25 – 31 May 2015
The Week in Review is a weekly column that highlights some interesting, outraging, and heartwarming events and stories of the past week. Its ambition is not to be exhaustive or to recap major political events; it’s more of a personal take on news or stories that made the author react strongly.
Picture of the Week
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza played soccer with his friends on 28 May, as two protesters died and thirteen were injured in demonstrations which took place in the capital, Bujumbura. Burundi has been experiencing political unrest since Nkurunziza announced, last month, that he would be running for a third term. Protesters claim that this would be unconstitutional, as the 2005 Constitution allows a maximum of two five-year-long terms. In return, Nkurunziza argues that this is not the case, as he was appointed by Parliament, rather than by a vote, for his first term.
Over twenty people have died and 431 have been wounded since the beginning of the protests, while 100,000 people have fled the country in the face of a rapid acceleration of violence and unrest. Reuters reports that the police may have used live ammunition against protesters.
Last week, President Nkurunziza survived a botched coup, which caused him to postpone the parliamentary elections until 5 June 2015, a decision backed by South Africa.
Tragic news of the week
It is hard to believe, for an outside observer, that the Syrian war has been raging for four years already. It is probably much less hard to believe for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians forced to flee their country, many of whom are now surviving in makeshift camps in neighboring countries, their lives on standby, waiting for a change which looks as though it may never come.
While every single week of those past four years has brought its share of horrendous news from the Syrian front, from the heartbreaking refugee crisis to the horrors of the so-called Islamic State’s exactions, last month was special. On May 21, Palmyra, the jewel of the Syrian desert and one of the most beautiful places on Earth, fell into the hands of Daesh and its inhuman army. Tadmor (Palmyra’s modern name) is home to 2,000 year-old Roman ruins, and 70,000 people abandoned by the regime, with the army not even bothering to evacuate them prior to the offensive.
For days on end, as Daesh’s offensive on Tadmor progressed, the world held its breath, waiting for news of the destruction of Palmyra’s ruins, only slightly reassured by the fact that hundreds of statues had already been moved to safer locations. By taking Palmyra, Daesh strikes on multiple accounts: first, it seizes, and holds, the West’s attention by threatening Palmyra’s ruins, a World Heritage Site. Secondly, it takes control of the Tadmor prison, perhaps the most infamous and terrible jail of the Assad regime, and frees its prisoners; and lastly, it continues to inch its way towards Homs and Damascus. But the fall of Palmyra is also evidence that the regime’s strategy has shifted its focus to safeguarding more populated, strategic regions, namely Damascus and the coastline.
Upon taking Tadmor, Daesh entered the city and slaughtered hundreds of Syrian Army members and loyalists in the streets, shooting and beheading them and making sure images of the massacre made their way to Twitter.
Finally, last week, on May 25, Daesh did what it knows best: with its horrifying sense of entertainment, it executed 20 people in the Roman Amphitheater in front of a terrified crowd. So, while we are certainly right to fear for the magnificent ruins of Palmyra, one can only hope we will not be too swift to forget the fate of Tadmor’s population.
Interesting read of the week
This week, NPR gives us a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Kumari Devi, Nepal’s living goddess. The nine-year-old is the latest in a tradition of worshipped young girls considered as goddesses, who live secretive and reclusive lives punctuated by rare public appearances.
The house traditionally inhabited by Kumaris was left entirely untouched by the strong earthquake which shook Nepal earlier this spring, with many attributing this miracle to the powers of the goddess.
Many young girls vie for the title, which is subject to a strict recruitment process: the chosen girl must fulfil no less than 32 criteria, among which “thighs like a deer, chest like a lion, and eyelashes like a cow.“
Unfortunately, the incumbent Kumari Devi will be forced to retire and return to a normal life when she reaches puberty, at which time a successor will be appointed, and her powers “transferred to another girl”.
Listen to the story on NPR.