as they take part in an anti-government rally in downtown Yerevan on September 25, 2023, following Azerbaijani military operations against Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN / AFP)
People hold a flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, as they take part in an anti-government rally in downtown Yerevan on September 25, 2023, following Azerbaijani military operations against Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN / AFP)
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The Fall of an Enclave in Azerbaijan Stuns the Armenian Diaspora, Extinguishing a Dream

People hold a flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, as they take part in an anti-government rally in downtown Yerevan on September 25, 2023, following Azerbaijani military operations against Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN / AFP)
People hold a flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, as they take part in an anti-government rally in downtown Yerevan on September 25, 2023, following Azerbaijani military operations against Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN / AFP)

The swift fall of the Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani troops and exodus of much of its population has stunned the large Armenian diaspora around the world. Traumatized by genocide a century ago, they now fear the erasure of what they consider a central and beloved part of their historic homeland.
The separatist ethnic Armenian government in Nagorno-Karabakh on Thursday announced that it was dissolving and that the unrecognized republic will cease to exist by year’s end – a seeming death knell for its 30-year de-facto independence, The Associated Press said.
Azerbaijan, which routed the region’s Armenian forces in a lightning offensive last week, has pledged to respect the rights of the territory’s Armenian community. But by Thursday morning, 74,400 people – over 60% of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population — had fled to Armenia, and the influx continues, according to Armenian officials.
Many in Armenia and the diaspora fear a centuries-long community in the territory they call Artsakh will disappear in what they call a new wave of ethnic cleansing. They accuse European countries, Russia and the United States – and the government of Armenia itself – of failing to protect ethnic Armenians during months of blockade of the territory by Azerbaijan’s military and in the lightning blitz earlier this month that defeated separatist forces.
Armenians say the loss is a historic blow. Outside the modern country of Armenia itself, the mountainous land was one of the only surviving parts of a heartland that centuries ago stretched across what is now eastern Türkiye, into the Caucasus region and western Iran.
Many in the diaspora had pinned dreams on it gaining independence or being joined to Armenia.
Nagorno-Karabakh was “a page of hope in Armenian history,” Narod Seroujian, a Lebanese-Armenian university instructor in Beirut, said Thursday.
“It showed us that there is hope to gain back a land that is rightfully ours ... For the diaspora, Nagorno-Karabakh was already part of Armenia.”
Hundreds of Lebanese Armenians on Thursday protested outside the Azerbajani Embassy in Beirut. They waved flags of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and burned pictures of the Azerbaijani and Turkish presidents. Riot police lobbed tear gas when they threw firecrackers at the embassy.
Ethnic Armenians have communities around Europe and the Middle East and in the United States. Lebanon is home to one of the largest, with an estimated 120,000 of Armenian origin, 4% of the population.
Most are descendants of those who fled the 1915 campaign by Ottoman Turks in which some 1.5 million Armenians died in massacres, deportations and forced marches. The atrocities, which emptied many ethnic Armenian areas in eastern Türkiye, are widely viewed by historians as genocide. Türkiye rejects the description of genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest during World War I.
In Bourj Hammoud, the main Armenian district in the capital Beirut, memories are still raw, with anti-Türkiye graffiti common on the walls. The red-blue-and-orange Armenian flag flies from many buildings.
“This is the last migration for Armenians,” said Harout Bshidikian, 55, sitting in front of an Armenian flag in a Bourj Hamoud cafe. “There is no other place left for us to migrate from.”
Azerbaijan says it is reuniting its territory, pointing out that even Armenia’s prime minister recognized that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. Though its population has been predominantly ethnic Armenian Christians, Turkish Muslim Azeris also have communities and cultural ties to the territory as well, particularly the city of Shusha, famed as a cradle of Azeri poetry.
Nagorno-Karabakh came under control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian military in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. Azerbaijan took parts of the area in a 2020 war. Now after this month’s defeat, separatist authorities surrendered their weapons and are holding talks with Azerbaijan on reintegration of the territory into Azerbaijan.
Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank, said Nagorno-Karabakh had become “a kind of new cause” for an Armenian diaspora whose forebearers had suffered the genocide.
“It was a kind of new Armenian state, new Armenian land being born, which they projected lots of hopes on. Very unrealistic hopes, I would say,” he said, adding that it encouraged Karabakh Armenians to hold out against Azerbaijan despite the lack of international recognition for their separatist government.
Armenians see the territory as a cradle of their culture, with monasteries dating back more than a millennium.
“Artsakh or Nagorno-Karabakh has been a land for Armenians for hundreds of years,” said Lebanese legislator Hagop Pakradounian, head of Lebanon’s largest Armenian group, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. “The people of Artsakh are being subjected to a new genocide, the first genocide in the 21st Century.”
The fall of Nagorno-Karabakh is not just a reminder of the genocide, “it’s reliving it,” said Diran Guiliguian, an Armenian activist who is based in Madrid but holds Armenian, Lebanese and French citizenship.
He said his grandmother used to tell him stories of how she fled in 1915. The genocide “is actually not a thing of the past. It’s not a thing that is a century old. It’s actually still the case,” he said.
Seroujian, the instructor in Beirut, said her great-grandparents were genocide survivors, and that stories of the atrocities and dispersal were talked about at home, school and in the community as she grew up, as was the cause of Nagorno-Karabakh.
She visited the territory several times, most recently in 2017. “We’ve grown with these ideas, whether they were romantic or not, of the country. We’ve grown to love it even when we didn’t see it,” she said. “I never thought about it as something separate” from Armenia the country.
A diaspora group called Europeans for Artsakh plans a rally in Brussels next week in front of European Union buildings to denounce what they say are ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses by Azerbaijan and to call for EU sanctions on Azerbaijani officials. The rally is timed ahead of a summit of European leaders in Spain on Oct. 5, where the Armenian prime minister and Azerbaijani president are scheduled to hold talks mediated by the French president, German chancellor and European Council president.
In the United States, the Armenian community in the Los Angeles area – one of the world’s largest – has staged several protests trying to draw attention to the situation. On Sept. 19, they used a trailer truck to block a major freeway for several hours, causing major traffic jams.
Kim Kardashian, perhaps the most well known Armenian-American today, went on social media to urge President Joe Biden “to Stop Another Armenian Genocide.”
Several groups in the diaspora are collecting money for Karabakh Armenians fleeing their home. But Seroujian said many feel helpless.
“There are moments where personally, the family, or among friends we just feel hopeless,” she said. “And when we talk to each other we sort of lose our minds.


