Unless otherwise indicated, the articles here and in the Archive appeared on www.globalresearch.ca

Self-Defense or Violation of International Law?


By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria is coming under growing censure throughout Europe. It will be high on the list of foreign policy challenges facing the German government which has just come into being. Under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, a new version of the grand coalition made up of her CDU and sister party CSU, together with the Social Democrats (SPD), was officially constituted in mid March.

Turkey launched its military offensive aimed at Afrin on January 20, and justified its massive deployment of military strength as “self-defense.” But is the claim substantiated? If it were, Turkey would have the right to respond militarily, according to international law, as long as it did so in a “proportionate and measured manner,” as NATO secretary general Stoltenberg put it. The reports of civilian casualties speak of hundreds of innocents, mainly women and children; and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that over 3,000 Kurds, whom he defined “terrorists,” have been “neutralized.” Massive destruction of infrastructure has resulted from the bombardments. This does not look proportionate or measured.

In fact, not only is the claim to self-defense dubious; it is becoming evident that the Turkish action, cynically named “Operation Olive Branch,” constitutes a violation of international law.

Bundestag Experts Raise Doubts

On March 7 the Wissenschaftliche Dienste (Scientific Service) of the German Bundestag (Parliament) issued a report on the matter, in response to the request of Alexander Neu, a parliamentarian from the leftist opposition party, Die Linke. The Scientific Service is an official group of researchers and experts who provide material in support of the work of the parliamentarians, but it does not represent its political positions or those of the government.

The body examined the issue in great detail and published its findings online on March 7. The report was entitled, “Evaluation according to International Law of the ‘Operation Olive Branch’ of Turkey against the Kurdish YPG in Northern Syria” (WD2 – 3000 – 023/18, Völkerrechtliche Bewertung der “Operation Olivenzweig” der Türkei gegen die kurdische YPG in Nordsyrien, 7 März 2018, S. 1-18). The group first asked if Turkey had the right to act militarily “in self-defense.” According to Article 51 of the UN Charta a state is authorized to respond to an “armed attack,” but not every act of violence can be thus defined. Turkey argued in its declaration to the UN Security Council that it was responding to an escalation of rocket attacks from Kurdish forces near Afrin targeting Kilis and Hatay, but is it true? There were no reports of such in the international press. And if there were, would this constitute an “armed attack”? The report says the burden of proof is on the accuser, in this case Turkey, and says it may have presented a “substantiated explanation,” but has not established the absolute certainty of the accusation or “convincing proof” that the threat merits military self-defense. An accurate evaluation would rely on “objective facts” and not only the “subjective perception of threat;” perhaps the International Court at the Hague could determine this.

The experts’ report questions the proportionality of Turkey’s response, stating that there are objective criteria to ascertain this and adding that self-defense cannot justify acts of vengeance. Concrete doubts regarding the proportionality of its response have arisen as a result of the “scale, aims and duration of the military course of action in northern Syria.”

What Strategic Aims?

Turkey has not in fact used the words “armed attack” to identify the perceived threat, but it has presented a list of its own military aims, which is extremely revealing. This was issued by the prime minister’s office on January 21 and is quoted at length in the experts’ report, in English, on page 16. The aims are:

•“To ensure the Turkey-supported Free Syrian Army (FSA) takes control of a 10.000-square kilometer area

•Following on from the Euphrates Shield Operation and the operation in Idlib, to completely prevent the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from reaching the Eastern Mediterranean.

•To eliminate the possibility of losing Turkey’s geographical contact with the Arab world.

•To ensure the security of Turkey’s borders with Syria.

•To prevent the infiltration of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the PKK into Turkey through the Amanos mountains.

•To prevent a terrorist organization from opening to the Mediterranean and to the world from here.

•To ensure the security and continuation of the Euphrates Shield Operation area.

•To counter US support for a terrorist organization.”

Such a detailed list of strategic goals is most useful. What indeed is really behind the operation? The experts sum it up thus: “The geostrategic interest of Turkey apparently aims to contain the Kurdish sphere of influence in Syria, and to prevent the emergence of a de facto Kurdish regime and simultaneously to use the opportunity offered by a collapse of Syria and the “Islamic State” to expand its own sphere of influence. From Turkey’s viewpoint the takeover or siege of the Syrian city Afrin appears to be a geostrategically necessary step for reaching these aims.”

