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Turmoil in Yemen: Implications for Regional security of Middle East

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Background

The recent unrest in Yemen is not a new phenomenon it has deep roots in its history. Initially, it was divided into North and South Yemen both these parts got unified in 1990. Yemen since its inception has faced small scale conflicts among the Sunni and Shia. Yemen is one of the poorest countries of Middle East having lowest GDP in the region.  If we go deep into the history one easily identify the causes of division and fault lines of the brewing conflict since the independence of Yemen. It is one of the artificially created states by the colonial powers in order to indirectly rule them by giving legitimacy to tribesmen who have no experience of ruling a country. The incompetence of tribal lords promoted weak and self-serving ruling elite that deepens the roots of conflict in Yemen. In the same manner, a role of external powers cannot be overlooked as they try to take advantage of fragile government to achieve their ulterior motives rather than resolving their domestic issues.

Introduction

Yemen has a history of sectarian issues since its independence due to the Sunni-Shia rift. But the situation got worst in 2011 especially after the Arab Spring when locals mainly Shia community starts to protest against the Sunni government. The instigation sparked in the country, as a result, of the oppressive rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh and low economic indicators that further aggravated the domestic issues within Yemen. Yemen is mostly dependent on foreign assistance for its economy. Saudi Arabia is backing and providing financial assistance along with international donor agencies. Moreover, the sectarian divide within a country is another major cause of conflict.  The power rivalry between the Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional hegemony has complicated the situation by creating division in Yemen. The Sunni government supports Saudi Arabia whereas Shia Mehdi’s are covertly backed by Iran.

Yemen is strategically significant as Bab-ul-Mandab is located here in Arabian Peninsula that is a vital route for transport of oil to the rest of the world. It has close ties with Saudi Arabia as they are helping them to cope with the poor economy. Similarly, GCC countries are also facilitating them to stand on their feet. In the same manner, Iran is providing aid but it is often criticized for promoting ethnic rivalry to challenge the increasing influence of Saudi Arabia in Middle Eastern region. Yemen predominantly remains under the influence of Saudi Arabia because of ideological affinity with Wahabi school of thought of ruling elite. Similarly, one cannot ignore the significance of Yemen for Saudi Government since Saudi Arabia will have more room to maneuver in Arabian Peninsula to counter the influence of Iran in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is well aware of the Iranian role in the region. The regional rivalry between these two states is not something new it is deeply rooted in their historical legacy of their relations with each other.

Rationale of study 

Yemen is ethnically divided between Sunni and Shia since the independence. Furthermore, this ethnic rivalry is exploited by two major players Saudi Arabia and Iran to increase their area of the influence in the region. According to the experts, the card of ethnicity is played in case of Yemen. The internal situation of Yemen was gotten worse after the Arab Spring in addition, to suppression of minorities including the Shia community under the Ali Abdullah Saleh government in the center. As he himself belongs from the Sunni community and has a soft corner for Saudi government and American influence in their country. At the same time, one cannot undermine the role of Iran in the region and their growing influence in the internal politics of the Middle Eastern region. The main aim of this paper is to analyze the repercussions of the unrest in Yemen on the whole region in terms of its security and stability is concerned. It can be assessed in three contexts that are domestic, regional and international context. In order to critically evaluate the present situation of Yemen, one cannot do it without taking all aspects into account including the domestic, regional and global level of analysis to understand its implications for the security of Middle East in coming few years.

One cannot neglect the role of external powers as far as Yemen is concerned because the role of US is an open secret as they have close ties with the Saudi Arabia as its regional ally. Many experts of Middle Eastern affairs are of the view that the US has apprehensions regarding the increasing influence of the Iran in the region particularly ousting the Sunni government in Yemen by supporting Zaydi’s Shia militias in Yemen. Since Iran also have aspirations to become a regional hegemon by challenging both Saudi Arabia and their allies in the region. On the other hand, GCC countries also are significant in determining the future of Yemen in changing regional dynamics in the context of Iran-US nuclear deal which is considered to be the victory of Iran on the diplomatic front in a global arena.

Domestic context

It is essential to look deep into the internal dynamics of the Yemen before going for regional and international factors responsible for the turmoil in the country. (Bookings, 2015) Every country has unique domestic issues that they had to deal it. Yemen can be called as least developed states within the Middle East. It is dependent on Saudi Arabia and foreign assistance for running the economy. Another aspect that can be considered as a root cause of domestic rivalry is a divide between Sunni and Shia that has affected the peace of the country. Moreover, the weak government of Yemen is unable to eradicate the differences between two groups to bring stability in the country.  The conflict in Yemen was ignited with start of Arab Spring within the Middle East along the prevailing conditions within the Yemen most of the people living there are not satisfied the ruling elite of the country. The lack of leadership at domestic is another reason for masses that led to violence in the country. The ruling elite is not doing enough to address the issues of people rather than protecting their regime interests. The lack of unity is also a major factor for the disorder as they divided into Sunni and Shia which is exploited by the regional players for serving their interests.

Reasons for unrest

Sunni versus Shia

The major cause of conflict in case of Yemen is a Sunni and Shia divide that has created many problems. Firstly, it has created internal division within the country which is manipulated by different interest groups in the Arabian Peninsula. Similarly, when a nation is not united at the domestic level then one cannot have coherent policies at the national level. The lack of uniform policy at national level makes the country internally weak and fragile. Yemen due to its divisions within is suffering from the setbacks in framing national coalitions to deal with their issues at home.

Moreover, the past legacy of both Yemen North and South has a dominant role as both represent each sect which is Sunni and Shia. After the unification in 1990, this problem remains there as there was no substantial effort was done by the ruling elite of the country to resolve this contentious concern inside Yemen. The internal division further got complicated when central government detaches itself from the masses who were not satisfied with the government. The failure of a government to address the grievances of masses has played a major role in further cleavage in Yemen. The people at the national level are fighting for their basic rights including food and shelter unsuitable economic conditions and heavy dependence on the foreign aid for running the country. Furthermore, the growing differences between Sunni and Shia community considered being the core problem of Yemen. Many experts believe that it is a cause of rift among the ruling elite locals are usually use as a tool to serve their purpose most of them don’t give much thought to the so-called divide between Sunni and Shia. One cannot completely negate this analysis of experts because masses are usually exploited in the name of religion by ruling elite.

Role of Al-Qaida of Arabian Peninsula

Al-Qaida of Arabian Peninsula is another major threat that is posing a serious threat to the peace of Yemen. The role of Al-Qaeda is vital in terms security of the region is concerned because the growing influence is posing a threat to its internal security. Consequently, the unrest in Yemen is becoming a breeding ground for terrorists that can have dangerous consequences for its internal security. In addition, if they tend to get a stronghold in Yemen it can further disrupt the existing security situation in the Middle Eastern region. Al-Qaeda of Arabian Peninsula is the offshoot of Afghani Al-Qaeda which is active and has a capability to even take over Yemen under weak government control in the country (Neubauer, 2015).

The role of AQAP cannot be underestimated provided current security situation in the Middle East. One of the key factors that they can exploit to serve their interest is of Sunni- Shia conflict within the Yemen. The proponents of Wahabi school of thought that is closer to Sunni ideology if the Sunni of Yemen started joining this organization it can adversely impact the security of the Middle East. Many experts consider AQAP as a potential threat to the not only for Yemen but also for the Arabian Peninsula in coming few years. They are against foreign intervention of the western countries especially the role of the US in the Middle East due to ideological differences and suspicious of the external powers involvement in the region. The current scenario in the Middle East is depicting an uncertainty in terms of peace and stability in the region due to the presence of Isis and their increasing violent activities.

