The so-called “Arab Spring” which got entire Mideast (except nuclear Israel) destabilized, while in Syria the incumbent president Assad is still defiant, adamant, and refusing to step down. The USA and Russia back opposing sides in Syria’s five-year civil war, which has left more than 250,000 people dead and displaced more than 11 million others.
USA and the Syrian opposition seek the removal of President Assad from power as their main condition for permanent peace in Syria. Russia supports Syrian government and, just what USA is doing in Syria on usual fake pretexts, kills Syrians on a special military deal with Assad.
As America was enjoying the horrid scenes of genocides of Muslims in Syria, Russia also has joined the party by targeting the Syrians by high speed war planes. As per their plan of fighting wars in alien nations, killing people at will, US-Russian state terror forces keep killing Muslims in Syria and if that strategy works, possibly they do the same in other Arab nations as well on some fictitious pretexts.
As Russia showed some interest in ending the Syrian war at least temporarily, a partial truce brokered by the USA and Russia in Syria came into effect at sunset on September 12, the beginning of the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha. The Syrian government has given its backing, but a number of rebel groups have expressed strong reservations and have yet to say whether they will abide by it.
The cessation agreement included deliveries of humanitarian aid for the worst hit areas, but by Monday most shipments had yet to go in. They include a 20-lorry convoy for rebel-held eastern Aleppo where about 275,000 civilians are trapped without access to food or medical supplies. UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien said he was “pained and disappointed” that the convoy had yet to cross into Syria from Turkey. Some aid was delivered to the besieged town of Talbiseh in Homs province on Monday, the Red Cross said.
The deal, which begins with a 48-hour renewable truce, involves three phases: The Syrian government will stop flying combat missions “anywhere where the opposition is present”. Kerry said the government would no longer be able to use the claim that it was bombing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters to mask attacks against “legitimate” rebels operating in the same areas. Both sides will be required to allow unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas. A priority will be the second city of Aleppo and its surroundings, where as many as two million people live. Government and rebel forces will pull back from the Castello Road, a major artery running around the north of the city into the rebel-held east. They will also provide safe access through the south-western Ramouseh Gap area.
Providing there are seven consecutive days of significantly reduced violence and humanitarian access, the US and Russia will work together to “develop military strikes” against Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and IS. A Joint Implementation Centre will be established to share information necessary for the delineation of territories controlled by jihadist and rebel groups in areas of active hostilities.
After 10 months of negotiations that the US said were marred by deep “mistrust”, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that they had reached an agreement on a “sustainable” cessation of hostilities that would facilitate negotiations on a political settlement. If successful, it will see President Bashar al-Assad’s forces ending air strikes on territory controlled by mainstream rebels, and both sides allowing humanitarian access to besieged areas. It will also lead to co-ordinated air strikes by the US and Russia against two UN-designated terrorist organisations – so-called Islamic State and the rival jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was known as al-Nusra Front until it broke off formal ties with al-Qaeda in July and changed its name.
The truce has broadly held since taking effect although the Russian-backed Syrian army and rebels have accused each other of many violations. Meanwhile, the UN has warned there is a “problem” with getting aid into Syria. Special envoy Staffan de Mistura placed responsibility on the Syrian government which, he said, had not yet provided the “facilitation letters” that would allow aid convoys to pass through army checkpoints and reach besieged areas.
Earlier, the Syrian military said its seven-day “regime of calm” had expired. Government-backed air strikes were also reported in the city of Homs and in the cities of Hama and Idlib. It said rebel groups, which it referred to as “terrorists”, had failed to commit to any provisions of the truce deal.
US Secretary of State John Kerry criticised the Syrian declaration, saying: “It would be good if they didn’t talk first to the press but if they talked to the people who are actually negotiating this.” He had earlier described the truce as “holding but fragile”. Russian military spokesman Lt Gen Sergei Rudskoi said in a televised statement: “Considering that the conditions of the ceasefire are not being respected by the rebels, we consider it pointless for the Syrian government forces to respect it unilaterally.”
Russia has accused the USA of failing to fulfill its obligations under the truce agreement in Syria. A defence ministry statement said Washington was using a “verbal curtain” to hide its reluctance to rein in the rebel groups it supports. “Only the Syrian army has been observing the ceasefire regime… while the US-led ‘moderate opposition’ has been increasing the number of shellings of residential quarters,” the ministry statement said. “Moreover, it appears that the ‘verbal curtain’ of Washington is aimed at hiding the non-fulfillment of the US obligations.”
Russian defence ministry insisted that, from the very beginning of the truce, Moscow had been fulfilling its obligations, which includes ensuring that the Syrian air force does not bomb areas held by mainstream rebel forces and setting up checkpoints in divided second city of Aleppo. It therefore said it found “confusing” recent comments by US officials that expressed doubts about whether Russia would be able to deliver.
The USA has not reacted to the comments from Moscow, but the state department did acknowledge some incidents “on the part of both the opposition and the Assad regime” were continuing.
Meanwhile, with a cessation of hostilities taking effect across Syria, people across the war-torn country have been sharing photos and videos of themselves enjoying a rare moment of relative calm. Posts from the divided northern city of Aleppo have for months been almost exclusively about bombings, destruction and the suffering of civilians, even before government forces renewed their siege of rebel-held eastern districts where some 250,000 people live. There was a sense of relief and cautious optimism after several very difficult months.
Less than 24 hours after the truce began, Aleppo residents were suggesting that life was slowly returning to normal – or at least as normal as could be expected under the circumstances. Social media backed up reports that the cessation of hostilities was broadly holding. Many users initially provided frequent updates on whether government and rebel forces were abiding by the agreement announced on Saturday by Russia and US, who back opposing sides.
The USA, which brokered the deal with Russia, said it was working to extend the agreement. But it called on Russia to clarify the Syrian statement. “Our arrangement is with Russia, which is responsible for the Syrian regime’s compliance, so we expect Russia to clarify their position,” state department spokesman John Kirby said.
UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes had hit rebel-held areas in Aleppo and villages to the west. Artillery shelling and air strikes hit Sukkari and Amiriyah, two eastern districts.
The truce was dealt a blow when warplanes from the US-led coalition against so-called Islamic State (IS) accidentally bombed Syrian troops in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour. Officials said the strikes killed more than 60 soldiers. President Bashar al-Assad called them the “latest example of flagrant American aggression against Syrian army positions in the interests of the terrorist organisation Daesh (ISIS)]”. The UK confirmed that British aircraft – believed to be unmanned, remotely-piloted Reaper drones – had been involved in the strike, along with jets from Australia and Denmark.
It is, however, too early to tell whether the truce will hold and the calm last, but after five years of war Syrians are clinging to this moment of hope. Air strikes have hit rebel-held parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo after the military declared the current cessation of violence was over. The Syrian military and rebels have accused each other of repeatedly violating the truce which began seven days ago.
Murdering of Muslims is not a new thing for both the USA and Russia that claim to hold further talks on the Syrian situation in New York today. If USA and Russia are really determined to end war in Syria they will certainly achieve that objective without more bloodbaths.
China-US and the Iran nuclear deal
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province. Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.
A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.
During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.
The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said:
‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’
The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.
During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.
The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC, Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.
In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.
Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.
The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.
Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?
“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!
The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force!
Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.
The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.
Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.
The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.
The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.
The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.
Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility
Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.
Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.
This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.
The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.
IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”
And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.
In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.
IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).
The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.
The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.
Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.
Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).
And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).
There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.
But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions.
Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.
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