Courtesy of the International Schiller Institute.
Throughout history, Aleppo has witnessed many moments of greatness as well as decline and turmoil, but it always arose again like the bird of the Phoenix. The people and government of Syria have kept the same spirit alive in the face of the worst crisis in the history of the country. Here we review a proposal for the reconstruction of Syria called Project Phoenix, focusing on how Syria, which enjoys an ideal position at the crossroads of three continents, can benefit from connecting to the New Silk Road and the emerging World Land-Bridge. This video was produced for the June 25-26, 2016 Schiller Institute conference in Berlin, Germany, “Common Future for Mankind, and a Renaissance of the Classical Cultures”
In the year 1184 AD, Abul-Hasan Ibn Jubayr of Valencia, Spain, the famous Andalusian Arab geographer, poet and traveler visited Aleppo and was awe-struck by its beauty:
The city is as old as eternity, but still young, and it has never ceased to exist. Its days and nights have been long; it has survived its rulers and commoners. These are its houses and dwellings, but where are their former residents and the people who visited them? These are its palaces and chambers of court, but where are the Hamdanid princes and their poets? They have all passed away, but the city is still here. City of wonders! It endures. Its kings fall; they disappear, but its destruction has not been ordered. Aleppo, may God protect it, is a great renowned city…worthy of special veneration.
Since 2011, the Syrian nation has been targeted for destruction by the Obama Administration and the ever present British Empire, through their regional agents Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar who financed, armed and protected Islamist terrorist and takfiri groups. These groups wreaked havoc throughout the country, in a conscious attempt to destroy its ancient and diverse social and cultural fabric, replacing it with ethnic and religious conflicts. The nation, its army and state institutions have been fighting back and resisting, but at a very heavy price.
Between 200,000 and 400,000 lives have been lost, and as many have been injured. Many civilians have died for lack of medicine, clean water or food, as a result of fighting or by the economic sanctions imposed on Syria by the West.
The reconstruction of Syria will be critical in resolving the refugee crisis now sweeping the entirety of the region. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that by June 2, 2016, there were 4,843,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and also in Egypt. As of December 2015, 6.400,000 Syrians were internally displaced, i. e. living as refugees inside their countries, with most seeking safety in government-controlled areas. People cannot return to their towns and villages because most of the houses are completely or partially destroyed. Water, power and transport infrastructure have equally been a target of the fighting. Agricultural and manufacturing activities in many parts of the country have been at a standstill since 2012.
Aleppo, before Ibn Jubayr’s time and after, up to this very moment, has witnessed many moments of greatness and decline, survived massive physical and social turmoil, and arose again like the bird of the Phoenix. The people and government of Syria have kept the same spirit alive in the face of the worst crisis in the history of the country.
In November 2015, a delegation of the Schiller Institute and the Syrian-Swedish Committee for Democracy travelled to Damascus to bring humanitarian aid to the war-torn country, but more importantly, to present to the highest levels of the Syrian government the Schiller Institute’s Project Phoenix for the Reconstruction of Syria. A year earlier, the same delegation was approached by Syrian officials on the Schiller Institute’s views on this subject.
Certain developments in the past two years speak to and prove that the Schiller Institute’s intervention was timely and correct. The intervention of the BRICS nations to change the decaying and destructive world order in 2014 is a major incentive for the Syrian people to follow this program. But, the direct military intervention of Russia in September 2015 in support of the Syria army and people has set the stage for a completely new political and strategic geometry in that country and the whole region that can either lead to peace in Syria and all Southwest Asia, or if blocked by the Transatlantic system and NATO, could lead to global war and most probably to a thermonuclear confrontation.
In addition to the Russian military intervention, on the economic side, a major opening was created for peace and development when the Chinese President Xi Jinping brought the New Silk Road to southwest Asia and the Arab world in his visit to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran in January 2016. The Chinese and Russia government officials visited Syria and offered to help in the reconstruction process. The Syrian Investment Agency (SIA) announced in April 2016 that it will convene a reconstruction conference together with the BRICS nations later this year.
The Schiller Institute and Executive Intelligence Review had anticipated these developments by producing the special report The New Silk Road Becomes the World Land-Bridge (EIR/Landbridge-Report) in November 2014, which was translated into Chinese (EIR/Landbridge-Report/Chinese) in September 2015, and recently into Arabic (EIR/Landbridge-Report/Arabic), the language spoken in most countries in the region. This report presents a realistic and urgently needed vision of history’s greatest peace and development project, connecting continents and nations through trade and development corridors. The extension of the New Silk Road is key to the stabilization and development of the region. Syria can become a natural element of this extension, both benefiting from it and contributing to its further development.
