Ammon News, Editor's Choice

Erdogan has released the genealogy of thousands of Turks – but what is his motive?

[3/17/2018 3:18:23 PM]

AMMONNEWS - By Robert Fisk - Only in Turkey is the identity of a citizen a matter of national security. That’s why the population registry in Ankara was until now a closed book, its details a state secret. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s definition of “Turkishness” was “anyone who is attached to the Turkish state as a citizen”. Turks came from a clear ethnic identity, untainted by racial minorities or doubtful lineage. That’s one reason why the Nazis lavished praise on Ataturk’s republic, their newspapers mourning his death in black-bordered front pages. After all, as Hitler was to ask in several newspaper interviews – and to his generals before he invaded Poland – who now remembers the Armenians? Ataturk had supposedly inherited an Armenian-free Turkey, just as Hitler intended to present his followers with a Jew-free Europe. The Armenian genocide of 1915 – denied by the Turkish government today – destroyed a million and a half Christian Ottoman citizens in the first industrial holocaust of the 20th century. Almost the entire Armenian community had been liquidated. Or had it? For the stunned reaction of Turks to the sudden and unexpected opening of population registers on an online genealogy database three weeks ago was so immediate and so vast that the system crashed within hours. Rather a lot of Turks, it turned out, were actually Armenians – or part-Armenians – or even partly Greek or Jewish. And across the mountains of eastern Anatolia – and around the cities of Istanbul, Izmir, Erzurum, Van and Gaziantep and along the haunted death convoy routes to Syria, ancient ghosts climbed out of century-old graves to reassert their Armenian presence in Turkish history. For the registry proved that many of them – through their families – were still alive. Until now, for at least two decades – at least before Sultan Erdogan’s post-coup autocracy – thousands of Turks spoke freely, albeit in private, about their ancestry. They knew that amid the mass slaughter and rape of the Armenians, many Christian families sought sanctuary in conversion to Islam, while tens of thousands of young Armenian women were given in marriage to Turkish or Kurdish Muslim men. Their children grew up as Muslims and regarded themselves as Turks but often knew that they were half-Armenian. Tens of thousands of Armenian orphans were placed in Muslim schools, forced to speak Turkish and change their names. One of the largest schools was in Beirut, organised for a time by one of Turkey’s leading feminists who wrote of her experience and was later to die in America. The Armenian diaspora – the 11 million Armenians living outside Turkey or Armenia itself, and who trace their ancestry back to the survivors of the 1915 genocide – were the first to understand the significance of the newly-opened population registers, noting that some information dated back to the early 1800s. Up to four million Turkish citizens were reported to have sought access to their family tree within 48 hours – which is why the system crashed – and in the days since it was re-established, according to retired statistician and Armenian demographer George Aghjayan, eight million Turks have requested their pedigrees. That’s 10 per cent of the entire Turkish population. The documents can be vague. And they are not complete. There are examples of known Armenian ancestors listed as Muslim without reference to their origin. The names shown for those known to have converted during the 1915 genocide are Muslim names – but the Christian names of their parents are also shown. There will always be discrepancies and unknown details. Many Ottoman registrars did not give accurate details of birthdays: Turkish officials might travel to a village once a month and simply list its newborn under the date of their visit. There are still centenarians alive in Lebanon and Syria, for example, who all possess the same birth date, whatever their origin. So why has Turkey released these files now? Erdogan is quoted to have once complained that Turks were “accused of being Jews, Armenians or Greeks”. Tayfun Atay, a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, wrote that he was “advised in a friendly matter not to admit that I am a Georgian…What about those who risk learning that they are of Armenian ancestry or a convert? Just think: you think you are a red-blooded Turk but turn out to be a pure-blood Armenian.” Journalist Serdar Korucu told Al-Monitor that “if they had done this a few years ago when we were [becoming more tolerant], conspiracy theories would not have been as strong as today, when the state believes we are in a struggle for existence. This is how Turkey reinvigorates the spirit of the Independence War” – to inspire patriotism and pro-government thinking. In 2003, the Armenian newspaper Agos, whose editor Hrant Dink was assassinated outside his office in 2007, reported that the Turkish government was secretly coding minorities in registers: Greeks were one, according to the paper. Armenians were two. Jews were three. Korucu recalled how the director of the Turkish Historical Society threatened minorities in 2007. “Don’t make me angry. I have a list of converts I can reveal down to their streets and homes.” The director later became a politician in the rightist Nationalist Action Party. Ethnic Armenian columnist Hayko Bagdat placed this in a story he told the Al-Monitor website – including an individual family tale which might be humorous if it was not so charged with tragedy. “During the 1915 genocide, along with mass conversions, there were also thousands of children in exile…The society is not yet ready to deal with this reality.” Imagine, Bagdat said, that Lutfi Dogan, who had served as Turkey’s director of religious affairs, was the brother of someone who was the Armenian patriarch, Sinozk Kalustyan. “Kalustyan, who returned to Turkey from Beirut in 1961, was remembered as a saint in the Turkish Armenian Patriarchate and as someone who had served in the most difficult times after 1915. During the genocide, his mother sent the children away and converted to Islam. Later she married [a man called] Dogan, who was of high social standing, and had two girls and a boy. The boy was Lutfi Dogan. When the mother, who was then with the Nationalist Action Party…died, his uncle came in priest garb from Beirut to attend the funeral. Nobody could say anything.” This predicament was eloquently conveyed in Fethiye Cetin’s memoir of her grandmother, a respected Muslim housewife in the small Turkish town of Maden, who revealed to her granddaughter that she was Armenian. Most of the men in her village were slaughtered, Seher (her real Armenian name was Heranus) said. A Turkish gendarme had adopted her. Fethiye Cetin, a human rights lawyer who acted for the soon-to-be-murdered Hrant Dink, posted her grandmother’s death announcement in Dink’s paper, Argos: “Heranus lost her entire family and never saw them again,” she wrote. “She was given a new name, to live in a new family. She forgot her mother tongue and her religion…she never ever forgot her name, her village, her mother, her father…She lived until the age of 95.” Relatives in America read the death notice and Heranus’ sister – still alive – called Cetin in Istanbul. A family reunited. Perhaps two million Turks have Armenian grandmothers. But they are supposed to believe that the genocide never happened.

