This catastrophe would not have happened were it not for the rest of the world normalizing death in Syria for so many years. State-centered international organizations like the U.N. have legitimized governments even when they are genocidal ones like President Bashar al-Assad’s. His regime, which has been destroying homes and killing Syrians with barrel bombs and cluster munitions for years with the help of its Russian and Iranian supporters, is also the only channel through which these same people can get humanitarian aid. Earthquakes do not recognize national borders, but the U.N. does.
Assad’s corrupt and criminal regime, which has been responsible of more than 90 percent of civilian deaths in Syria since 2011, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, has at times received more than 90 percent of aid deliveries from the U.N. and many countries—most of which it funneled to regime-held territory, or seized for itself. In some areas of Syria, like rebel-held Idlib in the northwest, “only 1 percent of the aid went through to besieged areas” during many years of the war, according to Carsten Wieland, a German academic and former diplomat who worked with three U.N. special envoys for Syria, and the author of Syria and the Neutrality Trap. As Wieland writes in his book, “delivering aid cross line—i.e. from government-held territories to opposition territories—was frequently blocked by regime-backed authorities who had no interest in helping foster resilience in the areas they bombed.”
As if the earthquake were the perfect chance for a public relations campaign, many Arab regimes—the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, maybe Saudi Arabia soon—are now normalizing their relationships with Assad under the pretext of humanitarianism. Yet the truth lies elsewhere. The common ground between these regimes is securitization of politics and enmity toward democracy and popular representation. With Assad’s Syria now a paradise of unaccountability, indeed of crime, these other Arab regimes enjoy more liberty in dealing with their own indignant citizens. In a way, Assad has shown his fellow autocrats how to exterminate any popular threats.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party, the AKP, have adopted the toxic and racist consensus of scapegoating Syrian refugees, with their eyes on June’s elections. Normalizing with Assad’s regime has been sold as a step toward returning the millions of refugees in Turkey to Syria, as well as a solution to the security threat represented by the Kurdish YPG forces in northern Syria, historically the Syrian branch of the PKK in Turkey.
There is a pattern of using catastrophes in Syria for PR campaigns. Assad’s chemical massacre in Ghouta in August 2013 proved to be a very good one, with the U.S. and Russia engineering a deal to disarm the regime of its chemical weapons, as a price for not punishing it for its breach of international law and killing 1,466 of its own people, nearly a quarter of them children. The disarmament, it turned out, was a cheap farce—the regime used chemical weapons several time after the deal, as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons proved in a recent report. In effect, the deal was a license to Assad to go on murdering en masse.
Erasing the boundaries between crime and politics is characteristic of Syria under more than a half century of Assad family rule. Those 53 years are more than half of Syria’s entire history as a modern polity. Today, March 8, 2023, marks the 60th anniversary of Ba’ath Party rule in the country, with the military coup that brought it to power (Hafez al-Assad would seize power in his own coup a few years later). Only around 4 or 5 percent of Syrians today are over the age of 60, which means that almost everybody in the country has only known a one-party system, a state of exception—and mostly under delinquent family rule with a mafioso constitution.
Support Lumiserver & Cynesys on Tipeee
Visit our sponsors
Wise (formerly TransferWise) is the cheaper, easier way to send money abroad. It helps people move money quickly and easily between bank accounts in different countries. Convert 60+ currencies with ridiculously low fees - on average 7x cheaper than a bank. No hidden fees, no markup on the exchange rate, ever.
Now you can get a free first transfer up to 500£ with your ESNcard. You can access this offer here.