From Vance-Owen to Kofi Annan

From Vance-Owen to Kofi Annan

For a minute, just remember the fate of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the first half of the 1990s. The Serbian army was carrying out a monstrous campaign of murder, rape, torture and ethnic cleansing against the Bosnian Muslims. The victims, understandably, were asking for either arms to protect themselves or for an international intervention against their butchers. But “the international community” had neither the conscience nor the guts to do anything.

What the powerful countries of the world did was give the Serbs just more opportunity to kill by all sorts of wavering. They said that this was “Yugoslavia’s internal affair,” or that the patron of the Serbs, Russia, was too important to be offended. They imposed an arms embargo on the country, leaving the victims defenseless against their murderers. They looked as if they were doing something meaningful with a United Nations peace plan - devised by Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen (called “the Vance-Owen plan”) - but the Serbs only used it to win more time to kill. 

Three years passed this way, every week of which worked in favor of the Serbs. Some politicians in Europe even implicitly sympathized with them, for they found the Bosnians too Muslim to support. 

Now fast forward to today: A state army, this time that of Bashar al-Assad and his tyrannical regime, is ruthlessly murdering, raping, and torturing a civilian population. Russia — this time with China and Iran as well — is again on the side of the butchers. And “the international community” is again using all sorts of rationalization to hide its pusillanimity. Military intervention is ruled out, whereas the Syrian opposition is not given any arms to defend itself. Meanwhile, the Syrian regime is given more time with wishful delusions like the United Nations peace plan devised by Kofi Annan. 

Last weekend’s “Friends of the Syrian People” meeting in Istanbul was the stage for all this sissy-ness. The Turkish government, which hosted the conference, did its best to push the other 82 countries joining the meeting for a strong stance against the Syrian regime, but success was limited. The Syrian National Council (SNC) was only recognized as “a representative” of the Syrian people, not the sole representative. (Syrian Kurds, who walked away from the SNC simply for their narrow-minded insistence on federalism, were also partly responsible for this.)

“Yet we still made an important step forward, and we owe this mostly to Turkey’s efforts,” said Khaled Khoja, a member of the Syrian National Council who I spoke to after the meeting. “For the first time, we got the recognition of ‘the right of the Syrian population to protect themselves.’” 

Of course, other countries such as Qatar also deserve credit for their strong support for the Syrian people, including their vow to pay salaries to rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army. 

Another important and helpful message of the conference was that the Annan plan is not “open-ended.” Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan especially insisted that the plan may be abused by the regime to steal time, and that its call for end to violence should be realized immediately.

However, just the next day, Russia showed its true colors, by rejecting “any deadlines for Annan’s Syria peace plan.” In other words, the al-Assad regime could keep on killing its people as long as it wanted.

So, the picture is really a bit like the 90s: Moscow is the co-butcher of a people, and the West is too undetermined or unwilling to do anything significant. If nothing changes, we will probably see a series of Srebrenica déjà vus, where the al-Assad regime kills innocents by the thousands. Or, perhaps, we will see who the real friends of the Syrian people are.