Rami Jarrah: ‘Global hypocrisy in no way diminishes the Syrians’ right to a different regime’

The images and reports from Aleppo defy all description and beg the question how the people still stuck there can cope with the atrocities. MO* called Syrian journalist Rami Jarrah, who is in Turkey at the moment, obliged to follow the situation from there. 

  • © Reuters © Reuters

Do we know exactly what is going on in Aleppo at the moment? And who’s giving us that information?

Rami Jarrah: I can see why you would ask that question. Lots of people don’t really understand what’s going on exactly in Syria, because of the complexity of the situation and the different viewpoints and background stories that are involved. But what is clear is that there are only two parties that have an air force in the rebel-held areas where death and casualty rates are high: Russia and the Syrian regime.

From the moment the ceasefire was broken, more than 200 civilians have been killed. Yesterday (Sunday) alone 85 people in total, of which 43 children, were killed by bombings. It’s very clear what’s happening. Three (head)quarters of (Syrian) Civil Defense were attacked: two were put out, while the other one now has to control a very large area. Exactly that area has seen an increase in air raids from 15-20 per day to 100.

In the meantime Russia and the Syrian regime are also trying to put more rebel groups on the list of terrorist organizations

In the meantime Russia and the Syrian regime are also trying to put more rebel groups on the list of terrorist organizations, even if they are not linked to ISIS or the former Jabhat-al-Nusra, which had ties with Al Qaeda. The Syrian ambassador to the UN claims, for instance, that Ahrar al-Sham is preparing a white phosphorus attack and wants to put the blame on the Syrian regime.

Are you saying that it’s irrelevant whether it’s the Syrian army or Russia that is responsible for the bombings? That it’s really “one and the same culprit”?

Rami Jarrah: Exactly. Their ambitions are often the same. Russia is covering up many of the mistakes the Syrian regime has made. A good example is the attack on the UN convoy. The Russians knew very well that the convoy was entering (Aleppo) to offer help to a city under siege with more than 300.000 people beleaguered. And yet the city was attacked.

And then they are telling the Americans: ‘You attacked troops on the ground. Which was wrong. In the same way this attack happened, which may also have been a mistake. But we didn’t do it.’ Russia made four or five conflicting statements in total. In one of them they even admitted they executed the attack, but claim that the convoy was accompanied by militants. In another statement they’re saying they had nothing to do with the attack and that the convoy set fire to themselves, which makes absolutely no sense.

Russia pulls a lot of strings internationally. And the Syrian regime is taking advantage of that. ‘Big brother’ is cleaning up the mess the Assad regime is making.

Could today’s immense suffering in Aleppo be the point the regime and Russia go too far? That the rest of the world has to strike back? That we can expect a stronger effort from other parties to end or reduce the conflict?

Rami Jarrah: The thought of “going too far” in Syria is simply horrible. Everyday reality as it is at the moment is already so remote from what we consider general human morals. I can see that France, Britain and America are frustrated. During UN negotiations, some of those countries’ delegates just left when the Syrian ambassador to the UN started his speech. And Russia has already been accused of being barbaric and participating in attacks on civilians.

‘If the US do no take responsibility and try to put down this insanity, neither will France, the UK or any other party.’

Apparently something is happening, but the real problem is that the US don’t seem to have a decent strategy in Syria. If the US do not take responsibility and try to put down this insanity, neither will France, the UK or any other party. Turkey as well seems more invested in its own interests, especially when it comes to their agenda with Kurdish groups. Turkish nor Western interests are bringing freedom and democracy, freedom of speech or the freedom for Syrians to choose their own leaders.

The change will have to come from the US, but due to their lack of real strategy Russia can now openly pull the strings in Syria.

Are the United States plausible defenders of human rights, while at the same time they keep supporting Saudi Arabia, despite their attacks in Yemen?

Rami Jarrah: That is absolutely hypocritical and unacceptable. I don’t agree with what’s happening in Yemen. And I don’t agree with what happened in Bahrein in the past. Absolutely unacceptable.

