UN to vote Saturday on Syria ceasefire

The UN Security Council. (Reuters)
Updated 24 February 2018
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UN to vote Saturday on Syria ceasefire

UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT: The UN Security Council on Friday delayed a vote on a demand for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, where pro-government warplanes have been pounding the last rebel bastion near Damascus in one of the deadliest bombing campaigns of the seven-year civil war.
A draft resolution aimed at ending the carnage in the eastern Ghouta district and elsewhere in Syria will be put up for a vote in the 15-member council at noon (1700 GMT) on Saturday, Kuwait’s UN Ambassador Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi said.
The 24-hour delay followed a flurry of last-minute negotiations on the text drafted by Sweden and Kuwait after Russia, a veto-holding ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, proposed new amendments on Friday.
“Unbelievable that Russia is stalling a vote on a cease-fire allowing humanitarian access in Syria,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley posted on Twitter.
Talks have centered on the paragraph demanding a cessation of hostilities for 30 days to allow aid access and medical evacuations. A proposal for the truce to start 72 hours after the resolution’s adoption has been watered-down to instead demand it start “without delay” in a bid to win Russian support.
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Moscow does not want to specify when a truce should start. It was not immediately clear how Russia would vote on Saturday. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France to be adopted.
“We’re not going to give up. ... I hope that we will adopt something forceful, meaningful, impactful tomorrow,” Olof Skoog, Sweden’s UN ambassador, told reporters.
Previous cease-fires, however, have had a poor record of ending fighting in Syria, where Assad’s forces have gained the upper hand.
The towns and farms of eastern Ghouta have been under government siege since 2013, with shortages of food, water and electricity that worsened last year. Earlier on Friday, the densely populated enclave was bombed for a sixth straight day, witnesses said.
The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the government captured rebel-held parts of Aleppo in 2016. At least 462 people have been killed, including at least 99 children, and many hundreds injured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Friday.
Syrian state media reported one person was killed and 58 injured in rebel shelling of sites in Damascus, including a hospital.
Clouding any potential cease-fire is the Syrian government’s frequently used tactic of pushing rebels to surrender their strongholds after long sieges and military offensives.
Insurgents in eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out an evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians of the kind that ended rebellions in Aleppo and Homs after heavy bombardment in earlier years.
“We refuse categorically any initiative that includes getting the residents out of their homes and moving them elsewhere,” Ghouta rebel factions wrote in a letter to the Security Council.
Eastern Ghouta has 400,000 people spread over a larger area than other enclaves the government has recaptured. Late on Thursday, government aircraft dropped leaflets urging civilians to depart and hand themselves over to the Syrian army, marking corridors through which they could leave safely.
PRESSURE ON RUSSIA
Leading up to the Security Council vote, all eyes have been on Russia. Moscow has a history of standing in the way of Security Council measures that would harm Assad’s interests.
Germany and France were among the nations to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to support the resolution.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow wanted guarantees that rebel fighters will not shoot at residential areas in Damascus.
Damascus and Moscow say they only target militants. They have said their main aim is to stop rebel shelling of the capital, and have accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding residents as human shields.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government planes and artillery hit Douma, Zamalka and other towns across the enclave in the early hours of Friday.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.
Medical charities say more than a dozen hospitals were hit, making it nearly impossible to treat the wounded.
A witness in Douma who asked not to be identified said by telephone that the early morning bombing was the most intense so far. Another resident, in the town of Hamouriyeh, said the assault had continued “like the other days.”
“Whenever the bombing stops for some moments, the Civil Defense vehicles go out to the targeted places. They work to remove the debris from the road,” Bilal Abu Salah said.
The Civil Defense there said its rescuers rushed to help the wounded after strikes on Hamouriyeh and Saqba. The emergency service, which operates in rebel territory, says it has pulled hundreds of people out from under rubble in recent days.
Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman for the Jaish Al-Islam rebel faction, said it had thwarted nine attacks by pro-government militias trying to storm a front in the southeast of Ghouta. 


Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

Updated 1 min 53 sec ago
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Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

  • Up to 1.5 million Armenians were wiped out by the Ottoman Empire beginning on April 24, 1915, a reality Turkey continues to deny
  • The day will be commemorated around the world today as a growing number of countries recognize the atrocity

DUBAI: More than 100 years on, Armenians and experts alike remember the brutal atrocities and forced exodus from what is now Turkey, which left up to 1.5 million Armenians dead.

April 24 marks the start, in 1915, of the Armenian Genocide. “Every Armenian is affected by the repeated massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire as family members perished,” said Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“My own paternal grandmother was among the victims. Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he added.

“We never kissed her hand, not even once. She was always missed, and we spoke about her all the time. My late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother.”

Every Armenian family has similar stories, said Kechichian. “We pray for the souls of those lost, and we beseech the Almighty to grant them eternal rest,” he added.

“We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so they too can find peace,” he said. “Denial is ugly and unbecoming, and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time.”

Donald Miller, professor of religion and sociology at the University of Southern California, said: “The ongoing denial of the genocide by the government of Turkey pours salt into the wound of the moral conscience of Armenians all over the world. On April 24, the genocide will be commemorated all over the world.”

On that day, the Ottoman government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals.

Ordinary Armenians were then turned away from their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.

Ottoman killing squads massacred Armenians, with only 388,000 left in the empire by 1922 when the genocide ended, from 2 million in 1914.

Many were deported to Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Today they are scattered across the world, with large diasporas in Russia, the US, France, Argentina and Lebanon.

To date, only 28 countries have officially recognized the tragedy as a genocide. The only Arab country that has done so is Lebanon, although a bill is pending in Egypt’s Parliament to do so as well, while Muslim clerics in Iraq have called on Turkey to end the denial.

“The other significant consequence of the Armenian Genocide is the denial that successive Turkish governments have practiced, even though the last Ottoman rulers acknowledged it and actually tried a number of officials who were found guilty,” Kechichian said.

“Denial translates into a second genocide, albeit a psychological one. Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to this dark chapter of their history and come to terms with it, but it seems we’re not there yet.”

For some 3,000 years, Armenians had made their home in the Caucasus, with Christianity their official religion. During the 15th century it became a part of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers were Muslim.

Soon enough, Armenians were viewed as “infidels,” having to pay higher taxes than Muslims and with very few political and legal rights.

Despite this the Armenian population thrived, causing great resentment among their Turkish neighbors.

And shortly after World War I began, atrocities against Armenians started taking place, with crucifixions, drownings, live burnings and mass murders.

Some children were kidnapped, converted to Islam and given to Turkish families. Meanwhile, women were raped and forced to join Turkish “harems” or work as slaves, and Armenian properties were seized.

“The Armenian Genocide was the first major calamity that hit an entire nation in the 20th century,” Kechichian said.

“Although the term genocide wasn’t in use at the time — it was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe’ — the Polish attorney applied it to the Armenian case.”  

Turkey still denies the persecution of Armenians after World War I. But Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international scholar in Saudi Arabia, said: “We know that the genocide happened. The Ottoman Empire in that era conducted many massacres against many people, including Arabs and Armenians.”

He compared the situation to that of Turkey today, with its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We still see that he wants to have his empire again,” Al-Shehri said. “He thinks he’s the sultan of that empire.”

Al-Shehri also drew a parallel with Iran and the Persian Empire. “They (Iran) want to control the whole region, so they’re living with that era in their mind and (trying) to apply it on the ground,” he said.

“This is the difference between us and them — they don’t want to leave countries alone, and this is what we’re facing with Iran.”

Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics, said the Armenian Genocide remains a “contentious” issue because of “the acrimonious debate over how to define genocide, particularly from the Turkish point of view. Ankara doesn’t recognize genocide because of many reasons, all of them extremely poor.”