Friday, October 24, 2014

The Lessons of Late Ottoman Genocides for Contemporary Iraq and Syria

This article will appear in the Armenian Weekly’s upcoming magazine on Ottoman genocides, co-edited by Khatchig Mouradian (coordinator, Armenian Genocide Program, CGHR, Rutgers University) and Sabri Atman (director, Seyfo Center–the Assyrian Genocide Research Center).
Scholars of genocide studies have begun to explore the constitutional and political causes of genocide. After many years in which theories of evil intention prevailed, structuralist and functionalist theories have gained ground. For example, Rene Lemarchand’s studies in the comparative dynamics of genocide suggest that the colonial and precolonial context of an entire region may make genocide attractive at either the national or the local level.[1] He argues that “social structure” may lead to genocide where groups are “ranked” in terms of access to social goods such as wealth or education, enjoyment of human rights, or power.[2] Adam Jones looks to Cambodia as a “subaltern genocide” in which rebels who fought the UN-recognized government for some time took over and began mass executions of those seen as “traitorous” to the new Khmer Rouge system, and starved many others by misrule.[3] Jones observes that the Khmer Rouge served a functional role in the world system, serving as “protégés” to the United States and China in their efforts to limit Vietnam’s growing power.[4]
Civil strife and refugee flight operate as accelerators to genocidal events. German and Hutu elites sought to preempt what they saw as “annihilation.” Tutsi forces in Burundi and eastern Congo perpetrated mass violence against Hutus for similar reasons.[5] In several cases of genocide, refugee flows have been used as a weapon, as with the case of the German “refugees” from the “free city” of Danzig in 1939, the internally-displaced Hutus of northern Rwanda targeted by Tutsi rebels in 1993-94, the Hutu refugees in eastern Congo in 1994-2014, and the remnant of the Khmer Rouge who acted as cross-border terrorists after 1979.[6] The Arab League states used Palestinians as a “refugee weapon” against Israel, and Ronald Reagan used Cambodian refugees as a weapon against Vietnam.
This essay attempts to draw on some of these insights. The aim is apply the lessons of late Ottoman genocides against Christians to the present-day humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria. Both crises present some similarities with the geopolitical context of the late Ottoman Empire: a strategy of limiting Russian influence in the eastern Mediterranean, destabilizing refugee flows in the region in the years leading up to the crisis, a transition from an oppressive dictator/monarch to a coalition promising a more liberal and democratic era, the formation of death squads and their support networks on all sides, and rising religious and racial extremism setting the stage for ending the era of pluralism and creating total chaos. A new Khmer Rouge is rising in Iraq and Syria, extremist rebels who may destroy pluralism.
Late Ottoman Genocides: False Hopes and Plans for Vengeance
False promises of a more pluralistic era go back centuries in the Middle East. Crowds in London in the era of the Crimean War held up posters showing the Ottoman Sultan, Napoleon Bonaparte III, and Queen Victoria as the “three saviours of civilization.”[7] Viscount Palmerston maintained that the “integrity and independence of the Ottoman Empire are necessary to the maintenance of the tranquility, the liberty, and the balance of power” of the world.[8] The newspapers said that Britain was fighting against Russia as “the personification of Despotism,” and that “God wills the liberty and happiness of mankind,” so Britain was “doing God’s work in fighting for liberty….”[9] Freedom for all was at hand.