Grievances of people

Another factor that is not addressed by the ruling elite of Yemen is grievances of local people since they are deprived of basic necessities and famine like situation due to ongoing tug of war between Houthis and Mehdi’s of Yemen. Most of the people living in the country are living under the poverty line which is alarming for international donor agencies of human relief. Yemen is not self-sufficient in terms of food to meet the needs of its population mostly relying on other neighboring countries for fulfilling needs of local population. Moreover, illiteracy is one of major reason behind the back forwardness of the Yemen. The masses, in general, are not enlightened about their potential abilities and rights being the citizen of the Yemen. It is one of poorest countries in the oil-rich region of Middle East and relatively weak internally. Despite the efforts of regional countries and international organizations, it is struggling with a shortage of food and chaos in the Yemen. The internal insecurity is widening mainly people are not happy with their government. The malfunctioning of government can be seen in its leadership that is incompetent to handle the internal situation on their own and often exploited in hands of external and regional powers.

On the other hand, due to the ongoing war between two groups in a country, most of the people are forced to leave their home to other countries. They are living in refugees camps and facing an uncertain future for them and their young generation. According to the Experts of Middle East, it is very difficult to bring stability in Yemen in coming few years. The intense fighting between government forces and rebels will not let any force to bring peace in the country by bringing both parties to the negotiation table to resolve it in an effective way.

Regional context

At the regional level, one assesses the regional dynamics by giving the example of two major players in the Middle East that is Iran and Saudi Arabia. The rivalry between them is based on their historical legacy. Iran has a strong sense of nationalism that has prevented them from assimilating into the Arab identity. Whereas Saudi Arabia on the other hand, called them as advocates of the Arab unity that they are promoted at the regional level. (Roy, Rizvi, & Zaidi, 2015) But Iran always opposes any such attempts that would affect the nationalism as they called them as Persians, not Arabs due to the unique identity. Iran being part of Persian Empire glorifies them as Persians rather than associating them with the Arab nation. The distinct identities of Iran and Saudi Arabia are one of the reasons that have widened their differences with each other. The distrust is another factor that is not letting them forget their bitter experiences with each other. Iran is suspicious of Saudi intentions because of their close relations with the US. Iran since its revolution has contentious relations with the US they have apprehensions regarding their influence in the Middle East. The US also developed conflictual relations with supreme leader on the issue of backing Israel against Muslim countries.

Saudi Arabia being a major state and ally of US in the region due to its oil production and export to the rest of the world makes its distinct position in a global arena. Saudi Arabia has close ties with the US since the inception. Saudi Arabia has greater regional influence due to their stature within the region and outside the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has an international standing due to its closer ties with the almost all major states of the world. Despite being major state of Middle East they have an ideological rift between their regional rival Iran. They are in conflict with each other due to Sunni-Shia rivalry. According to the experts, it not just their religious rivalry instead it is political tactics to expand their areas of influence inside the region and beyond it. The analogy of Arab and Persian was used to increase the economic and political hegemony by both the parties. The differences between the Saudi’s with the Iranian government is based upon the potential capability of the Iran and Saudi Arabia to rule the Gulf region. Many experts are of the view that the major cause of conflict is misunderstanding between them.

International context

At the global level, one cannot ignore the role of the US and its ally’s role in the Middle East. Historically, one cannot deny the US involvement in the region after the Second World War especially having strategic relations with Israel. The interest of US has increased after the discovery of oil in this part of the world.  The energy security in the contemporary world is core national interest of the US and other western countries. (Swift, 2012) The growing dependence of industries of the world on hydrocarbons has enhanced the vitality of the oil-rich region which is known as the Middle East. One of the major turning points was 1979 revolution of Iran before that Shah of Iran has friendly relations with the US. Since the revolution, the relations of US were never smooth with Iran due to differences with the supreme leader of Iran who labeled the US as Great Satan. Whereas in Iraq although they installed pro-Hashemite government but when they were replaced by the Saddam Hussein of Baathist party the relations become strained due to his aggressive posture towards other Gulf states. Before that, Saddam Hussein used to have good relations with the US as they help them to build a strong Iraq.

Currently, the alliance of US with Saudi-led coalitions against rebels in Yemen has complicated the situation. As the US initially avoided getting into confrontation directly but recently they have started using their major power status to suppress the rebels inside the Yemen. The alliance of US with Saudi Arabia is an open secret but the overt participation of US forces has raised a number of questions about the future of conflict within the Yemen. Despite the claims of US to stay out of the Yemen crisis particularly after the invasion of 2003 in Iraq by other means has increased the apprehensions about their potential role in Yemen unrest. According to the analysts, the recent activities of the US are not welcome by Yemen and Iran.  The backing of US for Saudi coalition’s air strikes has earned a bad name for the US across the globe due to the casualties of the civilians in Yemen. The alliance of US with Saudi Arabia can have negative repercussions as far as the stability of Yemen is concerned because by supporting Saudi against rebels can affect their relations with Iran. Iran is often blamed for supporting the rebel groups to counter the Saudi influence in the Middle East.

The role of UN is very minimal as it has failed to bring peace in the country. (Roy, Rizvi, & Zaydi, 2015) Although UN did pass a resolution for devising a way to stop the fighting within in Yemen but still no results are so far achieved. United Nations lacks the ability to solve the domestic issues of Yemen as it has no authority to intervene in the internal matters of any country. Similarly, UN is an inactive institution in terms of resolving issues particularly in Middle East region mainly because of interests of major players in the international arena. UN as an institution is weak for implementing its decisions at international level.

Why is it posing a serious threat to Middle East?

The Distrust of Regional players within the Middle East against the external powers can amplify the instability by deepening the misunderstanding making it more volatile in coming few years. If the regional countries are suspicious of the Western powers role in domestic issues of the region then any minor incident can initiate a major conflict that will further deteriorate the situation of the worn prone region. The external power is crucial for making the Middle East peaceful which can be attained by building the trust of the major players of the Arabian Peninsula for achieving relative stability. Moreover, the trust deficit between Iran and Saudi Arabia is another major concern for growing instability in the Middle East. There is a need that both states try to resolve their ideological differences by removing the misunderstanding for the greater goal that is to ensure peace of the Middle Eastern region for them. According to experts the distrust between Iran and Saudi Arabia can be removed by developing a middle way or consent of leadership on both sides to let go their conflictual past for secure future for them rather than fighting with each other over regional hegemony.

The Spread of Extremism mainly after the proclamation of Daesh and growing of Al-Qaeda of Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East will increase the terrorism and extremism. The militant elements are using the uncertain situation of the region for serving their purpose by making it brewing ground for more lethal conflicts in near future. Furthermore, the effective leadership is required to foresee their minor issues for ensuring peace in the Middle East. Iran and Saudi Arabia can play a significant role by not letting extremist element to take refuge in their areas in the name of Sunni-Shia divide for promoting violent activities in any of Middle Eastern country. But it is difficult to attain as the ideological rivalries are deeply rooted in their mindset. In order to change the mindset deliberate efforts are needed for the considerable period of time to change the perception of Iran and Saudi leadership mindset for saving their region from the terrorists. On the hand, both countries should not fund any group for advocating sectarian divide which is becoming a hurdle in a way of the Middle East.  The mutual efforts by the Saudi and Iranian government are required for bringing prosperity of the whole region instead of working for narrow national interest.

