For watch collectors

I have one of my Swiss watches for sale on ebay, proceeds of which will go toward a photography project I am working on. It is the Schwarz Etienne, New York. Only 300 were made and I have number 287. Cost new was £6400 British pounds. It has a column wheel controlled chronograph which you only find in high end watch movements. It is a beautiful watch, very individual. Comes with its original presentation box.

SE, New York, Front

SE, New York, Front

SE, New York, back

SE, New York, back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are its details:

Movement: Chrono RAC J8154 with column wheel
Functions: Big date, Chronograph, 2nd time zone (GMT)
Case: 316L stainless steel, Crystal:Antireflection sapphire
Case back: Sapphire crystal, Crown engraved with SE logo
Case Diameter: 38mm
Case Thickness: 14.55mm
Strap: Genuine Louisiana crocodile black leather, Clasp:Double folding spring buckle
Water-resistance:165 feet/50 metres

I have it up for auction on ebay I made a video showing a closer look at the watch here

 

Time to face the ISIS inside of us

Read this article. ISIS is inside us. Fascinating read and very accurate.

Human Rights Blog

ISIS

By PD Dr. Elham Manea

“We are ISIS”.

A startling statement? Yet this was the title of an article written by former Kuwaiti Minister of Information, Saad bin Tafla al Ajami, published by the Qatari newspaper al Sharq in 7 August 2014. He was not celebrating the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), nor the atrocities it is committing against civilians and minorities in Iraq and Syria.

He was reminding us that ISIS, while condemned by the majority of Muslims, is a product of an Islamic religious discourse that dominated our public sphere in the last decades – a mainstream discourse!

ISIS “did not come from another planet’, He said. ‘It is not a product of the infidel West or a bygone orient”, he insisted.

No, “the truth that we can not deny is: ISIS learned from our schools, prayed in our mosques, listened to our media… and our…

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ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Who is it good for?

I know that many will disagree with what I am about to write here but I want to give you another point of view to think about. When you dig under the surface of what ISIS is doing you will see it is of huge benefit to certain countries.

When I talk to contacts in the middle east, all come to the conclusion that Iran is behind the incredible growth and expansion of ISIS. Kurdish media also agrees that it has Iranian backing (Kurdish News Article in English)

ISIS began their expansion in Syria, mostly in the north and east of the country. When the Free Syrian Army fought back against them in the winter, many ISIS fighters ran for cover in Syrian regime held areas before they were able to fight back and regain lost territory. Also, what is interesting is the fact that ISIS are not trying to push towards Damascus, rather they are trying to take over territory held by the FSA. They also paint their headquarters with their colours and have huge flags waving above, yet not once have they been bombarded by the Syrian airforce. So many of my contacts in Syria have told me about this. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence coming from the modus operandi of ISIS, that it is working in collaboration with the Syrian government, which itself is backed by Iran. If ISIS is collaborating with Bashar al Assad and Iran is his main supporter then there must be a connection, ISIS have to get their funding from somewhere and Saudi Arabia will not support a group which is helping Assad.

Then we come to Iraq. The Shia majority government of Nouri Maliki is known to have very close ties to Iran. The last few years have been spent buying the latest military hardware from the USA so that it could defend itself after the US army fully withdrew. On paper it has, or should I now say had, a standing army of about 900,000, yet when fewer than 10,000 ISIS fighters advanced on Mosul, the second city of Iraq, they fled, leaving behind all their equipment and bases. They didn’t even try to resist, despite the huge advantage in numbers and weapons. Then at this time of crisis the government couldn’t even get enough votes to declare an official state of emergency. Neither did they ask the Kurds to send their well armed and experienced Peshmerga forces to help. Everything about this is suspicious. Considering how close Maliki is to Iran could it be that it was all a plan, a way of being able to arm ISIS with all the latest military hardware?

But why would Iran, which is Shia, help an extremist Sunni group? The answer is simple, to create havoc and chaos in Sunni dominated areas. Over time you will see that ISIS will not concentrate on trying to capture Shia areas. Baghdad is mixed between Sunni and Shia so they may try to take it but it is unlikely. However, the south-east of Iraq is by far majority Shia, I will be very surprised if they try to push into this part of the country. It will give a further strong indication that they are working with Iran.

