Dana Tai Soon Burgess, Smithsonian’s First Choreographer In Residence

For this initial step into Mixed Feelings and podcasting, I speak with Dana Tai Soon Burgess - who is one of the calmest and humble individuals I’ve ever met, despite also being incredibly cool. Like, he’s the Smithsonian’s first choreographer in residence - how neat is that? Listen on! (full transcript below) 

Here's a breakdown of the interview questions and his answers. Jump on!

1. Where did you grow up? -- 1:57

2. What’s your first memory of Santa Fe? -- 2:49

3. What kinds of activities did you do as a child? -- 3:18

4. How long did you do martial arts for? -- 5:43

5. Why did you stop martial arts? -- 6:03

6. Were you a part of the Asian-American, Korean-American community at all? -- 8:22

7. Where did you go to school, and what did you end up studying? -- 9:08

8. I noticed that you used Amerasian to describe one of the artists you met and that now you just used American-Asian. What do those two terms mean for you? Do they mean something different? -- 11:05

9. So for you, you feel most comfortable with Amerasian? Or American-Asian? -- 12:48

Discussion: The Smithsonian -- 13:30

10. What does [hapa haole] (half Hawaiian) mean for you? -- 14:13

11. Have you ever been to Hawaii? Have you ever been to Korea? How do those experiences compare – do they compare? -- 16:05

12. How old were you the first time you went to Korea? -- 17:50

13. What prompted you to go to [Korea]? -- 18:04

14. Would you do that again? If you could tell younger Dana, would you encourage him to go on that trip? -- 19:11

15. Do you think that kind of trip is worthwhile? To go retrace your ancestry/heritage? -- 19:20

16. Have you ever been to the Philippines? -- 19:47

17. Where else have you been [in Asia]? -- 19:56

18. Were you there for dance things, or were you there as a cultural ambassador? -- 20:20

Discussion: Current art projects -- 20:20

19. Is [the National Portrait Gallery] that where we can see you and/or company perform next? -- 23:23

20. How long have you been in DC? -- 23:38

21. What brought you to DC? -- 23:50

22. What makes DC a good city for dance? -- 25:07

23. Did you find that DC was a good city for exploring your identity, as an Asian-American? -- 25:52

Discussion: Outdoor, summertime DC activities -- 26:45

TFull transcript

[00:00:00] Kalila Dahm (KD): Hey, welcome to Mixed Feelings, a multimedia series about mixed race identity, premiering on Shout! My name is Kalila Dahm, the creator of this series. Kalila is Arabic. It’s not a name that’s passed down generationally as I’m not Middle Eastern; my parents saw it in a baby book they bought from Zellers (which was like a Canadian Target) and liked it.  My first middle name is Biblically inspired, and my second middle name is Spanish.

[00:00:35] KD: My last name, Dahm, is German. And I’m half Filipino, but fully Canadian.

[00:00:45] KD: I’ve never not confused people, which I guess has left people feeling entitled enough to an answer, to know precisely what it is that I am -- as though I’m an animal in a zoo. I know I’m not the only mixed kid out there who feels this way. And so, after two decades of frustration, confusion, objectification and otherness, I pitched Mixed Feelings. For this initial step into Mixed Feelings and podcasting, I speak with Dana Tai Soon Burgess - who is one of the calmest and humble individuals I’ve ever met, despite also being incredibly cool. Like, he’s the Smithsonian’s first choreographer in residence - how neat is that? Psst - You can catch his dance company, the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company on Saturday July 8, premiering a new dance: After 1001 Nights at the National Portrait Gallery. I’ll be there too.

[00:01:49] KD: I'll be there. Anyway, I’m done. Here’s Dana.

[00:01:56] Dana Tai Soon Burgess (DTSB): I grew up was a very small child in Carmel California. And then my parents moved to Santa Fe New Mexico when I was about five years old.

[00:02:07] DTSB: Growing up in Santa Fe It was like being thrown into this amazing multicultural mix all of a sudden because it went from California public schools to Santa Fe public schools which were at that time bilingual.

[00:02:28] DTSB: So it meant that I went to school suddenly and most of the day in Spanish with a mixture of English.

[00:02:36] DTSB: So that was a completely different experience for me.

[00:02:41] What, I’m kind of curious now, we’re gonna start to veer, this is more just for me, but what’s your first memory of Santa Fe?

[00:02:50] DTSB: Well I remember being very much in a rural, desert environment and being able to explore the landscape by myself as a child you know just walking and walking for miles and learning how to maneuver through landscape.

[00:03:09] KD: So I guess you spent a lot of time outdoors. What else did you do as a child, when you were growing up what you what kind of activities were you drawn to?

