This Week: 12 February 2016
This entry marks the first of a semi-weekly summary of geopolitical events relevant to the Gospel going forth in the Middle East, Mediterranean Basin and North Africa.
Aleppo, one of Syria’s largest cities and remaining vestiges of urban populous, bled out as Russian planes began an air assault to break the siege government opposition has held for a couple of years now (it has passed hands; ISIS took it in late 2014 and lost it several months thereafter). Refugees fleeing barrel and vacuum bombs ran west to the nearby Turkish border, putting additional pressure on the only country to have thus far taken in more Syrian refugees than Germany (and nearly double at that, though Syrians cannot work in Turkey).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, famous for his Versailles-dwarfing estate and endorsing the Third Reich as an admirable system of governmental rule, has been advised by the European Union (and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular) to curb the tide of refugees migrating into Europe from Turkey’s westerly shores, either through the Mediterranean or via Istanbul into the Balkan Route. Convinced Turkish leadership in the region would alleviate the conflict—coming from a man who is far too friendly with the Muslim Brotherhood, frequently jails critical journalists, and is publicly and comfortably anti-semitic—he threatened to lower every gate around his country and high-five refugees as they make their way to the European Continent if the EU and other Western powers did not let him have his way. He’s been suggesting safe zones for refugees to flee to in northern Syria, calling them the only way to kick Assad out of power, sympathy for his conflict with the Kurds of eastern Turkey, and more money from the EU to finance his refugee intake.
Meanwhile, NATO deployed a fleet into the Mediterranean to ‘solve Europe’s refugee crisis’—which is not to say to ‘solve the refugee crisis,’ but just shut the door on the Continent altogether. Germany took in a near-crippling refugee population last year, hoping to the lead the Union by example. It didn’t work. So now any refugee picked up by NATO in the Mediterranean will be forcibly escorted back to Turkey, which has no prospects for refugees to make new lives, or pushed back into the conflict zones from which they are fleeing.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced a Syrian cease-fire will take place next week so humanitarian aid can gain access to civilians trapped in the war zones and sieges. This comes about half a decade too late, but we can let Kerry have his moment for now. Jihadist rebel groups ISIS and al-Nusra are, for obvious ideological reasons, exempt from the cease-fire. We’ll see how long it lasts. Last week, table discussions took place to broker an end to the Syrian Civil War that lasted all of five minutes before everyone got mad and walked away. Assad’s entourage blamed everyone but themselves, which is nothing new.
As it stands, refugees are crossing the Mediterranean at an exponentially higher rate than this time last year. We’re only seeing the beginning of the fall out from years of American and European ambivalence towards Assad’s war crimes.