OP-ED - As the world’s eyes were focused on the Olympic Games in London and Bashar al-Assad's killer tanks and planes battered Syria throughout the summer, Kofi Annan"s resignation went almost unnoticed. But when the UN peace envoy to Syria threw in the towel, it marked the end of a shameful fiasco. The affable Ghanaian diplomat and Nobel Peace Laureate, who has been both number one and number two in the international organization, displayed goodwill, humanitarianism and pacifism but yielded only catastrophic results.
As the UN’s number two, responsible for peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Rwanda, his passivity shielded the Hutu's genocide of the Tutsi people. In 1994, 800,000 civilians were murdered with machetes over a three-month period whilst Kofi Annan refused to send 5,000 blue helmets to stop the genocide. Ten years later, he released a statement saying he could have personally done more to stop the genocide. Rather than being punished, he was promoted to UN General Secretary, a post he would assume from 1997 to 2006. During that time, he stayed quiet as Vladimir Putin endeavored to slash the living population of Chechnya by a fifth.
Were we to believe that this tiny group of people of one million habitants included 200,000 terrorists? A similar silence met the North Korean famine (1998-2000), where mass starvation claimed between one and two million victims, leading to reports of cannibalism in the communist country. Kofi Annan, supported by democratic nations or not, was content to respect national sovereignty to an excessive extent: leaders can do as they please in their own countries, no matter the crimes they are committing. Only once did his compassionate heart twinge: he described Darfur as "hell on earth," when he condemned the government in Khartoum. However, not much changed. Infatuated with his important responsibilities: "We are the conscience of the world," he proclaimed in 1995 at the 50th anniversary of the UN. However, his resignation August 2 this year marked yet another failure.
Putin’s deadly cynicism: loud and clear
Whilst Kofi Annan went from failure to failure, Vladimir Putin has gone from success to success. He doesn't even try to hide deadly cynicism any more, which only escapes those who wish to ignore it. He officially declared that he would never give way to the supposed "liberal" Dmitry Medvedev, who was, and always will be Putin's little servant. He stubbornly reiterates that all the democratic opponents in Russia are a bunch of conspirators, paid off by the foreign secret services and especially the Americans.
Recently, he has bragged about having armed and prepared militias in South Ossetia since 2006, in order to attack Georgia, which says a lot about the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 and the crimes of the "militia" that the Kremlin swore were independent and out of control. However, to give some credit to Putin, otherwise an expert in lying and slander, one must note his absence of hypocrisy: he is a man who does not hide what he is doing, he asserts his power loud and clear.
What does it matter if Russia is failing to become modern and grow economically? What does it matter if it has reached impossible levels of corruption (on the same level as Zimbabwe) including a political and financial mafia? No matter its judicial and bureaucratic nihilism! Putin does not pretend, like the days of Marxist-Leninism, to promise a better future for his people. For Putin, his weapons of mass destruction are enough.
The post-Marxist prince is setting himself up as a global power by developing a nuisance strategy in every domain: from his nuclear playthings to his formidable arsenal of conventional weapons, used whenever he fancies.
These are phenomena that affect one another: the end of Annan's "world conscience" is directly correlated to the rise in Putin's power. The more the UN fails at protecting civilians (the 1973 resolution remains an exception and the rescue of Benghazi was David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy's doing), the more the grey zone widens where civilians are at the mercy of the fury of planes and tanks, and the more Putin strengthens his gang of despots, who are in the minority but nevertheless well armed: he is protecting them from outside intervention with his veto power in the Security Council, enthroning himself as the godfather of godfathers.
Making tyrants happy to the detriment of the people
Russia’s geriatric communist leaders have been replaced by a KGB member who knows neither scruples nor restraint. You have to be as naïve as a French diplomat or simply obsessed with elections, like Barack Obama and his European counterparts, to imagine for a second that the “butcher from the Caucasus” would bat an eye at the bloodshed in Aleppo, Homs or Damascus. "20,000 have died in a year!" cries the press and the NGOs. "Is that all?" Putin smirks, you can do better Bashar al-Assad.
After recent protests in Moscow, Russian leaders are determined to do everything to stop the "Arab spring" spirit from spreading to their streets. If Putin protects Assad, he needs to win to protect Putin in return. A bloodily repressed rebellion, like that in Chechnya, would serve as an example and a warning for the Russian people and its close neighbors.
There is no point in choosing another well-meaning Kofi Annan. There is no point in organizing conferences upon conferences and there's no point in taking the time to think about it some more, and then do nothing. There is no point in including Iranian mullahs, nor the Pope, in talks about Syria. As long as we ignore that the boss of the Kremlin wants to make tyrants happy to the detriment of the people, hell on earth will thrive.
For a year, Syrian civilians have stood up to a criminal and tortuous regime. It is true that they are not all innocent angels with clean consciences but as long as the rest of the word keeps abandoning them, unarmed, they will be forced to commit irreparable acts.
The drama taking place in the Security Council has gone on long enough. We cannot wait forever to see if Putin (and his Chinese comrades) ever becomes a little teary-eyed or if one humanitarian fiber in his body responds to the conflict in Syria. The failure of Kofi Annan is that of an idealist international community: for twenty years it has left its fate up to the phony unanimity of the Security Council, submissive to the diktats of Saint Vladimir, patron of the Lubyanka.
*The author is a writer and a philosopher.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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