Nizar al-Farra: Dear viewers of Addounia TV… greetings,
We greet you from the People’s Palace in the Syrian capital of Damascus. We are honored to meet President Bashar al-Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic. Mr. President, welcome on Addounia TV.
President Bashar al-Assad: Welcome to you and to Addounia TV.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, allow me to discuss during today’s meeting the most important issues occupying the thoughts of Syrian citizens which they inquire about daily and in which they dwell upon in all issues, whether it pertains to the situation on the ground or the political situation… we start with the situation on the ground… of course, Aleppo… they talked a lot about Aleppo… what is the situation in Aleppo; how do you view it?
President Bashar al-Assad: We cannot separate the situation in Aleppo from the situation in Syria. The difference is that Aleppo and Damascus are the two biggest cities and the two most important cities. One is the political capital and the other is the economic capital. The normal citizen’s evaluation of the situation in general – including Aleppo – comes through escalation; when he sees escalation he considers the situation to be worse and when he sees calm he considers the situation to be better… matters aren’t measured like this. When there are military or security operations then there could be constant escalation and suddenly the situation ends well or the opposite, a continuing calm ends with escalation. In the end, the issue is a battle of wills in the first degree. They have a will to destroy the country. They started with Daraa, moved to Homs and Damascus and Aleppo and Deir Ezzor and Lattakia; to all provinces. They try to move from one place to another. The importance is in the difference in scale or weight of the city in the Syrian context, but if we take into account the scale of the complex battles waged by the armed forces on the technical, tactical and strategic levels, then they are among the most complex types of battles, yet the armed forces achieve great successes in this regard. Everyone hopes that the achievement or the resolution to be within weeks or days and hours. This is illogical; we’re involved in a regional and global battle, so time is needed to resolve it. But I can summarize all this explanation in a sentence: we are moving forward and the situation is practically better but resolution hasn’t been achieved and this takes time.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, regarding areas or provinces to which problems moved, starting from Daraa to Damascus Countryside, Homs, Lattakia, Aleppo and Idleb. Of course, there are those who broached the issue of neighboring countries. In this case, many ask what is the position of the Syrian state towards neighboring countries, particularly since some countries facilitate, train, finance and arm in all manners which may constitute a violation of the Syrian state, the security of Syria and the safety of Syrian citizens?
President Bashar al-Assad: Some neighboring countries stand by Syria but maybe they’re not exactly able to control the smuggling of logistic supplies to terrorists. Some countries overlook or keep their distance, and some countries participate in this matter, but we have to distinguish between what we as Syria and as Syrian people and as a country want from these countries. Do we seek a relation or a dispute with the country or with the people? As for Turkey for example; the position of the Turkish state is known, and it assumes direct responsibility for the blood that bled and was shed in Syria. But when we began developing our relation with Turkey, we didn’t look for a relation with individuals or a transient government; rather we looked to a history of tense and turbulent relation for nearly nine decades approximately. We wanted to erase it, then do we go backwards because of the ignorance of some Turkish officials, or do we look at the relation with the Turkish people, particularly since this people practically stood with us during this crisis and didn’t drift despite the media and financial pressure to go in the other direction. We must think first of peoples, because governments are transient and we must preserve relations with the peoples because these people are the ones who will practically protect us, as logistic supply will remain weak if the people don’t embrace the issue.
Nizar al-Farra: But here we ask about the stances of these peoples towards their governments. Some Syrians expect a movement on the part of these people as their governments polices harm neighboring countries and harm the reputation and dignity of the people.
President Bashar al-Assad: Correct, but this needs time, and we mustn’t forget that these peoples themselves are waging battles against these governments. Political battles, of course, and this needs time. We need to be objective, but we must account for winning and losing. Animosity with peoples will not reduce the supply of terrorists; on the contrary, it will make this supply more available. We must improve relations and help these peoples by presenting facts; when these peoples discover the reality of what is happening in Syria and the truth about the position of their officials, they will become stronger in their political battle and the longevity of these governments and these officials will be short in political work., we can withstand this short spell and we can adapt to it while we resolve the battle in Syria.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, many talked about Homs; Homes which witnessed since the beginnings strong armed activities and high feelings of all types. Many ask: what is the situation in Homs? Why isn’t the situation over in Homs?
President Bashar al-Assad: We cannot separate the situation of Homs from the situation of the rest of the provinces. As for the delay of resolving the situation in the city, it’s known that when armed forces wage battles in cities they must take two things into consideration: first, concern for human life, and second, concern for properties. Apart from that, if the armed forces wanted to use all their military capabilities including firepower then they can crush the enemy in a short time, but this is unacceptable and doesn’t achieve the desired results. This type of operations needs time. On the other hand, we cannot forget that there’s constant supply of gunmen in Homs, specifically because they considered Homs to be the center from which the victory they hope for will move, in addition to its proximity to the Lebanese borders.
Nizar al-Farra: Can we call it a buffer zone?
