Friday, January 2, 2015
By: Kaveh Taheri
Cartoon by: Soheil Akbarpour
History of mankind has proven that popular revolt with a lot of sacrifices is the only solution to overthrow the dictatorships to achieve freedom.
Through this interview, we seek to shed light on the wholesale of destruction, the harms and scars of civil war and solutions to approach the peace and freedom for Syrian People.
Interview with Miss. Mary.Rizzo and Miss. Bayan Khatib.
Syria is a country in the Levant, which before the war had a population of about 22 million people, but by July 2014, the official number is around 17 million. The name of Syria was used as far back as the 8th century BC but its history goes back much farther; Syria was one of the Neolithic cultures since 10,000 BC. The first indigenous civilization was the kingdom of Ebla in the region.
Syrian society was affected by the invasion of Dumatul Jandal, this attack was the first mutual relation between Syrian society and Arab people.
The area has been invaded and occupied throughout its history. From 1098 till 1189 during the Crusades, Syria was occupied by France, England, Italy and Germany. Aleppo and Damascus fell to the Mongols of Hulegu in 1260. Damascus was captured by the Turco-Mongol Muslims in 1400. Syria was a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516.
The short-lived independence of Syria was established under “Faisal I” in 1920, but French troops occupied Syria after the San Remo Conference.
A revolt led by Sultan Al-Atrash broke out in the Druze Mountain and engulfed whole of Syria and parts of Lebanon.
Hashim Al-Atshani was the first president to be elected during “World War II” after negotiations on a treaty of independence between Syria and France. Syria invaded Palestine, together with other Arab States and attacked Jewish settlements in 1948.
Ba’ath party designated a civilian Ba’ath government in 1966 and president Amin Hafiz was imprisoned this coup.
Syria entered Lebanon to fight for control over there and tried to stop Israel’s invation of south of Lebanon in 1976. Syria then remained in Lebanon till 2005.
The Islamist Uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood was aimed against the government of Syria on 1976. Civilians and off-duty military personnel had been attacked by Islamists. The uprising had reached its climax when 10,000-40,000 citizens of Hama were massacred by Syrian Army troops during the presidency of Hafiz Al-Assad in 1982, in what is known as Hama massacre.
Syria participated in the Gulf War by U.S leadership against Saddam Hussein in the major shift of Arab States and the Western world. Syria also participated in the Madrid Conference of 1991.
Hafiz Al-Assad died on 10 June 2000 and the only candidate was his son, Bashar Al-Assad elected as president of Syria. He won the election unopposed. There were only two options “approve” or “reject” the candidacy.
The election seemed to be the birth of the “Damascus Spring” with hopes to reform. But soon, the movement was suppressed by authorities, imprisoning some of its intellectual leaders peaked up. Reforms have been limited to some market reforms.
The Ain es Saheb airstrike was the first obvious Israeli military operation in Syria since the Yom Kippur War which is known as Arab-Israeli War. Syria was bombed in a site of nearby Damascus on Oct 2003, that Israel claimed to be a terrorist training organ for members of Islamic Jihad.
The Syrian Kurds and Arabs clashed due to the uprising by Kurds in northwestern region of Syria on 2004, what is named Qamishli uprising.
Syria ended its occupation of Lebanon in 2005.
A suspected nuclear reactor of Syria had been destroyed by Israeli jet fighters in Deir ez-Zor Governorate in east of Syria, the constructions was by North Korean technicians. The White House and CIA subsequently confirmed that the site was a nuclear facility with military goals. IAEA investigation reported evidence of uranium and graphite, and concluded that “the site bore features resembling an undeclared nuclear reactor”.
Civil War in Syria
The unrest began in spring of 2011 as a nationwide protest against Bashar Al-Assad regime affected by the Arab Spring protests.
In the experts’ point of view, the Syrian civil war was inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions.
The uprising was morphed from popular protests to an armed revolt after months of military sieges.
Results so far: more than 200.000 people have been killed, 130.000 captured or missing overall, 4.5 million internally displaced and there are over 3.300.000 refugees.
Kaveh.T: Is it possible to estimate the scale of devastation that have been inflicted on the social fabric and the infrastructure including education and health sectors and also the social security and economy since the civil war broken out in Syria?
Bayan.Khatib: I doubt there are clear estimates about this, but from what I know at this point one in two Syrians has been either internally displaced or sought refuge in a neighbouring country. This means half the population no longer felt safe at home or lost their home in a bombing. Syrian children have been out of school for nearly four years. Schools were turned into prisons as the prisons filled up with political prisoners. School have also been targeted in air raids, including chemical weapons attacks. Hospitals too have been targeted and destroyed. When field clinics were set up instead, they too were targeted and same with medical personnel. In terms of the economy most Syrians are now in terrible financial shape. They have gone through all their savings and most have no source of income anymore, especially those living in liberated areas. Millions of Syrians now rely on humanitarian aid to survive. There are also millions of Syrians living under siege and literally starving and dying from lack of medication, as the Assad regime uses food and medicine as tools of war.