[00:03:17] DTSB: When I was growing up, both my parents were both visual artists and I really wanted to be engaged in arts as well. And I knew that visual arts wasn't my calling. So when I was, I guess maybe 10 or 11, I asked my parents if I could learn to play the piano. So I got in a car with my dad and I thought that I was going to take piano lessons.

[00:03:48] DTSB: And sure enough, like, he dropped me off at this martial arts dojo and that was actually the first day of my karate classes -- which I actually loved and I ended up becoming a competitive martial artist within the Southwest region all the way up into my late teens.

[00:04:05] KD: That's amazing. That sounds like a horrible trick to play on not a kid but that sounds like a wonderful way to get into that.

[00:04:14] DTSB: Well I think my father knew that that connection of mind body with lead me to my artistic journey and what was so neat about that Dojo or that karate school in Santa Fe which is right off of Canyon Road which is sort of the biggest arts road to this day and in Santa Fe where there's so many calories was that it was connected to a project about Souter. So when we weren't in the dojo actually practicing, we'd be outside sitting with the Tibetan monks having really fascinating conversations. So it was a it was an introduction to metaphysics and physicality and discipline.

[00:04:58] KD: That sounds, again amazing, just that. So, to my understanding, it was just a strip of road where there’s just a strip of road where there’s just a booming New Mexican art scene, and then a dojo… at the end of it, essentially.

[00:05:15] DTSB: Well it was kind of right at the beginning of it actually, there was a dojo that was connected to a Project Tibet centre. And it was shaped in, maybe an octagon? It was a very unusual building with multiple sides and a centre courtyard of gravel and it was really… you can’t make this stuff up. –Laughter-

[00:05:30] DTSB: And the building is still there actually, I visit it every once and a while.

[00:05:38] KD: OK, awesome. How long did you do martial arts for?

[00:05:44] DTSB: I did martial arts for about 10 years. I can't remember exactly, but about 10 years. And I competed all over, and I'm still friends with my original karate instructor as well.

[00:05:55] KD: This isn’t on here, and maybe we don’t have to answer it, but why did you stop doing martial arts?

[00:06:04] DTSB: I stopped doing martial arts because I was just growing up into this teenager that was looking for my evenings off, to look for excitement and challenge the world.

[00:06:26] DTSB: And I also think that I got to a point where I knew that it wasn't somehow feeding the next level of growth for me. And that's when I discovered dance, and it all made sense to me because there is this discipline, there's a physicality, there's a focus but then there's a creative artistic process and that was the missing link.

[00:06:46] DTSB: Oh it's funny. I remember taking this dance class and in Santa Fe with one of my friends. And it's just modern dance improv class and I just remember thinking these teachers absolutely nothing no idea what they're talking about.

[00:07:01] DTSB: But it was so odd that I thought, “Oh. I've got to figure out what this thing called dance is, what is modern dance,” you know? And I think it was interesting because growing up there, in the time period that I did -- it was a very conservative Catholic Hispanic community and then an American Indian community.

[00:07:26] DTSB: There was the Anglo community and then there was just this tiny Asian community and Asian-American community.

[00:07:33] DTSB: So I think I often felt like an outsider in a lot of different places. So what was great was to learn the language of movement and dance that I could communicate what is really kind of going on within my interior world. And that's I think what I continue to do is create these emotional landscapes to express ideas and concepts and people's stories and historical stories of them.

[00:08:05] KD: I’m so fond of everything you’re saying!

[00:08:11] KD: So you grew up so there is a small Asian-American community was it but was it a Korean-American community… like how was that? Were you part of it?

[00:08:23] DTSB: Well I come from a really large Korean-American family. But my mom was the first one from that side of my family to move to what we called the mainland of America.

[00:08:39] DTSB: And so she went to art school at Cranbrook University - Cranbrook Academy of Art and that's where she met my father. So she left Hawaii where she grew up and moved to the mainland and remained on most of my relatives. To this day I have stayed in Hawaii vs. him.

[00:08:58] KD: Where did you go to school, and what did you end up studying?

[00:09:09] DTSB: Well, there are a couple things. It's funny, I almost have to go backwards a little bit.

[00:09:13] DTSB: My father was, as I was saying, a visual artist as well. And he had a degree he did in Oriental Studies, when it was called Oriental Studies, from Yale and spoke multiple languages. He spoke Chinese, German, French and English. And then there's my mom who is Korean-American. So there were a lot of different like languages and concepts and exciting talk around the table with other artists that were going on.

[00:09:43] DTSB: So I distinctly remember that Issam Magucci was the first Amerasian that I met at dinner. And when I was a child just looking at him and thinking. “Oh there are people that like look like me up there right.”

[00:10:00] DTSB: I mean other artists and just listen to his stories of his trials and tribulations as an artist. So I think that my education, interestingly enough, came from an arts community that was very much informed by my parents’ friends.

