We publish the first part of the interview to Joseph Daher, member of the Revolutionary Left Tendency of Syria, with IWL.
Florence Oppen: It has been more than four years since the beggining of the Syrian Revolution, in March 2011. We have seen Assad’s regime reinforcing its offensive against the rebels and against the Syrian people by the end of 2014, using barrel pumps over rebels’ areas, causing over twenty thousand deaths. Also, by the end of September 2014, Russia started its military intervention, and by the end of October 2015 it took place the Vienna Conference, led by the USA and the European Powers (plus China, Saudi Arabia and Russia) to get ‘both sides of the conflict’ together and achieve a “transition towards peace”. Did this process ‘deviated’ the revolution towards a “transitional government”, such as planned at the Vienna Conference, or on the contrary, it was accelerated, due to Paris attacks?
Joseph Daher: The project of a transitional government has been accelerated by Paris attacks, but this is actually a perspective previously posed, and it has been the preferred choice of several imperialist Powers, most of the times. USA’s and the West Powers’ goals, since the beginning of Syrian people’s raise, have never attempted to assist or help Syrian revolutionaries, neither to defeat Assad’s regime. On the contrary, USA is pursuing a deal with Assad (or any sector he relies on) and with opposition bound to the West and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The latests are not representative of the popular movement at all, and they are absolutely corrupt. This transitional government solution is known as the “Yemeni solution”: to make a few shallow modifications on the regime just to keep it save as a whole.
In this context, it is worth to remind the guiding principles approved by the permanent UN Security Council on June 30th, 2012, stating a transitional government led by Assad is possible (not excluded as an option). The only criteria to conform this government was the “acceptance” of Assad’s participation on it by the opposition representatives; the same way, delegates from Assad’s regime could ban anyone proposed by the opposition members.
Also, the absence or lack of organization and vital military assistance from USA and other West countries to Syrian revolutionaries is just another proof of their unwillingness to support any kind of radical change in Syria.
F.O: What was the impact of Russia’s role and military intervention in Syrian revolutionary process? Do you think Russia is just seeking to eliminate IS?
J.D: Russian military intervention has reached its higher level on September the 30th, when its military planes began airstriking Syria. By the end of the summer, Russia had incremented considerably its implication next to Assad’s regime, specifically providing information and logistical support to Assad’s Army. By September 17th, Assad’s army started using new kinds of air and ground weaponry given by Russia, and several satellite pictures by the end of the month showed two new Russian military bases near Lattakiyya.
Russia had a vital importance to Assad’s regime survival: it is its main weaponry provider and, since January 2014, it has not done anything but increasing its military hardware (ammunition, military equipment, armoured vehicles, drones, guided missiles, etc.).
The propaganda launched by the Russian State about the “war against terrorism” is a way of politically and militarily supporting Assad’s regime and crush all kind of opposition inside Syria. Putin aims for the different international actors to consider Assad as the main force to help them fight “terrorism”.
The goals of Russian airstrikes are clear: to save and consolidate Assad’s military and political Power. The Russian president, Vlamidir Putin, stated on September 28th, before the beginning of military operations, “there is no other choice to end Syrian conflict than to reinforce the institution of the current legitimate Syrian government on its fight against terrorism”.In other words, what Putin is proposing is to crush all opposition to Assad’s regime, be them democratic or reactionary, in the context of “fighting terrorism”.
Each authoritarian regime has used this kind of propaganda to repress popular movements or opposition groups questioning their power: it has been done by Assad against the popular movement since the beginning of th revolution, as much as by the dictator Sissi, in Egypt, repressing the Muslim Bortherhood, as well as the progressist left and democratic movements (Revolutionary Socialists party, April 6 Movement, etc.), and also by Erdogan to confront PKK and several left movements. To give one more example, it has also been the case of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s monarchies to repress demonstrators and social mobilization against their dictatorial regimes.
It is worth to mention that, according to the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria, since the beginning of the Russian military intervention, on September 30th, between 80% and 90% of the striked targets, causing the death of more than 520 civilians and 100.000 displaced persons, have not been taken ahead in areas controlled by the Islamic State. Airstrikes from Russian military planes have destroyed at least ten hospitals, besides a bread factory, centers of potable water, popular markets, etc.
