Kurdish Referendum Delivered an Overwhelming Endorsement of Independence

September 29, 2017

Ballot in referendum on independence for Iraqi Kurdistan | image via Wikipedia

Some 5.3 million registered Kurdish voters headed to the polls on Monday 25th Sep. 2017 to decide in a referendum vote whether they want to become an independent nation-state. Three northern Iraqi provinces — Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah – comprise the parliamentary democracy governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. The referendum took place within the borders of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, as well as in disputed territories that have been under de facto Kurdish control since their liberation from ISIS (e.g., Kirkuk). Kurds voted to decide whether autonomous Kurdistan should disengage from Iraq and become independent or remain within the Iraqi state.

The referendum was the Iraqi Kurds’ first concrete step towards realizing their over-a-century-old dream of an independent Kurdish state. The vote will likely give the Kurds more bargaining power vis-à-vis Baghdad and the international community once the fight against ISIS has been concluded.

As expected the ballot delivered an overwhelming endorsement of independence, under the leadership of Kurdish president Massoud Barzani. With a turnout around 72 %, more than 92% of voters in Iraqi Kurdistan have opted for independence, according to election monitors, in an overwhelming endorsement of a proposed split from Baghdad.

Unfortunately is only in Iraq where the Kurds were strong enough to have their autonomy inscribed into the country’s constitution, primarily due to the intervention of Western nations following the 1991 U.S. war with Iraq that followed the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In Iraq, Kurds control their land borders with neighboring countries. They maintain their own security force (the Peshmerga, who successfully helped battle the Islamic State terrorist group), they draft their own laws and elect their own parliament. In effect, the Kurds already maintain nearly everything necessary for an independent state.

Peshmerga soldiers replace Daesh flag with Kurdistan flag.

Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, and Ankara are all opposed to an independent Kurdish state for the same reason as China: it could encourage separatism among their own minorities.

On the other hand, Turkey, Iraq and Iran all reject the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, as does the United States, which is concerned that such a step at this point in time could lead to war in the region. Israel is the only state that has expressed support for Kurdish aspirations. Before ballot President Barzani ignored calls from his neighbors as well as from the US, the UK, the EU, the UN and the Arab League to cancel the vote and delve into more talks about the status of Iraq’s Kurds with Baghdad.

With the exception of Russia and Israel, all regional states and most international allies and foes opposed the referendum, fearing it would destabilise an already volatile area.

It appears that only two nations were celebrating Monday’s Kurdish referendum on independence: Kurds and Israelis.

According JewishPress Israeli social media has been bubbling over the referendum, which is being tallied as this report is being published – and the dominant sentiment being expressed there is: should the free Kurdistan come under attack from its neighbors, Israel would be obligated to come to its aid.

Kurdistan’s and Israel’s enemies are the same. Should a war for free Kurdistan erupt, it will likely focus on Kirkuk, which at the moment is threatened by Shia militias loyal to Iran and to the Iraqi government south of the city. Turkish president Erdogan is threatening to cut the pipeline that exports Iraqi Kurds’ oil to Europe via Turkey. And the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, has threatened to take military action should the referendum decide on a free Kurdistan. (Source: JewishPress ).

After ballot Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the official results of Kurdistan Region’s referendum on independence from Iraq announced on Wednesday were legitimate. Turkey’s second largest opposition bloc said that Erbil’s authorities conducted the referendum in a transparent and participatory manner. The HDP reiterated its call for the creation, without delay, of a national congress that would encompass and be representative of people from the four parts of the historical Kurdish homeland divided between Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. “It is a necessity for making contributions to regional peace and for taking steps towards the establishment of the political, cultural, economic and social unity of the Kurdish people,” the HDP added about the proposed congress. (Source: Kurdistan24.net )

Israel’s approach

Israel’s approach developed not only because it is in its strategic interests, but also because the Kurds have a moral right to statehood. It is also impossible to dismiss the long historic bond between Israel and the Kurds and the many years of cooperation between them. An article in Al-Monitor lists e.g. following Israeli views:

  • Former Minister Gideon Saar from Likud: “I hope that if a majority votes for independence, Israel will be the first state to recognize the independence of Kurdistan.”
  • Communications Minister Ayoob Kara: “The Kurdish referendum will expedite a comprehensive arrangement in the Middle East, and correct the historic Sykes-Picot Agreement, which failed to consider the needs of many minorities, including 40 million Kurds.”
  • Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid: “The Jewish people know what it is to struggle for a homeland, the Kurds have a moral right to a state of their own.” Later in the day, Lapid linked to what he called an “excellent article” in The New York Times, written by Ron Prosor, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.
  • Ron Prosor explains the strategic importance of creating an independent Kurdistan and claims that it would be a wise move for the United States to support Kurdish independence because the Kurdish state would contribute to the war against the Islamic State (IS), especially since the Kurds are already important allies in this struggle. Prosor believes that US support for the referendum and an independent Kurdistan would be a victory for democratic values, self-determination and minority rights.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support for an independent Kurdish state in 2014. In a Sept. 12 statement released by Netanyahu, he declared that Israel “support[s] the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state.”
  • Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of HaBayit HaYehudi supported Kurdish independence in a recent speech: “It is in the interest of Israel and the United States that a Kurdish state be established.” In a speech to the Herzliya Conference in 2015, Shaked had referenced the Kurds’ commitment to democracy, the long ties between the Jewish people and the Kurds and their common interests, which she said were more apparent than ever. They were both fighting against radical forces, particularly IS, which the Kurds of Iraq and Syria have been relentlessly fighting. In that speech, Shaked argued that the situation represented a rare chance to reshape the character and future of the Middle East.

The Israeli media expressed its encouragement and support for the Kurds through its extensive coverage of the referendum. Such encouragement is, in fact, the legacy of a large sector of the Israeli public, as illustrated by interviews with security officials who had been sent by various Israeli governments to northern Iraq in the 1960s to provide the Kurds with support and training. This period of cooperation, which lasted a decade, was particularly fruitful and close, according to Brig. Gen. (Res.) Tzuri Sagi in an interview with Army Radio. Sagi, 83, said that he was sent to train the Kurdish army in 1966 and spent many long years in Kurdistan, together with representatives of Mossad, Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps and Israeli combat officers. Of note, they entered the region through Iran, which then had warm diplomatic relations with Israel. Sagi spoke fondly about the Kurdish people and said that he eagerly awaited the Kurdish declaration of independence “despite the wrath and fury of the entire world.”

Kurdish men hold Israeli and Kurdish flags during a rally to show support for the upcoming independence referendum, Erbil, Iraq, Sept. 22, 2107.

 

Oil & gas aspect

According Reuters – Turkey threatened potentially crippling restrictions on oil trading with Iraqi Kurds on Thursday after they backed independence from Baghdad in a referendum that has alarmed Ankara as it faces a separatist insurgency from its own Kurdish minority. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office said he had been told by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in a call that Turkey would break with past practice and deal only with the Baghdad government over oil exports from Iraq.

KRG natural resources minister Ashti Hawrami (left) and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin sign their original Investment Agreement 2 Jun 2017 in St Petersburg (Photo credit: Rosneft)

Russia’s interest in the region is growing. Oil major Rosneft (ROSN.MM) is increasing investment in Kurdistan and the Kurds have been developing strong ties with Moscow. The Russian leadership received officials from both Baghdad and Erbil earlier this year. Putin met Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in June and Iraqi Vice President Nuri al-Maliki visited Russia a month later. “Russia is one of the biggest investors in the economy of Iraqi Kurdistan at this moment,” Kirill Vertyayev, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow, said. (Source: Reuters)

Russia finds itself in the position of having become the major investor in Iraqi Kurdistan. Russian spending in the area’s oil and gas industry has reached at least $4 billion. In February, Russia’s state-owned oil giant Rosneft announced it would finance in advance a two-year deal, beginning this year, to buy Kurdish crude for the company’s growing global refining system. In early June, Rosneft signed a 20-year deal to buy Kurdistan oil and refine it in Germany. The parties also inked a contract to explore and develop five oil fields “with substantial geological potential” in Iraqi Kurdistan. (Source: Al-Monitor )

On 18th Sept. 2017, Rosneft made public a project to finance construction of Iraqi Kurdistan’s gas pipeline infrastructure, with expected export capacity by 2020 of 30 billion cubic meters (more than a trillion cubic feet) a year. Rosneft said it has negotiated “an opportunity” to participate in a gas infrastructure project with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq and that it expects to finalise a separate agreement under this project by year-end. The gas pipeline will not only supply natural gas to the power plants and domestic factories throughout the region but also enable exports to Turkey and Europe in the coming years, said Rosneft. Source: Natural Gas World

China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) with ambitions to become a major player in the Middle East, will need to take a clear position on the “Kurdish question.” Beijing fears that Kurdish independence could fuel separatist movements within China, the emergence of a Kurdish state could turn out to be a net positive for the Asian giant. China maintains cordial diplomatic and commercial relations with the Kurds, but opposes a unilateral Kurdish declaration of independence. Chinese foreign policy at the global level is to promote peace and the reasonable settlement of disputes through dialogue and negotiation, with an emphasis placed on the role of the UN Security Council.

