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The Cultural-Historical Debate behind the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (B)

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What about Jews’ legal rights? Israel’s political rights and sovereignty over the mandated territory called ‘Palestine’ were favored under International Law. In 1917 Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, issued his famous ‘Declaration,’ with the consent of the cabinet. In 1920, the Ottoman Empire in Article 95 of the Treaty of Sevres, granted its sovereignty in the Middle East, which had been undisputed for 400 years, to Great Britain. In 1920 San Remo convention, the Allies adopted Lord Balfour’s declaration as its policy, called ‘The British Mandate,’ that became International Law.

The 1922 Palestine Mandate specifically refers to the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine,” and called for the Jewish people to begin “reconstituting of their national home.” In 1924, the British Mandate became the domestic law of England and the US. The UN continued with this policy, according to article 80 of its Charter. So, Israel emerged from the British Mandate with the support of the League of Nations, and recognition of the UN.

Furthermore, 99% of the lands captured from the Ottomans in the Middle East and the North Africa was allocated to the Arabs. Only 1% was given to the Jews under the British mandate. After Churchill gave Transjordan to Abdullah, the Arabs and Muslims had 99.77% of the lands, and the Jews only one quarter of one percent. These figures expose the whole reality of the Middle East. Does Israel really threaten the Arab world? Or perhaps better say, Israel is under a lethal threat of existence, of total annihilation as a state and as a people from the Arab and Muslim world.  

The assertion that Israel came into existence on the basis of injustice done to the Palestinian nation proceeds on gross errors and lies: to claim that the Palestinian nation was displaced by Israel, when no such entity existed at that time is playing with the facts of history and twisting it. To argue that Israel took areas belonging to a Palestinian political entity in the Six Day War is a gross lie, since there was no Palestinian sovereignty on any territory. The fact is that in the 1967 war, Israel conquered militarily areas of mandatory Palestine which had been occupied by Jordan, which annexed the ‘West Bank;’ and Egypt, which retained the Mandatory system in Gaza.

After the failure of the Arab states in 1948 war to defeat Israel, frontiers for the Jewish state were determined in negotiations with the Arab states, which appropriated the Palestinian issue to themselves. All armistice agreements were conducted and signed by the Arab states. No mention of the ‘Palestinians’ as a people and ‘Palestine’ as a territory. The fact is that UN Resolution 194, of December 11, 1948, refers mainly to conciliation regime between Israel and the Arab states, and only in Article 11 does it relate to the ‘refugee problem’ in general terms. If this means Palestinians, it no less means Jewish refugees from Arab states.

The allegations that Israel was established by the European colonialism, is cynical, ironical and aberration of the truth. It is exactly the Arab States that deserve their nationalities to the decisions of the European powers, including the delineating of their entire borders. Moreover, to accuse Israel of being the product of European colonialism, while the history of the Arabs and Islam is the pure form of imperialism, colonialism and occupation, is again twisting the truth.

The Middle East was mainly Christian before it was occupied by Islam; Egypt was Pharaonic; Iraq was Babylonian and Assyrian; Iran was Sassanid; Syria was Chaldean and Ugarit; Lebanon was Phoenician; the Land of Israel was Jewish and Christian; Turkey was Christian and partly Buddhist; North Africa was Berber; Afghanistan and Pakistan were Christian and Buddhist. They all and many other countries were harshly occupied and colonized by the Arabs and Islam. While European colonialism demised, Arab-Islamic colonialism and imperialism thrives and expanding ever today.

As about the Arab-Islamic historical cultural heritage, a short tour reveals everything. When a tourist visits Egypt, all he find are Pharaonic traditions. If he visits Iraq, all he find are Babylonian and Assyrian sites (unfortunately demolished by the Islamic Caliphate State). The same occurs with Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and other places. What about Islamic historical cultural sites?