Syrian Beekeepers Battle Both War and Climate Change 

Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land in Rankus village near the capital Damascus on September 11, 2023 after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change. (AFP)
Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land in Rankus village near the capital Damascus on September 11, 2023 after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change. (AFP)
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Syrian Beekeepers Battle Both War and Climate Change 

Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land in Rankus village near the capital Damascus on September 11, 2023 after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change. (AFP)
Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land in Rankus village near the capital Damascus on September 11, 2023 after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change. (AFP)

Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land near the capital Damascus after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change impacts.

"The war bled us dry. We could barely keep our beekeeping business afloat, and then the insane weather made things worse," the 62-year-old in a beekeeping suit told AFP as he examined meagre honey stocks inside the hives.

Before Syria's conflict erupted in 2011, Damiriya owned 110 hives in Rankus, a village near Damascus that was once filled with apple orchards.

But now a combination of fighting, severe drought and a grueling economic crisis have left him with a mere 40 hives in semi-arid lands, decimating his honey yield.

Rankus was once renowned for its honey, but was hard hit by fighting between government forces and opposition factions that caused widespread destruction, pushing many residents to flee.

Damiriya can barely afford to tend to his hives, donated by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to help Syrian beekeepers.

"If we keep suffering from climate change and rising prices, I might have to abandon my profession," Damiriya said with a sigh.

Since 2011, Syria's war has killed more than half a million people and caused an acute economic crisis, exacerbated by severe Western sanctions.

Recent years have also battered Syria with heatwaves, low rainfall and more forest fires.

'Extreme weather'

A 2019 United Nations report found that fighting had practically wiped out hives, with bombs contaminating the environment and pesticide misuse and a proliferation of parasites speeding up their decline.

Syria used to be home to 635,000 hives before the war, but their numbers had dwindled to about 150,000 at the height of the conflict in 2016, said Iyad Daaboul, the Damascus-based president of the Arab Beekeepers Union.

Today that number has risen back up to 400,000, he said. However, the hives yield only 1,500 tons of honey per year -- half of the country's pre-war production.

Unusually cold springs and drought have had an adverse effect on the flowers that bees feed on.

"Extreme weather conditions have greatly affected bees, especially during spring -- the most important time in their life cycle," said Daaboul.

The number of beekeepers has nearly halved from 32,000 before the war to around 18,000 today, he said.

Another threat to the bees is the forest fires which have become more common as temperatures rise.

Fires "have destroyed more than 1,000 hives on Syria's coastal mountains and stripped bees of large foraging areas", Daaboul said.

'Unusually cold'

Rising temperatures and desertification have taken a toll on Syria's greenery, destroying many of the plants on whose flowers the bees feed and squeezing the once-thriving agriculture sector.

Damascus ICRC spokesperson Suhair Zakkout told AFP that "Syria's agricultural production has fallen by approximately 50 percent over the last 10 years" because of war and climate change.

Despite being one of the countries most badly affected by global warming, Syria has lacked the funds it needs to tackle environmental issues, Zakkout said.