Of course, to keep up appearances, Iran will make a show of helping Iraq to resist ISIS but it is more likely that Iraqi Sunni militias will be created from the remains of the army and other groups. It will end up similar to Syria, where the FSA while fighting the government, is also spending a lot of time trying to fight back against ISIS. The entire region will descend into a state of perpetual conflict, with only the Shia areas of Iraq remaining quiet. This is what Iran wants. The danger of using a proxy such as ISIS is that you have to keep control of it. Has Iran got ISIS on a short enough leash? Time will tell.

The question that comes to my mind is why has this happened now? The simple answer is oil, or rather the price of oil. Over the last year, oil has spent a lot of time below $110 per barrel often closer to $105. The chaos created by ISIS has pushed the price up to $113 at the moment. Iran and Russia are very close, Russia has been using a lot of its cash reserves to prop up its banking system as capital flight increases, people and businesses are taking their money out of Russia. Oil and gas are the main sources of income for the Russian economy but it needs a price of about $117 per barrel to have enough to top up its cash reserves and keep the economy going. Could it be that Iran has arranged events in Iraq to help its closest ally Russia? Of course this helps all oil-producing countries but the main benefactor is Russia, it is desperate for cash and the events in Iraq could not have come at a better time. Iran also benefits greatly, the war in Syria has cost it a fortune as it supports Bashar al Assad, extra money is always needed. Of course Saudi Arabia also benefits but they already have a mountain of cash, the increased income while welcome will not really change anything for them.

As I said in my previous post, Saudi Arabia is attempting to improve relations with Iran. It can see the coming tsunami of chaos which is about to engulf the region, I think it finally understands that Iran has the upper hand in what is going on. As a result I think we will see a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran with regards to Syria, they will settle on a division of the country. In return Saudi will get assurances that ISIS will not invade, this has to be one of their greatest fears. ISIS could make havoc, especially as it now has a huge amount of modern American made military hardware. This all depends on Iran maintaining control over ISIS, if it loses control then all bets are off.

Extreme Islamist group ISIS go from strength to strength, for the moment

The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) had a huge win a couple of days ago. They were able to enter with out opposition, the Iraqi city of Mosul. Such is their fearsome reputation that the Iraqi army there abandoned everything and fled, leaving behind all their equipment, weapons and uniforms. Tens of thousands of Mosul residents, mostly Sunni, have fled and continue to flee the city to nearby Kurdish controlled areas.

This is a major win for ISIS. Under the strict control and command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, what started as a small splinter group after its ejection from Al Qaeda for being too bloodthirsty even for them, has grown over the last 2 years into a well-organized, trained and equipped army. The capture of Mosul extends their area of control and influence that holds in its deadly embrace large areas of both Syria and Iraq. See map graphic below.

ISIS territory

ISIS territory. Link to map source here

It is interesting that ISIS were allowed to develop in strength in Syria by Bashar al Assad. He wanted the civil war to become sectarian and helped them to grow. In this he has been very successful, however in so doing he allowed, for want of better words, a monster to develop. ISIS is causing worry in many countries in the middle east. This is why in Syria both Jordan and Israel are helping the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to create buffer zones along their borders, ISIS has intentions to take over most if not all Syria and many governments have finally woken up to the fact that their political games have led directly to the situation which exists today. Now on the doorstep of Europe is a very strong Islamic fighting force which is going to be hard to resist.

It is difficult to see how Iraq will be able to deal with the situation. Although it has a large well equipped army of 900,000 soldiers, most of those are patronage jobs, they are there for the money and not because they want to fight. Add to this, the fact they have very little training in guerrilla warfare, which is the modus operandi of ISIS, and one has to consider the real possibility that ISIS will make further large gains in the country. It could be that the Kurds will send Peshmerga fighting units to fight ISIS in Iraq, they have a lot of experience in asymmetric warfare and will want to protect their regional capital of Arbil against any possible threat.

This will not be the type of war where you can send in the air force to strike at well-defined targets, ISIS operate very much in a hit and run style, they are very good at disappearing while at the same time holding control. They really have become masters of psychological warfare as demonstrated by the huge exodus from Mosul by both the army and civilians. They are known as heartless butchers and their reputation precedes them wherever they  go.

