My intervention at Pax Christi workshop for Middle East, Amman 13, December, 2012.
While we’ve been hearing intellectual arguments on the best terminology choice to describe the last two years, wether it is an “Arab spring” or “Arab awakening” or “even “chaos”, the number of Syrian refugees in the surrounding countries exceeded the 500,000 barrier. While we’ve been hearing many analysts saying it is hard to know what is really going on in Syria, or to judge on who is the responsible of the ongoing violence and atrocities committed here and there, the punishment of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, that is taking place for a month now, is leading to starvation, with the absence of electricity, fuel, cooking gas, flour and basic alimentation like bread.
The appeals we are getting everyday from different regions of Aleppo are heartbreaking; people are cutting off trees of streets and public gardens with the absence of any other heating resources, nearly 40.000 person are facing the winter under tents in the ring road surrounding the city. Fights over food between children in the streets, and kilometers-long lines in front of the few bakeries that didn’t get bombarded till the moment are becoming usual phenomena in what was before Syria’s industrial center. One of Aleppo’s neighborhoods, after 12 days of electricity blackout, witnessed people shouting in the streets “we want freedom no more, we want an Islamic khalif”.
Those are some of the facts on the Syrian situation if you want to hear some. Other facts? We estimate that 70% of Homs City is destroyed, while only 10% of Deir-Ezzor City has survived the shelling. The displaced Syrians that went to take refuge in the small city of Ar-Raqa have tripled its inhabitants number from to reach nearly one million person.
Not to mention that the regime forces has already withdrew from the North eastern part of the country allowing PYD’s militias - the Syrian branch of the Kurdish PKK - to control life there, and install its own barrages and road blocks leaving us with a ticking bomb in a sensitive ethnically mixed area of the country. Especially that we have already been having some violent clashes between PYD and some Islamic brigades of the FSA.
Increasingly, we are noticing the petro-dollar’s interference; businessmen from the Arab golf countries are financing, on their own, armed brigades to force their own salafist-wahabi agendas. We’ve seen this on many occasions like the statement issued lately against the new opposition’s coalition that calls for the establishment of an Islamic State in Syria.
The hatred in some areas are reaching dangerous levels. It is true that, despite all rumors and isolated incidents, we didn’t have till the moment what we can describe as religious or ethnical cleansing, but the ongoing violence, the continuos bombardment and the collective punishment tactics used y the regime in different areas are portending a potential vindictive mass murders in the future.
Many gangsters pretending to be FSA are taking advantage of the chaos issued in the country and making a new carrier of kidnapping people on the roads for ransom. Others in Aleppo are looting private and public factories as well, to sell their machines for low prices.
Unfortunately, these bad news about Syria are the only ones that go through the media nowadays. No one is talking anymore about the courageous civilian activists who are risking their lives on a daily basis to promote values like civil society, equality, and freedom, or even to organize life in the afflicted areas. For instance, no importance was given at all to the martyrdom of Mustafa Karahman, a Shiite young man from Aleppo, which it might seem wired to those used to describe the revolution as a Sunni one. Mustafa worked with a group of friends in Bustan Al-Qaser, Aleppo to organize life in their neighborhood, clean it from garbage that the state won’t gather anymore, and reopen the school. Along with all the previous Mustafa kept organizing demonstrations against the regime and the looting of some of FSA members as well. He was one of those who contributed to make their neighborhood among few others referred to as the conscience of the revolution. Unfortunately he was one of six victims who got killed when the regime bombarded their demonstration. No one will tell you about the magnificent initiatives by young Syrians to organize daily life in many areas where the state is not present anymore. No one is giving credits to those brave ones that are still trying to communicate their message of freedom and dignity through tens of newspapers and magazines produced under shelling and security forces’ prosecution. No one will tell you that Syrians have already 9 radio stations broadcasting over the internet by young activists who were forced to flee the country. One of those station was campaigning for months for nonviolent tactics.
It became clear by now that what really began as peaceful demonstrations asking for very simple things such as freedom and dignity, are risking to be the ugliest Pandora box that got ever opened in this area of the world.
Syrians are feeling now that they were abandoned and left alone during the last 20 month to face their fate on the hands of the most brutal dictatorship left on the planet, they are desperate, and when the earthly doors are closed, people tend to look for a heavenly succor. That is why in my opinion the Syrian revolution is increasingly having an Islamic seal. As it is very well known, despair when mixed with religious fanaticism is a receipt for hell.
There is no doubt that there is no going back for Syria, and the current regime won’t survive for long. What is on stake here is how much of damage it can inflict on the country, the state and the society before it collapses. The damage done till the moment is already big enough and the price the Syrian people have payed so far is too high.
There is no point of arguing anymore about what should have been done to avoid the slipping of the uprising towards an armed struggle, nor accusing it of taking a fundamental turn, because as I mentioned previously how ever things seem to be ugly in the moment they will turn uglier in the coming months if we don’t have an immediate action. Blame and bemoaning won’t lead us anywhere.
What I mean by action has to take several aspects: political, humanitarian, peace making, rebuilding plans, etc...
The diplomatic failure of the international community is unacceptable, nor the way of putting the Syrian people in front of two hard choices: being slaughtered on a daily basis or asking for a NATO intervention that won’t come but in the last moment. The inability of the international diplomacy to produce a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian crisis is shameful in a way and unbelievable in another.
The history shows that most of our fears of coming sectarian violence are justified, especially that the bad experience of surrounding countries like Lebanon and Iraq are so vividly present in our collective consciousness. On the other hand, the daily experience of surviving in the current Syria shows that this can be avoided when Syrians from different sectarian and ethnic pertinences work hand in hand to serve their citizens. That is at least what the daily experience of volunteers who are organizing life and relief efforts in every Syrian city shows. Our young Syrians are discovering through this crisis each others, they are discovering deprived towns and neighborhoods that they weren’t aware of their existence, they are discovering a Syria that they never knew about, and they are doing what ever they can to preserve it from becoming a living hell. The international community is called to support those brave women and men that can be found in each village, town and neighborhood around Syria, to help them rebuild their country, because this alone what could prevent a complete chaos in the future.