Climate change has devastated farmer Ziad Rankusi's apple orchards, which have also been greatly thinned by illegal logging as people struggle to keep warm during the winter amid recurrent fuel shortages.

Rankusi, who is in his 50s, used to tend more than 1,000 trees on his land, but just 400 survive, and they are drying out in the heat.

"For about five years, we have had unprecedented droughts and desertification, and this year the spring was unusually cold. The fruit perished," said the farmer.

"When trees and flowers disappear, bees can no longer feed. They either migrate or die."


A Month after Prigozhin’s Suspicious Death, the Kremlin Is Silent on His Plane Crash and Legacy

A portrait of the owner of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin decorates an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. (AP)
A portrait of the owner of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin decorates an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. (AP)
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A Month after Prigozhin’s Suspicious Death, the Kremlin Is Silent on His Plane Crash and Legacy

A portrait of the owner of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin decorates an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. (AP)
A portrait of the owner of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin decorates an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. (AP)

Why Yevgeny Prigozhin's private jet plummeted into a field northwest of Moscow is still a mystery. The Russian military leaders he tried to oust with his armed rebellion remain in power. His mercenary army is under new management.

And President Vladimir Putin, whose authority was badly dented by the short-lived mutiny, seems as strong as ever, with Prigozhin's fiery death sending a chilling message to anyone challenging him.

A month after Prigozhin was killed in a suspicious plane crash, the Kremlin seems to be succeeding in keeping the demise of the profane and outspoken Wagner chief as low-key as possible — a strategy underlined by Putin's absence at his funeral and troops keeping the media from entering Porokhovskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg for his Aug. 29 burial.

Prigozhin’s funeral was “the culmination of a covert operation aimed at his elimination,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. It was conducted under the strict oversight of security agencies, “shrouded in secrecy and involved deceptive tactics,” she noted.

Makeshift street memorials sprouted in several cities honoring the 62-year-old Prigozhin, but they have been quietly removed by authorities. Recruitment billboards for the Wagner Group had vanished shortly after the rebellion fizzled.

In a further indignity, someone stole a violin that was left on his grave, a nod to the mercenary group's namesake, German composer Richard Wagner. Another man tried but failed to steal a sledgehammer placed there — another Wagner symbol after the group boasted of using such a tool to beat traitors to death.

Now, a surveillance camera is mounted on a nearby tree and a 24-hour guard monitors Prigozhin's well-tended grave, which on Friday was covered in flowers and written tributes. Cemetery workers say there is a steady trickle of visitors.

FROM BAKHMUT SUCCESS TO MUTINY'S FAILURE Prigozhin's greatest wartime accomplishment — the Wagner-spearheaded capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in May after months of bloody combat — is under threat. Kyiv's troops are seeking to reclaim it in their counteroffensive in order to deal a psychological blow to Russia.

Still, the private army that once counted tens of thousands of troops is a precious asset the Kremlin wants to exploit, and Russian officials are pondering the possibility of sending some Wagner fighters back to Ukraine.

Prigozhin launched the June 23-24 rebellion, bent on ousting the Russian Defense Ministry's leadership that he blamed for mistakes in pressing the war in Ukraine. His mercenaries took over Russia's southern military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and then rolled toward Moscow before abruptly halting the mutiny.

Putin denounced them as “traitors,” but the Kremlin quickly negotiated a deal ending the uprising in exchange for amnesty from prosecution. The mercenaries were offered a choice to retire from the service, move to Belarus or sign new contracts with the Defense Ministry.

Exactly two months after the rebellion's start, a plane carrying Prigozhin and his top lieutenants crashed on Aug. 23 while flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg, killing all 10 people aboard.

An investigation was launched but no findings have been released. Moscow rejected an offer from Brazil, where the Embraer business jet was built, to join the inquiry.

A preliminary US intelligence assessment concluded an intentional explosion caused the crash, and Western officials have pointed to a long list of Putin foes who have been assassinated. The Kremlin called allegations he was behind the crash as an “absolute lie.”

The day after the crash, Putin gave a dry eulogy for Prigozhin in brief televised remarks, saying he had known him since the early 1990s. Prigozhin was “a man of difficult fate” who had “made serious mistakes in life,” he said, without displaying any emotion.

Asked last week why the official investigation hasn’t yielded any results, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded tersely that it’s a “difficult probe.”

AFTER THE CRASH, A RECKONING Despite any damage done to Putin by the rebellion, Prigozhin's death was a powerful signal to Russian elites about challenging his authority.

Russian officials, meanwhile, moved quickly to take control of the company’s personnel and assets.

Deputy Defense Minister Col. Gen. Yunus-Bek Yevkurov led a delegation to Syria, Libya, Central African Republic and other countries where Wagner has operated to tell their leaders that the Defense Ministry will take over the job.