Historians of the late Ottoman Empire describe a dynamic of catastrophe, in which attempts to limit Ottoman conquests resulted in massacres of local civilians, countermassacres of Ottoman settlers and occupation forces, threatened humanitarian interventions, paper promises of equality among Ottoman subjects in the future, and renewed conflict years later.[10] The Russians did not believe in the Ottoman pledge to protect the rights of Orthodox Christians, which had been trampled consistently. In the Crimean War, the British and Austro-Hungarians supported the Ottomans against the Russians, with the result that “Russia was compelled to demolish her fortresses on the Black Sea” and to keep her warships out of the seas adjoining the western Ottoman coasts, while “Turkey made promises (on paper) that Christians should be admitted to equal rights with Mussulmans in her European dominions.”[11] Britain insisted on the “independence and territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire,” eventually signing a pact to defend it against Russian attempts to liberate the Ottoman Christians.[12] The British heavily financed the late Ottoman military machine.[13]
In the twentieth century, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) collaborated with the Committee of Union and Progress or “Young Turks” on plans for a more democratic era in Ottoman history, one in which Armenians and Turks could be treated as equals.[14] According to historian Gerard Libaridian of the University of Michigan, the ARF looked to the Balkan revolutionaries and Russian socialists as models.[15] He implies that its cooperation with the Young Turks only helped reinforce the new regime’s authority, with disastrous consequences. The Balkan wars and the manipulation of the Armenian issue confirmed the worst instincts of some members of the Young Turks. The resulting Young Turk regime reinforced the Ottoman state with Turkism, one-party rule, and a modernizing national socialism.[16]
Revenge on Native Christians for British and Slavic Victories
The Young Turks and the Constitution of 1908 pledged a new era of democratic pluralism.[17] Secretly, the Young Turks planned to avenge the human-rights violations against Turks in the Balkans, the Russian Empire, and other places. The plan was to deport Christians from their homes and use brigands or irregulars (çetes) or Kurds to perpetretrate massacres.[18] The German consul in Erzurum reported that the “non-Muslim and non-Turkish inhabitants” of the Ottoman Empire would be “attacked and exterminated by Kurdish and Turkish brigands.”[19] The extermination operations were often perpetrated by the “brigand cadres” of convicts released from prison to serve in the Ottoman Special Organization, joined by Kurdish tribes, Turkish gendarmes or police, and Muslim refugees from the Balkans or the Russian Empire.[20] The refugees sought revenge on the Orthodox Christians and Slavs for their suffering in the Balkan Wars and the expansion of Russia’s empire.[21] One of the leaders of the Young Turks, Enver Pasha, remarked that after the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, “our anger is strengthening: revenge, revenge, revenge; there is no other word.”[22] In 1914, the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies prophesied a “day of revenge” against the “Muscovites” and their “allies” for all the “martyrs they have trampled underfoot.”[23] With the start of World War I, the German ambassador predicted that if British forces landed on the Turkish coast, all bets would be off when it came to the massacre of the Armenians.[24] In July 1915, a German diplomat described how the Muslim refugees brought “tales of suffering” to Turkey, which led to “exceptional measures against the Armenians.”[25] Historian Taner Akçam observes that “[a] nation that feels itself on the verge of destruction will not hesistate to destroy another group it holds responsible for its situation.”[26]
With respect to this plan, some of their German allies encouraged the Young Turks. The German-Turkish League, with the German Foreign Office standing behind it, developed a geopolitics of pitting Germans and Turks against Russians and Armenians. Advocates of this type of geopolitics proposed removing the Armenians from the Ottoman-Russian border area so as to change the racial balance of forces, and to preempt further Russian victories. Arab populations would be deported to the Ottoman north, to be replaced by Armenians who could work the German railway in Mesopotamia, a project that promised agricultural and oil wealth.[27]
After reviewing the German diplomatic cables published by Johannes Lepsius in 1918, German scholar Gabriele Yonan has argued that the Kaiser, the German Intelligence Service for the Orient, and the German Embassy in Constantinople had helped bring about an Armenian and Assyrian “Holocaust,” by aiding and abetting plans of the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph for a “holy war” against the Christian allies of Britain and Russia.[28] According to the German diplomatic traffic, the Ottoman Minister of Interior, Talât Pasha, told a German embassy official in mid-1915 that the Turkish government “is intent on taking advantage of the World War in order to [make a] clean sweep of internal enemies—the indigenous Christians—without being hindered in doing so by diplomatic intervention from other countries.”[29] The diplomatic archives indicated that German officials believed that the Ottoman government “resolved . . . to eliminate the indigenous Christians.”[30] This was consistent with reports that the Young Turks decided in 1910-1911 that the “‘nations that remain from the old times in our [Ottoman] empire are akin to foreign and harmful weeds that must be uprooted.’”[31]
