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Syria: Lavrov and Sectarianism | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Russia continues to take an increasingly stubborn stance in defense of the Syrian regime’s killing machine, and continues to maintain the same policy it has adopted ever since the start of the crisis; politically, by providing unlimited support to al-Assad and his regime in all international organizations, and logistically on the ground by offering weapons and training to the regime’s military and security cadres.

However, what is new about Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent discourse is his rhetoric about sectarianism in Syria, mirroring the discourse of the al-Assad regime, which continues to promote itself as a strong fortress against sectarian violence between the various components of the Syrian people. However, what Lavrov seems to have forgotten in this context is that the al-Assad regime does not refrain from killing all its opponents from various sects, in their dozens and on a daily basis.

The region’s sectarian idioms have now entered the vocabulary of Lavrov’s political discourse, and it suffice here to focus on part of his recent statement, in which he said that if the al-Assad regime was toppled, “then we would see a strong desire and tremendous pressure on the part of some regional countries to establish a Sunni regime in Syria. I have no doubt about this… We are deeply concerned about the destiny of the Christians there. There are also other minorities such as the Kurds, the Alawis and the Druze… In Lebanon, the situation would be extremely bad, because the country has multiple sects and national minorities… The state system is very fragile. Iraq will very likely be harmed by this situation, because the Shiites there hold all leading positions” (Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Thursday 22nd March 2012).

Lavrov’s speech here shows that Russia’s stances aim to evoke the sectarian dimensions in the region, an awareness of which is necessary for anyone seeking to deal with issues in the Middle East. However, Lavrov seems to be contradicting himself when siding with one sect against another, and he seems to be losing his balance when he fears for the safety of one minority here, and does not fear for the safety of another minority there, and similarly when he dreads the rise of a certain majority here and is indifferent to another majority there. In other words, Lavrov highlighted his concerns about the emergence of a “Sunni” state in Syria, whilst forgetting that the Sunnis, in the sectarian context, constitute the majority of the Syrian people who currently live under a minority family rule that seeks to monopolize the support of one sect against others.

When he spoke of Lebanon and its sects and minorities, Lavrov also forgot that the current and former al-Assad regimes are primarily responsible for exploiting Lebanon’s sects and minorities, sometimes by means of direct military intervention, and sometimes through bombings, assassinations and pressures; terrorizing and threatening the symbols of Lebanese sects, whether minorities or majorities. The exceedingly fragile Lebanese state has been formulated by the Syrian regime, which Lavrov is currently defending. In addition, when Lavrov spoke of Iraq – where the Shiites “hold all leading positions” – he did not show the same fear with regards to a majority prevailing over the minority.

Sectarian rhetoric is always abhorrent, for sectarianism is an imminent danger for the entire region. This is an established fact that must be taken into consideration when considering the aspects of major as well as minor crises in the region. Instead of submitting to sectarian logic, we must avoid it through a degree of awareness and understanding. However, by persisting to continue with his sectarian talk, Lavrov is following the footsteps of the al-Assad regime, which since beginning of the crisis has sought to transform the situation into a sectarian struggle that would wreak havoc [on the region]. When talking about some countries’ support for the Sunnis in Syria, Lavrov tends to forget that all Syrian people from all sects, despite the al-Assad regime’s practices and crimes, continue to uphold their freedom and independence. The blood being shed on Syrian soil does not discriminate between its victims.

What is even stranger is Lavrov’s assertion that the “international community” must intervene only in cases of conflicts between states, when there is proven aggression and when one state attacks another. Here he has forgotten that the Security Council previously intervened in Rwanda in the wake of the genocide committed there, and even established an international criminal court especially for Rwanda. Prior to this, the Security Council intervened in the former Yugoslavia following the horrific massacres that took place there, and likewise set up a special international court. Why does Lavrov forget all these previous stances and international resolutions when it comes to al-Assad? Doesn’t Lavrov consider the deaths of over 11,000 Syrian citizens to be a crime worthy of international intervention, and an international criminal court especially for Syria?

In view of such Russian stubbornness, all other international stances seem content with raising the tone of their language. They may express their “gravest concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria which has resulted in a serious human rights crisis”, or they may even express “profound regret at the death of many thousands of people in Syria”, along the lines of the Security Council’s recent statement in support of Kofi Annan’s mission to Syria. A number of Western states have acted in this manner, yet no one is willing to touch the wound directly, and no one will say that the al-Assad regime should be held accountable for the human rights deterioration. Similarly, feeling “regret” towards the death of thousands in Syria is an explicit sophism, for those thousands did not die as a result of an earthquake or a volcano, nor did they die by themselves without anyone intervening. As everyone knows, they were all killed as a result of continual and systematic killings carried out by al-Assad’s troops and army.

When Lavrov talks about an al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria, he tends to forget that it was the al-Assad regime itself that gave access to al-Qaeda years ago, for al-Assad, along with Iran, used the organization to destabilize Iraq during the US occupation there. Hence, if al-Qaeda has any real presence there at this time, then its seed was sown and watered by the al-Assad regime itself. However, this does not refute the fact that al-Qaeda – or any other armed extremist group – could now access Syria in light of the state of political and security unrest there; an ideal location to settle and proliferate.

Russia and other countries that seek to be involved in the region’s troubles must understand the dimensions of sectarian conflicts, for it is incredibly detrimental for these countries to side with one sect against another.