Dr. Mordechai Chaziza – BESA Center – argues that an independent and friendly Kurdish state could provide Beijing with a new ally in the Middle East and a new instrument of influence in the region. Despite Beijing’s official opposition to separatist movements, Chinese companies have strong energy and economic stakes in Kurdistan, making it different from other such movements. Beijing has also found the Kurds to be a reliable regional ally as well as a lethal and valuable asset against ISIS and al-Qaeda. The Kurdish issue provides China with leverage against Turkey, which continues to host Uyghur separatists and organizations. Finally the most important aspect: China is interested in Iraqi Kurdistan’s rich oilfields, which could diversify its oil supplies.

Peshmerga fighters took control of the Kirkuk oilfields in 2014, when the Iraqi army fled in the wake of Islamic State’s advance on the city. Kirkuk is home to Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs. The latter appeared to boycott the ballot, while Kurds turned out in large numbers. The Kurdish north has completed construction of a pipeline to Turkey, which has helped the Kurds export oil using its Mediterranean port.Trade between Erbil and Ankara is thought to be close to £7.5bn a year, meaning Turkey would face a significant financial blow if it chose to close its borders.

Central Erbil, Iraq. Photograph: Cengiz Yar Jr

Kurdistan24.net reports that Sunni Arab tribes in the disputed areas outside of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) administration support the right of self-determination. On Thursday [28th Sep.2017], Sunni tribal leaders held a summit in Erbil under the banner ‘The Sunni Conference in Solidarity with Kurdistan’ to express their support for the independence referendum held in the Region on Monday. In a statement following the conference, Sunni tribal leaders declared that the right to self-determination is a ‘legitimate right’ of all peoples in line with every international principle and convention. “The Sunni Arabs declare their solidarity with the people of Kurdistan and respect their will and choice,” the statement read.

Kurdish officials say they can withstand an economic blockade because they are self-sufficient in terms of power generation and fuel supply, and they also have fertile agricultural land.

My view

It seems so that everybody – except Israel – fears Kurdish independence much the way everybody once feared Jewish independence – and maybe for a same reason as the new Kurdistan is a democratic island surrounded by tyrannies; it is a prosperous nation; and it is willing and able to fight for its independence.

I agree with those who claim that Kurdish secession could destabilize the rump Iraqi state politically, economically, and militarily. So what? Artificial state-facade in my opinion is secondary value compared to fair will of people from grassroots. From my point of view it is also Israels’ strategic interest to support Kurdish case by all means – military aid included.

Kurdistan

Related article: Kurdistan Taking Shape – with Israeli Support

 

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An Epic Moment at the 36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (Sep 2017)

September 28, 2017

Peacemaking – a Holistic Approach

August 22, 2017

“The only way to solve a conflict at any level of society is to sit down face to face and talk about it.” (John W. McDonald)

Today most wars are intrastate ethnic conflicts. However it is important is to put single conflicts in wider context such as game between great powers, struggle over global energy resources and their supply routes, economic profits of military-industrial-complex etc. From my point of view current peacemaking, peace-building or crisis management structures are not designed to cope with this type of conflict so a deeper holistic approach is needed to make more sustainable solutions.

The British think-tank BICOM, has released its new report on Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding projects in Israel and the West Bank. The report finds that grassroots Israeli-Palestinian peace building projects work and are a vital missing ingredient in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The report is the first of its kind to attempt a comprehensive review of peacebuilding projects in this area, looking at over 20 years of evaluation data, and based on extensive field work.  [my review about report in article A future for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding: The report By BICOM ]

Below I try present brief wider context about peacebuilding and – inspired by report mentioned -conclude the key components of a holistic approach of peacemaking.

The context

I think it is important define also peace mediation and different aspects of that. In my opinion the conflict resolution by most peacemakers is an ad hock fire department activity, important but secondary question. The primary issue from my viewpoint is prevention of problems and their causes, or at least awareness of them. So peace mediation is one part of handling conflicts, it should be applied also before armed conflicts, also post-conflict crisis management in short term and seeking sustainable solutions in long term should be integral part of peace mediation and its training activities.

In my article in Peacemaking – How about solving Conflicts too?   I described four traditional ways in which conflicts between two parties are handled:

  1. A wins, B loses;
  2. B wins, A loses;
  3. the solution is postponed because neither A nor B feels ready to end the conflict;
  4. a confused compromise is reached, which neither A nor B are happy with.

These traditional methods have at least following shortages:

  • Basically peace deals are made between elite’s and their (game) interests where participants are calculating are the wins due the peace bigger than the wins due the war.
  • Many times the process is coercive based to will of outsiders not necessary local needs.
  • In my opinion the traditional process will produce temporary – tactical – solutions and the outcome is frozen conflict. The best examples of these are maybe Bosnia after Dayton and Kosovo after Ahtisaari’s pseudo talks.

As alternatives for these traditional methods I have found three better approach [sure there is more but these three are good examples]:

Galtung himself has employed the “TRANSCEND” Method while serving as a negotiator in a number of international conflicts. He tries to break with four unsatisfactory ways – mentioned earlier – of handling a conflict by finding a “fifth way,” where both A and B feel that they win. He views his role as that of helping the parties clarify their objectives, and working to come up with solutions that meet the objectives of all parties. He presents them with concrete proposals that are intended to give both sides the sense that they are winners. TRANSCEND’s “conflict transformation” approach relies on nonviolence, creativity, and empathy to facilitate an outcome where both parties move beyond their stated positions to create a new reality in their relationship. [more in Johan Galtung’s Conflict Transformation Theory]

I think that “Transcend” approach hits the core question in peace-building process. First it is based to wide participation and even commitment of local stakeholders through dialogue, second it goes to the roots of conflicts and third it is future-oriented.  

Peacemaking – a holistic approach

“…long-term grassroots peacebuilding between the contending parties is always essential to achieving peace.” ((Jonathan Powell, the chief British negotiator during the Northern Ireland Peace Process )

In my opinion peacemaking is only secondary action by managing conflicts – a deeper holistic approach is needed to make more sustainable solutions. The main components from my viewpoint opinion are the following:

  • An approach of active or creative peace-building should be applied to achieve long term solutions
  • Dialogue between local stakeholders is the key component in peace-building process as if the parties are willing to discuss the conflict and work toward reaching a holistic resolution the outcome may be sustainable.
  • Dialogue should be applied through high, middle-range and grassroots levels horizontally across the lines of division in a society. There should also be no gap of interdependence of coordinated relationships up and down the levels of leadership in a society – the vertical capacity means developing relationships between higher and grassroots levels of leadership.
  • To understand the true nature of security issues in each particular context it is necessary to apply also a non-western theoretical framework as the non-western social, political and cultural reality demands maybe different approach – or viewpoint – than normal western practice.
  • Creating an environment of lasting peace is the primary goal of peace-building. The main tool can be different creative therapies being used to create peace, within individuals, groups, and societies. Although used primarily to overcome violence, creative peace-building can also be used as a preventative measure to make the foundations of peace stronger, especially when used with children.
  • The value of civilians in post-conflict stabilization has become increasingly clear and should be appreciated at the expense of military alternatives. Dialogue-based interventions will enhance the motivation and capacity of participants to become “agents of change” in their communities so encouraging long-term engagement in peacebuilding.

 


My related articles:

Civil Crisis Management: Filling the Gaps Between the Aims and on the Ground Effectiveness of a Mission

R2P vs Facades of Interventions,

Multifaceted Intervention Practices ,

Is Peace more than absence of the War? ,

Could EU lead the 3rd Way out from Confrontation? ,

Quality Peace?