Increase rivalry between Iran-Saudi Arabia

The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is deeply rooted but the recent involvement by both states in Yemen will increase their animosity to the larger extent. As we know both Iran and Saudi Arabia have aspirations of becoming regional hegemon particularly after a conclusion of Iran’s nuclear deal with the US. Saudi Arabia has expressed their apprehensions with the US. Saudi Arabia is the ally of US in the Middle East criticized Iranian role in the regional politics as the nuclear deal will disturb the balance of power in the region. The Saudi government is of the view that this deal will bring instability in the region as Iran will try to reassert its power by supporting regional proxies, for example, Hamas and Hezbollah. Moreover, Iran, on the other hand, has its hesitation regarding the role of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East particularly promoting anti-Iran sentiment. In a case of Yemen, one would say both states have their interests as they want to increase their sphere of influence in the region. Iran is blamed for covertly supporting Zaydi’s Shia living inside the Yemen against the Sunni government of Ali Abdullah Sale in revolt the government.( Masood, 2016,) Similarly, it is an open secret Saudi Arabia has close ties with the ruling party of Yemen.

Challenges

Firstly, the weak leadership is one of the major issues in a context of Yemen. It is the inability of local leadership which is causing unrest in Yemen. The ruling elite is not trying to resolve their issues internally which is complicated the situation in the country. The role of regional players is increasing in case of Yemen due to the links of ruling elites with the Saudi Arabia and Iran. According to experts on the Middle East, the current situation in Yemen is becoming worse due to incompetence on the part of the leadership of Yemen who are relying on regional players to resolve their internal issues. Yemen is largely dependent on aid and assistance provided by GCC and Saudi Arabia.

Secondly, the role of external powers mainly of US is dominant after the failure of peace talks between Saleh regime and Houthis rebels (Future Directions International, 2014). Initially, US forces avoided directly involving them in Yemen. But end up indulging them in direct confrontation by supporting Saudi-backed forces by assisting them in airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The US has also used drone strikes to target rebels for supporting Saleh regime in Yemen. The growing involvement of US in internal politics has transformed the internal rift within Yemen into an international conflict. The role of UN is not significant because it has failed to get desired results to maintain peace within the Yemen.

Another major threat that Yemen is facing is the threat of terrorism in form of Al-Qaeda of Arabian Peninsula (NATO Foundation Defence College, 2016,). The significance of the AQAP has increased inside Yemen due to ongoing rift between Saleh regime and Houthi rebels. The power vacuum has been created which is exploited by the Al-Qaeda of Arabian Peninsula.  The sympathies of masses for Al-Qaeda of Arabian Peninsula can further complicate the situation in Yemen consequently increased militancy in the country. The people are frustrated if they start joining terror organization it would disrupt the stability of Yemen in long run and security of the whole region.

Analysis

One can say the unity within Yemen is required for bringing stability in the country and saving Middle East region in larger extent from future conflicts. There is a need for internal cohesion among the internal players that can only be achieved by building consensus between them. The ruling elite should take steps to address the grievances of the people by sharing power with other major groups that are significant in politics of Yemen. The Shia community should be taken on board by giving then their due share in internal dynamics of the country. They should be consulted while making important policy decisions of the country to ensure the stability of Yemen.  Moreover,   the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia was ignited in case of Yemen that will increase their hostility with each other. According to experts, Iran and Saudi Arabia have aspirations of becoming regional hegemon especially after the normalization of the relation between Iran and US with the nuclear deal. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is also expressing their reservations regarding deal of Iran with the US. Saudi Arabia being the ally of US in the Middle East criticized Iran’s role in the regional politics.  It will disturb the balance of power in the region as the nuclear deal will bring instability in the region.  According to Saudi government Iran will try to increase its power by actively backing regional proxies in form of the Hamas and Hezbollah.

Furthermore, Iran has apprehensions about the role of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East particularly promoting anti-Iran sentiment in Middle East region. In a context of Yemen, one can say that Iran and Saudi Arabia have their interests as both wants to increase their area of influence in the region. Iran is often blamed for clandestinely supporting Zaydi’s Shia of the Yemen against the Sunni government of Ali Abdullah Sale. Similarly, it is an open secret Saudi Arabia has close ties with the ruling party of Yemen by supporting them through aid and military assistance. The growing role of two major rival states is increasing instability of Middle East on one hand and on the hand becoming a cause of unrest in a case of Yemen.

Yemen should become self-sufficient in order to stop the intervention of external and regional players in its internal politics. It can only be possible if the leadership take the responsibility rather than serving their interests they should solve their internal issues by mutual consent. The fighting among various groups will increase the instability of their country.  There is the need to on part of ruling elite is to share their power for bringing internal cohesion with the groups who deprived of becoming major getting their due share in the context of domestic politics of Yemen. For instance, Shia community Zaydi’s which constitute majority at the domestic level within Yemen.

Conclusion

To conclude, one can say that role of leadership of Yemen should be pragmatic in order to resolve the internal issues by taking all stakeholders on board. Currently, the reliance of ruling elite on regional and international actors is causing more chaos. The leadership of Yemen should try to resolve their issues by building the consensus of domestic actors for bringing peace and stability in their country. The future of Yemen is largely dependent upon the decisions of the ruling elite who is running the country. The masses of Yemen want stability of their country which is disrupted by the involvement of regional and international players into the domestic politics of Yemen.

Way forward

The role of leadership should be pragmatic for addressing domestic issues.

The consensus building is required for ensuring the stability of Yemen.

Yemen needs to become self-sufficient for resolving their issues themselves.

Mehwish Akram holds masters degree in International Relations and currently doing M Phil in Political Science. Her areas of interest are Democracy, Political theory and Environmental politics .

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Middle East

U.S. Policy Case for Middle East under New Conditions

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Image source: twitter @POTUS

In contrast to the presidential elections of the past two decades, the new White House administration has faced great difficulties in shaping its Middle East policy. With internal division, polarization, political system failures and the unwavering pandemic, the Middle East has largely dropped out of U.S. foreign policy priorities. Shortly after his election, George W. Bush came up with the ambitious initiative of a Greater Middle East which entailed a democratic restructuring of the region; Barack Obama quickly sent a special envoy for the Middle East to mediate between Israel and the Palestinian Authority; and Donald Trump, by contrast, dashed a number of traditional constants in the policies of his predecessors. It took Joe Biden’s administration a long time to realize the place of this troubled region in the U.S. grand strategy. Trump left Biden a heavy and intricate legacy, with no room for continuity or a sharp change of course on all fronts.

The continued policy of confrontation with Russia and China, framed ideologically as that of a democracy vs. autocracy, implied a revision of the approach towards the Middle East and a need to restore trust globally, taking into account all the painful experiences of the U.S., especially after the fiasco in Iraq and Afghanistan. How to achieve this amid a shifting global balance of power—clearly, not in favor of the United States—and striking changes in the region where the U.S. is increasingly seen as a key regional player was exactly the question. As early as by President Obama’s second term, a kind of consensus had been reached in the U.S. after long discussions. Trump was also guided by it, although one of his first trips abroad was to Saudi Arabia. U.S. policy in the Middle East is overly militarized, while meddling in the region’s internal affairs and the resources invested do not yield proper political impact. This leads to the conclusion that the U.S. military presence and political commitments should be reduced, avoiding overstretching in the face of emerging global threats and challenges.

