Aleppo, Ankara and Berlin: Atrocities, Violence and Terror


Humanitarian Crisis in Syria. In the eastern part of Aleppo, a Syrian city held by rebels, thousands of civilians were trapped. People were being executed in those parts of Aleppo that had been retaken by Assad forces. Recently the trapped residents that were stuck in a small area with no safe zones posted final “goodbye” messages, pictures and tweets on social media. They have thanked supporters, and questioned how the world allowed the situation in Aleppo to happen. The situation in Syria has been described as a “stain on the world’s collective conscience”.

A Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

In the eastern part of Aleppo, a Syrian city held by rebels, thousands of civilians were trapped. People were being executed in those parts of Aleppo that had been retaken by Assad forces. Recently the trapped residents that were stuck in a small area with no safe zones posted final "goodbye" messages, pictures and tweets on social media. They have thanked supporters, and questioned how the world allowed the situation in Aleppo to happen.

The situation in Syria has been described as a "stain on the world’s collective conscience" by UN Humanitarian Chief O'Brien: "This callous carnage that is the Syria conflict has long moved from the cynical, to the sinful. It is chilling that these actions and levels of sufferings have been tolerated, with only limited international interference. This is a stain on the world’s collective conscience". Many people worldwide have wondered why the international community and the United Nations have not been able to take effective measures to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Public opinion concerning the Syria crisis in mass media and social media worldwide affirms this.

A Terrorist attack on the Russian ambassador to Turkey in Ankara

On 19 December a 22-year-old Turkish off-duty police officer, Mevlut Mert Altinta, decided to take matters in his own hand. He assassinated Russia's ambassador to Turkey, Andrey G. Karlov at an Ankara art exhibit on the evening of 19 December, while shouting: “We are those who pledged jihad to Muhammad! [...] don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!”.  Then he added, “Every single person who has a share in this atrocity will pay for it!.” Altinta kills the Russian ambassador to Turkey in order to influence the humanitarian crisis in Syria. During a gun fight that followed the perpetrator was shot.

Turkey and Russia considered the assassination a 'provocative terrorist attack.' It has been doubted whether the terrorist attack on the Russian ambassador to Turkey was the act of a lone-wolf terrorist. Some are of the opinion that the attack has been organized by people behind the scenes who intended to seriously disrupt Turkish-Russian relations. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus states that it is "not an ordinary attack that was conducted by a lone man [...]. There are some people who directed (him) behind the scenes, who led him into carry out such a plan, who wanted to obtain political gains."

It was feared that the assassination would damage the relations between Turkey and Russia but according to experts this tragic event could perhaps bring the countries closer together in a joint fight against terrorism.

Putin said in nationally televised remarks that it was not only a provocation to undermine Turkish-Russian relations but also to undermine the "peace process in Syria." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed that the terrorist attack on Andrey Karlov the Russian Federation has become even more determined to fight terrorism and that it will not make concessions to terrorists: "This tragedy makes all of us more determined to fight terrorism." Lavrov hoped that further talks would "create conditions for a more efficient delivery of humanitarian aid without making any concessions to terrorists".

Turkey and the Russian Federation will work together in order to investigate the terrorist attack. The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs also stated that Russia intends to "maintain" cooperation in Syria to ensure reaching a political resolution. Russia also hopes to extend the cooperation also to other areas.

A Berlin Christmas market terrorist attack

On Monday 19 December another bloody terrorist attack took place at a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany. Anis Amri, a 24-year-old Tunisian man, with ties to Islamic extremists has been identified as a suspect. With the stolen lorry the attacker plowed through several christmas huts and stalls and people at high speed. The attacker killed 12 and dozens are left injured. The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attack. Anis Amri, who is suspected to have committed the Berlin terrorist attack, may have had Salafist ties and links with a jihadist preacher, Abu Walaa, who was arrested in Germany last month.

In order to fulfill a "humanitarian responsibility", German Chancellor Angela Merkel opted for a liberal migration policy, also called an "open-door-refugee-policy". In the past year-and-a-half around a million asylum-seekers have entered Germany after Merkel's decision to temporarily open the German borders for asylum-seekers. However, Merkel's open-door-refugee policy has been and still is being criticized for facilitating potential terrorists to enter the country without adequate checks. Her migration policy has reigned a political debate about the safety of Germany and the German borders. The recent terrorist attack in Berlin has caused further unrest and the attack could polarise further German attitudes to the influx of around a million migrants in the past year-and-a-half. The terrorist attack could aggravate fear of Islamic extremism, hate crimes and could erode public confidence in the German government. This could result in a political swing - in voting for political leaders who promise more radical solutions in challenging times.

Three different types of violence

The humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and the terrorist attacks in Berlin and Turkey have a few things in common but there are also differences and different laws and regimes are applicable. All three cases have in common that they are concerned with violence, atrocities and a violation of international and national law. And all three are (in)directly linked to migration issues and islamic extremism. In the fight against the crisis in Syria the lack of a successful international diplomatic platform to set steps to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria is evident. The terrorist attacks in Ankara and Berlin could be considered as different types of attacks with different ends. Whereas the Turkish terrorist Altinta in Ankara specifically targeted the Russian Ambassador to Turkey in order to undermine the state (both Russia and Turkey), the Berlin terrorist attack was meant to kill as many victims as possible. In both cases the terrorists intended to create fear and terror.

Both international law and diplomacy are needed to end terrorism and the humanitarian crisis in Syria 

Violent and terrorist acts of individuals, whether or not to stop a war, or a humanitarian crisis in Syria constitute grave violations of national and international law. The international community has not yet been able to end the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. On a diplomatic level extensive cooperation is needed to help Syria end the crisis and end the grave violations of national and international law.

Diplomacy and international law are inextricably linked together. Both diplomacy and international law are needed to end crises, wars, infractions of the rule of law and to achieve peace. Ms Sigrid Kaag, a top Dutch diplomat who currently serves as a United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL) and who was recently awarded the Carnegie Wateler Peace Prize by the Dutch Carnegie Foundation, affirms that peace cannot be won just through signing treaties or making deals. This can only be done through "commitment, courage and dedication". Ethics, "strong and moral leadership" are needed, both on an individual, an organisational and on a(n) (inter)national level. In a recent interview Ms Kaag also stressed the need for the whole international community to "stand for international law" and to "disseminate international norms". Many people will strongly agree with Ms Sigrid Kaag. We can only hope that in the coming year good will, diplomatic negotiations, the prevalence of international norms and the rule of law will contribute to the resolution of (international) conflicts and the ending of crises.

Best wishes

On behalf of the Peace Palace Library I wish you a merry Christmas, a peaceful, prosperous, healthy and happy new year. We hope to see you again in the Peace Palace Library in 2017.