[00:10:15] DTSB: And secondarily I was in New Mexico schools and dropped out of high school… wait, did I drop out?

[00:10:28] DTSB: I graduated from high school early.

[00:10:30] DTSB: I did concurrent enrollment in college at University New Mexico and then I left college to dance professionally and then went back to finish the degree and I really enjoyed my time at University New Mexico and then I received a MFA from George Washington University.

[00:10:47] KD: Oh cool. That's very cool.

[00:10:50] KD: Thank you. Appreciate that. So I noticed that you use, you used, Amerasian to describe one of the artists that you met, and that earlier you also said American-Asian. What do those two terms mean for you, do they mean something different?

[00:11:06] DTSB: Yeah. You know it's funny how… The way we use language to define the way people define themselves I guess just changes over time.

[00:11:21] DTSB: So… Say, 30 years ago people were talking a lot about multiculturalism and then that became cultural equity and then cultural equity became diversity.

[00:11:37] DTSB: So there's always this changing dialogue around the concept of a culture, of race, where do people belong, who am I, who are my people. And so that changes.

[00:11:49] DTSB: So there are all these different words that, you know, describe individuals who are half Asian. So they're like, hapa which is you know – hapa haole which is like, a Hawaiian term where you're half Asian and half haole white. Then there's Amerasian, which you know American half Asian Eurasian have European background. But then our largest growing community are individuals who are biracial within the Asian-American community.

[00:12:20] DTSB: So I think where things get confusing is: what does the hyphen mean?  

[00:12:30] DTSB: And so it's a, it's a personal way of expressing oneself. I think you just sort of come to the language that best describes your generation where you come from who you feel you are. And sometimes in different situations that changes.

[00:12:44] KD: And so for you, you feel most comfortable with American-Indian or Amerasian?

[00:12:48] DTSB: I feel most comfortable with Asian-American. Yeah, just because there’s that hyphen in there that’s easy, you know, easy to explore and my family on my mom's side are part of the first Korean families to America that they came in 1903 and so they were displaced from Korea when Korea is being closed off by the Japanese in the early 1900s and ended up working on the plantations of Hawaii.

[00:13:22] DTSB: And that's where you can sort of find the earliest Korean-American community there.

[00:13:27] DTSB: So that's kind of fascinating. So our archives now is actually at the American History Museum. So this is in our family archives there.

[00:13:40] KD: Yeah that’s super cool! So you’re like, super attached to the Smithsonian in multiple ways then?

[00:13:44] KD: Oh yeah. I love the Smithsonian. I mean it's great that we have so many multiple perspectives that are house to just show the diversity of America. To show all these different points of view.

[00:13:58] DTSB: It's really great. And the world itself. I mean look again how incredible are all of the world. Is that something House is just using. I know what is so great to go just like hang out there.

[00:14:10] KD: They’re air conditioned too, it is just wonderful. Yeah. I also noticed that you used the word hapa haole?

[00:14:21] KD: And if I’m correct in remembering it’s Hawaiian and Asian?

[00:14:27] KD: Hapa just means half. So in Hawaii you’d just say, “Oh, he’s hapa. Oh, he’s half.”

[00:14:33] KD: OK. What does that term mean for you?

[00:14:36] KD: I mean, again, these all stray from the interview questions I sent you. So if you're not comfortable, like I totally understand.

[00:14:47] DTSB: It just means I understand it because I have a Hawaii connection. Being hapa is not a bad thing, at all, it’s just a term they use, like, “Oh, he’s hapa.”

[00:14:55] KD: It's just thinking about my own experience and just like, the first time I heard mestiza,  I was like, “Oh, like they don't mean that nicely.” I was wondering if that was with you.

[00:15:05] DTSB: Well that's interesting, I have to think about that.

[00:15:08] DTSB: But when I think about the different ways that like like you're saying in terms of the software it's a threat and that's part of a whole category of the categorization of individuals that came about through calling you what some in South America which is a little bit different. And the term hapa. And what's so interesting about those terms you refer to is just the specification.

[00:15:39] DTSB: So based on skin color and by the amount of intermixing somebody had with Spanish blood etc. you know or African blood it's like it's that's it's I can see where there is you know that immediate response that you're having to it.

[00:15:57] KD:  You know, it's incredibly loaded term, even now. Yeah, unbelievable.  Have you ever been to Hawaii?

[00:16:09] DTSB: Oh yeah, many times.

[00:16:14] KD: And I take it you’ve been to Korea as well?

[00:16:13] KD: How do those experiences experiences compare? Do they compare, in terms of retracing..?

[00:16:20] DTSB: You know since my family arrived in 1983 what my oral family histories are that I understand and know from childhood are of a Korea that doesn't exist anymore.

