Marat Terterov: Armenia’s long term security will be better served by strengthening economic security, rather than defining national security on the basis of the Tsarist Russian catch-cry “armiya i flot”
Interview of Director of Center for Political and Culturological Studies of Yerevan State University, Orientalist, Professor David Hovhannissyan with ArmInfo News Agency
by David Stepanyan
Mr.Hovhannisyan, would the current aggravation of the domestic situation in Syria be possible without external sponsorship? Is the Syrians’ discontent based on domestic factors or is it restricted to the so-called “export of democracy”?
If the so-called "rebels" were not sponsored from outside and if there were no permanent infiltration of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis-Wahabis from the territory of Turkey and Iraq, I do not think Syria would face the current situation. I do not want to say that the Syrian system of governance is ideal. On the contrary, it is authoritarian. In the meantime, though Syria experienced hard times because of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has become a serious state and one of the key players in several spheres since the current president's father Hafez Assad came to power. These are the Arab-Israeli conflict, the allied relations with Iran, the USSR, and present Russia. I should say that alongside with the growth of Syria's significance, the level of public welfare was also growing. Certainly, there were also discontent people, particularly, the Muslim Brotherhood.
When the Alawi minority was at power, it guaranteed quite harmonious co-existence of various ethnic and confessional groups of the population of Syria, which is a unique country, in which almost all the well-known branches of Christianity and Muslimism got along together perfectly, except the most marginal and radical ones. This period of domestic stability has always been highly estimated by the population of Syria. Thus, the destabilization of the situation in Syria has been caused by the externally imposed infiltration, activation of foreign forces.
I am quite well aware of this country, its moods and the people discontent with Bashar Assad's regime. On the other hand, the statements that democracy will come to Syria after Assad's resignation is a real bluff. There can be no such a thing as there are very few people with liberal-democratic moods in Syria, which represent no organized force. On the other hand, the Muslim
Brotherhood and the Salafis may just as well find a foothold among the Syrians given that the Sunnis constitute the major part of the Syrian population.
Do you agree with the opinion that on the whole Bashar Assad himself is a liberal, at least as compared to the Muslim Brotherhood?
Since Bashar Assad came to power, he has really been trying to hold reforms to liberalize the country, to contribute to more openness of the society, demonopolization of economy; private banks were launched in Syria. Thus, Assad conducted a policy aimed at enhancing the competitiveness; however, all his efforts not only failed but are also used against him now.
Which of the foreign actors doesn’t need Assad’s Syria and why?
Now that the Americans have withdrawn their troops from Iraq, they are eager to break the Iran-Iraq Shi'a chain, where Syria is a strong link. Moderate Sunni Turkey would like to see Syria ruled by a Sunni government. In such a case its influence would grow, while that of Iran would decline. In its turn, Saudi Arabia sponsors a radical Sunni network and would like Syria to be controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis, better known as Al Qaeda. In fact, this network acts against both Turkey and Iran. So, you should not confuse the interests of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The interests of the Europeans are quite contradictory. The United Kingdom supports the United States. France has traditionally supported the Alawis but today its policy has changed. As regards the Germans, they are quite detached.
A couple of days ago, expert on the Caucasus of the CIS Institute Mikhail Alexandrov called on Armenia to be more active in this field. Has the voice of our Foreign Ministry any chances to be heard?
Armenia should make its position known to the international organizations that are concerned about the situation in Syria. We must be active in this matter as we are very close to Syria and are closely connected with the local Armenians. There are also lots of Armenian cultural and spiritual values in Syria, like churches, libraries, etc. And we must do our best to preserve them - something we will not be able to do if Armenians leave Syria. We should use all of our lobbying channels to guarantee the safety of our compatriots and their property in Syria. However, I do not think that the Armenian factor in Syria may disappear. Some Armenians are leaving that country but most of them prefer to stay at home. They have families, jobs, businesses, houses. They are pragmatic people and will not leave all this to the mercy of fate.
What trends do you observe in Syria given the latest developments?
The July 18 acts of terrorism have shown that the operation against Syria is well-organized. Still I think that the disorders in Damascus and Aleppo will be gradually suppressed. The key task of the Syrian authorities is to regain control over the Turkish and Iraqi borders. Things are still far from settlement, but the key actors are already negotiating this possibility as the examples of Egypt and Libya have shown how dangerous such situations can be. In fact, the Syrians have already got tired of all this and wish to live normally again. At some moment, this tiredness may turn into displeasure with the Assad family. On the other hand, it is unclear who can replace them: the Liberals are not known, the Muslim Brotherhood is unpopular. In fact, most of the Syrians still support Assad, so, he still has chances to retain his power.
The foreign mass media have recently started speaking of the Syrian chemical weapons. What are they doing it for?
Israel is organizing a special operation to find and seize Syria's chemical weapons. It is still possible that Bashar Assad will be replaced by uncontrolled people, so, it is necessary to quickly solve this problem. My biggest concern is that some external forces may use this as a pretext for entering Syria for 'deactivating' the weapons. The Syrian authorities have repeatedly said that their chemical weapons are a response to Israel's nuclear arms. But while Assad is a predictable partner for Israel, the people who may come in his place will not be so. Hence, Israel needs to find and seize the weapons as soon as possible.
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