President Bashar al-Assad: Most Syrian provinces are border provinces; Deir Ezzor, Hasaka, Raqqa, Idleb, Lattakia, Daraa, Sweida, and even Homs partly borders Iraq too. This maybe a reason (why some use buffer zones) but I can’t analyze on behalf of the planners. This issue isn’t important for us, whether they consider them buffer zones or not. A buffer zone is a zone established with the state’s approval through specific agreements between two countries, and we as a state never in any day decided to assume that there’s an area outside Syrian control. When the army wants to enter an area then it can do that. They considered many areas to be outside the state’s control and the army entered most of these areas with ease, which means that they weren’t able to create this zone. Therefore, I believe that talking about buffer zones is firstly nonexistent, and secondly unrealistic, even for countries playing a hostile role.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, as the Commander-in-chief of the Army and Armed Force and with your knowledge of the situation on the ground and its details; there are those among the opposition who talk and ask why the Syrian forces and the Syrian army are inside Syrian cities, while not a single bullet has been fired in the Golan for nearly forty years. They ask in this regard if tanks’ natural place is inside Syrian cities and not on the Golan front.
President Bashar al-Assad: The task of the army and armed forces in all countries of the world is to protect the homeland. Protecting the homeland doesn’t only mean protecting it from outside, but from within as well; any enemy that comes from any place. You have to defend your country through relevant institutions, primarily the army and armed forces. This time, the enemy moved from within, not from without, and you may tell me that they’re Syrians and I tell you that any Syrian who carries out a foreign and hostile plan becomes an enemy and is no longer Syrian. The proof being that if a Syrian commits espionage then he is sentenced to death by law is execution. In fact, those who implement an enemy’s plan are considered an enemy. The enemy moved from within, so the armed forces moved.
Nizar al-Farra: So this doesn’t contradict the concept of resistance and that Syria adopts the ideas of resistance.
President Bashar al-Assad: Not at all, on the contrary, Syria adopts the ideas of resistance. But the other idea is that if Syria adopts resistance, then why there isn’t resistance towards the Golan – this may be the idea you mean – then resistance is emerges when a state abandons its responsibility in reclaiming its land, which didn’t happen in Syria like in Lebanon, maybe because of the civil war at the time, and like in Palestine when there’s no state in the first place to reclaim rights, so the resistance had to exist. When we abandon, as a creed, policy and armed forces our primary goal of reclaiming land, then there will be a Syrian resistance.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, regarding the military operations taking place inside Syria now; there is talk on the Syrian street that Syria received a green light, a Russian green light and Chinese green light, with some going as far as to even say an American green light maybe or a western green light. Does Syria need a green light to carry out what it’s doing now?
President Bashar al-Assad: In various stages there was talk of a green light. For example, when Syria entered Lebanon in 1976 there was such talk and it was repeated at other stages. In fact, Syria doesn’t need a green light in sovereign issues, in local issues neither and in national issues, from friends nor from enemies nor from opponents. If we didn’t possess the green light then there’s no need for our existence as a homeland and as a state.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, there are those who say that the popular movement in Syria remained peaceful for four or five months and became armed after it was oppressed by the state. Some quote or distort a speech by Your Excellency, the speech before the last in which you said that in Ramadan it became an armed movement and all activities that were out peaceful became armed.
President Bashar al-Assad: No, this explanation is inaccurate for a simple reason; if they were unarmed then what explains that in the first week of turbulence and events there were a number of martyrs among security and police forces? Then how did these people die? Did they die from screams? From the sound waves of protestors? This is illogical. The truth is they died by weapons, but the type of arming and the goal of arming were different. At that time, the main goal was rallying the people by shooting protesters, security men and the police so that the police and security respond and kill more civilians; thereby spreading a state of hostility towards the state. After the failure of this project, they shifted since the last Ramadan to armed action through which they reached rebellious areas that the state cannot enter like Baba Amr and other areas, and of course these areas were entered so the gunmen’s tactic changed. Now, after Baba Amr was entered and after the fall of their sites in various other provinces that they had considered to be fortified, they switched to another method that involved more assassinations and more terrorism against citizens and more of punishing citizens by blocking roads, preventing the arrival of flour for bread, and fuel like diesel, gas oil and gas, and other daily necessities. In fact, the gunmen appeared since the first days. The images broadcast by Syrian TV on what happened in Daraa, the shootings by gunmen which they said at the time were fabricated, were real.
Nizar al-Farra: It is said on the street that the state delayed the resolution, meaning that after people saw the progress of military operations they said that the state was capable of doing the sort of military and security operations now which are in the framework of resolution, so why did it delay in this regard, which implied to many who thought that the state is weak so they acquired more weapons, were misled more, and moved forward with this project on a larger scale?
President Bashar al-Assad: The state did not delay, and the proof is that when the armed forces sensed a major escalation in Daraa during the beginning of the events in the first months, the army entered Daraa. We never hesitated for a second for the resolution. But with every step the state took, there was a development in their modus operandi, so in turn the state needed more counter steps. Some want us to handle that stage as we handle the stage today. This is illogical. The stage is different, their modus operandi was different, even the public understanding of what is happening was different. Many people were misled in the beginning, thinking that what is happening is a state of excitement a wave of The Arab spring that will affect Syria, that these youths are excitable, that there are no gunmen, that the state is fabricating, all the these things we used to hear. For us as a state, the lack of public understanding was a problem. What helped the state in the resolution in recent months was the clarity of the picture for the larger part of the Syrian population as there’s a change in political conditions and in the security in the security conditions themselves.
