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With no agreement in sight, and default all but certain, Greece will have to pivot East for help

As the prospects of a Grexit grow, Greece may be obliged to go against the European hardliners and turn to Russia for the vital economic help it will undoubtedly need.

Alex Christoforou

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Post originally appeared on Russia Insider, written by Alexander Mercouris

The Greek bailout negotiations are stuck.  So are the parallel negotiations Greece has been having with Gazprom.

Why is this and what are the implications?

The big news last week is that (1) Greece failed to reach an interim deal with the Eurogroup finance ministers at the summit in Riga on Friday 24th April 2015, with Greek finance minister Yaroufakis getting a severe dressing down and the meeting breaking up after a short interval; and (2) that Greece did not sign the deal with Gazprom last week that had been heavily trailed since Tsipras’s visit to Moscow.

A few days ago I wrote a piece for Russia Insider in which I said that the reason the EU Commission had rushed out an announcement of its anti-trust claim against Gazprom was concern about the possible Greek deal with Gazprom.

I have since had a lengthy discussion with a source in Athens. He confirmed to me that the Greek government in the end balked at the Gazprom offer (which was ready for signature on 23rd April 2015) following warnings from the EU Commission that its terms were contrary to European law – i.e., to the Third Energy Package.

I was told by my source that the Greek government could not in the end bring itself to defy the EU Commission on this issue because of its fears that this would jeopardise its negotiations with the EU finance ministers at the Eurogroup meeting on the following day.

In fact the negotiations at the Eurogroup got precisely nowhere. Far from Greece’s refusal to sign a deal with Gazprom having bought for Greece goodwill, the failure to do so left Greek finance minister Yaroufakis playing at the meeting from a desperately weak hand.  Without the $5 billion he might have had from Gazprom, he was left begging for money, which predictably he failed to get.

Greece’s negotiating strategy actually makes little sense and points to a divided and inexperienced government. There was no point in making overtures to Moscow if Greece was not prepared to follow them through. It was totally predictable that the EU authorities would object to whatever deal Greece made with Russia or with Gazprom.  If Greece was not prepared to defy the EU authorities on this question, it should not have proceeded at all. As it is the Russians must be annoyed at being led up the garden path, while the European leaders have been antagonised and persuaded that Greece’s anti-austerity posture is ultimately a bluff.

They are probably right to think so. The very latest opinion poll shows that 72% of Greeks still want to keep the euro and still want Greece to come to a deal with the EU. Only 23% don’t.

Taken in combination with Greece’s failure to sign a deal with Gazprom, this will have told the EU leaders that Greece will in the end come round, so no concessions to Greece are necessary.

Syriza is now paying the price for the way it won its election victory.  Syriza promised the Greek people that they could have both an end to austerity and keep the euro.  That was a promise Syriza could not keep because it was outside its power to do so. The promise always looked a reckless bluff that would leave both Greece and Syriza desperately exposed if it were ever called.

The Syriza government’s options are now very stark.  Since a deal with Gazprom has been ruled out, Greece has to choose between either backing down and accepting an indefinite extension of austerity — possibly with a few minor cosmetic concessions — or being forced out of the euro.

As things stand I think it is more likely Greece will try to back down. The political cost of doing so will be very high and I am not sure that in that case the present Greek government will survive, at least in its present form. However the cost of a Grexit in political terms is probably even greater and I suspect that the Greek government will do everything it can to avoid it.

There remains however a high probability that Greece will be forced out of the euro whatever happens.

Ultimately Greece’s debt burden is unsustainable and it is simply not realistic to think that Greece can maintain present levels of austerity indefinitely. Unless there is a fundamental shift in European policy to allow an easing of austerity — of which there is no sign — a Grexit looks ultimately inevitable.  In the end what is not economically sustainable is not politically sustainable either.

Recent comments from Germany suggest that some German politicians are now belatedly coming round to that view. It is an open secret that German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble wants a Grexit, which he sees as the only way to bring this saga to an end.

Here it is important to dispose of an argument that has recently been gaining currency including in Greece itself.