“The death of Wagner’s leaders allows the Kremlin to establish control over the mercenaries in Africa,” said Africa expert Alexandra Fokina in a recent analysis. “Africa’s strategic importance for Russia is rising, and Moscow will likely try to ‘nationalize’ those assets without the loss of efficiency.”

That doesn't necessarily mean Wagner mercenaries in Africa will be placed under the control of the Defense Ministry. Instead, Fokina said the Kremlin could allow some of them to operate autonomously as a private entity under new, government-appointed leadership.

“By maintaining such hybrid model, Moscow would be able to continue using the mercenaries in the ‘gray zone,’ officially keeping a distance from Wagner’s activities in the region,” Fokina said.

Wagner’s African operations hinged heavily on personal contacts developed by Prigozhin and his lieutenants, links that could be broken if the Defense Ministry tries to take full control, she noted.

“Choosing an appointee from the ranks of ‘Russia instructors’ working in Africa would allow the Kremlin to rely on the existing channels of communication with the local leadership,” she said.

Whether all Wagner mercenaries come under the government's command or some are allowed to operate privately, Moscow is likely to retain its clout in Africa.

"Russia’s appeal as a security guarantor and military partner remains intact, irrespective of the fate of the Wagner Group,” Mathieu Droin and Tina Dolbaia wrote in an analysis published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In Belarus, the field camps that housed several thousand Wagner troops after the mutiny have shrunk following Prigozhin’s death. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said they could be offered contracts with his military.

Other Wagner forces could return to Ukraine under the auspices of Russia’s National Guard, according to messaging app channels linked to the mercenary group, although there is no official confirmation of such a plan.

PRIGOZHIN FOES STILL IN POWER — FOR NOW The military leaders Prigozhin cursed and castigated in profane videos last spring — Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov — remain in power and have effectively secured their positions despite his calls for their ouster.

“Shoigu and Gerasimov seem very much to have won,” said Mark Galeotti, a London-based Russia expert who heads the consulting firm Mayak Intelligence. “Their position was saved precisely by Prigozhin’s mutiny.”

He noted that while Shoigu and Gerasimov were “phenomenally unpopular figures within the military” and widely blamed for mishandling the war, they also are very useful to the Kremlin as a “lightning rod, attracting all the criticism, rather than Putin himself.”

Shoigu attended Putin's talks this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and accompanied Kim as he inspected Russia's nuclear-capable strategic bombers and a warship on a visit that fueled Western concerns of a possible deal for Moscow to tap Pyongyang's huge munitions arsenals for use in Ukraine.

Gen. Sergei Surovikin, whom Prigozhin had mentioned as a possible replacement for Gerasimov, vanished from public view after the mutiny and eventually was dismissed as air force chief after a two-month investigation into his possible connection to the mutiny — a sign authorities worked methodically to uproot any dissent in the ranks.

Shoigu and Gerasimov also removed other senior officers who appeared too ambitious or defiant, including Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, commander of the 58th army in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region who was dismissed after speaking out about challenges faced by his troops amid Kyiv's counteroffensive.

Surovikin was appointed air defense coordinator for the Commonwealth of Independent States, an alliance of former Soviet nations. While it's a token job with no power or influence and clearly a humiliating demotion, the fact he wasn't booted from the military altogether signaled the investigation hadn’t implicated him in any serious wrongdoing.

Earlier this month, Surovikin was seen in Algeria as part of a Russian military delegation.

Galeotti emphasized that despite the demotion, Surovikin has kept his rank. If Putin reshuffles the military leadership, he might return with a senior job.

“Surovikin is now in a position in which he has no power and no prestige but also no responsibilities. He can’t screw things up,” Galeotti said in a recent podcast.

A successor to Shoigu could make Surovikin a new chief of the General Staff, he said, adding: “They don’t have many truly able figures.”


Syrians Feel Growing Pressure from Türkiye’s Anti-Migrant Political Wave 

People stroll at the main shopping and pedestrian street of Istiklal which is decorated with Turkish flags to mark the Victory Day, in Istanbul, Türkiye August 30, 2023. (Reuters)
People stroll at the main shopping and pedestrian street of Istiklal which is decorated with Turkish flags to mark the Victory Day, in Istanbul, Türkiye August 30, 2023. (Reuters)
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Syrians Feel Growing Pressure from Türkiye’s Anti-Migrant Political Wave 

People stroll at the main shopping and pedestrian street of Istiklal which is decorated with Turkish flags to mark the Victory Day, in Istanbul, Türkiye August 30, 2023. (Reuters)
People stroll at the main shopping and pedestrian street of Istiklal which is decorated with Turkish flags to mark the Victory Day, in Istanbul, Türkiye August 30, 2023. (Reuters)

Anti-migrant sentiment, economic woes and political pressures are leading some of the 3.3 millions Syrians living in Türkiye to plan a return to Syria or seek shelter in Europe, according to migrants interviewed by Reuters.