It is clear after Paris attacks, Moscow is trying to reach Jihadists, but it is still striking FSA groups and civilians. November the 28th, for example, Russian Air Force hit a medical centre in Idlib province, which had a bread factory producing 130.000 kg of bread per month, and a drinkable water center provisioning water to 50.000 people. Several popular neighborhoods of Aleppo and arounds, same as Idlib, have been targeted.
F.O: And what is your analisys of French military intervention in Syria today, after the attacks?
J.D: France has intensified the airstrikes after the attacks of November 13th. It has now mobilized 3.500 military units, and it has deployed its aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaule in East Mediterranean, triplicating French government’s action capacity since the 23rd.
Before the attacks, France had already bombed, in September 2015, some bases of IS in Syria, near Deir Zor city. French authorities had justified those airstrikes as “these were Deash sanctuaries where those who attack France are being educated to it”, and increasing they were “acting in legitimate defense”.
Since September 27th, France took ahead four series of airstrikes in Syria, in the context of “Chammal” operation against the Islamic State. This operation is active since 2014, through the joint operation led by the US since September 2014, with targets inside Irak (by Bagdad’s government request) and Syria, where they so far refused to collaborate with Assad’s regime. Chammal operation gathers around 60 countries, including the USA, UK, France, Syrian’s neighbouring countries, and Turkey. Since its beginning, it has excluded direct military intervention in Syrian ground, but it has sent special forces and Iraqui and Kurdish troops. Also, just a dozen of their members have been part of the bombings -around 8300 since 2014, 80% of them taken ahead by the USA.
Since the attacks, France has requested to the West governments to join “the war against IS”. UK joined the campaign after the British parliament voted in favor of bombing Syria, on December 2nd, 2015. Hours after the vote, British Airforce had already started airstriking IS’ petroleum bases. Days after this, the German parliament, the Bundestag, voted in favor of Angela Merkel’s project, and on the 4th it authorized the deployment of a maximum of 1200 soldiers (the biggest Budeswehr foreigner mission), and six Tornado aircrafts for reconnaissance missions in Syria, plus a frigate to backup the French aircraft carrier Charles-De-Gaulle.
Therefore, there are now 6 countries (USA, France, UK, Canda, Australia and Jordan) with military interventions in Iraq and Syria. Denmark and the Netherlands intervene only in Iraq. The other four states (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates) are only airstriking Syria. In what comes to USA ‘reforces’, aircraft carrier Harry Truman is on its way to the Mediterranean, and Washington has 3500 soldiers in Iraq already, to what special forces will be added (around 200 men in Iraq and a non-quantified reforce in Syria).
In addition to all these, France has requested more collaboration from Russia, which stated Paris attacks had shown Russia had a correct foreign policy. In fact, the 26th of November, French and Russian governments announced its decision to “coordinate” their airstrikes in Syria against Daesh, to target the transportation of petroleum mains, specifically. Petroleum smuggling represents one of the main financing sources of Daesh, with an estimated income of 1.5 million dollars a day. France and Russia also agreed to exchange information between them for the airstrikes not to hit “the ones fighting against Daesh”; so is to say, the FSA, fighting Assad’s regime and Daesh.
F.O: Today, IWL and other revolutionary left organizations supporting the revolution have a major debate with part of the world left which seems to be convinced there is nothing more to defend about the Syrian revolutionary process, given the imperialist intervention (USA) on rebels’ side. This position affirms that, unfortunately, there is nothing left to defend of the revolutionary process, as rebels are being financed and controlled by USA imperialism or extremist Islamism. So, what is USA imperialism aiming on the region, and what is the truth of its intervention?
J.D: First, I would like to precise there has been a complete lack of consequent military assistance in support of Syrian revolutionaries, be it from the USA or any other West country. In fact, Wall Street Journal published an atricle, in January 2015, where a CIA’s assistant stated: “Those [rebels] who made the cut, earning the label “trusted commanders,” signed written agreements, submitted payroll information about their fighters and detailed their battlefield strategy. Only then did they get help, and it was far less than they were counting on. Some weapons shipments were so small that commanders had to ration ammunition. One of the U.S.’s favorite trusted commanders got the equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter. Rebel leaders were told they had to hand over old antitank missile launchers to get new ones—and couldn’t get shells for captured tanks. When they appealed last summer for ammo to battle fighters linked to al Qaeda, the U.S. said no. All sides now agree that the U.S.’s effort to aid moderate fighters battling the Assad regime has gone badly”.