Read Comments

The Palestine solidarity movement should focus on Palestine

[3/17/2018 5:55:34 AM]

AMMONNEWS - By Ramzy Baroud - Nada Elia hold- s no punches. A principled activist and an accomplished academic, she writes with honesty and vigour. As I embarked on a worldwide speaking tour, an article she wrote two years ago was present in my mind. Entitled, "No More Mr Nice Guy: White Male Israeli Activists Exploiting Palestine Solidarity", the article details a degree of exploitation of Palestinian solidarity by ex-Zionist intellectuals, who seek high fees and special treatment when they travel the world talking about their moral awakening and ideological conversion. Indeed, some of these "nice guys" generate so much income that they turned solidarity into thriving careers. For the record, I don't seek honoraria myself, and if/when honoraria are available due to the rules of certain academic or research institutes, I request the money be sent to a charity that works to empower Palestinian communities at home. It is the matter of principle. Money has corrupted the Palestinian cause. Donors' money, billions of dollars received by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah has turned a revolution and a national liberation project into a massive investment with many benefactors and many beneficiaries. Most Palestinians, however, remain poor. Unemployment is skyrocketing. With the billions raked in by the corrupt PA since its founding in 1994, most Palestinians in the Occupied Territories still live in dire economic uncertainty. Women are hit hardest. A recent report by Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett speaks of a depressing reality in the West Bank that effects women in particular. While 13 percent of all Palestinian women hold university degrees (compared to 9 percent of men), only 19 percent of all women are employed or seeking work. Although Palestinian women are some of the most educated women in the region, they have the least work opportunities. The ratio of employment among Palestinian women, 19 percent, is significantly lower than that of working women in the Middle East and North Africa region, which currently stands at 25 percent, and even more negligible if compared with the global average of 51 percent. This should not be the case, as 62 percent of all students currently seeking university degrees in Palestine are female. According to Fawcett's report, the main reason behind the trials of Palestinian women is the Israeli occupation, which has battered Palestinian industries that traditionally employ women, namely agriculture and manufacturing. Back to Elia's article - "No More Mr Nice Guy". "I have discussed this with many friends, all but one women of colour, and we have all expressed extreme frustration at the opacity around this topic," she writes. "We (women of colour) are generally the speakers who accept the lower honoraria. More seriously, we are the ones who are offered the lower honoraria," Elia elaborates. Compare this to "Mr Nice Guy", who receives the "royal treatment... Has a set rate... Does not negotiate, and gets what he has asked for". "The discrepancy in honoraria is most obvious when activists for justice in Palestine celebrate decent Jews for exactly that - being decent. 'Nice' Israeli men are in a class apart, placed on a pedestal, considered heroes for not being violent, racist murderers". To think that women, especially Palestinian women, are marginalised even within the "Palestine solidarity movement" in favour of the glorified Israeli intellectual, whose main selling point is that he is an awoken "anti-Zionist" is galling, to say the least. To think that Palestinian women are experiencing a similar reality - educated but disadvantaged because of the Israeli occupation - at home, is remarkably unfair. But I will take the argument even further: the Palestinian intellectual and the Palestinian narrative as a whole are underprivileged as well, even by those who maintain that they fight for Palestinian rights and freedom. How this came about is interesting and multifaceted. It is the outcome of self-censorship and the inherent defensiveness among Western solidarity activists, often petrified by the unfair label of "antisemitism". I rarely experienced the same sentiments when travelling in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America. The Southern hemisphere relates to Palestine on a whole different level - unique and mutual historical experiences. For them, solidarity with Palestinians is often rooted in their own history of anti-colonial, anti-imperialist struggles. The first solidarity with Palestinians meeting I ever attended soon after I left Palestine over two decades ago was in Washington State. It rarely addressed the viewpoint of Palestinians. Usually elder activists, some announcing that they have fought for Palestine for decades, charted what they assume was a pro-Palestine discourse without exhibiting a deep-rooted understanding of Palestinian reality, history or fathoming the complexity of Palestinian culture, life and collective aspirations. The meeting focused mostly on how Israeli soldiers are, too victimized by the Israeli