List of Significant ISSG Communiques and UN Resolutions on Syria

 [By Lara Keller, last updated 6th May 2017]

List of Significant ISSG Communiques and UN Resolutions on Syria:

Action Group for Syria, Final Geneva Communiqué, 30.06.2012 :

https://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Syria/FinalCommuniqueActionGroupforSyria.pdf Geneva Communique demands implementation Six Point Peace Plan (https://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/six_point_proposal.pdf), defines transition to democratic system and the need for stability.

Full Text of Statements From the International Syria Support Group: http://www.rbs0.com/Wien20151030.html  Includes Vienna Communique 30.10.2015  lists issues agreed on, a weaker version of earlier Geneva Communique. Vienna Communique 14.11.2015 welcomed order to”accelerate planning for supporting the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire”.

Security Council UN Resolutions: Generally language of resolutions give false impression that Assad regime and (minority of) extremist opposition groups are equally to blame, due to bias in Security Council to Russia and China.

Resolution 2042 (2012):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2042%282012%29  Decides observer force.

Resolution 2043 (2012):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2043%282012%29  Decides UN Supervision Mission in Syria.

Resolution 2118 (2013):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2118%282013%29  Decides Syrian Government (Assad Regime) must not “develop,  produce, otherwise  acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons”. If non compliance then will impose  UN Chapter VII measures ( https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-vii/ ) that authorize force to restore international peace and security. Authorizes destruction of Syrian Government chemical weapons.

Resolution 2139 (2014):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2139%282014%29  demands access for humanitarian aid, only further steps if non-compliance.

Resolution 2178 (2014): http://undocs.org/S/RES/2178%282014%29 condemns terrorism.

Resolution 2249 (2015):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2249%282015%29 condemns terrorism.

Resolution 2254 (2015):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2254%282015%29 endorses ISSG and communiques. Calls for cease fire.

Resolution 2258 (2015):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2258%282015%29 concern for humanitarian situation, refugees, extremists.

Resolution 2268 (2016):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2268%282016%29  Calls for cease fire and humanitarian access.

Resolution 2328 (2016):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2328%282016%29 Demands evacuations and humanitarian access.

Resolution 2332 (2016):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2332%282016%29 Notes aid needs, and threatens further measures humanitarian access denied.

Resolution 2336 (2016):  http://undocs.org/S/RES/2336%282016%29 Reaffirms ISSG Geneva Communique  and welcomes efforts by Turkey and Russia to end violence.

UN General Assembly Resolutions:   Generally more accurate about Syria, ascribing the vast majority of human rights abuses to the Syrian Government (Assad Regime), due to General Assembly not been dominated by superpowers in contrast to the Security Council.

UN General Assembly Resolutions 253/66 (2012):  https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/66/253%20B  Deep concern of lack of implementation of six point peace plan by Security Council (https://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/six_point_proposal.pdf).

United Nations General Assembly Resolutions 183/67 (2012):  https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/67/183  Condemns human rights abuses in Syria.

United Nations General Assembly Resolutions 262/67 (2013):  https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/67/262  Concern human rights situation in Syria, and lack accountability.

United Nations General Assembly Resolutions 189/69 (2014):  https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/69/189  Grave concern human rights situation in Syria, and gives support for Commission of Inquiry.

[end]

What is the policy for helping to forge Syrian Security?

whatIsPolicyinSyriaApr2017v5 - Copy (2)

What is the policy for helping to forge Syrian Security?

[By Lara Keller, last updated 13th May 2017]

[Important resource: “The Free Syrian Army: A decentralized insurgent brand” by Charles R Lister, Nov 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/iwr_20161123_free_syrian_army1.pdf ]

[Note that all leaps of faith or ………. are my fault, LK]

This article is an expansion on the proposal for a policy to support Syrian Security, described in the summary image above. An important source for this is Charles R Lister’s “The Free Syrian Army: A decentralized insurgent brand” (Nov 2016), the ideas expressed below are a bit more radical.

Summary Image Point 1: Syrian security belongs to the Syrian people, not the Assad regime who have abused the state for 47 years.

1. Security must be handed over from the Assad regime to an organisation that represents all the Syrian people. The current regime has grossly misused security forces since 1970 to brutally repress any opposition.
Summary Image Point 2: A fully democratically overseen People’s Syrian Army needs to be enabled from revived FSA. Lack of advanced weaponry and action against regime war crimes, has created a fragmented disillusioned armed mainstream opposition. Resulting vacuum exploited by extremists.

2. The People’s Syrian Army (PSA) will be formed from a revived Free Syrian Army. Lack of early Western support and divisive support from regional powers, has led to a decentralised FSA that has fallen far below its potential. This armed opposition vacuum has partly been filled by mainstream Islamist groups, and also by terrorist extremist Islamist groups.

2.1 The current FSA has no confidence in US and other Western governments. This can be rapidly reversed by a large scale scheme to put the FSA back in the hands of a central command. The authority of this command must be backed up by its power to channels extensive and appropriately advanced weapons and support services to FSA units. These weapons and support services must be made available by the West, in exchange for progressing agreed plans.