The Palestinian refugees Issue. The Palestinians initiated a highly successful propaganda campaign that Israel occupies the land belonging solely to them, uprooted its nation and scattered them out of their land. The Palestinian Nakbah has become a myth, the lost paradise, and thus the utmost specter. However, even here, historical facts reveal that the original political use of the Nakbah was in 1920, when the local Arabs vehemently objected the separation of the territory from Syria.

The Palestinian national narrative depicts the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 as the original sin, routinely equated with the Jewish Holocaust, and its remedy is turning the clock back to 1948. All Palestinian refugees, not just those still alive from 1948, but their millions of descendants, would be allowed to return to their homes. By that, this would entail the ending of the Jewish Zionist state.

The Palestinian issue is not a problem of refugees, since only a very small minority of them live in camps, and the socioeconomic data and the living standards show clearly that their situation not only resembles hundreds of millions of inhabitants of Third World countries, but in many ways the Palestinian economy and social situation is much better than at least one hundred states, including some Arab states.

The Palestinian issue is not the problem of a people uprooted from its land, since most of the Palestinians live in the land of ‘Mandatory Palestine,’ in area less than the distance between New York and Philadelphia. Small part of them still resides in refugee camps only because some still hope of the destruction of the State of Israel.

The Palestinian issue is not a problem of a society that was scattered from its human environment, since almost all Palestinians live and reside in an Arabic speaking society and culture, among their own society. It is absolutely clear that the total majority of the so-called Palestinian refugees are in no sense true refugees, according to world standards and social-economic reality.

In the past ninety years, more than 130 million refugees around the world, mainly from Europe and Asia, of which only 640,000 were Palestinians. That is only one half of one percent of world refugees. This is the correct proportion. Of all the millions of people who became refugees, the only ones who still count themselves as refugees and who live at the expense of the nations of the world are the Palestinians. Over 90% of the refugees in the world have been rehabilitated, residing in the places where they resettled.

The enormous donations to the Palestinians are unfortunately earmarked mainly for corruption and terrorism. Those who are in need in Asia and Africa receive nothing. The poverty, misery and wretchedness are really there, mainly in Africa, but only the Palestinians get the world’s political, social and financial attention. The Palestinians live off the world’s charity at the expense of those who are truly in need of that charity.

One example of the so many of this tragedy is sufficed to illuminate the sick situation, and it comes precisely from a Muslim state: Pakistan. In August 2010 there were huge areas flooded in Pakistan, causing at least twenty million refugees without any means of living. It was defined by the UN “the greatest humanitarian disaster.” However, except of lip service declarations, including the UN Secretary General calling the world to donate money, the UN itself did nothing to treat these miserable refugees as compare to what the Palestinians get regularly.

The same situation occurred in 2009, where two millions of Pakistanis run away from their homes in Swat region taken by the Taliban, without even water to drink, but with the same pattern of the UN: doing nothing. The UN High Commissioner, Antonio Guterres, described the displacement crisis as “one of the most dramatic in recent times,” but except of these high words UNHCR did very little to assist and sustain them.

And this is only one example of the so-many all over the world, let alone the last example of the Syrian tragedy of 9 million refugees scattered around without any help, that makes one sick and disgusted how the Palestinians succeed in manipulating world public opinion, attention and money donations.  

More illuminating and disturbing data give proportion to the Palestinian situation: a) at any given moment there are 15 to 25 million refugees living ‘outside of their border’ according to UN date, without food and shelter, in conditions far direr than the Palestinians; b) there are almost two hundred national-ethnic peoples in the world begging desperately for statehood, who do not wish to gain their independence at the cost of ruining other nation; c) one third of world population drink polluted water, most of them drink water that endanger their health, and every hour 8000 children die solely from drinking polluted water; d) one quarter of world populations have no toilets at home and use holes in a field; e) according to reliable data, there are 240 million slave-children around the world, including many from Muslim countries; f) there are, according to UNICEF and the International Woman Research, 51 million child-brides, all from Islamic countries, most of them are sexually harassed and beaten regularly, including one hundred million mutilated women.