The native Christians, for their part, sought to escape annihilation by flight, appeals for justice, and spotty resistance. In July 1915, the German ambassador to Turkey wrote that under the guise of “relocations,” the Ottomans carried out the “goal of annihilating the Armenian race in Turkey.”[32] The Armenian patriarchate claimed that 200 churches and about as many other places of worship or religious education were stolen or destroyed.[33] In early 1916, the Assyrian patriarch warned the Russians that Turkish and Kurdish forces “had determined to kill all of us [Assyrians],” so that he led his people to flee their homeland.[34] The German imperial chancellor was told that the Assyrians of eastern Turkey had been “exterminated.”[35] Paul Shimmon, on behalf of the Assyrian patriarch, complained that 70 Assyrian towns and villages had been looted and ruined by Ottoman troops and Kurdish militias.[36] The Greek Foreign Minister spoke of the deaths of more than 300,000 Anatolian Greeks along the Black Sea coast.[37] The U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire condemned the murder of two million Christians in Turkey by 1918, including Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks.[38] Genocide scholar R.J. Rummel, surveying a variety of sources, has identified two periods of killing, involving 300,000 to 1.4 million Armenians in 1914-1918, nearly 200,000 Assyrian and Greek Christians in 1914-1918, nearly 50,000 Assyrians in Persia in 1914-1918, and 800,000 Armenians and Greeks in 1919-1925.[39]
Facing military defeat, the Ottoman Sultan signed a forward-looking treaty with the Western powers. The treaty adopted many of the tools later utilized by the United Nations to reduce the incidence of mass atrocities: ethnic autonomy, human rights for religious minorities, and nonaggression pacts.[40] In response, Mustafa Kemal and Rauf Orbay waged a national “holy war” (cihad-ı milliye) against the remaining Armenians and Greeks.[41] Raphael Lemkin’s notes for a study of Greek-Turkish relations after 1918 stated that after massacres of Turks by Armenians or Greeks, “wave[s] of genocide” reached the Armenians of Cilicia and Yerevan, while at Smyrna some Greek massacres of Turks were followed by attacks by the çetes on Greek villages, designed to “end in the elimination of the rival nationality from that particular area.”[42] The Kemalist irregulars (chéttes or bashibozuks in Lemkin’s sources) murdered villagers, raped women, “cut down” children, and burned the villages.[43] In June 1921, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs described the killing of 60,000 Christians in Soviet Armenia and the environs.[44] Later in 1921, Stanley Hopkins of the aid organization Near East Relief confirmed that the “Greeks of Anatolia are suffering the same or worse fate than did the Armenians in the massacres of the Great War.”[45] He described the Kemalists’ intention as “to destroy all Greeks….”[46] A quarter of a million Armenians and Greeks persished in the Kemalists’ reoccupation of Smyrna, mostly of drowing, burning, and hunger.[47] By late 1922, the British Prime Minister Lloyd George condemned how the Kemalists had “slaughtered in cold blood … five hundred thousand Greeks….”[48] In December 1922, the British foreign minister concluded that “a million Greeks have been killed, deported or have died.”[49] A million or more Ottoman Christians may have been slain after 1918, based on census records and the reports of various diplomats and scholars.
The subsequent Treaty of Lausanne promised to achieve what even the Ottoman Empire could not, that is, to seal “the extinction of Christianity” in Turkey. The Europeans and Russians offered moral and material support to Kemal and Orbay, while they rarely helped the Christians north of the Iraqi border.[50] The Assyrians asked to receive the benefits of treatment as an “independent nation,” failing which they feared “their future existence as a nation [was] doomed,” but the British Empire refused.[51] The Ottomans had issued an order to exterminate the Assyrian and Armenian Christians of Mosul during the war, which the German consul Walter Holstein resisted, prevailing due to an “immense strength of will.”[52]
The Turkish state created in Ankara claims to be the “legitimate successor of the Ottoman State.”[53] The pillars of modern Turkey are threefold: nationalistic intolerance (Turkification), religious intolerance (Sunnification), and political intolerance (the strangulation of dissent). The Turkish criminal code enforces each of these three pillars of modern Turkish society, with Article 301 codifying the immunity of the Turkish race and its history from criticism, Article 125(b) the immunity of the dominant religion from criticism, and Article 125(a) the immunity of specific Turkish officials from criticism.