2.2 Weapons are needed which counter advanced military hardware being used to oppress the Syrian People. This means anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. To prevent proliferation weapons should be provided to vetted trained individuals, and electronic counter measures installed to kill control chips if time or location constraints are breached. To counter the use of artillery by the regime, similar heavy weaponry needs to be supplied to the FSA.

2.3 The idea that Russia will escalate the conflict as a result of the West adequately arming the Syrian Opposition is unlikely. The Russian and Assad regime forces have been given the illusion of enormous strength because the FSA has not been equipped adequately to be able to give a strong opposing response. This one sided conflict has given Putin’s Russian regime the gift of the illusion of great military power. The economy of Russia is small, and it is only sustaining the effort to support Assad with covert Chinese financial support. Putin will seek to defend his regime against humiliation when challenged. The long term goal in Syria, is for Putin to represent himself as the natural and utterly ruthless ally of all internally threatened dictatorships in this post Cold-War world. Struggling in Syria will undermine this.

2.4 The PSA can only be formed and sustained if it is under strict Syrian democratic oversight, misuse of unaccountable military force is the root of all authoritarian government. There must be local elections to essential parts of PSA commands by people who live in the area that the PSA unit protects. This is of cause already done, but needs to be as universal as possible. Physical security must come packaged with all other types of civilian security, which includes food, judicial system, medical help and shelter. The PSA must have close links to the civilian administration to provide an authoritative alternative to extremist groups who pretend to offer a full range of military and civilian security. Locally elected representatives must then create a national council to oversee the running of the PSA.

2.5 This scheme must be backed up by a large scale public information campaign in the West, that shifts Western public opinion to understanding that the solution is empowering Syrians. That the existence of extreme Islamist terrorism is a product of elitist misrule in the MENA region. Also understanding that a progressive solution of the Syrian Crisis has positive effects regionally and globally.

Summary Image Point 3: Peace negotiations are required to incorporate all armed groups and individuals not guilty of major war crimes into PSA, including large sections of Syrian Government Forces. PSA must take over all Syrian security by negotiation if possible otherwise force. It must expel foreign fighters, defeat extremists and arrest serious war criminals.

3. This new People’s Syrian Army (PSA) needs to take over security of liberated and regime held areas. Peace negotiations are needed to incorporate as many as possible opposition mainstream Islamist groups, defectors from extremist Islamist groups, opposition Syrian Kurdish groups and Syrian Government Forces not guilty of major war crimes. All sieges must be lifted immediately on rebel and (the few) regime areas.

3.1 The PSA must take over all regime facilities including detention facilities and prisoners. So called regime “security forces” need to be disbanded, their bases closed, and individuals guilty of major war crimes identified and arrested. The PSA will immediately expel all foreign fighters including the numerous foreign pro-regime Shia militias, apart from detaining those guilty of serious war crimes.

3.2 The PSA must take over the fight against remaining extremist Islamist groups within Syria. All aerial bombing of civilian areas to achieve this must stop.
Summary Image Point 4: West must impose No-Bomb-Zone over Syria, where major war crimes committed by the Assad regime, or its Russian or Shia Extremist allies, are deterred by significant destruction of Assad regime assets.

4. The use of indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombing of civilian areas by the Assad regime and its Russian allies is a war crime. The West needs to impose a No-Bomb-Zone over Syria, where major war crimes committed by the Assad regime or its Russian allies, means another significant number of important Assad regime assets are destroyed by missile strikes.

4.1 To avoid Russian casualties the West must warn them of the general areas (from which specific locations will be chosen) that a strike will take place, so that personnel can be removed.

4.2 The West needs to publicly acknowledge the role of PSA as the legitimate body fighting to provide security to the people of Syria so the creation of a genuinely representative government can happen. The immediate aim of this Syrian government will be to provide, under Syrian democratic supervision, security and stability to the Syrian people. When this has been achieved dignity, equality and, justice issues requiring balanced considered judgement can and must be performed. The PSA will be an essential part of this government administration, by lowering tensions through providing security and stability.

5. West must impose a physical arms blockade on the supply of weapons to the Assad Regime+Allies, and other extremist groups in Syria. Sanctions alone are not enough.

5.1 China, Russia and Iran routinely ignore internationally agreed sanction agreements. Russia and Iran airlift arms into Syria. Russian ships transport heavier military items by sea to the Syrian port of Tartus. These weapons are being used by the Assad regime and its allies to commit war crimes. 

whatIsPolicyinSyriaApr2017v5 - Copy (2)

Syria Articles and Long Posts, September 2015 to April 2017

Syria Articles and Long Posts, September 2015 to April 2017

[by Lara Keller, Last Updated 15th April 2017]

Important Misc:

So Trump Attacked Assad. What Now?   by Charles Lister.

