Syria: The Arabs’ Yugoslavia?

Is history to repeat itself?

It seems like a lucky, yet significant, coincidence that the journalist who covered a bulk of the Yugoslavian conflict, Samantha Powers, happens to be the current US ambassador to the UN. Looking back at Powers’ work at the UN, mostly involving the conflict in Syria, it’s difficult avoid thinking about her time in Yugoslavia. In fact, it almost begs the comparison. So while you’ve probably heard, seen, or read all the commentary and concerns regarding US complacency towards the ongoing Syrian civil war, I’d like to pose one more question: Is Syria on its way to becoming the next Yugoslavia?”

Although the international community seems to be taking a more proactive stance on the Syrian atrocities than it did on the Yugoslavian genocides, it has failed to take definitive actions. In both cases, the unfortunate series of events have been exploited by Russia and the US to serve their respective national interests. In a similar way to how the Americans used Yugoslavia as a front to weaken an already-fallen communist school of thought – by swiftly recognizing the independence of Slovenia and Croatia – the USA is now using Syria to limit Russian interest in the Middle East. Through Syria, Russia hopes to reassert itself on the global stage.

In Syria today, the struggle between Russian and US interests in the region is clearly evident. Russia continues to back the Assad regime out of fear of losing its only maritime outlet to the Mediterranean Sea: its base in the port of Tartus on Syria’s coast.[1]As of 2011, Russia had about $4 billion dollars worth  in weapon contracts with Syria. This Arab state clearly continues to be a valued regional Russian ally, one that has been buying weapons from the Soviet Union since the 1950s.[2] Furthermore, Russia continues to see this Western intervention as a violation of sovereignty as an attempt by the US and its allies to “westernize” the rest of the world. On the other hand, the US has its own agenda for the area. Other than claiming to enforce “international norms” vis-à-vis chemical weapon proliferation, the US wants to bring down the Assad regime to guarantee the safety of American allies in the area and regional stability, which would be contingent on deterring the rise of a regionally hegemonic Iran. First, America wants to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of rogue terrorist groups, which would pose an eminent security threat. Moreover, Obama hopes to curtail Tehran’s extension into Syria, in turn avoiding  a Hezbollah-infested Lebanese and Syrian coast.

Furthermore, the struggle in both countries is/was caused by multi-ethnic groups fighting for appropriate government representation. In Yugoslavia, the Serbs were fighting in order to create Yugoslavia: A Greater Serbia by cleansing the area of other religions – obviously, a language similarity is not enough to hold ethnic groups together.[3] In Syria, the “evident” reason for the uprising is the discontent of the majority of Sunnis who are being ruled by the minority of Shiite Alawites.

There are definitely more aspects of comparison and contrast between the two countries; however, I think that enough parallels already exist to warrant the comparison. The real matter of the fact is that if indeed the history of Yugoslavia has found a way to repeat itself in Syria, what will be of this historically rich Arab country? Will spill-over effects engender similar ethnically driven movements? Specifically, will the Kurds finally have a country to call home? How will this outcome affect other fragile governments in the region?

For now, one can only wonder if the blood shed of innocent lives will stop soon.


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