Kaveh.T: The popular revolution of Syria has begun concurrently with Arab spring in 2011. After a while, the peaceful revolution descended into arms struggle from both opposition and the regime. And so much innocent blood has been spilled, and so many people have been displaced, maimed and received horrible scars physically and psychologically hard to be recovered. My question is what is the reason of this lingering war in Syria?
Mary.Rizzo: I think the principle reason that a war continues is that there is the lack of a solution to it. Wars are notoriously won or they are lost, they don’t end in a draw, and with the crucial matter at stake, which is the existence of Syria as a country, neither of the sides that were the initial protagonists of the war are willing or able to contemplate defeat, because in their view, it would mean that Syria ceases to exist. Which, unfortunately is the case on the ground as it is. Syria is divided and these areas are controlled by very different forces, all of them military, and there has been no State structure that tends to the population as a whole, but only to the segment of it that is loyal to the regime. The map is further divided by the Kurdish zone which could even seek to gain independence. Given that they have not been spared atrocities, their independence aspirations may find a fortuitous outlet.
The war has by now gone through a profound change from its early days, when it was a national revolt that was backed by the defecting regime soldiers. The players that had always backed the regime (more or less discretely, and in exchange for things such as the only Russian naval possession in the Mediterranean, a transit route for arms from Iran into Lebanon) decided to intervene directly and to pull many of the strings, which altered the course of the uprising/revolution. It is very hard to win a war when you have no advanced weapons, no air force and no major sponsors. That Russia was even able to (along with China) wield not once but twice, its UN Veto in favour of Assad, simply reinforced the idea of it being a global conflict between the major world powers seeking “stability” in the region, that it was not going to be a popular revolt, a revolution, a civil war, but it was going to be the setting where regional and global interests were going to be played out and the interests that have been established are going to be maintained at all costs.
This very evident interventionism in favour of the regime also needed to exert a narrative that it was a necessary condition that Assad remain: not for their personal interests, which are clear and apparent to anyone with eyes, but that Assad was a bulwark against Islamic terrorism and sectarianism, which are issues that can cross borders and serve to hide macroscopic crimes against humanity that the regime is responsible for under a few slogans that will rally support for the regime from world powers, despite what is really going on in front of everyone’s eyes. Assad has been groomed to maintain power by enforcing a denial of reality, his campaign propaganda videos showed Syrians “together” rebuilding a war-torn Syria, all of this could seem like the pinnacle of irony, but there are different mechanisms at work, and there is not enough interest in seeing “the People” defeat this monstrous regime, because of the uncertainty of what is going to replace the regime. “Better the devil you know…” seems to be the philosophy behind the indifference of the world.
Assad has been allowed to not lose the war (if he still hasn’t been able to be allowed to win it) because there is little questioning of the narratives he has used to maintain the upper hand. He has encouraged a sectarian narrative because it maintained his regime in power, and the appeal of the “war on terror” argument is strongly endorsed as a justification of a war by any of the powers that have a seat on the UN Security Council, where the outcome of the war will eventually be decided if something drastic doesn’t happen first. The problem is, the rest of the world has not called out who the real terrorist is, why the “president” of Syria, but representing only a small portion of Syria is not held accountable for the destruction of Syria, both the population and the infrastructure, but has settled for a narrative which allowed a leader to continue to remain in power despite the fact that the entire country he is responsible for is in flames and over six million people have been forced into becoming refugees, trusting his word that this is all the work of a “foreign conspiracy” or “Western intervention” instead of a brutal leader who has no ability to lead refusing to surrender his power to others and no ability to administrate the country.
The slogan from the beginning was the same as the slogan in all the popular uprisings, “The People Want to Bring Down the Regime”, and it could and should have been taken literally by the world before it became clear to what extent of brutality the regime was willing to unleash an already exhausted and oppressed population simply to remain in power. The only ones in the global dimension who had taken it literally in fact, have been the supporters of the regime, because they were aware that it indeed WAS a popular, fully Syrian revolution to overthrow the regime, and not any sort of foreign conspiracy, so that is why they invented the foreign conspiracy narrative to appeal to the crowd that blames the West (in what they like to label as Imperialism) for every problem in the world, and at the same time, pushed the envelope on the “foreign intervention to bring about regime change”, while the only real foreign intervention has been the Hezbollah forces, the Revolutionary Guardians and the Russian weapons provisions, all of it alongside the regime.
But all wars eventually end, and the fact that an under-armed resistance/revolutionary force has been able to survive this long and actually control swathes of Syrian territory speaks of its resilience and perhaps a point will be reached when the supporters of Assad will be content that enough is enough, that they won’t have Assad controlling all of Syria any time in the future, and they may choose to end the war and bring it to a diplomatic stage that would remove the condition that thus far has been hindering the end of the war, they too will allow the end of the regime. It could happen at any time if there are a few strong and influential persons in the regime that see that continuing in the current vein is already a loss for the Syrian people, including the loyalists. I can’t see the revolution surrendering after all the atrocities they have undergone.
Kaveh.T: It has been long known that Syria holds such strategic position in Middle East due to its neighbouring with Israel, Lebanon and as it has been supplying weapon received from Iran to its allied Hezbollah for years. How do you interpret the dominance of regional and international countries on Syria in regard to this whole scale of the humanitarian crisis that knows no end? What clandestine proxies have been deployed deterring the overthrow of Bashar Al-Assad regime?