The president and the secretary of state were critical of their predecessors, while devising their own approach to the region, with its unresolved conflicts and socio-political cataclysms, was clearly delayed. There has been a sense of uncertainty in the Arab world as to how and when Joe Biden would set a course for the Middle East. Questions arose as to whether one should prepare for a U.S. withdrawal from the region and Washington’s search for foreign policy alternatives. There were growing security concerns in the Gulf, which viewed Iran as a real threat. Namely, they believed that the U.S., having lost interest in the region, would decide to abandon its traditional guarantor role in the face of ongoing course corrections. Washington’s general words about “recalibration,” “redeployment,” and “reorientation” evoked mixed feelings: On the one hand, a desire for America to somehow define itself; on the other, a loss of confidence in it. The prolonged lack of progress in reaching agreement on the terms of a U.S. return to the JCPOA and the uncertainty over the parties’ future intentions were perceived with concern by Washington’s regional partners; not only by the Arab monarchies but also by Israel. The complicated domestic situation in Israel after the establishment of a shaky two-headed coalition and the prospect of a fifth edition of parliamentary elections in the last two years have put U.S. diplomacy in an ambiguous position.

The negative for the United States impact of the Ukrainian crisis on global energy as well as predominantly neutral attitudes towards the crisis in the non-Western world, which is somewhat closer to understanding Russia’s motives, seemed to serve as a stimulant that prompted Washington to shift its attention back to the Middle East—especially since the current conditions on the oil market have led to a significant increase in fuel prices in the U.S., which could have an adverse impact for the U.S. administration in light of the approaching midterms.

In this environment, the announcement of Biden’s upcoming trip to the Middle East on July 15-16 was met with a lot of skepticism, especially within America. The visit to Saudi Arabia came in for particular criticism because Biden promised to make Riyadh a “pariah” after the brutal assassination of Saudi journalist Khashoggi, and he was now planning to rehabilitate it in favor of domestic interests. Biden himself was forced to speak publicly to put the purpose of his visit to the Middle East in a broader global and regional context.

The pessimistic sentiments in the U.S. expert community were vividly expressed by Daniel Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller, two retired senior diplomats who worked for years in the Middle East and at the State Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The essence of this image, translated into political language, is as follows: “If you plant a garden and go away for six months, what have you got when you come back? Weeds.” Biden deprioritized the Middle East for sixteen months, and the weeds have grown in the meantime. And so the president was sent on a “diplomatic foray into the region to plant U.S. flags and start to repair the damage done to the flowers and greenery.” The conclusion is that the pivot to the Middle East will not last long, and one should not expect quick pay-offs.

The itinerary from Tel Aviv to Jeddah, where, alongside with the bilateral U.S.-Saudi negotiations, the U.S. president met with a number of Arab leaders in the GCC+3 format (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan) is quite telling. This list indicates the states the Biden administration intends to bet on as well as the range of oft-interrelated problems, the approaches to which the administration considers necessary to clarify and harmonize. These include regional security, continued normalization of the Arab-Israeli relations, the issue of a U.S. return to the JCPOA, warning signals to Iran, a new understanding of the nature of allied relations, conflict resolution with a focus on Yemen, continued Palestinian-Israeli contacts, etc.

The Israeli part of Biden’s trip showed that the United States was not going to revise the legacy of the previous administration, which formally declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank not contrary to international law and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. By and large, the status of Jerusalem, like the issue of Jewish settlements, is a fait accompli for the United States. At the same time, Biden reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—it was a purely formal gesture, though: more of a tribute to his election campaign. This position is also enshrined, albeit one-sidedly, in the Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration. Apart from passing remarks about his intention to promote dialogue with the Palestinians and provide humanitarian grants, the American president’s visit to the Palestinian Authority was more of a touristy, humanitarian nature. The text of this widely circulated declaration leaves no doubt that the U.S. continues to pursue the principled policy of ensuring Israel’s security and military dominance as “strategic commitments that are vitally important to the national security of the United States itself.” In this regard, we have seen additional measures of cooperation in air defense and laser technology development. Another important point of the declaration was the message to the U.S. partners in the region that America will “never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon” and will work with them “to confront Iran’s aggression and destabilizing activities.” Finally, the U.S. and Israel praised the Abraham Accords as a critical addition to Israel’s strategic peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and an important starting point for building a new regional security system.

The most complicated and sensitive part of the president’s Middle East tour—the trip to Saudi Arabia—had two dimensions to it. First, a normalization of the long-struggling bilateral relations with a new focus on the policies of Trump and Obama; and second, a presentation of the U.S. administration’s vision of the Middle East strategy.

On the bilateral agenda, Biden tried to find some middle ground in the eternal conflict between “American values” and “national interests,” between respecting human rights and supporting rigid autocracies, which in the United States, i.a. among Democrats, include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There has been a heated debate in the United States over the dilemma where the prestige of a powerful figure in the kingdom, like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been directly affected by Khashoggi’s assassination. Did the U.S. president raise human rights issues with the Crown Prince and what was his reaction? Responding to the numerous questions, the president confirmed that he had discussed this issue “directly and openly,” though there remained great doubt in U.S. domestic political discourse about the administration’s determination (and that of Biden personally) to put ideological values above practical considerations. The reaction of the Saudi leadership was no less direct. As it became known in the Arab world, Mohammed bin Salman replied briefly: “And what about Shireen Abu Akleh?” (a journalist of Palestinian origin murdered in Israel). In general, the contrast between the way Americans “defend” democracy and human rights in Ukraine and the way they do it for the Palestinians in the Arab world has not gone unnoticed. This partly explains no mention of the Ukrainian conflict from the Arab side during the talks.

The U.S. president’s trip to the Middle East was the occasion for the public announcement of a revised foreign policy in its regional dimension. Biden thought it was symbolic that he was the first U.S. president to come to Saudi Arabia from Israel and the first to visit the region at a time when the U.S. has no military personnel engaged in military operations there. Thereafter, the U.S. emphasized intensive diplomacy with the caveat that the use of force is seen as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted.

The U.S. Middle East strategy is presented in five main areas. First, the U.S. will not leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran, so it is not withdrawing from the region. Washington will bolster partnerships with countries that subscribe to the rules-based international order, making sure these countries can defend themselves against foreign threats. Second, security cooperation. The U.S. will pledge determination to ensure the freedom of navigation through the Middle East’s waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb, to prevent dominance by any country. Third, de-escalation and termination of regional conflicts. The U.S. is ready to work with the partners to counter threats from Iran by forcing it to curtail its nuclear program. Fourth, the development of bilateral political, economic, and security connections, and the promotion of regional projects in energy, free trade and investment. Fifth, the U.S. commitment to human rights, fundamental freedoms and the values enshrined in the U.N. Charter.

It remains a matter of debate how the American president’s significant statements in the Middle East with a leadership bid can convert into practical policy. At the same time, growing tensions in Europe and Asia are gradually pushing this into the background. Assessments of the prospects for achieving the goal in practice are rather restrained, ranging from a complete disbelief in the U.S. ability to achieve ambitious goals in a rapidly changing region to assertions that Biden should be given time and that America still has chances to adjust its Middle East policy to the new realities in the world and in the United States itself. Looks like Biden took some not-so-heavy political baggage from the Middle East. U.S. attempts to present Saudi Arabia’s consent to overflight of its airspace by Israeli civilian aircraft as a breakthrough were quickly devalued by the Saudis’ official explanations that it was only about facilitating international air communications, not about normalizing relations with Israel. The Saudis have also made adjustments to the definition of the U.S. role in lowering oil prices. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Al-Jubeir hastened to declare that the decision will be based on market assessments, and Saudi Arabia intends to continue consultations with OPEC members as well as within OPEC+, i.e. with Russia. The Saudis oppose the politicization of the global financial system and do not support calls for an oil embargo. According to experts, if the decision to further increase oil production was made, such an increase wouldn’t be so critical that the U.S. could take the credit.