Barack Obama’s plan, approved by the USA Congress with a budget of US$500 millions to arm and equip among 5000 and 10.000 rebels, was never implemented, and it was not looking to defeat Assad’s regime, as evidenced by the resolution itself: “The Secretary of Defense is authorized, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide assistance, including training, equipment, supplies, stipends, construction of training and associated facilities, and sustainment, to appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups and individuals, through December 31, 2016, for the following purposes: (1) Defending the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and securing territory controlled by the Syrian opposition. (2) Protecting the United States, its friends and allies, and the Syrian people from the threats posed by terrorists in Syria. (3) Promoting the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria”.
This program has been a complete failure and now it has been cancelled. Although, before its end, the political Chief of The Pentagone, Christine Wormuth, had recognized “The program is much smaller than we hoped”, and there were between 100 and 200 fighters in training, clarificating they were receiving a desastrous training. One USA General even declared, in front of USA Congress, he only managed to successfully train “four or five” opposition soldiers.
The Chief of Staff of the Syrian rebel group being trained by the USA, departament 30, resigned from his position and retired on September 19th of 2015. He talked, among other things, about “the lack of a sufficient number of reclutings” and “lack of seriousness when it comes to run the project established by department 30”.
The other obstacle the USA has found in Syria has been, and still is, constituting armed groups which remain loyal to their interests, because of local reality. This is due to the agreement of most Syrian opposition groups to not cooperate with Washington if it does not guarantee their independence and autonomy, and if this cooperation does not clearly aim the defeat of Assad.
After their failure trying to train battalions of FSA (Free Syrian Army), the USA changed its strategy during the fall of 2015, and decided to politically and militarily support the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) to defeat Daesh (IS). SDF were founded in October 2015, to juridically and politically cover the military support of USA to PKK in Syria. The SDF are led by YPG (armed branch of PYD, Democratic Union Party, Syrian branch of PKK, Workers’ Party of Kurdistan), as the other groups participating on it (Kurds, Syrians and some linked to ALS, like the revolutionary army Jaysh al-thuwar) have only a secondary role. The USA still hopes for other groups from FSA to join SDF. However, PYD policy, specifically its attitude of not confronting Assad’s regime, besides its support to Russian military intervention, and the fact they commit abuse against Arab civilians in some regions, are impeding for a trust bound to be forged among these forces and popular revolutionaries’ groups of Syria.
On the other hand, the States of the region, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Qatar have financed several groups; mainly, Fundamentalist Islamic movements which oppose to the revolution goals, and prioritize their own politica interests.Qatar, for example, has given key support to Jabhat al Nusra group, while Trukey directly or indirectly supports several Fundamentalist Islamic groups (like Jaysh al-Fatah coalition, led by Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar Sham), and IS. This support becomes obvious when Turkey allows total movement freedom to such groups in both sides of the country border, in North Syria, against the democratic groups of FSA, and specifically if they confront any type of autonomy of Kurdish regions under PKK control. Finally, the private networks of the States of the Arab Gulf have acted on and financed several Fundamentalis Islamic movements, relying on the support of the leading classes in their countries, aiming to transform a social revolution into a confessional war.
F.O: So, do you think there still are activists, tendencies or groups in the Syrian revolutionary process that the left (and the people and workers of the world) should support?
J.D: First, we have to remember Syrian revolution makes part of a revolutionary process of the entire region, and it is an integral part of its dynamics. All attempt to separate Syrian revolution from this process has to be fought. Syrian revolutionaries struggle -as the activists in other countries of the region- for freedom and dignity. In this struggle, they confront authoritarian regimes and Islamists and Jihadists groups who opposed those goals.
The popular aspirations and resistence of the Syrian people are being completely ignored, and even fought on the battle field by forces which are stronger. There are many individuals and small groups, although truly weakened by the constant repression of the regime, and later by fundamentalist groups, which conform local popular committees of coordination.
There still are bases of hope and resistence, conformed by several democratic groups and movements opposing all kind of counter-revolution: Assad’s regime, and Fundamentalist Islamic groups. They are who keep the dreams and goals of the beginning of the revolution still alive: democracy, social justice, equality, and the opposition to the project of a Confesional State. We can found them in Aleppo and arounds, in Idlib and arounds, or in rural zones around Damasco. You can find many examples on my personal blog.
F.O: Can you give us some examples?