The War in Iraq: Imitating the Turkish Model
In 1990, neoconservatives such as Bernard Lewis and the Brookings Institution’s experts suggested that an “international order” of peace and security would follow a war on the side of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait against Iraq.[54] Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Martin Indyk of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute became boosters for Saudi Arabia’s role in promoting a peaceful Middle East in the 1990s.[55] On the other hand, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, in his first Senate speech, accurately predicted that the 1990-1991 war would inflict “tremendous destructive power” and “unleash forces of fanaticism in the Middle East and [make] a chronically unstable region … even more unstable….” Senator Strom Thurmond and other Republicans and Democrats disagreed, arguing: “A vote in support of the President [authorizing war against Iraq] is a vote for peace.”[56] Their voices prevailed, and the royal families of the Persian Gulf, including those of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, became hotbeds of the terror fundraising and incitement that led to 9/11. They had been saved from secular republican politics by the war to eject Iraq from Kuwait and the border area with Saudi Arabia.[57]
George W. Bush formed a “strategic partnership” with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the purpose of which was “restructuring Iraq.”[58] Journalists and neoconservatives saw few drawbacks and several potential benefits of invading Iraq. Because they saw Saudi Arabia and Turkey as helpful allies, they thought that the transition to a moderate democracy in Baghdad would be cheap and would not take long.[59] After all, if ibn Saud and Mustafa Kemal could bloodlessly build moderate societies under British and French tutelage in the 1930s (as the myths handed down say), why couldn’t Tariq al-Hashemi or Iyad Allawi do the same thing in Iraq? In terms of other benefits, Russia’s contracts to drill for oil could be expropriated.[60] Analogous beneficial results had been obtained for the anti-Russian alliance through subversion and financing extremists in 1950s Iran and 1960s Iraq.[61]
In 2003, Bernard Lewis was a strong supporter of invading Iraq, arguing that a successful democracy like Germany or Japan would be created.[62] In 2012, he welcomed the Arab Spring as cause for optimism that a Turkish-style democracy would emerge in the Arab states, led by “religious organizations,” “craft guilds,” and the “increasing participation of women.” CNN and other corporate media praise Lewis as the “world’s greatest historian of the Middle East.” Foreign domination of the Middle East was brief and ended decades before 2011, he said in 2012. Liberal democracy is “suitable for the English-speaking peoples,” whereas Middle Eastern societies have democracies like that of Turkey, where authority comes from religious organizations, guilds, and other apolitical associations. The Justice and Development party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in a free and fair election, and Turkey in the 1950s conducted the first genuinely free and fair elections in the Middle East, Lewis claimed.[63] Turkey enjoyed the “best prospects” for a “compromise” between freedom and fundamentalism, he argued. Despite some “difficulties,” it had a “parliamentary democracy” for “more than half a century.”[64] In fact, restrictive rules disqualifying advocates of liberty or equality from forming political parties in Turkey, along with a series of military coups, have shaped this “democracy.”[65]
Having forgotten or suppressed the actual history of the Middle East, the neoconservatives and so-called liberal interventionists projected a delusional future if their policies were adopted. In 1992, the second edition of Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, the book by liberal interventionist Michael Walzer that is often read by students of politics and military ethics, argued that humanitarian intervention and preemptive war could promote peace by protecting the “political independence” of nations, while “uphold[ing] the values of individual life of which sovereignty is merely an expression.”[66] In 2002, President George W. Bush declared that by preemptive war, he would guarantee American security and lives while protecting liberty.[67] In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush posed as a guardian of liberty at home while promoting democracy around the world.[68]
Since 2003, Americans enjoyed deteriorating national security, increasing loss of life, and ever-declining liberty as a result of Bush’s policies. The number of terrorist attacks tripled from 2003 to 2004.[69] More Americans died in Iraq than in all terror attacks under presidents Clinton and Bush prior to the war.[70] The American Civil Liberties Union reported in 2004 that Americans were trapped in a “surveillance society.”[71] In 2006, the ACLU condemned the “Orwellian doublespeak” that prevented legislative or judicial oversight of how many people had lost their civil freedoms, and for what reasons.[72]
