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Navroz: Turkish Troops in Afrin: Renewal and Complexity

In Middle East & North Africa, Current Events, Solidarity, Conflict Resolution, The Search for Peace, United Nations, NGOs, Track II, Syria on March 22, 2019 at 11:45 PM

By René Wadlow

May the soul flourish;

May youth be as the new-grown grain.

Navroz, usually celebrated on March 21 in Iran and Central Asia, is the “New Day”, the end of the old year with its hardships and deceptions and the start of the New Year to be filled with hope and optimism. With each periodical festival, the participants find the same sacred time – the same that had been manifested in the festival of the previous year or the festival of a century earlier. It is a day for spiritual renewal and physical rejuvenation and is usually a time for reciting devotional poetry, presenting food with symbolic meaning to guests, and visits among family and close friends.

Navroz, which coincides with the Spring Equinox, is related to myths focused on the sun and thus symbolizes the connections of humans to Nature. In some of the myths, Navroz is considered as symbolizing the first day of creation − thus a time when all can be newly created. It is a day between times − old time has died; new time will start the day after Navroz. In this one-day period without time, all is possible. The seeds are planted for a new birth. Among some who celebrate Navroz, real seeds are planted, usually in seven pots with symbolic meanings of virtues. Their growth is an indication of how these virtues will manifest themselves in the coming year. Among those influenced by Islam and Christianity, Navroz is the day when God will raise the dead for the final judgment and the start of eternal life.

Navroz has an ancient Persian origin, related to Abura Mazda, the high god who was symbolized by the sun and manifested by fire. Navroz is also related to the opposite of fire, that is, water. However, water can also be considered not as opposite but as complementary, and thus fire-water can become symbols of harmony. Fire – as light, as an agent of purification, as a manifestation of the basic energy of life − played a large role in Zoroastrian thought and in the teachings of Zarathoustra. Thus, we find fire as a central symbol and incorporated into rituals among the Parsis in India, originally of Iranian origin.

From what is today Iran, Zoroastrian beliefs and ritual spread along the “Silk Road” through Central Asia to China, and in the other direction to the Arab world. As much of this area later came under the influence of Islam, elements of Navroz were given Islamic meanings to the extent that some today consider Navroz an “Islamic holiday”. Navroz is also celebrated among the Alawites in Syria, the Baha’i, the Yezidis, and the Kurds, each group adapting Navroz to its spiritual framework.

In Turkey, for many years, Navroz was officially banned as being too related to the Kurds and thus to Kurdish demands for autonomy or an independent Kurdistan. I recall a number of years ago being invited to participate in a non-violent Kurdish protest in Turkey on Navroz to protest the ban. I declined as the idea of going from Geneva to be put in a Turkish jail was not on top of my list of priorities. Fortunately, for the last few years, the ban has been lifted.

Navroz was marked in 2018 in the Syrian Kurdish area of Afrin by the arrival of Turkish troops and their Syrian allies. One of the first acts of the Turkish troops was to pull down and destroy a statue of Kawa, a mythological founder of the Kurdish people. In the myth, Kawa is a blacksmith who melted iron to make swords and liberate the people from an evil ruler who had been helped by spirits.

2018 Navroz was also the end of a seven-year cycle begun in March 2011, the uprising and then war in Syria. Seven years in many traditions is a significant number.

Thus, Navroz as a day outside of time can be a moment of reflection on the armed conflict in Syria, and on our inability as peace makers to facilitate negotiations in good faith. Now, a new cycle of secular time has begun, made even more complex by the arrival of Turkish troops.

The armed conflict in Syria is complex with outside official players: Iran, Russia, USA, Turkey, the United Nations, the Arab League and more shadowy characters: the Islamic State, a host of intelligence agencies, money and fighters from a variety of sources. We find some of the same players in the war in Yemen. There is, however, agreement among all that killing those who disagree is the only realistic policy. It is a very old and wide-spread idea found in most cultures. The techniques of killing have become more sophisticated – drones and car bombs – but the idea has remained the same and is easily understood.

In contrast, ideas of conflict reduction through changes in structure are more complex: broadening the base of the Syrian government by bringing in individuals from groups largely excluded, creating con-federal forms of association among the Kurds without necessarily creating a separate State, creating a cosmopolitan, humanist society which meets the basic needs of all. Moreover, we on the outside can suggest approaches, but the effort will have to be made by local people.

Those who advocate (and carry out) killing have funds and staff which conflict resolution nongovernmental organizations lack. Yet conflict resolution efforts must continue and grow stronger. A new, even more complex cycle of time has started. The old approach of killing those who disagree remains strong. Yet, I believe that there are possibilities of renewal and cooperative action for a more peaceful and just wider Middle East.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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Rocky Road to World Law: Need for a UN-led Conference on the Reaffirmation of Humanitarian Law

In Middle East & North Africa, Human Rights, Current Events, Solidarity, Conflict Resolution, The Search for Peace, United Nations, International Justice, World Law, Being a World Citizen, War Crimes, Humanitarian Law, NGOs, Track II on March 22, 2019 at 10:52 PM

By René Wadlow

World law, as World Citizens use the term, is more than current international law. World law has, as its base, universally-recognized international law but also the human rights declarations and standards, the oft-repeated declarations of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly as well as the international legal bodies such as the World Court and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The International Criminal Court is the most recent of the world courts, and its Rome Status has not been ratified by all UN Member States, the United States (U. S.) being a significant holdout.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Some States have withdrawn from the ICC and other States do not cooperate with it, such as the Sudan. The ICC can act only after the relevant national courts have acted or when national courts are unable to act (the case of some ‘failed States’) or when there is an unjustified unwillingness of national courts to act when crimes against humanity have been committed.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has repeatedly stressed that humanitarian law (international law in times of war, primarily the Geneva Conventions) are being systematically violated and that there should be a UN-led World Conference for the Re-affirmation of Humanitarian Law.

