Authors: Juliana Taimoorazy and Uzay Bulut
Pope Francis visited parts of northern Iraq once occupied by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists, including the cities of Mosul and Baghdeda in the Nineveh Plains, on the third day of his historic trip to the country.
On March 7, the Pope prayed among Mosul’s ruined churches before meeting Christians there. The city was once a former ISIS stronghold. He later met Christians in the ancient Church of the Immaculate Conception, which was torched by ISIS and has now been restored, in the Assyrian town of Baghdeda (Qaraqosh).
ISIS had invaded and captured Baghdeda in August of 2014 after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces. This invasion forced a majority of Nineveh inhabitants to leave their homes. The indigenous Christian community, which belongs to a number of denominations, forms a demographic majority in the Nineveh Plains. This is a region of immense historical, cultural and religious significance among the natives in the Assyrian heartland.
Mosul and Nineveh
Mosul contained sizeable ethnic Assyrian and other Christian communities, with many active ancient churches and monasteries, until its invasion by ISIS in 2014. Mosul has also for centuries been a significant center for Christians.
Mosul is built along the Tigris, one of the Biblical rivers of Paradise, opposite the ruins of the well-known Assyrian capital city of Nineveh, which was inhabited as early as 3,000 BC. This was where, according to the Bible, the residents escaped God’s destruction after the prophet Jonah came to them and encouraged that they turn away from sin.
“Mosul and the Nineveh Plain are places of great historical and current relevance for the Assyrian people as a whole,” said Efrem Yildiz, a Professor of Hebrew and Aramaic Studies at the University of Salamanca.
“But above all it is important for the implantation of Christianity in the Middle East starting with northern Mesopotamia, the ancestral territory of the Assyrians who converted to Christianity in the first century of the Christian era. The kingdom of Adiabene, together with that of Ashur and Osrhoene, were the first small Assyrian kingdoms to convert to Christianity and were the ones who brought the Gospel to all Far East.
“Currently, the Christian presence in the area is essential for all of Mesopotamia and especially for the Assyrian people, who are divided into different Catholic and non-Catholic ecclesial branches. The Nineveh Plains is the last hope to be able to implant true democracy and develop Christianity as it deserves, if it has the support of the Western world,” said Yildiz.
The indigenous people of Iraq are Assyrians, who have inhabited there for millennia. The ancient Assyrians ruled their empire from several capitals in what is today known as Iraq. One of them was the city of Nineveh, which was once the largest city in the world. However, Assyrians have been stateless for more than two millennia, since the fall of the Assyrian Empire and sack of Nineveh in 612 BCE.
Hannibal Travis, a Professor of Law at the Florida International University, notes:
“As the early Christian church was growing and evangelizing distant lands, the Assyrian identity survived the destruction of Nineveh. Assyrians continued to practice their ancient religion and inhabited their ancient capital of Assur, rebuilt in a new style.”
However, with the Arab conquests of Mesopotamia, Persia, Syria, Armenia, Egypt, and the Levant, the Eastern Christian peoples fell to a subordinate status, also known as dhimmitude.
“Arab officials decreed the destruction of many churches, the cessation of Christian religious services, the deportation of Christians from the land, the expropriation of their property, and the executions of those who resisted,” adds Professor Travis.
Despite severe persecutions, Assyrians have remained resilient.
“The modern Assyrians of Iraq and Persia have had such ancient Assyrian names as Sargon and Sennacherib since the earliest European contact with them. The name ‘Assyria’ was also consistently applied to the area around the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, and the Christians of Iraq reaffirmed their Assyrian identity from the earliest French and British contact.”
Assyrian contributions to science and intellectual developments, even under Muslim rule, are also well-documented. Assyrian Christians living under the Abbasid Caliphs, for instance, are credited with translating many Greek scientific and philosophical works into Arabic, writes Professor Travis.