There’s a change in the public mood towards what is happening and towards the gunmen as they discovered that what is happening isn’t a revolution nor a spring; they are rather it is terrorist acts in the full meaning of the word, and the clarification of the external factor which wasn’t clear at the beginning. When I delivered my first speech at the People’s Assembly and talked about a conspiracy and confrontation, many wondered what conspiracy and what confrontation, accusing us of saying that everything is a conspiracy and considering what was happening to be a mere case of excitement as I mentioned before, and that if the President had said a few kind and sentimental words then the problem would have been solved. I told them that the problem didn’t begin with sentiments and won’t end with sentiments; there’s a plan and there are internal tools, so from the beginning we took a decision for resolution because the picture was clear, but the method of resolution differs depending on the different stages of the crisis.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, this crisis included and was exacerbated by the presence of some personalities who partook in corruption at this stage and exploited the crisis among officials, whether they were in the army security forces or in the state or businessmen and merchants and many activities who exploited the crisis and even contributed to increase it. What about those?
President Bashar al-Assad: I wish to distinguish between crisis traders who appear in every crisis in any country, whether they are merchants in the economic or material sense or other people who want to exploit the crisis for other private interests, and they could be inside the state or outside the state, and on the other hand, the mistakes that occur within the crisis and have no relation to prolonging the crisis. There were mistakes that happened, there were transgressions that happened, there were violations, thefts, some of which was uncovered but in a limited number and those were referred to the judiciary many months ago. Everyone who made a mistake or wanted to prolong the crisis for different reasons must be held accountable. This issue is final and isn’t up for discussion or debate, but the Question is how to identify them. You hold accountable the known not the anonymous; and most lawsuits filed and complaints that come in are against anonymous sides, and in the cases in which the individuals were identified and held accountable the wronged party brought the name and there was scrutiny and investigation and the misdemeanor or crime was proven and referred to the judiciary. The main challenge is how to find out who these people are, particularly since that in the conditions of security work and during chaotic circumstances investigation becomes harder than before. As a matter of principle, these individuals must be held accountable even if it were after overcoming these conditions and restoring calm.
Nizar al-Farra: Meaning that if they were in positions of power, then dismissal isn’t enough, but also trial?
President Bashar al-Assad: When you don’t have proof but rather inconclusive indicators, then you may dismiss that individual for lack of confidence in their performance, but when you have conclusive evidence that this individual did something then he must be referred to the judiciary immediately regardless of the position he occupies.
Nizar al-Farra: There are those who say that after nearly a year and a half of the crisis there’s still a problem with the matter of appointments, with some wondering why appoint someone who isn’t qualified, who doesn’t have the ability and qualification needed and who might later cause us problems leading to dismissing and trying them for example. Mr. President, is there a flaw in the appointment mechanism, particularly since the crisis didn’t influence in or maybe didn’t motivate instruments in a bigger way in this regard?
President Bashar al-Assad: There’s an objective side to this proposition and a subjective side. The objective sides is that we don’t have in Syria so far human resources management in the scientific sense, and this is a standalone science, and this is what we’re doing by putting the final touches on a project related to public employment, which evaluates the person since entering the government employment and until leaving it with a full course that specifies the development of their work. Someone good may come along and the evaluation is correct but after a while they deviate. The mechanism of entry alone isn’t enough. As for saying that this person came and didn’t prove to be good in the current mechanism in the absence of human resources management then you can only try as you don’t know if this person will fail. You must try to know that they will fail, and as long as they failed and you can replace them then where’s the problem? Of course, this takes time, but you don’t have other options. There are cases where a person is successful in a place and we assume that his success in this place will lead to his success elsewhere, only to discover that this isn’t true after trying. In fact, with the absence of human resources in their scientific form, then you have no option except to try, and the important thing in this case is not to keep quiet over someone who makes mistakes or fails, nor keep them in place, and in turn there’s someone who fails in a place not because they’re bad, but because this place doesn’t suit them, when you transfer them elsewhere they might succeed.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, many people link everything to the President, saying the President appointed this minister or issued that or discussed this, confusing a presidential decree with a mistake or something the government is in charge of. Your Excellency talked on more than one occasion about a true supervision that the media should perform on government performance. How can the media have the bigger role in supervision?
President Bashar al-Assad: Officials must be monitored from above and monitored form below, which means the public base, but demands so far are to monitor officials from above only, and this isn’t enough. It might be enough for certain levels of responsibility; a minister, a general director and the like, but there are lower levels like employees who need popular oversight in which the media plays a main role. The media tried in various stages to play this role, but this isn’t only through articles highlighting general issues, as the media’s role is to prepare a full case like, in countries that are advanced in what happens this field; the journalist presents a full case containing evidence, and in this case there’s no choice for officials but to refer this case as it is to investigation and later to the judiciary. This is what the media lacks. Of course, for the media to succeed in this, we also need more transparency by the state, as those affected will attempt to shut all doors in the face of the media, but the media must remain persistent and determined in this framework. Of course, for the President’s role, he’s responsible for the entire state and cannot evade or say I’m not responsible for a certain aspect of the state, but there’s a certain reality: no-one can see all corners of the country.
Nizar al-Farra: From this comes the emphasis on the role of institutions which Your Excellency talked about since the oath speech, that in a state of establishment each point must assume its true role?