[00:16:39] DTSB: So those are just time capsule. Like, the images  of Korea are like you know the old Korea Palace  the old streets. You know this the Han River and all these things but those images are wonderful stories that I keep with me because I remember hearing from my grandparents or me from grandparents but that's not the Korea of today which is so cutting edge. So on the move like constantly changing you know if I am not in Korea like over to your time span or something the next time I go there I can't recognize anything because it's just changing so quickly. So when I go to Korea and come back let's say if I have to go through what we are just back to my mind I think what becomes really clear is that there is an Asian-American identity. It is so different.

[00:17:38] DTSB: Like me being a Korean American is so different than me being Korean in terms of experience.

[00:17:44] KD: It's very interesting. It's super interesting. What was - How old were you the first time you went to Korea?

[00:17:56] DTSB: Maybe 20, I think.  Maybe 21.

[00:18:03] OK. OK. Yeah. What was that,  do you remember what it was like? Like what prompted you to go?

[00:18:04] DTSB: Yeah, there was a dance festival there.

[00:18:06] DTSB: So I went and then the next time I went I was teaching master classes I think at a university for summer program and then I’ve been there  multiple times for different trips a lot of times coming back through Asia from other performing or choreographic workshops.

[00:18:29] DTSB: I think it was.. I think it was so long ago but I remember just feeling like I'm looking for that old Korea that I had heard about and that was sort of it was great to be there. It was amazing to explore for the first time but it was also a little bit of a mourning process.

[00:18:53 DTSB:] And then really realizing that some of the things I had heard about didn't exist anymore.

[00:19:01] KD: So would you would you do that again if you could tell the younger Dana or would you would you encourage him to go on, to go on a trip?

[00:19:12] DTSB: Oh absolutely.

[00:19:00] KD: Do you, do you think that kind of trip is worthwhile? So, would you, would you do that again? Do you think that kind of trip is worthwhile? To go retrace your your ancestors. Yeah absolutely.

[00:19:26] KD: Just again thinking about my own experiences. I've been actively deterred from my grandparents to go to the Philippines and they said there's no way you should just get to know the Filipino community here.

[00:19:49] KD: Did you get a chance to the Philippines?

[00:19:39] DTSB: No, no, I have not. I would love to go.

[00:19:51] KD: When you were in Korea or not even in Korea but like in that where else have you been around those  areas in Asia?

[00:20:00] DTSB: Mongolia, China, Hong Kong before it was part of China, Japan…

[00:20:17] KD: Were you there for dance things? Or were you there as a cultural ambassador?

[00:20:24] DTSB: In Mongolia, We did this really great tour… It was.. So fascinating, I like loved it.

[00:20:30] DTSB: And where we taught classes and also performed. And that was great. We loved Ulaanbaatar. And I taught in Hong Kong and then was teaching in China and also toured through China because I was  doing research on the Silk Road for a project years ago there was a commission from the Kennedy Center based on the Silk Road. So that was exciting. I wanted to within that year go through different parts of the Silk Road.

[00:20:58] DTSB: So the year prior That's when I was in Pakistan and Afghanistan and or maybe within the last six months. So I went from Shian, which was just sort of like a main gates or the start of the Silk Road in China and then checked into different parts of it along the way. Yeah. It was great.

[00:21:20] DTSB: I think we underestimate how much economy, commerce has flowed back and forth between the east and the west, you know for a moment.

[00:21:30] KD: Yeah, we’re learning about that in a class that I’m taking right now actually, about the relationship between the US and China - just how long and important a relationship that is.

[00:21:44] KD: So we’ve strayed quite a bit and it’s entirely my fault. We have about 13 minutes left in the room, specifically, maybe we could try and answer some about some questions about your current art projects. So that way we can start to plug some of your own work.

[00:22:08] DTSB: Well I'm currently on the Smithsonian's first Cragg and residence and I'm working on several projects right now and one premieres on July 8 at 2 p.m. 4 p.m. National Portrait Gallery Kogod courtyard. And it's based on an important exhibition right now entitled The Face of Battle: 9/11 until  now. So it really is. Looking at the portraits and artistic interpretations of artists around individuals and veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghan wars. So so this particular dance which is for 10 dancers focuses on this concept of post-traumatic stress disorder and looks at the underlying abstract narrative. Looking back at his younger self.

[00:23:09] KD: That's really nice to know before I go and see that.. To have that background? Super cool. I guess, is that also where we can see you and/or your company perform next? At the Smithsonian?

[00:23:24] DTSB: Yeah. Yeah. July 8th the Kogod courtyard noted. And it’s free.

[00:23:36] KD:  Actually, how long have you been in DC?

[00:23:42]: DTSB: Almost 30 years for the D.C. I came to D.C. to dance professionally you know when you grow up in a small town in the Southwest essentially you have to get to either the West Coast for entertainment that's like kind of a video industry or you get to the east coast for modern dance or ballet.

