Will step-son of Nazi Holocaust survivor Antony Blinken help stop the Syrian Holocaust as the international community still does nothing

Incoming US secretary of state Antony Blinken who was deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration summed up the latter’s work on Syria in very harshly critical terms: “We failed to prevent a horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement …something I will take with me for the rest of my days.”

Antony Blinken the step son of a Nazi Holocaust survivor and the incoming US secretary of state offers some hope he might at a minimum put the holocaust of our time in Syria back on the agenda because in a recent interview he appeared to express some contrition for the failure of the Obama administration in which he was deputy secretary of state: “We failed to prevent a horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement …something I will take with me for the rest of my days.”

In 2013 the most dramatic opportunity to confront the slaughter in Syria presented itself when President Bashar al-Assad crossed President Barack Obama’s Red Line and killed over 1,400 people, mostly women and children, in an horrific chemical attack. However, the US president did not just turn his back, he actually walked away deciding not to act — though in fairness he was partly let off the hook by the UK parliament which voted to formally turn away and do nothing as he would not act alone. Of course it can be argued UK MPs who voted against action are equally culpable and those of us who failed to protest and raise our voices as defenceless citizens in Syria were massacred or tortured to death in Assad’s prisons also bear responsibility too as the Syrian people disappeared from consideration as human beings by the international community.

Worse still they were merged in many minds by Russian & Syrian regime propaganda with ISIS even though the first people to resist that nihilistic terrorist group were the democratic and nationalist opposition in Syria as these terrorists like the state terrorists in the regime all oppose freedom and democracy. A false perception that led many to definitively turn their backs on the unimaginable suffering and oppression of the Syrian people only amplified by Obama’s subsequent decision to bomb ISIS in 2014 while ignoring Assad’s crimes against humanity. If instead Obama had helped the Syrian people to determine their own destiny he would have ensured the ISIS threat would have been permanently eliminated as the very people Assad and ISIS were both slaughtering are utterly opposed to all forms of fascism.

“I was sure the international community would stop the bombing, would stop these crimes” Dr Armani Ballour, a paediatrician who spent more than five years saving lives in an under ground hospital, speaking about her initial reaction when the Assad regime began brutally crushing peaceful protests in 2011 when the Arab Spring took hold in Syria.

Many times I have heard Syrians say the same thing because they genuinely believed the international community would come to their rescue as they were gunned down in the streets at peaceful protests, disappeared, tortured and even saw loved ones tortured to death for daring to peacefully protest against the Assad dictatorship.

“Naively we thought as soon as people know what is happening they are going to support us. Because who does not support people going to the street asking for freedom, not to be tortured and to be treated with dignity,” Syrian human lawyer Laila Aladot said in our documentary ‘Syria — The Impossible Revolution’ reflecting the views of so many we met while making that film.

Antony Blinken’s criticism of the Obama adminsitration’s failure to save hundreds of thousands of lives in Syria reminded me of this banner by Syrians who risked being gunned down in the streets, disappeared, tortured and killed for peacefully protesting the brutal Assad dictatroship.

For almost ten years a holocaust has been taking place in Syria since the Assad regime unleashed horrific violence in response to mass peaceful protests when the Arab Spring took hold across the country in March 2011 gunning down peaceful protesters in the streets and sweeping up tens of thousands in a brutal campaign of disappearances and arbitrary arrests with virtually all those detained subjected to systematic and extreme torture with many tortured to death, even people who had no involvement. However, what is so disturbing about this holocaust is not only that it continues but that the international community continues to avert its eyes?

In 2012 one Syrian Anwar al-Bunni a human rights lawyer only wanted the international community to nominate or provide an international court to try those responsible for warcrimes and crimes against humanity in Syria to send a clear message to Assad and his henchmen there would be no impunity this time unlike in the 1980s when they escaped accountability for the Hama massacres which were carried out by the current president’s father. Anwar based in Berlin and his fellow human rights lawyer Mazan Darwish in Paris are at the heart of current efforts today to secure justice and accountability for the thousands of warcrimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria and have already helped to get France and Germany to issue international arrest warrants against key Assad regime leaders. The first time in history such warrants have been issued against serving leaders committing crimes against humanity but international political will to ensure they are prosecuted is the only way that will lead to peace and freedom in Syria and hopefully Antony Blinken will be inspired by these Syrian leaders to see that.

Still we are all left with the question if Anwar had succeeded in 2012 could the holocaust that ensued and continues today have been avoided? Indeed that question has troubled me completing BRINGING ASSAD TO JUSTICE as impunity and the conviction by Assad and his henchmen as well as jihadists like HTS leaders that they will never face trial only encourages them to continue their crimes against the people?

Antony Blinken’s apparent regret may foreshadow real international engagement in ending the brutal tyranny in Syria which continues unabated with the torture prison and the massacre the principal methods of governance by the Assad regime as so eloquently exposed by Dr Salwa Ismail in her classic study ‘The Rule of Violence.’ Hopefully Blinken will look to Syrian human rights lawyers like Anwar al-Bunni and Mazan Darwish and their many colleagues seeking accountability for leadership and inspiration on the way forward as they are the heirs of the peaceful uprising and leaders amongst civil society which rejects all fascists from the Assad regime to jihadist elements in seeking to build peace and a political settlement based on justice — the only viable basis for democracy in Syria.

Award winning filmmaker and co-founder of Esperanza Productions & latest award winning feature documentary is SYRIA — THE IMPOSSIBLE REVOLUTION: esperanza.ie

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