They are concerned that rhetoric against migrants may rear up in campaigning for March local elections, echoing efforts to tap into nationalist sentiments during May's general elections.

Many of those now living in Istanbul face a more immediate worry - authorities' Sept. 24 deadline for them to leave the city if they are registered in other Turkish provinces.

One 32-year-old Syrian said he is saving up to pay smugglers and plans to go to Belgium. Hardship caused by Türkiye’s rampant inflation and anti-migrant rhetoric motivated his decision.

"We are blamed and scapegoated for the worsening economy. Discrimination is rising. It is becoming impossible for us to live here," he told Reuters, declining to give his name for security reasons.

The 32-year-old is among those affected by Sunday's deadline because he was registered in southeastern Sanliurfa province.

According to rights groups, racist violence against Syrians is increasing and authorities have adopted a tougher policy on migrants not registered in Istanbul, stoking migrants' fears.

Another Syrian man, a 33-year-old teacher, said he could no longer afford to live in Türkiye after 10 years spent in Istanbul with his two children, with his expenses exceeding his income.

"I decided to return to Syria because of the bad financial situation in Türkiye. I know the situation is bad in Syria too but here it's worse for me," he said, declining to be named.

It was not possible to quantify the number of Syrians currently planning to leave for Europe or return to Syria.

Türkiye is home to 3.3 million Syrians with temporary protection permits, according to Turkish authorities. Istanbul has the highest Syrian population with more than 532,000.

While Syrians were assigned to provinces throughout Türkiye, many went to Istanbul due to more job opportunities. Authorities said it was unclear how many such people there were in the city.

Deadline to move

Adem Maarastawi, a 29-year-old Syrian activist working in Istanbul, is registered in central Türkiye’s Kirsehir province.

As Sept. 24 approaches, he fears being sent to Kirsehir.

"I struggled to build a life here. How can I rebuild my life from scratch in another city?" he said, adding that he looked for a job in more than 30 cities before settling in Istanbul.

Experts believe anti-migrant sentiment will dominate opposition campaigning for the March votes, as it did in the May elections, and worry this could lead to more physical and verbal violence against migrants including more social media hostility.

"Anti-migrant rhetoric is likely to rise before the March elections," said Deniz Sert, associate professor of international relations at Ozyegin University.

Local government expert Ali Mert Tascier said opposition parties are likely to use anti-migrant rhetoric, with municipalities being the main players in managing migrants.

During campaigning for the May elections, the main opposition CHP vowed to send Syrians back. It declined to comment on its migration perspective for the local votes.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been fiercely critical of the opposition's stance, telling a conference this week that Türkiye’s hosting of refugees would continue unchanged.

However, ahead of the May elections, Erdogan played up his plans to repatriate a million Syrian refugees.

"We will continue to pursue our voluntary return policy. It is, however, inappropriate to use migrants for political gain," said Osman Nuri Kabaktepe, Istanbul head of Erdogan's AK Party.

But Maarastawi said he feared such campaigning would lead to a deterioration in the situation for migrants.

"I believe everything will just worsen for us as a result of more populist discourse during the local elections," he said.


After the Earthquake in Morocco, Tourists Grapple With the Ethics of Travel

A damaged hotel in the town of Moulay Brahim, about 45 miles south of Marrakesh. Credit...Tiago Petinga/EPA, via Shutterstock
A damaged hotel in the town of Moulay Brahim, about 45 miles south of Marrakesh. Credit...Tiago Petinga/EPA, via Shutterstock
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After the Earthquake in Morocco, Tourists Grapple With the Ethics of Travel

A damaged hotel in the town of Moulay Brahim, about 45 miles south of Marrakesh. Credit...Tiago Petinga/EPA, via Shutterstock
A damaged hotel in the town of Moulay Brahim, about 45 miles south of Marrakesh. Credit...Tiago Petinga/EPA, via Shutterstock

By Ceylan Yeginsu

Some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations — Türkiye, Greece, Hawaii and, now, Morocco — have been ravaged by disaster this year, with earthquakes, wildfires and floods razing entire towns and villages, killing residents, and destroying or damaging cultural monuments. The series of catastrophic events has left many tourists in a conundrum over how to respond.

Those already in a country in the wake of a disaster debate whether they should stay or leave. Those with upcoming trips wonder if they should cancel. Can they and the revenue they bring in be of any real help, or will they be a burden? How appropriate is it to let tourism go on while a nation is in a state of collective mourning and rescue efforts are underway?

There are no easy answers, travel experts say.

Each disaster’s impact is unique, and while travelers are advised to follow the guidance of government officials in the aftermath of such events, local communities don’t always agree on the best course of action. After the Maui wildfires destroyed much of the town of Lahaina in August, killing at least 115 people, residents on the island, which depends on tourist dollars, clashed over the decision to allow tourism to continue while locals grieved for all that was lost.