In a footnote, one reads that in fact Erdogan already on February 20 announced that the siege of Afrin was imminent.

The experts argue that the “concept of self-defense appears in principle incompatible with a military action that pursues aims that could lead to achieving a permanent change of structures and zones of influence on the territory of a foreign state.” And that is what one gathers must be the aim of Turkey’s offensive.

The report shows that Turkey has presented no convincing proof that it has been subject to an “armed attack,” or that the threat it sees coming from non-state armed groups warrants actions of self-defense. Turkey’s geostrategic aims, furthermore, go way beyond the scope of self-defense. In conclusion, the experts declare that Turkey’s case rests “on a shaky foundation.” They recommend that NATO partners should call on Turkey to prove its case, and to desist from further pursuance of its military operation.

The appearance of this report has contributed to defining the agenda for the new government, regarding how to proceed with Turkey. Politicians in Ankara continue to lobby for a restoration of friendly ties, but with expanding coverage of civilian casualties, protest demonstrations are growing in numbers and intensity in Germany and elsewhere. Demonstrators have been denouncing Germany’s continued delivery of military equipment to Turkey; opposition politicians have raised a hue and cry about continued economic support for trade relations. Criticism is getting louder, but no serious political steps have been taken by governments in Europe. How long will the NATO “partners” continue to look the other way?

(The author expresses her thanks to the Wissenschaftliche Dienste for the kind permission to quote from the report. Apart from the list of strategic aims, which appears in English on page 16 of the report, and the phrase by Stoltenberg, other quotes have been translated from the original German by the author.)

Educators and Parliamentarians in Talks on Education

Albert Weiler, a CDU member of the Parliament, with the visiting teachers

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — Berlin played host last week to a group of teachers from Armenia and Georgia, who had come to learn more about the education system in the German Federal Republic. Their visit was arranged by the German-Armenian Forum (Deutsch-Armenische Forum), an initiative launched in May 2015 by Albert Weiler, a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) member of the Bundestag (Parliament), along with more than 30 private individuals, MPs and representatives of business, scientific and cultural institutions. As noted in a press release at the time, the members of the Forum’s executive body are “individuals familiar with issues related to the southern Caucasus, who pursue the aim of promoting German-Armenian relations at various levels. The Forum should support Armenia in its democratic development, strengthen economic relations, promote cultural and scientific exchange and build new bridges between the two societies.”

In this spirit, the forum has fostered political education and places great value on exchanges in the field of education and science. In the context of a regional program of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, called “Political Dialogue in the South Caucasus,” mid- and long-term projects in the school sector were launched in 2017 in Georgia and the Republic of Armenia respectively. In Armenia, currently a textbook for social studies is being revised and reissued in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education.

During their fact-finding visit, the university and school teachers from Georgia and Armenia hoped to gain new insights into the education sector in Berlin. They were received in the Bundestag on March 3 by Frank Heinrich (CDU) and forum president Weiler. In the course of their discussions, Weiler reported on the activities of the forum and explained the characteristic features of the German educational system. The teachers were particularly interested in exchange programs between schools and heard from their host about such projects that the forum has organized thus far.

“I enjoyed this exciting exchange of ideas very much,” Weiler stated. “Good teachers are extremely important for good education. We are following the developments in Armenia in this sector with great interest and are convinced that both sides will further profit from our bilateral dialogue.”

The presence of the delegation in Berlin follows a visit by Weiler last November to Yerevan where, on the invitation of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, he participated in a round table discussion on the partnership agreement between the European Union and Armenia.

Prof. Tessa Hofman

by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror Spectator
BERLIN — It was a bitter cold day in mid-February, with a strong wind that chilled to the bone. As we walked from the bus stop and entered the Luisenkirchhof III cemetery through the huge gate, I thought about the women and children being deported from their homes in Ottoman Empire over a hundred years ago, and what immense suffering they must have faced as they wound their way through inclement weather, on their march toward death.


Sites of the genocide

My guide and companion, Prof. Tessa Hofmann, was as warmly bundled up as I was, so we could go on walking up to the central chapel and beyond, with no fear of freezing. On the other side of the chapel, the path continued until we reached a façade of massive altars, which stretched out to the left and right in front of us. The three altars in the middle stood solemn and dignified, each with a cross of a different kind placed in the arch. The first altar on the left with its graceful khachkar must be the house of the Armenians; the next had a cross with arms of equal length to designate the house of the Greeks from Asia Minor, Pontos and Eastern Thrace; and the third displayed the cross of the Aramaens, Assyrians and Chaldeans.