The Palestinians are not included in this long poor miserable list.

There are three categories of refugees, according to the United Nations: refugees from all over the world; Palestinian refugees; and Jews refugees — with a totally different treatment. The first category is the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), which deals with refugees from all over the world, with the aim to give them a basic treatment, and to find quick and safe shelter for them, so that they are integrated or settled down as soon as possible. Those refugees are discouraged to remain refugees and to quickly find other accommodation alternatives. The budget allocated of UNHCR is 1.5 billion US$, with 6300 working personnel.

The second category is the Palestinian refugees. They are the special, privileged class. There is a special, separate UN agency, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), whose principal duty is to perpetuate their status as refugees forever; to prevent any attempt to settle them down; to provide them, their children and the next generations to the end of history to get a monthly special humanitarian social, economic, and welfare treatment. From 640 thousand refugees in 1948, UNRWA supports almost 4.5 million so-called Palestinian refugees. For that, it is the largest organization of the UN’s, with more than 28 thousand working personnel, 90 percent of them are Palestinians, and 2 billion US$ budget.

Under the humanitarian cover, UNRWA acts as a political organ, a giant pressure group for perpetuating the Palestinian refugee’s situation. Its activity is counterproductive in terms of the possibility of resolving the Palestinian refugee problem, by relegating them to a state of passivity and dependency.

Yet it is much worse. All educational system and schools run by UNRWA actively serve as greenhouses for praising terrorism as a source of hideous hatred and demonism against Israel and the Jews, and active bases of terrorism instruction and operations. The money donated by the Western states that defines Hamas and other groups as terrorist organizations goes to terrorism; the food supply serve Hamas activity; its warehouses stores weapons; and its workers drive terrorists and weapons with the cars and ambulances of UNRWA. Taken the huge money pour upon them, there is absolutely no motivation of the Palestinians to handle the issue and to recover out of the refugee status.          

The third category is the Jews. Nobody took care about them after the Second World War, and nobody even knows there was a Jewish refugee problem. After the establishment of the State of Israel, a million of Jews became refugees in many Arab lands, and had to leave their houses and huge property in Arab countries and to flee to Israel. None of these Jewish refugees were helped by the United Nations. All were set-tled long ago in their new environments, without being parasites of the world.

The following examples put the Palestinian refugees in perspective:

In April 2004, the UN General Assembly decided that it is impossible to implement the rights of the two hundred thousand Greeks and the fifty thousand Turks to return to their homes in partitioned Cyprus, cruelly occupied by Turkey in 1974, because “the new reality which has been created” must be taken into consideration. However, this stand of the UN is totally different concerning the Palestinian refugees. Why?

Following World War II, 11 million Germans were expelled from their homes in the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania, and were force-marched to Germany. Two million died on the way, but the others were absorbed in Germany. In 2004, few of them were seeking to return to their homes, not demanding to dissolve the country from which they were deported; not demanding to replace it; and not demanding money compensation. In August 2004, the German government determined they have no right of return even no reparations. However, the attitude of Germany and the EU towards the Palestinian refugees is totally different. Why?  

In 1968, the British Government exiled 5,000 of the residents of the Island of Diego Garcia, for the purpose of constructing an American air base. In 2003, the exiled residents demand to return to their homes in the island. Their demand was rejected by the British High Court of Justice that ruled out that the residents have neither the right to return nor to receive compensations. However, the British stand toward the Palestinian refugee problem is different. Why?  

Now the question is that out of all the misery and suffering in the world, and the last years are notoriously known of huge disasters culminating in tragedies almost everywhere, not to speak of the Millions refugees flooding Europe, the world is busy with the false detached “humanitarian situation in Gaza” and the need of “rescue flotillas” for the Palestinians? Why the world is silent while there are more than a billion poor and miserable starving and dying people around the world, the Palestinians continue to receive billions of dollars yearly? This immoral and unjustified flow of money continues even when the donating countries and the UN clearly know that large part of it goes to produce terrorism against Israel and increased corruption among the Palestinians.