Pavel Felgenhauer on Putin’s Core Reasoning For The War On Syria (LK)

How a No Bomb Zone would work. (LK)

Progressive Betrayal Of Syria, Principled Policy Series: (LK)

5.3 Why the Syrian Revolution’s Victory is Important (5.3)

5.2 The Way Ahead: How We Can Ensure the Syrian Revolution Wins (5.2)

5.1 The Way Ahead : Why the Syrian Revolution Can Win (5.1)

4. The Iraqi Genocide Never Again (4)

3. Orwell Notes on Nationalism (3)

2. Owen Jones and “progressive” foreign policy (2).

1. Progressive Betrayal of the MENA: The foul abscess (1).

Good Syria Intervention Articles: (LK)

Recent ideas for an itinerary of strong effective action to empower the Syrian people to end the crisis

Going further …. cutting out the Assad cancer and creating an itinerary for ending the nightmare

A Plan for Winding Down the Syrian Civil War: Surge, Freeze, and Enforce Charles Lister, 30 September 2016 (Charles Lister)

Assad is Not Syria, Assad Regime History Series: (LK)

4. Assad Is Not Syria. Part 4: Gangster to Genocidal Fraudster.

3. Assad is not Syria. Part 3: 2000 to 2010 a wasted decade of chances to avoid disaster.

2. Assad is not Syria. Part 2: Hafez master of segregation, terror and illusion.

1. Assad is not Syria. Part 1: Assad the neo-colonialist sectarian hypocrite.

moreInformation - Copy

Stopping Assad Series: (LK)

Stop The Mass Scam by the Assad Regime

Stopping Assad in Syria, Where are the millions of Muslims and Progressives demanding action?

Stop Assad, Using Hunger as a Weapon of War.

Stop Assad, The Mass Torturer

Stop Assad, The Mass Murderer

We need to support the struggle of the Syrian people, as much as they need our support.

Assad Regime: Why Intervention is Essential and Progressive

Answering Peace Action’s Pro-Assad Articles Series (LK):

4. Fourth comment on “Peace Action” pro-Assad series of so called path to peace articles, with links

3. Third comment “Peace Action” did publish on Syria.

2. Second comment “Peace Action” seem unable to publish on Syria.

1. Comment “Peace Action” Will Not Publish On Syria

Criticism of Pro-Assad Apologists: (LK)

Dear Sir Mark Rylance, Listen To Syrians, Not Stop The War Coalition

God save us. God save Syria.

It is absurd for Syrians not to have representative government.

Excellent summary of West progressives’ betrayal of Syrians  (Mark Boothroyd)

Criticism of detached myopia of West-centric expert Marc Lynch on Syria.

Stunning Article Syria’s Voice of Conscience Has a Message for the West

Examination of Pro Assad Attitudes in Briefing Paper for UK Labour Party MPs.

UK Labour Party’s Dishonest Leaked Briefing Paper To MPs Prior To Syria Debate on 11/10/16

Supporting non-action on Assad Death Machine, this is reactionary …..

The strange world of UK Stop The War statement for 2016.

Two Great Articles On “Engaging” with UK “Stop The War Coalition” and their Betrayal Of Syrians.

Three more brilliant articles on “one eyed” insane anti-imperialism in Syria.

A great article on “one eyed” insane anti-imperialism in Syria and Libya.

“Stop The War Coalition” (STWuk) is exactly the problem.

Two excellent articles on one eyed insane “anti-imperialism”.

Excellent article on Syrian Solidarity by Charles Davis

Assad Regime: Arguments Against Non-intervention

Time to look at misjudgements about good intervention. UK Guardian Editorial 2013.

Assad’s UK Apologist’s [2013] part 2

Assad’s UK Apologist’s [2013]

Bad Western Intervention and Western Media Reporting Articles (LK):

Washington Post article reveals pathetic myopia of Obama administration Syria decision making.

Grossly inadequate EU Foreign Ministers Statement On Syria 17th October 2016

Syria’s Questions for Jeremy Corbyn

Obama’s Syria Strategy Is the Definition of Insanity (Charles Lister)

Breaking the media frame that imprisons the Syrian Crisis.

The defeat of the Syrian Revolution will create shocks in the West that dwarf extremist terrorism.

Discussing “The Blindness Of The Western Commentariat On Syria”

The Blindness Of The Western Commentariat On Syria.

So Trump Attacked Assad. What Now?

assadRedLine - Copy

By Charles Lister [link not working, hence reposted text below, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/04/trump-strike-syria-what-next-215003]

So Trump Attacked Assad. What Now?

Friday’s strike on Syria was necessary and righteous. Here’s what the White House needs to do next.

By Charles Lister

April 07, 2017

After six years of committing unrestrained and uninhibited violence against his own population, the regime of Bashar al-Assad experienced the first pangs of justice early Friday morning Syria time, as 59 American Tomahawk cruise missiles struck the strategically vital Al-Shayrat airbase in the center of the country. Syrian military aircraft, hardened hangars and refueling facilities were among the targets of America’s first explicit attack on the Assad regime.