[00:24:12] You don't think of that. So we're kind of a coastal driven occupation. And so I did a lot of tours up and down the East Coast and that your you know toured with companies that you get in Boston and this and that. And then I just fell in love with the city because. And one of the huge shots for me is still a place that I'm at right now and that has to do the Smithsonian and the availability of access to the free art. Yes I think that's so important and it's very unusual in any city.

[00:24:47] KD: It's not like that in Canada or like not not in Ottawa as a point of comparison all the museums today for what is once international like that. Yeah. Why don't you kind of already answered this but I wanted slightly more: What makes DC a good city for dance?

[00:25:09] DTSB: I think what makes D.C. a good city for dance is what makes D.C. a good city for many other things as well. And that's it. There's a thriving local dance scene regional dance scene an international dance scene. So there are these multiple layers of dance in the Washington region. And so those layers make a wonderful options for stepping stones to build a career and to also have a sense of home a sense of space and to build audience communities.

[00:25:43] KD: Ok cool. Did you find that D.C. was good for exploring your identity as well like as a mixed - I guess as an Asian-American. Sorry, I use mixed -  as an Asian-American.

[00:25:55] DTSB: Yeah absolutely it has. Yeah. And I think that you know D.C. has changed immensely since I moved here. It is much more diverse now and it has of course every city has a long way to go. Right. But it's definitely an exciting changing landscape where culture is appreciated and talked about.

[00:26:25] DTSB: And so I appreciate the dialogue of being with the city just makes it easier to find your people who've had similar experiences as well.

[00:26:30] KD: Yeah. So for somebody who has not been in D.C. for quite as long as anybody here. What are some of your favorite outdoor summertime activities to do here. Besides of course it's Smithsonian. That's crazy. So many of them I'm amazed are like you so much it's so cool.

[00:27:01] DTSB: Well you know I'm not a huge fan of heat humidity so but I love to do is walk very early in the morning and take long walks. And so I think just the whole the natural canopy of D.C. is amazing and being able to walk past the different memorials and sort of contemplate all these great leaders and to walk past the Lincoln memorial walk past these all of these different continents and be inspired by them. So I have to do that. And with DC also has which is amazing so many beautiful and thriving rooftop bars.

[00:27:46] DTSB: And so it's really exciting to see the sunrise and enjoy being with friends as well.

[00:27:54] KD: That sounds wonderful. And then during your morning walk, like do you go at one time specific time? In my head is just like you watch the sun rise over the Lincoln Memorial.

[00:28:12] DTSB: No, no. Usually around 7 or 8 am. I love looking through all the different neighborhoods in D.C. I love walking through my neighborhood. Yeah.

[00:28:24] KD: That's great. Do you listen to anything during that time? 

[00:28:29] DTSB: No actually, I have a walking group.

[00:28:36] KD: And - oh, this is this is actually for me more than it is for this interview. Do you have any favorite places to like grab coffee or like brunch or anything like that? Anything that you like, wrap up your walks with?

[00:28:52] DTSB: Now I mean.. I like all the different you know coffee places in the city. I mean there are so many different ones but it's I don't have one that's just my favorite here!

[00:29:05] Hey, Kalila again. Just a reminder that Dana's newest dance piece called After 1001 Nights will premier Saturday July 8th at 2 and 4 p.m. at the National Portrait Gallery. The event is free. But be sure to get there early if you want seating. Until next time, I'm Kalila Dahm. Be on the lookout for Mixed Feelings updates on bysshout dot com and Shout news on Facebook, which is also how I can be reached! Anyways. Take care.

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Pope Francis attends an audience with President of Iraq Barham Ahmed Salih at the Apostolic Palace on November 24 2018 in Vatican City Vatican (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Pope Francis to plan first ever papal trip to ​Iraq

Pope Francis said on Monday he wants to travel to Iraq next year, which would be the first ever papal trip there, Reuters reported.

Why it matters: Iraq's conflicts since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the spillover from the Syrian war have led to a dramatic decrease in the country's Christian population.

What's happening: Iraqi Christians trace their presence back to Christianity's founding, and they preserve ancient customs including the Aramaic languages, which some Christian villages in Iraq and Syria still consider their mother tongues. Caught between repressive, apathetic or hostile governments and a Sunni Islamist insurgency, Iraq's Christians have suffered persecution, death and exile.

  • Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, there were 1.5 to 2 million Christians living in Iraq.
  • Today, the number is about 200,000, according to the documentary Christian in the Mirror, which premiered in Washington, DC on June 10, 2019.

Between the lines: The first papal trip to Iraq is all but certain, despite Pope Francis' willingness. In 2000, the late Pope John Paul wanted to visit the ancient Iraqi city of Ur, traditionally held to be the birthplace of Abraham. But negotiations with the government of then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein broke down and he was unable to go, Reuters reported.

