Socialist Party MP Harry van Bommel speaking in Enschede

This article is a translation of a shortened version of "Harry van Bommel een jaar later weer in Enschede"

Today, one year after the the attack in Reyhanli on the Turkish-Syrian border, Sonja van den Ende organised a discussion meeting on behalf of Comité Syrian in Nederland and Oorlog is geen Oplossing.NL. The main speaker was Harry van Bommel, foreign affairs specialist of the Socialist Party. In addition Jean Mirza and Sanherib Korkis of the Comité Syrian in Nederland and Ahmed Yilmaz for the SP, Oorlog is geen Oplossing, and Enschede voor Vrede, were on the panel. Many of those attending were from Syria and the adjacent part of Turkey originally. 

Harry van Bommel argued that when unrest erupted in Syria in the spring of 2011, the Netherlands and the West seriously misjudged the situation. He remembered that the foreign affairs secretary at the time, Uri Rosental, announced that ‘Assad’s days were numbered’. The expectation was that the uprising in Syria would follow the Tunisian and Egyptian examples and lead to a quick downfall of the dictator. However, those more familiar with Syria (and Van Bommel has visited the country several times) knew things would follow a different course. On the basis of his visits he was from the start very critical of the Dutch confidence in ‘the opposition’, without any concrete knowledge of who actually composed it. It would turn out to be much more complicated than initially envisaged.

The United States in particular supports the Syrian opposition unreservedly, with finances as well as, surreptitiously, with arms. They are betting on the wrong horse though. In fact their support is rather immoral. First, towards the Syrian opposition, by egging it on to fight without really providing military aid. But even more so, towards the Syrian populace, because as a result of this encouragement of the military option, the peace negotiations in Geneva (‘Geneva I’) have failed. A brilliant negotiator like Brahimi has become frustrated as a result.

Turkey’s role in the Syrian struggle has recently been discussed extensively in the Second Chamber. According to Van Bommel, Turkey plays a most noxious role here. He has called for an independent investigation of Turkish involvement in the attack on the Armenian-Syrian town of Kesab more than a month ago. However, the current foreign secretary, Frans Timmermans, did not want to hear about it. He had asked his Turkish colleague, who duly told him there was no truth in this accusation. In fact there are clear indications and actual proof of a Turkish role. This is important for Dutch politics because with the deployment of our Patriot missiles we are there to help defend Turkey against Syrian attacks. So any Turkish involvement in the Syrian struggle happens under cover of Dutch military assistance.

Summing up, a quick uprising was never going to happen, and as a consequence of Western policy, it is being drawn out even longer. The Western position also makes a diplomatic solution less likely. The wars begun in 2001 and 2003 in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, are continuing; the lesson that can be drawn from these two experiences is that Western interventions allow subterranean conflicts smouldering in them, to erupt and become uncontrollable. And yet ‘we’ continue to thank that we can help people elsewhere in the world through military interventions, Harry van Bommel concluded.

Sanherib Korkis made clear that the Netherlands blindly follows the United States, whilst Turkey was closely involved in the conflict from the start. An example can be found in the investigation by Erkan Metin concerning Turkish involvement in the abduction of the bishops of Aleppo.
Jean Mirza in turn underlined the extent to which foreign forces were behind the Syrian uprising—Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, Turkey, the EU and the US.

A second topic discussed in Enschede concerned the jihadists who travelled to Syria to fight, often with idealist intentions. Once there, their naïveté was often exploited by jihadist groups there. Harry van Bommel argued that instead of fussing about what to do when these fighters from the Netherlands come back here, we should make an effort to prevent them from going there in the first place. Anti-radicalisation programmes are the best way to achieve this. What is particularly disgraceful is that many parents do see what is happening to their children in this respect, but that their warnings to the authorities are not followed up.

Ahmed Yilmaz pointed out that the intelligence services are often involved in the recruitment of jihadists. After all, these jihadists in a way replace foreign military, who are deployed by NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan but not in Syria. Thus ‘our’ jihadists lend their ear to a broadly articulated call in society that ‘we’ should be dispatching ground troops to help the Syrian opposition. Also, the First World War is being continued in the Middle East, hundred years later. The West not only exports jihadists but also arms to the region, and this too should be halted.

[For a complete transcript of the ensuing discussion, see the Dutch version].

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