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Turkey Asks NATO to Join Its War Against Syria and Russia

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The spokesperson for the Islamist party of Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has called upon all of NATO to go to war against Syria for Syria’s having killed dozens of Turkey’s troops in order for Syria to defeat Turkey’s invasion and military occupation of Syria’s Idlib Province, which borders on Turkey. Going to war against Syria would mean going to war also against Russia, which is in Syria to protect Syria’s sovereignty over its own territory. If the United States accepts that Turkish proposal, then World War III will consequently result.

Darius Shahtahmasebi reported for Russia’s RT News on the morning of February 28th,

Turkey is calling for NATO’s protection after 33 of its soldiers were killed in an apparent Syrian airstrike in Idlib, allegedly while fighting in terrorist ranks. In the regional chaos that ensues, only one player stands to gain.

Speculation over what’s to come next has seen #article 5 trending on Twitter in the hours following the attacks, after Omer Celik, spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AKP party, indicated to reporters in Ankara that he was looking at requesting formal NATO protection against Damascus and, by proxy, the Russian air force.

“We call on NATO to

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consultations. This is not [an attack] on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” Celik told Turkish media.

Article 5 of the NATO treaty says an attack on one member is an attack on them all.

The US State Department also condemned the attack, stating that it stands by its “NATO ally Turkey.” It further stated that it continues to “call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces.” Never one to let us down, the US envoy to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson also told journalists that “everything is on the table.”

This is the opportunity for U.S. President Donald Trump to join his opposition, Democratic Party’s, and even his own Party’s, hate-Russia campaign, by unleashing World War III, if he wants to. (For example, it was a unified Congress, both Parties, that forced him, on 17 July 2018, to reverse himself and say that Russia had assisted in his having become the U.S. President. He needed to be forced in order to say he agreed with that statement.)

Internally, within Islamist-ruled Turkey, the official Anadolu Press Agency sub-headlined one English-language news report, “Crisis in Idlib has crossed all limits, says presidential spokesman after regime attack martyrs 33 Turkish troops” and opened, “Turkey’s presidential spokesman on Friday called on the international community to take measures to de-escalate tensions in Syria after dozens of Turkish soldiers were martyred in a late night attack by the regime forces.” No mention was made, about those ‘martyrs’, that this had occurred in Syrian territory, where Turkish forces were invaders and military occupiers, and that the ‘regime’ they referred to is Syria’s committedly and ideologically secular, non-sectarian, Government, which is the only internationally recognized Government that Syria has (but from which Islamist Turkey is now trying to seize Syria’s Idlib Province and to include it within Turkey’s own territory).

By 7PM Turkish time on Friday the 28th, Firat Kozok of Bloomberg News headlined “Turkey Says It Has No Choice But to ‘Loosen’ Stance on Refugees” and reported that

Turkey is pressed by developments in Syria’s Idlib and has no choice but to “loosen” its policy of preventing refugees from travelling on to Europe, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun told reporters in Ankara.

“If Idlib falls, then millions of Syrian refugees will try to escape to Turkey and Europe. Turkey no longer has the possibility to provide resources for and help these people,” Altun said.

This is applying pressure upon the European member-nations in NATO to either join Turkey’s now very hot war against both Syria and Russia, or else to become faced with Turkey’s release of the tens of thousands of ‘rebels’ (mainly jihadists) whom Turkish forces in Syria’s Idlib Province have been protecting against military fire from Syria’s Army and from Russia’s Air Force. 

The events that led to this critical impasse were reported by me last night (the 27th), and that report thus continues here, in order to provide context to these events:

“Turkey Now Claims Syria’s Idlib Province as Turkish Territory”

Eric Zuesse

On February 26th, Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s President, told his Islamist political party that Idlib, which is the most heavily jihadist of all of Syria’s provinces and the province where Syria had been sending jihadists who had been defeated but not killed by the Syrian army elsewhere in the Syrian war, is now permanently under Turkey’s protection, and belongs to Turkey — Turkish territory. Russia’s RT news headlined on the 26th, “‘We’re the hosts there’: Erdogan says Turkey won’t pull back from Syria’s sovereign territory, gives Assad ultimatum to retreat”, and reported that, 

The Turkish leader has ruled out withdrawal from Idlib, where his forces are backing militants fighting the Syrian Army. He also gave Damascus an ultimatum to retreat beyond Turkey’s observation posts placed on Syrian soil.