This was a justified, proportionate and necessary response for what had been a flagrant war crime committed three days earlier, when chemical nerve agents were dropped by planes from Al-Shayrat onto residential areas of Khan Sheikhoun, a town in the Syria’s northwest. As men, women and children alike lost control of their muscles, succumbed to uncontrollable convulsions and began foaming from the mouth and nose, emergency and medical personnel rushed to the scene. They then found their facilities targeted in a series of follow-up bombings, possibly by Russian jets. At least 87 people lost their lives and more than 300 others were injured. This was merely the latest of dozens of chemical attacks conducted by the Assad regime since 2012, the worst of which killed more than 1,400 people east of Damascus in August 2013.

It was that heinous act in 2013, conducted within eyesight of Assad’s own presidential palace, that famously crossed then-President Barack Obama’s self-declared “red line.” That same attack led to Obama’s subsequent decision to back away from the use of force in favor of an agreement brokered by Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles in their entirety, a move that angered America’s Arab allies and effectively ended any potential U.S. efforts to threaten Assad’s rule. At the drop of the hat, overt affiliation with the United States became a politically toxic label that moderate opposition groups sought either to hide or to dissolve.

Recent events have not only demonstrated the clear failure and abrogation of that agreement by the Assad regime, but the presence of Russian troops and possibly also aircraft at the Al-Shayrat airbase appears to suggest that Russia was not only aware of Assad having retained some portion of its chemical weapons, but may also have been in a position to prevent their use.

That the fledgling Trump administration determined it necessary to respond to this latest criminal act represents a significant turning point in the Syrian crisis, though the exact implications remain to be seen. At this point in time, the cruise missile attack on Al-Shayrat remains an isolated punitive act – a warning to Assad and his patrons that brazen war crimes will now be met with military consequences. It is now the heavy responsibility of the Trump administration to ensure that this enforced “red line” be maintained. Reports of localized chlorine attacks on opposition areas of Damascus later on Friday indicated that this new line in the sand may be tested sooner than some may have expected. Punitive military actions are a clear form of deterrence that will only work if further violations are met with the same or a similar response.

A core dynamic at play here pertains to Russia, which was pre-warned of U.S. plans to attack Al-Shayrat but whose entire presence in Syria is predicated on propping up Assad and covering for his criminal actions. In the immediate aftermath of the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a humiliated Russia was forced to concoct an illogical story, every facet of which was either swiftly disproved or dismissed as laughable by experts and journalists on the ground. With U.S. intelligence now investigating whether Russia had been involved in the use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun, Russia’s emphatic rhetoric and talk of threats is almost certainly cover for its lack of options and the fact that it finds itself having to blindly protect a global pariah. When the likes of Iran, North Korea and Venezuela are your only true defense, your claims of righteousness are to be taken with a sizeable grain of salt.

Having taken military action, the U.S. has an opportunity to exploit its newfound leverage. Left alone, the Syrian conflict has many more years left, but its consequences continue to worsen, with nearly 500,000 Syrians now dead and 11.3 million others either internally displaced or refugees. Military efforts against ISIS have achieved substantial success, but terrorism remains one of many symptoms of a much broader crisis, the single root cause of which remains the Assad regime. There is simply no way of ignoring that reality.

So what now? Assad cannot and will never put Syria back together again, but partition is not an answer. Foreign intervention for rapid regime change only promises further chaos, but determined U.S. leadership backed up by the credible and now proven threat of force presents the best opportunity in years to strong-arm actors on the ground into a phase of meaningful de-escalation, out of which eventually, a durable negotiation process may result. This is something Obama never understood: his efforts to broker peace failed because he refused even to consider threatening war. Every feeble threat given from an Obama podium effectively amounted to a further emboldening of the Assad regime’s own sense of immunity and its free hand to murder its people en masse.

Bringing peace to Syria will undoubtedly necessitate a further strengthening of the U.S. posture toward the Syrian situation and toward Russia, Iran and other involved states. More military strikes and other assertive acts of diplomacy will be inevitable but if anything is now clear, it is that the U.S. has more freedom of action in Syria than the Obama administration was ever willing to admit. Opponents of limited U.S. intervention who have long and confidently pronounced the inevitability of conflict with Russia are now faced with the reality that Moscow failed to lift a finger when American missiles careered toward Assad regime targets. For now, that discovery was made through a tactical reaction to a brazen war crime, but a holistic strategy must now be developed that treats all threats emanating from Syria as individual components of a single problem: the Assad regime.

Russia’s seat on the U.N. Security Council and its conventional military assets make it appear to be the key obstacle to progress, but Iran is arguably a greater challenge. For Russia, Assad is disposable—an asset to potentially be haggled over at the negotiating table. But for Iran, the survival of the Assad regime remains an existential issue. While Russians privately acknowledge that Syria’s army retains no more than 20,000 offensively capable and deployable personnel, Iran-backed Syrian paramilitary and foreign militia forces may now number over 150,000 men. Some of those groups are designated terrorist organizations, no different legally than al Qaeda or ISIS. As one prominent Russian in Moscow recently told me in Europe, even Russia’s own Spetsnaz special forces have come to respect one such Iran-backed terrorist group – Hezbollah – more than the Syrian Army itself.