President Bashar al-Assad: Exactly. As long as establishments aren’t mature, any official’s role including the President’s will remain a lacking role. The President supervises in a general manner the policies of establishments and intervenes in some cases, but here we’re dealing with thousands of cases each day, cases that relate to citizens who cannot be supervised daily unless there are institutions of establishments or participation on the part of citizens in managing the state’s affairs.
Nizar al-Farra: You Excellency said that the media should persist, but is there a mechanism that organizes work more effectively and thus gives - we don’t want to say authority in the literal sense but rather a bigger role for the media? Are we allowed to intervene more in affairs which may be related to oversight?
President Bashar al-Assad: It’s more than a question of being allowed or not. For me as an official, when you do your duty, I succeed, and your role is a success for me, and it’s in my personal interest that the media succeeds in this regard, and there’s national interest too as the homeland succeeds, institutions succeed and citizens succeed and become comfortable. In these matters, we all win when you play your role. The media playing its role isn’t a matter of allowing or not, but rather a matter of knowing exactly how to play the role objectively, and for the media not to exploit their role for personal interest. The media, in the end, is one of the authorities that can exploit authority for personal interest, and this relies on the profession’s professional ethics of those working in the field.
Nizar al-Farra: Meaning that if the issue is within the supervision framework oversight and the framework of serving the country, then the media, as Your Excellency said, has the green light.
President Bashar al-Assad: Exactly, but by overcoming the educational role and playing a more investigative role, and by having the media’s role become investigating cases and finding evidence in addition to solutions, thereby assisting the judiciary and the investigating authorities, and at the same time proposing solutions to officials that we can benefit from in our decisions in the future.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, the media is being targeted now in Syria, and Your Excellency highlighted this on more than one occasion. In a previous stage we faced a media war from abroad, then it shifted to targeting the Syrian media politically. We saw the decision of the Arab foreign ministers when they decided to block Syrian channels from satellites which is also a precedent, and bloody targeting that manifested itself in al-Ikhbariya bombing, the bombing of the General Establishment of Radio and Television, and the targeting of Addounia TV and journalists with kidnapping and murder. Where do you place the media in this context?
President Bashar al-Assad: The answer lies in the question, and it takes us to an important point which is that we must stop self flagellation, despite the presence of shortcomings in all fields including the media, and we wish things had been better. But if this tool has been a failure, as some claim, then it wouldn’t have been targeted. If it were bad, harmful and a failure then they would have provided you, as national media whether public or private, free satellite channels. This affirms that Syrian media managed to expose them and undermine true media empires behind which is not just money but also political decisions in major capitals of the world. This in itself is proof of the success of Syrian media. Of course, we can be stronger and more successful, and this is natural. We haven’t reached our aspirations and you haven’t reached your aspirations as media, and this is the course of life. But to those who say that the media is a failure, this is our answer.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, the issue of defections is one of the things that concerned Syrian society lately as well. There were those who promoted the defection of figures like Riyad Hijab, Manaf Tlas, some diplomats and some officers of various ranks, and they said that if these people hadn’t seen something dark in Syria’s future and that the state isn’t stable and isn’t strong, then they wouldn’t have abandoned fortune, power and positions to the unknown.
President Bashar al-Assad: Regardless of the names, and assuming that the future is dark, is this a reason to leave the country? What is this limited proposition, it is an accusation of being unpatriotic. But let us examine the term. First, defection is when one establishment separates from a bigger establishment that presides over it or the defection of a part of an establishment from the main establishment, and at the top of this establishment is an individual or individuals who rebel against the higher levels or the main establishment. This didn’t happen. What happened was that individuals who were occupied certain positions fled the country, which is a process of desertion and escape, not defection. The defection is internal, not external. It’s a rebellion against the state within the country, which didn’t happen. Therefore, these are desertions outside the country, and those who desert or flee are either people who were presented with money and left, and are therefore corrupt and accept bribes, or cowards who were threatened by terrorists or the other side or, as you said, had no hope of a bright future, so they got scared of this future and fled abroad, or maybe it was someone with ambition who believed that he should have gotten gains or benefits or specific ranks but didn’t and decided to flee. Of course, there other reasons. In the end, those who flee are practically either weak or bad, because a patriotic and good person doesn’t runaway and doesn’t flee abroad. Practically, this process is positive and a process of self-cleansing of the state first and the country in general, so we mustn’t be upset by this process because it’s positive. Many people we didn’t know had these qualities and they exposed their truth themselves, which is positive. Add to that that more than one person was said to want to defect before, and what did we do? We told those who proposed that let’s facilitate it for him and let him go. It’s a positive process. Of course, we weren’t sure in all cases, and in return in some cases we were very sure yet we didn’t mind, and despite that many people were discussed before and lately and were allegedly to flee Syria under the slogan of defection, did you hear that the state arrested any of those? Of course not, because we view this positively.
Nizar al-Farra: Despite knowing and being aware of this.
President Bashar al-Assad: In some cases, we have information and high suspicions. We don’t say fully aware. But the question put by relevant authority was what to do, how to act, should we prevent them? There was a call to prevent them but we told them no, prevention isn’t right, these people’s departure is the right thing. First, they’re exposed before the Syrian people. Second, every person who leaves the country is finished. If they have political ambition or goals then they’re over for the simple reason which is that the Syrian people don’t respect those who run away, and that Syrian people cannot be led by remote control with wireless devices, and they cannot lead them from abroad. This issue has been resolved historically, so I can say that if there’s a Syrian citizen who knows that about someone who is hesitant and wants to flee, then they should encourage them.