The Pope went to these ancient lands in Iraq, which are of deep significance for Christianity. He visited the Church Square in Mosul to pray for the victims of ISIS. Surrounded by the ruins of the square’s Four Churches, he said the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East had done “incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned but also to the society they leave behind.”
2014 ISIS Invasion
Like the early Islamic armies who invaded the region in the eighth century, ISIS also murdered the Christians of Iraq, desecrated Christian places of worship, and beheaded religious statues.
When ISIS terrorists invaded Mosul in July of 2014, they threatened to kill Christians unless they converted to Islam or paid the jizya tax. A statement issued by the Islamic State was read at the city’s mosques. It called on Christians to comply or face death if they did not leave the city.
The ultimatum cited a historic contract known as dhimma, under which non-Muslims in Islamic societies who refuse to convert are offered so-called “survival” under second-class citizenship if they pay a fee, called a jizya. “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” the ISIS statement said.
Christians in the region were thus forced to choose between paying the jizya tax, converting to Islam, leaving or getting murdered. Tens of thousands of Christians fled.
ISIS also launched a war on the region’s ancient and medieval cultural heritage, attacking archaeological sites with bulldozers and explosives. Jonah’s Tomb in Mosul, for instance, was destroyedin July of 2014.A year later, parts of ancient Assyrian sites such as Nimrud and Khorsabad were destroyed. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) described the bulldozing of Nimrud as a “war crime.”
“Nimrud is the modern name,” said Nicholas Postgate, a professor of Assyriology at the University of Cambridge. “The ancient name was Kalhu. It’s mentioned in the Bible, under the spelling ‘Calah.'”
According to the National Geographic:
“Reports of looting at Mosul’s libraries and universities began to surface almost as soon as ISIS occupied the city… Centuries-old manuscripts were stolen, and thousands of books disappeared into the shadowy international art market. Mosul University’s library was burned in December.
“Many of the site’s sculptures were housed in the Mosul Museum, and some were damaged during the rampage through the museum documented on video. Men were also shown smashing half-human, half-animal guardian statues called lamassus on Nineveh’s ancient Nirgal Gate. ‘I’m not sure there’s much left to destroy in Mosul,’ says Columbia’s Jones.”
ISIS particularly targeted Christian places of worship such as the Mar Behnam Monastery:”Established in the 4th century, the monastery was dedicated to an early Christian saint. The holy site, maintained since the late 1800s by Syriac Catholic monks, survived the Mongol hordes in the 1200s but fell to ISIS in March. The extremists used explosives to destroy the saint’s tomb and its elaborate carvings and decorations.”
Ramsin Edward, Director of Media and Communications of the Assyrian Cultural and Social Youth Association Inc. (ACSYA),authored a report on this matter titled “Assyrian Cultural Heritage at Risk in Northern Iraq.”
“Intentional destruction of archaeological sites, as well as places of cultural and religious significance have a devastating impact on indigenous Assyrians,” Edward said.
“These sites and monuments are very significant in validating collective memory, forming cultural identity, and providing the Assyrians with a sense of belonging. As Assyrians form new diaspora communities due to ongoing conflict in the region, they become increasingly more disconnected from their motherland and are confronted with the process of assimilation. This is extremely concerning.”
Despite all challenges, Edward remains hopeful. “The Pope’s visit to Iraq will most certainly draw attention to the country’s historic sites and may perhaps even encourage tourism. However, beyond these dusty ruins, there exists a living culture that is on the brink of extinction. The right to self-determination is an integral element of basic human rights and freedoms. An autonomous self-governing region and self-security will be the only viable and long-term solution for the Assyrians. Statically speaking, the areas in the Nineveh Plains where Assyrians maintain their own security have seen the most re-settlement in contrast to other areas.”
Assyrians have for centuries been targeted by Muslim extremists for their faith and ethnicity. Historians record that the first massacre of Assyrians in the modern era took place in the 1840s in northern Mesopotamia in the Ottoman Empire. The greatest assault against the community would take place in less than a century later. During the 1915-1923 Assyrian genocide by Ottoman Turkey, approximately300,000 Assyrians were killed and innumerable women abducted.