Placed between the first and second altars is a huge plaque with the names of these Christian communities, and the inscription: “Commemorate the victims of the Ottoman genocide 1912-1922.” On the lateral wings of each of the Altars of Remembrance are ‘icons of annihilation,’ scenes from the genocide. The design of the memorial was inspired by the principle of Christian medieval sacral architecture: “Unity in diversity.” And the cross, in its several variations, stands as the universal Christian symbol of hope and resurrection.

House of the Greeks

On the ground in front of the ecumenical memorial are stone plates, inscribed with the names of the main places of origin of the victims. Sixty-eight such stone plates are planned, seven of which have been completed and bear the names of Bitlis, Diyarbakir, Edirne, Nusaybin, Smyrna, Trabzon and Van. According to what communities lived there, the names are inscribed in Armenian, Greek and/or Aramaen. In the interstices between the larger plates are smaller, rounded stones, which may bear the name of an individual or family. Descendants of the survivors are contributing funds to honor their ancestors.

This memorial, the only one of its kind in the world, is intended to be an inclusive place for mourning, learning and reconciliation. A large, glass enclosed information board is to be erected along the pathway, to provide visitors with background information, texts and maps, on the genocide.

Tessa Hofmann has good reason to be proud of this memorial. It was largely through her efforts and those of her colleagues in the Förderverein für eine Ökumenischen Gedenstätte für Genozidopfer im Osmanischen Reich (FÖGG) e.V. that the memorial came into being. And it is no accident that she should have been among the founders; Hofmann is one of the earliest genocide researchers in Germany to have published scientific studies on the Armenian genocide. The author of numerous books and a professor, she has campaigned for genocide recognition, as chairwoman of the human rights organization, “Working Group Recognition – Against Genocide, for International Understanding” (AGA).

After looking into various possible sites and discussing the project with the relevant authorities, this location was chosen. In May 2012, the administration of the Protestant Luisenkirchhof III granted the FÖGG three former tombs for their permanent use and maintenance. Thanks to contributions of the state of Berlin (Land) and the German Foundation for Protection of Historical Monuments (Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz), the altars were professionally restored. Financial donations by private persons made possible the transformation into a memorial.
House of the Armenians

Were there political difficulties in establishing such a memorial in Berlin? I could imagine protests emanating from Turkish quarters. To be sure, they had tried to intervene, but too late. The FÖGG organizers were wise to operate in total discretion until the arrangement received official sanction from the authorities. They also took special care in formulating the name of the memorial, for example, in the designation “Ottoman genocide.”

What Is the FÖGG?
The association that is responsible for building the memorial grew out of an idea born at a scientific conference at the Berlin Technical University in 2002, on the theme of the genocide of Christians in the late Ottoman Empire. As explained on its website (http://www.genozid-gedenkstaette.de), an organizing committee called “Speak with one voice!” was founded, and in 2008 it embraced the idea of an ecumenical place of mourning in Germany’s capital. The then-mayor of the district of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Monika Thiemen, lent her support, as did the Commemorative Plaque Commission of the same district. This reflects the historical ties of the Charlottenburg district to the communities involved; two Armenian communities of Berlin and one of the four Syrian orthodox communities have been located there for decades.

In November 2011 the founding members of the organizing committee joined with other representatives of the Armenian, Greek and Syrian Orthodox (Aramaen) communities to establish the FÖGG, which was officially recognized in early 2012 as a charitable association. Politically unaffiliated, the FÖGG is however engaged in human rights, especially the prevention of genocide. Its statute specifies that its aim is to promote art and culture, and the Luisenkirchhof memorial is its main project. The memorial site is to provide a place for members of these communities to gather for commemorations and requiem services. In fact, as Hofmann explained to me, every year such events take place: on April 24th for the Armenians, on June 15th for the Syrians and September 14th for the Greeks.

Now the FÖGG is raising funds for a virtual memorial site on the Internet, which is already under construction. It will provide documentation on the contribution Christian communities made to their local or regional culture, and how they were destroyed. For more information on the initiative and how to contribute, see http://www.genozid-gedenkstaette.de.