Nizar al-Farra: Within the major campaign targeting Syria, can we expect more desertion? Do you have a problem in this regard?
President Bashar al-Assad: If desertion is by this kind of people then it’s a positive case, and it’s natural for this sort of people come to the surface during crises, and this a positive thing that we must anticipate and be optimistic about, not pessimistic.
Nizar al-Farra: Your Excellency indicated on all occasions the scale of the conspiracy and pressure against Syria and the many things for which all available methods and means have been rallied politically and non-politically, morally and immorally. The Syrians ask: why us? Why are we being targeted with this enormous amount of resources aimed at Syria?
President Bashar al-Assad: this is the history of Syria, conflict on Syria took place even when we were part of the Ottoman Empire, because the Levant is a strategic region, following independence and the French evacuation all the coups were funded from outside and aimed at controlling Syria and the Syrian policy as well as dragging it into axes which were present at that time when Syria started to adopt an independent policy, practically after March 8th Revolution and consolidated after the Corrective Movement when the attack on Syria became more powerful than before. Now, we are paying the price of different stances, some of them related to the principled polices linked to the Syrian rights, our stance on the resistance and our relation with Iran which means with this axes that is not liked by the West.
Some of those are linked to our latest stances, a lot of people aren’t aware that our stance on the shelling of Libya was a lonely stance at the Arab League against the no-fly zone. We objected, and not merely abstained. As we fully understood that the no-fly zone means the start of aggression on Libya and this is what has happened. We pay the price of these stances and the price of the west’s openness towards us in 2008, 2009 and 2010 during which time some have mistakenly believed that it was a real openness stage, but it was a stage through which they aimed to change the way of dealing with Syria , and to reach the needed goals, conspiring against resistance, particularly in Lebanon and targeting relations between Syria and Iran which stands by us and the Arab right, and when they failed during that stage, the Arab Spring was the new justification for them in front of their peoples to conspire once again against Syria. For all these reasons we pay the price.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, Was anything were demanded to be done by your side, and you refused to do so during the openness and interest stage which was practiced on Syria between 2008 and 2010, so the ways and means have changed?
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes, they clearly and continuously asked us to move away from Iran, and our answer was clear as much as Iran stands by us, supports us and stands by our rights without any hesitation and even without discussions of the details just as it is a Syrian right or a Syrian opinion. So how could we move away from it. In principle, rejecting or inverting on a side or faithful country, this is unacceptable .In terms of interest, a country which changed the Israeli Embassy into a Palestinian one and stood with the Palestinian right. As Arab states, we don’t talk but with the Palestinian right, do we come and turn the table on this country ?? on the other side, the attempts which were made during that time were related to conspiring on the Iranian nuclear file though we are not part of this file, and Iran didn’t ask assistance in this issue, the issue is proposed on the international arena, not on the regional one, what was needed from Syria was to convince Iran with matters against its interest, we saw that issue as an issue which relates to our future interest, our national security in the future, because what is applied to Iran as a state which seeks to get peaceful nuclear energy will be applied to us in future, particularly as this energy is basic in the future, and the West wanted to monopolize the knowledge and prevent it from the developing countries. There is another side related to the resistance, they also wanted us to conspire against the resistance in Palestine, the resistance in Lebanon through some measures which might be happening in Lebanon to prevent it, we rejected all these issues, they relied on the principle of openness and that the Arabs like honoring, and appreciation, and flattery, this openness and the repeated visits and drumming by the western media against Syria whose president was a criminal a few years ago according to their media in 2005 after al-Hariri issue, and suddenly became a peace maker, this gives you an idea of western hypocrisy, and when they failed during that stage, the Arab spring was the opportunity to terminate the Syrian policy.
Nizar al-Farra: Syria has and still encounters all forms of sanctions that targeted some Ministers, companies, among them medical, food ones, so the Syrian people was the target. Those sanctions were seemingly imposed on a number of personalities, but the reality is that they impacted the people as a whole, who could Syria avoid all these sanctions, particularly as they say that through economic pressure, or through making Syria collapse economically they might achieve their political goals?
President Bashar al-Assad: This kind of sanctions will undoubtedly affect Syria, but it will affect with specific degrees. This depends on how we could we adapt with these conditions. Look to Iran, it progresses forwards in light of severe sanctions throughout many decades. We are a nation that has intelligence throughout history, we have a great ability to adapt, we have lived the crises throughout our history. The stages which were calm were limited stages in the Syrian history, undoubtedly we have capability to adapt with them as we are a productive state, we are not an importer country in principle, we are productive state from agriculture, crafts into small industries, but we have to reformulate our economy in a way that suits with this new condition, in this case we can make achievement. The Syrian industry has developed in light of the eighties siege, you remember at that time we had not even the basic materials, that condition was more difficult than this stage, we had no minimum reserve in our banks, even though we could develop industry, today we have bigger capabilities but they need some thinking, a number of practical plans, not theorization, I believe that we will get benefit, these outcomes will occur after the crisis though self-dependence and keeping away from some unimportant consumer- habits which we have adopted mainly because we live years of welfare, so we have the ability to remain and develop, and what we need is to specify what the best formula for our economy.
