I am beginning to smell something nasty being cooked-up, which if I am correct, would amount to a betrayal of the Syrian people’s aspirations and a dagger in the back of courageous Syrians who have fought valiantly for their freedom. Signs are that Washington and its allies are taking the line ‘If you cannot beat them, join them’.
Confronted with economic woes and terrorist attacks, Turkey’s President Recip Tayyep Erdogan is in the mood to forgive and forget. He practically went on bended knee before his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin to restore relations with Russia, cut following Turkey’s deliberate downing of a Russian warplane.
And although he swore he would never re-establish relations with Israel unless the blockade of Gaza was lifted, he has kissed and made up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following a six-year-long dispute over Israel’s storming of a Turkish vessel out to break the siege. But I was shocked and dismayed to hear of yet a third about-face in the offing.
Erdogan has been ranting against the Syrian regime since the civil uprising began in 2011 – and rightly so. He has likened President Bashar Al Assad to “Hitler” and he declared that his Syrian nemesis was “a more advanced terrorist than ISIS” just weeks ago. He has also warned him that his end will be similar to that of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, and to effect regime change he has supported some of the most unsavoury opposition groups.
According to Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the leadership is considering mending fences with the Syrian regime. “It is our greatest and irrevocable goal: developing good relations with Syria and Iraq...We normalised relations with Russia and Israel. I am sure we will normalise relations with Syria as well. For the fight against terrorism to succeed, stability needs to return to Syria and Iraq,” he said. So there you have it! Now that the terrorists, once cared for in Turkey’s hospitals “for humanitarian reasons”, are biting the hand that treated their brethren, the fact that the Assad regime is responsible for the death of 400,000 of its own citizens is of secondary importance.
Meanwhile, the White House is courting Moscow in hopes of forging a joint military alliance to eviscerate Al Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot Jabhat al- Nusra, described by the Washington Post as the most successful rebel force against the regime, as well as other extremist groups.
Of course, terrorists have no place in Syria or anywhere else and while I have nothing against a US-Russian joint bombing campaign in principle, its prime target should be regime forces whose bombs have reduced entire neighbourhoods to blood-soaked rubble. If this partnership gets off the ground, it is a win-win outcome for Assad who earlier this month revealed to an Australian network that the United States is not Syria’s enemy and that Western countries deal with Syria via back channels.
“They attack us politically and then they send officials to deal with us under the table,” he said. “But if you ask them they will deny it. And we are going to deny it, but in reality it exists through back channels.”
It is notable that US Secretary of State John Kerry no longer insists that Assad must step down and his boss’s demands have lost their vigour. Suspicions held by some Syrians on the ground that the Obama administration has gone soft on the regime as the best of a bad bunch are gaining traction.
The lingering question is whether the US, Turkey and Russia are new partners in what I consider to be nothing short of a crime? If mainly Sunni opposition forces feel there is a conspiracy afoot to bolster Assad, they will lose heart. Why should they sacrifice their lives for a lost cause? Facing retribution, their only option would be to flee with their families to find a safe haven.
I hope I am wrong but if Assad remains in power, Syria’s Sunni population will be – and has already been – greatly reduced. Like Iraq, it will fall under Shiite domination and will be subsumed into Iran’s regional sphere of influence. Together with Russia, Iran is succeeding in cleansing Syria of a major Sunni presence, a strategy now being rubber-stamped by the US, Iran and its allies in the West.
Those millions of refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq will find their dreams of returning home shattered.
The more than one million spread over Europe have by now discovered they are unwanted, mistrusted and feared. Many of those who were joyous upon arrival in Germany have been left heartbroken to find there is no prospect of their families being permitted to join them.
Turkey is mulling offering citizenship to 300,000 wealthy, highly educated or skilled Syrians. Others, particularly the brightest and best, are being resettled in the west where they will be treated as second-class citizens and objects of hate for far-right groups. These are the lifeblood for the country’s future.
Syrians are a proud people. Their greatest wish is to go home to resume their lives. They did not choose to be refugees, treated not as human beings but as statistics. It is not their fault they are reduced to subsisting often in dire conditions, lacking schooling for their children and anything other than basic medical care. Generations have been traumatised and their children will always struggle to erase the scars etched on their memories.
The so-called international community has failed to put an end to this conflict. The big powers have been impotent to stop it. The result is the creation of a ticking time bomb – another Palestinian-style Diaspora on a far greater scale with far greater consequences. Just as the Palestinians never relinquished their identity and their soil, neither will Syrians; their collective pain and loss will be their legacy passed on to their grandchildren and great grandchildren over coming decades.
The tragedy is that with international resolve and unity of purpose, Syria could have been saved. Hundreds of thousands were needlessly lost and almost half the population displaced. But each country involved, many of which were willing participants in illegal wars of choice, shied away from committing to a just fight to keep innocents from being slaughtered and it seems that some are now secretly shaking hands with the slaughterer.
I can only appeal to leaders of good conscience to intervene fast before the underhand deals with the devil are signed and sealed. Assad must go so that the living can rebuild and the lives of the martyred weren’t sacrificed in vain.
The Prophet’s companion Khalid ibn Al Walid, a brilliant military commander who defended Mesopotamia from Persian conquest and smashed the Byzantine occupying forces in Syria, must be turning in his grave. Never have the honourable and the brave been so sorely needed!