Biden’s post-Bush, post-Obama and post-Trump Middle East strategy looks like a desire to find a middle ground between two extremes: over-involvement in the regional set-up coupled with military intervention or a complete turn toward the Indo-Pacific. That is, there is an understanding that the U.S. cannot change the Middle East, nor can it afford to withdraw from it. At the same time, the focus on countering Russia and China, which allegedly took advantage of the vacuum in the region, remains part of this adjusted strategy, much as the pivot to mobilize traditional Arab partners to achieve U.S. goals. And that is where the main contradiction lies. The U.S. plan for a regional alliance of democracies has no real prospect in the Middle East. The results of Biden’s Middle East trip clearly showed that, in contrast to the times of the Soviet-American confrontation, the Arab countries pursue a diversified policy, avoiding a strictly one-sided orientation on the principle of “the enemy of my friend is not my enemy.” With a new round of global confrontation, the leaders of these countries tread carefully, without closing foreign relations on unstable alliances and believing that their national interests in the new geopolitical and regional realities are more consistent with maintaining a situational partnership with the major powers.

Strengthening the U.S. strategic partnership with Israel at the expense of the right of the Palestinian people to their statehood is unlikely to advance further normalization of Israel’s relations with the Arab world, but rather will complicate the country’s integration into the region. As a result, one can expect a sharp rise in radical sentiment among the Palestinians, with the support of the resistance front by Arab states. This is evidenced by the restoration of Hamas’ relations with Syria, as well as the meeting of all Palestinian factions in Algeria facilitated by the movement. In security issues, the Gulf monarchies are looking for opportunities to defuse tensions with Iran through regional mediation as an alternative to U.S. guarantees.

One should not expect a dramatic turnaround in the U.S. Middle East policy. The incumbent president will have to reckon with the balance of power in Congress, which cannot be changed by executive orders. The Middle East will remain a focus of the Democratic administration, albeit not a top priority. The new style, with its emphasis on multilateral diplomacy, will help set a more balanced course toward key regional issues. At the same time, the Biden administration will not be able to ignore that Russia’s multi-vector policy has shown its relevance over the past two decades. The new reality in the Middle East will force American diplomacy to seek interaction points with Russia through overcoming the credibility gap, even in the face of tense bilateral relations. The question is whether it is possible to separate the Middle East from the context of the real geopolitics unfolding at odds. In this sense, Syria will be an important indicator of U.S. intentions, being a country where both Washington and Moscow, like in Europe, are in direct military contact.

From our partner RIAC

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An updated Chinese strategy towards the Arab region: Evidence from Saudi Arabia

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The economic ties between Saudi Arabia and China are a reflection of both countries’ current development. From 1949 until the mid-1970s, interactions between China and the Muslim world were almost non-existent. During the late 1970s, China began its economic reform initiative, which reshaped China’s economy from 1978 to 2000, opening the way for developing the bilateral relations. The relationship between Saudi Arabia and China was improved with the beginning of the twenty-first century. In 2008, the global financial and economic crisis ravaged the United States; this paved the way for further progress in the Saudi-Chinese relationship.

After Saudi Arabia put out its 2030 vision for multilateralism, the movement in Saudi-Chinese relations coincided with the transformation in the global system, which is one of the most essential parts of multipolarity. As a result, China now has more possibilities for being involved in this process.

After China’s openness to the West, the country devoted itself primarily to the acquisition of advanced financial and technological infrastructure. At the time, China was not interested in strengthening its ties to Saudi Arabia and raising the level of the relationship to a strategic partnership. According to Saudi officials, the Chinese economy had nothing to tempt them to create links with it, regardless of China’s significant economic progress made. In terms of the world’s greatest economies, China has yet to make it into the top ten.

There was little trade between the two countries. A mere 1.171 billion riyals, or around 1.5 percent, of Saudi Arabia’s total imports were made in China in 1987. After more than 20 years of economic changes in China, this statistic remained unchanged. Even though China’s volume tripled, China’s share of Saudi imports remained at 3.5%, thus it takes time to create economic ties.

China’s imports to Saudi Arabia doubled in value between 1987 and 1999, rising from 1.2 billion to 3.7 billion riyals. The Saudi’s overall worldwide imports still dwarf this amount, notwithstanding the rise. However, by the end of the nineties, there was an improvement in this relationship. The year 2000 marked the beginning of a major shift in the economic ties between the two countries. There was an increase in bilateral trade that year of more than 1.7 times what it was last year. This is due to an increase in previously unreported Saudi shipments to China. Between 1990 and 2000, exports nearly quadrupled. Saudi’s on-going trade surplus with China can be attributed to this increase in exports.

Economic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia will be altered significantly. High-level visits, discussions, and exchanges of views between Saudi Arabia and China have created new horizons in bilateral relations, in addition to strengthening economic ties. Globalization has also contributed to the building of trade linkages between all countries, including China and Saudi Arabia. This is also relevant to the World Trade Organization’s principles and the development of a free market economy. The economic ties between the two countries developed dramatically between 2000 and 2007. This is mainly due to the rapid growth of the Chinese economy. Growth in China’s economy has begun to pick up steam, shifting the world’s top economies into a new position. China, which ranked sixth in 2000, surpassed the United Kingdom to take fourth place in 2006. In 2007, it overtook Germany to take third position.

During the period between 2001 and 2007, Saudi Arabia’s exports to China nearly doubled, while imports nearly quadrupled. In the time since 2008, major developments have led to stronger ties between the two countries’ economies, paving the way for future strategic collaboration. After the housing crisis, the financial and economic crisis of 2008 had a significant impact on the development of Saudi Arabia’s ties with China. Because of this tragedy, there was a global economic downturn. Except for China, the rest of the industrialized world’s growth rates were either negative or extremely low throughout this period. China rose from third to second place in the world’s economy between 2007 and 2010, ahead of Japan, which fell from third to fourth.

As of 2010, China’s GDP had overtaken Japan’s, ranking it second in the world’s major economies matrix. By 2028, China is expected to overtake the United States as the world’s most powerful economy.

In terms of bilateral trade exchanges, minerals accounted for nearly eighty per cent of the overall value of Saudi’s top exports to China in 2019. Electrical goods and equipment are among the many items that China exports to Saudi Arabia.

It’s no surprise that Saudi Arabia ranked first and second in terms of oil exports to China in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Last year, China bought more than twice as much oil from Saudi Arabia as Russia did, at 1.69 million barrels per day.

The Chinese grand strategy, based mainly on the Belt and Road Initiative, will not make progress without a solid partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. China is a huge powerhouse that depends mainly on trade and industry; therefore, in order for China to survive, it is likely that in the next few years we will witness a qualitative leap in the bilateral relationship between China and Saudi Arabia.

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Iraq Must Recognize Assyrians as its Indigenous People

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Assyrians are the descendants of the ancient Assyrians.[1] They are historically, culturally, and spiritually tied to northern Mesopotamia, a region that is located from north Baghdad to south of Lake Van, as well as from Persian borders in the east to the Euphrates in the west. However, today, and after centuries of persecution, numerous massacres and genocide they now concentrate in northern Iraq. According to Kelly, while the Assyrians are not legally recognized, many scholars and more importantly the Assyrian community, acknowledge Assyrians as one of the indigenous populations of Iraq. Many studies, research papers and books about the topic have been published. These scholarly studies provide ample evidence that the Assyrians survived the fall of the empire.

The Indigenous Assyrians

US Senator John Nimrod asked, “how do we know that the Assyrians, who are also known as Chaldeans and Syriac, are the indigenous people of Iraq?” He answers by stating: “One only has to take a shovel and dig it into the ground and the only history found will be that of the Assyrians.”