Mary.Rizzo: This question is intimately related to the previous one, and you put it in a nutshell when you mention that it is in a strategic position. I would add that it is strategic not only geographically, but it is foreign soil where other regional and world powers can experiment their ideological aspirations. The attempt at Pan Arabism failed if we are going to look at the Ba’ath party as in some way representing the administrative solution to that ideal. There are some who follow the ideal of the emergence of the Shi’a Crescent, that is, a demographic “solution” to affirm a Shi’a majority also in Arab countries (where Shi’as are currently a minority) as a way to contain what is believed to be Saudi-Wahhabi political influence beyond the Persian Gulf and into the Levant and for Iran to become the dominant force in the region and beyond. Then there are those who subscribe to the restoration of the Caliphate, and they are using the current crisis in the area as the path to bring that about. Then there are the fears of a predominance of Turkey as a political leader which will change the economic/trade relations. Russia of course has its naval base in Syria as well as Syria being an important client state. The United States and “the West” seeks the maintenance of the status quo, where Israel and Iran act as they are mutually deterrents to one another by the threat they pose if the geopolitical situation changes in any major way, so the USA and Europe support both of them but in very different ways. All of these things and many others are actually contributing to the understanding of Syria as a strategic giant in global affairs, but as the battlefield for these epic ideological confrontations.
In the previous question, I mentioned somewhat that there is a narrative, which does not necessarily have to coincide with the truth or even be true at all, but which is the stated “story” for what is going on. There is a big difference between the narrative and the facts and even between the facts and the truth sometimes. In this case, there are various narratives that serve those who use them, and they are about proxy intervention. It is clear that there is specific foreign intervention in Syria, and it ranges from the direct military aid and actual fighting in the war of the troops of Hezbollah, Iran and Russia to the influx of foreign Jihadi fighters who are filling the ranks of the troops that are fighting both against Assad and to a greater degree, against the Free Syrian Army. The narrative of the FSA or any of the opposition being “Western backed” is patently false and has been used to drum up support for a non-intervention so that Assad can win the war with the forces already in play. The Western powers have spoken firmly against Chemical weapons and other “red lines” being crossed, but they are not in any way intervening to aid the FSA but are coordinating their efforts in the same Syrian air space that the regime uses to bomb Aleppo and other areas out of its direct command. They are concentrating on the Kurdish area and the border with Iraq, ostensibly because they share the same interests in not allowing these areas to be completely lost to them, it has little or nothing to do with liberating the areas or in some way forcing a regime change, but is concerned with maintaining accessibility and availability of key resources areas so that they do not fall into the hands of the ideological Caliphate-seekers. Whether or not the latter themselves are a force invented by the West or by Israel is again, subject of conspiracy theorists, though the facts show that many of them are simply mercenaries, and a situation like the Syrian war has a strong power of attraction for the unemployed and the hopeless, as well as for the ideological fundamentalists.
I also wouldn’t speak so much as the presence of Israel as being the problem, but the absence of Palestine. The destruction of Palestine has been and will continue to be the thorn in the side of all persons with conscience, because until it is resolved that a country created as reparations for a genocide cannot create a new genocide, this injustice is going to be motive for much suffering and war, for Israelis and for Palestinians. The problem to consider regarding Syria and Palestine is that Syria has promoted itself in another narrative as the “only” Arab country standing up against Zionism. Of course, facts point to the opposite. That the Syrian Golan is territory occupied by the Israelis does not bother those who repeat the “resistant” myth, nor does it bother them that the regime has held the Palestinians under a brutal siege in the refugee camps that not even Gaza can compare to, for all the horrors that rain down on Gaza and continue to hinder its development. The issue is that Assad and his father before him built up a regime based on a myth, they justified their military spending based on defending the Palestinian nation, but history and facts also prove that Hafez Assad did not even believe there was a Palestine, to him, Palestine as well as Lebanon were all simply Syria, and there never has been - and as long as the Assad’s reign, there never WILL be a Palestine. A first step towards the liberation of the Palestinian people is the liberation of the Syrian people and the Palestinian refugees inside Syria, from the Assad regime.
Kaveh.T: What is the perspective of Syria revolution and destiny of Al-Assad regime?
Bayan.Khatib: Every dictator eventually falls. There is no way for Assad to remain in power, as the regime is already badly broken. It survives only because of support from Iran and Russia. Over half of Syria is already liberated and no longer under Assad rule, so at this point there's no way for Assad to once again rule all of Syria.
Bayan Khatib is a writer whose passion for human rights began over eight years ago with her translation of the memoir of a political prisoner called Just Five Minutes: Nine Years in the Prisons of Syria. Bayan is also the author of Iraq: the Untold Tales and many short stories and articles.
Currently, Bayan heads the North America media and public relations for the Syrian Coalition Media Office.
Mary Rizzo is an Italian Translator and Art Historian and Restorer. She founded a collective for Human Rights Translators and has been active in blogging for the rights of the Palestinians and for all the people of the Levant since the early 1990s.