Nizar al-Farra: Mr. President, You called for dialogue, and the state calls for dialogue, some opposition parties talk now about dialogue, they were rejecting dialogue, but now they accept, some reject, other accept, how the State deals with the call for dialogue since the convening of the conference last year?
President Bashar al-Assad: This is a very long story though it lasted a year and a half, but it was very rich and a lot of people don’t know what things were happening and what was the reality of the dialogue, what was the stance of the state and the opposition’s. At the beginning of the crisis, we asked to conduct dialogue with all the forces and personalities even those who were novice in politics, we went beyond all the political forces reaching social and cultural personalities, etc, we considered the issue as not a political issue, but a national issue, each person in Syria is engaged in resolving this crisis, at that time, the issue of dialogue was proposed on all levels by different sides, and by the states which came to advise us, with good or bad faith, the same thing by the powers existing in Syria which wanted to exploit the crisis, or those who wanted to take a national and real position. We said that the notion of dialogue is good and we started to work for that purpose, here the sorting out began, particularly regarding the forces of opposition. There was a national opposition which wanted to put aside all its interests and visions which we differ on to put the interest of the Homeland first. Subsequently in the political process, some of them entered elections, others participated in the People’s Assembly and the government. On the other side, there was the non-national opposition whom we didn’t talk about directly, without specifying who was this opposition, the people will later know who they are, but we have to specify what is happening. In the beginning, that opposition presented a reform process, reforming, amending, changing laws or amending the constitution. It believed that we would reject this logic, of course, this is what has been proposed by it publically, At the same time, it was bargaining with us through hidden channels that it had no interest in all this and that this speech was for the media or popular consumption, but it wanted to take part in the government. Of course, in principle we said we have no problem in the issue of participation in the government. The government is not restricted to one side, the government is for all people. We have always let independent people participate. Other forces could come, we have no problem, but we don’t accept blackmail. The basis in dealing with any side is the moral and principled dealing. We reached dialogue. Those forces were calling for dialogue, we were surprised that they didn’t come, I stress that I talk about part of the opposition, why did those forces refuse to come to dialogue? Because, before dialogue starts, they supposed it to be restricted to the State and those groups, to sit at the dialogue table in the absence of other sides.
Nizar al-Farra: which means monopolization.
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes, for a simple reason: they wanted to pretend to be defenders of the people and representatives for them, and that we are against the people.
They had no popular base, but they tried to achieve a political position for them in as opportunists in order to negotiate with the State, so we rejected this speech and called on all different powers, on the dialogue table there was more than 100 personalities. They represent different Syrian spectrums, this is from one side. Another side was that some of these powers were continuously contacting the western embassies which were actively working in Syria at that time, they were told not to go for dialogue because the life span of the state, or what they call "regime"- and this word is rejected-, the life span of this state is in weeks or a number of months, so you don’t have to talk to a collapsed side. There were other sides which went to Egypt, received money from Gulf countries at the Arab League or through officials at the Arab League in order not to go to the dialogue. There was another reason, they proposed the issue of reform, I met some groups of them, they talked about the constitution and the 8th Article, before a month of the dialogue, I addressed the people at Damascus University, during which I announced reforms. According to them, what was needed from this dialogue was to propose reforms and put us in front of two options; if we accepted, they would say to the people that they brought the reform through negotiations with the state, and if we rejected, they would say that the State was against reform, so let us fight it. So they monopolize the popular base as defenders of the people’s rights. This was clear for us, they are opportunists to a great deal, so we disregarded them, and moved to another stage after dialogue. Of course, they continued their stance through betting on the embassies and the Gulf powers existed at the Arab League and contacted them till they lost hope. Lately, we heard that they started to talk about dialogue. Let us put aside all this opportunism, and suppose good well, let us say to come late is better than not to come, but if you wanted to come late, you have to be true, not to come once more as an opportunist to get on a wave that you see this ship didn’t sink, so let us ensure a place in it. You are talking now about rejecting violence and arming from all sides. This is the word which some are ruminating from time to time, if you admitted of the weapon or arming, why did you reject it a year ago? Would you come and say clearly that you were mistaken or in maximum that you have lied to the people. We don’t expect the second, in minimum, the first. Let him say that he didn’t know, let him say that he made a mistake in evaluation. But to come as if nothing has happened, this speech is rejected, this opportunism is rejected, when they believe that they didn’t find a place for them on the other ship and that it drowned through councils abroad or through the outside’s discovering that the opportunist opposition has no real position in Syria, has no role.
Through betting on the military terrorist act and the failure of this armed terrorist work in Syria to achieve important outcomes, on the contrary it was a retreat and contraction. At that time they began to shift. This speech is unacceptable for us. This is on one side, but on the other, there are other initiatives at work.
Nizar al-Farra: Initiatives of the opposition like Rome’s. Here we discussed the three stages of dialogue that first they demanded it, second they refrained from it, and now they demand it again, and with the belief that the ship hasn’t sunk. The number may expand and new spectrums may come to join them.
