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Navroz: Turkish Troops in Afrin: Renewal and Complexity

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations 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 Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law 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.

AWC To OECD: Include Migrants, Refugees and Disabled in All Efforts Toward SDGs

In Human Development, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, World Law on March 11, 2019 at 12:19 AM

By the AWC External Relations Desk

On March 7, AWC Officers Bernard J. Henry (External Relations) and Noura Addad (Legal) participated in the First Roundtable on Cities and Regions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) held at the headquarters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

AWC Officers Bernard J. Henry and Noura Addad (C) AWC

During Session III, “Everyone’s business – beyond governments: how do private sector and civil society contribute to a territorial approach to the SDGs?”, Bernard J. Henry had a chance to make a statement on behalf of the AWC, stressing our concerns for migrants and refugees and for disabled people and urging for full inclusion of both categories of people in any effort undertaken in furtherance of the SDGs.

Here is the full text of his address.

I am Bernard J. Henry, I am the External Relations Officer of the Association of World Citizens.
We are a Nongovernmental Organization in Consultative Status with the United Nations, thus a civil society organization.
We strive to promote the goals and principles of the United Nations, bring them to the citizen and create a sense of personal responsibility. That goes for everything, from the protection of universal human rights to the promotion of sustainable development for everyone.
While our principles of action are those of activists, our methods are those of consultants, or, in a way, explorers.
This is our first time at the OECD, and we thank you for inviting us.
We would like to follow up on a point that UNESCO and Ms. Thomas (Margo Thomas, Founder and CEO, Women’s Economic Imperative) raised, successively, for we would like to draw attention to the need to ensure that the SDGs in cities and regions mean inclusion for two categories of people in particular, two global categories, who often go neglected if not rejected as a whole:
First, migrants and refugees, second, disabled people.
Hatred of migrants and refugees, in other words racism and xenophobia, are always quick to show up. Hate speech, sometimes held by national government leaders themselves, hardly changes from one part of the world to another. My own grandparents were already hearing such words when they came to France, fleeing Italy, in the 1920s.
Conversely, not every country neglects or rejects disabled people – and I happen to be one of them – for the same reasons. Sometimes, it is just old-fashioned paternalism, and sometimes it comes down to plain hatred of anyone different.
Then, looking at it closer, you find one common root cause to both these types of rejection:
Migrants and refugees, disabled people, both categories are regarded as persons with problems, a burden to society. The solution is easy: Just start regarding them, regarding us all, as assets to society, as an energy that can be injected in every aspect of life, starting with sustainable development.
We will support all efforts undertaken by the OECD and our fellow stakeholders to ensure that the SDGs include, literally include, all categories of people and more specifically those to whom inclusion is the very first need in life.
Thank you.

(C) AWC

Greeted with applause, the External Relations Officer received many positive reactions from other participants after he finished speaking.

The OECD’s own response was equally enthusiastic. “We’re going to keep you involved”, assured Stefano Marta, Coordinator of the Territorial Approach to SDGs.

Since the early days of its existence, this association has taken an active part in the works of the United Nations (UN), not least at the Human Rights Commission, replaced in 2006 by the Human Rights Council.

The AWC now welcomes cooperation with the OECD too, looking forward to bringing an effective, steady contribution to designing, as the OECD motto goes, “Better policies for better lives”.

The Spiritual and Socialist Start of International Women’s Day

In Being a World Citizen, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, United Nations, Women's Rights on March 8, 2019 at 10:53 PM

By René Wadlow

March 8 is the International Day of Women and thus a time to highlight the specific role of women in local, national and world society. International Women’s Day was first proposed by Clara Zetlin (1857-1933) at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1911. Later, she served as a socialist-communist member of the German Parliament during the Weimar Republic which existed from 1920 to 1933 when Hitler came to power. Zetlin went into exile in the Soviet Union shortly after Hitler came to power. She died there several months later in 1933.

Zetkin had lived some years in Paris and was active in women’s movements there. The women were building on the 1889 International Congress for Feminine Works and Institutions held in Paris under the leadership of Ana de Walska.  De Walska was part of the circle of young Russian and Polish intellectuals in Paris around Gerard Encausse (1865-1916), a spiritual writer who wrote under the pen name of Papus and edited a journal, L’Initiation (1). Papus stressed the need for world peace. In 1901 Papus spent time in Russia as a spiritual adviser to Tsar Nicholas II. Papus had warned the Tsar against the growing influence of Rasputin.

Clara Zetkin

This turn-of-the-century spiritual milieu was influenced by Indian and Chinese thought. Translations of fundamental Asian philosophical texts were increasingly known in an educated public. ‘Feminine’ and ‘masculine’ were related to the Chinese terms of Yin and Yang − not opposed but in a harmonic balance.  Men and women alike have within themselves the Yin and Yang psychological characteristics. ‘Feminine’ characteristics or values include intuitive, nurturing, caring, sensitive and relational traits.  ‘Masculine’ traits are rational, assertive and analytical.

Yin and Yang

As individual persons, men and women alike can achieve a state of wholeness, of balance between the Yin and Yang.  However, in practice, ‘masculine’ refers to men and ‘feminine’ to women.  Thus, some feminists identify the male psyche as the prime cause of the subordination of women around the world.  Men are seen as having nearly a genetic coding that leads them to ‘seize’ power, to institutionalize that power through patriarchal societal structures and to buttress that power with masculine values and culture.

Thus, Clara Zetkin saw the need to call attention in a forceful way to the role that women as women play in society and the many blocks which men place in their way.  She made her proposal in 1911 and the idea of the Day was taken up within the Socialist movements.

The harmonious balance of Yin and Yang, present in the early discussions around Ana de Walska and Papus, largely dropped out of the Socialist version of International Women’s Day.  However, with greater attention being given to Chinese philosophical thought, we may see a revival of the theme.

The emerging world society has been slow to address the problem of injustice to women, because it has lacked a consensus on sex-based inequality as an urgent issue of political justice.  The outrages suffered every day by millions of women − domestic violence, child sexual abuse, child marriage, inequality before the law, poverty and lack of dignity require concerted action. Leadership on these issues comes more often from nongovernmental organizations rather than legislative action. Solidarity and organization are crucial elements to create sustainable ways of living in which all categories of people are encouraged to contribute. March 8, 2019 is a reminder of the positive steps taken but also the distance yet to be covered.

Note

1. See the biography by Marie-Sophie André and Christophe Beaufils, Papus (Paris: Berg International, 1995, 354pp.)

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


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