Debates and questions have not ceased on the Syrian revolutionary process, while Geneva II “peace” conference has been planned for a new date, January 22 2013, after being postponed several times. This Geneva II conference has the same objective than the previous one and of other so called “peace” conferences or solutions for Syria: reach an agreement between the Assad regime and a section of the opportunist and bourgeois opposition linked to the West and the Gulf monarchies. We will see further in the text how the Geneva II conference and the recent USA and Iran deal has demonstrated even more the futility and the idiocy of some sections of the left and anti war organizations of an anti imperialist bloc composed of Russia and Iran struggling against Western imperialism. We will come back on this point later, but before we have to answer other questions that have been raised by some sections of the left and on a wider basis:
– Is the Syrian revolution still alive?
– Can the dichotomia of jihadists vs Assad regime can be overcome?
– What is the current balance forces on the military field?
– What are the dynamics of the Kurdish political scene and how to approach the Kurdish issue of self determination?
– Is and can the Syrian popular movement preserves its independence and autonomy with all the foreign interventions on a regional and international level?
We will deal with all these questions and try to show that despite all the difficulties the Syrian revolutionary process is still ongoing and alive, despite all the obstacles and attacks against it from all sides, and that the need to support the popular movement in Syria is still very much relevant.
The mainstream medias, whether in the West and in the Middle East, and Western and regional governments want us to believe that the Syrian revolution is dead and has transformed itself into a sectarian war between the Sunni Majority and the religious and ethnic minorities on the other side, or in a similar trend resuming the events in Syria in an opposition between jihadists vs the Assad regime. This last perspective actually pushed many to join the camp, composed of conservative right wing to “anti imperialist” primaire, arguing that Assad is a lesser evil to the jihadists, while we should oppose both because they nurture each other and are both seeking to establish an authoritarian system. This following statement is typical of this trend:
“We need to start talking to the Assad regime again” about counterterrorism and other issues of shared concern, said Ryan C. Crocker, a veteran diplomat who has served in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “It will have to be done very, very quietly. But bad as Assad is, he is not as bad as the jihadits who would take over in his absence.”[i]
In addition to believe that cooperation with the Assad regime is the best way to struggle against jihadists and islamists extremists groups is to ignore the history of this regime in instrumentalizing and cooperating with them such as with jihadist groups after the Iraqi invasion by the USA in 2003 or Fateh el Islam in Lebanon in 2007, and to forget that the regime is the one to have freed most of the jihadists and islamists extremists in the various amnesty calls since the beginning of the revolutionary process made by the regime while democrat activists were kept in prison. This is without forgetting as well the assistance given by Syria, in addition to Iran, to the establishment and growth of Hezbollah, while it opposed and was opposing at the same time the Palestinian and Lebanese national and progressive resistance. The struggle against the Assad regime and the jihadists are necessary in the struggle for democracy, social justice and secularism. Seeking the lesser evil is the road to defeat, while hiding or silencing the counter revolutionary and reactionary nature of jihadists groups because they are struggling against the Assad regime is mere opportunism and the road to the failure for the Syrian revolution.
The revolution is still alive
Yes this revolution is still very much alive! Revolutionaries inside Syria did not stop to demonstrate and organize against the regime and jihadists groups and calling for democracy and the unity of Syrian people against sectarian attempts to divide it.
You can see the videos[ii] and the pictures[iii] on this blog showing the nearly daily demonstrations in addition to the weekly ones. The determination of the revolutionaries has not limit, just like for example when protestors in the city of Raqqa sang and demonstrated in the area the regime bombed a building on the same day as an act of defiance and resistance against Assad forces.[iv] We have also witnessed continuous demonstrations against the practices of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), for example demanding the liberation of prisoners imprisoned by the ISIS in various regions such as very lately with demonstration asking for the detainees in ISIS’s prisons in some Aleppo neighborhoods and with a banner condemning “the methods of abduction, secret trials, and torture in the darkness of prisons, because its a reproduction of the Assad regime”.[v] Similar demonstrations occurred to demand the liberation of the comic Abdel Wahab Mala kidnapped by the ISIS.[vi]
Self organization of the revolutionary masses is still present at every level throughout Syria, and especially in the liberated areas of the country.[vii]
We have for example seen the youth in the city of Deir Attyah self organizing to clean their streets in a campaign called “cleaning Deir Attyah to bring it back more beautifull” [viii] , or the youth of Daraya launching a campaign few ago to ask for the end of the siege in their area.