Whether Friday’s cruise-missile strike was part of a more holistic strategy or not, the consequences of military action now demand broader strategic consideration. This newly demonstrated U.S. policy of containment and deterrence will be tested and as Trump’s U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley made clear, “We are prepared to do more.” Such statements must be backed up by action, if and when necessary. Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are not about to give up the fight, but they are now dealing with a markedly different and more complex set of assessments. Gone are the days of acting with impunity. Their actions are now under multiple microscopes.

The U.S. must also now seek to engage and manage its own allies in the region, particularly Turkey, which appears to be re-embracing a more overtly pro-opposition stance, only weeks after resuming arms supplies to opposition groups in Syria’s northwest. The Pentagon, which views its impending operation to retake Raqqa—a capital of the dwindling ISIS caliphate—as its top priority and understandably fears being dragged into a broader mission of stabilizing Syria itself. But ISIS is the bastard child of Assad’s misrule: Syria will never be stable while he remains in power and the longer he sticks around, the more extremists will reap the rewards of his brutality by escaping from justice and ensuring their narratives thrive among the disenfranchised.

The choice is not and has never been a binary one between Assad and ISIS, as some have tried to claim. Syria remains a country of many communities and many perspectives. Of a population of roughly 23 million people, no more than 20,000 (0.09 percent) have chosen to join al Qaeda or ISIS, according to privately discussed estimates held by U.S. intelligence officials. Therefore, U.S. policy is best served by securing a future for the remaining 99.91 percent. With newfound leverage and a growing coalition of countries announcing their support for stronger action on Assad, the U.S. has an opportunity now to set Syria on a path towards something better. It will take time and resources, and likely many more risks, but that must surely hold better prospects than leaving the country to war criminals and their blind defenders.

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

Charles Lister is senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency.

Urgent call to stop Russia blocking evacuation of Eastern Aleppo

PLEASE READ AND SHARE

In short: the UN are ready to evacuate the remaining 100 000 citizens in East Aleppo, they have a plan in place. The armed groups are on board, the only obstacle is Russian consent. This could be the difference between a massacre and some sort of ordered evacuation.

If you live in London please consider arranging some sort of vigil / rally outside Downing Street and wherever you live try calling the Russian Embassy or think of a way to apply whatever pressure you can onto those continuing the bombardment of an ever shrinking ever more densely populated urban space.


Press statement – 24 hours for 100 000 lives
Press conference of a French parliamentary delegation at 7PM Turkish time in Gaziantep

This morning in Gaziantep, Turkey, a solidarity delegation including French members of Parliament Cécile Duflot, Hervé Mariton and Patrick Mennucci as well as Jacques Boutault the Mayor of the 2nd district of Paris and lawyer Arie Alimi met the UN’s chief humanitarian leaders on Syria.

These meetings have confirmed to us that all the means necessary for a humanitarian intervention in eastern Aleppo are ready to be deployed.

The UN’s humanitarian leaders indicate that an evacuation of the 100,000 civilians remaining in eastern Aleppo is possible within hours and that this operation would only require 24 hours to complete. The medical and transportation logistics are ready. The UN is only awaiting the go-ahead for the start of the operation.

The evacuation could be undertaken by foot as there is only 4km of land to cross in order to cross the regime-held territory. Vehicles and ambulances are equally ready to evacuate the injured and the sick.

The UN also informed the delegation that the armed opposition groups are not blocking the evacuation of civilians, and that this is unanimously recognized.
It was also made clear during our discussion that the only impediment to the implementation of this emergency plan is coming from the Russian authorities. The UN is unable to intervene and undertake an emergency humanitarian plan as long as the bombardments are not suspended for 24 hours.

A crime against humanity is unfolding in eastern Aleppo as the US Secretary of State John Kerry has recently highlighted. It is also inconceivable that world leaders continue to deplore the deadlock, and wait tens of years to possibly bring those responsible for the massacre to the International Criminal Court.
The question is therefore whether the Russian authorities will be ready to let the UN intervene before the end of the week, and let the civilians evacuate the city in security. If this is not the case, France, Germany, the UK and the USA and other international powers must envisage an intervention in order to secure the humanitarian corridor of 4km for 24 hours.

The lives of a hundred thousand children, women and men who strive to survive despite a deluge of bombs over them for the past 130 days are at stake. Humanity is being buried alive in Aleppo. We must stand up and not concede to this.