J.D: For example, in the small city of Burkmal, east of Deir Zor, currently occupied by IS, popular resistence action of the population kept increasing during November and December of 2015, against Daesj members. There have been demonstrations, and they’ve waved a Syrian flag in a local school, reviled by Jihadists, while an armed battalion, linked to the revolution, killed for Commanders of IS in the city. In Minjeb’s city, Aleppo’s rural zone, several demonstrations took place against repression to local popularion by a part of IS, specifically against deaths caused by “apostasy” (abandonment of religious belief). In this context, in several ocasions, IS members, one of them judge of religious courts imposed by IS, have been killed. In Raqqa and Deir Zor province, a FSA battalion, called White Shroud, takes ahead guerrilla attacks directed to military units of IS. I can also give you resistence examples that have been going on since last summer, when several demonstrations were organized in rural zones around Aleppo, Damas and other places, including Idlib. In Idlib, by the end of June, there was a protest, after Friday’s pray, to demand the municipal administration’s power to be rendered and controlled by local population, and for the military neighborhood of Jaish al-Fatah coalition (led by Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar) to be re-located outside the city. Or in Duma, near Damasco, during July, there were several protests after the kidnap of a member of the Local Council. During August and September, in the small town of d’Al-Atarib, in the outskirts of Aleppo, currently occupied by Jaghat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda), there were several demonstrations against their authoritarian practices. In August 7th, 2015, for example, thousands marched around the city of Saqba (rural region of Damasco), in the name of the Syrian revolution goals. A week later, a group of women demonstrated in favor of the liberation of political prisioners arrested by the organization Islam Army, linked to Saudi Arabia. They have been protesting for several months, now.
On September 25, Kurds, Arabs, Syrians and Turkmen demonstrated against IS and Assad’s crimes in Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood, in Aleppo. October 6th, revolutionaries in Aleppo organized a mobilization against Jabhat Al-Nusra, and demanded for the organization to leave the city. October 18th, it was organized a solidarity campaign of revolutionaries with Palestinian people and the Intifada. November 10th, there were acts of civil disobedience, organized by militants protesting against the disappearance of revolutionaries by Jabhat Al-Nusra in Aleppo’s neighborhoods.
As the Syrian revolutionaries wrote: “The enemies are several… the revolution is one… and it continues”. Syrian popular movement has not spoken its last word, yet.
F.O: Refugees crisis has make Europe shake. How can we actually help Syrian refugees? What limits do you see to the purily “humanitarian” speech that has been installed hegemonically?
J.D: We can truly help Syrian refugees. The first is to struggle against our national burgeoisies. We cannot forget the role of Western Imperialist States on the current situation. Racists and pro-safety policies of the European Union (EU) about immigration are equally responsible of the daily drama of refugees on their way to Europe, through sea and ground. The policy of closed border oushes hundreds of thousands currently runing from was and misery to incur in ilegal and dangerous ways to get to European countries. We have to mention the few refugees who get to Europe (most of them stay in countries which are not part of the EU) have to face police violence, “The Jungle”, in Calais,France; the construction of a four meters tall fence by the Hungarian government along its 175 kms border with Serbia, Frontex sea operation on the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas; and all those policies ended up in tragedies, with thousands drowned.
We have to struggle the implementarion of the “Fort Europe”, and struggle for open borders. The same way, we have to struggle to better the life conditions of the refugees (housing, work, etc.), and in a general way, we have to struggle for the popular [lower] classes.
We also have to confront racist, islamophobic propaganda, especially the one coming from the extreme right-wing of Europe, who does not stop calling Syrian and other refugees as “potential terrorists”. Such is the case of the UK Independency Party (UKIP), who warned those who ran away are probably from IS and other Jihadist groups, who “pose a direct threat to our civilisation”. These political leaders are not that different from Assad, which in September 2015 wrote on his Twitter: “Terrorism will not stop here, it will export itself through illegal immigration into Europe”. When the extreme right-wing does not indetify the refugees with terrorists, it accuses them of threatening the “Christian roots” of Europe, as declared by the Hungarian First Minister, Viktor Orban, facing the massive arrival of migrants. Finally, Marine Le Pen, Chief of French fascist movement, the Front National, who agrees with and reproduces all these racis propaganda, has demanded, after the attacks, for an “immediate stop to immigrants reception”, and to reestablish national borders, what means, in practice, to completely close the borders.
Nevertheless, we have to state, despite their difficult situation, a great number of refugees have organized to protest and resist the police attacks and secutiry policies of EU states, as it was the case of persecutions at the Rail Station of Budapest, the Refugees Camps of Calais and Greece, and the Hungarian border.