Many descendants of the genocide’s survivors left Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s due to the violent conflicts between the Turkish military and the Kurdish PKK. An elderly Assyrian couple– Simoni and Hurmuz Diril – who had had to leave Turkey for Europe returned to their ancient village only to be kidnapped last year.
The couple was abducted from the village of Mehr, a historically Assyrian village that has been repeatedly caught in the crosshairs of various conflicts. The mother, Simoni Diril, was found deceased on March 20, 2020. The whereabouts of the father, Hurmuz Diril, remain unknown. Their son, Father Adday Remzi Diril, is a Catholic priest based in Istanbul, known internationally for his pastoral care of 7,000 Iraqi Christian refugees displaced in Turkey.
The Diril family hopes that the Pope’s visit of Iraq would bring their parent’s forced disappearances to the Pope’s attention and therefore to the world’s attention.
What the future might hold for Assyrians in Nineveh
Ashur Sargon Eskrya, the president of Assyrian Aid Society – Iraq, said that Assyrian Christians still live in an unstable situation in Nineveh plains and in villages and towns under the KRI (Kurdistan Region of Iraq) control.
“This situation stems from a lack of security in the Nineveh Plains and a lack of a legal frame to protect our rights as an indigenous people of Iraq, or even as citizens of the country.
“Nineveh plains are currently divided into two parts; the north part is administrated officially by Baghdad and its security is under peshmerga forces and Asayish (Kurdish security force) of the KRI that are trying to illegally seize Assyrian lands. The south part is controlled by the Iraqi government and its security is provided by three local forces. One is the Assyrian NPU (Nineveh Plain Protection Units), which is part of the Iraqi security forces. The other two are Shabak militia, the Babylon brigade and the 30th brigade, which are following orders coming from outside of the country. This makes the region unstable.”
Turkey’s airstrikes against northern Iraq are increasingly ruining the security of the region and making it harder for Assyrians to return, said Eskrya.
“Assyrian Christian villages near Iraqi Turkish borders are suffering from Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish PKK fighters. The PKK have infiltrated Assyrian villages and are using them as a battlefield, in addition to new conflicts which ingress rapidly in the region between two rivalrous Kurdish groups – KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) peshmerga and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) – after the security agreement on the region of Sinjar between the Iraqi government and the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government).The Kurdish peshmerga have also started installing more check points and controlling flowing foods into some Assyrian regions like Nahla Valley.”
The unity of all security forces and militias in the Nineveh Plains under the Iraqi government and recognizing the Assyrian right to self-rule would largely solve security problems in the region, said Eskrya.
“Nineveh plains should be neutralized from the conflicts between Kurdish, Sunni and Shia political parties. The next step should be to draw a road map to establish a legal framework based on the article 125 of the Iraqi constitution to guarantee the rights of Assyrian Christians by establishing a new local administration, a Nineveh plains province, for Assyrians.
“Also, in the villages under the KRG control, it is important to stop the land grabs by Kurds of Assyrian villages and lands immediately.”
Eskrya thinks that for Assyrians to survive in their lands, the support of the Pope and the international Christian community is essential.
“The Pope and Holy See should help protect Christian rights in Iraq and to help keep Christianity as part of the future of Iraq. This should include bringing the attention of the international community to the Assyrian plight and putting more diplomatic pressure on the Iraqi government and the KRG to make them democratize their laws in a way that would recognize the rights of Christians as well, for these two administrations still have laws which violate the human rights of Christians and other non-Muslims.”
Eskrya added that aid and support should be provided to the Assyrian Christian community directly as a strong financial and political plan is needed to help Assyrians who are currently in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan seeking asylum there to return back to their homeland. “If stability is provided in Nineveh, we believe that more Assyrians in the diaspora will return to our lands,” he said.
