Greater Middle East
A grimly telling story in the news this week. The Aleppo-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), with an extensive collection of indigenous seed stock from Syria and the Fertile Crescent, took refuge in Beiirut in 2012. ICARDA director Dr. Mahmoud Solh told Radio Australia that rebel forces allowed his team to depart with some 140,000 seed packets from freezer storage as Aleppo descended into war. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said. "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." But not all of ICARDA's seed samples made it out, and now Dr. Solh is requesting a withdrawl from a remote Arctic "doomsday" seed bank with samples from around the world to be safeguarded in the event of global catastrophe. Reuters reports that ICARDA wants some 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples.
We've noted that the proximity of Western and Russian military forces in Syria holds the potential for escalation to World War 5, even if both sides are ostensibly part of the global convergence against ISIS. Now comes a further sign that the centripetal tendency will prevail—the common interest in figting jihadism propeling the situation back into World War 4. At the UN General Assembly session in New York, British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad can be part of a transitional government, although adding that Assad has "butchered his own people" and that "Assad cannot be part of Syria's future in the long run." This comes across as weak lip service in light of his capitulation. (Al Arabiya News, The Guardian, The Telegraph)
We noted a year ago that China was an official but not very active member of the global covergence against ISIS. Now Pravda reports the claims of Russian Senator Igor Morozov that Beijing has taken the decision to send warships to the Syrian coast. Morozov, a member of the Russian Federation Committee on International Affairs, said: "It is known that China has joined our military operation in Syria, the Chinese cruiser has already entered the Mediterranean, aircraft carrier follows it." The growing Russian military presence in Syria is viewed with unease by the West, revealing a tension (at least) within the global convergence. This tension will be significantly augmented if China really enters the fray.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Sept. 22 that Egypt violated international law during the creation of a "buffer zone" between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. According to HRW, the creation of the buffer zone required demolition of more than 3,200 buildings in the Sinai Peninsula between July 2013 and August 2015, resulting in the displacement and eviction of "thousands of families." The Egyptian government maintains that the buffer zone is necessary to prevent the importation of weapons from the Gaza Strip to separatist rebels in Sinai who are affiliated with the Islamic State. HRW asserts that the manner in which the buffer zone was created violated international law in multiple respects, including treatment of civilians and proportionality under the laws of war, the right to housing contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the right to property contained in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right. HRW called on the Egyptian government to halt the demolitions in Sinai, provide for adequate compensation of land owners, create a fair resettlement plan for the displaced, and studying whether less destructive means could be employed to neutralize the smuggling tunnels.
The Rojava Kurds of northern Syria continue to be punished for their success against ISIS. Their ground offensive has throughout the summer been driving ISIS back towards Raqqa, the "Islamic State" capital. The autonomous Rojava cantons, previously cut off from each other by areas of ISIS control, are now linked by swaths of liberated territory. This dramatically contrasts recent ISIS gains in central Syria. Now Middle East Eye reports that the Rojava Kurds's YPG militia is advancing on Jarabulus, the last ISIS-controlled town on the Turkish border. The account cites the widespread perception among the Kurds that the Turkish government has been conniving with ISIS: "Taking the Jarabulus crossing would be a major advance for the YPG since they are convinced that IS gets supplies of recruits and weaponry through Turkey. YPG officials claim the crossing is open, and IS has no need for smugglers or breaks in the border fence." In a particularly sinister game, Ankara has collaborated with ISIS even while equating ISIS and the anti-ISIS YPG as both "terrorist" (sic!). Such propaganda will doubtless be escalated if the entire Syrian border with Turkey falls under YPG control, raising fears in Ankara of an independent Kurdish state.
"Leftist" (sic) shilling for fascist dictator Bashar Assad reaches new levels of deception in an entry from one Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), perversely entitled "Down the Memory Hole: NYT Erases CIA's Efforts to Overthrow Syria's Government." The chutzpah of invoking Orwell in his title is downright Orwellian, as his distortions reveal the very name "Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting" to be pure doublethink. Wedded to the persistent pseudo-left hallucination of a US campaign to destabilize Assad, Johnson gripes: "This past week, two pieces—one in the New York Times detailing the 'finger pointing' over Obama's 'failed' Syria policy, and a Vox 'explainer' of the Syrian civil war—...didn't just omit the fact that the CIA has been arming, training and funding rebels since 2012, they heavily implied they had never done so." So what is Johnson's evidence that the CIA has been doing this? In defense of his claim, he links to articles in (funny) the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the Washington Post. But if you bother actually click on the links (perish the thought), you'll find that none of them quite back up Johnson's assertions...
Street clashes continue in the Sur district of the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakır, which has for days been under siege by Turkish security forces. On Sept. 13, Diyarbakır's governor declared a 24-hour indefinite curfew in the district, but it was widely defied as angry protesters continued to fill the streets. Police threatened to shoot curfew violators, and have opened fire on protests—thus far resulting in no casualties, apparently. "Everywhere is Sur, everywhere resistance," crowds chant. Protests have spread to the nearby Koşuyolu Park, were demonstrators are rallying around the local offices of Democratic Society Congress (DTK). Police are trying to round up leaders of the PKK-affiliated Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), who they say are behind the uprising. The Democratic Regions Party (DBP) has called on all residents of Diyarbakır to join the protests and converge on Sur district. Apparently fearing escalation, the city's government lifted the curfew after one day. (JINHA, Today's Zaman, Sept. 14)
Amid signs of an escalating Russian intervention in Syria, the opposition government-in-exile issued a statement entitled: "Our People's Will and Determination Will Defeat Any Foreign Occupation." Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the opposition General Assembly, invoked the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and said: "Any repeat of that mistake will have disastrous consequences on Russia." He added: "It is unacceptable that a permanent member of the UN Security Council send weapons and mercenaries for a regime responsible for the death of over 300,000 Syrian citizens, including 81,000 children and a woman, the displacement of 14 million people and the reduction of most Syrian cities and towns to rubble. Syrians have the will and determination to defeat any possible foreign occupation of their homeland, just like what they have done throughout history, and have been doing for nearly five years against the Iranian occupation and its tool represented in the Assad regime." (Syrian Coalition, Sept. 9)