Press contact
Michael Luzé

Syria at our crossroads.

syriaCrossroads - Copy
Reading a review of Adam Hochschilds’s “Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939” I was shocked again by the parallels with the “orphan” revolution of our times in Syria (see: Rich Benjamin’s review in the Guardian 14/5/15 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/may/12/spain-in-our-hearts-americans-in-the-spanish-civil-war-1936-1939-by-adam-hochschild-review). Two years ago there was a lot of rhetorical chatter about young Muslim Islamists volunteering for ISIL being like the volunteers who fought on the Spanish Republican side in the 1930s. Liberal feeling appeared to dismiss this, and the idea that Syria was like Spain was dismissed. I think this is both unjust and unwise, because there are many other parallels which have not been examined, and the consequences of the Spanish Civil War on the rise of European Authoritarianism has not been examined.

To see the connections think of roles rather than labels. This idea will escape the extremists of left and right, who resist the reality that authoritarian regimes of any banner, converge into the same oppressive state designed to favour elites.

The roles in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39:

Oppressive Regime: Spain was dominated by an elite of landowners and industrialists, backed up by the Catholic Church. Since the First World War they had ruled by a mixture of corrupt semi democratic politics (most people lived in rural areas, with dishonest elections) and short lived dictatorships. The coup by Franco and the Nationalists in 1936 set out to reinstate and defend rule by this traditional elite.

Regime Backers: In the 1930s Fascist Germany and Italy. They ignored the “Non-Intervention Agreement” (that farcically they were meant to be helping to enforce) and supplied large quantities of weapons to the Nationalists. They also sent soldiers, pilots and aircraft.

Opposition: In spite of the democratic obstacles, a left wing popular front won the elections of 1936. It became the official Republican government, but lost over half of the armed forces to the rebel Nationalists.

Democratic Opposition Backers: Democratic countries largely kept to the “Non-Intervention Agreement” which prevented the opposition Republican government from buying weapons. Léon Blum’s left wing Popular Front government in France did send some weapons in secret, but was limited by fear of a right wing coup in France.

Authoritarian Opposition Backers: Stalin’s Soviet Union gave quantities of antiquated weapons to the Republicans in exchange for the government’s gold reserves. They also sent some modern tanks and planes. They used this influence to direct the Republican forces, and ruthlessly purge them of all the ideological enemies of Soviet Russia.

International Free Media: They portrayed the conflict as being between extremists. The Nationalists used a policy of terror and killed more than 80% of the victims of repression. The Opposition were portrayed as hard line Soviet Bolsheviks. Fear of war was widespread after the carnage of the First World War. Opinion in democratic countries was firmly against any intervention against authoritarianism, because of the fear this would lead to another Great War.

International Peacemakers: The League of Nations supported non-intervention mostly by stopping arms import. They proposed a ceasefire, mediation and a free election. They did nothing to stop countries from intervening. Nothing was achieved.

Consequences of defeat in the Spanish Civil War:

The lack of support for the Republicans from other democratic countries, meant the Spanish Civil War ended with a victory for the Fascist Franco regime, which lasted until 1975. This victory encouraged other fascist groups in Europe who were waiting to take power with the help of Nazi Germany. In 1939 Belgium, Holland and France fell easily to the German army, and local fascist governments took control. The United States remained neutral until 1941.

Roles in the Syrian Civil War 2011-????:

Oppressive Regime: Since the 1960s Syria has been ruled by the Baathist party. In 1970 this government was taken over by the Assad family dynasty. It is dominated by a clique of a few Alawite (a sect of Shia Islam) families and wealthy Sunni business families. This elite has used its power to enrich itself, relying on systematic torture to suppress any dissent from the Sunni majority population. The regime maintains rigid control over advanced Syrian Armed Forces (supported by Russia) that is designed to stand up against Israel.

Regime Backers: Ironically this started as the Soviet Union, and has continued in Putin’s Russia. Iran supports the Assad regime, because of the Shia connection. They have supplied large quantities of advanced arms, planes, pilots and soldiers.

Opposition: The regional uprisings against oppressive regimes in the Middle East in 2011 spread to Syria. Peaceful demonstrations were violently suppressed, and the opposition to the regime became armed. Most of the arms of the Syrian Armed Forces remained with the Assad regime. Soldiers who moved to the opposition were mostly Sunni conscripts.

Democratic Opposition Backers: Democratic countries have given few arms to moderate opposition groups like the Free Syrian Army and the Kurdish groups. No weapons that can deal with aircraft, and only a few anti-tank weapons. The elites who dominate foreign policy in Western countries, have no interest in empowering Syrians. The public in the West associate intervention with the destructive recent conflicts of Afghanistan, Iraq and to a lesser extent Libya. No attempt is made to understand why these failed, and public opinion assumes all types of intervention must fail, and are weary of it.

Authoritarian Opposition Backers: Sunni Monarchies and other authoritarian regimes in the Middle East region have been giving large quantities of arms to extremist Sunni Islamist opposition groups. This has increased the power of these groups over moderate opposition groups. Many fighters have joined extremist groups to access weapons. The Sunni Monarchies have also been giving support to the “Islamic State” group, who have created a barbaric reign of terror in Eastern Syria.

