Assad: Making the Ghost of Adolf Hitler Proud
by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET)
August 3, 2012
Stretching from the Mediterranean Sea eastward to the Persian Gulf lies a region of western Asia, shaped like a quarter moon, long existing as an oasis of fertile land in an otherwise arid/semi-arid one. Dubbed the "fertile crescent," it is called "the Cradle of Civilization" for having given birth to many early civilizations. Situated in the northern portion of this crescent is what today is Syria's largest city and its commercial capital, Aleppo, which also is one of history's longest continuously inhabited cities. But it is a city where history has a dark past-its residents rounded up and victimized by mass killings almost a century ago. It is a city on the brink of having history repeat itself.
In 1913, an Islamist dictatorial trio known as the "Young Turks" came to power in Turkey with an eye toward creating a new empire, unified by a single language and religion. Standing in their way was a large population of one of the oldest groups of Christian believers-Armenians. Beginning in 1915, the Young Turks sought to eliminate them, both those residing in Turkey and those outside/ living within the realm of their desired Turkish empire's boundaries. What ended as a campaign of genocide began by rounding up Armenian leaders, educators, businessmen and clergy and executing them. This was followed by mass arrests of men forced into brutal labor camps where they died or were executed.
Finally, the focus turned to Armenian women, children and the elderly rounded up from their homes in places like Aleppo, ostensibly for relocation, but then sent on tortuous and prolonged death marches through the desert. An estimated 75% of them perished. Decomposing bodies were left where victims fell, becoming such a problem the Young Turks gave orders for their government-sanctioned killers to bury their kills.
Once again, dark clouds hang over Aleppo as rebels wrestle control of it from President Bashar al-Assad. However, Assad demonstrates a willingness to use everything within his military arsenal to ensure the rebels fail.
For the first time, Assad has introduced fixed wing aircraft into the 17 month old conflict. Doing so conveys his commitment to elevate the fighting commensurate with progress the rebels make in tightening the noose around Assad's neck. Government militia, as seen 97 years earlier with the Armenians, go door-to-door rounding up those perceived to be rebels and their supporters. Of course, it matters not to the Syrian dictator that the rebels are not the only victims of his actions. Meanwhile, Syrian military assets elsewhere are being brought to bear on Aleppo. Nearly 20,000 Syrians have died so far in the conflict, with July now recording the highest single month's tally. But, with Syrian assets massing outside Aleppo, August may soon outpace July as conditions for the biggest massacre yet take shape.
In a telling observation by some Aleppo residents who bore witness to the brutality of French forces occupying Syria from 1918-1939, it is reported Assad has unleashed even greater brutality against his own people. Interestingly, yet again in history, Muslim-on-Muslim violence proves more brutal than non-Muslim-on-Muslim violence.
Meanwhile, the Syrian people still struggle to understand the international community's unwillingness to stop the killing. They struggle because they fail to understand a lesson of history not lost upon an earlier student of history named Adolf Hitler. The Young Turks' 1915 campaign became a blueprint for Hitler's 1939 campaign against Poland. Hitler determined Germany need not worry about international community intervention after sending death squads there "to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish race or language." After all, he concluded, "Who still talks...about the Armenians?"
Tragically, a region of the world known in an earlier millennium for giving birth to so many civilizations now witnesses death and destruction as the international community is unwilling to stop it.
Assad does the ghosts of the Young Turks and Adolf Hitler proud.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.