So what do we mean by indigenous people? The modern understanding of the term indigenous is based on specific aspects, including the followings:

• Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual and community level,

• Historical continuity with pre-settler societies,

• Strong link to territories and natural resources,

• Distinct social, economic or political systems,

• Distinct language, culture and beliefs,

• Form non-dominant groups of society, and

• Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.

Assyrians meet all the above factors.

The Assyrian community needs to highlight and communicate their unique culture, rooted history, and to stress rights to their historic and ancestral lands on a global level. The doors were opened to effectively do so after the 2007 United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) provides a platform for indigenous perspectives to be heard worldwide. Assyrians attended all UNPFII sessions from 2012 through 2019[2] represented by delegations from the Assyrian Aid Society (AAS); they met with representatives of other indigenous peoples, civil society organizations, as well as representatives of some participating countries.

The AAS representatives clarified who Assyrians are; neither Arabs nor Kurds, but rather the indigenous people of Iraq. They explained that it was vital for Assyrians to be recognized by both the governments in Baghdad and Arbil and to be allowed to govern themselves as the first step to preserve their culture and history.

Assyrians Settled in Mesopotamia since the Dawn of Time

When it comes to documentation, we read from cuneiform texts that after 2750 BC the Akkadian dynasty came into power in northern Babylonia. Sargon, or Sharrum-kin (meaning “just king”), emerged and the power of the Dynasty of Akkad flourished. Sargon expanded his power in northern Mesopotamia, the area later known as Assyria.[3] From these Akkadians sprung the Assyrians (and Babylonians).

The Assyrian civilization existed over at least five millennia ago in Assyria. According to Saggs, Assur (Ashur) was the first capital of Assyria. The name Assur comes from a temple name that was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar, attested from soon after 2800 BC. Religion occupied a major place in the social and economic structure of the lives of the Assyrians. Saggs explained that the religious power and civil functions have always been interlocked.[4] And according to Bottero, Assyria was established in northern Mesopotamia from the middle of the second millennium. She states, “[ancient Mesopotamia] was an original civilization, rich and complex, that survived for three millennia through innumerable vicissitudes, across generations of people, of whom I personally know a few thousand…”[5]

Also excavations in Kala-tepe, near Kara-Eyuk, a mound lying eighteen (18) kilometers north-east of Caesarea in Cappadocia in modern Turkey (still in northern Mesopotamia), shows some tablets written in Semitic containing theophorous names, compounds of Ashur, Itti-Ashur, Taba-Ashur, Ashur-Malik, Ashur-muttabil. That in this region northwest of Assyria there were Votaries of Assur in the twenty-fourth century before the Christian era.[6]

Historical evidence is plentiful to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the Assyrians (Suraye) are the descendants of the ancient Assyrians concentrated in what is today northern Iraq. The Assyrians (Suraye) lived in the modern region of Iraq before Arabs, Turkomans and more recently Kurds arrived to the region and before Islam swept the Middle East. In the Chronicle of 640 or the Chronicle of Toma, we read, “In Mesopotamia, many of the Assyrians that were within the Persian Empire were sold by the Tayaye (Arabs)”.[7] Here the Christian Assyrians are shown to be living in northern Iraq and a good reference to the Assyrians presence in the early Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia.

The Language Continuity

The Assyrians spoke the Assyrian Akkadian language. However, the cuneiform script was not convenient for running a vast empire. Communication between Nineveh, the capital, and the vassal regions were difficult as the Cuneiform was a complex script that few were capable to understand. Thus, in around 750 BC, the Assyrians and the other people within the empire began officially to use the Aramaic alphabet because it was easier to learn and be communicated between the various people under the empire. It is not strange then that the Assyrian language and Aramaic script became the lingua franca of the vast empire. After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, the Medes, Romans, Greeks and Parthians controlled northern Mesopotamia, but the Assyrian language and the Aramaic alphabet remained in use specially by the Assyrians. Scholars have shown that the Akkadian language survived until the 3rd Century of the Christian era. M. J. Geller states, “I have argued elsewhere that Akkadian was likely to have survived throughout the Parthian period, at least until the mid-third Century A.D.”[8]

Even 2,600 years after the fall of Assyria, linguists have shown that many words being used today  were, in fact, in use in ancient Assyria. These linguists have argued that the Assyrian language (known widely by the Assyrians as Sureth), is a mix between the Assyrian Akkadian and Aramaic. Furthermore, the Aramaic script continues to be used by the Assyrians.

Religion Continuity: The Assyrians have been Christians for the last 2000 years.

The Assyrian people converted to Christianity during the time of the Apostles and remained Christians ever since. The Christological controversies that followed the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451) isolated the Assyrians as denominational units and communities. As the Church established further structure and hierarchy, the Churches of the Assyrians kept the various Assyrian communities together under the leadership of their respected patriarchs. The Assyrian denominational terms Nestorian and Jacobite were born. Later, in 1681 in Diyar Bekir (Turkey) and in 1830 in northern Iraq (Alqosh) the conversion of Assyrians to Catholicism isolated Assyrians as the term Chaldean was given to these converts. However, and according to Nisan, these communities created strong ties between themselves. He states, “… in the far north of Iraq bordering Turkey, The patriarchal ideal was the social norm in the family unit. Further north in the Hakkari Mountains, tribal formations remained the grid of the communal life. These units did not prevent joint action and the cultivation of national unity …”[9]

The birth of Islam was a double-edged sword for the Assyrian Christians and the region’s history. Before Islam, Mesopotamia belonged in part to the Byzantine and Sassanian empires, each people keeping in its possessions a body of troops and administrators. Ras al-’Ayn (Rish ‘ayno) and the territory beyond it as far as the Euphrates belonged to the Romans; Nisibis (Nisibin) and the territory beyond it as far as the Tigris belonged to the Persians.[10] Islam reunited Mesopotamia. On the other side, many peoples (including Assyrians) converted to Islam to escape death or avoid taxes. With time they were Arabized because of the influence of the Koran and the Arabic language. But many remained faithful to their religion and continued to live close to their ancestors historic capitals: Ashur, Kalah (Nimrud), Dur-Sharukin (Khorsabad), and Nineveh (Nebi Yunis) or close to their churches and the diocese of Mosul, Arbil, and Kirkuk in modern Iraq, Qudchanis (modern Turkey) or Antioch and Tur ‘Abdin (modern Turkey).

According to Murre-Van Den Berg “The Church of the East, as present in the region of Urmia, Mosul and the Hakkari mountains at the beginning of the nineteenth century, has its origin in the Christian communities that developed in the first centuries AD in the Parthian and Sassanian (from 224) empire.[11]

The church of the Assyrian people was not spread in northern Mesopotamia alone. History tells us that prior to Emperor Zeno’s closing of the Edessa “Nestorian” work in 488, a very significant event in the history of the Church of the East took place in Beth Lapat, near the ancient Ur. Zeno has addressed his famous instrument of union to the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch; all three had adopted his formulation of the heretical monophysite christology. In 484 the Church of the East called a synod in Beth Lapat where they did not oppose the Chalcedonian formula of 451, but resented that Council’s confirmation of the repudiation of Nestorius. The path of the Church of the East was now different from the Church of Rome.[12]  This led soon to the separation of the Church in the Persian Empire from the rest of the Christendom – the Church of the East became an independent church.[13] [14] The Church of the East missionevlved into a marvelous church that was born in Edessa (Urhai), then in Adiabene (Arbil) and soon with its headquarters at Ctesiphon-Seleucia (al-Mada’in, near Baghdad).[15] That church is still standing today as the Assyrian Church of the East. It remains an eastern church native to modern Iraq.