Eskrya also called on the Pope to lead the efforts to unite Christians in Iraq:“Historically, Eastern Christians belong to the same race, heritage and tradition. However, their ecclesiastical divisions have long fueled sectarianism. The Pope has the ability to mediate between these groups by promoting dialogue, partnership, and find common ground.”
Professor Yildiz also said that the international Christian community with the involvement of the highest authority of the Catholic Church could help the Assyrians to preserve their faith in a very complex region. He continued:
“For centuries Assyrians have suffered persecution, massacres, discrimination of all kinds for being different from others in terms of their faith. What makes them the most vulnerable and defenseless victims is their Christian faith. If the international Christian community does not take the protection of these people seriously, their presence in their ancestral territory has its days counted. So it is not enough to feel sorry for their delicate situation but they also have to act at the international political level to guarantee the rights of these people abandoned and forgotten by the whole world. The Pope of Rome has a crucial role in ensuring the survival of the Assyrians in their land. I hope that this trip will do something to help the Assyrians to live in peace so that they can develop in the Nineveh Plain as a people and a nation like any other people.”
Israel and Turkey in search of solutions
Twelve and eleven years have elapsed since the Davos and Mavi Marmara incidents, respectively, and Turkey-Israel relations are undergoing intense recovery efforts. They are two important Eastern neighbours and influence regional stability.
Currently, as in the past, relations between the two countries have a structure based on realpolitik, thus pursuing a relationship of balance/interest, and hinge around the Palestinian issue and Israel’s position as the White House’s privileged counterpart. However, let us now briefly summarise the history of Turkish-Jewish relations.
The first important event that comes to mind when mentioning Jews and Turks is that when over 200,000 Jews were expelled by the Spanish Inquisition in 1491, the Ottoman Empire invited them to settle in its territory.
Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel in 1949. Israel’s first diplomatic Mission to Turkey was opened on January 7, 1950 but, following the Suez crisis in 1956, relations were reduced to the level of chargé d’affaires. In the second Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Turkey chose not to get involved and it did not allow relations to break off completely.
The 1990s saw a positive trend and development in terms of bilateral relations. After the second Gulf War in 1991 -which, as you may recall, followed the first Iraqi one of 1980-1988 in which the whole world was against Iran (with the only exception of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Libya and the moral support of Enver Hoxha’s Albania) – Turkey was at the centre of security policy in the region. In that context, Turkey-Israel relations were seriously rekindled.
In 1993, Turkey upgraded diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadorial level. The signing of the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel led to closer relations. The 1996 military cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which provided significant logistical and intelligence support to both sides.
In the 2000s, there was a further rapprochement with Israel, due to the “zero problems with neighbours” policy promoted by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party. I still remember issue No. 3/1999 of the Italian review of geopolitics “Limes” entitled “Turkey-Israel, the New Alliance”.
In 2002, an Israeli company undertook the project of modernising twelve M-60 tanks belonging to the Turkish armed forces. In 2004, Turkey agreed to sell water to Israel from the Manavgat River.
Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Israel in 2005 was a turning point in terms of mediation between Palestine and Israel and further advancement of bilateral relations. In 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas spoke at the Turkish Grand National Assembly one day apart. High-level visits from Israel continued.
On December 22, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Ankara and met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In that meeting, significant progress was made regarding Turkey’s mediation between Israel and Syria.
Apart from the aforementioned incidents, the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations occurred five days after the above stated meeting, i.e. Operation “Cast Lead” against Gaza on December 27, 2008. After that event, relations between the two sides were never the same as before.
Recently, however, statements of goodwill have been made by both countries to normalise political relations. In December 2020, President Erdoğan stated he wanted to improve relations with Israel and said: “It is not possible for us to accept Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinian territories. This is the point in which we differ from Israel – otherwise, our heart desires to improve our relations with it as well”.
In its relations with Israel, Turkey is posing the Palestinian issue as a condition. When we look at it from the opposite perspective, the Palestinian issue is a vital matter for Israel. It is therefore a severe obstacle to bilateral relations.