Appendix: Some of my related infographs:

mideast peace process alternatives

 

quality peace by Ari Rusila

Cold-Peace-Solution by Ari Rusila

Solving Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Ari Rusila - https://arirusila.wordpress.com

Solving Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Ari Rusila – https://arirusila.wordpress.com


A future for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding: The report By BICOM

August 14, 2017

“This invaluable report suggests a practical course of action for governments and civil society. While every conflict has different causes and solutions, we know from Northern Ireland that long-term grassroots peacebuilding between the contending parties is always essential to achieving peace.” (Jonathan Powell, the chief British negotiator during the Northern Ireland Peace Process )

 

The British think-tank BICOM, has released its new report on Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding projects in Israel and the West Bank.

The report, titled A future of Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, has been written by Ned Lazarus, visiting Professor at George Washington University. It also has a preface by Jonathan Powell, the chief British negotiator during the Northern Ireland Peace Process. The report is the first of its kind to attempt a comprehensive review of peacebuilding projects in this area, looking at over 20 years of evaluation data, and based on extensive field work. The report’s author, Ned Lazarus, has called for successful models of Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding “to be scaled up and to receive significant long-term investment” if conditions conducive to peace are to be achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian arena.

The report finds that grassroots Israeli-Palestinian peace building projects work and are a vital missing ingredient in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It was written by Ned Lazarus, a Professor at George Washington University and expert on peacebuilding in Israel and the West Bank.

 

The report refers polling by the Israeli Democracy Institute and Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research last summer which concluded that:

  • While 59 per cent of Israelis and 51 per cent of Palestinians still support a two-state solution, these already slim majorities are fragile and threatened by growing fear and distrust between the two peoples.
  • Eighty-nine per cent of Palestinians believe Israeli Jews are untrustworthy; a feeling reciprocated by 68 per cent of the latter. At the same time, 65 per cent of Israeli Jews fear Palestinians and 45 per cent of Palestinians fear Israeli Jews.

Peacebuilding remains controversial and far from achieving its potential reach in both societies. Sure there is at least 164 organisations currently engaged in peace, conflict resolution, or cross-conflict civil and human rights work in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as at least nine degree-granting academic programmes in Conflict Resolution, multiple research centres and a host of less formal, local initiatives. The spectrum ranges from globally connected organisations annually raising several million dollars and implementing dozens of projects, to informal collectives of a handful of activists. However 164 active organisations are but a fraction of more than 20,000 active registered NGOs in Israeli civil society; the proportion is smaller yet in Palestinian civil society, in which any cooperation with Israeli civic initiatives is inevitably branded as “normalisation of the occupation”.

Initiatives most commonly employ classic approaches such as advocacy, dialogue, education, protest and “Track Two” diplomacy – yet growing numbers of projects integrate peacebuilding into practical fields such as economic development, environmental protection, health/medicine and technology, among others.

The report finds that in recent years a number of veteran organisations have closed doors, downscaled or reset strategy, even as new initiatives like Women Wage Peace have risen to prominence. Alongside at least 164 active organisations, the present research finds at least 77 initiatives that have either ceased to exist or whose status is unclear at present, some closing after a decade or more of activity.

Veteran organisations have adapted strategies in response to the volatile context, and a number have evolved into multidimensional peacebuilding “platforms” using diverse methods to address multiple issues. Youth are the most common target population, but growing numbers of projects focus on women and religiously or politically conservative constituencies not typically identified with the “peace camp.”

It is beyond doubt that two decades of failed negotiations and violent escalations have damaged the electoral prospects of the Israeli Left, often referred to as the “peace camp.

Research identifies a number of “best practices” for programme design cited as enhancing the depth and sustainability of positive outcomes, including the combination of uni-national and bi-national dialogue, opportunities to build cross-conflict relationships, a “mixed” approach combining trust-building, interpersonal interaction with explicit focus on conflict content and/or social change in discussions, and substantial follow-up activity after completion of the initial encounter programme.

Examples

The report gives some examples about successful models for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding:

A pair of programmes designed to integrate Arab teachers in Israeli Jewish schools, led by The Abraham Fund Initiatives and the Merchavim organisation, have documented consistent positive effects in terms of prejudice reduction among students. Both programmes have been officially adopted by Israel’s Ministry of Education as part of plans to reach hundreds of schools across the country (Schneider, 2016).

A growing number of practical interventions are designed to tangibly address areas of shared interest or common problems – especially in the “cross-border” realm involving Israeli Jews and Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Near East Foundation (NEF) Olive Oil Without Borders project has worked with 3,400 Palestinian and Israeli olive producers since 2013, facilitating the export of 4500 tonnes of olive oil from the West Bank to Israel and producing 25 million dollars in income for Palestinian farmers. The project has also documented positive results in terms of attitudinal change: 90 per cent of participants reported increased trust in “the other” and 77 per cent indicated intention to continue cross-border cooperation.

Summative evaluation of the “History through the Human Eye” dialogue project, led by the Parents Circle Families Forum, found 80 per cent reported greater willingness to work for peace; 77 per cent reported increased belief in the possibility of reconciliation; 71 per cent improved trust and empathy for the other; and 68 per cent increased levels of acknowledgment and knowledge about the other narrative.

Racism and violence – particularly hate crimes targeting Palestinians and Israeli peace activists – have generated many examples of countermobilisation, for example Israeli and international activists now organise annually to join Palestinian farmers for the West Bank olive harvest, to oppose violent harassment by militant “hilltop youth” settlers.

EcoPeace – a trilateral Israeli/Palestinian/ Jordanian environmental NGO – led the Israeli government to show unprecedented flexibility in water diplomacy, by more than doubling Israel’s water supply to Palestinians in the territories (Edelstein, 2016). In recent years, EcoPeace has played a leading role in reshaping transboundary water policy, advancing wastewater treatment infrastructure in the West Bank, and focusing attention on the degradation of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. In 2013 EcoPeace convinced the Israeli government to release fresh water from the Sea of Galilee into the Jordan for the first time in 50 years (Lidman, 2015). More controversially, EcoPeace has campaigned for water to be resolved independently from final status negotiations, advocating for an increase in Israel’s allocation of water to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The latter, according to a 2016 UN report, may be “uninhabitable” by 2020 due to the lack of clean water, among other conditions.

Challenges/analysis

The report gives an analysis of the situation of today’s peacebuilding and here some highlights:

Peacebuilding efforts are inherently complicated by stark asymmetries of power and cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians and between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and peace advocates struggle with chronic legitimacy deficits in both societies. While positive results for peacebuilding interventions are frequently documented at the individual and local/communal levels, the hostile socio-political context limits the broader impact of most, though not all, interventions to those individuals, institutions or communities directly involved.

Successful models for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding have been established through a generation of work, under extremely challenging conditions. To achieve broader, longer-term societal impact, it will be necessary to bring such efforts to scale – to significantly expand the scope of programming and make targeted efforts to reach more diverse participant populations. Given the political climate in the region, scaling effective models to achieve broader societal impact will require sustained international funding.

It is beyond doubt that two decades of failed negotiations and violent escalations have damaged the electoral prospects of the Israeli Left, often referred to as the “peace camp. Episodes of racism in Israel have motivated moderate religious and centre-right figures, not associated with the “peace camp” demographic, to become outspoken advocates of dialogue, humanisation of the other and liberal democracy. On the secular Right, a host of former Likud stalwarts have publicly denounced the tide of racism in their party. Israel’s President Reuven (“Ruvi”) Rivlin is most prominent among these territorial maximalists who champion civic equality, the rule of law, and respectful dialogue between Israel’s “tribes” – a thoroughly liberal-democratic, multi-cultural paradigm (Hecht, 2016). Rivlin’s outspoken advocacy, including his public visits to Arab victims of attacks and his social media condemnations of racism, have turned him into a target of the trolls – yet he is apparently undaunted.

Asymmetry is a genuine and profound challenge, inherent to any cross-conflict endeavour – joint peacebuilding initiatives cannot miraculously “transcend” the social contexts in which they are embedded.