The idea of an alliance to protect freedom, led by Bush and aided by the Saudis and Turkey, could only make sense to those who systematically distorted the English language. For example, the Brookings Institution and Washington Institute for Near East Policy called Turkey “secular” even though it “has created a tradition of ‘state Islam’ whereby the government builds and staffs mosques….”[73] Bush aide Paul Wolfowitz went to the absurd extent of saying that Turkey was “committed to the values of separation of religion and government that underlie this modern secular democracy.”[74] Noah Feldman, an aide who helped draft a constitution for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, argued that because Turkey had no official religion, there could be a successful democracy in Iraq in which minorities and women were treated equally, there was no “breeding ground” for terrorism, and there was a rule of law.[75] This argument began with a false premise and ended with a delusional prediction. Feldman implied that the fact that many 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia was a reason why Iraq had to have an official religion along with a democratic system.[76] It was an argument that began with a non-sequitur and ended with a contradiction in terms. Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution proposed war with Iraq but only a “hard discussion” with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the places where the 9/11 hijackers were raised.[77]
After Iraq’s democratic government and official religion came on the scene in 2005, the results have been disastrous. Death squads were formed on religious and sectarian lines, such as al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, the Badr Bridges, the Fury Brigade, the Wolf Brigade, the Mahdi Army, and others.[78] A prosecutor for U.N.-backed Multi-National Force Iraq in cases before the Central Criminal Court of Iraq concluded in 2006 that some Iraqi judges follow “Sunni clerics, who have glorified the insurgency; … [while] others have called for the murder of Americans, and have commanded lenient treatment for captured terrorists.”[79] Due to the country’s “official religion,” the Iraqi courts and “Iraqi positive law support[] this religious discrimination in favor of Islamic insurgents.”[80] This result may have been expected by those who endorsed a theory explained by Richard Falkenrath at the Brookings Institution in 2005: religious violence in Iraq was good for the United States because it operated as a type of “flypaper” trap for “Sunni terrorists” and “Shiites.”[81]
Refugee movements, regime change, and militia formation are “accelerators” for genocide.[82] The United Nations and antiwar activists like Martin Sheen predicted two to three million Iraqi refugees, and refugee groups have in the past been a breeding-ground for violence.[83] About 100,000 excess deaths happened in Iraq by September 2004, 600 car bombs went off in civilian areas by 2006, and half the Christian population fled the country.[84] The median per capita income fell to less than a dollar a day, as food prices surged.[85] Iraqi politicians began complaining of genocide as early as 2005.[86] About 600,000 excess violent deaths took place by the fall of 2006, with gunfire and car bombs being important causes of death.[87]
As in the late Ottoman Empire, the Assyrian and Armenian communities were decimated in Iraq. By 2010, Assyrians lost three-quarters of a population of 800,000 to religious cleansing, poverty, and premature death, and Armenians lost half of a prewar population of 20,000.[88] While a census of Mosul in 1920 estimated that the city was about one-seventh Assyrian Christian,[89] the city was by 2010 most likely only 1% Assyrian or less.[90]
A coalition of Iraqi nongovernmental organizations called in 2007 for a series of measures to deescalate the cycle of crimes against humanity in the country. They proposed “transparent inquiries into all allegations of international humanitarian law violations, “inquiries into human rights violations by all parties,” and “ending the state of impunity through adequate judicial mechanisms,” but little interest was shown in such a comprehensive inquiry.[91] As Iraq and other countries warned the U.S. State Department that Saudi Arabia was financing al Qaeda, the Taliban, anti-Hindu extremists in Pakistan, and other terrorist groups, Saudi Arabia was not subjected to the sort of economic sanctions directed at Iraq and Syria.[92]
The Iraq War Comes to Syria, Courtesy of the Neighbors
Nations like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey stand to benefit from a terrorist victory in Syria when their allies gain control over a gas pipeline from the Persian Gulf through Syria to Turkey and Europe.[93] They seem to be happy to sacrifice pluralism and stability for this aim. In their own countries, the percentage of Christians is 1% or less, rather than the 10% of 1980s Iraq or 1990s Syria.[94] These countries also financially or rhetorically supported the Bosnian and Chechen wars, in which the leaders of the Syrian rebels gained experience before heading to Iraq or elsewhere.[95] The Bosnian civil war, which Turkey strongly supported along with Pakistan, reduced the Serbian Christian population of Bosnia and Herzegovina by almost 300,000 persons from 1991 to 1997.[96]
