Interview: Dr. Riad Kamel Abbas, ambassador of Syria in India
Neelam Gupta | October 5, 2015
A sizeable chunk of Syria’s population has left the country and nearly half of its territory under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL aka ISIS or IS) and other terrorist groups. How does Syria look at the crisis?
This is the biggest catastrophe of 21st century for Syrian culture, in terms of human development and natural heritage. In fact, by supporting terrorists, western countries are helping in breaking up Syrian society. Syria has always been a secular nation; it has a secular constitution which protects interests of all Syrians. Known as the cradle of civilisation, Syria has contributed richly to human civilisation. Now they are doing ethnic cleansing and destroying social structure and heritage. It would take a long time to heal our wounds and bring peace and stability back.
How many people have been displaced due to the unrest?
Syria’s total population is 23 million, of which four million have left the country and five million are displaced internally. Around 25,000 persons have lost their lives. The number of people seeking asylum in different countries, especially in the EU, is huge. But all of them are not Syrians. They are also from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and other countries including the Balkans. Only 40 percent of asylum seekers are Syrians. Some of them are also terrorists, smugglers or infiltrators trying to enter Europe under the garb of the Syrian crisis.
There are reports that even president Bashar al-Assad’s supporters are leaving the country.
These are false reports flouted to scare the people.
Do you say that those who have left Syria are only protesters?
No. In fact, this exodus is part of a plot of the West and especially the US. They want to topple the Assad government for economic and strategic reasons. The US and the West want to re-colonise this region. The easiest way for them to do so is by creating Islamphobia to terrorise people and disintegrate the society. They helped IS and other rebel forces and ended up creating chaos and terror in Syria. In fact, like in Iraq, the US wanted to take the NATO on board too. But the allies refused. Now with such a huge number of refugees on the doorsteps of Europe, the US is again asking them to support its strategy, lest it would continue to face refugees. Having said that, I also believe that Turkey is mainly responsible for the current exodus.
It helped the Syrians to flee to make sure that Europe will get a steady supply of cheap labour. Secondly, Turkey allowed its border to be used by terrorist groups for infiltration of arms and ammunition into Syria. Turkey is also allowing terrorists to sell smuggled oil at cheap rates through its border. They (terrorists) use this money to buy arms. The terrorists are also using the Turkish border to smuggle our cultural monuments to the West. The West is allowing it as it helps its design of creating unrest, chaos and a weakened Syria. They want to make it Libya.
What could be Turkey’s interest in creating unrest in a neighbouring country?
Turkey must understand this. But it has always served the interests of the West and never of the Middle East countries. It wants to weaken the Assad government so that it could get control over the north-west part of Syria. It has also been demanding a ‘no-fly zone’ over this area. But Syria would never allow this. Turkey’s eventual plan is to deploy its forces there, suppress the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), cleanse the land of the Kurds and merge it with Turkey. It can never happen.
Don’t you think Syria is also responsible for this civil war? Had it not suppressed the 2010 rebellion brutally, ISIL would not have got the chance to step in?
If you are talking about the Arab Spring again let me tell you that it was also a plot of the West and not a natural demand of people. In 2009, a meeting was held between the US president, Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Muslim Brotherhood Party (MBP). There was a secret agreement that the US will support MBP to come to power in Arab countries. Reason? After coming in power it would have to sign a peace pact with Israel. Two things that matter most to the US in the region are oil and security of Israel. Later it happened in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria. The US decided to topple the secular governments because fundamentalism there would serve its interests. Eventually the puppet governments in these countries failed and the people had to get out. People of these countries are facing the brunt of the American vested interest. They wanted to do the same with Syria. But we will not allow this happen to us. A disintegrating Syria suits the West and Israel; Israel would not have to return Golan Heights to Syria; would not face hurdles in tackling Hezbollah in Lebanon and finish Phiastin (Palestine).
Coming back to the Arab Spring, had it really been for democratic rights of the people it [uprising] should have come from countries like Saudi Arabia or Qatar where citizens have no democratic rights. But only republican countries like us were attacked and regimes were toppled. So, it was an Islamic Spring funded by the West and Arab countries.
But why is there unrest among majority communities of Syria who are supporting radical groups like ISIL?
Syria is a multi-community and multi-religious country. There is no poverty in Syria; no one is homeless and no one sleeps hungry. For all, health services and education are free. Food is subsidised; education is compulsory. Like India and any western country, women have all political rights. They are in parliament, in the cabinet. Of the two vice-presidents one is a woman. They are serving as ambassadors, bureaucrats, are in police and army as well. In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot even drive a car. So our government is a liberal, secular, and inclusive, and the state is a welfare state. People are proud of being Syrians. Syria has always been the most secure place in the most turbulent region. The crime rate is zero.
Still you cannot deny unrest among the youth which erupted in 2010.