Why the Kurds, 25 million people with well-known documented history living in the same Middle East, have no state of their own and nobody cares about their situation? Why the Christians, the original population in most of the Arab states, have become extinct species and nobody cares about their miserable fate, while the Palestinians are treated and sustained as if they are the last and only people with denied national aspirations? Indeed, the Palestinians got the greatest luck ever: Israel is their enemy. Otherwise, no one would have cared about them.

The Palestinians should look into the mirror and honestly ask: why there is no Palestinian state today? Is it Israel’s refusal, or their leadership’s obstinacy demanding ‘all or nothing’? The Palestinians could have established their state according to UN partition plan of November 1947 (decision 181), with a bigger territory than Israel. The Arabs could have conclude peace with Israel after 1948, instead of armistice agreements and establish a state for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza, as most of contemporary plans are aimed to. However, unfortunately, both the Palestinian leadership and Arab states declined. The real question is whether the Palestinians are ready to establish a state on the 1967 borders, and to recognize Israel’s legitimacy by declaring the end of hostilities. Unfortunately, all indicators are clear: they do not, and they still believe they can achieve it all and destroy Israel.

One of the main reasons for their stubbornness is the political support, almost blindly and totally, they get from the international system, mainly from Europe, the UN, and even the US. The international community has emboldened them into believing that Israel can be delegitimized and weakened through international pressure. All the Palestinians need is to hold out long enough for achieving their ultimate goal. This situation of putting their case above most of world issues, as if their case is solved all other issues coming from the Middle East, including the Islamic immigration, are solved, is disastrous for the world; counter-productive for the Palestinians; and lethal to the existence of Israel.

There is mainly one cause to the continuation of this conflict, which is buried beneath an avalanche of media coverage and politicians’ declarations designed to obfuscate and confuse reality — the Palestinians’ refusal to come to terms with Israel’s existence as a Jewish Zionist state. Indeed, this conflict is not about the right of self-determination of the “Palestinian,” but rather it is about Jewish self-determination; it is not about Israel’s stubbornness and rejection of a “Palestinian state,” but rather about Arab and Palestinian stubborn rejection of Jewish statehood; it is not about Israel’s refusal to compromise, the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties clearly prove it, but about the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to compromise and to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

Now, the question is why the Palestinians succeed in their propaganda full of lies and uncorroborated and unsubstantiated facts? The answer lies in the following syndromes:

The first is the Ignorance-Disinformation Syndrome (IDS). Most of the people, even those who have constant information of the situation, are not acquainted enough and do not know the details and the characteristics of the conflict, mainly because of cultural and ignorant barriers. One cannot avoid detecting the incredible amount of ignorance regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, so, when one pours highly concentrated lies and disinformation to the ignorant, the success is surely his.

Disputes about opinions and views when the facts are known is understandable; different views in describing facts are reasonable, since history is not an exact science; even Rashomon of telling different stories is acceptable. But, the fact is that so much Palestinian disinformation and atrocious lies has been poured so many years and by so many educated and intelligent people, is amazing. Distortions, misconceptions, and unadulterated lies are common, so that it became the whole truth.

Why do the Palestinians twist the reality? It is because they know their case is weak and unconvincing; because this is a cultural syndrome proven in Islamic history when relating to the other; because this is the message of the Qur’an that for the promotion of Islamic interests cheating and deceiving are permitted, and mainly because they wish not a compromised solution, but want it all. Why do they continue lying? Because they have solid proofs that their lies succeed, and world public opinion, leaders and the media, do not condemn them. The media is the Palestinians’ best friend.

