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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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 editorial@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 editorial@shout.news

Heatmap of allegedly recent Islamic State's attacks published by the jihadi's group supporters on messaging app Whatsapp. April 24, 2019 (Shout! News)

Heatmap of recent Islamic State's attacks

Under the rallying cry of baqiya ("remaining", in Arabic, one of the most common adjectives associated with the Islamic State, says analyst Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi), Islamic State's supporters on social media are circulating a heatmap of what they claim are the jihadi group's attacks in Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries in the last three months.

Note that it includes the Palestinian territory's Gaza Strip.

The militarily defeated group fans are also claiming there were other attacks outside the region, especially Africa.

Go deeper:

Israel's Syria map

Interview: "ISIS wives" want to go to Turkey instead of home

Fighters purportedly from the Syrian Democratic Forces' newly formed Armenian unit (Syrian Civil War Map)

Syrian Democratic Forces to announce an Armenian unit

Today's news roundup

1. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will announce the formation of an Armenian battalion. The unit is to consist of 50 fighters, Massis Post, an Armenian-American community newspaper, reported. The region under SDF control in northern Syria includes an Armenian community.

The new unit's insignia features an Armenian National Flag (Red-Blue-Orange} and Mount Ararat:

2. Jordan-Syria ties stumble over fate of Jordanian detainees, Al-Monitor reported. The two countries exchanged parliamentary visits in what was seen as a positive sign of a warming of bilateral ties, late last year. This recent development reflects the reality that Jordanian-Syrian ties have a long way to go before normalization.

3. Islamic State kills regime fighters across Syria, Reuters reported. These attacks reflect that although the Islamic State lost its last territorial enclave in Syria at Baghouz near the Iraqi border last month to U.S.-backed forces, it still has fighters holding out in the remote central desert and capable of striking.

Interviews
A U.S. Army base outside Manbij, ,Syria. June 21, 2018 (Flavius Mihaies/Shout! News)

Interview: Trump left a tripwire military presence in Syria

Michael M. Gunter, a professor of political science who has written extensively on the Kurds told Shout News in an interview that the small remaining American military presence in Syria serves as a tripwire to deter any hostile intents toward the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in control of northeastern Syria.

Highlights from the interview:

  • "The U.S. will not leave the Kurds like Nixon and Kissinger did." American forces left in Syria serve as a deterrent should Turkey, Syrian regime forces and their Iranian allies backed by Russian airpower attempt to sweep through the territory that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces control in northeastern Syria. A situation akin to the Cold War tripwire, where a small U.S. military force in Europe signaled America's commitment to an armed response to a Soviet attack.
  • A miscalculation in Turkey's high risk adventure in Syria could reverberate in President Erdoğan's presidency. While there are no serious contenders today, a Turkish military embarrassment by in Syria could create an opening and lead to President Erdoğan's removal from power.
  • "Syria's Kurds are much more noticeable today, and in a much better position than they were ten or twenty years ago, in a brighter position than they have ever been in modern times."
  • "Turkey is the power Syria's Kurds will need to get along with", despite a rhetoric that portrays Turkey "as evil" relayed by the media in the West. Historically, in the region nobody is 100% enemy with each other. Today's loss are tomorrow's wins. This long view of the conflict is largely absent in the media coverage of the war in Syria, but key to understand the conflict.

Go deeper: Syria's 2000 American troops: Strength is not in numbers

Exclusive
Syrian Pound exchange rates at a currency exchange office in Damascus, Syria. August 12, 2015 (Flavius Mihaies/Shout News)

Syria's Assad is at risk of winning the war but losing the peace

As the Syrian civil war enters its ninth year, the news media is abuzz with stories about President Bashar al-Assad's victory on the battlefield. Yet, Syrians in government-controlled territory are increasingly expressing discontent with the president as living standards in the country continue to deteriorate even as the conflict winds down, the Washington Post reported.

Why it matters: Syria's president is at risk of winning the war but losing the peace if he fails to address a crippling shortage of fuel and electricity, provide jobs for the men returning from the front lines, and stabilize the Syrian currency. These challenges are compounded by inefficiencies and corruption amongst his government.

What Syrians are saying:

A Damascus-based worker for a non-governmental organization in an interview for Shout! News claimed that Syrians feel they have been betrayed by their government. They acknowledge, however, that the central government's control of territory outside the capital has weakened due to the partial devolution of state and military power to local authorities as a measure to fight the war. Local warlords emerged as a result.