The US has been trying to dislodge the Syrian government for 25 years. When president Bashar al-Assad came to power, he announced his plans to enhance economic reforms. But since 9/11, Syria has been facing one or the other problem created by the US. During the Iraq war, imposed and fought by US plus NATO, 3 million to 5 million refugees came into Syria. In 2005, the former prime minister of Lebanon got killed and the US accused Syria of his murder and used it [the charge] to impose economic sanctions on us. In 2006, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda attacked Lebanon and 4 million refugees entered Syria. In 2008, Israel attacked Gaza Strip and grabbed Golan Heights. These incidents were a big blow to our economy. By repeatedly levelling accusations, the US was trying to weaken our government. Under such political circumstances the president could not proceed with his economic reforms agenda which affected the employment. The US made use of this disenchantment and started creating Islamophobia under the garb of Arab Spring in 2010.
You say the US and the West want to topple the Syrian government. Why is Syria important to them?
Oil and Israel are two main reasons. The US policy towards the Middle East is based on these two factors. Those who do not fit in it are at the receiving end. Since oil has been discovered in Syria, the US has an eye on it. If you see the IS operation area in Syria, it is of oil wells.
For gas the European countries are dependent on Russia. Forty percent of the total gas requirement of these countries is being fulfilled by Russia. To reduce the dependency on Russia a gas pipeline was planned from Qatar to Europe trough Syria. Looking at the economic and strategic interests of our ally Russia, the Syrian government refused to be a part of this project. One should understand that Syria is part of the Russian National Security. To pressurise Syria the US contemplated the plot. Now it is the turn of Russia.
Is this the reason that Russian forces have landed in Syria now?
Russia has helped us fight terrorism. In view of its huge vested interests, the US can never be a peace-broker here in the Middle East.
Now with Russia’s direct intervention, is peace nearby?
How soon can it be?
Maybe, by the end of the year.
What could be the solution to end this crisis?
The world has to stop funding and support that the US and its followers like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been giving to ISIL and other terrorist groups which are active in Syria. The Turkish border has to be closed in order to stop the cross-border terrorism that Syria has been facing. There has to be a recognition of the fact that the Syrian Arab Army needs to be supported since it is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.
What are the indications that peace could be in the offing? Are any negotiations going on? If so, which countries and groups are participating in them?
One has to understand that no war lasts forever. Terrorism perpetrated inside Syria has already affected all the countries in the region and beyond. Now talks are going on between Russia and the US. As some media reports said, talks are on to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria. So, at the end both parties shall have to convince their allies about a solution. Of course, IS can’t be a part in the negotiations because it is only a tool in the hands of the US and its allies. So when Russia raised its voice a little bit, the US harried to propose a Russian participation in the fight against ISIS.
What forced them to sit and talk?
As I said before, terrorism has affected not only Syria but all the countries in the region and beyond. In addition, the refugee crisis and the terrorist elements who are returning to Europe and Turkey will force the states that had created this problem to sit and talk. This is actually happening now.
What is the solution the Syrian government proposes?
Syria will respond to all political initiatives and attend all conferences in Geneva and Moscow that are aimed at finding a peaceful solution to this situation. But the fact is that while the Syrian government is working for a political solution it also continues to fight against terrorism.
Are there any chances of removing Assad to bring peace?
President Assad will remain in power. He enjoys popular support. Otherwise he could not have survived during the last five years. It is the Syrians who will decide the fate of the president. The government will be ‘by the Syrians, of the Syrians and for the Syrians’. No one can impose a solution on Syria.
True, but is there any chance of a caretaker government, the way it was done in Iraq?
Where is the question of a caretaker government? The Syrian government is still there and will fight forever for the sovereignty of its people. This is an internal issue and only the Syrian people have the right to decide as to who will be the president of Syria.
How much of Syria’s territory is under the control of IS and other terrorist groups?
There is no area where the Syrian army cannot enter. The Syrian army controls the main cities. It controls the strategic areas. If the army wants to enter some place, it can easily do so. But the Syrian army always cares about the civilians and innocents who are used by the IS and other terrorist groups as human shields.
Then why did the Syrian forces allegedly use chemical weapons in Ghouta in 2013 which instigated the US to attack Syria?
The UN has sent its committees in this regard and in Khan al-Assal site it was discovered that this type of chemical weapon is not owned by the Syrian army but it was sent from Qatar to the terrorists for use against civilians and later putting the blame on the Syrian Arab Army. When truth was revealed; the US punished Qatar and replaced its prince. Interestingly, the prince was not replaced because of the chemical weapon but for failing to keep the secret! The Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan, was also dismissed after his involvement in the chemical strike was revealed. Syria does not need chemical weapons in its war against terrorists.
How many Syrians you think will be back when peace is restored?
Their roots are here. Many of them will be back.