Several people including Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times are now saying that there is legally no reason why Greece cannot retain the euro even if it defaults and that this is what it should do.

Legally speaking these people are absolutely right. Indeed that is precisely what should have been done in 2010. Greece should have been allowed to restructure its debts (which means in effect default on them) so as to put them on a sustainable basis, while remaining in the Eurozone and keeping the euro.

The Eurozone is a currency union, not a transfer union, and there was no logical or legal reason why other Eurozone states or institutions should have assumed responsibility for Greece’s debts by bailing Greece out. Certainly Greece should not have been given a bailout it could never hope to repay. That incidentally was actually illegal on any objective reading of the treaties.

It is now too late for this. The EU cannot allow Greece to default on the huge sums it owes the EU’s institutions and keep the euro. It would set a completely unacceptable precedent that other deeply indebted Eurozone states that have received bailouts might be tempted to follow. For that reason the other Eurozone states and the European authorities will not entertain it.

What is most likely to happen is that if, or rather, when Greece defaults, after a short interval and probably during a weekend, the ECB will withdraw support from Greece’s banks. The Bank of Greece will in that case have no option but to print drachmas to support the banks. At that point Greece’s membership of the Eurozone will be over.

The immediate effect of a Grexit would be catastrophic for Greece. There will be little confidence in the new currency, there would be a run on the banks, most of which would crash, and inflation would spiral.

At that point Greece might have little choice but to turn to the one country that is its largest bilateral trading partner and which is the only country that would be in a position to provide it with the food and energy it would need to get through.

That country is Russia – Europe’s biggest energy and food producer.

However if the Russians help Greece it will be on their terms.

Setting aside speculation about Mediterranean naval bases (which Russia doesn’t want and doesn’t need) that would almost certainly involve some resurrection of the Gazprom deal.

Once Greece is outside the euro, EU leverage over Greece ends.

Southern and eastern European states unhappy with the EU’s anti-sanctions and anti-Gazprom policy have nonetheless felt obliged to go along with it because they do not want to risk loss of their EU structural or bailout funds or their hopes of joining the euro.

If Greece is ejected the Eurozone it is no longer in that position.

Structural and bailout funding will have be forever lost. It is not being provided now and will certainly not be provided in future if Greece leaves the euro and defaults.

Having been thrown out of the euro, there will be little or no prospect of Greece ever rejoining any time soon, certainly not while it remains in default on its liabilities to the EU’s institutions, so the hope of one day joining the euro will not be there.

There is no mechanism to expel a country from the EU. In the event of a Grexit, Greece would remain a member of the EU and would still share in the benefits of the common European market.

Greece would however be free to make whatever deals with Gazprom it saw fit, regardless of whether the EU Commission said they were legal or not. The EU Commission could bring legal action against Greece, but in the absence of central EU funding it is difficult to see what practical effect that would have.

Greece would also be free to veto sanctions against Russia if it disagreed with them without having to fear retaliation if it did so.

I do not say that this is what will happen if there is a Grexit.  Ultimately it will depend on how the political situation within Greece evolves in response to a Grexit. However the option to act independently would finally be there. Whether the Greeks make use of it once they have it is another matter.

References:

http://russia-insider.com/en/greece-russia-and-eu-prospects-grexit-loom/6108

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The ‘Gilets Jaunes’ Are Unstoppable: “Now, The Elites Are Afraid”

Now the elites are afraid. For the first time, there is a movement which cannot be controlled through the normal political mechanisms.

The Duran

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Authored by Christophe Guilluy via Spiked-Online.com:


The gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement has rattled the French establishment. For several months, crowds ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands have been taking to the streets every weekend across the whole of France. They have had enormous success, extracting major concessions from the government. They continue to march.

Back in 2014, geographer Christopher Guilluy’s study of la France périphérique (peripheral France) caused a media sensation. It drew attention to the economic, cultural and political exclusion of the working classes, most of whom now live outside the major cities. It highlighted the conditions that would later give rise to the yellow-vest phenomenon. Guilluy has developed on these themes in his recent books, No Society and The Twilight of the Elite: Prosperity, the Periphery and the Future of Francespiked caught up with Guilluy to get his view on the causes and consequences of the yellow-vest movement.

spiked: What exactly do you mean by ‘peripheral France’?