President Bashar al-Assad: In addition to what I said in my previous answer on rejecting dealing with opportunism, we have a principled policy and what we said at the beginning of the crisis we say today. We didn’t change our positions at all towards the events and all the circumstances surrounding it. We say that our dealing with initiatives is also based on what side is making the initiative? What tools do they possess? What is their weight in Syria? If they’re countries like what is happening now when we hear about an initiative to be carried out by Iran and we supported it, first due to Iran’s role in the region and its importance and principled nature and other reasons, and because it will be with a group of other countries that aren’t necessarily as principled and of the same weight, but they can play a role in one way or another. We ask each side that makes an initiative: what is the weight of this side? Many initiatives came from various sides, some from foreign organizations like the one that sponsored the recent Rome initiative, and I’m surprised that foreign organizations are sponsoring Syrian initiatives by Syrian people. This is disgraceful for us on the national level. We disregarded many of these initiatives that have no value and no weight, as the crisis isn’t a place for some people to seek positions. This is part of trading in the crisis.
Nizar al-Farra: Those who watched the issue of the ship whether it will sink or not, bet on a time frame. We’re talking now about a year and a half. The ship is still strong and it seems that with the determination of this country’s people it will remain strong. We ask: who made Syria so far strong and steadfast in the face of all it went through?
President Bashar al-Assad: First, some made a mistake in believing that the ship is the ship of the state or, once again in quotes, a "regime." The ship is the homeland either Syria drowns or Syria makes it. We must be clear on this point; the state cannot sink and the homeland persists for simple reason which is that despite the many mistakes that exist, there’s a deep bond between this state’s policies and this people’s creed. But if we said who made this country steadfast, the fact is it’s the people in general, and the popular base not its elite. To be clear for history: the wide base which maybe isn’t usually interested in politics.
Nizar al-Farra: The common people.
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes, the common people who maybe aren’t interested in politics, maybe they don’t have degrees, maybe they don’t live in these atmospheres, but they have a deep natural feeling about the truth of the crisis and its substance and essence. This isn’t the first time I discover this or see this scene; we saw it in 2003 after the war on Iraq and its results when some jumped to criticize the Syrian position for opposing major countries and siding with Iraq at the time, and it showed clearly after 2005 when the west conspired against it on the background of the assassination of al-Hariri in Lebanon, and now we see it clearer; it’s the same image. This wide base of the people is the one that protects the country, not the elite, to be clear whether this satisfies some or upsets them. Doubtless the most important element of this people which made this country steadfast is the armed forces. This army and armed forces, with their security and police, carry out heroic acts in the full sense of the word. They have readiness for sacrifice which we heard of before and believed to be individual cases, and they’re present in any army in the world, individual cases of heroism. But the surprising thing was the general state of readiness for sacrifices, cases of which we saw directly and live on Addounia TV and on the Syrian TV during the battles that showed their bravery and the successes they achieved. Without the successes of the Syrian Arab Army during these complicated circumstances, the country’s situation would doubtless be in danger, and the people’s embracing of this army is essential. We say the people’s army, as this army is part of this people. If we look at society as sectors of doctors, intellectuals, university graduates, vocational workers, farmers, workers, etc., and if we go back to the beginning of the crisis, the crisis began or relied on sectarian propositions. They wanted in the beginning to create a sectarian divide among the Syrian people to open a large hole in Syria in which this plan can pass very easily and quickly. The sectarian proposition is a departure from religion and deviation from religion, because religions, and Islam in particular, cannot be sectarian and separatist. There are many tools for confronting sectarianism, but the most important tool for this is proper religion, and no-one can play this role like religious figures or scholars. Truth is, for history, the role of religious figures in this crisis was very important and vital, and many people don’t know that a number of respectable religious figures were tortured and imprisoned in basements and some were assassinated and paid with their lives not for standing by the state, but for saying a word of truth or for speaking of the true principles of religion. The essence of the crisis was primarily creating sectarian strife and religious figures had a primary role in combating it. Here we also talk about the media as we said before; if the role of the media in Syria wasn’t important then journalists wouldn’t have paid the price with their lives. There are many groups, there are people in various points. I don’t exclude groups; all groups have patriotic people and people who paid the price with their lives, but there was a focus by the opponents and enemies on specific direction, and these groups or sectors of the people had to fulfill their duty and they carried out their duty. On the other hand, there were of course deviant religious figures who played a negative role either due to ignorance in creed or due to hidden political reasons for which they exploited religion, but those were encircled by the religious figures of Syria. Therefore, I believe this stage is one that should be recorded for all these groups that protected the homeland.
Nizar al-Farra: Of course, we remember the assassination of many activities; doctors, engineers, university professors, scientists in all fields.
President Bashar al-Assad: This is correct. But maybe what was wanted from each individual in these groups was limited compared to the big slogans that were posed at the beginning of the crisis, yet I go back and say that everyone belongs to this people, and when I started by saying that the people were the ones who protected this country, then this encompasses all groups.
Nizar al-Farra: Your Excellency, the Syrians want to know where they are heading, Where are we going? What next? What do you say to the Syrians, Your Excellency?