On the other hand, many regional issues such as Eastern Mediterranean, Syria and some security issues in the region require the cooperation of these two key countries. For this reason, it is clear that both sides wish at least to end the crisis, reduce rhetoric at leadership level and focus on cooperation and realpolitik areas.
In the coming months, efforts will certainly be made to strike a balance between these intentions and the conditions that make it necessary to restart bilateral relations with Israel on an equal footing. As improved relations with Israel will also positively influence Turkey’s relations with the United States.
Turkey seeks to avoid the USA and the EU imposing sanctions that could go so far as to increase anti-Western neo-Ottoman rhetoric, while improved relations with Israel could offer a positive outcome not only to avoid the aforementioned damage, but also to solve the Turkish issues related to Eastern Mediterranean, territorial waters, Libya and Syria. Turkey has no intention of backing down on such issues that it deems vital. Quite the reverse. It would like to convey positive messages at the level of talks and Summits.
Another important matter of friction between Turkey and Israel is the use of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean reserves between Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus (Nicosia).
This approach is excluding Turkey. The USA and the EU also strongly support the current situation (which we addressed in a previous article) for the additional reason that France has been included in the equation.
The alignment of forces and fronts in these maritime areas were also widely seen during the civil war in Libya, where Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, as well as other players such as Russia, Italy, etc. came into the picture.
Ultimately, a point of contact between Turkey and Israel is the mediation role that the former could play in relations between Iran and Israel, especially after the improvement of Turkish-Iranian relations.
Indeed, in the aftermath of the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad – which killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 -the Turkish Foreign Minister stated that the U.S. action would increase insecurity and instability in the region. He also reported that Turkey was worried about rising tensions between the United States and Iran that could turn Iraq back into an area of conflict to the detriment of peace and stability in the region. There was also a condolence phone call from President Erdoğan to Iranian President Rouhani, urging him to avoid a conflictual escalation with the United States following the airstrike.
Consequently, it is in the Turkish President’s interest to maintain an open channel with Iran, so that he himself can soften the mutual tensions between Israel and Iran, and – in turn – Israeli diplomacy can influence President Biden’s choices, albeit less pro-Israel than Donald Trump’s.
Turkey is known to have many relationship problems with the United States – especially after the attempted coup of July 15-16, 2016 and including the aforementioned oil issue – and realises that only Israel can resolve the situation smoothly.
In fact, Israel-USA relations are not at their best as they were under President Trump. President Erdoğan seems to be unaware of this fact, but indeed the Turkish President knows that the only voice the White House can hear is Israel’s, and certainly not the voice of the Gulf monarchies, currently at odds with Turkey.
Israel keeps a low profile on the statements made by President Erdoğan with regard to the Palestinians- since it believes them to be consequential – as well as in relation to a series of clearly anti-Zionist attitudes of the Turkish people.
We are certain, however, that President Erdoğan’s declarations of openness and Israeli acquiescence will surely yield concrete results.
The 25-year China-Iran agreement
On March 27, 2021, a document entitled “Comprehensive Document of Iran-China Cooperation” was signed by Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, and his Chinese counterpart. The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had previously called “the agreement between the presidents of Iran and China correct and wise.” However, the Iranian people have widely criticized it as entirely against their national interests. Iranian officials have not even publicized the document’s contents yet probably because it is highly contentious.
In 2019, excerpts from this document were revealed by the Economist Petroleum news site. The details included:
- China invests $460 billion in Iranian oil and transportation sectors. China will get its investment back from the sale of Iranian crude during the first five years.
- China buys Iranian petroleum products at least 32% cheaper.
- The Chinese can decide before other companies whether to participate in completing all or part of a petrochemical project.
- 50,000 Chinese security personnel will be deployed to protect Chinese projects in Iran.
- China has the right to delay the repayment of its debts for up to two years in exchange for Iranian products’ purchase.