Christophe Guilluy: ‘Peripheral France’ is about the geographic distribution of the working classes across France. Fifteen years ago, I noticed that the majority of working-class people actually live very far away from the major globalised cities – far from Paris, Lyon and Toulouse, and also very far from London and New York.

Technically, our globalised economic model performs well. It produces a lot of wealth. But it doesn’t need the majority of the population to function. It has no real need for the manual workers, labourers and even small-business owners outside of the big cities. Paris creates enough wealth for the whole of France, and London does the same in Britain. But you cannot build a society around this. The gilets jaunes is a revolt of the working classes who live in these places.

They tend to be people in work, but who don’t earn very much, between 1000€ and 2000€ per month. Some of them are very poor if they are unemployed. Others were once middle-class. What they all have in common is that they live in areas where there is hardly any work left. They know that even if they have a job today, they could lose it tomorrow and they won’t find anything else.

spiked: What is the role of culture in the yellow-vest movement?

Guilluy: Not only does peripheral France fare badly in the modern economy, it is also culturally misunderstood by the elite. The yellow-vest movement is a truly 21st-century movement in that it is cultural as well as political. Cultural validation is extremely important in our era.

One illustration of this cultural divide is that most modern, progressive social movements and protests are quickly endorsed by celebrities, actors, the media and the intellectuals. But none of them approve of the gilets jaunes. Their emergence has caused a kind of psychological shock to the cultural establishment. It is exactly the same shock that the British elites experienced with the Brexit vote and that they are still experiencing now, three years later.

The Brexit vote had a lot to do with culture, too, I think. It was more than just the question of leaving the EU. Many voters wanted to remind the political class that they exist. That’s what French people are using the gilets jaunes for – to say we exist. We are seeing the same phenomenon in populist revolts across the world.

spiked: How have the working-classes come to be excluded?

Guilluy: All the growth and dynamism is in the major cities, but people cannot just move there. The cities are inaccessible, particularly thanks to mounting housing costs. The big cities today are like medieval citadels. It is like we are going back to the city-states of the Middle Ages. Funnily enough, Paris is going to start charging people for entry, just like the excise duties you used to have to pay to enter a town in the Middle Ages.

The cities themselves have become very unequal, too. The Parisian economy needs executives and qualified professionals. It also needs workers, predominantly immigrants, for the construction industry and catering et cetera. Business relies on this very specific demographic mix. The problem is that ‘the people’ outside of this still exist. In fact, ‘Peripheral France’ actually encompasses the majority of French people.

spiked: What role has the liberal metropolitan elite played in this?

Guilluy: We have a new bourgeoisie, but because they are very cool and progressive, it creates the impression that there is no class conflict anymore. It is really difficult to oppose the hipsters when they say they care about the poor and about minorities.

But actually, they are very much complicit in relegating the working classes to the sidelines. Not only do they benefit enormously from the globalised economy, but they have also produced a dominant cultural discourse which ostracises working-class people. Think of the ‘deplorables’ evoked by Hillary Clinton. There is a similar view of the working class in France and Britain. They are looked upon as if they are some kind of Amazonian tribe. The problem for the elites is that it is a very big tribe.

The middle-class reaction to the yellow vests has been telling. Immediately, the protesters were denounced as xenophobes, anti-Semites and homophobes. The elites present themselves as anti-fascist and anti-racist but this is merely a way of defending their class interests. It is the only argument they can muster to defend their status, but it is not working anymore.

Now the elites are afraid. For the first time, there is a movement which cannot be controlled through the normal political mechanisms. The gilets jaunes didn’t emerge from the trade unions or the political parties. It cannot be stopped. There is no ‘off’ button. Either the intelligentsia will be forced to properly acknowledge the existence of these people, or they will have to opt for a kind of soft totalitarianism.