James Baldwin, the American author has put this syndrome as follows: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

This is the reason why Goethe had reiterated the idea: “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” This is why Alan Dershowitz has put it so succinctly: “When the best are accused being the worst, you have to look at the accusers.”

To make the situation even more complicated, there is the Mirror Image Syndrome (MIS), the twisted psychological behavioral and conceptual lenses through which we look into the situation and interpret it. This is perhaps our most lethal enemy, proven through historical research by Barbara Tuchman (the march of folly of leaders; their blind stubbornness, and their permeability of mind). It is also proven through psychological research by Norman Dixon (denying reality and rationalizing it); and through surprise attacks and misconceptions research. We analyze the situation and relate to our enemy through our own values and conceptions. However, what if our enemy is different from us culturally and conceptually? What if he is devoted to achieve his goals by all means we do not even appreciate politically and understand culturally? What if we play Checkmate while they play Sheshbesh?

In his the Missing Peace, the American Diplomat, Dennis Ross, noticed the salient fact that for the Arabs, any Israeli withdrawal and relinquishment is not enough. The revolutionary change is yet to come for the Arab world to recognize Israeli needs, let alone its existence. It is not enough to sit at the negotiation table and to talk peace and yet to maintain a different atmosphere in the streets, in the media and politics. Without a real change in Arab-Islamic political culture, it is highly doubtful that the Middle East is on the path of change towards peace. On the contrary, it is still a huge barrier to peace, as much as to democracy and civil rights. The Middle East, Ross concludes, is going backwards and not progressing, with a continued militancy of Islamism.

The Nazi and Japanese analogy is most instructive. As long as racism and militarism was the basis of Nazi and Japanese society, both could not enter the modern democratic world. The Allied powers, headed by the US, understood that the military defeat is not enough, and imposed a radical change on Nazi and Japanese societal values, education and politics. Germany and Japan were forced to abandon their ancient tradition of nationalistic racism and militarism and to embrace an open system of democracy. Only then were they able to become democratic and technologically advanced nations. This must be applicable, first and foremost to the Palestinians, who are spoiled by the blind international support (and to the Muslims at large concerning the West).  

Moreover, the situation is exacerbated by the Aggressiveness-Victimhood as against Political Correct Syndrome (AVPCS). That means, understanding the ramifications of Arab-Islamic cultural phenomenon of victimhood as against Western politically correct approach. The Western trauma of politically correct of not to offend the other and to act according to fashion goes exactly with the Muslim demand of honor and not to be offended, being a supremacist religion.

The Arab-Muslims raise to unprecedented extremes their sensibilities; they immediately declare they are offended almost on every realm and every issue in day by day life. This situation, in its turn, deepens Western politically correct approach, and that process end with capitulation and apologies.

Whatever they do; no matter how aggressive is their behavior; how deep and horrible the atrocious violence they exhibit — from Arab-Muslim perspective, they are always the innocent victims who only defend their honor, their life and their land. This is a very well-known syndrome of the Arab-Islamic cultural trait of crying out and complaint (I’rad Baka’- Shaqa’), which is exemplified by the Arab saying: Darabni wa-Baka, Sabaqani wa-Shtaka (he hit me and cried out, he overtook me and grumbled). Add to this the Judeo-Christian guilt remorse, of internalizing the guilt, and the Arab-Islamic cultural syndrome of externalizing the guilt, and the result is clear: Arab Muslims win the situation, and Western civilization capitulates.

However, the most important is the leading scientific culture syndrome of the ‘post’ era, of ‘post imperialism’, ‘post modernism,’ ‘post colonialism,’ and relativism. This has become the new ideology, the god of new Western scientific era. Pascal Bruckner has called the Western intelligentsia’s new form as “tyranny of guilt,” a self-effacement of Western masochism that forbids any critical inquiry into the historical narratives of national movements granted the sanctified status of “oppressed.”

