image of jerusalem 2016

How much more political rubble in Syria?
I still remember those young days when my maternal grandfather Ohan Tabourian used to start his early mornings by carrying his battery-fed transistor radio with him from room to room.

18 February   |   2016   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

He wanted the news to reach him from different sources, so he listened to a staple that included the BBC World Service, Jordan Radio and Radio Monte Carlo as well as VOA. And then he would explain to me what was wrong with the world before he went to work … and I went to school.

My grandfather was probably one of the richest carpet merchants of his time. He spent half his time in Jordan & Lebanon and the other half in Iran where he personally chose those Persian carpets that would go to his warehouses and shops across the MENA region. And yet for a person who was the envy of those who were less fortunate financially, and who epitomised the comforts of capitalism when the dotcom bubble was not yet part of our lexicon, he was also intensely disapproving of the USA. Like many of his generation, he often referred to the wars of 1967 and 1973 and remonstrated that the West (and by that he really meant the USA since the UK and France were spent colonial powers by now in his opinion) had shown an unjust bias against the Arabs on favour of Israel. Not only so, but he was also a supporter of the USSR - at a time when Leonid Brezhnev reigned supreme at the Kremlin and where Syria was one of its client states.

My grandfather ‘did not do’ God either, and so his politics did not clash with his irreligion. For him, Nietzsche was wrong: God had not died because He never existed in the first place! In other words, he had no problems siding with a communist and supposedly unbelieving empire such as the Soviet Union although he simultaneously continued to pile the Armenian Church in the region with donations and carpets - a nod to Armenian ethno-nationalism and no more!

I was a kid then and I admired my grandfather: he was the glue that held our extended family together and he had so much wisdom in him. He taught me to drive and to differentiate between right and wrong. A refugee of the Armenian genocide, he also never ceased to recall how the West had sold Armenians down the drain when they revised the Treaty of Sèvres and substituted it with that of Lausanne. But he was more scathing about the way the Arabs were sold down the drain too and how Syria was one of the few countries still resisting Western imperialism.

And yet I wonder if his penchant for statist politics would still be as favourable if he were alive to witness what is occurring in Syria today - in Madaya, Zabadani, Aleppo, Homs or Deir El-Zor where the savage brutality of the Syrian regime has been recently matched by the equally indiscriminate brutality of the Russian forces. I know he would despise Daesh (ISIL) for all their terror-friendly pretensions of carving out (literally) a caliphate in Syria or Iraq and justifying their barbarities through their blurred prism of Islam. But he would also fiercely lambast Putin and Assad for targeting the civilians and carpet-bombing their schools and hospitals in Syria.

However, my grandfather would also remind me of the duplicitous attitude of the US Administration that sold out its lofty principles and allowed abject dictators to run countries and control peoples in the Arab World. And he would wryly add that the West had only sown discord in the MENA region and padded its own interests at the expense of the local peoples. Besides, he would segue, the religious hierarchs (including Christian ones) have also been complicit with usurpers and dictators. They might genuinely think they are protecting their flocks, but how could one save souls or redeem lives by working hand-in-glove with any modern-day mammon?

My granddad would also tell me that eradicating Daesh by strengthening dictators is risible because it would not resolve the issues bedevilling the MENA. At best, the final standoff has been delayed until the Arab masses get a second wind and challenge their despotic rulers with a new sahwa or re-awakening. But then, he would quip, all we have today from politicians is the limp expediency of short-term tactics minus the taut boldness of long-term strategies.

After all these years, I still miss my grandfather and often yearn for his guiding words. Just as the world misses real leadership - men and women who can stop further physical and political rubble in Syria and help make it right for us mere mortals … let alone for those already dead!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2016   |   18 February


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