 

Conclusions & recommendations 

  • To mobilize the “silent majority” in Israel, peace must not be the trademark of a demographically identifiable “peace camp,” but a crosscutting agenda championed by a coalition of “peace camps,” rooted in multiple constituencies.
  • There is growing recognition among veteran leaders in the Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding community, exemplified by the Peace NGOs Forum, that building broader societal legitimacy is an urgent strategic priority . Effective models of peacebuilding exist – yet they have not been implemented in any significant scope in much of society.
  • Within Israeli society, advocacy campaigns should effectively address the security risks of withdrawing from the West Bank . Peacebuilding advocates must answer the genuine and legitimate security concerns triggered by the Lebanon and Gaza precedents, in which territories became strongholds of Hezbollah and Hamas, leading to increased insecurity and multiple wars.
  • In both societies, but particularly in Palestinian society, advocates should emphasise the growing body of peacebuilding work that is producing concrete practical benefits on issues of shared interest or common concern – economic development, environment, health, medicine, technology – including advocacy for practical policy changes. These modes of peacebuilding are a complement to (and do not come at the expense of) the crucial work of dialogue, education, and advocacy for human rights.
  • As recommendations the report proposes using the research record, share successful strategies and best practices. Civil society and governmental forums relevant to the field, should study the existing empirical research record and disseminate key findings regarding successful strategies, best practices and approaches to the inherent dilemmas of “intergroup encounters” and joint ArabJewish or Israeli-Palestinian initiatives.

For further development the report proposes that policy makers should learn the lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process. Well-funded peace building projects that brought the two communities together were in place 12 years before the Good Friday Agreement and helped make it possible; and what’s the best of it all – the peace continues today. They remain in place today, to protect the agreement and show that long-term investment in peace building can bring lasting change to intergroup relations in a conflict environment. The International Fund for Ireland (IFI) invested more than 900 million Euros in more than 6,000 civil society peacebuilding programmes in Northern Ireland over 32 years.

The full paper is available as a PDF below:

Download PDF


Appendix:

 


Srebrenica: «War in the Balkans» – the Memoirs of a Portugese Peacekeeper I&II By Stephen Karganovic

July 16, 2017

 

The the tragic events in Srebrenica in July of 1995 are actual and in headlines today and probably during coming years too. The cause from my perspective may be related to four aspects

1st the ICTY process is focusing now to main political figures – Karadzig and Mladic – of Bosnian War and evidences from sides of prosecutor and defence are the core content of trial

2nd every year Srebrenica will be remaind as theatrical funerals of Bosnian Muslims – presumable victims – are taking place.

3rd Bosnia-Herzegovina as an artifical creature is searching some national identity, however ethnic tensions are rather increasing than opposite and politics is more going towards dissolution than unity.

4th Srebrenica is an example of intervention, or R2P context as well modern media war used more or less successfully in conflicts around the world during last decades.

Below is in-depth two-part review of a recently published book on the Balkan conflict by Portuguese General Carlos Martins Branco.  The review is created by Stephen Karganovic, the President of the Srebrenica Historical Project.  According Karganovic General Martins Branco is a major actor in the Srebrenica story, but thus far has been rather less familiar to the general public than he deserves to be. The general’s belated but frank memoirs and reflections on Srebrenica remove all doubt about his integrity, but we are all human after all. It is a well known phenomenon that many officials have felt more comfortable speaking out openly only after their retirement.

Karganovic concludes following:

Suffice it to say that as Deputy Head of the UN Observer Mission in the Balkans, General Martins Branco was ideally positioned to see many things that were hidden from public view and, more importantly, to receive field intelligence of a confidential nature on the most delicate matters. His extensive out-of-the-box analysis of Srebrenica is the result and it is also testimony to his personal integrity.

 

Srebrenica Historical Project

( http://www.srebrenica-project.com/ )

An excerpt from project’s mission statement:

Our broad purpose is to collect information on Srebrenica during the last conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, defined not as July 1995, but more broadly as 1992 to 1995. That means that we shall be creating a comprehensive and contextual, as opposed to a selective, record of the violence between the communities in that area during the conflict. We shall focus also on crimes committed against the Serb civilians not because we favor them but because so far they have been ignored. We wish to redress that balance, but we will not work under any ideological limitations. A corollary goal will be to launch something along the lines of the South African Truth and Reconciliation commission, with emphasis on truth as logically coming before and as a precondition to reconciliation. That is another reason we wish to do a great deal of empirical work on the neglected crimes against the Serbian population. We shall then proceed to explore reconciliations strategies. The fundamental objective of our project is to rise above politics and propaganda and to create a contextual record of the Srebrenica tragedy of July 1995 which can serve as a corrective to the distortions of the last decade and a half and as a genuine contribution to future peace.

Stephen Karganovic is the President of the Srebrenica Historical Project


«War in the Balkans» – the Memoirs of a Portugese Peacekeeper (I) by Stephen Karganovic

General Carlos Martins Branco is one of the most fascinating (and until quite recently also inaccessible) actors in the Srebrenica controversy. From his Zagreb vantage point as deputy head of the U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR) between 1994 and 1996, during the latter phase of the 1990s Yugoslav conflict as it unfolded in Croatia and Bosnian and Herzegovina, this Portuguese officer had privileged access to significant information. Confidential reports about the goings on in the field were crossing his desk. With first-hand information and further enlightened by discrete conversations with colleagues from various intelligence structures, Martins Branco was positioned ideally to learn facts which many officials would have preferred to cover up, and the media frequently ignored.

With a typically Latin emotional flair, refusing to remain silent as the «Srebrenica genocide narrative» was taking shape in the second half of the 1990s, Martins Branco published in 1998 an article provocatively entitled «Was Srebrenica a Hoax? Eyewitness Account of a Former UN Military Observer in Bosnia» In that early plunge into the toxic Srebrenica debate, Martins Branco ventured a number of critical questions concerning the notorious events in July 1995:

«One may agree or disagree with my political analysis, but one really ought to read the account of how Srebrenica fell, who are the victims whose bodies have been found so far, and why the author believes that the Serbs wanted to conquer Srebrenica and make the Bosnian Muslims flee, rather than having any intentions of butchering them. The comparison Srebrenica vs. Krajina, as well as the related media reaction by the ‘free press’ in the West, is also rather instructive».

Shortly after that expression of skepticism about the nature of the disputed events in Srebrenica, Martins Branco practically disappeared from view. Not physically, of course. He spent several years in Florence teaching at the European University Institute and preparing his doctoral dissertation. After that, in 2007 and 2008 he was attached by his government to NATO forces in Afghanistan in the capacity of media spokesperson for the Commander. From 2008 until recently, when he retired, General Martins Branco served as deputy director of the National Defense Institute of the Portuguese armed forces.

This impressive background, to which we may add the duty of head of the Intelligence Affairs Section of EUROFOR for Bosnia, Albania, and Kosovo from 1996 to 1999, bespeaks an elite and highly trained staff officer, with first-class intelligence capabilities and powers of observation.

Intrigued by Martins Branco’s out-of-the-box analysis of Srebrenica events, shortly after the founding of our NGO «Srebrenica Historical Project» we attempted to establish communication with him to see if he would share with us some of his exceptional information and insights. Our efforts were fruitless and correspondence with the general over the years came down mostly to an exchange of non-committal courtesies. Defense teams at the ICTY in the Hague, which endeavored to obtain him as a witness on their clients’ behalf, had no better luck. However, not very long ago General Martins Branco wrote to us seeking answers to some questions concerning Srebrenica. He mentioned that in November 2016 his memoirs were published in Portugal. That volume, which he kindly made available to us, encompassed the period of his service in the Balkans. It was entitled «A Guerra nos Balcãs, jihadismo, geopolítica e desinformação» [War in the Balkans, Jihadism, Geopolitics, and Disinformation], published by Edições Colibri in Lisbon.

As already seen numerous times with high-level officials, in this case as well open expression of intimate views and public disclosure of facts regarded of a delicate nature had to wait for retirement. In General Martins  Branco’s case, the wait was worthwhile. These fascinating recollections from the Balkan war theater consist of the insights of a Portuguese officer attached to UN forces into such episodes as the merciless expulsion, accompanied by mass killing, of the Serbian population of Krajina by Croatian forces. These outrages were orchestrated with the discrete backing of the NATO alliance, for which the author indirectly happened to be working at the time. Events surrounding Srebrenica in July 0f 1995 encompass another portion of his recollections. For the moment, we will focus on the latter and Martins Branco’s perception of the background and impact of the Srebrenica situation.

