Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 12, 2020

The Syrian fascist whose word Max Blumenthal would have us believe

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:09 pm

Markus Forhnmaier (l), a member of the neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Kevork Almassian (r), an important source in Max Blumenthal’s “Management of Savagery” supposedly attesting to the jihadist character of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad

A couple of days ago, I spotted an article on the Asylum – Misinformation website about a Syrian living in Germany named Kevork Almassian, who was supposedly being deported to Syria in violation of his right to asylum. As the name of the website would indicate, this was not true. When you hear the term “right to asylum”, the first thing you think of is that this poor refugee opposed to the dictatorship might get sent back to Syria where he would be tortured or killed.

As it happens, Almassian was a fierce Assad loyalist who must have told some bullshit story about being the target of jihadis, thus forcing him to seek refuge in Germany. Who knows what kind of subterfuge he used to win asylum in Germany but it has become clear that he had connections with the country’s burgeoning fascist movement. After gaining asylum, it didn’t take long for him to get jobs working for the neo-Nazis, his latest for Björn Höcke, the AfD chairman in the state of Thuringia, where the party is widely viewed as a Nazi threat.

Clearly, there is an affinity between Almassian and AfD over their Islamophobia, a key ingredient of all fascist movements in Europe today. In the article about Almassian, we learn that he used his asylum status to help send the true political refugees back to Syria where they would be tortured or killed. In concert with AfD, Almassian has mounted a propaganda campaign to “expose” Syrian refugees as coming from Afghanistan and other countries. The scare quotes in this Tweet should give you an idea of what he was up to:

In 2015, he came to Switzerland for a conference, after which he traveled to Germany where he hoped to convert a business visa into a residence permit. When that failed, he applied for asylum. I strongly suspect that he used his fascist ties to help influence their cronies in the immigration bureau. Within days of his arrival he was pictured drinking beer with Markus Frohnmaier, an AfD activist who he would serve as social media director before long—his first job with the fascists. (See photo above)

Apparently, his ties to the German fascists predates 2015. Articles referencing Almassian appeared in a right-wing military magazine run by Manuel Ochsenreiter, a far-right journalist who was implicated in planning a firebomb attack on a Hungarian cultural center in Ukraine meant to compromise Ukrainian nationalists. He also visited Almassian in Syria in 2014.

You might even conclude that Almassian’s operation in Germany was the fruit of an alliance between high levels of Assad’s government and the AfD. There is ample evidence that the European fascist movements all shared a fondness for Bashar al-Assad, from Golden Dawn to the National Front in France.

When the war turned decisively in Assad’s favor, the AfD sought the deportation of Syrian refugees and to re-establish Syria as a safe country of origin. To help make their case, Almassian was critical. Not only did Almassian and the German fascists concur on booting Syrian refugees out of the country, they were part of the broad network of propagandists absolving Assad of using chemical weapons. After the sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun, one of their MPs issued a statement of solidarity with the “legitimate Syrian president”.

In an interview in 2016 with the radical right-wing newspaper Sezession, Almassian made talking points consistent with what you might read in “anti-imperialist” publications like Consortium News, 21st Century Wire or Grayzone. He claimed that Aleppo had to be besieged in order “to spare human lives”. He also claimed that there was never a democratic revolution, but that it was dominated from the start by religious radical forces.

Most principled people trying to write an account of the Syrian disaster would probably not want to use Almassian as a source. His Islamophobic YouTube videos are the sort of thing that might be referenced in a book by someone like disgraced ex-academic Tim Anderson’s “The Dirty War on Syria”.

Would you ever expect a footnote crediting Almassian in a Verso book? When I began reading the Asylum – Misinformation article, the name Almassian rang a bell. After a few minutes, I realized that Max Blumenthal had cited him in “Management of Savagery” in order to smear the Syrian revolution as a plot designed to topple Assad and replace it with one friendly to Western imperialism.

In preparing a review of Blumenthal’s book, I learned that Verso does not have fact-checkers. That in itself might not be a problem as long as the author has some credibility, like David Harvey or Mike Davis. But by 2017, Blumenthal had the well-earned reputation of being a cynical, crude, conspiracy-mongering has-been who took a turn toward Russia and Syria for cold cash. I personally didn’t think that was the explanation. Instead, I wrote this off as his inability to see politics in class terms.

In chapter six of “Management of Savagery” titled “The Next Dirty War”, Blumenthal does not even give lip-service to the idea that the revolution was hijacked by Islamists backed by Saudi Arabia. Instead, it sprang from the womb with nefarious intentions.