“We will not step back in Idlib. We are not the guests in this realm, we are the hosts,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of his AK party on Wednesday. Vowing to bring “the regime’s attacks” to an end, Erdogan said Ankara is giving Damascus time to pull forces back from Turkish observation posts.

The very next day, on the 27th, the Turkish English-language newspaper Yeni Safak bannered “Situation in Syria’s Idlib ‘in favor of Turkey’: Turkish president says Turkey has also reversed situation in Libya, which was previously in favor of Libyan warlord Haftar” and they reported that Erdogan saw signs that Turkey was introducing new international realities in both Syria and Libya.

Later on the 27th, RT headlined “33 Turkish soldiers confirmed killed in Idlib airstrike as Erdogan chairs emergency meeting on Syria” and reported that “Turkish officials attributed the strike to the Syrian military.” However, any Turkish retaliation against Syrian forces would not only be met by Russian defense of Syrian forces but would be clearly a Syrian response to Turkish aggression and therefore any U.S. involvement supporting Turkey in this matter would be America’s participating in Turkey’s blatantly illegal grab for Idlib. Even America’s allies in Europe and elsewhere might then turn away from the U.S., and away from Turkey.

This extraordinarily assertive position by Erdogan results from the sequence of events that will be described here: 

U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. allies made unequivocally clear in late August and early September of 2018 that if Syria and Russia would try to restore Syrian Government control over Syria’s Idlib Province, then the U.S. and its allies would greatly escalate their war against Syria’s Government. For example, on 3 September 2018, Trump tweeted, “President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed.” South Front reported, the following day, that, 

Trump’s tweet comes as Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the start of his visit to Damascus said that “terrorists must be purged” from the province and Idlib in its entirety must be returned under government control.

“Syria’s territorial integrity should be safeguarded and all tribes and groups, as one society, should start the reconstruction process, and the refugees should return to their homes,” Mr Zarif said.

Zarif met with President Assad and the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. They mostly discussed the expected September 7th summit, which will happen in Tehran. Russian, Turkish, Syrian and Iranian leaders are supposed to meet and discuss the situation in Idlib.

A statement from Assad’s office said that Iran and Syria “had similar views on the different issues” that are to be discussed.

On 10 September 2018, I wrote that “Unless Syria will simply hand its most heavily pro-jihadist province, Idlib, to adjoining Turkey, which claims to have 30,000 troops there and is planning to add 20,000 more,” there would be a war between NATO member Turkey, which has invaded there, versus Russia, which — at Syria’s request — has been assisting Syria’s Government to conquer all of Syria’s jihadists. Syria’s Army has gradually liberated and retaken most of Syria’s territory from jihadists, but had been using Idlib Province as a collection-area for the ones who were holding Syrian civilians as human shields. Syria was bussing into Idlib the tens of thousands of jihadists that surrendered. This was being done so as to minimize the numbers of civilians who would be killed when Syria’s army would retake an area, under Russian air-cover. This would allow the civilians there to escape to Syrian-Government-held territory, and the armed forces of Syria and Russia then to move in and slaughter the jihadists who remained there, so that Syria would retake that area from the U.S.-backed jihadists

Then, seven days later, I headlined “Putin and Erdogan Plan Syria-Idlib DMZ as I Recommended”, and reported that,

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan jointly announced on September 17th in Tehran, “We’ve agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15. The zone will be 15-20km wide,” which compares to the Korean DMZ’s 4-km width.

Though the understanding that Erdogan had reached with Iran’s President Rouhani and with Russia’s President Putin was that this would be only a temporary measure in order to get the U.S. and its allies to cease threatening World War III if Syria and Russia promptly let loose and slaughtered the ‘rebels’ in Idlib (those being Americas’s previous main fighters to defeat and replace Syria’s Government), Erdogan soon presented clear indications that he actually wanted to seize Syrian territory and to get as much of it as he could — that his goal in Syria included expanding Turkey into Syria. His temporary policing function, as agreed-to by Russia, to isolate and not allow to escape the defeated jihadists who had become trapped there, turned out to be far more than that: it turned out to be Erdogan’s protection of those jihadists.  