Looking at what their ultimate goals might be could also give a possible explanation for other developments in the middle east. ISIS believe they have a god given mission to set up an Islamic caliphate, one that would rule very harshly based on their narrow understanding of Islam. This religious caliphate would ultimately need to have Muslim holy sites such as Mecca at its centre. With rapid growth in strength and territory of ISIS over the last 2 years and with no sign of them slowing down, Saudi Arabia must be starting to worry that they will come into the cross-hairs. Saudi Arabia has a well equipped army but to be honest has no fighting experience and most of its commanders wouldn’t have a clue how to defend the country as many have the job as a result of royal patronage, to be honest they are not up to the job. ISIS would see the country as a soft target. This could also explain why Saudi Arabia has recently been making peaceful overtures towards Iran. Iran is possibly the only country in the middle east which can deal with ISIS. There are many in Saudi who are totally against any rapprochement with Iran, for them it is their biggest enemy mainly because the Shia Muslims of Iran and the Sunni Muslims of Saudi see each other as religious heretics. The new Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is a contentious figure among the Saudi royal family because he is willing to talk to Iran, publicly many members of the family are against him because they say his is not a legitimate heir but privately it must also be due to his stance on Iran. However they can’t say this too loudly as the ageing King also backs better ties with Iran and he could cut off the funds of many royals if they were to jeopardise his wish for better ties. The problem is that many don’t realize the threat ISIS could pose to their comfortable existence, few have ever done any real work, they simply live off the oil wealth of the country, out of touch with reality.

The main sticking point in Saudi/Iran relations is their support for opposing sides in Syria. Iran supports the government of Bashar al Assad, it has committed huge resources in what is a very expensive war, not only financial but also in manpower. Saudi Arabia supports the Sunni revolt, Sunni are the majority of the population but with nearly half the population now displaced the Sunni majority is greatly reduced. The fact that ISIS is a rapidly growing problem in Syria and Iraq could lead to the 2 countries making some sort of compromise in Syria so that they can confront ISIS together. You can be sure Iran does not want to see Mecca in the hands of ISIS any more than Saudi Arabia does.

This situation also plays into the hands of Iran, if Iran is to lead the fight back against ISIS then it will also expect to be recognised as the leading power in the middle east, which has been its intention all along, its hegemonic ambitions are hardly a secret. Could it be that Iran secretly supported ISIS even though it is Sunni? Bashar al Assad has certainly done so in Syria and he is backed by Iran. Once a deal is done between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Syria this could be the moment Iran steps in to confine ISIS in the areas it generally holds now, both in Syria and Iraq. Saudi will be forced to accept Iran as the dominant power in the middle east. With ISIS being so close to the Turkish border it could also be the moment that Turkey steps in the create a buffer zone in northern Syria probably working in conjunction with the Kurds with whom it now has a better relationship. In Syria, this will leave areas of permanent warfare in the north and centre of the country between Syrian rebel militias and ISIS. In the south and east of Syria there is bound to come a time when the rebels know they can’t advance any further towards Damascus, it is too well supported by Iran and Russia so will settle for a semi autonomous area buffering Israel and Jordan and supported by those 2 countries against any threat from ISIS. Bashar al Assad will be weakened but still in power which will suit Israel perfectly. Syria will be divided.

As for Iraq, ISIS will hold power in certain Sunni dominated areas which is going to create yet another enormous refugee crisis. I wonder if ISIS realise how much of a pawn they are in this bloody game of chess. It will certainly resist any attempts at confinement. I’m sure the eventual plan is to reduce its power, which will lead to all sorts of other complications, there are always consequences. For the moment ISIS is being allowed to go from strength to strength as part of the bloody games being played in the middle east.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Syrian rebels make progress on the southern front

After a year and a half long Syrian army siege, rebels of the Southern Front break through the blockade of strategically important Nawa to join with rebels trapped inside.

Syrian Rebels

Syrian Rebels

Nawa, population of approximately 50,000, lies 40 km north-west of Daraa, which is on the Syria/Jordan border. My Syrian contact who is close to the “Southern Front,” a loose coalition of moderate rebel groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said that after their defeat, the Syrian army then tried to retake the city 25 times in one month before it finally gave up. He also said that for the last year, the Syrian army has not been able to retake any of the cities it has lost in the south. Strategically Nawa is very important — it is at the head of an important crossroads that leads to Daraa in the south and the Israeli border to the west. Nearby, to the east, rebels also have control of the cities Al Sheikh Maskin and Izraa, the two main highways that run up the country from the south to Damascus pass through these two cities. This has created a new strategic front, which the rebels hope to use as they attempt to push even further north toward the capital some 85 km away.

fsa controlled area

fsa controlled area

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asked if the rebels had received weapons from Jordan to aid them in breaking the siege and subsequent defense against Syrian army attempts to retake the city, he said they had been given some help from Jordan but most of the weapons came from captured Syrian army positions and bases.

