Global Reverberation of the Refugee Problem


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Migration has been the destiny of the Armenians. We have a tragic history of forced migration. Of course, the most spectacular migration which would end all subsequent migration was in the aftermath of the 1915 Genocide, which uprooted the bulk of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population from its historic homeland and scattered them around the world. That experience haunts every Armenian and has transcended from generation to generation, so much so that every time we see refugees behind barbed wire, every time a boat full of refugees sinks in the open sea, their plight touches a very sensitive chord deep within us.

The current flood of Syrian refugees inundating the Middle East, Europe and even North America is the result of a manmade humanitarian tragedy which certainly could have been averted and today it calls for urgent attention and action.

Admitting or denying refugees have outgrown its humanitarian scope to become a political, social, economic and psychological problem. Ancient fears and suspicions have been rekindled and they find their expression through political actions and reactions.

Fifty percent of Syria’s population has become refugees through the brutal civil war, overflowing into neighboring countries; individual countries, the EU and the UN have all been mobilized to address this vital issue of global magnitude.

Very similar to the times of the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust, the powers that be could intervene and stop the carnage, but they did not. If we look at history, in Germany’s case, it even colluded with the Ottoman government. Later on, it set up humanitarian programs to win the gratitude of the victims and survivors. Today some of the countries posing as benefactors are the main cynical instigators of the tragedy. This case was starkly exposed at a heart-wrenching event in Paris, when Eric Ouzounian, the father of Lola Ouzounian, one of the victims of November 13’s attack on the Bataclan music venue, refused to take part in a memorial service dedicated to the memory of the victims and blamed the French government for the attacks in an article published by Huffington Post. In particular, he wrote: “France conducted a disastrous policy in the Near East for many years. Nicolas Sarkozy violated the UN Security Council resolutions banning all kinds of interventions by land in other countries, sent troops to Libya to topple Qaddafi, and joined the coalition against the head of Syria Bashar al-Assad, when these countries were not France’s enemies. … Recent presidents have acted with inconceivable frivolity, led by shortsighted vision. But this isn’t the only facet of the political world’s responsibility.”

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The blame can equally extend to the US and the UK but especially Turkey. Yet, Turkey is being rewarded for its role in the crime. In fact, Turkey trained and armed ISIS criminals and sent them across the border into Syria to commit their beheadings and murderous rampages which resulted in the exodus of Syrian citizens into neighboring countries.

Lebanon has admitted more than one million Syrian refugees which is almost equal to one-fourth of its population. Jordan has admitted more than 600,000, while Turkey was forced to admit 1.8 million refugees, which would not have sought asylum, had Turkey not poked the hornet’s nest and created unrest in their home country.

Turkey has helped the refugees flood the European mainland to created panic. The ruse was successful as EU countries gathered in Brussels on Sunday to beg Ankara to slow or to stop the flow of refugees, rewarding it with very generous deals. Turkey has been awarded $3.2 billion in assistance to its refugee program. The bigger bonus was that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany softened her position and the EU promised to begin the stalled negotiations with Turkey for the latter’s admission into the European Union. Of course, there was a more global policy at play behind these magnanimous gestures. Turkey stood to be isolated in its standoff with Russia and these policy changes symbolize the allies’ solidarity with Turkey. A recent wire story from Russia has President Putin suggesting that the Turkish authorities shot down the Russian plane bombing ISIS — helping curb the terrorist strongholds — to protect ISIS as Turkey gets cheap oil from them, which they in turn steal from Iraqi pipelines.

President Erdogan had duped the West to be tolerant to their bombing Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq, under the guise of fighting ISIS. His irresponsible adventure of shooting the Russian military aircraft brought the NATO allies reluctantly together to his rescue. It looks like in both cases, the tail is wagging the dog.

While getting into these foreign policy adventures, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is nurturing a time bomb at home. All the terrorist cells that have been incubating in Turkey will eventually mature and turn against him because they do not consider Erdogan and his party sufficiently fundamentalist with regard to Islam, practicing the extreme form of that religion. When Osama bin Laden was gleefully shooting at Soviet MIG fighters in Afghanistan through US supplied Stinger Missiles, who could have imagined that he could turn to the West as his target, setting his sights on the World Trade Center?

A humanitarian drama is being enacted in Europe as the Syrian refugees try to cut the barbed wire fences on Hungary’s border and walk through the Chunnel from the European mainland to England.

Many countries have set up quotas to receive the refugees, with the most generous being Germany. France is next in line, despite the threat of political backlash by ultra-rightist Marine Le Pen, who aspires to take over the presidency, playing on the xenophobic fears of the population, already heightened because of the recent attacks.

Canada will receive 25,000 Syrian refugees, but President Obama’s pledge to admit 10,000 refugees has already led to Congressional action to stop them, which he has vowed to veto.

Polls indicate that 53-56 percent of the US population is against admitting more Muslim refugees. Who do these Syrian refugees look like? Somebody answered: the biological father of Steve Jobs, who was indeed a Syrian immigrant. Imagine if Albert Einstein were on the German ocean liner St. Louis with 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, when the ship was turned away from the port of Miami to return to Europe. More than a quarter of the passengers later died in the Holocaust.

President Frank D. Roosevelt was suspicious that some Nazi spies were able to creep in amongst the Jewish refugees and thus he restricted their entry to the US.

In the aftermath of World War II, Jewish immigration, perhaps more than any group, transformed America culturally, scientifically and philosophically. In a way, they transferred Europe’s best traditions to the US.

President Roosevelt’s anti-immigrant phobia turned him also against the Japanese minority in the country. Indeed, through an order of his, 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast were rounded up and detained without charges during World War II. They were sent to brutal internment camps throughout the duration of the war. Of course, the US government extended an apology to the victims of that policy and they were compensated financially later.

Today’s fears may have some justification that some bad apples may cross the borders with the legitimate refugees, who themselves are victims of terrorism and are escaping the very same terrorists that have the West in their sights. Almost 30 governors, mainly Republicans, have expressed positions against admitting refugees to their states, but immigration is governed by federal policy.

President Obama said, “When I hear folks say that well maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have a religious test for our compassion.”

Immigrants founded this country and it cannot turn against its raison d’etre. Ten thousand refugees represent a mere drop in the bucket in the ocean of 350 million.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized the border controls in a call for Europe to respond to the refugee crisis with “compassion, solidarity and shared responsibility.”

Armenia has demonstrated that compassion by welcoming 17,000 refugees from Syria, ranking third in Europe in terms of admitting refugees. The director of European Friends of Armenia Eduardo Lorenzo Ochoa writes in an article that “Armenia shows Europe how to welcome refugees.” Most of the Syrian refugees in Armenia are of Armenian descent but there are also Yezidis and Assyrians who have made Armenia their home. Mr. Ochoa concludes his remarks with the flowing statement: “Armenia’s approach to the current crisis is a direct continuation of this praiseworthy tradition, and proves that Armenia is fully and undeniably part of European community values.”

Although Armenia upholds European values, the European Union has no plans to support refugees in Armenia, after sending $3.2 billion to Turkey for the same.

A word needs to be said about countries which have contributed to the turmoil in Syria by arming the terrorists: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain have admitted zero refugees although their bloodstained signatures are on the destiny of those refugees.

Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, has called those wealthy countries’ inaction in the face of the Syrian crisis “shameful.”

These refugees did not choose on their own to rush to Europe and to America. They were living — well indeed — in a stable and we can add, prosperous country until the West decided a regime change was necessary.

The moral of the story is do not bomb and destroy stable countries and then feign charity for the victims.

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