One of the most celebrated days in the liturgical calendar year of the Church of the East is the Rogation of the Ninevites. This is a three day fast observed by the churches that follow East and West Syriac (Assyrian) liturgical traditions. This fast is based on the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament where God sends Jonah (c. 786-746 BC) to Nineveh to warn its inhabitants of destruction unless they repent for their sins. The Assyrian King repented and covered himself with sackcloth, sat in ashes and called upon all the people to fast.[16] The Assyrians have observed this fast for the last 2750 years.  

Genetic Studies

There have been genetic studies about the Assyrians. One of such studies was conducted under the leadership of Professor L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza who is one of the most preeminent human population geneticists in the world. He, along with Professors Paolo Menozzi, and Alberto Piazza spent eight years collecting data for their study on the genetics of almost two thousand different populations and gathered some eighty-six thousand entries. Their analysis shows that the Assyrians, as a population, represent a unique genetic profile that is distinguished from other peoples. They write: “The Assyrians are a fairly homogeneous group of people, believed to originate from the land of old Assyria in northern Iraq” (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1996, 243)[17]. The authors additionally write that the Assyrians spoke a Semitic language and they used the cuneiform that were replaced later by the Aramaic, which used the Phoenician alphabet. The Assyrians to this very day, the authors write, speak this language. They add that the Assyrians living between Mosul and Arbil “are Christians and are possibly bona fide descendants of their namesakes” (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1996, 218)[18]

Historically, the Assyrian people rarely intermarried with surrounding populations. This fact was supported by the 2000 and 2008 genetic studies that proved Assyrians as genetically distinct from other groups in the Middle East.

Broken Promises

The Iraqi people were looking forward to freedom and peace within a secular and democratic Iraq as President George W. Bush promised to end the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein and secure freedom for all Iraqi people regardless of their ethnicity or religious belief. Speaking from Cincinnati on October 7, 2002, President Bush carefully distinguished between the various people of Iraq when he declared, “the oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi’a, Sunnis, and others will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin.[19] However, the new Iraqi Constitution, ratified in 2005, continues to define Assyrians as an ethno-religious minority. Article 125 guarantees fundamental rights to “various nationalities, such as Turkmen, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and all other constituents”. The Iraqi Constitution came short from recognizing Assyrians as the indigenous people of Iraq and it divided the Assyrian people into Assyrians and Chaldeans.

Proposed Regions Under The Iraq Protected Indigenous Status

The Indigenous status must be applied on the Assyrians in Iraq: the Iraqi and Kurdish regional constitutions must assert to it and a protected region administered by the Assyrians within historic Assyria must be secured in order to allow the Assyrians to live and thrive in peace in accordance to the 1994 United Nations General Assembly resolutions A/RES/48/163. These steps are achievable, considering that the Iraqi Council of Ministers has approved the creation of the Assyrian Christian Administrative Area. That came first in 2014 a short time before ISIS invaded Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. The approval was reiterated again on June 2, 2019 after the defeat of ISIS.

We suggest the following regions to be categorized as protected federal regions for the Assyrians:

A) Sapna region:

Sapna is a large valley in northern Iraq, contained by two small mountain ranges to the north. The valley is watered by the Upper Zab River, which flows along the eastern portion of the valley, and features hilly terrain in the central portion of it around Amadiya District.

The villages are:

Bibedeh, Komaneh, Deiri, Bilejan, Hamziyya, Inishkeh, Araden, Dawodiya, Dehe, Sersank, Badarish.

B) The Barwari Bala Region:

This is the Assyrian region along the Turkish Iraqi borders that has been forcefully occupied by the Kurds.

The villages are: Aina d’ Nuneh (Kani Masse), Maya, Derishke, Bi-Qolke, Doureh, Aqri, Helwa, Bet Shmiyaye, Hayyat, Hayyis, Malakhta, Jdide, Musakan, Dargeli, Tuta Shamaya, Tarshish, Be-Baloka, Maghribiya, Chim Dostina, Saradashti, Bet Tanoreh, Biqoole, Mani Nsara, Beshmayaye, Dereshkeh, Khwara, BuTarra, Merka Chiya, Hesseh, Kani Blafeh, Moska, Baz, Chaqla, Chalek Nsara, Ayit Horkeh, Dar Keleh, Chameekeh, Torwanish, Bazeveh, BiKozinkeh.

C) Nahla Region:

Nahla is a region in the provinces of Nineveh and Dohuk to the north of Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq.

The villages are:

Kashkawa, Belmit, Hezaneh, Merokeh, Khalilaneh, Jouleh, Rabetkeh, Chameh Chaleh, Kasreh. 

D) Nineveh Plain Region

The Nineveh Plain is a region in the Nineveh Governorate that comprised of three districts: Telkepe, Hamdaniya, Shekhan.

The towns and villages includes:

District of Telkepe (Telkepe, Batnaya, Tesqopeh, Alqosh)

District of Hamdaniya (Khidir Ilyas, Baghdeda, Ba’sheeqa, Bartella, Karamlesh)

District of Shekhan (Ain Sifni, Ba’thra, Qasrok)

Read also the attached details for the Assyrian villages in northern Iraq.

The Issue is Political

Many Assyrians in the national and human rights circles argue, rightfully so, that the recognition of Assyrians as the indigenous people of Iraq lacks neither historical arguments nor evidence. The evidence is there. The Jews and Kurds were assisted to have lands reserved for themselves, so do the Assyrians. Even during his trial, the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein responded to the Kurdish lawyer who claimed that the Christians and Yezidis living in the Kurdish region were Kurds. Saddam said, “as for the Christians, there are Chaldean Christians [Catholic Assyrians] and they are the origin for establishing the Iraq’s ancient Assyrian State”. He added, these Christians are not Kurds. The reason that Saddam opted to mention exclusively the Chaldeans is of course because of Tariq Aziz, his most trusted Christian Ba’ath Party friend and comrade, who was a Catholic Assyrian (Chaldean). Saddam mentions that the identity of a group is based on history and belonging. He was trying to say that the [Chaldean and Assyrian] Christians and Kurds Muslims neither share the same history nor belonging, thus the [Chaldean and Assyrian] Christians are not Kurds.

The Above map is from a book titled, “The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East: 1318-1913”. By David Wilmshurt. Published in Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Vol. 582, Tomus 104. Lovani. In Aedibus Peeters. 2000. 

Religion is an issue since Assyrians are Christians while 98% of Iraq’s population is Muslim. The US applies double standards when dealing with the various oppressed people around the world. The policy depends on the US economic interests. The US helps the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, but does not do the same with the Assyrians. In fact, the US opened all avenues possible to see the Assyrians out. The author’s entire family side that settled in Tell Hafian, Khabor, Syria since 1933 have been resettled in the US, Sweden, Germany and Australia after the attacks of ISIS on the Assyrian Khabor villages.  Most of the Khabor Assyrian villages are empty of Assyrians. Who will occupy those villages? The Kurds, of course.

The Return of Assyrians to their Ancestral Lands

The Iraqi government must establish a road map that clearly defines the process for returning Assyrians to their ancestral homeland and the returning all illegally confiscated Assyrian towns and villages, specially in the Kurdish controlled areas to their rightful Assyrian owners. The two governments must secure the necessary funding for the reconstruction of the destroyed villages and worship places during the Kurdish revolt years. The reconstruction of the 14,000 homes and building in the Nineveh Plains must begin as soon as possible. Many misconceptions exist contrary to the realities on the ground about the condition and situation of the Assyrians. As one Assyrian observer explains, “In the decade leading up to the Islamic State invasion, the Kurdish regional government created the appearance of security in the plains through the harasment of locals and a system of political and financial patronage”. The continuous disputes between Arbil and Baghdad and the so-called disputed territories continue to delay any efforts of return.

