Friends and foes of Syria
In the Friends of Syria meeting attended by hundreds of people from various political camps, a young man started crying hysterically. Many searching eyes could only see a group of men consoling someone as proceedings continued.
“Are these tears of joy over the impressive gathering here or an expression of perpetual pain we have been withstanding over the years,” I asked myself while creeping forwards towards the man in his early 30s.
I did not dare ask him the reason behind his tears. Instead I asked a friend to inquire from him. The man looked down and said with soaked eyes: “The army killed my childhood friend in Idlib today.” I was speechless, devoid of words to comfort him. Recent scenes before I quietly left Syria to Turkey via Lebanon moved like a documentary in front of my eyes. I have myself seen slaughtered youth in the streets of Damascus. I could relate to him.
I could only tell my friend Omar that crying had become a big part of the daily routine for Syrians, sometimes it was for a friend or a lover and often for our country.
Suddenly Omar looked at me with angry eyes and said, “I regret the March 15 protests.” I could not believe that an educated, well-travelled man would torpedo the entire struggle in such a way. Detecting my questioning yet silent reaction, he continued, “Look how many people have died and how many more will.”
After he left, I wondered if all scarifies are worth the goals? Then, I looked around and noticed optimistic members of the Syrian opposition, sharing the table with the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Devotuglu, and his American and British counterparts, Hillary Clinton and William Hague, respectively.
Besides the winning assurance of the world community to help the Syrians, they were discussing the transition of the country from absolute dictatorship to democracy. The presences of these high profile dignitaries’ from as many as 83 nations was a huge vote of confidence for our struggle.
The conference was studded with many top journalists from around the world who shared their heroic stories of defying Syrian military to enter and report from besieged towns. They had unbelievable eye witness accounts of the suffering people who didn’t shy away from being hospitable with whatever they have. Some journalists started to speak about solutions to the impasse. Here, the mighty names of the journalism world exposed themselves, reflecting on as to how little they knew about the realities of Syria.
One journalist told me, “The problem is that the Syrian intellectuals or ‘muthakafin’ are not part of the awakening yet.” As shocked as I was, I couldn’t help being amused by his feeble understanding of the regime’s tactics. I told him, “When you say intellectuals in Syria, who are you to referring to? The Assads never allow any cultural or political activity that clashes with the Baathist mindset … Thus many have migrated either to resist or to lead a better life.”
After a long wait, I got weary of the closed proceedings. The suspense was enormous as the conference convened amid the unusual hype of concrete steps. I approached a senior Syrian citizen for more than what the spokesman would share with the media.
The seasoned activist was certain that the time for action against the regime has come. He was excited telling me that Turkey is planning to create buffer zones in many cities of Syria where its people could peacefully live and protest against the regime. Soon a noisy reporter interrupted our conversation. She did not like two Syrians talking discreetly sharing inside information. Though obnoxiously, she did try to get some news but we only paused to let her pass.
The man sounded certain that sisterly countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar would provide the Free Syria Army with weapons. She intervened again, “Don’t repeat our mistake. Like Lebanon, these free floating arms will take Syria to an unknown frontier. We, the Lebanese, are still fighting with each other. She might have honestly expressed her fears but this doesn’t seem true of the Syrians anymore. The people have reached a point of no return against the Assads who have controlled minds, plundered wealth and silenced defiant voices for over four decades.
An impish Tunisian reporter jumped in our conversation, asking the Syrian activist directly as to when he would get his Kalashnikov. Another not-so-naïve journalist, who could sneak inside Syria to report, wanted a clear-cut reply over weaponisation of the opposition. “Have they agreed to provide you arms?” The Syrian opposition figure calmly replied, “Do you think that they will announce it publicly? We think they will provide us the money and we will buy the arms.” Failing to get definite news, she left us saying, “Its b*&^#@!%.”
Though I know overwhelming pro-democracy activists now support armed struggle against the military, I asked the Syrian figure if he was afraid of the dangers the strategy posed. He whispered, “I am terrified at the idea of arming youth.”
Once again, I realised how much the Syrians want to keep the struggle peaceful. But Bashar convinces us that we don’t have many choices.
For many journalists attending the Friends of Syria meeting, dramatic news makes their day but for Syrians, life and death depends on how their movement is steered, as well as portrayed. The mood in the press gallery was cold-blooded and competitive and not at all sensitive and humanitarian.
While hoping that Assad would accept Annan’s peace plan, the opposition agreed to even sit with the regime to save the country from a prolonged civil war. Ironically, such a wise decision did not make the banner headlines journalist could have taken pride in.
As the conference ended and the media rushed to interview Syria’s exiled opposition members, a surge of disapproval rose in me. These defiant men and women live a safe and happy life in Europe, America and elsewhere with no fear of bullets and Bashar’s spies. I looked into their sleep-starved eyes and wrinkled foreheads, they appeared restless; but not indolent. A Syrian opposition members is best described as ‘homeless’. Most of them are not economic migrants, merely ashamed of living quietly in Syria. Those who knew my Syrian identity came to say good bye. Some hugged me, promising to meet again in Homs, others said “see you in Idlib” and some only prayed for peace and dignity.
Everyone mentioned returning to or visiting their own city but the question of ‘when’ remains unanswered for now.
Maryam Hasan is a young journalist, whose family struggled against Hafiz Al-Assad’s tyrannical rule and policies. She is using a pen-name due to security reasons.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.