What's next: If Iraqi Christians all but disappear, the loss for Iraq goes beyond the immediate loss of life to the identity of the country. Iraq will no longer be seen as a culturally diverse society, home to ancient religions and rich cultures.

Go deeper: Syrian Christian Perspectives on the War

A general view shows the Syrian flag flying in front of the Syrian Saint Sarkis Church for Armenian Orthodox as Armenians celebrate Christmas in Damascus on January 6, 2015. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Exclusive: Syria war is driving Armenians back into exile

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Armenia sent a team of experts to Syria to help clear mines and provide medical assistance. That this team will be based in Aleppo in northern Syria is no coincidence. Before the war, Aleppo was home to 110,000 ethnic Armenians, one of the world's largest Armenian diasporas.

The big picture: About 22,000 ethnic Armenians have moved to Armenia since the start of the war in 2011. An additional 12,000 headed to Europe, America and Russia. Most are from Aleppo and some from the area controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria, Alexandre Goodarzy, the chief of mission for Syria at SOS Chrétiens d'Orient, a non-governmental organization providing relief services in Syria, told Shout! News.

Details: The neighborhood where ethnic Armenians live in Aleppo is called Midan. While in the Syrian government-controlled western Allepo, during most of the war Midan sat on the front line with rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo. But the territorial demarcation of Midan was also disputed by Kurdish armed forces on the northwest side of the neighborhood and by al Qaida's affiliated Jabhat al Nusra on the northeast side. Therefore, Midan's inhabitants were being shelled by both Kurdish forces and Jabhat al Nusra.

As a result, from all the Christian communities in Aleppo, ethnic Armenians suffered the most from shelling and bombardments.

Why it matters: Ethnic Armenian numbers decreased considerably because of the war. Their presence in Aleppo dates back many centuries. But Midan's Armenians came as a result of the genocide that took place during last century's two World Wars. There presence increased Allepo's population by 25%.

The impact: Bringing ethnic Armenians back to Syria will be a challenge, Goodarzy from SOS Chrétiens d'Orient said. They will likely not return, and those in Armenia might not stay either, because of the catastrophic economy there, he said.

A veiled woman living in alHol camp which houses relatives of Islamic State group members sits next to her child in the camp in al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria on March 28, 2019. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

These are the latest countries to repatriate their Islamic State-affiliated citizens

It is estimated that the Syrian Democratic Forces have custody of more than 9,000 foreign citizens affiliated with the Islamic State. They are from around 60 other countries.

United States

Two American women who were detained for Islamic State links in Syria have been repatriated to the U.S. together with their six children, the second such transfer between the two countries since the defeat of the terror group's caliphate, the Independent reported.


Last month, France repatriated five young children from camps in northern Syria, which are home to tens of thousands of Islamic State families, French media reported.

Why it matters: Repatriation of women and children affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has been the least controversial. Children of foreign Islamic State fighters in Syria are "among world's most vulnerable" and should be brought home, says the United Nations.

Yes, but: Government officials from the Islamic State-affiliated citizens' countries of origin worry about the security risk these children can pose. For example, the British government has so far refused to repatriate any of its citizens who went to join the Islamic State, citing security fears. Shout! News learned of similar security concerns from a Belgian diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Clockwise from top left, French nationals Vianney Ouraghi, Salim Machou, Mustapha Merzoughi, Brahim Nejara, Leonard Lopez, Yassine Sakkam, Kevin Gonot and Fodil Tahar Aouidate, all sentenced by a Baghdad court to death for joining the Islamic State. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Iraq condemns French Islamic State supporters to death

Iraqi terrorism courts sentenced 11 French citizens and one French resident to death for support of the Islamic State, the New York Times reported. The French government claimed it reiterated its opposition to capital punishment to the Iraqi government. However, prominent French defense lawyers signed a letter that blasted the government, saying it violated the constitution by risking the execution of its citizens.

Driving the news: The fate of citizens from France and other Western countries in Iraqi courts where they face the death penalty for joining the Islamic State is under scrutiny. Should those Western countries that ban capital punishment pressure Iraqi courts to try to get death sentences commuted?

Why it matters: There could be more cases to come. There are some 450 French citizens in camps in Syria who joined the Islamic State, according to France's Foreign Ministry.

What they're saying: Judge Ahmed Mohamed Ali, who heard all 12 cases, said that the French who joined the Islamic State played a special role by legitimizing the organization in the eyes of the world, and that what it did in Syria reverberated in Iraq. "[The Islamic State] wanted to be an international organization and thousands of Syrians and Iraqis joined it," Mr. Ali said. "That had an impact on Iraq." "The foreigners — the Belgians, the French — they came and created legitimacy for this organization."

