By David Vergili
As we prepare for a new year, the international political scene has been marked by economic and political demands resulting in protest movements around the world. The popular movements, which sprung out of an unstable international order and saw millions of people participate, forced governments and elites to implement much needed political, economic, and social reforms, and in some cases led to high-level resignations. In such a fragile period, the situation of minority and vulnerable groups should not be overlooked, and their demands should not be ignored. Retrospectively, in times of major social turmoil, minorities and vulnerable groups usually pay a heavy price.
In France, the UK, Catalonia, and especially in Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Sudan, and Algeria, people around the world have taken to the streets in order to express their desire for change. Unlike many previous protest movements, the current wave lacks distinct leadership – instead coordinated via social media – and largely refuse violence. The protests of recent years have proven to be resilient, appealing to all segments of society by incorporating different religious, ethnic, and cultural identities without denying them. The loss of power of traditional political parties, the rise of right-wing and populist movements, the emergence of new balances of power, and the improvement of economic life will determine the future of street protest and popular movements.
In the Middle East, the homeland of the Syriac people, the protest movements that started in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran continue. Already bringing the resignation of the Iraqi President, it has created a great dilemma for Iran’s regional influence policies. We are observing a grassroots movement of people engaged in a quest to set a different course of history. The torture, killing, and executions committed by Iraqi and Lebanese paramilitaries, acting as Iranian shadow forces, and the demand to end the demonstrations by official Iranian military structures reveal an important reason for the violent incidents. The defeat of ISIS in Iraq, which had seized Mosul, Nineveh Plain, and the Sinjar region in 2014 and carried out a barbaric genocide against the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrians, Yazidis, and different ethnic-religious groups living in these regions, was welcomed by the Iraqis.
Governmental restructuring, equal distribution of public resources, prevention of corruption, and an improvement of daily life were among the main expectations of Iraqis after the liberation from ISIS and there was an extension of goodwill by the Iraqi society towards the government. However, the continuation of regional and international forces attempts to intervene in the internal affairs of Iraq has led to political, sectarian, and party conflicts during the post-ISIS period which have not ceased. This has put an end to the goodwill that existed for a short time and brought the fire of rebellious movements.
In such a period of unpredictability, the demands and protection of minority and vulnerable groups are largely forgotten and fall into a secondary position when political and economic tectonic movements affect all segments of society. However, if we look at recent historical events, the current picture is a grim balance sheet. Often in deeply divided societies, the regular experience of disenfranchised minority groups is a predictor of wide-spread unrest and social turmoil will affect even dominant social groups. As domestic and international attention is focused on the grievances of dominant social groups, the demands and security of minority groups will go overlooked and the political relationships they will develop to survive the tumultuous events will be transparent: a recipe for a painful period.
The political, economic, and social structures that exist on an international and local level are under great pressure and are having difficulties in fulfilling people’s demands. The resulting protests have created power vacuums that may last for years. Clearly, the old system is outdated and unresponsive to the changing needs of society, but a new social order has not yet been able to take its place. And regrettably, it is minority groups who will suffer the most.