Those conflicts also explain the contradictions in the region, where Shiite political groups, like Hezbollah and the Iranian government, support some of these revolts while Sunni groups or countries support others. However, this hypocrisy in no way undermines or delegitimizes the aspirations of the Syrians who are against Assad and want to see a power change.

In the past five years, members of the international community have made many statements and many promises. But again and again the same countries abandoned the Syrians. The US apparently only keep up the fight to tire out the other parties involved and make them desperate. That includes Russia and Hezbollah and Iran and the Syrian regime. But that will only lead to weaker version of those groups or countries that oppose the US. It has nothing to do with democracy, safety or stopping the war against Syrian citizens.

You’re saying the international community is cynical. Do you have a plan the UN Security Council could bring about to book progress?

Rami Jarrah: I do have a plan. The problem is that it’s not taken seriously because it doesn’t fit in with the prevailing way of thinking of those who are supposedly trying to end the war.

Jabhat Al-Nusra was linked to Al Qaeda, even though Al Qaeda had no real means to support Nusra, supply them with weapons, or anything like that. After a lot of pressure from the international community, and more importantly, from within Syrian society, Al-Nusra responded by breaking its ties with Al Qaeda. They accepted that at the moment they could only deal with the battle in Syria, and not with Palestine.

Al Nusra, in other words, is making diplomatic efforts, which are however not accepted by the international community.

‘There most definitely needs to be representation of Sunni Muslims in Syria, just like there already is for Shiite Muslims.’

There most definitely needs to be representation of Sunni Muslims in Syria, just like there already is for Shiite Muslims. To counter Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, who support the latter, there also needs to be a Sunni power. One that the Syrian people accept to represent them and that can partake in negotiations and act diplomatically, not violently.

It’s a far from perfect situation to get people or groups that are relatively extreme involved in the political process. But the reality is that we have to make hard choices. And in that case I want to see the Sunni Muslims be represented.

Would you say the new Al-Nusra could be their representatives, or at least be one of them?

Rami Jarrah: Al-Nusra can partly represent Sunni Muslims. But we’re talking about Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and not Al-Nusra, because that no longer exists. They can control the situation more than anyone and make sure that everyone respects the agreements that were made. They already made known they want to be part of that political process. It doesn’t look like an ideal situation but at the moment it’s an inevitable decision.

Everyone, including Russia, keeps repeating that the only solution is a political one, and that a military solution will bring us nowhere. But at the same time the Syrian regime, supported by Russia, is saying: ‘We will regain every inch of Syrian territory.’ This shows that a political solution is not taken seriously. Therefore, the opposition needs to unite themselves as one organization, that can also fight in case the political dialogue leads to nothing or if the regime keeps bombing rebel-held regions.0

Can you still go to places like Aleppo at the moment? Or has it become impossible to travel in and to Syria?

Rami Jarrah: What I have problems with is the Turkish state. I can’t travel, just like others in the same position as me, because they won’t give me the required legal documents since I was arrested trying to cross the border. I was about to meet the Turkish president, crossed the border following Turkish instructions, but was still arrested. Ever since, I’ve been arrested and put in jail twice.

People that want to go to Syria to give humanitarian help, as a doctor or a trader, are at least tolerated by Turkey. Because they can make money off of them. But for journalist there are no procedures to get to Syria through Turkey. The result is censorship.

The only reason there are no foreign correspondents reporting from Aleppo is because Turkey simply won’t allow them to. At the same time a foreign correspondent from TRTworld and one from Anadolu did get permission to go to Jarabulus. They only accept people that will tell their story but no one else. That’s because they want to cover up the things they’re doing, like violating the Kurds’ human rights. The result is that only the Syrian regime, Russia and some local groups can send out their reports to the rest of the world.

To serve their own agenda?

Rami Jarrah: Exactly. We don’t have any legitimate, independent media in Syria, and Turkey first and foremost is the one to blame for that.

Translation: Wout Van Praet

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