One of the main challenges facing the moderate rebels of the FSA in the south is the rise of extreme Islamist groups. So far they are not a major problem but could become so in future if they have access to significant funding and weapons. In contrast, the north and east of Syria have major problems with extremist group ISIS who control large areas. There, the FSA has two fights on its hands, one with the Syrian army and the other with ISIS. The southern FSA is working hard not to let this happen. Israel is also determined not to see extremists take power in areas along its border with Syria, on occasion it has helped the FSA secure areas in order to protect its security. Jordan too, is working with moderate rebels, such as Bashar al Zoubi, leader of the Al Yarmouk division, who I have met on several occasions. Jordanian and Israeli cooperation in areas of mutual interest is due to the fear of strengthening Islamist groups becoming a major security threat to the two countries. They will do whatever is necessary to prevent that happening even if it means having to help the FSA.

 

 

 

The Israel Palestine Question

If ever there has been a difficult problem in global affairs then this has to be at the top of the list. Before I get to the situation today it is worth looking at some of the history in order to understand the present day problem.

The mistrust between the Arabs/Palestinians and Jews goes way back to the early 20th century. The Balfour Declaration, made in 1917, is a letter from then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild, which stated “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

On the surface this looks good but during World War 1 the British had promised the Arabs independence if they would revolt against the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Arabs did so, pushing the Turks out of the Levant, that is the lands of the east Mediterranean. The British then reneged against their deal with the Arabs for independence. Under the Sykes-Picot Agreement made in secret between Britain and France and Russia as a minor partner in 1916, it mandated how in future, the Arab provinces outside of the Gulf region would be divided up between the three countries and brought under either direct control or influence. Britain would control  the area that became known as Palestine as well as Jordan and southern Iraq. Remember, this was a secret deal that was made before the British had made a promise of independence to the Arabs in exchange for their help in defeating the Ottomans. When there was the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Russians exposed the agreement, under which they had been given Istanbul but due to the revolution were then denied their part in the deal, the result was Arab anger and British embarrassment, they had been caught in a lie.

The foundation for the present day problem was then set in motion, the British promise that there should be a Jewish homeland in Palestine and the promise made but never kept, that the Arabs would have independence in Palestine. This would eventually lead to the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine against British control. Add to this the Jewish Insurgency also against the British between 1939-1947 and you can see how explosive the situation had become. When the British Mandate for control of Palestine expired in 1948 the United Nations had already prepared a plan for the partition of Palestine which recommended the formation of both Jewish and Arab states with Jerusalem as a separate entity. The scene was set for civil war between Jews and Arabs. The rest as they say is history. From that moment on, it led to the situation we see in Israel today. There is still no solution in sight for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

However, there has been a recent and interesting development. In Israel, Palestinian areas essentially fall into two areas, Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Fatah have political control of The West Bank and Hamas have control of Gaza. Until now peace talks in Israel have been with Fatah as Israel won’t talk publicly to Hamas, the reason for this is that Hamas made it clear in the past that it wanted to see the destruction of the State of Israel. But could it be that Hamas is changing? With the new agreement between Fatah and Hamas to make a unity government which jointly covers both Gaza and the West Bank, finally the Palestinians are getting themselves organized. As part of making this unity government Hamas has said that it now recognises the State of Israel. What has changed Hamas’s thinking?

Hamas is a Sunni based Muslim Brotherhood organization. When Egypt elected Muslim Brotherhood president Morsi, Hamas felt they were in the ascendency having such a strong and geographically close ally. They basically cut their ties with Syria and looked to Morsi for support. When Morsi was deposed by General Sisi, Hamas suddenly found themselves all alone with no support. Realpolitik brought them to the realization that to have a future they need to change their policiy regarding Israel if they will ever have any relevence regarding a future peace deal and the political power that would go with it.

The response of Israel to this unity deal between Hamas and Fatah has been to say they will have no dealing where Hamas is involved, they don’t believe that Hamas has changed one bit. To be honest, Hamas will have to prove themselves by their actions and not only their words. But the fact is, there could never be a two state deal if talks are only with Fatah, they only have support of Palestinians in the West Bank, for there to be a Palestinian state Gaza must also be included. Israel has always known this and so has Abbas the Fatah leader. This is why all talks have not produced anything of substance. If Abbas signed a peace deal which was then rejected by Hamas who represent a large part of the Palestinian population then any legitimacy he has would be lost and he would lose his power. Netanyahu is also personally skeptical of a two state deal and there are many in the Israeli coalition government who are fundamentally and ideologically opposed to any land-peace deal. But the fact now is that there is a unified Palestinian Authority, one of the main barriers to negotiation has now been removed, if Hamas are sincere in their change of policy towards Israel then even more so.