In 2011 and early 2012, Saudi Arabia armed the jihadists in Syria through Iraq and Lebanon.[97] It was obvious that the arms flow from the Saudis would also benefit al Qaeda, placing the entire world in danger of extremism.[98] Russia condemned the “foreign governments [who] were arming ‘militants and extremists’ in Syria,” and argued that U.N. economic sanctions were being used to strangle entire economies, and promote war.[99] Its diplomats estimated that 15,000 foreign terrorists had entered Syria and were killing civilians using those foreign-supplied armaments.[100] The foreign ministries of China, India, Brazil and South Africa agreed that “external interference in Syria’s affairs” should end.[101] The European Union, Turkey, the United States, and the Arab League advocated a “political transition” to a “plural” democracy, as the United States, Turkey, and the United Kingdom had promised in Iraq.[102] The United States called on Russia to deny weapons to the Syrian government,[103] even though Syria alleged that 2,000 government officials had been killed by rebels and infiltrators.[104] U.N. figures suggested a death toll of 5,400 by early 2012.[105]
As in the lead up to the Armenian-Assyrian-Greek genocide, Turkey manipulated destabilizing refugee flows during the crisis. In 1911-1915, the focus was on inciting refugees from the Balkans and Russia to seek revenge on the Allies and Ottoman Christians. In 2012, the rebel chant became “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves.”[106] The leader of the most powerful so-called moderate rebels in Syria called for the religious cleansing of all Alawites and Shiites in Syria.[107] Just as the Committee of Union and Progress promised democracy and worked with Armenian revolutionaries, the Syrian National Council worked with Christian revolutionaries in Syria.[108] As the Ottoman Sultan was supposed to be replaced by a multiethnic, Western-looking, parliamentary democracy under the Committee of Union and Progress, the Syrian National Council promised to replace the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad with a more liberal and democratic era.[109] One might also compare these promises to the transition from the Shah of Iran to the Islamic Republic, and from Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia to the “Democratic Kampuchea” promised by the Khmer Rouge.[110]
Human Rights Watch has concluded that rebels who committed the crimes of hostage taking, massacres, and terrorism in Syria had brought in their “weapons …[,] money and other supplies” from Turkey.[111] The International Crisis Grou, a think-tank partially financed by contributions from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, recommended in spring 2013 that Turkey reduce “border crossings by Syrian opposition fighters; do not allow them to use refugee camps as rear bases; ensure there is no pressure on young camp residents to join opposition militias; and establish new refugee camps well away from the border.”[112] Turkey apparently rejected this recommendation.
Syrian extremists grew powerful through “direct access to Gulf [i.e. Saudi and Qatari]-based funding”[113] and received “everything they needed” in Turkey.[114] In July 2012, the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) and al-Qaeda types occupied the Syrian-Turkish border area and declared an Islamic state on YouTube.[115] The FSA’s communications strategy includes often “posting [jihadi] propaganda online.”[116] The FSA declared a holy war in Syria after May 2012, if not earlier,[117] and at least 500 Turks joined this war.[118] The rebel groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and [Greater] Syria (ISIS) used similar extremist videos.[119] In early 2014, a Turkish official admitted that the former FSA leaders were not a factor on the ground, instead emphasizing the reality of an “Islamic Front” that included Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid.[120] According to a joint report of Turkish members of parliament, lawyers, and journalists, the Islamic Front involves the cooperation with ISIS of a number of FSA brigades, including Ahrar al-Sham.[121] As these new fronts and states formed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that is looked to by the United States due to its pro-FSA orientation reported that deaths in Syria rose from 9,000 in 2012 to 100,000 in late 2013.[122]
The Saudi-backed forces that destroyed churches in Baghdad and Mosul from 2004 through 2011, massacring the Christians inside them as well as thousands of Shi’a, subsequently spread to Syria and acted similarly there.[123] Their leaders traveled from Iraq to Syria and there declared a “holy war” in January 2012.[124] With a core of 15,000-20,000 foreigners, there were 150,000 rebels in Syria in late 2013.[125] In 2012, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the leader of Libyan extremists that al Qaeda’s number two viewed as part of his organization, traveled to Istanbul to meet the FSA, reportedly taking arms and fighters with him.[126]
During the civil war, out of a death toll of 162,000 estimated by pro-opposition sources, the ratio of Syrian rebels to Syrian regime forces killed from 2011 to 2013 was about 1-to-1.5, meaning that more government officials died than rebels and terrorists, 61,100 to 42,700.[127] By way of comparison, in Turkey’s war on “terrorism,” the government reported that five members of pro-Kurdish forces were killed for every member of the Turkish government’s forces, 13,878 to 2,917.[128] In the U.N.-authorized coalition war against Iraq in 1990-1991, the ratio of coalition to Iraqi deaths was almost 100 to one using the minimum figure for violent Iraqi war deaths, or 343 to 30,000, and almost 800 to one including indirect deaths from the health effects of the bombardment and sanctions on Iraq, and the civil strife in 1991, or 343 to 278,000.[129]