International Free Media: They portray the conflict as being between extremists. The Assad regime has always used a policy of terror and has killed more than 90% of the victims of repression since 2011. The Opposition are portrayed as extremist Islamists. A lot of focus is given to the anti-Western rhetoric and threat from “Islamic State”. Opinion in democratic countries is firmly against any intervention to support people struggling against authoritarianism in the Middle East, because of the weariness of being involved in expensive wars in the Middle East. In Syria this includes fear of the West being involved in a direct war with Russia.

International Peacemakers: The Security Council of the United Nations have refused to authorise direct intervention by other countries in Syria. This includes enforcing no fly zones, and creating safe zones. An arms embargo by Western countries against the moderate Syrian opposition has been dropped. The UN has recently created a partial ceasefire, and started peace talks which are meant to lead to a free election. Nothing has been done to stop Russia and Iran directly intervening in Syria. Little in being done to force the Assad regime to allow food to be regularly supplied to around a million besieged people. It is likely that nothing will be achieved by the UN.

Consequences of defeat in the Syrian Civil War:

The lack of support from other established democratic countries, for the moderate Syrian opposition seeking to create a democracy, will mean the Syrian Civil War ends with a victory for the authoritarian Assad regime. This victory will demonstrate the lack of international will to support democracy, and the related lack of will to maintain existing democracies. Also it will show how easy it is for the hard line media of the right and left to destroy public support for others opposing authoritarianism. Expect a potentially devastating crisis in weakened democracies on the fringes of Europe, with the defeat in Syria as the decisive wrong turn that begins the collapse.

Looking at a comparison of Spanish and Syrian Civil Wars Again:

Looking at the review of “Spain in our hearts” again with this enumeration of roles, the similarities between Spain and Syria stand out vividly. Below are listed quotes from the review about the Spanish Civil War, with notes about how these parallel Syria now.

1. Oppressive Regime’s Terror Strategy.

“… Soldiers [in Spain] severed miners’ hands, genitals and tongues; some wore wire necklaces adorned with the strikers’ sliced-off ears. The young general who presided over the rout was lauded as one of Europe’s most up-and-coming military leaders, a rough-hewn soldier named Francisco Franco, whom the Associated Press proclaimed ‘Spain’s Man of the Hour’….”

Parallels the mass torture and murder committed by the Assad regime, especially since 2011.

2. Use of violence to defeat to defend authoritarianism.

“…. In the landmark elections of 1936 in Spain, the Popular Front – a coalition of liberal, socialist, secular, feminist and communist forces – defeated a coalition of wealthy industrialists, landowners, the Catholic Church and military loyalists. Right-wing forces, led by Franco, launched a military coup against the newly elected republican government, igniting the three-year civil war.”

The difference between Right wing authoritarianism of Franco’s Nationalists and the Left wing authoritarianism of Assad Baathist clique, is not significant as it amounts to same repressive state run for the benefit of elites. In Syria in 2011 a popular uprising as part of the “Arab Spring” was violently crushed by the Assad dictatorship, so creating a civil war that is still raging over five years later.

(* It is also worth noting when reading modern rhetoric about the Spanish Civil War, that Spanish democracy in the 1930s was limited, especially in rural areas. Franco was effectively attempting to reinstate the status quo overturned by popular will.)

3. Economic conditions that spark uprisings

“It was an era of economic crisis, in which general strikes, monetary collapses and vast swaths of homelessness were affecting the US and Europe. Millions felt a sense of despair and urged action; Spain provided a sharp focus. Stalin’s purges were far from general knowledge, so communism held powerful appeal. And fascism enjoyed its own allure. After Hitler grabbed power, promising deliverance to his reeling people, the Canadian prime minister compared him to Joan of Arc.”

The West is currently in a prolonged economic crisis, caused by neo-liberal economics, resulting in huge wealth inequality and an associated debt crisis. The same happened in the 1930s. Far right wing political parties in Europe are gaining influence.

A significant minority of progressives in the West are influenced by Russian propaganda, which is presented as a genuine alternative to “capitalist” media, and are actually hostile to the Syrian Revolution. Most others are indifferent. In contrast the Republican side in Spain received some sympathy (exaggerated in retrospect) but little action. George Orwell lamented: “To the British working class the massacre of their comrades in Vienna, Berlin, Madrid, or wherever it might be seemed less interesting and less important than yesterday’s football match.” [Looking Back On The Spanish War,1942]

4. The rise of authoritarianism in Europe.

“The Führer was wooing admirers among Spanish generals, English nobility and American oligarchs, all threatened by populist movements. Portugal, Poland, Greece, Lithuania and Romania, alongside the Third Reich and Mussolini’s Italy, all suffered under far-right regimes or dictators. “Fascism,” André Malraux lamented, “has spread its great black wings over Europe.”

The far right are gaining ground in France, Holland, Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary.