- At least one Russian company will be allowed to participate in the Tabriz-Ankara gas pipeline design together with the Chinese operator.
- Every year, 110 senior Revolutionary Guards officers travel to China and Russia for military training. 110 Chinese and Russian advisers will be stationed in Iran to train Revolutionary Guards officers.
- Development of Iranian military equipment and facilities will be outsourced to China, and Chinese and Russian military aircraft and ships will operate the developed facilities.
Even some circles within the regime have criticized the agreement. The state-run Arman newspaper wrote, “China has a 25-year contract with Iran and is investing $460 billion in Iran. It is somewhat ambiguous. Presently, China is holding the money it owes us and blames it on the U.S. sanctions. How can we trust this country to invest $460 billion in Iran?”
Last year, Iran and China had the lowest trade in the previous 16 years, and according to statistics, by the end of 2020, the volume of trade between Iran and China was about $16 billion, which, including undocumented oil sales, still does not reach $20 billion.
Jalal Mirzaei, a former member of Iran’s parliament, said: “If in the future the tensions between Tehran and Washington are moderated, and we see the lifting of some of the sanctions, China can also provide the basis for implementing the provisions of this document, but if the situation continues like today, Beijing will not make any effort to implement the document, as it is essentially unable to take concrete action on the ground because of the sanctions.”
Iran is vital to China in two ways, through its geopolitical location and its geo-economic importance. China knows that it does not have enough natural resources and is currently having a hard time supplying them from Russia and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supplies its energy needs from oil giant Aramco, half of which is owned by the United States. That is why China is looking for a safe alternative that the United States will not influence, and the only option is Iran. They may also have a two-pronged plan in Iran, which involves using Iran’s profitable market and making Iran into a lever of pressure against the United States for additional concessions.
The Iranian regime’s objectives
The deal could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undermine U.S. efforts to isolate the Iranian regime. While the international dispute over the Iranian regime’s nuclear program has not been resolved, it is unclear how much this agreement could be implemented. The regime intends to make it a bargaining chip in possible future nuclear negotiations. However, some of Iran’s top authorities believe that China and Russia cannot be trusted 100 percent.
Due to the sanctions, the regime has a tough time to continue providing financial support to its proxy militias in the region. The regime also faced two major domestic uprisings in 2017 and 2019. Khamenei’s regime survived the widespread uprisings by committing a massacre, killing 1,500 young protesters in the 2019 uprising alone, according to the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and later confirmed by the Iranian regime’s Interior Ministry officials. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, Khamenei has been able to delay another major uprising.
Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Khamenei must bow to western countries’ demands regarding the nuclear issue, including an end to its regional interventions and its ballistic missile program. Khamenei will struggle to save his regime from s imminent uprisings and a deteriorating economy that will undoubtedly facilitate more protests by the army of the unemployed and the hungry at any moment.
Unlike the 2015 JCPOA, the Iranian regime in 2021 is in a much weaker position. In fact, by many accounts, it is the weakest in its 40-year history. By signing the recent Iran-China agreement and auctioning Iranian resources, Khamenei wants to pressure the United States to surrender and restore the 2015 JCPOA as quickly as possible. But in the end, this pivot will not counteract domestic pressures that target the regime’s very existence.
China-Arab Relations: From Silk to Friendship
China and the Arabs have a long and rich economic and cultural history, and this distinguished relationship still exists today, with a promising future. This bilateral relationship between the two nations is based on the principles of respect and non-interference in internal affairs or foreign policies. Therefore, China’s relationship with the Arabs as well as with other nations is unique and a model to be followed. If you meet a Chinese person, the first phrase will be “Alabo” or an Arab in Mandarin, and he/she will welcome you. The Chinese state’s dealings with its counterparts can be measured based on the model of this Chinese citizen. China deals with the Arabs on the basis of friendship and historical ties.