The long claimed Assyrian triangle autonomous region that was presented to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference (League of Nations) that was modified later as shown in the map above could be declared as a protected indigenous region protected by an Assyrian Force that could emerge from the already existing NPU (Nineveh Plain Protection Unit).

Assyrian Towns and Villages Names to be Restored

We are told that the names of places are more than a geographical indicator. Indigenous place names carry knowledge that has been passed from generation to generation – they have connected Indigenous people to their homes. While this Assyrians and their cities, towns, rivers, mountains, etc connection has at times remained strong despite several eras of assimilation; however, it has also disassociated them of that link. Thus, the consequences could be annihilative. This historic people-place link is powerful and it has threatened subsequent nations ruled northern Iraq. Hence, subsequent authorities have replaced the Assyrian town names by Arabic, Turkish or Kurdish names. Consider changing (or Kurdifying the name) Arbil (Arbela) to Hawler, Aina d’ Nuneh to Kani Masse, Diyana to Soran, Mar Yaqu to Kasha Fir, Shiyas to Sayjay, Harrania to Rania, Aridu to Rawanduz, Anisu to Qal’aat Diza, Ieri to Sardasht, Arzuhina to Gok Tape, Assur-Iqisha / Bidaro to Zakho, Gannanati to Qasr-e Shirin, Azari to Sulaimaniya, Girmua to Jerwan, Musru to Jabal Maqlub, Milqia to ‘Ain Kawa, Amantu to Sultan ‘Abdallah, etc. [20] It is argued that indigenous people can reclaim the spaces in which their cultures and languages have been subjected to attempted assimilation or outright eradication, but the authorities need to understand and tolerate the indigenous people’s dilemma and endangered situaion.

Final Thoughts

On May 13, 2012, at the Indigenous People’s form in New York, President of AAS in Iraq, the late Ashur Sargon Eskrya, stated, “We call upon you for the inclusion of the Assyrians as one of the indigenous peoples of Iraq and be eligible for support from programs funded by the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples, as well as support from other United Nations organizations in accordance with the UN Declaration on the indigenous peoples and their legitimate rights.” AAS has called for the support of and empowerment the Assyrian people to rebuild their historical areas, protecting their cultural heritage and language. AAS also called on all indigeous people to cooperate with each other in order to learn and benefit from any successful experiences to ensure the revival and preservation of the languages of the original peoples.

If Iraq does not recognize the Assyrians as its indigenous people, the Assyrians will continue to face genocide and massacres[21] and in time will disappear from Iraq, (and Syria and Turkey). This recognition will not add any burden on Iraq since that status will make the Assyrians eligible for support from various programs provided by the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples, as well as support from other United Nations organizations in accordance with the UN Declaration on the indigenous peoples. Recognizing the indigenous status of the Assyrians is very important not only for the Assyrians, but also for Iraq, Syria and Turkey themselves. Iraq, Syria and Turkey have their issues of human rights violations and the treatment of non-Arabs and non-Turks in their respective countries. Many argue that recognizing the Assyrians as the indigenous people of these three host countries and recognizing and improving the treatment of all the other components in those societies will open a new page in the history of the three states. We can envision the relationships between those three countries and the rest of the advanced and civil world. In addition, a new page of peace will spring between the Assyrians and those states. The recognition of the three said countries, Iraq most importantly, is very important, because, as Donabed and Joseph argue, “As long as Middle Eastern states do not recognize Assyrians and other peoples as indigenous, the process cannot commence; first peoples will be unable to negotiate in the political forum as long as their host countries monopolize their rights”. And since most Assyrians in Iraq live in northern Iraq’s region under the Kurdish control, then we expect the KRG to do the same and recognize the Assyrians as the indigenous of the region.

The Assyrian people deserve and are entitled to live in peace, security and freedom and their endangered language embraced and protected. Consider that the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages warns that the Assyrian (Syriac/Aramaic) language will disappear within a century. Many linguists argue that a language dies within three or four generations outside its original habitat. Some Assyrian schools have been opened in Iraq and in the KRG region; however, the financial support for these schools is meager and there is no genuine legislation to support the Assyrian language. During the time that you finish reading this article, another language somewhere around the world has died. With every language dying, a culture also dies. Imagine the impact of that on civilization. Most importantly, Iraq was among those countries that voted in favor of the 2007 UNDRIP. Only four countries voted against it and they were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Lastly, but not least, the Assyrians’ population was around 1.5 million before 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Today, observers put their numbers at 250,000 at best. Only the designation of indigenous people of Iraq will save and keep them in this diverse region of the Middle East. 


[1]           a.. Warda, William M. Assyrians Beyond the Fall of Nineveh: A 2,624 Years Journey. USA. 2013. 

            b. Aprim, Frederick. Assyrians: The Continuous Saga. Xlibris, 2004.

[2]COVID caused the cancellation of meetings in 2020 and 2021.

[3]Saggs, H.W.F. Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria. B. T. Batsford Ltd. London. 1965. p. 30

[4]Saggs, H.W.F. The Might That Was Assyria. Sidgwick & Jackson, London. 1984. p. 21

[5]Bottero, Jean, Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods. Translated by Zainab Bahrani & Marc Van De Mieroop. The University of Chicago Press. 1995. p. 21

[6]Delaporte, L. Mesopotamia: The Babylonian and Assyrian Civilization. Translated by V. Gordon Childe, New York, Barnes and Noble, Inc. p. 240

[7]Toma was a Syriac Othrodox priest, a native of Mardin. The Chronicle is preserved at the British Library under reference number ADD.MS.14,643.

[8]Geller, M. J. Paper titled “The Survival of Babylonian Wissenschaft in Later Tradition.” In the Heirs of Assyria. The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project. Sanna Aro and R. M. Whitting, ed. Helsinki, 2000, p.3.

[9]Nisan, Mordechai. Minorities in The Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publisher, London. 1991. p.157

[10]Palmer, Andrew. Monk and Mason on the Tigris Frontier: The Early History of Tur ‘Abdin. Cambridge. 1990. p. 7

[11]Murre-Van Den Berg, H. L. From A Spoken to a Written Language. Leiden. 1999. p. 31

[12]Young, John M. L. By Foot to China. Radiopress, Tokyo. 1984. p. 7

[13]Vine, Aubrey R. The Nestorian Churches: A Concise History of Nestorian Christianity in Asia From the Persian Schism to the Modern Assyrians. Independent Press, Ltd. London. 1937. p. 22

[14]Holm, Frits. My Nestorian Adventure in China. Gorgias Press. 2001.

[15]Stewart, John Rev. Nestorian Missionary Enterprise: The Story of a Church on Fire. Trichur, India. 1961. p. xxxi

[16]Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text. George M. Lamsa Translation. 1984. Book of Jonah 3:6-7.

[17]   Elias, Joel J. “The Genetics of Modern Assyrians and Their Relationship to Other People of the Middle East.” Article in Nineveh Magazine, no. 1 & 2. Berkeley, 2000.

[18]Ibid

[19]Aprim Frederick, The Betrayal of the Powerless: Assyrians After the 2003 US Invasion of Iraq. Xlibris. 2021

[20]Most of these original and modern names are from Simo Parpola & Michael Porter. The Helsinki Atlas of the Near East in the Neo-Assyrian Period. Helsinki, 2001.

[21]Consider WWI genocide, 1933 Simele massacre, 1969 Soriya massacre and 2014 ISIS genocide and the destruction of Assyrian archaeological sites, villages, churches and monasteries in both Iraq and Syria. 

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