On September 25th of 2018, I had bannered “Turkey Now Controls Syria’s Jihadists”, and presented the historical background behind this. Then, on 14 July 2019, I headlined “Turkey Will Get a Chunk of Syria: An Advantage of Being in NATO”, and explained that because of NATO’s backing of Turkey’s seizure of Syrian territory, Turkey was already committed to the construction of Syrian branches of Turkey’s Gaziantep University and of Turkey’s Harran University, as well as of building supportive infrastructure for those facilities — absorbing portions of northern Syria into Turkey. 

So, this has been a gradual process, and now Erdogan, backed by U.S.President Trump and by NATO, will be saving the lives of the tens of thousands of jihadists (plus their families) who had been defeated elsewhere in Syria, and who thus will avoid what the U.S. and its allies had warned would be a ‘humanitarian crisis’ of mass-slaughtering those defeated jihadists (which the U.S. and its allies still call ‘Syrian rebels’ — even though most of them aren’t even Syrian).

As I noted in the 14 July 2019 article:

At that time, just prior to the Tehran conference — and this was actually the reason why the conference was held — the U.S. and its allies, and the U.N., were demanding that an all-out invasion of Idlib, which had been planned by the Governments of Syria and of Russia, must not take place, for ‘humanitarian’ reasons. There was all that ‘humanitarian’ concern (led by the United States) for the world’s biggest concentration of Nusra and Nusra-led jihadists — and for Syria’s most jihadist-supporting civilian population. So much ‘kindness’, such ‘admirable’ ‘humanitarianism’. Furthermore the U.S. Government was threatening to greatly increase its forces against Syria if that invasion by Syria and by Russia into Idlib (which is, after all, part of Syria — so, what business is it, even of the U.N., at all?) were to be carried out. The Tehran conference was meeting in order to resolve that emergency situation (mainly America’s threats of a possible war against Russia), so as to forestall this attack.

Trump’s backing of Turkey’s aggression was taking the United States even deeper into his predecessor, Barack Obama’s, support of jihadists in order to overthrow Syria’s non-sectarian Government and install one that would be acceptable to the fundamentalist-Sunni Saud family who own Saudi Arabia.

And now Erdogan again is threatening Russia with WW III if Russia continues to defend Syria’s sovereignty over Idlib — Syria’s most-jihadist province.

On February 26th, Yeni Safak bannered “Turkey will never compromise on Sochi deal for Syria, says Erdoğan”; so, Erdogan is openly threatening WW III if Russia and Syria resist Turkey’s seizure of Idlib and protection of its many thousands of jihadists.

Although the U.S. has led this apparent victory for jihadists and for international aggression, Turkey’s Erdogan has been its spearhead. Russia and Iran had not agreed to this. Certainly, Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, hadn’t agreed to anything like this outcome. Turkey, in its 10 September 2018 agreement with Russia and with Iran, had committed itself to separating-out and killing the jihadists; but, instead, Turkey has been protecting them, and now will be absorbing them, and taking Idlib Province from adjoining Syria. As recently as 22 October 2019, Erdogan had promised Putin in Sochi that “The two sides reiterate their commitment to the preservation of the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria,” and that, “They emphasize their determination to combat terrorism in all forms and manifestations and to disrupt separatist agendas in the Syrian territory.” Yeni Safak’s February 26th article opened “Turkey will never compromise on the Sochi deal on embattled Idlib, Syria, and it expects the deal to be implemented, said the country’s president on Wednesday.” Turkey “expects the deal to be implemented” while blatantly violating it.

Brett McGurk, a leading neoconservative in the Administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, admitted, on 27 July 2017, that “Idlib Province is the largest Al Qaeda safe-haven since 9/11, tied directly to Ayman al-Zawahiri,” and that “to send in tens of thousands of tons of weapons and looking the other way as these foreign fighters come into Syria, may not have been the best approach,” but yet the U.S. regime continues that approach, and backs Turkey’s grab of Idlib and protection of those jihadists. Previously, McGurk had been U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the anti-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) coalition. He had supported jihadists led by al-Nusra (Syrian branch of Al Qaeda) and supported separatist Kurds in Syria, to overthrow Syria’s Government. Even the liberal (or Democratic Party, pro-Obama) neoconservative Washington Post  had not hidden the fact that “The U.S. team, headed by senior White House adviser Robert Malley and State Department envoy Brett McGurk” had informed the newspaper that “Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of a cease-fire” — the fact that Obama was actually protecting those jihadists (though not protecting ISIS or ‘ISIL’). Obama backed al-Qaeda there, and so does Trump. However, when Trump ran for the Presidency in 2016, he promised to reverse Obama’s obsession to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That, and similar promises he made, were antithetical to the most-basic commitments of the U.S. Establishment. They became his implacable enemies.