The history of Sino-Arab relations goes back to the Tang Dynasty, and these relations developed with the flourishing of trade between the two nations. Since China was famous for its high quality silk, this trade route was called the “Silk Road”. Baron Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, better known in English as Baron von Richthofen, was a German traveller, geographer, and scientist. He is noted for coining the terms “Seidenstraße” and “Seidenstraßen” = “Silk Road” or “Silk Route” in 1877.
Chinese-Arab relations have developed in contemporary history. In 1930, China established official relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A library in China was named the “Fouad Islamic Library”, after the late Egyptian king, “Fuad the First”. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser cut ties with China and established relations with the Communist People’s Republic of China and inaugurated an embassy in Egypt. In the same year, the Arab League established relations with the People’s Republic of China. By the year 1990, all Arab countries cut their relations with the Republic of China and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
In 2004, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum was established, and today it is considered a milestone for the Sino-Arab relationship. At its inauguration, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing delivered a speech stating:“The Arab world is an important force on the international scene, and that China and the Arab countries have enjoyed a long friendship. Our similar history, our common goals and our broad interests have been credited with enhancing cooperation between the two sides; no matter how the international situation changes, China has always been the sincere friend of the Arab world”. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum was officially established during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the headquarters of the League of Arab States in January of 2004.
Hu Jintao indicated at that time that the formation of the forum is a continuation of the traditional friendship between China and the Arab world. The Chinese president said at the time, “The establishment of the forum is conducive to expanding mutual cooperation in a variety of fields. He added that China had made four proposals; First, maintaining mutual respect, fair treatment and sincere cooperation at the political level. Second, strengthening economic and trade relations through cooperation in the fields of investment and trade, contracted projects, labor services, energy, transportation, communications, agriculture, environmental protection and information. Third, expand cultural exchanges. Finally, conducting training for the employees.”
During the second session of the forum in Beijing in 2006, China showed its sympathy for the issues of the Arab world and its interest in the peace process between Palestine and Israel, since China is a peace-loving country; it presented the idea of “a nuclear-free Middle East”. China is the best friend of the Arab countries today. Although some Arab countries have strong relations with the West whose policy does not match the Chinese policy, but all Arab countries agree on friendly and good relations with the People’s Republic of China.
The Arab citizen is not interested today in the foreign policy of the US, the deadly weapons of the US and Russia, or European culture, but rather the livelihood and economy, and this is what China provides through its wise economic policy. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative, or New Silk Road, which will restore glow to China-Arab relations; as the Arab world is in a strategic location on the initiative map. Thus, the Arab countries are an important partner for China in the initiative. Although the volume of trade exchanges between China and the Arab countries exceeded 200 billion US dollars, which increased 10 times over the past decade, there was no commercial and institutional arrangement to facilitate trade between the two sides.
China, as a peaceful and non-invasive country, aims to promote economic cooperation with Arab region on an equal basis because it considers the Arab world a historic partner. The historical experience of the Arabs with the Chinese through the Silk Road has confirmed that China differs from the nations of colonialism and imperialism, which consider the Arab region a place rich in natural resources only. In his historic speech at the Arab League, Chinese President Xi stressed that China will not seek to extend influence and search for proxies in the Middle East. The Chinese initiatives will contribute to establishing security and stability through economic development and improving the people’s livelihood, in line with the post-2015 development agenda and the aspirations of the Arab people for a better life, as the Chinese experience proves that development is the key to digging out the roots of conflicts and extremism in all its forms.
China is a neutral country and does not favor the use of violence. During the Syrian crisis, for example, the Chinese envoy to the Security Council raised his hand three times, meaning that China, with its wise diplomacy, supported the Syrian regime without entering the military war. During the recent Chinese military parade, Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed some Chinese military capabilities and thus sent a message to the enemies that China will always be ready if a war is imposed on it, and a message of support to China’s allies. The Arab region today needs a real partner who possesses economic and military power and international political influence, such as China; to ensure the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, and to consolidate the China-Arab relations and raise it to the level of a strategic alliance.
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