5. Foreign backers of the regime and the opposition.

“Many soldiers on both sides of the [Spanish] civil war felt that their fate was being decided elsewhere. Stalin’s regime sent the republican fighters antiquated guns and tanks, and tried to manipulate the war from Moscow.”

The fate of the Assad regime and the Syrian Revolution, is being decided by outside powers. The indifference of the public in the West, has allowed the elites who dominate Western foreign policy, to ensure the Syrian moderate opposition is poorly armed. Stalin’s Russia played a similar role in the Spanish Civil War.

The public’s fear of conflict has encouraged the appeasement of Putin’s Russia. In the same way Fascist Germany and Italy were appeased, in order to avoid war, when actually this strategy encouraged authoritarian regimes and movements to take bigger gambles.

6. Indifference and dithering among elites about the Civil War.

“Members of the British elite hedged their bets, with indifference. ‘If there is somewhere where fascists and Bolsheviks can kill each other off’, sniffed British prime minister Stanley Baldwin, ‘so much the better.’ In private, Franklin D Roosevelt dithered. Publicly he championed the US’s neutrality laws, which banned arms sales to either side.”

The Syrian Civil War is seen by Western elites, in a distorted way, as a struggle between Russia and Shia Iran, against Sunni Islamist extremists. A long war is a way to weaken both sides. The Syrian people, the real opposition are ignored. Stanley Baldwin was a conservative politician who led the National Government in the UK from 1935, whose policy was to appease the fascists.

Obama’s US government have given some arms to the opposition, and crucially withheld them in 2012 when the Assad regime looked as if it may have collapsed. Obama is notorious for dithering over the “red line” warning given to the Assad regime over the use of chemical weapons in 2013.

7. The greater support given by the regime’s backers.

“Hitler and Mussolini supplied Franco with troops, warplanes and weapons – assistance estimated to cost between $432m and $692m then, or from $7bn to $11bn today. The conflict emerged as a staging ground, or gruesome rehearsal, for the Second World War.”

Ironically Putin’s Russia now ensures that the Assad dictatorship has military superiority, just as Fascist Germany and Italy did for Franco’s Nationalists. The Syrian Civil War is a stepping stone in the encouragement by Russia and China of authoritarian movements in Europe. The lack of support for the Syrian opposition exposes the weakness of democratic will in Europe and the United States.

The opposition to the Assad regime has been smeared as being mostly extremists, while the atrocities committed by the regime have been widely unreported. The Syrian Civil War has been explained as being due to Arab or Islamic cultural backwardness. These type of smears were also directed at the Spanish Civil War.

8. The wisdom of taking a broader view of the Syrian opposition.

“Witnessing the imprisonment, torture and killings ordered by Stalin’s Spanish henchmen against his [George Orwell] fellow leftists, disillusioned him, though he continued fighting loyally. “Whichever way you took it,” he wrote, “it was a depressing outlook. But it did not follow that the government was not worth fighting for as against the more naked and developed fascism of Franco and Hitler.”

The Assad Regime is incapable of reform. Over forty five years of systematic oppression, torture, murder and extortion needs to end. Peace talks with the clique who dominate the wider Syrian government are absurd.

9. The misclassification of the Syrian Civil War.

“Under Hochschild’s sure prose, however, can be heard the wavering nostalgia of a baby boomer yearning for a time when wars had more moral clarity. His generational tribe broadly supported peace movements, and generally opposed US intervention in cold war flashpoints, from Vietnam to Nicaragua to El Salvador, and the invasion of Iraq. But Hochschild artfully coaxes the reader into thinking that the world would have been better off for generations had western democracies, especially the US, not stood aside during Spain’s cardinal war. He asks: when is military involvement in a distant conflict justified or even demanded?”

The Syrian Civil War should be in the same category as the Spanish Civil War, as a struggle of a mainly democratic opposition against an oppressive regime. Also as a part of a wider struggle of democracy to resist rising authoritarianism.

Instead it is being seen as a neo-colonialist war, in the same mould as the neo-colonialist cold war conflicts. Where rival super powers struggled to impose authoritarian governments labelled as far right or far left, on non-Western countries, resulting in mass murder and suffering. The genocidal struggle over Vietnam killed approximately 2 million people for example.

In the same way the Spanish Civil War was seen in the light of the First World War, as a struggle between groups of nations seeking dominance. It should have been seen at the time as a struggle between democratic and authoritarian ideologies. Later it was correctly reclassified as a precursor to the struggle against fascism of the Second World War.

A concluding thought from the review.

“Spain in Our Hearts closes also with an elderly American woman travelling in 2012 to an old battlefield to commemorate her disappeared brother’s death in 1938. ‘I told him we honoured his goodness and idealism and that the world turned out to be a much more politically complicated truth then he could ever have known.’ “

Yes it is complicated, but that does not mean it should not or cannot be tackled. Just like Spain the Syrian Civil War needs to be ended as quickly as possible with a victory for the opposition to tyranny. It is up to the millions of people who will never read this article or better ones like it, who will decide.