Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Each rock has two names: In Nagorno-Karabakh

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, 17 June 2021

When one nation asserts that its history has primacy over its neighbour’s, disputes arise over who has the rightful claim to a territory. Each mountaintop, river or valley can mean different things to different peoples. Or, as one Azerbaijani I know says: in Karabakh each rock has two names. In both Armenia and Azerbaijan, writers constructed an ethnonational narrative that aspired to negate the existence of the other country, or at least to assign it the role of newcomer in the region. This approach would eventually provide the justification for the violence in the streets. Armenian writers pointed to Armenian churches and monasteries in Karabakh as proof of an uninterrupted presence in the area. They dismissed the term ‘Azerbaijan’ as a modern political label and exaggerated Turkish influences: although the Azerbaijani language is Turkic, the people are predominantly Shia with heavy Persian influences. But Azerbaijani Shiism is much milder than the Iranian variant, tempered by 170 years of Russian and then Soviet secular rule.

The Baghdad Road: In and Out of Mosul

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, 4 May 2017

For the last three years, Ali and his men and fellow officers in the Iraqi Special Operations Forces have been living like modern-day nomads. Once a neighbourhood is liberated, they move into abandoned civilian houses and set up camp. When the frontline shifts they move with it and change houses, sometimes every night, but often they find themselves stuck in the same house for weeks. Whether in mud huts in villages with no running water, in villas with nice décor and expansive gardens or in brick houses in the narrow alleyways of provincial towns, they build their temporary nests, moving into the beds of a family that has just joined a caravan of refugees, replacing the stinking blankets they have brought from a previous house with fresh ones. They talk about girls, drinking Grey Goose, and their wives and children back home.

A Kurdish friend of mine in Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq recently posted an image of a hand-drawn diagram on his Facebook page. With little arrows and stick figures and pictures of a train and boat or two, the diagram shows how to get from Turkey to the German border in twenty easy steps. After you’ve made the thousand-mile trip to western Turkey, the journey proper begins with a taxi to Izmir on the coast. An arrow points to the next stage: a boat across the Aegean to ‘a Greek island’, costing between €950 and €1200. Another boat takes you to Athens.

Diary: In Sanaa

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, 21 May 2015

Early last year, the Houthis, followers of a revivalist anti-Western cleric, moved out of their northern highlands and marched south towards Sanaa, promising to end corruption, to fight al-Qaida, challenge US hegemony – al-Qaida and the Americans were allies in the subjugation of Muslims, they said – and raise Yemenis out of poverty and powerlessness into a shining and more dignified future. In 2011 President Saleh had been toppled to be replaced by his deputy, the aloof Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had allowed the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood to control many offices of state.

Diary: The Turkish Left

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, 8 August 2013

When at the end of May protesters in Istanbul began their occupation of Gezi Park, to stop its planned transformation into a mall, they also built barricades on the streets surrounding it. Some of the barricades were ad hoc structures: plant pots, rubbish bins, paving slabs and an occasional street sign, assembled hastily at night and lost to the police in the morning. Others were more permanent: urban fortifications made from burned-out vehicles, metal sheeting propped up against rubble from construction sites, reinforced by iron rods.

In the cramped living room of a run-down flat near the Aleppo frontline, two Syrian rebels sat opposite each other. The one on the left was stout, broad-shouldered, with a neat beard that looked as though it had been outlined in sharp pencil around his throat and cheeks. His shirt and trousers were immaculately pressed and he wore brand-new military webbing – the expensive Turkish kind, not the Syrian knock-off. The rebel sitting opposite him was younger, gaunt and tired-looking. His hands were filthy and his trousers caked in mud and diesel.

Diary: In Somalia

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, 3 November 2011

After three years of drought thousands of colourful tents made with sticks and branches wrapped in plastic sheets and bits of cloth have sprung up among Mogadishu’s destroyed buildings. Over the summer and early autumn tens of thousands of starving Somalis entered the city. Now the refugees fill the shells of long-defunct ministries, gather in the shade of the roofless cathedral and stand under the parliament building like worshippers seeking a miracle. They appear in the streets in tattered clothing, holding bundles on their oversized heads, carrying yellow jerrycans and babies on their backs.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: Nowhere in the article do I refer to Armenians, Azerbaijanis or any other ethnic group using racist or derogatory language. Nor do I single out any ethnic group and accuse them of looting, war crimes, genocide or anything else. These are acts committed by individuals, not nations. The looting of the towns of Agdam, Fizuli and Jabrayil was to a large extent the work of profiteering...

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