Already in his introduction to the chapters of his memoirs that deal with Srebrenica, Martins Branco questions the coherence of the prevalent view that it constituted genocide:

«General Ratko Mladic had made it known that he was leaving open a corridor for withdrawal toward Tuzla. With Mladic’s approval, about 6.000 persons took advantage of that opportunity. In a report by the Dutch Foreign Ministry it is noted that, according to UN sources, by August 4 a total of 35.632 displaced persons had made it to Tuzla, of whom between 800 and 1.000 were members of Bosnia and Herzegovina armed forces. Out of that total, 17.500 had been evacuated by bus». (Page 195)

The Portuguese general then continues:

«Srebrenica was portrayed – and continues to be – as a premeditated massacre of innocent Muslim civilians. As a genocide! But was it really so? A more careful and informed assessment of those events leads me to doubt it». (Page 196)

Martins Branco goes on to raise some pointed questions, and he does so purely in the capacity of a professional soldier:

«There are various estimates of the relative strength of forces involved in the Srebrenica battle. On the Serbian side, at most 3.000 fighters could have taken part. The number of armored vehicles is more difficult to determine, as stated at the beginning of this chapter. According to field reports, however, not more than six such vehicles were in motion at any given time. Though we lack reliable information about troop strength on the Muslim side, it is entirely probable that they numbered a minimum of 4.000 armed men, counting together Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina soldiers and members of the paramilitaries. According to some sources, they numbered up to 6.000. But for the purposes of this analysis, we will consider the 4.000 figure as credible». (Page 196)

The general then goes on:

«The topographical features of the terrain around Srebrenica, and Eastern Bosnia as a whole, are extremely rugged and hilly.  Crags, thickly forested areas, and deep ravines impede the movement of military vehicles while facilitating infantry operations. In relation to ground features, which beyond any doubt favor defenders, the numerical relationship of forces on the opposing sides suggests that Bosnian army troops had at their disposal more than sufficient manpower to put up a defense. They, however, failed to do that. Taking into account the numerical ratio of attackers to defenders, as we were taught at the military academy, for the attack to have any chance of success the number of attackers would have to exceed that of the defenders by a factor of at least three. In the case at hand, that ratio was more than advantageous to the defenders (4.000 defenders versus 3.000 attackers). In addition, the defenders had the additional benefit of knowing the landscape». (Page 196)

Martins Branco than asks one of the key Srebrenica questions:

«Given that military advantage favored the defense, why did the Bosnian army fail to put up any resistance to Serbian forces? Why did the command of the 28th Division of the Bosnian army – acting apparently contrary to its interest – fail to establish a defense line, as at other times it knew well how to do, as for instance during the April 1993 crisis? Why did Muslim forces in the enclave fail to act to regain control over their heavy weapons, which had been deposited in a local warehouse under UN’s lock and key? Was it no more than an oversight?» (Page 197)

As a supplement to these well-formulated questions, we may note that already on July 6, as the Serbian attack was commencing, the Dutch battalion command in Srebrenica let it be known to the 28th Division that it was free to retrieve its warehoused heavy armaments, if it so wished. That fact was revealed in the Dutch battalion «Debriefing», which came out in October of 1995. However, Muslim forces in Srebrenica inexplicably ignored this invitation, thus reinforcing the impression that – for political or other reasons – they lacked the purpose of militarily resisting the Serbian attack.

Which leads the author to the following reflections:

«Twenty years later, we still lack satisfactory answers to questions that seem crucial, assuming that we are seeking to find out what exactly happened. The passivity and absence of a military reaction on the part of Muslim forces in the enclave is in stark contrast to their offensive behavior during the preceding two years, which was manifested in the form of systematic slaughter of Serbian civilians in the villages surrounding Srebrenica». (Page 197)

The author then discloses an intriguing detail that was previously unknown even to this reviewer:

«Ramiz Becirevic [in command of the 28th Division in Naser Oric’s absence] initially issued an order for the heavy weapons to be collected. However, he cancelled it shortly thereafter, explaining that he had received a countermanding order. Who was the source of that order, and for what reason was it given? For the record, let it be noted that in the morning of July 6, as the Serbian attack was starting, acting on his own responsibility, the Dutchbat commander informed the leadership of the Bosnian army that the Serbs had ‘trespassed’ the enclave’s boundaries and that the UN would not be object should they come to retrieve their heavy weaponry that had been deposited in a local warehouse». (Page 197)

Pressing further his point about the enigmatic dissipation within the Srebrenica enclave of the will to resist, Martins Branco points out that Naser Oric, «the charismaticleader who very likely would have acted differently», was withdrawn from the enclave in April of 1995, never to return. He therefore goes on to ask some common sense questions:

«Was [Oric’s] return prevented by the Second Corps of the Bosnian army, of which 28th Division was part? What could have been the reasons for that? We still lack convincing answers to these questions». (Page 198)

«On the other hand», the Portuguese author continues with his detailed analysis of the suspicious train of events, «officials of the local SDA, the Party of Democratic Action that was in charge in Sarajevo, not only refused, citing strange reasons, to assist UN forces in evacuating Srebrenica, which is to say their own population and refugees from the surrounding villages who had taken shelter in the town, but they went even further by preventing them from fleeing in the direction of Potocari. Instead, they submitted to the commander of B Company [of the Dutchbat] a long list of demands, the fullment of which was insisted upon as the condition for their cooperation. The nature of these demands suggested the existence of a carefully elaborated advance plan which, however, did not mesh with the conditions that actually prevailed on the ground at that particular moment. At that point, there were only two issues which were of significance to the municipal president: one, the demand to the Military Observers on July 10 to disseminate to the outside world a report alleging the use of chemical weapons by Serbian forces, although that was not true; secondly, to publicly accuse the international media of spreading misinformation that Muslim forces were offering armed resistance, with an additional demand to the UN to also issue an official denial to that effect. According to him, Bosnian soldiers neither used heavy weapons, nor were they prepared to ever do so. At the same time, he complained about the lack of foodstuffs and the dismal humanitarian situation. The outline of an official narrative was becoming perceptible and it consisted of two messages: the absence of any military resistance and lack of food». (Page 198)

To put it in plain English, this elite NATO officer with excellent powers of observation and acumen for critical analysis «smelled a rat,» and he did so right from the beginning of the game. He does not say it outright in his memoirs, but it is strongly suggested that these doubts about the authenticity of the official Srebrenica narrative were proliferating in his mind in real time, as field reports accumulated on his desk in Zagreb.

Martins Branco then pops the logical question or, rather, he points his finger at one of the key incoherencies of the official account of Srebrenica events:

«A question mark could also be put over the complete absence of a military response of any kind by the Second Corps of the Bosnian army, whose zone of responsibility encompassed northeastern Bosnia, including Tuzla (where its headquarters was located), as well as Doboj, Bijeljina, Srebrenica, Zepa, and Zvornik. Bosnian army intelligence agencies, whose ear was constantly fixed on Serbian signal communications, were perfectly aware of the impending offensive operation. In spite of not at all being in the dark concerning the Serbs’ intention to attack, the Second Corps of the Bosnian army did not make the slightest move to weaken the Serbs’ pressure upon the enclave. It was a known fact that the Drina Corps, the Serbian army unit in whose zone of responsibility Srebrenica was located, was exhausted and that the attack on Srebrenica was made feasible only by scraping together forces withdrawn from other segments of the front, which naturally left in its wake many vulnerable points. Why didn’t the Second Corps undertake an attack along the entire front line with the Drina Corps, not merely in order to relieve the pressure on Srebrenica but also to exploit the Serbian forces’ temporary vulnerabilities in order to seize territory in areas that were left unprotected? Following the passage of twenty years, we still do not have the answer to this more than coherent and reasonable question». (Pages 198-199)

These are just some of the more important reasons leading a professional soldier to be skeptical of the general framework of the accepted Srebrenica narrative. As we will see in the next installment of this review, his more detailed analysis raises even more troubling questions.

«War in the Balkans» – the Memoirs of a Portugese Peacekeeper (II) by Stephen Karganovic

See Part I

In his memoir, «War in the Balkans», (1) retired Portuguese general Carlos Martins Branco, who was during the conflict in the Former Yugoslavia in the strategically important post of Deputy Head of Mission of UN Military Observers in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (1994-1996), recounts his knowledge of events that took place around Srebrenica in July of 1995.

In contrast to the fanciful tales of a bevy of dubious «experts», false witnesses, and outright propagandists, General Martins Branco reports facts as they were observed or collected by intelligence and other sources in the field. That information made its way through official channels to his desk in Zagreb, where the headquarters of the UN Observer Mission was located. Martins Branco’s facts and conclusions are hardly susceptible to off-hand dismissal. Excerpts cited below are on pages 201 – 206 of his memoir.