In the armed conflicts in Afghanistan, there have been repeated violations of humanitarian law by all sides: violations in the treatment of prisoners of war, violation of the prohibition of torture, prohibition of attacking medical facilities and medical personnel. The ICC has undertaken preliminary investigations to collect evidence. Among those who have violated humanitarian law are U. S. troops, and thus evidence should be collected.

Although most evidence could be collected within Afghanistan itself, it would be useful to interview persons who had served in Afghanistan but now have returned to the U. S. and to see written reports no longer stored in Afghanistan. Thus, the ICC plans to send investigators to the U. S. to interview and collect documentation.

However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on March 15, 2019 that the U. S. will revoke or deny visas to ICC personnel investigating allegations of torture or other war crimes committed in the conflicts in Afghanistan. Pompeo also announced that the U. S. will consider imposing financial sanctions and restrictions on “persons who take or have taken action to request or further such ICC investigation”. He could have added imprisonment if we recall those who provided evidence of war crimes in Iraq.

Unfortunately, Pompeo sends the wrong message to all other parties that torture, rape, attacks on medical facilities will not be tried. Pompeo helps to undermine further international humanitarian law.

We have to think back to 1947-1948 and the leadership of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt as chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights to recall any U.S. leadership on world law. Unfortunately, law has never been part of U. S. culture. The lone cowboy taking the law into his own hands by shooting it out on a dusty street seen in many films remains the U. S. ideal.

As mentioned, most of the necessary evidence can be found in Afghanistan itself. Bringing anyone from any party to trial for crimes in Afghanistan seems to me unlikely. Nevertheless, as world citizens, we need to keep the standards of world law in mind. These standards should be clear. Thus, our repeated call for a UN-led conference on the re-affirmation of international humanitarian law.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Syria: Concerns Raised and Possible Next Steps

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on March 16, 2019 at 8:52 AM

By René Wadlow

March 15 is widely used as the date on which the conflict in Syria began. March 15, 2011 was the first “Day of Rage” held in a good number of localities to mark opposition to the repression of youth in the southern city of Daraa, where a month earlier young people had painted anti-government graffiti on some of the walls, followed by massive arrests.

I think that it is important for us to look at why organizations that promote nonviolent action and conflict resolution in the US and Western Europe were not able to do more to aid those in Syria who tried to use nonviolence during the first months of 2011. By June 2011, the conflict had largely become one of armed groups against the government forces, but there were at least four months when there were nonviolent efforts before many started to think that a military “solution” was the only way forward. There were some parts of the country where nonviolent actions continued for a longer period.

There had been early on an effort on the part of some Syrians to develop support among nonviolent and conflict resolution groups. As one Syrian activist wrote concerning the ‘Left’ in the US and Europe but would also be true for nonviolent activists “I am afraid that it is too late for the leftists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle. What I always found astonishing in this regard is that mainstream Western leftists know almost nothing about Syria, its society, its regime, its people, its political economy, its contemporary history. Rarely have I found a useful piece of information or a genuinely creative idea in their analyses “(1)

A Syrian opposition rally in Paris
(C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

In December 2011, there was the start of a short-lived Observer Mission of the League of Arab States. In a February 9, 2012 message to the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Ambassador Nabil el-Araby, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) proposed a renewal of the Arab League Observer Mission with the inclusion of a greater number of non-governmental organization observers and a broadened mandate to go beyond fact-finding and thus to play an active conflict resolution role at the local level in the hope to halt the downward spiral of violence and killing. In response, members from two Arab human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGO) were added for the first time. However, opposition to the conditions of the Arab League Observers from Saudi Arabia let to the end of the Observer Mission.

On many occasions since, the AWC has indicated to the United Nations (UN), the Government of Syria and opposition movements the potentially important role of NGOs, both Syrian and international, in facilitating armed conflict resolution measures.

In these years of war, the AWC, along with others, has highlighted six concerns:

1) The widespread violation of humanitarian law (international law in time of war) and thus the need for a UN-led conference for the re-affirmation of humanitarian law.

2) The widespread violations of human rights standards.

3) The deliberate destruction of monuments and sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

4) The use of chemical weapons in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol signed by Syria at the time, as well as in violation of the more recent treaty banning chemical weapons.

5) The situation of the large number of persons displaced within the country as well as the large number of refugees and their conditions in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. In addition, there is the dramatic fate of those trying to reach Europe.

6) The specific conditions of the Kurds and the possibility of the creation of a trans-frontier Kurdistan without dividing the current States of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran.

These issues have been raised with diplomats and others participating in negotiations in Geneva as well as with the UN-appointed mediators. In addition, there have been articles published and then distributed to NGOs and others of potential influence.

The Syrian situation has grown increasingly complex since 2011 with more death and destruction as well as more actors involved and with a larger number of refugees and displaced persons. Efforts have been made to create an atmosphere in which negotiations in good faith could be carried out. Good faith is, alas, in short supply. Efforts must continue. An anniversary is a reminder of the long road still ahead.

Notes:

(1) Yassin al-Haj Saleh in Robin Yassin-Kassal and Leila Al-Shami, Burning Country, Syrians in Revolution and War (London: Pluto Press, 2015, p. 210)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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