A demonstration by Kurds in Cologne on January 27

German Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Afrin

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach –Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — As the Turkish military offensive in Afrin has escalated, the caretaker government in Germany has come under growing pressure to intervene to stop the bloodshed. Since Germany has supplied Turkey with military equipment, its role has been subject to harsh criticism. Photographs of the Turkish actions aired on television confirmed suspicions that German tanks were indeed involved in the aggression against the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militias, who have been battling IS. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel declared that any decision regarding modernization of Turkey’s military — an item which had been discussed at the beginning of the year in bilateral meetings — would be put on ice, and deferred to the new government.

That, however, did little to quell protests. In several cities on January 27, Kurds organized massive demonstrations; in Cologne, an estimated 20,000 people took to the streets; some were waving flags of the outlawed PKK and banners with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s image, and this led the police to end the action. Again, on the following weekend, protest actions took place in several cities, and they are bound to continue and expand unless the conflict ends.
On February 2, a group of about a hundred German intellectuals and artists issued an open letter to the Chancellor and to the Foreign Minister, demanding that they and the EU intervene to halt the Turkish assault. Published in major German as well as Kurdish media, the letter read as follows:

“Most honored Madam Merkel, most honored Mr. Gabriel,
We, men and women active in the cultural realm, scientists and artists, call upon you to take a clear stand.
“Since January 20, the Turkish army has been firing on the canton of Afrin. Leopard 2 tanks have also been deployed in this attack. The vanguard of the irregular fighters engaged in these military operations come from jihadist combat units.
“The canton of Afrin is one of three cantons of the North Syrian Democratic Federation, where the attempt is being made, under wartime conditions, to build a democratic society, based on ethnic, religious and political pluralism with uncompromising gender equality.
“We are well aware that this endeavor is not free of contradictions and problems. Nevertheless, we can only support this awakening of civil society that is occurring in the Kurdish areas — it represents the only attempt at democracy that is taking place in the region. We cannot look the other way and remain silent when other local regimes try to crush this hopeful development — especially if it involves Turkey, our NATO partner, which Germany supplies with military equipment.
“Furthermore, particularly in the canton of Afrin, there are several hundred thousand refugees who have found a safe haven there from the horrors of the Syrian civil war. ‘Combating the causes of refugee flows’ would mean acting in such a manner as to guarantee that these safe havens remain safe. Instead, the people there are again being subjected to the violence of war. Whether it is German or other military technology that is being deployed is irrelevant to the people facing violence and death. But to you, it should not be a matter of indifference.
“We are well aware that German-Turkish relations have reached a low point for some time. At the same time, we know that the German government has relied on and continues to rely on Turkey in its attempt to contain the flow of people fleeing the Arab crisis region to come to Germany. It is quite obvious that Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government interpret this as carte blanche to rob their political opponents of their rights, to oppress minorities in the country – and now even to wage open war against the Kurds in Syria. If you embrace the viewpoint that so-called European values, which Germans politicians are so keen on citing, are to hold any credibility, and if you believe that democracy, international law and human rights are more than clichés in highfalutin speeches, then the European Union and Germany must use all means at their disposal to make Turkey end its aggression in Syria immediately.
“Most honored Madam Merkel, most honored Mr. Gabriel, make your influence felt. Act in accordance with the foreign policy responsibility that the EU and Germany have in the current situation.”
The letter is signed by 91 persons, artists, professors, filmmakers, actors, writers and others active in the cultural realm.
Days after the open letter was published, on February 5 Pope Francis received Erdogan at the Vatican for a private audience. No details about the content of their 50-minute discussion were released, but the themes they were scheduled to discuss reportedly included Jerusalem (in light of Trump’s recent stance), the Syrian war and refugee crisis, and the situation of Catholics (and other Christians) in Turkey. It was the first such visit since diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Holy See were established in 1959.
This Pope does not shy away from controversial issues, and it is known that his speaking out forcefully on the Armenian Genocide was a crucial factor in the decision by the German Bundestag (Parliament) to pass a resolution in 2016 recognizing it. One of the points made by various politicians at the time, in public debate about the matter, was that only by acknowledging the facts of the past could a repetition of genocide be prevented in the future.
Whether or not the Armenian question — and the Afrin massacres — was raised in the tete-a-tete between Erdogan and the Pope will likely not be revealed. But what Pope Francis wanted to communicate was no secret. As official sources reported, the Pope presented his Turkish guest with a gift: a medallion, showing the angel of peace embracing the world against the dragon. “This is the angel of peace,” he said, “who struggles against the demon of war … a symbol of a world based on peace and justice.”
(Translation from the German is by the author.)