The Nakbah narrative cannot even be challenged. This is the horrible legacy of Edward Said’s atrocious approach of Orientalism, which was criticized harshly, among many others, by Bernard Lewis and Ibn Warraq. This approach has become a highly sophisticated grand strategy built on the foundations laid down by Said: all you have to win over is to disqualify, to invalidate and to delegitimize the other, whatever the circumstances, the situation and reality are. This one-sided totality, this black and white absoluteness, is one of the conspicuous cultural traits of Islam, known as al-Wala’ wal-Bara’, the loyalty to Islam and the animosity and hatred of the other.

The dire situation inherited from Said’s legacy is that contemporary Western research of the Middle East and Islam suffers from fear and dictation, out of post-colonial and guilt remorse and inferiority complex. According to this, one must accept the Middle East as is and must absolutely refrain of any judgment (but unfortunately and so tragically not Africa and Third World countries; only the Middle East!). This means that only the post-modernists, and of course Arabs and Muslims, hold the pure true academic indisputable knowledge of that field. Anyone who dares criticizing Arabs and Islam is being immediately accused outright as racist and Islamophobe.

Professor Fuad Ajami clearly stated: an accommodation with Israel is imperative, but the Palestinian leaders still demanding to have it all, ‘from the river to the sea.’ The Arab states have compounded the Palestinian radicalism, granted them everything and nothing at the same time, and there was thus no need for the Palestinians to moderation and realism. The Palestinians should know better, aside from a handful of the most messianic Israelis and Europeans, there is a recognition that the Palestinians must come to term with reason and live in peace with Israel, or to drop off the history.

These are the basic reasons for the successful Palestinian’s propaganda of twisting reality and winning world public opinion’s stand. Of course, there is room for criticism on all sides. No one is solely righteous and no one is totally guilty of the situation. However, there is hardly such a case in which history has been so thoroughly written upside down and inside out and facts have been so profoundly manipulated as by the Palestinians. One day historians will devote in-depth many volumes studies of how did the Palestinians succeed in fooling so many people in such a long time, without the entire world standing up and crying out: enough is enough. Indeed, one can safely say: you can fool most of the people all the time; you can fool all the people most of the time; but you cannot fool all the people all the time – unless you are the Palestinians.

As Steven Simpson has put it, the fact is that the Palestinians and the Muslims at large still point to these hateful verses in the Qur’an, should give us a pause to consider if there can ever be true peace between Muslims and Jews. In the religious and cultural context, let alone the national territorial rivalry, the Palestinians cannot accept a Jewish state, and the big question under these circumstances, is it likely that true peace will reign in the Land of Israel?

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Turkey’s Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Artsakh

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The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church has recently hosted a conference on international religious freedom and peace with the blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

Tasoula Hadjitofi, the founding president of the Walk of Truth, was one of the invited guests. She spoke about genocide and her own experience in Cyprus, warning of Turkey’s religious freedom violations. Hadjitofi also called for joint legal actions against continued ethnic cleansing and destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and other places by the Turkish government and its regional allies including Azerbaijan.

During the two-day conference, access to places of worship in war and conflict zones, the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and preservation of cultural heritage were among the topics addressed by many distinguished speakers.  The conference paid particular attention to the situation of historic Armenian monasteries, churches, monuments, and archeological sites in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been under Azeri occupation since the 2020 violent war unleashed by Azerbaijan.

Hadjitofi presented about the situation of Cyprus, sharing her recent visit to the Cypriot city of Famagusta (Varoshia), making historic parallels between the de-Christianisation of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey, and its allies such as Azerbaijan. See Hadjitofi’s full speech here.

Author of the book, The Icon Hunter, Hadjitofi spoke with passion about her recent visit to the ghost city of Famagusta, occupied by Turkey since 1974. Her visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the occupation. She was accompanied by journalist Tim Neshintov of Spiegel and photographer Julien Busch as she made several attempts to visit her home and pray at her church of Timios Stavrou (Holy Cross).