We will begin with the general’s conclusion challenging the received wisdom that Srebrenica was genocide and then work our way back from there:

«Had they entertained the specific intent to commit genocide, the Serbs would have blocked the enclave from all sides so that nobody could have managed to escape. Instead, they attacked from two directions, southeast and east, where they concentrated their assault forces, leaving open corridors for withdrawal toward the north and west (…) nor would they have planned the transportation of seventeen thousand women, children, and elderly, as occurred on July 12 and 13, which made it possible for about half the displaced persons to reach Federation territory. A great number of Srebrenica residents, who did manage to flee, found refuge in Serbia where they spent several years without being bothered by anyone. For the assertion of genocide to hold, it was necessary to conceal some inconvenient facts which were liable to compromise it».

Martins Branco does not deny that «the attack on Srebrenica resulted in many deaths». He notes, however, that «even after twenty years no one has managed to determine their number». (Actually, the Hague Tribunal has been attempting to make that determination but as a result of its lackadaisical efforts we now have, in various verdicts, five drastically varying figures the highest and the lowest separated by a gap of 4.000, all presumably reflecting the judicially ascertained number of executed victims.)

As «Srebrenica Historical Project» has been arguing for years, Martins Branco points out also a very important fact, namely the heterogeneity of the causes of death among the exhumed Srebrenica-related human remains. The author describes the forensic situation in the following terms:

«The causes of the deaths which occurred during and after military operations were various: combat between the two armies facing each other; combat between the Serbian forces and militants taking flight, who were joined by civilians; internecine warfare among fighters of the Bosnian army; and lastly executions of war prisoners».

As for the antecedents of the «magic figure of 8.000 missing (that was an initial Red Cross estimate) which ultimately morphed into an unchallengeable truth», the author says that at a certain point it became a «fact which it was forbidden to question, even before any proof was forthcoming». And he continues: «Woe unto him who would dare to challenge that incontrovertible truth. He will immediately be excommunicated and labeled a ‘genocide denier.’ The fact that 3.000 persons who had been declared missing found their way onto the voting rolls in the September 1996 elections had no impact whatsoever on the incessant repetition of the narrative about 8.000 dead. The media never expressed the slightest curiosity in the face of this and a number of other obvious incoherencies. It was easier to keep relentlessly repeating the genocide theory, which the mass media eagerly promoted. But regardless of the stubborn reassertion of that ‘truth’ it is worth recalling that between a media sound bite and a historical fact there continues to be a huge gap».

«How many prisoners were shot, and how many were killed in battle?», General Martins Branco raises one of the key questions. «We are quite far from having the answers, and I would say that we will have a difficult time ever finding them. It is much easier – and simpler – to talk about genocide».

The Portuguese officer nevertheless ventures to make some estimates of the possible number of war crime victims in Srebrenica in July of 1995:

«The execution by Serbian forces in Srebrenica and the environs of a considerable number of Muslim males – well informed sources cite the figure of 2.000 – among whom the majority were soldiers, was undoubtedly a war crime».

The number mentioned by Martins Branco is significant for a number of independent reasons. Firstly, because the same number of execution victims – 2.000 – is cited by another, no less respectable intelligence source, John Schindler, a high-ranking US intelligence officer who was stationed in Sarajevo contemporaneously with the Srebrenica events. Schindler’s assessment, made from his Sarajevo vantage point, is completely congruent with Martins Branco’s coming out of Zagreb. It was articulated in Ole Flyum’s documentary «Srebrenica: A Town Betrayed». (2) Both assessments match available forensic data to a T. And it should be borne in mind that when things happen to be rather muddled, as they are with Srebrenica, a synthesis of intelligence data deriving from various trustworthy sources should always be paid close attention. It often presents an overall picture that is far more reliable than the reports of isolated individuals, whose field of vision is often limited and who frequently are not even objective.

Finally, the figure jointly suggested by Martins Branco and Schindler, which the available material evidence fully supports, is of interest also for an additional reason. Within the various intelligence communities a rumor has persistently been making rounds alleging the existence of a document – a mysterious letter sent by Alija Izetbegovic to Naser Oric in the Spring of 1995, not long before the commencement of the Srebrenica operation – where it is supposedly reaffirmed that the offer of foreign intervention still stood, as well as the condition that the Bosnian Serb takeover of Srebrenica ought to be accompanied by mass slaughter. The key point in that alleged letter is that the number of victims that would satisfy the interventionist criterion of the interested foreign party would be the already familiar figure of – 2.000.

«However», our author continues, «that was not an act of genocide, as is asserted in many places, mainly by the Tribunal at The Hague, in the form of a political argument». As a civilized person he, of course, entirely agrees that «taking justice into one’s own hands, which is culturally characteristic not just of Serbs but of other communities of the Former Yugoslavia as well, does not justify or mitigate the gravity of the committed act. That was, beyond doubt, a violation of the Geneva Convention».

His main point, nevertheless, would seem to be that things definitively ought to be called by their proper name:

«Terrible war crimes must be punished. Yet these criminal acts cannot and should not be confused with genocide. When war crimes, such as the execution of hundreds of military age males, are conflated with genocide, where it is necessary to establish the intent to systematically eradicate members of an ethnic community, that sends a very frivolous signal. That is particularly evident if we bear in mind the fact that the party committing the crime had made available the means to transport seventeen thousand displaced persons, which is about fifty percent of the entire displaced population».

Martins Branco then turns his attention to another notable «incoherence» in the Srebrenica affair, which is that the «Tribunal has so far condemned but a single direct perpetrator» (in a footnote he clarifies that the reference is to Drazen Erdemovic, a perpetrator defendant-turned-prosecution-witness who was initially rewarded with a laughably insignificant three year sentence for signing a plea bargain agreement, followed by numerous benefits in return for his mechanically repeated and highly disputed testimony).  (3) The Portuguese author stresses that «no one else was ever put in the dock for executing prisoners of war but, rather, based on ‘command responsibility’ or participation in a Joint Criminal Enterprise, which is the Tribunal’s favored doctrine but the application of which in such a conflict situation is highly dubious. How is it possible to claim genocide if, after twenty years, the Tribunal is incapable of determining the number of victims, the cause of death, and who killed them?»

All eminently logical questions. Martins Branco should perhaps also be given credit for this equally astute observation:

«The Tribunal has forgotten to concern itself with crimes committed around Srebrenica between 1992 and 1995 where the victims were Serbs, resulting in the murder of almost two thousand persons (males, females, children, and elderly), in some cases after acts of torture and other atrocities. For the most part this has been carefully documented, and the identity of the perpetrators is known (…) As Richard Holbrooke admitted in his book, ‘the Tribunal had always been a valuable political instrument of US policy». (4) Quite so, indeed.

And when talking about genocide, Martins Branco is not shy to draw a sharp contrast between the situation in Srebrenica in July of 1995 and what transpired in relatively close proximity barely a month later, in August, as Croatian armed forces went into attack mode:

«What happened in Srebrenica cannot and should not be equated to what happened a month later in the Krajina, where the Croatian army conducted an operation of systematic murder of the Serbian population which did not manage to find any shelter, sparing no one. Men, women, children, the elderly – all without distinction were subjected to the same atrocities, and things even worse. That operation was planned down to the last detail and was amply documented. The orders were issued by Tudjman to his generals, at a meeting in Brioni on July 31, 1995, on the eve of Operation Storm. The Tribunal never considered the events in Krajina as a possible genocide. Western media kept a careful distance from those events. Their silence was complicit and deafening».

Concluding his reminiscences, Martins Branco seems to harbor no doubt that Srebrenica was the perfidious fruit of long-term planning and parallel activity of various interested parties. In support of that, he cites evidence from Ibran Mustafic’s book «Planned Chaos», statements of local politician Zlatko Dukic, and revelations by Srebrenica enclave police chief during the conflict, Hakija Meholjic. The author singles out  in particular the intriguing claim of the then chief of staff of the Bosnian army, Sefer Halilovic, that in fact Izetbegovic had made the decision to «discard» Srebrenica rather early in the game but was determined «to extract from it maximum political profit».