A lot has been made of the fact that the yellow vests’ demands vary a great deal. But above all, it’s a demand for democracy. Fundamentally, they are democrats – they want to be taken seriously and they want to be integrated into the economic order.

spiked: How can we begin to address these demands?

Guilluy: First of all, the bourgeoisie needs a cultural revolution, particularly in universities and in the media. They need to stop insulting the working class, to stop thinking of all the gilets jaunes as imbeciles.

Cultural respect is fundamental: there will be no economic or political integration until there is cultural integration. Then, of course, we need to think differently about the economy. That means dispensing with neoliberal dogma. We need to think beyond Paris, London and New York.

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US Blunders Have Made Russia The Global Trade Pivot

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead

The Duran

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Authored by Mathew Maavak via ActivistPost.com:


The year 2019 had barely begun before news emerged that six Russian sailors were kidnapped by pirates off the coast of Benin. It was perhaps a foretaste of risks to come. As nations reel from deteriorating economic conditions, instances of piracy and other forms of supply chain disruptions are bound to increase.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 107 cases of piracy were noted during the first half of 2018 vis-à-vis 87 throughout 2017.  The 2018 tally included 32 cases in Southeast Asian waters and 48 along African shores – representing 75% of the total. To put this figure into perspective, Asian behemoths India and China – despite their vast shorelines – recorded only 2 cases of piracy each during the study period. Russia had none. In terms of hostages taken, the IMB tally read 102 in H1 2018 vs 63 in H1 2017.

Piracy adds to shipping and retail costs worldwide as security, insurance and salaries are hiked to match associated risks in maritime transport. Merchant vessels will also take longer and costlier routes to avoid piracy hotspots.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report in 2016 sums up the perils ahead:

As over 90% of global trade is carried out by sea, the economic effects of maritime crime can be crippling. Maritime crime includes not only criminal activity directed at vessels or maritime structures, but also the use of the high seas to perpetrate transnational organized crimes such as smuggling of persons or illicit substances.  These forms of maritime crime can have devastating human consequences.

Indeed, cases of human trafficking, organ harvesting, and the smuggling of illicit substances and counterfeit goods are proliferating worldwide in tandem with rising systemic debt and suspect international agendas.

Australia offers a case in point. While it fantasizes over a Quad of allies in the Indo-Pacific – to “save Asians from China” – criminal elements from Hong Kong, Malaysia to squeaky-clean Singapore have been routinely trafficking drugs, tobacco and people right into Sydney harbour for years,  swelling the local organised crime economy to as much as $47.4 billion (Australian dollars presumably) between 2016 and 2017.

With criminal elements expected to thrive during a severe recession, they will likely enjoy a degree of prosecutorial shielding from state actors and local politicians. But this is not a Southeast Asian problem alone; any superpower wishing to disrupt Asia-Europe trade arteries – the main engine of global growth – will have targets of opportunity across oceans and lands.  The US-led war against Syria had not only cratered one potential trans-Eurasia energy and trade node, it served as a boon for child traffickingorgan harvesting and slavery as well. Yet, it is President Bashar al-Assad who is repeatedly labelled a “butcher” by the Anglo-American media.

Ultimately, industries in Asia and Europe will seek safer transit routes for their products. The inference here is inevitable: the greatest logistical undertaking in history – China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – will be highly dependent on Russian security umbrella, particularly in Central Asia. Russia also offers an alternative transit option via the Northern Sea Route, thereby avoiding any potential pan-Turkic ructions in Central Asia in the future.

Russo- and Sinophobia explained?

In retrospect, Washington’s reckless policies post-Sept 11 2001 seem aimed at disrupting growing synergies between Asia and Europe. This hypothesis helps explain the relentless US-led agitprops against Russia, China and Iran.

When the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests rocked France weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before some pundits blamed it on Russia. US President Donald J. Trump cheered on; just as “billionaire activist” George Soros celebrated the refugee invasion of Europe and the Arab Spring earlier.  If the yellow vest contagion spreads to the Western half of Europe, its economies will flounder. Cui bono? A Russia that can reap benefits from the two-way BRI or Arctic trade routes or a moribund United States that can no longer rule roost in an increasingly multipolar world?