In Morocco, however, where a powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Atlas Mountains southwest of Marrakesh on Friday, killing thousands, the outlook is more unified. With the high tourism season underway and most of the destruction affecting rural areas far from tourist hot spots, many locals are eager for foreign visitors to keep coming so that they can support the economy and bring in funds for relief efforts.

“After Covid, the abandonment of tourists would be terrible for Marrakesh, where so many resources come from tourism,” said Mouna Anajjar, the editor in chief of I Came for Couscous, a local feature magazine. “Directly or indirectly, all the inhabitants are linked to this resource and would be terribly affected.”

Here’s what travelers faced with the prospect of visiting a country where devastation has struck should think about.

Is the place open for tourism?

Check official government guidance and local media reports to assess the situation on the ground. When the deadly wildfires swept through parts of Maui last month, the local authorities urged tourists to stay home. So far, the Moroccan government hasn’t issued any statements beyond the status of rescue efforts, and the country’s tourism office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The British Foreign Office advised its citizens planning to travel to the country to check with their tour providers about any disruptions.

While the US State Department has not updated its travel advisory to Morocco, it is a good idea to check the website before traveling to any country that has been struck by disaster.

Establish exactly where the disaster hit and which areas have been affected. When Greece was ravaged by wildfires in July and thousands of tourists were evacuated from the islands of Rhodes and Corfu, many tourists canceled their vacations, even those traveling to unaffected areas. The Greek tourism minister issued a response, highlighting that the majority of the country, including parts of the affected islands, remained safe for tourists.

When the earthquake struck Morocco on Friday, it was felt in many popular tourist destinations, including Marrakesh and the towns of Imsouane and Essaouira, but most of the damage is concentrated close to the epicenter in Al Haouz Province. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, most Morocco tours were canceled as operators scrambled to make critical safety assessments, making sure that all their clients and staff were accounted for and that tourists were not hindering rescue efforts.

But now, having established that the damage is localized in rural areas and following government guidance, most tours are up and running with some amended itineraries. Hotels have largely been unaffected, according to Morocco’s hotel association.

“There are areas inside the Marrakesh medina that have been damaged, some historical monuments are closed, but most areas inside the cities are totally OK to be visited,” said Zina Bencheikh, the managing director of Intrepid Travel’s Europe, Middle East and Africa operations, who was born in Marrakesh.

“The majority of the country is open, with airports, schools, hotels, shops and restaurants operating as normal under the shock of the incident.”

Intrepid Travel had 600 customers in Morocco on the night of the earthquake, and only 17 have cut their trips short. TUI, Europe’s largest travel operator, said that some of its itineraries were under review, but that the majority of its guests had decided to stay on after the company carried out safety inspections and chose to support keeping Morocco open.

As a tourist, will I be a burden on local communities?

When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern Türkiye in February, Turkish Airlines, the country’s national carrier, canceled dozens of flights across the country to open up resources for rescue efforts. During the Maui wildfires, airlines also canceled flights to Hawaii so that they could use the planes to fly passengers back to the mainland. Most of West Maui is still closed to tourists but is expected to reopen on Oct. 8.

In Morocco, the hardest-hit areas in the Atlas Mountains are currently cordoned off as rescue efforts are underway, and tourists are not advised to go into those areas. But tourism activities are encouraged in other areas of the country that haven’t been affected.

Hafida Hdoubane, a guide based in Marrakesh who takes visitors on hiking and trekking excursions, urged visitors to come, arguing that the danger from the earthquake had long passed and that the authorities in Marrakesh were carefully cordoning off any buildings showing signs of damage.

She said those who called to cancel their expeditions felt uneasy about vacationing in a country that had just experienced such devastation, but that locals did not share that view. “I think it’s best to come and show that life goes on,” she said. “What a mountain tourist can do to help is come, show that they are here and that they stand in solidarity.”

Should I change my behavior?

Most locals will not expect you to, but it is important to be receptive and mindful of the mood around you.

“The people of Morocco will say don’t switch Morocco off,” said Ms. Bencheikh of Intrepid Travel.

Ángel Esquinas, the regional director of the Barceló Hotel Group, which has properties in Marrakesh, Casablanca and Fez, said there was no immediate need for tourists to cut their trips short unless they felt it necessary.

“It is absolutely acceptable for tourists to continue with their planned activities, such as going on tours, lounging by the pool or enjoying nightlife. Morocco remains a vibrant and welcoming destination,” he said. “However, we encourage visitors to be mindful of their surroundings and exercise respect for the local communities’ particular circumstances. It’s important to strike a balance between supporting the local economy and not overwhelm the community.”

