Why Population Exchange Fails: Over 100 Dead as Buses Bombed

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Someone detonated a car bomb in the (rebel-held) Rashideen district of Aleppo Province Friday night, killing over 100 and wounding over 500. It targeted lead buses that had brought in evacuees from two Shiite villages being evacuated because their sectarian complexion makes them sitting ducks in the civil war. Sunni extremists are being sent north to Idlib and Shiites will be sent south to take over the evacuated formerly Sunni lands.

The Shiites from Kefraya and al-Foua, then, were on their way down south, having been swapped out for Sunni villages on Lebanon’s border (Madaya and Zabadani) where Salafi Jihadi extremists– Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate and its close ally the Freemen of Syria– had been starved by the regime (along with women, children and other noncombatants.) The population exchange is controversial because it seems to involve acquiescing in a logic of ethnic cleansing contrary to the values of the nation.

The Saudi press and pro-rebel outlets are trying to blame the bombing on the regime. But since the regime of Bashar al-Assad negotiated this swap with the Qatari government, it is difficult to see the motive for reneging. The people who regularly blow things up with suicide bombings are the al-Qaeda affiliate and its close allies. That is not a government m.o.

Population transfer, like partitioning countries, always occurs to dictatorial or colonial regimes in the midst of civil wars.

Partition seldom works. India and Pakistan were partitioned but went on fighting one another, resulting in 3 major conventional wars and then almost a nuclear exchange in 2002.

As for population transfer, it can save individual lives but no one should doubt that it is hugely disruptive, and creates long-term enmities that do more harm than good. Ben Gurion’s population exchange beginning in 1948 has left millions of Palestinians stateless and homeless, without rights or even the right to have rights.

Syria would do better to foster political compromise. Then you would not have to move anyone around. The sanguinary bombings this weekend clearly demonstrate that top-down ethnic cleaning does not produce peace.


Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Syria: Many killed as blast hits evacuation convoy in Aleppo”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 9 Responses | Print |

9 Responses

  1. There was simply the pragmatic issuse that the villages of Kafrya and Foua would otherwise have been ethnically cleansed by more violent means. The rebels have openly stated their intention to rid Syria of Shiites, Alawites, and others. Even in the midst of a supposed brokered deal they just could not stand to see the Rafidhites going on their merry way.

  2. The exchange of Turks and Greeks from Western Turkey and many now Greek islands is another example that did not go so badly.

    Seems to me we have to be careful drawing such parallels. The underlying circumstances are inevitably quite unique.

    • Prof. Cole is right though about the long lasting hate this fosters. It is why Greece despite its economic woes spends more on its military (per capita) than any other EU nation.

      It is a very cold peace between Turkey and Greece, and with Erdogan installing himself as dictator for life, this can easily rekindle hostilities in the not too distant future.

  3. This is one of the reasons I have to keep telling pissed-off folks at Daily Kos comment sections that “letting” my far-right state of Texas or any other state secede to recreate the Confederacy and let the liberal states go in peace is a terrible idea. Because in every region in a state of armed conflict there are people from both sides mixed together, and mechanical solutions like partition will leave too many people on the wrong side of the line no matter what you do. Many Blacks will never leave the South because they think it’s their home because their ancestors have lived there for a dozen generations. But as long as the rest of America doesn’t hold back the Southern Whites, they will persecute the Blacks as they have at every available opportunity (and now pursue disenfranchisement so they can do it again). So in a partitioned America, leftist troublemakers like me in Texas will try to fight back against the racist rulers, leftist troublemakers in Blue America will send me aid, hothead Texans will escalate violence in retaliation and even carry out terrorist attacks in Blue America. The more people of the left who evacuate Red America, the more the remainder will be persecuted. The more people of the right who evacuate Blue America, the more the remainder will bleat that they are being persecuted by having to respect the human rights of Blacks and gays. Each situation will invite aspiring terrorists.

    People are not free-market abstractions with infinite mobility. They are attached to their homes and communities.

    • Spot on. The US needs to remain one nation under whatever.

      Anything else won’t end well.

    • i disagree. the south will continue to torture the rest of the country with their humiliation and wounded pride seemingly forever. maybe if they were free of the federal government they might actually make some headway in their tortured search for enlightenment.

  4. Kefraya and al-Foua had been beseiged for the last 2.5 years. It is difficult to envision a short-term solution that would have enabled the residents to carry out a normal life. I agree completely that population exchanges never meet the stated goals of their ideal. The Pakistan-Indian exchange of Hindu/Sikh/Muslim exchange was catastrophic. So, many millions of lives extinguished.

    What would make these events less likely in Syria and Iraq is ensuring that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Russia, and the United States abide by international law. In the case of Saudi Arabia, it has funded the most extreme groups in Syria: groups that either carry out the terrorist attacks on the buses, or at the very least are allied with groups that carry out these attacks on civilian buses. Al-Assad’s government deserves condemnation for the war crimes it has committed in Syria. Simultaneously, the extremist groups that have operated in Syria over the past 6 years need to be condemned and blamed for the terrorism they have inflicted upon the Syrian population. This extremism is abetted by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and needs to be stopped by the international community. Place an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.

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