There remains the question of Jerusalem, this is such an emotive issue for both sides, it would have to be left to part two of any deal, the first step would be the recognition and unifying of the West Bank and Gaza. Jerusalem would have to come later. Also the USA is taking a firmer line with Israel these days and has said that it is ready to talk to the new Hamas/Fatah government. The opportunity is now being given to both sides to see if they are serious as well as having the vision to finally bring an end to the problems of this turbulent land. Could it lead to peace and security?

Shalom/Salam

Big Interview Coming With Chinese Media

Today I received an email out of the blue from one of the biggest newspapers in China, China Youth Daily. They want to do an interview with me about my book, Syria: Refugees and Rebel but the main focus is the Syrian refugees and the terrible humanitarian crisis they are facing for an article in the newspaper on World Refugee Day on June 20. I will post details of the interview later. This came totally unexpectedly, I’m curious to see how it will go. I’m happy that I can do something to bring awareness to the terrible situation the Syrian people are facing, they are being ignored by the people who caused them to become refugees in the first place. Watch this space.

Prijeko Palace Hotel, Dubrovnik

Prijeko Palace Hotel

Prijeko Palace Hotel in the middle of the picture

This isn’t something that happens every day. The Prijeko Palace Hotel in Dubrovnik has themed one of its guest rooms with my art photography and named the room after me. Quite a privilege I must say. It is a beautifully restored old palace in the heart of the old city. The hotel is full of character and charm a wonderful place from which to explore. If you are ever thinking about somewhere to have a holiday, then Dubrovnik is certainly a place you should consider.

Have a look at their website here

Below I have taken the description of The Chapman room from their website and a few photos to give an idea of what it is like. Enjoy!

The Chapman room is dedicated to Russell Chapman (UK; 1968). This comfortable room of 22m2 with a pitched roof has windows overlooking the quiet street.

Russell Chapman started studying photography when he was 10 years old, teaching himself all the aspects of art and science that are needed in order to produce a photograph that will bring pleasure to others. Photography is about creating a moment that encapsulates not only what was seen at that moment but what was also felt.

 

 

Authentic Florence: A Recommended Tour Guide

Many people dream about visiting Italy, soaking up the culture, the food, the wine, the music of the language. It might be one of the most chaotic places in the world but is is also one of the most beautiful.

The challenge for tourists, after seeing the most famous landmarks, is to find the gems, those places that are off the main tourist trail. But not only this, the bars and restaurants that the locals use where you can soak up the atmosphere of Italians doing what they do best, enjoying themselves. To be able to find these gems it helps to have a little inside knowledge, a guide even.

I met Véronique Vassileva several years ago, she is from Bulgaria and has lived in Italy for the last seven years. She is absolutely passionate about the culture and the country. She lives in Florence and has got to know the area extremely well, the places to visit that are off the tourist trail, the bars and the restaurants that the Italians go to for amazing food and a great evening. I don’t normally promote other people’s work here but she really does offer a great experience

She is now offering her services as a guide for those who want to visit Florence and the surrounding areas. She is a bit of a polyglot, so communication is never a problem. I wouldn’t recommend someone unless I know they can be trusted and Véronique can be trusted. Not only that, she is full of life and would make any guided tour a great and unique experience. A holiday to remember. So if you are planning a trip to Florence it would be worth getting in touch with her if you are interested in having a unique Italy experience.

Check out her website where you can find out more

Inside Syria: A Personal Experience

I was invited to write a guest article on a very good blog I have been following for a while. I reblog it here and hope you find it interesting 🙂

1001 Scribbles

First of all I would like to say thank you to Ana for allowing me to write this post for her blog. Before I write about my experience photographing the war in Syria let me give you a brief bio. My name is Russell Chapman, I’m 45, from the UK but now living in Lugano, Switzerland. I first got into photography when I was about 10. I was fascinated by the ability to capture a moment in time and loved how the scene in the viewfinder became, for a moment, my entire world. In fact this is something that has always stayed with me. I started off with a very simple point and shoot 35mm film camera, yes I’m from the pre-digital age. I got books from the library on photography in order to learn the science behind the art. It was quite a learning curve for a 10 year…

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