On the very first page, he makes the case that the protests in Baniyas were typical. Since a Sunni cleric named Anas al-Ayrout made a speech demanding the banning of mixed gender schools, this proved that the protests were intended to turn Syria into Saudi Arabia. To back this up, Blumenthal refers to an Almassian YouTube video in his endnotes with this bland assurance:

Almasian, a Syrian-Armenian refugee in Germany, has produced a series of English-language videos  that provide a corrective to Western media characterizations of the Syrian conflict. While he makes  no secret of his support for the Syrian government,  he has relied on primary sources like video of Ayrout’s sermons in Baniyas, which were faithfully translated.

For a more balanced treatment of Baniyas, I recommend “Cities in Revolution: Baniyas”, a 34-page report that presents an entirely different portrait of al-Ayrout. Despite the fact that he held conservative religious views, he was not a sectarian. In one of the first protests in Baniyas, this was his role:

The demonstration was unorganized at first, and within a few moments, Maher al Masri, climbed on the shoulders of his freedom and began chanting as well, with people falling in behind him. The protesters moved unbothered until they reached the bus depot of the city. At that point, a number of protesters attacked an Alawite bus worker and damaged his truck. Ayrout, however, intervened immediately and ensured reparations were paid to the bus owner. Ayrout then emerged chanting, “Sunni, Alawi, we all want freedom” and the protesters repeated after him until they reached the intelligence security headquarters in the city.

This, of course, went against the grain of the kind of supposed Sunni sectarianism that Blumenthal hoped to expose. On the same page, he refers to another Almassian YouTube video that supposedly represents activists in Homs chanting “We are all jihadists! We will exterminate Alawites!” Perhaps trying to fend off critics who might find Almassian problematic, to say the least, Blumenthal’s endnote adds that the chant was also referenced in a white paper at the Open Source Center, which he describes as a “CIA intelligence center”. How telling that the anti-imperialist relies on the word of the primary imperialist institution in the world with a long and undistinguished history of using the Big Lie. By June 2012, the white paper’s publication date, it was clear that the USA had little interest in throwing its weight behind poor farmers and their young urban cohorts seeking to create a democracy in the Middle East. Assad was always the lesser evil as the Rand Corporation pointed out in a workshop they convened in 2014:

Key Findings

Workshop participants felt that prolonged conflict was the best descriptor for the situation in Syria as of December 2013, but momentum seemed to be leaning toward regime victory.

Negotiated settlement was deemed the least likely of the possible scenarios.

Regime collapse, while not considered a likely outcome, was perceived to be the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests [emphasis added].

 

4 Comments »

  1. Louis, I appreciate your following up on this line of critique, against anti-imperialists (so-called) and also their links to the Right. I fear though that the left in general has accepted the simplified view that they propagate.

    Comment by Nick — May 13, 2020 @ 4:53 am

  2. Give me a break. You haven’t a clue what I might reference, only what I have referenced, and I can assure you I have no interest in referencing Kevork Almassian and never have. If you were to stick to facts instead of relying on cheap innuendo and meaningless statements you would have had to have written “His Islamophobic YouTube videos are the sort of thing that might be (but never have been) referenced in a book by Canadian blogger Stephen Gowans.” So, now I’m accused of doing what I’ve never done but what you in your judgment believe I might do. Indeed, you contradict yourself. I believe in another attack on my book you acknowledged my references are to mainstream sources. Your eschewing of critical analysis in favor of slander is equivalent to my writing that “Hitler’s anti-Semitic lunacy is the kind of thing that might be referenced by someone like US blogger Louis Proyect” – in other words, a baseless, rather silly, and indeed vacuous, statement. Based on your zeal for evidence-free, rhetoric-rich, polemics, one can only conclude that you’re the anti-Assad equivalent of Kevork Almassian–a cheap propagandist, not particularly concerned with evidence and critical analysis, but strongly invested in scoring cheap political points, even if it means making risibly empty statements to do so.

    Comment by Stephen Gowans — May 14, 2020 @ 2:11 pm

  3. I stand corrected, Stephen. Your pro-Assad propaganda is consistently supported by much more mainstream media, even if cherry-picked. I will modify the article right now.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 14, 2020 @ 2:20 pm

  4. Hey, Proyect. He…actually…reads…………your column!!! Success!!!

    Comment by Martin Davis — May 18, 2020 @ 5:35 pm


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