President Bashar al-Assad: We take Syria to the destination we want to as Syrian People and not to any other place. The external factor has an effect as it can speed up a certain process or slow it down or divert the direction, but we can correct the direction. All that is taking place in Syria was never to take place if we had not certain groups: specific groups, but they are influential in pace with the foreign scheme politically or criminally. In the absence of such groups, be sure that a conspiracy led by the entire world against Syria, and in which all the world takes part against Syria is unable to affect the future which we want to draw for ourselves. In short, the fate of Syria is in the hands of the Syrians, NOT in the hands of anybody else; and once we eliminate terrorism, we will have no problem, even the conspirator would return and change.
The Syrians who took part in these events are responsible for encouraging the conspirators to persist in their conspiracies. This is the truth. That is why we need to address the internal situation. The conspiracy is big; but as I said in every speech and every interview, the foundation lies in Syria. When we get rid of those terrorists and return to search later for the causes behind the presence of such criminality which we did not believe existed in our country, then we will be assured. This is the responsibility of society and the entire homeland to eliminate terrorists and search for the real causes and deal with them. Then we should be assured; and then Syria will return as we know it before the crisis and I am certainly confident of this thing.
Nizar al-Farra: On more than one occasion, Your Excellency said that Syria is the mother of all her children; and consequently when the state grants an amnesty for those who have been involved in the events, there are those who say that such amnesties might be granted when the state is strong. Some people also empty the amnesty of its significance. The same applies to calls for the armed men to lay down their weapons. Those people say that the state is not in a position which enables it to grant such amnesties.
President Bashar al-Assad: The answer is implied in the Question. You show mercy when you are strong, not when you are weak. It is a sign of strength and self-confidence. It is confidence in ourselves and in the people, because the state represents the people and is part of it. Many people have been misled and misguided. Put aside mistakes: some times, in security work, some people get arrested by mistake and are released individually or collectively. But there are cases which are identified by law as offences, and which we might show some tolerance towards. This approach has produced positive results during the past eighteen months. If amnesty achieves positive results, why shouldn’t we pursue it. Solving the crisis is not only through the elimination of terrorism, or through force. We have to use all possible means including tolerance. That is why we continue to embrace this policy.
Nizar al-Farra: Part of the Syrian people say – and let us put this between quotation marks – that they no longer believe in pan-Arabism. They say we should put “Syria first” and abandon pan-Arabism after the stances taken by the Arab League and suspending Syria’s membership and the role played by some Arab regimes. Does His Excellency President Bashar al-Assad still believe in pan-Arabism and what is called “Arab action”?
President Bashar al-Assad: First, I repeat what I said in one of my speeches, that “Syria first” is self-evident. Every homeland, every village to which a human being belongs is “first”. But this does not contradict with what comes second, which is the city, the larger homeland and the Arab world to which we belong. This talk is reductive and comes as a reaction. When we say “Syria first”, or that we don’t want to belong to the Arab nation, it means that we are handing the Arab nation over to those conspiring against us. On the contrary, I say that today I am more committed to pan-Arabism, more convinced of it and more comfortable with it. After more than a decade of working with some – not all - of those Arab officials at different levels – some of them heads of state – I know that they don’t belong to the Arab nation and it doesn’t belong to them. This assures one that the Arab nation is pure despite some people’s endeavours to make it murky with their existence. As to the Arab league, it is not a standard of a criterion for pan-Arabism. Pan-Arabism is not an organization, it is a state of civilization. This region is based on a number of pillars, the biggest among them are pan-Arabism and Islam. Without both of them as two big bases, the region can never exist in its present form. Without believing in these two main pillars, we show that we do not believe in something which exists in reality whether we like it or not. This is a fact. If you don’t believe in it, you need to change it. Can we cancel away pan-Arabism? This is a different issue.
As to the Arab League, let’s be realistic: in the past 10 years, since the outbreak of the Intifada – In the 1990s it only met once, since there was only one Arab summit. Since the year 2000, what are the achievements of the Arab League in the interest of the Arab nation? In fact, through my presence in all Arab Summits, Syria had no ambition to achieve anything. Our utmost ambition was to decrease losses. We always knew that there were traps and landmines which we needed to dismantle. We never believed that in the Arab League there was real work in the interest of the Arab nation. One of his most difficult political activities was to attend an Arab Summit as to dismantle and deter the set-off of traps and mines, citing the lack of a belief in the presence of a genuine work in the League in the interest of the Arab Nation.
Nizar al-Farra: A number of Foreign media outlets said they want President Assad to appear on TV screens every day to dispel rumors about him. They wonder where you are: in Lattakia, in Tehran, in Moscow? Even his wife and children: where are they, inside Syria, outside Syria. Mr. President, where are you now?
President Bashar al-Assad: I am with you in the Republican Palace in Damascus. Anyway, such rumors are not entirely negative, as we do not in most cases respond to the rumors which are like ’bubbles’ exposing their lies and falsifications, though such rumors might confuse the citizen a little, but they confuse them more and confuse their fighters. They try to improve the morale of their fighters through such rumors, and by so doing offer illusions to their tools. This is a good thing and should not annoy us. This means that these tools will soon fail. We should not pay heed nor get upset by such rumors. I am here on the ground, in reality. They are incapable of making fear creep to my heart or into the hearts of the majority of Syrians. They will never achieve this.
Nizar al-Farra: Thank you very much Mr. President.
President Bashar al-Assad: Thank you, and I want you to pass my best wishes to all the staff of Addounia TV, who are carrying on with their national duty, despite the threats they have received, in order to bring out the truth.