occupation, as they developed debilitating post-traumatic stress disorders that bode badly for their families and social lives. When they spoke of the Palestinian people, they presented them as victims, numbers, figures and charts plagued with human misery and infinite sorrow. And of course, they decried the violent Palestinians and duly condemned any form of "terrorism" and "antisemitism". In recent years, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, and the work of many independent Palestinian activists and intellectuals challenged the apologist approach to solidarity, through assuming leadership and presenting a pro-active, Palestine-centered discourse. But the old trend is too powerful to be expunged easily. The main challenge for the solidarity movement is that it was constructed in response to the powerful and omnipresent Zionist narrative in the West. The latter defined the discussion on Palestine, determined the priorities and the language. Many Palestine solidarity groups around the world, but especially in the West were formed to combat the misrepresentations and challenge the popular conception that moulded the Palestinian as a "terrorist" and the Palestinian people as an obstacle to the rise of progress and civilisation, supposedly epitomised by Israel. That integral defensiveness of the Palestine solidarity movement meant that the debate, in fact, the whole discourse is almost entirely, though unwittingly framed around Israeli, Zionist priorities. For them, Palestinian culture, history, politics are, at times subordinate compared with Zionist history and Israeli politics. Their understanding of the refugee crisis, for example was shaped by Israeli historian Benny Morris (a Zionist par excellence) not Palestinian historian Salman Abu Sitta. His latest book, Mapping My Return, should be obligatory reading for anyone truly keen on understanding the Right of Return. But Palestine was not invented in 1948. It was not the formation of Israel upon the ruined cities and villages of Palestine that gave rise to a people called Palestinians. Palestinian national identity is not an accident bestowed upon the Palestinian people by Israel. Those who stress the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees speak of the centrality of the Nakba of 1948; those who champion the "two-state solution", negate the history of the Palestinians prior to the war and Israeli occupation of 1967. This convenient exploitation of Palestinian history has fragmented the identity of the Palestinian, in the minds of many, and, in essence dehumanised Palestinian people - an ancient people that existed and thrived millennia prior to the inception of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century. "As a Palestinian, my best argument against Zionism is my own story, my memory, my recollections and the oral history of other Palestinians." wrote Professor Rima Najjar. Yet the Palestinian memory is rarely the centre of discussion, which has been centered, for nearly 25 years, around the futile language of a "peace process", "painful compromises", "land for peace formula" and the "two-state solution" that was never intended to solve anything in the first place. The discourse, even that championed by some in the Palestine solidarity movement is often shaped by and caters to Israeli, Western sensibilities. It would be unthinkable, for example, for a mainstream solidarity group to publicly defend Palestinian armed resistance, or the democratic choices of the Palestinian people during the 2006 elections. "Cultural resistance (is) the only resistance we can use as Palestinians whose path to political resistance is effectively blocked," wrote Najjar. "That, coupled with the collective solidarity engendered by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement, is the strongest argument against the unconscionable practices of the Zionist Movement." I concur. Palestine is not a chart or a PowerPoint presentation jumbled with numbers and statistics. Palestine can neither be understood through the discourse of the Zionist movement (which was and remains dedicated to the erasure of the Palestinian identity) nor the stifling political discourse of the "peace process" and other pretences. If the Palestinian discourse is not communicated in a decisive, unapologetic manner, independent from the validation of the West or anti-Zionist Israelis, it will never truly leave the kind of global impact that could potentially banish the Zionist discourse, one that is based on fabrications and riddled with falsehoods. For that to happen, Palestine's new historians, cultural ambassadors and activists must take the stage and speak for their people and themselves. Their role should extend beyond being the narrators of victimisation and misery. Palestine is also a place of resistance, hope and empowerment, exemplifying a strong, rooted culture that survived and defeated numerous invaders throughout history. The empowered new generation should fight for its position at the helm of this process. Palestine needs new blood, capable, self-asserting women and men who must reclaim, indeed, liberate their narrative and their honourable struggle.