Trump’s diplomatic downgrade of the European Union and his opposition to the Nord Stream 2gas pipeline matches this trade-disruption hypothesis, as do pressures applied on India and China to drop energy and trade ties with Iran.  Washington’s trade war with Beijing and recent charges against Huawei – arguably Asia’s most valuable company – seem to fit this grand strategy.

If China concedes to importing more US products, Europe will bear the consequences. Asians love European products ranging from German cars to Italian shoes and Europe remains the favourite vacation destination for its growing middle class. Eastern European products and institutions are also beginning to gain traction in Asia. However, these emerging economies will suffer if their leaders cave in to Washington’s bogeyman fetish.

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough – at least theoretically – to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead.

In the meantime, as the US-led world crumbles, it looks like Russia is patiently biding its time to become the security guarantor and kingmaker of Asia-Europe trade.  A possible state of affairs wrought more by American inanity rather than Russian ingenuity…

Dr Mathew Maavak is a regular commentator on risk-related geostrategic issues.

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Historic Eastern Christianity: An Uncertain Future

The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Elias Samo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The survival of historic Eastern Christianity has never been as urgent as it is today. Christianity saw its beginning in Greater Syria which was subdivided by France and Britain after WWI into modern day Syria, Lebanon, Palestian/Israel and Jordan. The land that housed, nurtured and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ for over two millenniums, now threatens children of that faith. The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons:

  1. Greater Syria is the homeland of Jesus and Christianity. Abraham was from modern day Iraq, Moses from Egypt, and Muhammad from Mecca; Jesus was from Syria.
  1. Paul converted to Christianity and saw the light while walking through ‘The Street Called Straight’ in Damascus.
  1. Jesus’ followers were called Christians for the first time in Antioch, formerly part of Syria.
  1. One of the earliest churches, perhaps the earliest, is in Syria.

The potential demise of historic Eastern Christianity is reflected in the key question Christians ask: should we stay or emigrate? The urgent question – in the face of the ongoing regional turmoil – precipitated with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and escalated since the Arab uprisings in 2011. Historic Eastern Christians’ fears were further magnified when Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, both of metropolitan Aleppo, were kidnapped on April, 22, 2013; with no traces of their whereabouts, dead or alive, since. For many years, I was deputy, friend, and advisor to the Archbishop Ibrahim, which provided me an opportunity to meet many Christians. I have, over time, noticed the change in their sentiment, with more considering emigration after the uprising and the kidnapping of the two Archbishops. Historic Eastern Christians survived the Ottoman Genocide in 1915 and thereafter; they multiplied and thrived in the Fertile Crescent despite some atrocities until the start of the misnamed “Arab Spring” in early 2011. Prior to the “Arab Spring”, historic Eastern Christians were victims of violence on several occasions. In the mid-1930s, the historic Assyrian community in Iraq suffered violent onslaughts and were driven to Syria. In the 1970s and 1980s, during the Lebanese Civil War, Christians were victims of sectarian violence. During the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians were victims of widespread sectarian violence which led to mass migration. The “Arab Spring” began with great hope for the right of the people to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. However, it was swiftly hijacked by Islamists and Salafists and turned into an “Islamic Spring, an Arab Fall and a Christian Winter”; bringing along with it a new massacre of Christians. Presently, Eastern Christianity is at the mercy of clear and identifiable domestic, regional, and international, historic and contemporary conflicts in the Fertile Crescent, namely:

  1. Jihad vs. Ijtihad: A long standing conflict amongst Muslims between the sword vs. the pen.
  2. Sunni vs. Shiite: A conflict which began following the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
  3. Arabism vs. Islamism: The former has territorial limitations, the later has no territorial limitations.
  4. Syria vs. Israel: It is an essential component of the Palestinian problem, not the presumed Arab- Israeli conflict.
  5. West vs. East: A throwback to the Cold War, or its revival.
  6. Historic Persian, Ottoman and Arab Empires animosities: Each seeking regional hegemony.

