Wikileaks on Syria: from insurrection to exodus

This article is a translation of "Wikileaks over Syrië: van opstand tot uittocht"

The founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, still languishes in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and although the security had been scaled back after 17 million pounds (some 25 million euros) has been spent, he still cannot get out. But that does not mean the role of Wikileaks is therefore finished. The telegrams of the American ambassador in Damascus which were made public at the time, cast light on the origins of the revolt; a few days ago Assange again made news with a remarkable analysis of the flow of refugees to Europe. 

The migrant crisis which has been caused by the exodus from Syria and other countries (from ‘liberated’ Kosovo to Afghanistan, also saved by NATO) after all cannot be understood in a simple black-and-white scheme (welcome or not).

From 2005-06, the Wikileaks documents relate (here cited from the Washington Post), the Unite States began to subsidise a group of exiles in London with an eye to encouraging the opposition in Syria itself. The project was part of the Greater Middle East initiative launched by the Bush administration following the invasion of Iraq. Millions of dollars were channelled to opposition groups in Syria and Syrians in exile and in 2009 Barada TV (named after the river that runs through Damascus) started broadcasting from London. Compared to the influence of networks like al-Jazeera these broadcasts were not that important, but altogether the American subsidies to the station, to NGOs in Syria and other groups had the effect of making the Assad regime nervous. When demonstrations in March 2011 began, the Syrian state responded with more violence than was necessary, for the regime can rely on far more support among the population that those in Tunisia or Egypt. Indeed the diversity of the population makes that the Syrians are much more conscious of the value of a secular state.

When Obama appointed an ambassador in Damascus again for the first time in six years, the subsidies to the opposition were not suspended. Early 2009 however the ambassador warned that the Syrian security services were becoming suspicious about this support, which from 2006 to (at least) late 2010, amounted to between six and twelve million dollars. The embassy warned in June 2009 that the opposition linked to the Muslim Brotherhood was fat too negligent about its security and the link with Barada and with the Democracy Council in Los Angeles was not kept hidden from the Syrian secret service either.

This history was referred to again a few days ago by Assange in his small office in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. This time he highlighted a quite different aspect of undermining the Assad regime, viz., what he calls a ‘strategic depopulation’ of Syria. Basing himself on leaked telegrams and messages Assange speculates in an interview with a Greek website that this may well be a provoked exodus, which specifically offers the Syrian middle class a way out to Turkey and from there to Europe. In this way the functioning of society and state in Syria is being undermined.

It would not be the first time that a process like this takes place. After the invasion of Iraq the rightwing government in Sweden made it known to the Americans that it too made a contribution to the fight—by attracting refugees from Iraq. We can also think of the encouragement of qualified doctors, engineers and other professionals from the former Eastern bloc.

It is a fact that the refugees from Syria mainly hail from its middle class. This is not surprising given that the trip with the help of people smugglers costs at least 5000 euros per person, and media reports here also make clear that in the case of Syrians, we are mainly looking at qualified people.

Of course it is a different matter whether this is a conscious strategy to bring down Assad, of what the Germans call, ‘billigende Inkaufnahme’, that is, an advantage that is gladly accepted as a bonus. The middle class itself can also arrive at the conclusion that it is better to find a safe haven elsewhere, but then it has more to lose by migrating. However, if there comes a call from Germany that people are welcome, the entire situation changes.

The war in Syria itself shows no sign of abating. The air attacks by the Russians may have turned the political-military tide in favour of Assad, but the fighting has not stopped, on the contrary. The Syrian army is in the offensive again, but IS units are also making progress, the inevitable civilian casualties of the air attacks have already been made and new refugee flows have been set in motion. Here too our adage applies that War is no Solution. The only hope is the parallel diplomatic track that the Russians have initiated—but would a truce or a peace bring back the professional middle class once it settles in Europe?

Kees van der Pijl

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