Cassandra Karinsky, a co-founder of Plus-61, a popular restaurant in Marrakesh, said she reopened a day after the earthquake to provide an environment for locals to unite at a difficult time. “We’ve had a lot of cancellations, but we’re coming together now to raise money and support our local communities and it’s starting to get busy again.”

She said the mood was more somber than usual and people were still in shock, but that tourists were mindful and respectful of locals.

“People still need to eat, and every day there’s a more optimistic atmosphere to come together to help and move forward,” she said.

What can I do to help?

Visiting a country can be a big support to disaster relief efforts, as many locals depend on tourism revenue for their livelihoods. In Morocco, tourism accounts for 7.1 percent of the gross domestic product and is a crucial source of income for low- to middle-income families. Many restaurants and hotels have started funding campaigns to help their employees and their families in the most affected areas.

You can donate to some of the aid organizations like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies that are responding to the disaster. And Intrepid Foundation, the travel company’s charity, has begun an earthquake appeal campaign for Morocco to support efforts to provide food, shelter, clean water and medical assistance to local communities.

The New York Times


Libya Flood Survivors Endure Unbearable Wait for Missing Relatives

This picture taken on September 19, 2023 shows a view of mud-covered furniture in the house of Mohamed Badr, 23, a survivor of the flooding who lost his brother and whose house was engulfed with mud in the recent deadly flash floods in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (AFP)
This picture taken on September 19, 2023 shows a view of mud-covered furniture in the house of Mohamed Badr, 23, a survivor of the flooding who lost his brother and whose house was engulfed with mud in the recent deadly flash floods in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (AFP)
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Libya Flood Survivors Endure Unbearable Wait for Missing Relatives

This picture taken on September 19, 2023 shows a view of mud-covered furniture in the house of Mohamed Badr, 23, a survivor of the flooding who lost his brother and whose house was engulfed with mud in the recent deadly flash floods in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (AFP)
This picture taken on September 19, 2023 shows a view of mud-covered furniture in the house of Mohamed Badr, 23, a survivor of the flooding who lost his brother and whose house was engulfed with mud in the recent deadly flash floods in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (AFP)

In Libya's flood-hit city of Derna, the Mediterranean Sea breeze mixes with the nauseating stench of human remains buried under the mud-caked rubble.

Ten days after a tsunami-scale flash flood ripped through the coastal city, razing entire neighborhoods, many of the traumatized survivors are still waiting to learn the fate of missing relatives.

Few of them have any hope of seeing their loved ones alive.

Bodies are still trapped inside shattered buildings and below the mountains of mud now turning into choking dust, as emergency response crews keep up their grim search.

Untold numbers of people were swept away by the raging waters and into the sea when two upstream dams burst late at night after Storm Daniel's torrential rains lashed the area on September 10.

Hundreds of bodies have since washed back onto the shores.

The official death toll stands at more than 3,300 -- but the eventual count is expected to be far higher, with international aid groups giving estimates of up to 10,000 people missing.

Entire families have vanished, said Derna resident Mohamad Badr as he was clearing his house of mud and trying to salvage what furniture and household items he could.

"The Bouzid family, the Fachiani family, the Khalidi family, these are entire families," the 23-year-old man told AFP, his hands and clothes stained with mud.

"There is no one left."

'Neighbors screamed'

On the flat roof of his house, he and five other workers have placed sofas, cushions, curtains, clothes, an exercise treadmill and electrical equipment.

"God knows if they still work," Badr said.

Emotion overtook him when he recounted how he survived the flood night that brought him "more than one nightmare".

"I heard a lot of screaming," he said. "It was neighbors who screamed until they died."

"It was dark and there was no one" to help them, he said.

When the muddy waters came crashing into the family home, Badr clung to an air conditioner fixed just below the ceiling.

Very quickly he could barely keep his head above water, and then the A/C unit broke off the wall.

Badr was able to cling onto a floating couch for the next few hours, until the waters gradually receded.

"My brother died after bleeding for hours from an arm injury," said Badr.

His parents, three children and sister-in-law survived, but he has had no news of his uncles and their families.

Thirty-two of his relatives are missing after their building was reduced to rubble that remains inaccessible.

"Maybe their bodies were found and no one was able to identify them," said Badr.

Mass graves

In the first days after the disaster, rescue teams and volunteers hastily buried hundreds of unidentified bodies in mass graves.

DNA samples were taken in the hopes they could be identified later, authorities said.

Elsewhere in the shattered city, Mahmud Erqiq, 50, has been offering drinking water and refreshments to the rescue workers.

With misty eyes, he also listed the names of neighboring families of whom he has had no news.

"The Karaz family, the Bou Chatila family, the Ghariani family, the Snidel family, the Tashani family..."

The day after the floods, he said, "I recovered 20 bodies in my neighborhood".

