Stalemate in Syria


One of the hotspots of the resurgent Cold War is being fought on Syrian territory. During the Soviet era, all the Middle Eastern conflicts had an ideological bent, but with the fall of the Soviet empire, religion became politicized and weaponized in order to fuel sectarian violence in the region.

The Middle East has a global significance for the major powers because of oil as well as the security of Israel. In this age of fake pop-up news sites on major technological platforms, any a conflict can be portrayed in any light other than its accurate one.

The Arab Spring was launched in the Middle East supposedly to introduce democracy in the region. After that spring devastated Iraq, Libya and Syria, as well as Yemen just further south, people realized that any stable country in the region was a threat to the hegemonic plans of some powers. One irony of that charade was that the authoritarian kingdom of Saudi Arabia, armed with an extremist religious ideology of Wahhabism, was relegated by the US to introduce “democracy” in Syria, one of the few lay regimes left in the region.

The Syrian conflict, with its outflowing refugee problem, not only destroyed the country itself, but it had ramifications far beyond its borders, straining the economies of neighboring Jordan and Lebanon and creating a political backlash all the way to Eastern Europe and Germany.

At this time, many major and minor forces are at work on the Syrian battlefield to manage and mismanage the ongoing war. The major players are, of course, the United States and Russia, followed by Iran, Turkey, Israel and to a certain extent, the Gulf states. Each participant in the conflict has been paying lip service to “helping the Syrian people,” while actually pursuing their narrow, selfish interests.

When Moscow was recovering from the collapse of the Soviet empire, the West successfully instigated the bloody Balkan wars and the wars in the Middle East, without much hindsight, but when Syria was invaded by mercenaries, the Russian military and economic assets were directly threatened and Moscow decided to draw a line in the sand. Then a confluence of interests from Turkey and Iran became a factor, rendering the Syrian conflict to become a laboratory of the Cold War to sort out the self-interests of each combatant.

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Ironically, Washington’s goal was regime change in Syria. With the help of a pliant and undereducated news media, any targeted leader can be demonized within a short period of time, to justify subsequent military attack against his territory, as it happened in Iraq and Libya. Then the US moving target was shifted to ISIS (Islamic State or ISIL), when Washington realized that Moscow had decided to defend the Assad regime to the bitter end.

Today, Russia has an expanded military base in Tartus, Syria, Iran has its military and political presence, with its ancillary Shiite militia of Hezbollah, its hedge against Israel. The US is there with shifting goals. Israel makes its presence felt through its bombing raids into Syrian territory with Prime Minister Netanyahu boasting confidently that Israel will be on the Golan Heights forever. Also, Turkey is fanning the flames of its Ottoman dreams to carve out a piece of its territory in Eastern Syria.

Much of the Syrian territory has been recovered from the ISIS forces and has been under government rule in quasi-normal conditions good enough for some of the refugees to repatriate. But as far as the major powers and Syria’s future are concerned, the conflict is declared to be a stalemate.

During the conflict, Moscow and Ankara have become odd bedfellows much to the chagrin of the West. Turkey has expanded its exports to Russia, defying US sanctions, and has bought military hardware (S-400) from Russia. Moscow, in its turn, has brought to fruition the consolidation of the TurkStream gas pipeline to supply Europe with natural gas. Mehmet Ogutcu, head of the Bosporus Energy Club, has said that TurkStream is a great success, despite the US efforts to block the project. “This project will cement military and trade relations between Turkey and Russia, because it is creating mutual interdependence,” he added.

The Syrian war has resulted in the deaths of 360,000 civilians since it started in 2011 and left many internal refugees, in addition to the ones who have flooded Turkey (3 million), Lebanon (2 million), Jordan (1 million) as well as Europe.

Although much of the territory has been recovered by the Assad forces, with Russian military assistance, still the war has not fully come to an end. In November 28-29, Russia, Turkey and Iran will hold their 11th conference in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, to finalize an agreement. The three have been meeting regularly to arrive at a solution, and their efforts have reduced the violence.

ISIS is still in Der Zor, an oil rich region as well as a historic site of great interest for Armenians. Turkey is in Afrin, fighting local Kurdish forces The US is in Manbij supporting the Kurdish Forces (YPG), which have proved to be the most effective fighting group against ISIS.

The American Special Representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, has stated that the US’s “local partner since 2014 has been PYD/YPG, which is the Syrian offshoot of PKK but we have not designated it as a terrorist organization, which we did with the PKK.”

But it looks like the American local policy has reached a turning point, since it has been Ankara’s contention that Syrian Kurds also have to be labelled as terrorists. Mr. Jeffry’s statement veers toward that direction as he adds, “The US operations in Syria could not be done without the active participation, coordination and cooperation of Turkey.” This is an indication that the US is contemplating abandoning the Kurds and that is why some of the Kurds are cozying up to the Assad regime.

The White House, the State Department and the Pentagon have made conflicting statements about Syria. Mr. Trump announced that the US forces will soon leave Syria. His National Security Advisor John Bolton contradicted that statement by declaring that the US forces will not leave Syria until Iranian forces do, along with their paramilitaries. While the Pentagon was not sure if removing Iran and Iranian proxies were actually the official stance, a US Assistant Secretary of Defense of International Security Affairs said that the US was “desegregating efforts against ISIS from the Iran policy.”

While the Syrian conflict is winding down, the Armenians dislodged from that country are hesitant to return. Up to 22,000 are in Armenia, some ready to return, while others are deciding to settle there permanently and still others consider Armenia as a way station. They are looking for Armenian passports in order to be able to relocate to the West.

Before the war, there were some 80,000 Armenians in Syria, enjoying a privileged status as they did not meddle in politics and contributed to the Syrian economy as professionals, traders and hardworking business owners. They also constituted the last bastion of Armenianness, providing other communities with educated priests leaders , writers and scholars.

A researcher named Serdar Kurucu has made a striking statement to Al Monitor:  While other ethnic groups from Syria are seeking refuge in Turkey, this writer has questioned a Syrian Armenian: “When Turkey is so close, why are Syrian-Armenians not coming there?” The answer was “Yes, Turkey’s border is very close, but in real life, it is too remote from us.”

That response not only signified the memory of the Armenian Genocide, but also the more recent memory of devastation of Der Zor monument and the pogrom in the Kessab region of Syria, by the Turks and their associates.

Former President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan had warned Armenians to remain neutral in the Syrian conflict. But it seems that Nikol Pashinyan has developed a different policy. Indeed, Armenia, along with Serbia, is preparing to send a contingent to Syria on a humanitarian mission. Armenia had shipped humanitarian assistance in earlier years, but his current mission involves military personnel as well.

Although Mr. Bolton, during this recent visit to Yerevan, has warned Armenia against any involvement, acting Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan has stated that preparations are underway and the mission will take leave soon.

Armenia owes that humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and the Armenian community in Syria.






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