We have to organize to struggle, together with the refugges and people without-papers, to impose the open borders policy, free circulation and decent reception of people runing from the war, oppresion or social misery. We have to put an end to the Camps, the racist policies, and, above all, we have to question the capitalist system, which is the origin of these catastrophe.
Although, as I said on the beginning, it is not enough to confront the extreme right-wing. We have to condemn the imperialist policy and wars caused by the Western states on the region, which are responsible for the political and economic problems causing the flight of migrants and refugees. And this also means to condemn the Western states collaboration with the dictatorships of the region. The solution does not rely on collaborating with regimes like Assad’s. The solution is to take to opposite field of IS and other rectionary, Jihadist forces (and it is worth to mention Assad encouraged its development on the beginning of popular raise in Syria, while he killed and repressed the democratic, progressive forces), but the most important part is to equally and above all, oppose to the barbarian, authoritarian, criminal regime of Assad, as this regime is the cause of the current catastrophe Syria is living, and also the flight of millions of Syrians. IS as much as Assad are two barbarian forces feeding each other mutually, and both have to be defeated in order to build a democratic, secular, popular society in Syria, and also in other places.
This is why it is a key to support democratic, popular, social movements opposing those two counter-revolutionary forces and also all forms of Imperialism (USA and Russia) and sub-imperialism (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey), who are fighting the interests of the people in struggle. These activists still exist in Syria, and fight Assad and the fundamentalist Islamism daily, despite the difficulties. For example, if we look at what is happening in Iraq, where IS comes from, we see during last weeks of November it emerged a popular movement questioning Bagdad’s regime, supported by Iran. You could hear, during the demonstrations, the calls to build a secular, non-confessional state, against the division of the population in Sunni and Shia areas, in favor of women rights and equality, and with a clear denounce of the parties with a confessional policy. The demonsrators accused the Iraqi confessional regime of being, through his policy, responsible for the development of IS, and we could see flags with the inscription: “The Parliament and Islamic State [or Daesh] are the two faces of the same coin”, or “Daesh was born from the uterus of your corruption”. Only bearing in mind this framework we will get out of the nightmare of the dictatorships and all kind of fundamentalists, and, above all, we will be able to let millions to have a free, decent life.
2 United Nations Security Council’s resolution affirms its goal is “the establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers, which shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent while ensuring continuity of governmental institutions”. This means both parts (Assad’s sanguinary regime and opposition sectors invited) have equal decision power to get to an agreement through the “consent” of both – E.N
8 “Environ 8300 raids aériens ont été conduits en un an, dont plus de 80 % ont été assurés par les États-Unis.” http://www.lapresse.ca/international/dossiers/le-groupe-etat-islamique/201512/02/01-4927297-la-grande-bretagne-lance-ses-premieres-frappes-en-syrie.php
9 Nevertheless, the three Arab Monarchies are less active is Syria since their intervention in Yemen, in favour of Haidi’s governor troops, allied of Saudi Arabia, controlled by military networks led by the former dictator Ali Abdullah Al-Saleh, and the Houti Rebellion, supported by Iran.
12 US Congress Bill H.R.3979, which became Public Law on December 19th 2014. https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/3979/text
In October 2015, even the Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, questioned the USA strategy in Syria, suring an audience with the Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, and the Major State Inter-Army, Joseph Dunford. After asking about the possibilities of defeating Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, he concluded: “Best case scenario, this is a terrible strategy”.
16 Dans sa charte de fondation, le FDS appelle à combattre “Daech, ses organisations soeurs et le régime criminel Baathiste” (dans son appel http://syriadirect.org/news/15-opposition-groups-in-idlib-aleppo-join-sdf-forces/)
About PKK and the political context of the Kurdish people, see Alejandro Iturbe’s article, “Sobre la lucha del pueblo Kurdo”, December 15th, 2015 – E.N
18 Saudi Arabia began supporting some FSA groups on 2013.
30 “The jungle” is the name given to an improvised migrant camp near Calais, in the north region of France, where migrants, most of them refugees demanding for assylum, install while preparing to cross to the UK, hiden in the ships, cars, trains or commerce-trucks. The camp is located over an old garbage dump, today occupied by more than 6.000 people (a population of some hundreds increased explosively during summer of 2015), coming from Iraq, Syria and Iran, with no sanitarian conditions at all, and the closest market located more than 2 km away.