Incidentally, while considering what Meholjic and Halilovic had to say on the subject and the evidence that the event may have been conceived some time in advance, it is worth recalling Meholjic’s famous claim of Izetbegovic’s offer to allow the slaughter of Srebrenica’s residents in return for foreign intervention, Srebrenica later to be traded with the Serbs for the Sarajevo suburb of Vogosca. The episode, be it recalled, is alleged to have taken place in the Fall of 1993, when a Bosniak National Congress was being convened in Sarajevo. However, in his book «The Cunning Strategy» (5) Sefer Halilovic set forth some additional information on the subject that may be of possible significance. He claims that the idea of staging a Srebrenica massacre, in return for harvesting its political dividends, was most likely entertained in the minds of Alija Izetbegovic and the Bosnian leadership even before the Congress. It so happens that at the time of the book’s publication Halilovic was politically on the outs with Izetbegovic so perhaps his assertions should for that reason be taken with a grain of salt. The fact remains, however, for all it is worth, that according to Halilovic (who is alive and may be questioned concerning his statements) Izetbegovic had mentioned to him in the Spring of 1993 the supposed offer which several months later, towards the end of the year, was to shock Meholjic and the other members of the Srebrenica delegation in attendance at the Bosniak meeting.

General Carlos Martins Branco’s reflections about Srebrenica are a valuable piece of the mosaic, supplementing and improving our understanding of events. His book is not simply the notes of a strategically positioned foreign observer, but much more than that. It is, in a certain sense, a coming to terms with the politically obscured reality of the matter by institutions which the author – willingly and consciously, or not – nevertheless personifies. In considerable measure, it furnishes answers to such important questions as «what did they know and when did they find out». The clear subtext of Martins Branco’s memoir is that the author and the instances above and below him had the capability of following events in real time, that they pretty much knew who was doing what and to whom, and that on a deeper analytical level they have no illusions – not to speak of dilemmas – about the real nature and background of Srebrenica. After reading «War in the Balkans – Jihadism, Geopolitics, and Disinformation», it is difficult to imagine that the proverbial «powers that be» were in the dark about the cynical political agenda which Srebrenica has come to serve.

(1) A Guerra nos Balcãs, jihadismo, geopolítica e desinformação [War in the Balkans, Jihadism, Geopolitics, and Disinformation]  Edições Colibri 2016.
(2) «Srebrenica: A Town Betrayed», 50:50 to 51:10 minutes
(3) Erdemovic’s account was meticulously picked apart by Bulgarian journalist Zerminal Civikov in «Srebrenica. Der Kronzeuge», Edition Brennpunkt, Osteuropa, 2009.
(4) Holbrooke, Richard. To End a War, p. 190.
(5) Halilovic, Sefer: «The Cunning Strategy» (Lukava strategija), Sarajevo 1997, pp. 130-132.

«War in the Balkans» – the Memoirs of a Portugese Peacekeeper (I)

«War in the Balkans» – the Memoirs of a Portugese Peacekeeper (II)


Sources and further reading:

My previous articles:

Biased ICTY Sentenced Karadzig 40 Years Based On Srebrenica [Hoax]

Srebrenica – The guide for the perplexed

Srebrenica: A Town Betrayed” – Finally a Critical Documentary about Srebrenica Tragedy

Media War of Yugoslav Secession continues

NIOD Report on Srebrenica

Srebrenica again – Hoax or Massacre?

And here is a small selection of articles, documents and analysis, which are also telling the other side of story:

Media War: The Use and Mis-Use of the Visual Image in News Coverage and Propaganda . A study of the visual media war against the Serbs.

Demonizing the Serbs by Marjaleena Repo June 15, 1999 in Counterpunch

One view about issue in video Bosnia and Media Manipulation

Srebrenica: The Star Witness by Prof Edward S. Herman

The Star Witness by Germinal Civikov (translated from German by John Lauchland),Belgrade 2010,

Srebrenica: Deconstruction of a Virtual Genocide” by Stephen Karganovic and Ljubica Simic (Belgrade 2010)

 Analysis of Muslim Column Losses Due to Minefields and Combat Activity” by Stephen Karganovic: .Proceedings of the International Symposium on ICTY and Srebrenica (Belgrade-Moscow 2010)

 Was Srebrenica a Hoax? Eye-Witness Account of a Former United Nations Military Observer in Bosnia by Carlos Martins Branco

Media Disinformation Frenzy on Srebrenica: The Lynching of Ratko Mladic by Nebojsa Malic

Media Fabrications: The “Srebrenica Massacre” is a Western Myth

What Happened at Srebrenica? Examination of the Forensic Evidence by Stephen Karganovic

Using War as an Excuse for More War: Srebrenica Revisited by Diana Johnstone

The Srebrenica Massacre: Evidence, Context, Politics by Edward S. Herman and Phillip Corwin

NIOD (Netherlands Institute for War Documentation)/Srebrenica investigationreport

INTELWIRE.com has published over 2.000 pages of of declassified U.S. State Dept. Cables about Srebrenica

UN Report:The Fall of Srebrenica


Kurdistan Taking Shape – with Israeli Support

July 2, 2017

We must support the Kurds’ aspirations for independence; they deserve it” (PM Benyamin Netanyahu)

An independent Kurdish state, an idea that the countries where the Kurds live – Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran – strongly oppose, has one strong ally namely Israel. It might be surprising that Israel has long promoted cordial relations with the Kurds, particularly the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq (KRG). From Kurdish side there is believe that Israel can be their best lobby in the West for the project of a Kurdish state.

On 25th September 2017, a referendum will be held on the future of the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq – whether remain within the Iraqi state or become an independent state. This referendum will be the Kurds’ first step towards the realization over century-long dream of an independent Kurdistan.

The Kurds have suffered persecution and oppression in the countries where they reside: Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The Kurds now constitute the largest national group in the world without a state to call their own.

In Iraq, after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurds got a broad autonomy and also respect from outside especially due to the considerable assistance provided by the Peshmerga, the Kurdish military militia, to the war effort against ISIS.

Despite this the current Iraqi government more or less oppose Kurdish independence, according Bagdad the Kurds are an inseparable part of Iraqi society. One reason for this approach might be disputes between the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq (KRG) and the Iraqi government over oil ownership in Kurdistan and the reimbursement of funds demanded by the government for the sale of that oil.

Dr. Edy Cohen has recently published his analysis Kurdistan: From Referendum to the Road to Independence and concludes following:

For its part, Israel has an economic and security interest in supporting a Kurdish state. In view of the profusion of jihadist militias in Syria and Iraq, Jerusalem must be involved in developments in Kurdistan. It would be in Israel’s interest for the IDF to train and instruct Peshmerga soldiers in any future Kurdish state. One could go further – it might be sensible to build an air force base in Kurdistan for the state’s protection. Moreover, the independent Kurdish state may well allow the restitution of its former Jewish population, driven from Iraq for its plundered property, thus setting an important precedent for future Arab-Israeli peace agreements.

 

Israeli involvement with the Kurds is not a new phenomenon

In its search for non-Arab allies in the region, Israel has supported Kurdish militancy in Iraq since the 1960s. In 1980, Israeli premier Menachem Begin publicly acknowledged that besides humanitarian aid, Israel had secretly provided military aid to Kurds in the form of weapons and advisers. Israel and the Kurds also share a common bond through the Kurdish Jews in Israel. Prominent among them is Itzhak Mordechai, an Iraqi Kurd who was defense minister during Benjamin Netanyahu’s term nearly two decades ago.

Many Iraqi leaders accuse the president of the Kurdish autonomous region, Massoud Barzani, of collaborating with Israel, thereby hinting at the military assistance given by Israel in the 1960s and 1970s to the Kurds under the leadership of Mustafa Barzani (Massoud’s father) in their war against the central government. Israeli television has in the past broadcast photographs from the 1960s showing Mustafa Barzani, embracing the then Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan.   According to Eliezer Tsafrir, a former senior Mossad official, in 1963–1975 Israel had military advisers at the headquarters of Mulla Mustafa Barzani, and trained and supplied the Kurdish units with firearms and field and anti-aircraft artillery. Israeli media in 2004 reported about the meetings of Israeli officials with Kurdish political leaders when Massoud Barzani, Jalal Talabani and the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon publicly confirmed the good relations with the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

The president of the Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, answered a question while visiting Kuwait in May 2006 about the Kurdish-Israeli relationship: “It is not a crime to have relations with Israel. If Baghdad established diplomatic relations with Israel, we could open a consulate in Erbil.”

