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November 15th, 2019

UN lingo: “New settlement areas”

by:Thomas Osten-Sacken

Will the United Nations – after having failed miserably in Syria – recollect the times when, for the first time ever, an international organization was founded with the aim of protecting minorities and human rights?

Back then, it was called the League of Nations, and one of its first challenges was the relocation and resettlement of millions of Greek and Turkish people. Under the leadership and upon the initiative of the UN first High Commissioner for Refugees, Fridtjof Nansen, an internationally sanctioned population exchange of millions of people took place. This set standards for the resolution of countless other conflicts in the following decades.

What happened at that time brought with it indescribable suffering and misery, but has since then, in some way, been regarded as a ‘model’ for the creation of ethnically homogeneous nation states, be it in the Balkans or the Middle East, where such states appear only to function if millions of citizens are declared minorities and driven out or resettled. During the 20th century, not only Greeks and Turks, but also Assyrians, Armenians, Chaldeans and Kurds were affected by such measures – not to mention the fate of Jews in the region.

In the 1990s, “ethnic cleansing” – because this is what we are talking about here – was considered condemnable and even seen as a reason to launch so-called “humanitarian interventions”. Nonetheless, they continued to happen all around the globe, most of the time without any consequences for the perpetrators. In Syria, something similar has been taking place on a large scale since 2011. Here, however, a minority is driving out the majority: the aim is to reduce the Sunni-Arab’s share in Syria’s population.

In the northeast of the country, which is mainly populated by Kurds - many of whom are descendants of refugees who fled after 1918 from the Turkish army to Syria, then a French territorial mandate - the Turkish government is now planning a demographic rearrangement with its recent invasion. Millions of Arab refugees are to be relocated to a so-called security zone – an idea which violates pretty much any international law – and thus live there at the expense of the local Kurdish population. Meanwhile, the more Kurds flee, the better it is for this project. Estimates already go far beyond 200,000 Kurdish people having left their homes.

A few years ago, the UN would at least have called such a plan for what it really is: an intervention violating international law and the threat of an imminent ethnic cleansing.

Today, in contrast, the Secretary General acts as the Turkish president’s best buddy, calling the entire endeavor a “new settlement areas plan for Syrian refugees,” and expresses his “deep appreciation for the strong cooperation and support of Turkey to the United Nations”.

Image credit: KURDISTAN via Flickr. 

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