Read Comments

Crisis affects 5 mn refugees.' Funds against radicalism'

[3/15/2018 7:31:54 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on Thursday told reporters on the sidelines of an UNRWA donors' conference in Rome that ''the problems we are dealing with are serious and real and the implications huge - they involve five million Palestinian refugees, including 500,000 students''. ''The challenge for us is to take a step forward on our responsibilities and ensure that Palestinian children can continue to have classrooms where they can go, hospitals where they can be treated and food on their table''. The UN Palestinian refugee agency, said Safadi, is a ''political'' entity that should convey the message that ''the world has not abandoned Palestinian refugees that have lived for 70 years in this situation and endure injustices''. Together with the ministers of Sweden and Egypt, Jordan co-chairs the ministerial-level summit of UNRWA attended by over 70 delegations. Supporting UNWRA, said Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, is ''necessary to preserve the dignity of Palestinian refugees, avoid radicalism and therefore counter terrorism. Shoukry continued saying that it is necessary for UNRWA's mandate to have a fundamental role in ''maintaining vital services it offers to refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank''. It is important, he concluded, that the conference on Thursday can ''strengthen UNRWA's role, offering the necessary support to the organization''. The UN agency's deficit is worth 446 million dollars. Without new funding, UNRWA diplomatic sources warned, ''by next June we will be forced to close 700 schools and 140 clinics operating in very difficult conditions''.