Go deeper: What will the President do?

Home Secretary of the United Kingdom Sajid Javid (Getty Images)

As the Syrian conflict drags on, UK bans its citizens from Syria

Under a new law, British citizens going to terror hotspots face 10 years in jail, The Guardian reported. The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 creates a criminal offense of entering or remaining in "designated area" overseas.

The designated areas: So far, the British government has yet to identify designated areas. Asked by the House of Commons which areas were being considered, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said his designation will be subject to parliamentary debate and approval:

"Of course we are [looking at designated areas]. In anticipation of the Bill becoming an Act, we had already commenced some work on that. It would not be appropriate at this point for me to say which areas we looked at specifically—for an area to be designated, it has to come before the House and it has to be the will of the House to designate that area, and I do not want to prejudge that."

Sajid Javid

The Home Secretary later mentioned Syria, with a focus on the city of Idlib and the north-east region. It is not clear whether areas controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces will be included or not.

Details: In an explanatory note, the Home Office said that the act will not be retrospective, but a person already in a designated area at the time of designation will have to leave the area within one month. The law also contains a number of exempted purposes for traveling to designated areas, such as humanitarian aid and journalism.

The big picture: 900 individuals of national security concern from the UK have travelled to engage with the conflict in Syria, the Home Office said. About 40% of these individuals are still in Syria.

Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian democracy and human rights advocate, exits the Canadian embassy on August 8, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Interview: The Syrian Army disappeared completely

Radwan Ziadeh, a scholar and human rights activist who founded the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria told Shout! News that only a liberal democracy can work for Syria and accommodate the country's various religious and ethnic communities.

Mr. Ziadeh is a critic of what he sees as the current Syrian Kurds leadership's "imagined identity." Syria's 8% Kurdish minority can't replicate northern Iraq's self-governance, where the Kurds make up one third of the country. From the late 1960s onward, Mr. Ziadeh said, Syria's Kurds went through persecution, indiscriminate Arabisation and an extreme policy that forbade the use of their language and the celebration of their holidays. Yet, they have significantly contributed to Syria's political life, notably by providing seven presidents and prime ministers. There will be no room for identity politics if Syria's Kurds are granted full rights.

Highlights from the interview:

  • The international community is lacking a common response to the 5 to 6 million Syrians displaced by the war. In this vacuum, recipient countries have come up with their own policy, which is adversely affected by the rise in populism and is beyond the capacity of any country.
  • Syrian refugees who return home are not safe. Out of the 400 refugees who recently returned to Syria from Germany, 35 are missing, for example. In addition, studies show that refugees settle in their host country past the third year.
  • Only a liberal democracy can accommodate the religious and ethnic communities that make up Syria, such as the Druzes, Armenians, Kurds and Assyrian Christians.
  • There won't be any successful mechanics the international community can design to attract the Syrian government to deal with the opposition. Why would the regime negotiate now when it never negotiated in hard time. There isn't any rationality in its approach anyway.
  • The Syrian Army disappeared completely. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, local militias leaders where given full power to suppress the opposition by any means and at any cost: barrel bombs, siege, crimes based on gender and ethnicity. This policy empowered local leaders. They have proven that they could suppress the opposition and will not accept to negotiate their power away.
  • The U.S. has become irrelevant in the resolution of the conflict. The kind of U.S. strategy required for Syria right now can't be developed by the Trump administration. The Secretary of State can't initiate a long-term strategy without the risk of being reversed or challenged by the president's tweets. As a result, the U.S. strategy continues to be in limbo, leaving the initiative to Russia and Iran.
(Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

U.S. to leave a residual military force in Syria

Trump administration's special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey claimed at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the president had never intended a comprehensive troop withdrawal, but instead to leave a residual force in northern Syria.

Why it matters: Jeffrey's statement is another departure from President Trump's order, announced in December, that all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would leave, since their mission to destroy the Islamic State caliphate, in his view, had been achieved.

  • Jeffrey claimed since the U.S. could not get other members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State to agree to replace all of American forces in northeast Syria, the president decided to slow down the withdrawal and leave a residual force.
  • Yet, Jeffrey also said the administration wants other coalition members to bear the cost of stabilizing Syria: "We are shifting the focus from an exclusively American funded largely American boots on the ground to a more balanced one...It is burden sharing."

The big picture: Both the Obama and Trump administrations have sought to prevent its Kurdish partners from establishing an independent state in Syria. They also have had to take into consideration the position of Turkey, another ally in the fight against the Islamic State, for whom Syrian Kurdish forces are one and the same with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a group designated as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington. Nevertheless, Jeffrey said in the hearing that the United States would stand by its Kurdish allies in northern Syria, as evidenced by the residual U.S. force to remain in Syria.