Erqiq's apartment, located on an upper floor, was spared, but he lost the metal workshop that was his livelihood.

Standing nearby was Miloud Boussertia, still visibly in shock after losing 25 family members.

"Our building collapsed. There were 25 people inside and they all died," said the 40-year-old who happened to be away from home when the disaster struck.

Boussertia said he lost "up to 70" members of his extended family in the city.

He has stuck close to the rescue teams. "As soon as they find a body, we come and open the body bag," he said.

But even this no longer brings certainty, added Boussertia, because at this stage often "the features are no longer recognizable".


Left Behind and Grieving, Survivors of Libya Floods Call for Accountability

The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city of Derna - AP
The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city of Derna - AP
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Left Behind and Grieving, Survivors of Libya Floods Call for Accountability

The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city of Derna - AP
The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city of Derna - AP

Abdel-Hamid al-Hassadi survived the devastating flooding in eastern Libya, but he lost some 90 people from his extended family.

The 23-year-old law graduate rushed upstairs along with his mother and his elder brother, as heavy rains lashed the city of Derna on the evening of Sept. 10. Soon, torrents of water were washing away buildings next to them.

“We witnessed the magnitude of the catastrophe,” al-Hassadi said in a phone interview, referring to the massive flooding that engulfed his city. “We have seen our neighbors’ dead bodies washing away in the floods."

Heavy rains from Mediterranean storm Daniel caused the collapse of the two dams that spanned the narrow valley that divides the city. That sent a wall of water several meters high through its heart.

Ten days after the disaster, al-Hassadi and thousands of others remain in Derna, most of them waiting for a word about relatives and loved ones. For Hassadi, it's the 290 relatives still missing.

The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city, officials say. Thousands of people were killed, with many dead bodies still under the rubble or at sea, according to search teams. Government officials and aid agencies have given varied death tolls.

The World Health Organization says a total of 3,958 deaths have been registered in hospitals, but a previous death toll given by the head of Libya's Red Crescent said at least 11,300 were killed. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says at least 9,000 people are still missing.

Bashir Omar, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the fatalities are in the thousands, but he didn’t give a specific toll for the number of retrieved bodies, since there are many groups involved in the recovery effort.

Many Derna residents, including women and children, are spending all their time at collection points of bodies. They are desperate to know who is inside body bags carried by ambulances.

Inside a school in the western part of the city, authorities posted photos of the retrieved bodies.

Anas Aweis, a 24-year-old resident, lost two brothers and is still searching for his father and four cousins. He went to the Ummul Qura school in the Sheiha neighborhood to inspect the exhibited photos.

“It’s chaos,” The Associated Press quoted Aweis saying, after spending two hours waiting in lines. “We want to know where they buried them if they died."

The floods have displaced at least 40,000 people in eastern Libya, including 30,000 in Derna, according to the UN’s migration agency. Many have moved to other cities across Libya, hosted by local communities or sheltered in schools. There are risks to staying, including potential infection by waterborne diseases.

Rana Ksaifi, assistant chief of mission in Libya for the UN's refugee agency, said the floods have left “unfathomable levels of destruction,” and triggered new waves of displacement in the already conflict-stricken nation.

The houseplants on the rooftop of Abdul Salam Anwisi's building survived the waters that reached up to his 4th-floor apartment. Anwisi's and a few other families rode out the deluge on the roof, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. They thought they wouldn't live to see daylight. Now, as he sifts through the water-damaged debris of his home, it's unclear what comes next.

Others across the country are calling for Libya's leaders to be taken to task.

Hundreds of angry protesters gathered Monday outside Derna’s main mosque, criticizing the government's lack of preparation and response. They lashed out at the political class that controls the oil-rich nation since the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The North African country plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed Gadhafi. For most of the past decade, Libya has been split between two rival administrations: one in the west backed by an array of lawless militias and armed groups, a second in the east, allied with the self-styled Libyan National Army, commanded by Gen. Khalifa Hafter. Neither government tolerates dissent.

Derna, as well as east and most of south Libya, is controlled by Hafter’s forces. However, funds for municipalities and other government agencies are controlled by the rival government in the capital, Tripoli.

Al-Hassadi, the law graduate, blamed local authorities for giving conflicting warnings to residents, leaving many defenseless. They asked residents to evacuate areas along the Mediterranean coast, but at the same time, they imposed a curfew, preventing people from leaving their homes.

“It was a mistake to impose a curfew," he said.

The dams, Abu Mansour and Derna, were built by a Yugoslav construction company in the 1970s. They were meant to protect the city against heavy flooding, but years of no maintenance meant they were unable to keep the exceptional influx of water at bay.

Many Libyans are now calling for an international investigation and supervision of aid funds.

“All are corrupt here ... without exception,” said rights activist Tarik Lamloum.