Project Phoenix consists of two major sections: 1. How to finance reconstruction, and 2. How Syria can benefit from connecting to the New Silk Road.
I. Financing the Reconstruction of Syria
Using a combination of nationally-generated Hamiltonian credit through the establishment of a national reconstruction bank, and foreign export credits and direct investments, such as those made by the BRICS New Development Bank or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as envisaged in Phoenix Project, Syria can outline and finance a comprehensive reconstruction and development program. This should include an emergency program for housing and providing services to the returning millions of refugees whose homes, schools, hospitals have been destroyed by the war. This program will put the all available workforce, tools, and materials to work.
Many Syrian industries and agricultural production facilities have been targeted and destroyed and will need to be rebuilt. The reconstruction of Syria’s pharmaceuticals and petrochemical industries are of urgent strategic importance. Temporary work brigades to mobilize the unemployed could be financed by means of the national reconstruction bank; the Army Corps of Engineers could provide the kernel of these work brigades. In addition to building what is needed, they would train the unemployed for higher-skilled work. Syria has developed advanced technologies in avionics, electronics and machine-building, as well as an advanced chemical industry which all have great potential for expansion.
Syria’s national transport system must be upgraded, incorporating high-speed rail, and the transportation routes will have to adapt to transcontinental routes from the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Black Sea. This was the vision of President Bashar Assad in his “Five Seas Strategy” which he pronounced in 2009 before the war broke out.
The New Silk Road strategy, involves not transportation alone, but two international development corridors, one East-West and the other North-South, which will bring long-term vitality and growth to the ancient crossroads of Syria. Besides railways, these development corridors include pipelines, water projects, industrial zones, advanced agriculture, and new cities. The highest levels of technology, such as nuclear power for water desalination and atmospheric ionization for enhancing increased rainfall, open a great opportunity to green the deserts, diminish the effects of sand storms, and reclaim vast desert territories for agriculture and settlement, in cooperation with neighboring nations, for the maximum development and use of resources.
II. Syria and the New Silk Road:
Syria enjoys an ideal position at the crossroads of three continents, Asia, Europe and Africa. It is also positioned along the trade routes between numerous major bodies of
water. Thus it can connect to both the Eurasian-African Land-bridge and Economic Belt of the New Silk Road, as well as the Maritime Silk Road.
1) One of the main routes of the New Silk Road extends from China through Central Asia and Iran, and on into Turkey and continental Europe. But plans include an Iranian extension eastward to Iraq, and further along both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers into Syria. The Euphrates River branch can also be connected to the Maritime Silk Road through ports on the Persian Gulf including the port of Basra in southern Iraq and northwest towards Deir Ezzour, Raqqa and the ancient trading city of Aleppo. Currently there is a railway along the Euphrates in Iraq, and in Syria a railroad extends southeast from Aleppo as far as Deir Ez-zur on the Euphrates, 150 km from Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border. This is one of the main connections to the new Silk Road East-West mainline through Baghdad and Tehran to Central Asia and China.
The old Silk Road along the Euphrates River from Basra on the Persian Gulf will reach into Syria, and a railway connection to Europe through Turkey. This route will be able to revitalize the devastated industrial zones of Raqqa and Aleppo. Such a Euphrates railway, built in cooperation with Iraq, will be a big step toward regional integration and a development corridor extending from Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean to the Eastern Mediterranean and Southern Europe.
Having a rail connection to Teheran will also provide Syria access to the Caspian Sea Region, as the next step in the Five Seas Strategy. Transportation through the so-called North-South Corridor from St. Petersburg, Russia to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas near the mouth of the Persian Gulf, and also to Chabahar Port on the Arabian Sea coast, will traverse the Caspian Sea by ship as well as via railways on both the eastern and western shores of the Caspian. These will all become connections for Syria.
All of these trade routes will, like the old Silk Road, be projected into Syria towards Aleppo. From that city, the southeast-northwest “Euphrates” development corridor will turn to the southwest into the devastated Idlib region, and onward to the port of Latakia on the Mediterranean Sea, which will have to be expanded.
Another step to open up the old East-West Silk Road routes will be to build a 200-km railway from Deir Ezzor southwest to Palmyra, the legendary Silk Road city, where Silk Road festivals were held each year before the war. This missing link will allow railway service from Tehran and Baghdad through these Syrian cities and onward, in the same direction, to Damascus and Beirut.