Go deeper: Interview: Trump left a tripwire military presence in Syria

A young Yazidi student attends a class in the Newroz refugee camp in Syria, near the Faysh Kabur border with Iraq. May 18, 2015. Tens of thousands of mainly Yazidis have fled to Syria since Islamic State militants captured Sinjar and other northern Iraqi towns in August 2014. (Flavius Mihaies/Shout! News)

Children of Yazidi women raped by ISIS men banned from community

1. The offspring of Yazidi women captured, raped and impregnated by Islamic State fighters have been barred from joining the community in Iraq, the Media Line reported. Islamic State fighters murdered thousands of Yazidi men, forced young boys to join their ranks and abducted Yazidi women to use as sex slaves. Those children born to female captives have been the subject of fierce debate in the community, which recognizes children as Yazidis only if both parents are members of the sect.

2. Both prisoners Israel set to release, following the return of the body of Israeli soldier, ask not to be returned to Syria, Haaretz reported. One of the two, an accused drug smuggler, refuses to go back to Syria where he says authorities persecute him, while the other, a Fatah operative, requested to be placed in Hebron where he wishes to get married.

3. Astana process: Syria talks end without deal on key constitutional body. The Syrian government and armed opposition groups have failed to agree on the makeup of a constitutional committee during two-day talks in Kazakhstan that were led by Russia along with Iran and Turkey, Al Jazeera reported.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters stand by a pick-up truck near the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria. February 11, 2019 (Reuters)

The stakes of Syria's gas shortage

Syria's acute gas shortage is a stark sign of the daunting challenges the country will face in post-war reconstruction. A step up in economic sanctions imposed by the United States are partly responsible for the crisis.

Details: A Shout! News source in Damascus describes unprecedented scenes of cars and people waiting for petrol in lines spilling into the streets. The wait has been counted in days with drivers leaving their cars in the line at night to sleep and coming back to take their spot in the morning. This energy crisis is even worse than what the country experienced during the war, the source says.

The big picture: The U.S. dialed up its sanctions against Iran and the Syrian regime lost access to supply from the oil field captured from the Islamic State by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

  • The Trump administration aims to drive Iran's oil exports to zero by ending sanctions waivers on May 2. It also asked the Sissi government in Egypt to close the Suez Canal to Iranian oil tankers supplying Syria.
  • Concurrently, the Syrian regime lost access to oil supplied by the Islamic State when the jihadist group lost access to oil field captured by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) backed by American and coalition's airpower. It is unclear whether the SDF will resume supply to Damascus, which the U.S. will most likely oppose.
  • The source in Damascus does not exclude the Syrian government's role in exacerbating the gas shortage, as a mean to enrich those close to the regime.

So far, Iran found a way around the increased economic sanctions by supplying oil from Iraq through trucks at the Baghouz border crossing, Shout! News learned. Freed from the Islamic State last month by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the village of Baghouz sits along the Euphrates River at the Iraqi border in eastern Syria. Iran is considering building a railroad on that supply route.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Please email team@shout.news

Sri Lankan local people pray near to St Anthony Church on April 23, 2019 evening in Colombo, Sri Lanka. At least 321 people were killed with hundreds more injured after coordinated attack on churches and hotels on Easter Sunday rocked three churches and three luxury hotels in and around Colombo as well as at Batticaloa in Sri Lanka. Based on reports, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks while investigations have shown that the attack was carried out in retaliation for Christchurch mosque shootings last month. Police have detained 40 suspects so far in connection with the suicide bombs, which injured at least 500 people as the blasts took place at churches in Colombo city as well as neighboring towns and hotels, including the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand. (Atul Loke/Getty Images)

Islamic State 2.0: A global platform

Today's news roundup

1. The Islamic State relaunches as a global platform and the Sri Lanka bombings were a preview of its future, Charlie Winter and Aymenn al-Tamimi say in The Atlantic. In fact, Winter and al-Tamimi argue, the Islamic State has been ideologically strengthened by its failed proto-state, which the jihadi group claims was a way to build a global platform that would ensure the movement's future by mobilizing tens of thousands of supporters.

2. Syria's gas shortage has worsened. A Shout! News source in Damascus describes unprecedented scenes of cars and people waiting for petrol in lines spilling into the streets. The wait has been counted in days with drivers leaving their cars in the line at night to sleep and coming back to take their spot in the morning. This energy crisis is even worse than what the country experienced during the war, the source says.

3. Amnesty criticizes U.S.-led coalition's 'indiscriminate' actions in Raqqa, against the Islamic State, which killed about 1,400 more civilians than the U.S. military has acknowledged. Amnesty International produced names of more than 1,000 people reported killed from June to October 2017 in the northern Syrian city, NPR reported.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Please email team@shout.news