Hadjitofi explained how her own human rights and religious freedoms, alongside the rights of tens of thousands of Cypriots, were violated when Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan illegally entered her country and prayed at the newly erected mosque in her own occupied town whereas she was kneeling down in the street to pray to her icon in front of her violated Christian church. In comparison, her church was looted, mistreated and vandalized by the occupying forces.  

Hadjitofi reminded the audience of the historic facts concerning Turks discriminating against Christian Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians. They also massacred these communities or expelled them from the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey, a process of widespread persecution which culminated in the 1913-23 Christian genocide. Hadjitofi then linked those genocidal actions with what Erdogan is doing today to the Kurds in Syria, and the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting Turkey’s wealthy friends such as the government of Azerbaijan.  She also noted that during her recent visit to her hometown of Famagusta, a delegation from Azerbaijan referred to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as “Turkish land” and a “part of Greater Turkey”. This is yet another sign of Turkish-Azeri historic revisionism, and their relentless efforts for the Turkification of non-Turkish geography.

Hadjitofi called for a series of legal actions against Turkey and its allies, reminding Armenians that although they signed the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC), they have not ratified it. She noted that it must be the priority of Armenians if they want to seek justice. Azerbaijan and Turkey, however, neither signed or ratified the Rome Statute.

During her speech Hadjitofi also emphasized the need for unity amongst all Christians and other faiths against any evil or criminal act of destroying places of worship or evidence of their historical existence anywhere in the world. 

In line with this call, the Republic of Armenia instituted proceedings against the Republic of Azerbaijan before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

In its application, Armenia stated that “[f]or decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination” and that, “[a]s a result of this State-sponsored policy of Armenian hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse”.

Hadjitofi said that “Armenia’s lawsuit against the government of Azerbaijan is a positive move in the right direction and more legal actions should be taken against governments that systematically violate human rights and cultural heritage. I’m also in the process of meeting members of the Armenian diaspora in Athens, London, and Nicosia to discuss further joint legal actions. But the most urgent action that Armenia should take is the ratification of Rome Statute of the ICC,” she added.

Other speakers at the conference included representatives of the main Christian denominations, renowned scholars and experts from around the globe, all of whom discussed issues related to international religious freedom and the preservation of the world’s spiritual, cultural and historical heritage.

Baroness Cox, a Member of the UK House of Lords and a prominent human rights advocate, was among the participants. She has actively defended the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through her parliamentary, charity and advocacy work.

Meanwhile, the organizing committee of the conference adopted a joint communiqué, saying, in part:

” We re-affirm the principles of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international and regional human rights treaties. We claim this right, equally, for all people, of any faith or none, and regardless of nation, history or political circumstances – including for those Armenian prisoners of war still illegally held in captivity by Azerbaijan, for whose swift release and repatriation we appeal and pray, and for the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh whose rights to free and peaceful assembly and association necessarily implicate the sacred character of human life.”

On September 11, the delegates of the conference were received by the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, in his palace in Yerevan where they were thanked. The guests also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial-Museum (Tsitsernakaberd), where Hadjitofi was interviewed on Armenian national TV. She said:

“I read about the Armenian Genocide and I am glad that more countries recognize it as such but I am disappointed that politicians do not condemn actions of Turkey and its allies in their anti Christian attitude towards Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. I see an interconnection between the genocide and the adopted politics of Azerbaijan, when the ethnic cleansing takes place, when cultural heritage is destroyed, gradually the traces of the people once living there are eliminated and that is genocide”. 

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After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

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The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.

The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.

“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.

“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”

Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. 

Blockades and bombardment

The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.

“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.

In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.

Living in fear

In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.

At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.

Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.

Division remains

The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”

Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants

The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.

“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”

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Middle East

IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi at a press conference. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calmaa

A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?


The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.

Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.

When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.

Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible.  Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.

Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.

The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.

It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.

“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.

I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.

Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.

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