Germany Appoints Honorary Consul in Gyumri

Honorary Consul Alexan Ter-Minasyan, left, and Ambassador Matthias Kiesler
Honorary Consul Alexan Ter-Minasyan, left, and Ambassador Matthias Kiesler

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
BERLIN, FEBRUARY 1, 2018 — Gyumri has good reason to celebrate. One of its most prominent sons has been chosen as the honorary consul of Germany and this will bring relations between the two countries, on the political, economic and cultural level to new levels.
The official ceremony took place on January 26, when the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany Matthias Kiesler introduced the newly appointed honorary consul, Alexan Ter-Minasyan, to a large group of well-wishers. Handing him the Consular License of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he announced the launch of the consulate in Gyumri.
Honorary Consul Alexan Ter-Minasyan, left, and Ambassador Matthias Kiesler
In his remarks, the ambassador said, “In Gyumri, there is already an Honorary Consul from Italy and for a long time there was a necessity that we had our permanent representative in the second largest city of Armenia for the further development of Armenian-German relations.” He also pointed out that the German Foreign Ministry places strong demands on those who are granted a Consulate position, demands that Ter-Minasyan will fulfill with pleasure. Mr. Ter-Minasyan, he said, has contributed to the development of the Armenian-German relations for more than 20 years, has supported the “Berlin” policlinic in Gyumri, and manages the Berlin Art Hotel, promoting and deepening the contacts between Armenian and German artists.
As the position of honorary consul will include the regions of Shirak and Lori, it was most appropriate that the governor of Shirak, Artur Khachatryan, was on hand. In offering his congratulations to the new consul, he said, “We are hopeful that Alexan Ter-Minasyan’s efforts will be directed to strengthening relations, especially with the establishment of new cooperation between Armenian and German businessmen. I assure you that the Shirak regional administration is ready to lend its support and we welcome all the initiatives that will contribute to the development of our country, particularly our region.”
In point of fact, the functions of the newly-appointed Consul will include economic ties, development and cultural programs, as well as advisory services.
Creative Diplomacy
The German Foreign Ministry could not have made a better choice. Alexan Ter-Minasyan is a most creative diplomat, a man who excels in the art of contacts. Already in 2014, then-President Joachim Gauck had decided to honor him with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his extraordinary efforts in developing German-Armenian relations. As was noted on the occasion of his receiving the award, on May 15, 2014, these efforts began following the tragic earthquake that destroyed large parts of the region in 1988. It was in that situation that the German Red Cross as well as Caritas arrived in Gyumri, and Ter-Minasyan was the key person in facilitating and supporting their work. He functioned as representative of the Red Cross in Gyumri, which set up a Center for Mothers and Children, and he handled the donations coming from Germany, with scrupulous honesty and efficiency. When the financial support from contributions no longer sufficed to run the center, Ter-Minasyan came up with the idea of converting part of the building into a hotel, and thus generated income to support the center. The hotel continues its support to the “Berlin” policlinic to the present day. Under his management, the Berlin Art Hotel has become a favorite residence for tourists, who can take advantage of the Shirak Tour agency there, to visit and learn the history, not only of Gyumri, the cultural capital of Armenia, but of the entire region.
The Berlin Art Hotel owes its name to the fact that it functions also as a gallery (Gallery 25), and a meeting place for artists, from all countries.
Ter-Minasyan is well-known as a networker, and has developed his contacts at home and abroad, especially in Germany, to organize art exhibitions, festivals and other cultural activities. Among them is the ARTbogen Center of German-speaking Cultures. A Gold Autumn festival organized at the Berlin Art Hotel features German films. In winter 2015, Gallery25 organized an art exhibition to commemorate the 25th anniversary of German reunification. As was mentioned during the award ceremony in 2014, “with his enormous knowledge of Germany, his excellent command of German and his social, charitable engagement, he has contributed greatly to projecting a positive, modern image of Germany.” On that occasion, he was hailed as Germany’s “secret Consul” in Gyumri; now it is no longer a secret.
(Material for this article has been taken in part from the website of the German Embassy in Yerevan: http://www.eriwan.diplo.de/contentblob/4228940/Daten/4257114/Laudatio.pdf and photos have been provided by the Berlin Art Hotel. The black-and-white photos are by Sona Andreasyan.)