Read Comments

Syrian refugees in Jordan: Fatma says no to child marriage

[3/13/2018 10:25:25 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Seven years of war in Syria have taken their toll on the lives of millions of young Syrian refugees. Seeking shelter in neighbouring countries, they face extremely precarious situations. The number of girls leaving school and becoming child brides is on the rise. Fatma, who lives in Jordan, was almost one of these girls. Thanks to Terre des hommes (Tdh), she learned that marriage could wait. When 17-year-old Fatma describes her life before taking part in Tdh’s activities, she sums it up in a single word: “Bad”. She lived in southern Syria, before the war forced her, her mother, and her four brothers and sisters to leave the country. She arrived at the UAE-Jordanian refugee camp in 2013, when she was just a child. In 2016, when she turned 15, her family engaged her to be married. Fatma’s wedding was scheduled to take place one year later. However, before becoming a bride, she took part in child protection workshops run by Tdh. These activities teach young refugees about their rights and the dangers of early marriage and child labour. It was here that she learnt that she was not legally old enough to be married. “In my community, I didn’t know my rights, no-one told me. I thought that’s all a woman’s life was – getting married and having babies. Now I know my what my rights are.” Making an informed choice, Fatma broke off her engagement. Her family was not pleased. Her brother in particular was furious, but she stuck to her decision. “Education is more important than marriage. How can you educate your children if you don’t know how to read or write?” A brilliant student Fatma is aiming high. “We need engineers and doctors to rebuild our country. The future depends on the young generations. What will happen if all the women stay at home?” Her family eventually accepted her decision. Now, Fatma’s mother is proud of how well her daughter is doing at school. As for Fatma, her outlook on life has changed completely. “When I was 15, I thought my future was getting married and staying at home. Now I know that 15 is the perfect age to start studying and building my life.” *Relief Web

Read Comments

Russian spy: Russia demands nerve agent sample from UK

[3/13/2018 10:08:02 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Russia will not co-operate with the UK's inquiry into how an ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned until it has been given a sample of the substance used, its foreign minister has said. Sergei Lavrov added that claims of Russian involvement were "rubbish". UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the "strength of the support" from other countries was encouraging. US President Donald Trump said he would take Britain's assessment that Russia was behind the attack "as fact". Mr Trump said he would be speaking to Theresa May later, adding: "It sounds to me they believe it was Russia base on all the evidence they have". Answering a separate question by reporters, he added: "As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be". Midnight deadline Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who spoke to Mr Johnson on the phone about the case on Monday before he was sacked had said the US supported the UK's assessment that Russia was likely responsible. Russia was given a midnight deadline by Prime Minister Theresa May to explain why a Russian-made nerve agent was used in the attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Mr Lavrov said that Russia had been refused access to the nerve agent. Mrs May's spokesman responded by saying the UK "complies fully with all its obligations under the chemical weapons convention". Meanwhile, the UK ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, has met the Russian deputy foreign minister in Moscow. Former double agent Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre in Wiltshire on 4 March. They remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital. Det Sgt Nick Bailey, who fell ill attending to the pair, remains seriously ill, but has been talking to his family. Up to 14 other deaths to be re-examined for Russian links What we know so far Row over Corbyn's Russia spy response Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the investigation was "going well" after chairing another meeting of the government's emergencies committee Cobra to discuss the case. Mrs May told the Commons on Monday that the poison used in the attack was a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia. She said it was part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok. "Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others," she said. Mrs May said the Foreign Office had summoned Russia's ambassador to "explain which of these two possibilities it is". She warned that if there was no "credible response" by the end of Tuesday, the UK would conclude there has been an "unlawful use of force" by Moscow. Meanwhile, Ms Rudd has announced that MI5 and police are to look into claims that as many as 14 deaths on UK soil may be linked to Russia. Has the UK received international support? Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said the UK was a "highly valued ally" and described the incident as "of great concern". He said the use of any nerve agent was "horrendous and completely unacceptable" and said Nato had been in touch with the UK authorities. He added: "We agree that those responsible - both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it - must face appropriately serious consequences. "We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses." Mrs May also spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday and the two leaders "agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies" to address what it called "the wide pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour", her spokesman said. European commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis was among a number of leading EU figures to express "solidarity" with the UK. He said: "We are very much concerned with this situation - also with the findings the UK has so far." Guy Verhofstadt, European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator, wrote on Twitter: "We stand shoulder to shoulder with the British people. "It must be made clear that an attack against one EU and Nato country is an attack on all of us." How could the UK retaliate against Russia? Mrs May said the UK must "stand ready to take much more extensive measures" against Russia than it had previously. She said these measures would be set out in the Commons on Wednesday should there be no adequate explanation from Russia. Britain could expel Russian diplomats, as it did after the poisoning of former Russian Federal Security Service operative Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 with radioactive polonium. But many argue that this, and the other measures that were taken after that killing - including visa restrictions on Russian officials - did not go far enough. So what else could the UK do? Other possible actions could include: Freezing financial assets Bans on visas Boycotting the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year Taking Russian broadcasters such as RT (formerly Russia Today) off the air in the UK *BBC