Former prime minister of Iraq (2006-14) Nuri al-Maliki, has repeatedly told the media pejoratively that Kurdistan would be a “second Israel.”

In a policy address in 2014, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the establishment of an independent Kurdish state. He claimed that: “The Kurds are a fighting people that have proven political commitment and political moderation, and they’re also worthy of their own political independence.”…“We must support the Kurds’ aspirations for independence; they deserve it,” Netanyahu declared in a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

The Israelis are also rumored to have provided weapons and training to the KRG. In addition, Israel helped the KRG by purchasing Kurdish oil in 2015 at a time when Baghdad threatened to sue anyone, who would trade with the Kurds.

We must openly call for the establishment of a Kurdish state that separates Iran from Turkey, one which will be friendly towards Israel,” Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in late January 2017. She also called the Kurds “a partner for the Israeli people.”

Kurdistan

Globally, the Kurds are estimated to number anywhere from a low of 30 million, to possibly as high as 45 million, with the majority living in the region they regard as Greater Kurdistan. According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Kurdistan covers around 190,000 km² in Turkey, 125,000 km² in Iran, 65,000 km² in Iraq, and 12,000 km² in Syria, with a total area of approximately 392,000 km².

After WWI, the victorious powers promised independence for the Kurds. This did not materialize mainly due to the opposition of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Modern Kurdish-majority governments (source and more in WikipediA) are as follows:

  • Kingdom of Kurdistan (1920) Kingdom of Kurdistan, which lasted from September 1922 until July 1924 The Kingdom of Kurdistan refers to a short-lived unrecognized state proclaimed in the city of Sulaymaniyah following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Officially, the territory involved was under the jurisdiction of the British Mandate of Mesopotamia.
  • Republic of Ararat (1927–1930)
  • Republic of Mahabad (1946) In December 1945 the Kurdish Republic of Kurdistan was declared by Qazi Muhammad, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran in Mahabad (northwestern Iran) which was under Soviet military control. In May 1946 the Soviet troops were withdrawn from Iran and all support for the Republic of Kurdistan was cut, in accordance with the Yalta Agreement. In December of that year Mahabad was finally overrun by Iranian troops, president Qazi Muhammad was hanged in Mahabad city along with his brother and a cousin, and a number of libraries containing Kurdish texts were burned.
  • Kurdistan Regional Government (1991 to date)
  • Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (2013 to date)

According WikipediA The Kurdish people are believed to be of heterogeneous origins combining a number of earlier tribal or ethnic groups including Lullubi, Guti, Cyrtians, Carduchi. Some of them have also absorbed some elements from Semitic, Turkic and Armenian people.

There is also theories/speculations/legends that Kurds are the closest relatives of Jews The Kurds are the descendants of Gutis, which in turn were the descendants of Israelites taken captive to Media. The Kurds are said to be the descendants of Medians. In modern time some scientists sampled Y-chromosomes from 18 populations and discovered that the majority of Jews around the world are closely related to the Kurdish people –more closely than they are to the Semitic-speaking Arabs or any other population that was tested.

Kurdish Jews

Immigration of Kurdish Jews to the Land of Israel initiated during the late 16th century, with a community of rabbinic scholars arriving to Safed and Galilee and a Kurdish Jewish quarter had been established there as a result.

Since the early 20th century some Kurdish Jews had been active in the Zionist movement. One of the most famous members of Lehi (Freedom Fighters of Israel aka the “Stern) was Moshe Barazani, whose family immigrated from Iraqi Kurdistan and settled in Jerusalem in the late 1920s. Lehi/Stern was underground movement in pre-state British Mandate Palestine and had armed fight against British administration.

The vast majority of Kurdish Jews were forced out of Northern Iraq in the early 1950s, together with other Iraqi Jewish community. The vast majority of the Kurdish Jews of Iranian Kurdistan relocated mostly to Israel as well, in the 1950s.

Kurdish Jews in Israel are immigrants and descendants of the immigrants of the Kurdish Jewish communities, who now reside within the state of Israel. They number around 200,000.

The Barzani (also Barazani) family is one of the Kurdish tribes in Iraq and has has been the leading light of Kurdish politics since the decline and final collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The sheikhs of Barzan are descendants of Bahdinan and of Yazidi origin are assimilated to Kurdish culture. The Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) speaks of the Barzani families Jewish Rabbinical roots.

My view

As consequence of still ongoing wars in Iraq and Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and EU met huge refugee crisis. However not so many Kurds were among refugees. One reason might be that Iraqi and Syrian Kurds had motivation to defend their homeland and they also had relatively good resources – oil, money and weapons – to do so. Related to manpower and describing Kurd society and culture the important aspect is that also women have significant role in military campaigns.

I share in the highest degree the ideas/visions of Abdullah Öcalan’s – leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party -paper on Democratic Confederalism for Kurdistan in future. He e.g. notes

that Democratic confederalism is based on grass-roots participation. Its decision-making processes lie with the communities. Higher levels only serve the coordination and implementation of the will of the communities that send their delegates to the general assemblies. For limited space of time they are both mouthpiece and executive institutions. However, the basic power of decision rests with the local grass-roots institutions.

Surrounded by enemies the Kurdish region, shares a border with Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. These countries, especially Iran and Turkey, all strongly oppose the establishment of a Kurdish state. They fear, that Kurdistan – which has managed to build a friendly island of calm and stability in an area surrounded by enemies and war – will indeed become that distasteful thing, a “second Israel.”

Kurdish feats on the battleground, have proven that the Kurds are a formidable barrier against dangerous anti-Israeli forces emanating from both Sunni and Shi’a Islamist radicals.

Edy Cohen concludes that

There are many commonalities between the Kurdish people and the Jewish people, both of whom have suffered continuous long-term persecution and are scattered throughout the world….in all probability, the state of Kurdistan will be an island of stability that is respectful of human rights. It will therefore differ substantially from the countries surrounding it…The Kurdish people must have a state of their own, and the sooner the better. The international community should support the independence of Kurdistan.

I fully agree this conclusion and recommendation.

Kurdistan

 

Sources and more:

Kurdistan: From Referendum to the Road to Independence by Dr. Edy Cohen BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 507, June 24, 2017, View PDF,

Kurdish Daily News

Abdullah Öcalan’s Democratic Confederalism   and

WikipediA

 

 


Serbia Towards EU – Why?

June 29, 2017

Ana Brnabic, Serbia’s prime minister designate, says her future government’s goal is membership in the EU along with modernization of the troubled Balkan country. Brnabic told Serbian lawmakers on Wednesday [28th Jun.2017] that the government will lead a “balanced” foreign policy, seeking good relations with Russia, China and the US. Serbia’s parliament is expected to vote her government into office later this week.

 Yesterday I gave an interview to Sputnik UK radionews about this Serbia topic and here are my core comments:

 

Serbia’s EU process?

To join EU is a long process. There is over 30 chapters to negotiate and some 80 000 pages EU regulations should be applied Serbia’s legislation. However I think that it is good idea to continue EU process but not only to fill EU’s needs but especially Serbia’s internal needs for example how EU could help Serbia’s modernization activities.

 

Balanced foreign policy?

Balanced foreign policy from my perspective is an ambivalent expression – it can be only short term goal while EU membership is long term aim/utopia. Even during membership process there might be needs to take [biased] positions. And if one is EU memberstate so you are EU’s side. For example Greece, Hungary and Finland have traditionel good relations with Russia but all are implementing sanctionpolicy against Russia probably due common pressure from EU. So in my opinion Serbia’s balanced foreign policy does not live long during membership process.

 

According to a poll carried out by the Serbian European Integration Office at the end of last year, only 47% were in favour of EU membership, how much public appetite is there for joining the EU?

In my opinion this apetite will go more down in future. People might think that ok, we recognize Kosovo, door to EU opens and there will be free trade and movement etc soon. As I mentioned chapters and regulations so that’s heavy and long job which can take decade(s). Many Serbs might start think if joining to EU is worth of time, money and bureaucrazy it demands. Besides there is also other alternatives like for example ”third way”.

 

Third way?

In my opinion the main benefits of EU membership can be achieved without being EU member. With ”third way” I mean

  • Non-aligned foreign policy
  • Free trade agreements with EU and others
  • Being part of customs union with EU but outside the framework of the EU treaties and institutes

So my recommendation in short: Serbia should join EU economically but not politically.

Serbias options, EU, EAU, 3rd way


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