2) A more direct land transport corridor can link Syria to the dynamically developing economy of Egypt through rebuilding the historical north-south transportation route in western Syria, also known as the Hijaz Railway from Turkey which runs south from Aleppo to Damascus, continuing on to Amman, Jordan. Syria’s
relationship with Egypt’s planned giant industrial zones along the New Suez Canal will be boosted by the railway link from Cairo to the Gulf of Aqaba, across the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, and on to Amman. Moreover Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed in April 2016 to build a land-bridge across the Tiran Strait to the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula and northward across the Suez Canal Zone to Cairo. The old Hijaz Railway from Istanbul-Aleppo-Damascus-Amman and further into Saudi Arabia and Yemen in the southern tip of Arabian Peninsula can be reconstructed as a high-speed railway. Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean and Asia will be connected to Africa through this transcontinental land-bridge across the Red Sea.
Lyndon LaRouche’s Oasis Plan for the Middle East, http://www.schillerinstitute.org/economy/maps/maps.html first publicized in EIR during the 1970s and revived in 1990 as the First Gulf War loomed, envisaged a north-south development corridor from Turkey to Egypt and Africa, running through Damascus, Syria’s Golan Hights into Israel and the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza, then to Sinai in Egypt. This was the right basis for a durable peace process.
3) The Black Sea region will be connected to Syria through Istanbul and another Turkish port, Samsun on the southern Black Sea coast. Istanbul is also the destination for the new Viking Rail Line from the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea, which will be a trade route from the Baltic Sea region and Sweden, southward to Syria. Russia and the Caucasus will also come closer to Syria and Southwest Asia this way.
4) Since the inauguration of Egypt’s New Suez Canal in August 2015, enormous ships can now bring cargo flows from China and India on the Maritime Silk Road to the Mediterranean Sea, and ongoing regional port expansion. High-speed rail lines are to extend northward to Central Europe through both Italy and the Balkans. China is participating in planning a new canal through the Balkans, from Thessaloniki in Greece along the rivers Axios/Vardar and Morava, connecting to Europe’s major transportation artery, the Danube River, at Belgrade. The Danube already draws traffic from the dense industrial shipping on the Rhine River in Germany. Freight shipments and travel to Syria will then be possible via this canal and the Greek and Italian ports, if Syria’s own Mediterranean Sea ports of Tartus and Latakia are expanded.
Syria, before the war was not a rich country, but it had a relatively good living standard and free education and health care systems. The city of Aleppo, a major center of culture and science during the Islamic Renaissance of the 9th-13th centuries, has been a center of commerce and industry, home to 30-40% of national manufacturing and also non-oil exports. Some 10km north of Aleppo is the Sheikh Najar Industrial city, whose construction began in 2000, equipped with advanced equipment and facilities. This city, as well as Aleppo itself, have been significantly destroyed since the 2011 clashes between government and opposition forces — it is now a virtual ghost town. But it
remains a very good example of the intentions of the Syrian government to pursue a process of industrialization. This process has to be continued and supported in Aleppo and also in other parts of the country.
What makes Aleppo, both the city and the region, such a special and fascinating place is its multi-faceted and diverse history, economic, social and cultural character. It is this fabric which the authors of the crime being committed against Syria have intended to destroy. They argue that the nations that are made of different religious, ethnic and tribal groups cannot co-exist and develop; that a dialogue of cultures, such as among Islam and Christianity, or between China and the West is impossible. But the very existence of such colorful nations such as Iraq and Syria are living proof of the fallacy of their claims. Therefore, they had to force these nations into chaotic deconstruction by direct use of arms, giving rise to the barbaric Al-Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic State.
Another fascinating aspect of Aleppo is its incredible resilience in the face of wars and natural and man-made disasters. Therefore, it must be restored to its true nature and character as a center for universal culture and civilization. UNESCO has placed The Old City of Aleppo on the World Heritage List for its Outstanding Universal Value. The UNESCO’s Criterion (iii) for the listing reads: “The old city of Aleppo reflects the rich and diverse cultures of its successive occupants. Many periods of history have left their influence in the architectural fabric of the city. Remains of Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ayyubid structures and elements are incorporated in the massive surviving Citadel. The diverse mixture of buildings including the Great Mosque founded under the Umayyads and rebuilt in the 12th century; the 12th century Madrasa Halawiye, which incorporates remains of Aleppo’s Christian cathedral, together with other mosques and madrasas, suqs and khans represents an exceptional reflection of the social, cultural and economic aspects of what was once one of the richest cities of all humanity.”
Not only Aleppo but all of Syria, with its people, culture and artifacts, represent a unique and living testimony to the co-existence and continuity of the different human civilizations. It is imperative on the world to defend and preserve it, and make, when peace is established, the world capital for the dialogue of civilizations!
SyriaNews addendum: On 10 September, His Excellency Bashar al Ja’afari addressed the Schiller Institute September 11 Memorial Conference. Video and transcript of his presentation are found, here.