Read Comments

Jordan, Spain agree to unify stances at Brussels conference

[3/13/2018 5:57:37 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordan and Spain have agreed to unify positions at the second Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region that will be held in April, 2018, especially with regard to reviewing a decision to simplify the rules of origin for Jordanian exports to Europe. During a meeting with Spanish State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ildefonso Lopez in Amman on Tuesday, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Imad Fakhoury stressed the importance of cooperating with Spain to review the EU relaxed rules of origin for Jordanian exports to Europe according to amendments that have been proposed by Jordan. The minister stressed the importance of the amendments in maximizing benefits for Jordanian industrialists, attracting investments and creating job opportunities. Fakhoury also agreed with Lopez to continue coordination and cooperation in order to unify stances at the Brussels conference in April. During the meeting, Fakhoury spoke about the economic challenges facing the Kingdom as a result of instability in the region and the burden of hosting Syrian refugees in the Kingdom who are placing an increasing pressure on the budget and the host communities of those refugees. The government he said, is continuing the comprehensive reform process and turning challenges into opportunities through preserving the economic and financial stability. Fakhoury urged the international community to provide sufficient grants to support Jordan's Response Plan to the Syrian Crisis 2018-2020, and secure adequate grants and financing to meet the urgent funding needs of Jordan over the next three years. The Spanish minister praised Jordan's efforts to host refugees as well as the role of His Majesty King Abdullah II to bring about peace, security and stability in the region and fight terrorism and extremism.

Read Comments

To Putin, Assad’s enemies in Syria are the same as Russia’s in Chechnya

[3/12/2018 4:00:37 PM]