The economic sanctions that the United States and European Union adopted inevitably deepened and widened the conflict in Syria. After sanctions cut off Syria’s oil exports, its unemployment rate hit 36% and probably exceeded 50% in 2013-2014.[130] Syrian money lost its value. As one expert said about Iraq in 2006, “[a]fter three years of unemployment in excess of 50 percent, there are no people in the world that wouldn’t be undergoing violence and militias.”[131] A top U.S. commander in Iraq observed that a relatively small rise in umemployment can “have a very serious effect” on sectarian violence in a place like Iraq.[132]
Veteran war correspondent Patrick Cockburn of Britain’s The Independent observes that in northwestern Iraq, the Sunni “leadership has been ceded to a pathologically bloodthirsty and intolerant movement, a sort of Islamic Khmer Rouge, which has no aim but war without end.”[133] One might say the same about the Sunni leadership adjoining the Turkish border, in Aleppo and Homs, and in eastern Syria. It has built very little and plundered a great deal.[134] While the vast majority of Sunnis falling under Iraqi or Syrian government control have not been killed, being outed “as Shia or a related sect, such as the Alawites, in Sunni rebel-held parts of Iraq and Syria today, has become as dangerous as being a Jew was in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in 1940.”[135] As in Cambodia or Somalia, diversity will be destroyed, pluralism will end, and a formerly functioning society will be devastated.[136]
In April 2014, the Washington Post reported that on March 21, the attack on the Armenian community of Kessab, Syria “was launched from Turkish soil,” with shelling and machine-gun fire coming from Turkish-based “jihadist rebel groups, which included the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the [FSA’s] Ahrar al-Sham.”[137] Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island drew attention to this attack by “al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists out of Turkey [on] the peaceful Christian-Armenian community in a town that has served as a place of refuge for those trying desperately to escape the bloodshed of the past three years.”[138] Christian refugees from Aleppo and Homs told journalist Nuri Kino that they fled because rebel brigades “were trying to kill [them] … because [they] are Christian….”[139] The Armenian Apostolic Church of America, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and Chaldean Catholic Church have reported that extremists have burned or plundered 30 percent of churches in Syria” and “driven out virtually all the population from the Christian towns of Maaloula and Kessab.”[140] These churches’ leaders warn that: “Turkey offers an example of what the future may hold for the region as a whole: the Christian population constitutes a mere 0.15 percent of that country’s 79 million people, down from almost a quarter of the population a century ago.”[141]
The crimes of the insurgents and foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria would already have been recognized as a genocide had their targets not been Shi’as and Christians. In 1974, the Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit called the civil strife in Cyprus a “genocide” because one Turkish woman was sexually assaulted, hundreds of Turkish Cypriots became displaced, and “the Turkish Cypriot villages are still under siege.” Turkey’s foreign ministry continues to make this charge today, based on reports that 200 to 300 Turkish Cypriots went missing in 1963-1964, and that dozens of Turkish Cypriot men and one Turkish Cypriot teenage girl may have been killed by Greek Cypriots in 1974.[142] In 1986, the Turkish foreign ministry told the United Nations that Bulgaria was committing “cultural genocide” by demolishing mosques, changing Turkish names to Bulgarian ones, restricting the speaking of Turkish, and “dream[ing] of a ‘greater Bulgaria.’”[143] In 2002, Turkey called Israeli raids into the West Bank in search of suicide bomb factories and men on Israel’s wanted list a genocide, after reports of a massacre in Jenin.[144] In 2009, Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed that there was a genocide in China when 148 people died in ethnic clashes between Han Chinese and the Turkic Uighur Muslims of East Turkestan.[145]
Censorship, ignorance, and indifference about Turkey’s history and the nature of its government contributed to policies that may destroy Iraq and Syria. Poorly-planned interventionism, chaotic regime change, alliances with bad actors, and the weaponization of refugee camps have magnified localized strife into religious genocides. Politicians should study the lessons of how the British Empire broke its paper promises to the Ottoman Christians after the Crimean War, after which Ottoman Christian communities were lost. New promises of a pluralistic and democratic Iraq and Syria ring hollow in light of history.

No comments:

Post a Comment