"Military men don't behave like military anymore," the man said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Access to public services, as water, has been privatized by local strongmen and offered for a fee, he complained. He mentioned the example of a village he visited recently where public access to water is now run by someone close to the local strongman.

"Today's living standards are worse than during the war," but Western countries' sanctions against the Syrian regime are also responsible for their deterioration, the man said.

Illustration: Shout! News Visuals

Programmatic propaganda in action in Syria's conflict: #OperationOliveBranch

The ongoing conflict in Syria blends conventional warfare with social media manipulation operations to influence public opinion, according to research.

The backstory: In January 2018, Turkey launched a military operation, code-named Olive Branch, in an around the northern Syria's city of Afrin.

Key findings: There is a social media manipulation dimension to Turkey's war in Syria. The Turkish state or pro-Turkish state elements sought to influence public opinion on the conflict, backing up the Turkish state message in a computer automated manner and orchestrated campaign connected with the Twitter hashtag #operationolivebranch.

The details: Research identified two ways the Turkish state or pro-Turkish state elements sought to influence audiences perception on Twitter.

  • Automated Twitter accounts that pose as journalist and political account: Two high-volume automated accounts, one that poses as a journalist/blogger @PelinCiftek, and the other a political profile AkPartiNet. At the time of the research these two accounts were tweeting at a rate of 465 tweets per day (on a seven day average) and sharing the same content from twenty two other accounts. These two accounts at first glance have nothing in common nor appear to be connected. Yet, research found they were operating in concert with the identical volume, timing and tweets themselves. These two accounts were created within one month of each other, and have nearly an identical tweet to like ratio, and following to follower ratio.
  • A network of automated amplifiers. These seemingly two unrelated (not directly connected) accounts are highly programmatic, and serve as the hubs of a tightly connected network that is amplifying the Turkish government message on the war in Afrin and other issues. This serves as an example of computation propaganda in action. Our research highlights how this network operates in a computer automated manner. Additional automated Twitter accounts amplifying the Turkish government's message about the war in Afrin and other issues. Research concluded these are likely government approved proxies or messengers (if not, it's highly improbable this content and network would exist) whose tweets are relayed by the two accounts above. At the time of the research it was noted that these ten accounts have a daily tweet average to classify them as cyborgs.

The big picture: Turkey's military operation in the conflict in Syria is the first invasion by Turkish ground forces into a sovereign nation since the Cyprus conflict in 1974.

Go deeper: A recent study by Oxford University shows widespread use of social media tactics by governments to shape public discourse and spread misinformation.

This analysis was first posted on Medium, including research findings and methodology.

News
A man standing in a church in Kobane, Syria. April 3, 2019 (Reuters)

Islamic State's violence drives Syrians toward Christianity

Today's news roundup

1. Christianity grows in Syrian town once besieged by Islamic State, Reuters reported, referring to Kobane, in northern Syria. The Evangelical movement is the beneficiary, not the traditional Eastern churches. Converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of the Islamic State claiming to fight for Islam pushed them to distance themselves from Islam.

2. Astana process moves forward: Kazakhstan will host new peace talks on Syria, backed by Iran, Russia and Turkey in effort to reach a political settlement for the conflict on April 25 and 26, The New Arab reported. The United Nations and Jordan are expected to attend as observers.

3. Gas shortage plagues Syria. U.S. sanctions are partly in blame, this thread on Twitter discussed. Yet, Reuters pointed to the halt in Iranian credit. Tehran is itself the target of U.S. sanctions reimposed since President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers.

News
Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, and Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan share Christmas greetings on December 24, 2018 in Bkerke, Lebanon. (CNS photo/ Mychel Akl, courtesy Maronite Catholic Patriarchate.)

Lebanon's Maronite Church deplores U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan

Roundup of top Syria conflict news - April 18, 2019

1. British taxpayers will pay for legal aid to Islamic State's bride Shamima Begum. The 19-year-old, who left east London in 2015, was stripped of her citizenship in February, after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp, the BBC reported. Ms Begum played an active role in the Islamic State's reign of terror as a member of the "hisba", which punishes those found flouting the group's laws on how to dress and behave, The Independent reported.

2. Associated Press published a map of the military campaign against the Islamic State from the group's greatest territorial gains in 2014. Gray shows areas occupied by the IS and allied groups.

3. Maronite bishops in Lebanon deplored the U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in a statement released at the end of the Bishops' monthly assembly, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation reported.