One is reminded of the proverbial saying, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Certainly, Eastern Christianity is suffering and threatened with extinction.

Syria was a model of religious tolerance, common living and peaceful interaction amongst its religious, sectarian, cultural and ethnic components. Seven years of turmoil, in which various international and regional powers manipulated segments of Syrian society by supplying them with an abundance of weapons, money and sectarian ideologies, has heightened Eastern Christians’ fears. During the seven-year turmoil in Syria, the entire society has suffered; Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others. Christians, being a weak and peaceful component of the society, have suffered immensely. Ma’aloula; a religious treasure for Christians globally, and the only city in the world where Aramaic – the language of Jesus Christ – is spoken, was attacked and besieged by ISIS. Numerous historic Churches were damaged, and many destroyed. Christians in Raqqa were forced by ISIS into one of three options: 1. Pay a penalty in pure gold – known as a ‘Jizya’ to keep their life and practice their faith – albeit in secret only; 2. Convert into Islam; or 3. Face immediate death. To top their pain, the kidnap of the two prominent Archbishops meant no Eastern Christian believer was safe.

Amidst all the doom and gloom, however, there remains hope. The survival of Christianity depends on the actions and reactions of three parties:

Eastern Christians: During the last hundred years, 1915-2015, since the Ottoman Genocide, Eastern Christians have been victims of a history of massacres, which meant that every Eastern Christian was a martyr, a potential martyr or a witness of martyrdom; if you fool me once, shame on you, if you fool me twice, shame on me. The ongoing regional turmoil has heightened their sense of insecurity. The answer to an age-old question Eastern Christians had on their mind: To flee Westwards or remain in their land, in the face of death, is increasingly becoming the former.

Eastern Muslims: There is a difference in perceptions between Eastern Christians and mainstream Muslims regarding the massacres committed against Christians. When certain violent groups or individuals kill Christians, while shouting a traditional Islamic profession: “No God but one God and Muhammad is God’s messenger”, it is reasonable for Christians to assume the killers are Muslims. However, for mainstream Muslims, the killers do not represent Islam; they are extremists, violating basic Islamic norms such as Muhammad’s sayings, “Whoever hurts a Thummy – Christian or Jew – has hurt me”, “no compulsion in religion” and other Islamic norms regarding just treatment of people of the Book; Christians and Jews. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Muslim elites to impress upon their fellow Muslims that:

a. The three monotheistic religions believe in one God and all ‘faithfuls’ are equal in citizenship, rights and duties.

b. Christians participated in the rise of Arab Islamic civilization. They were pioneers in the modern Arab renaissance and they joined their Muslim brethren in resisting the Crusades, the Ottomans and Western colonialism.

c. Christians are natives of the land and they provide cultural, religious, educational, and economic, diversity.

d. Christians are a positive link between the Muslims and the Christian West, particularly in view of the rise of Islamophobia. Massacres of Christians and their migration provide a pretext for the further precipitation of Islamophobia.

e. Civilization is measured by the way it treats its minorities.

The Christian West: The Crusades, Western colonialism, creation and continued support of Israel, support of authoritarian Arab political systems, military interventions, regime change, and the destabilization of Arab states made Muslims view Eastern Christians ‘guilty by association’. The Christian West helped Jews come to Palestine to establish Israel. Shouldn’t the same Christian West also help Eastern Christians remain in their homeland, rather than facilitate their emigration? Western Christians, particularly Christian Zionists, believe that the existence of Israel is necessary for the return of Jesus to his homeland. However, it would be a great disappointment for Jesus to return to his homeland, Syria and not find any of his followers.

Prior to 2011, Eastern Christian religious leaders were encouraging Syrian Christians in the diaspora to return to Syria, their homeland, where life was safe and secure with great potential. Now, the same leaders are desperately trying to slow down Christian emigration. Eastern Christians’ loud cries for help to remain are blowing in the wind.

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