Finally, on 10 November 2016, right after Trump’s election, that same newspaper, the WP, bannered “Obama directs Pentagon to target al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, one of the most formidable forces fighting Assad” and, without noting that Obama had supported that “al-Qaeda affiliate” until then, but instead falsely reporting that “the administration had largely ignored until now” it, said: “While Obama, White House national security adviser Susan E. Rice, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and special presidential envoy Brett McGurk agreed with [the super-neoconservative Obama Secretary of Defense Ashton] Carter on the need to keep the focus on the Islamic State, they favored shifting resources to try to prevent al-Nusra from becoming a bigger threat down the road.” That was extreme euphemism, coming from this extremely neoconservative liberal newspaper. Actually, Obama had built his overthrow-Assad operation mainly upon al-Nusra, to train and lead the tens of thousands of foreign jihadists who had been pouring into Syria. The Washington Post was one of the most lying, deceptive, newspapers reporting anywhere in the world about international relations, very heavily slanted neoconservative — in favor of expanding the U.S. mega-corporate empire. Whereas the separatist Kurds were America’s main proxy-army fighting in Syria’s northeast, al-Nusra led America’s proxy-armies everywhere else in Syria. That 10 November 2016 WP article also asserted “But aides say Obama grew frustrated that more wasn’t being done by the Pentagon and the intelligence community to kill al-Nusra leaders given the warnings he had received from top counter­terrorism officials about the gathering threat they posed.” That’s another lie, because Secretary of State John Kerry had actually fought inside the Administration against Obama’s policy on that, and the policy came from Obama himself — and NOT from his subordinates (such as Ashton Carter), as that lying newspaper alleged. The article referred to “the expanded push against al-Nusra” — but here is the reality: by no later than December 2012 Obama had settled upon al-Nusra to lead America’s overthrow-Assad campaign inside Syria. And the reason for that has very deep historical roots — all hidden from the American public. Instead of such realism, that propaganda-organ, in its article on 10 November 2016, wrote:

A bitterly divided Obama administration had tried over the summer to cut a deal with Moscow on a joint U.S.-Russian air campaign against al-Nusra, in exchange for a Russian commitment to ground Syrian government warplanes and to allow more humanitarian supplies into besieged areas. But the negotiations broke down in acrimony, with Moscow accusing the United States of failing to separate al-Nusra from more moderate rebel groups and Washington accusing the Russians of war crimes in Aleppo.

‘Humanitarian’. How stupid does the owner of the Washington Post think that the American public is in order for it still to believe that its Government really cares about being “humanitarian” around the world — especially in countries it’s trying to conquer, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia …? Really? He thinks it’s that stupid? Or, does he think his newspaper can help to make them so misinformed?

That rabidly anti-Russian newspaper continued there:

Russia had accused the United States of sheltering al-Nusra, a charge repeated Thursday in Moscow by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“The president doesn’t want this group to be what inherits the country if Assad ever does fall,” a senior U.S. official said. “This cannot be the viable Syrian opposition. It’s al-Qaeda.”

Officials said the administration’s hope is that more-moderate rebel factions will be able to gain ground as both the Islamic State and al-Nusra come under increased military pressure.

The article also featured a headline and link to their 9 November 2016 news-story, “Intelligence community is already feeling a sense of dread about Trump”. Even back then, the Democratic Party’s billionaires were pumping their agents’ allegations which would lead to Russiagate, the Mueller Report, and ultimately to Ukrainegate and Trump’s impeachment for being insufficiently supportive of President Obama’s 2014 coup and conquest of Ukraine, which Obama had started planning by no later than 2011. All of that was a warning to any current or future U.S. President, that to buck the collective will of America’s billionaires is to commit political suicide. It doesn’t make any difference what the President’s Party is — the dictate, from the billionaires, applies to any U.S. President. This ‘restored Cold War’ is nothing of the sort — on the U.S. side, the war secretly continued uninterrupted, even after the Soviet Union ended its communism, and its Warsaw-Pact mirror of America’s NATO military alliance.