AMMONNEWS - By Robert Fisk - Now what does this remind you of? “After an attempt to seize Grozny by land ended in defeat, Yeltsin resorted to ... pounding the city from the air. Thousands of civilians died in the attacks on the capital. Two years of gruesome fighting [in Chechnya] killed tens of thousands of civilians and probably 15,000 Russian soldiers. Putin ... cemented his rise to power by launching a new campaign that would be equally bloody, but would eventually bring the territory back under Moscow’s control. He filled the airwaves with tough talk, promising to hunt down the Chechen bandits ... The Chechen battle was portrayed as a terrorist struggle against the legitimate Russian state. This was partly true – the Chechens did begin to use terror as a weapon.” Sound familiar? I owe the above quotation to Shaun Walker’s new take on the Putin years in his book, The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past – and it doesn’t stop there. In early 2000, in one of his first interviews, Putin told the Chechens they were not under attack from Russia – they were being brought under its “protection”. The Chechens were not a defeated people, Putin announced. “They are a liberated people.” And all this, according to Walker, while Putin’s fighter jets “were bombing Grozny, raining more misery down on a city that already seemed as though it had reached total devastation”. Walker himself is an old-school reporter, padding the broken pavements and shattered buildings rather than pontificating from Moscow – he wrote for The Independent before moving to what we used to call “Another Newspaper” – and he assiduously follows through on the Chechen story, observing the rise to power of the faithful Akhmad Kadyrov and then, after the latter’s assassination, of his equally faithful (and brutal) son Ramzan. Their enemies were liquidated. By the time Walker arrived in Grozny in 2009, “the city was unrecognisable from the eerie photographs of Stalingard-level destruction ... Neat tree-lined avenues, of new apartment blocks and pleasant cafes ... a whole street in which the tree-lined husks of apartment blocks had been replaced with brand-new versions; empty squares filled with white marble-effect ministerial buildings; and to top it all off, Grozny City, a 32-storey skyscraper housing a five-star hotel with a rooftop restaurant, a gym and plush bedrooms with luxury toiletries.” The parallels should not be drawn too closely. Putin was trying to restore Chechnya to Russian sovereignty. In Ghouta – or in Aleppo – he was and is trying to restore sovereignty to Syria. The Chechen “bandits” and “terrorists” were real enough. And so, slowly and ponderously, we ourselves are beginning to admit, amid the bloodbath of civilians, that al-Qaeda and fellow Islamists are real enough in Ghouta. And of course, by “restoring” eastern Ghouta (or Aleppo) to the Damascus government, Putin is furthering Russian power. Besieged autocrats can count on Moscow. Could Mubarak count on Washington? Or could Ben Ali count on France? There are, however, other small Chechen ghosts floating over Syria. A large number of Chechen Islamists, fleeing the forests of Chechnya after Russia’s victory, arrived in Syria to attack the regime. One of the Syrian army’s most devastating setbacks occurred on a mountain top south of the Turkish border, when a Chechen jihadi suicide-bombed a military base by driving a captured armoured car into the compound. He killed every one of the Syrian defenders. The explosion was so vast that an eyewitness on a neighbouring hilltop told me he saw fire reaching into the clouds – and then continuing above the clouds into the empty sky. The Russians know exactly who they are fighting in Syria, which is why Russian pilot Roman Filipov blew himself up with his own grenade rather than be captured by Islamists. For Putin, those Chechens who resisted his firepower inside Russia are merely continuing their struggle inside a Russian ally further to the south. Eliminate them, Putin believes, and then make peace with your erstwhile enemies later. It’s been a policy maintained, up to a point, by Damascus. The earlier siege of Deraya on the edge of Damascus was ended in a series of “reconciliation” committees and mutual ceasefire promises. The distance between Grozny and Damascus is less than 900 miles. From the Kremlin walls, the minarets of Damascus are not in the “Middle East”; they are due south. Russian power doesn’t end at its own frontiers – nor did it in Stalin’s day. His Red Army did not halt at the Soviet frontier in 1945. It pursued the “fascist beast” to its lair in Berlin. And Chechnya remains very much in Putin’s mind today. When he chose to call a major Islamic conference inside Russia, he welcomed clerical delegates from Egypt, Syria and other largely Sunni Muslim nations where they excoriated Salafism and its entire works. Saudi Arabia was virtually excommunicated. The fact that the conference was officially held under the auspices of the awful Ramzan Kadyrov made no difference to the delegates. In any case, most of them live under Kadyrov-like masters. Putin had made his point. Equally, he has arranged that Chechens should help rebuild – and fund – the 11th century minaret of the great Omayad mosque in Aleppo, brought down in the fighting of 2013 (for which both sides, needless to say, blame each other). Chechen prelates were freighted into Syria to pray at the mosque. Even in Palmyra, captured by Isis, recovered by the Syrian government, recaptured by Isis – to Putin’s anger – and then recovered once again, there is a Chechen component to Russia’s presence. Moscow’s foot patrols in the city are often made up of Russian soldiers – from Chechnya. This does not mean that Putin is somehow recreating Russia’s past struggles inside Syria. What it does means is that Putin has learned from the Chechen war and has not forgotten its lessons – which include both ruthlessness and cunning. For him, Assad’s enemies today were Russia’s enemies in Chechnya – in a few cases, the very same individuals – and, however much horror we express at the outrageous killing of civilians, we should not be surprised. Once superpowers become involved in Middle East wars, “terms and conditions” do not apply. Until it’s over. Did anyone mention Iraq?

Read Comments