A Bleak Outcome for Syria


Edmond Y. Azadian

Syria has been one of the most stable countries in the Middle East and home for the most affluent Armenian community attached to its roots and heritage.

The deportations and the Genocide of 1915 ended in Northern Syria; millions perished in Der Zor and survivors settled in Aleppo. For many decades Aleppo has educated and provided writers, editors, teachers as well as political and religious leaders to the Armenian communities in the Middle East and beyond. That is why all calls and appeals around the world to help Armenians in Syria emanate not only from a humanitarian concern, but from a rightful gratitude that the Diaspora Armenians owe to that embattled community.

For many years, that proud and prominent Armenian community has proven to be a thorn in the side of the Turks, especially with its clout in Syria and its Martyrs Monument in Der Zor, bordering modern-day Turkey. Pictures and news broadcast from Syria painfully present the destruction inflicted on the Der Zor Church and monument by Turkey’s hired guns to overthrow the government in Syria.

In addition, threats are being directed at Armenians in Kessab to abandon the region, which they have inhabited since Roman times. Kessab was also situated in the southeastern border of the Cilician principalities and the kingdom which lasted for 300 years. Therefore, within the framework of the larger Syrian conflict, Turkey is conducting a mini-genocide as its attempts at eradicating the Armenian people from its original habitat continue.

Of course, this does not concern or bother the parties involved in the Syrian war, which is continuing ferociously and thus far has claimed more than 40,000 casualties, including many Armenians.

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Each party has its own objective in destroying Syria. Therefore, it will be our concern to point out the reality and pursue a policy which will help our community in Syria, whether or not that policy is in synch with the goals of the parties engaged in this bloody conflict.

No one can exonerate the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez Assad, from being dictators. But Armenians have been protected and enjoyed a privileged life under both rulers. The Syrian people have also experienced prosperity despite all outside pressures to isolate the country economically.

The irony in this conflict is, as pointed out by remarks by Robert Fiske, Middle East correspondent of the Independent daily of London, that a host of Middle Eastern despots, beginning in the tiny principality of Qatar and ending in the medieval monarchy of Saudi Arabia, have been commissioned to bring democracy to Syria.

Another such medieval monarchy, Morocco, has also joined the fray in hosting and organizing Syrian opposition groups on its territory. Along with the other “messengers of democracy,” this corrupt kingdom has been fighting the Polisario Front freedom fighters to keep their people in Western Sahara under its domination.

Of course, Syria being on the fault line of East-West confrontation — throughout the Cold War and beyond — it has been on the wrong side of the Middle Eastern chessboard of politics.

First, being a bastion of Arab nationalism on the frontline with Israel has irritated the West tremendously. This war has nothing to do with democracy; it is a grand scheme to eliminate one by one all the regimes in the region considered threats to Israel, and some of the Arab regimes engaged in the battle have become accessories to that policy.

The other “mistake” of the Syrian regime is to be aligned with Iran, and they are both considered Russian allies by default in the continuing Cold War. Russia also has its own interests in the region; the collapse of the Assad regime may have a domino effect on the Iran-Syria axis, at a high cost to Moscow’s foreign policy.

The Syrian war, which began with peaceful protests against Assad’s regime in March 2011, escalated into a civil war, mainly because of outside interference and the launch of a proxy war for foreign interests seeking regime change in Syria. Recently a radical Islamist group seized large swathes of a Syrian military base west of Aleppo, consolidating its control over the territory, near the Turkish border, as reported by Agence France Presse. It was most revealing to find in a report filed by Elad Benari in the Israel National News that “many of the fighters are non-Syrians and one of the leaders, who identified himself as Abu Talha, said he is from Uzbekistan.”

Any political analyst has to be endowed with the wildest possible imagination to the see the aspirations of the Syrian people for democracy in a thug from Uzbekistan, of all places.

Of course the West has been using these extremist groups to achieve short-term goals with the consequence of creating long- term threats to its own security. Osama bin Laden was armed by the US with shoulder held Stringer rockets to shoot down Soviet MiG jets in Afghanistan, but who ended up bringing down the World Trade Center in New York. These groups have proved over time that they are loose cannons dedicated to their own extremist ideology and can only harm civilized societies.

The Syrian conflict has spilled over from the Middle Eastern borders into a worldwide confrontation between East and West, with the US and the European Union insisting on regime change in Syria while Russia and China blame foreign interference in Syria in the United Nations.

Recent meetings between President Vladimir Putin and Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were not able to break the deadlock.

Russian officials have repeatedly said that Moscow is not insisting that Assad remain in power, but that his fate must not be decided by foreign governments or external forces including the UN Security Council. Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, has specifically indicated that “We cannot say, sitting in Ankara or London or Qatar that Assad must go. That cannot be, it is not viable. Such decisions could potentially lead to a worsening of the situation.”

The US secretary of state, visiting Dublin, has countered the Russian position by directing her criticism to the internal developments in Russia, away from the Syrian conflict.

In her recent pronouncements, she seems more and more like a Cold War relic, and perhaps, she is planning her political comeback in the 2016 presidential election with that agenda.

Before her meeting with Lavrov, Mrs. Clinton took aim at what she described as a new wave of repressive tactics and laws aimed at criminalizing US outreach efforts. “The trends are indicative of a larger reversal of freedoms for the citizens of Russia, Belarus, Turkmenistan and other countries that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union two decades ago. There is a move to re-Sovietize the region…. It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called a Customs Union, it will be called a Eurasian Union and all of that,” she said, referring to the Russian-led efforts for greater regional integration. “But let’s not make a mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”

In the above quote by Mrs. Clinton, Armenia falls within “other countries that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union.” And Moscow has been twisting the arm of that “other country” to join the Eurasian Union. Therefore, no mater what foreign policy may Armenia adopt, it is perceived by the Foggy Bottom to be in the Russian sphere of influence and that answers many questions which have been torturing Armenians; why doesn’t Mr. Obama use the word “Genocide?” Why doesn’t the State Department criticize Azerbaijan for destroying Armenian monu- ments in Jugha? Why doesn’t Karabagh conflict get solved? Why doesn’t Washington demand Turkey to end blockading Armenia? Why does the US aid to Armenian dwindle?

All the answers to these questions are within the subtext of the new Cold War being reconfigured.

Coming back to Syria, which generated this global analysis, two major prospects are very obvious. First, no matter whatever the outcome of the conflict, the vibrant Syrian-Armenian community will not be the same any longer.

Next, in the a broader perspective of the Arab Spring (or Nightmare) — which the Syrian conflict is part of — the policy is achieving its goal in this artificially-created turmoil because no one (except as a form of lip service) is talking any more about the Palestinian people nor the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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