UPDATE: On February 28th, the German Government news-agency Deutsche Welle (DW) bannered “Idlib: ‘I’d rather suffer bombs than Assad’” and provided an extensive interview by telephone with someone in Idlib who says that she supports democracy and tolerance of all religions and is determined to overthrow the present Government of Syria. If her pro-democracy, anti-jihadist, allegations are honest, then she is an extraordinary exception for Idlib, as has been documented by the periodic polls that the British polling firm Orb International took throughout Syria and reported during 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018. For examples:

In the 2014 report (page 12) only 4% of the people sampled in Idlib said that they supported “The Assad Government.” This was far lower than the percentages in any other Syrian province. 52% supported either “armed opposition” or “Violent religious extremist groups.” This was far higher than in any other province except ISIS-controlled Raqqah, where it was 59%.

In the 2015 report (page 7), 35% of the people sampled in Idlib said that al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) was a “Completely positive influence”; an additional 35% said it was a “Somewhat positive influence.” That 70% support for al-Qaeda was by far the highest found in any of Syria’s provinces.

If the person who was at the other end of that DW phone-call was authentic, then she was anything but representative of the people in Idlib. 

At around 10 AM Eastern time in the U.S. on the 28th, Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper headlined “Erdoğan and Putin may meet next week, Kremlin says”, and reported that “Erdoğan and Putin spoke over the phone Friday to try to defuse tensions that rose significantly in northwestern Syria after 33 Turkish troops were killed in a Syrian regime airstrike.” Either Erdogan is trying to find a face-saving way out of his huge gamble, or Putin is trying to prevent WW III, or both. An hour later, that newspaper bannered “Turkey determined to remove Assad regime from Syria’s Idlib, Erdoğan tells Trump.” Why is it that a country can proudly proclaim in a headline that it will commit international aggression in blatant violation of international law and yet not be roundly damned by the publics in all countries for doing such a vile thing?

At around noon, U.S. Eastern time, on the 28th, Turkey’s TRT World bannered “NATO and the West’s dereliction of duty in Syria and Turkey” and opened: “If the West and NATO continue on the path they have chosen, it will allow Vladimir Putin to reshape the post-Soviet world order in his image.” After trying to scare Europe’s leaders by threatening to overwhelm them with maybe hundreds of thousands of released jihadists who have been basically penned-up in Idlib, Erdogan was trying to appeal to those leaders’ obligations to NATO, America’s anti-Russian military alliance.  

At around 1:30 PM U.S. Eastern time on the 28th, Britain’s Guardian headlined “Nato expresses ‘full solidarity’ with Turkey over Syria airstrikes” but NATO chief “Stoltenberg offered no immediate promise of assistance to Turkey,” and the article went on to report that the UK and five of its allies would bring the matter to the U.N. Security Council on Friday night (where Turkey’s demands would even more certainly go nowhere). The reality of Stoltenberg’s statement (which had been issued at 12:33 Eastern time) was a total humiliation to Erdogan’s fantasies that because of his country’s NATO membership he could get the U.S. to invade Russia. Stoltenberg gave the standard NATO hate-talk against Russia and its allies, however, saying that “Allies condemn the continued indiscriminate air strikes by the Syrian regime and its backer Russia in Idlib province.” Even when a NATO member engages in clear-cut foreign aggression in violation of the U.N. Charter’s prohibiton against that, and explicitly violating the International Criminal Court’s “Crime of Aggression”, NATO will spew its standard hate-propaganda against the countries that were and are victims of that blatantly illegal aggression by the NATO member-country. Notwithstanding NATO’s sometimes diplomatic language, it is — after Russia ended its side of the Cold War in 1991 — basically an extremely dangerous militarized hate-organization, of which every one of its member-nations should be profoundly embarrassed to belong.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

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

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

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

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

Blockades and bombardment

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

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

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

Living in fear

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

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

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

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

Division remains

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

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

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

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

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Middle East

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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