It is also important to remind everyone of the meeting in Rihania, a city on the Syrian-Turkish border and formation of the Free Syrian Union on October 13, 2013, gathering about 106 military, media, and civil formations.[ix] They were calling for a Free and Democratic Syria in which all sects and ethnicities would be treated equally. Although having limits in some of its aspects (the name Syrian Arab Republic is maintained or return to the liberal Constitution of 1950), it can clearly be included in the democratic sectors of the revolution.[x]
Popular activism in the Syrian revolutionary process is still as we can see very much alive.
The armed popular resistance
The armed popular resistance is facing number of obstacles and difficulties. The first most important difficulty is from the Assad‘s regime military superiority, strengthened considerably by Iran and Russia military, political and economic huge assistance and the participation on the military field of Hezbollah and Iraki sectarian Shia groups on the side of the regime. Hezbollah’s involvement has been increasing continuously, starting by interventions mostly concentrated at the Lebanese Syrian border to “protect”, according to Hezbollah, Lebanese-populated villages in western Homs governorate in early 2012, to a more notable presence, acting in an advisory and training role as well as an active military force. Starting in May 2013, Hezbollah acted as the spearhead for an offensive in Qusayr and Homs. Iraki sectarian Shia militias started appearing in Damascus’ southern Sayyida Zeinab suburb and eventually elsewhere further north. The regime also welcomed, on a very small basis, Greek Neo-Nazis, who call themselves “Black Lilly”, fighting alongside with Assad troops.
This military superiority and foreign assistance has enabled army’s regime to regain number of regions and territory from the armed opposition.
We should remind that the Assad’s army has been built on sectarian, tribal and clientelist basis making quasi impossible an Egyptian scenario where the army would decide to separate itself from Moubarak to prevent a radicalization of the revolution and save the regime. The high hierarchy is linked to Assad’s faith and will therefore keep fighting for the remaining of the regime.
Secondly the lack of economic, political and above all military support to the Free Syrian Army has led to its weakening and its division. According to one source, the opposition currently consists of more than 1,000 armed opposition groups as well as dozens of alliances, fronts and joint operations rooms.[xi] The FSA is still not a single unit acting as a single organization, and this is why different policies are made according to groups, regions and other element. The Syrian Military Council (SMC), led by Salim Idris, has arguably managed to sustain some distinguishable level of influence on the ground, but even this is nowhere where it should be. They nevertheless still compose an essential section of the armed popular resistance reaching between 30 000 to 50 000.[xii] We reiterate our support to the democratic sections of the FSA seeking to achieve the objectives of the revolution and demand that they be armed.
The FSA has also been the target of jihadists and some Islamic extremists groups that have assassinated few officers and attacked some of its brigades.[xiii] Salafi forces like Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya and al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, have also cracked down on non-radical Islamist individuals and factions in eastern Ghouta.[xiv]
This leads us to make a difference between the islamist political forces gathered around the Islamic front and jihadist forces like ISIS, although the lines is somehow porous on some occasions like in the case of Jabhat al Nusra, which is affiliated to Al Qaida but has divergences with ISIS. The head of the SMC Salim Idris has condemned the jihadists and actually declared that he was ready to fight them in a post Assad era with the Syrian army. In the same time, S. Idriss has welcome the Syrian Islamic front on many occasions.[xv]
The Islamic Front was formed in November following a process that begun in September, when several of these groups jointly distanced themselves from the National Coalition exile opposition and its exile government. The establishment of this Islamic Front followed also after meetings held in Reyhanli in Turkey, where they confronted the general staff of the Brigadier General Salim Idris, chief of staff of the SMC, with a demand for greater representation in any joint rebel leadership. The meetings were preceded by talks with Khaled al-Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar. The Reyhanli meetings ended inconclusively amid threats from the Islamist factions to declare their own rival body if they didn’t get their way.[xvi]
The Islamic Front is now composed of 11 of Syria’s most powerful opposition rebel groups and; 49 rebel groups merged under Liwa al-Islam to form Jaish al-Islam; more than 1,000 rebels defected from an FSA-aligned group in Deir al-Zour and pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra. The Islamic Front has declared that they will not oppose the FSA, which they usually did expect on some occasions as we have seen, while condemning the SNC and calling for an Islamic political system in Syria.
This new Islamic Front has the financial and political support of Golf monarchial regimes. The important funding of these groups has allowed to attract many opposition fighters, not merely on a religious discourse, but rather on the better equipped and salaries these groups were providing compared to the brigades of the FSA lacking of everything. This is why we should not consider automatically that the fighters of the Islamic Front share the same ideology that their leaders.
Number of leaders of the Islamic Front are linked to these latter, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while some are part of the Muslim Brotherhoods, which despite being part of the SNC has not worked to reinforce the FSA, but has worked to establish its own military brigades. Zahran Allouch, part of the leadership and head of the Army of Islam, studied Sharia in Saudi Arabia. His father was a Muslim Brotherhood cleric with direct ties to the ruling family, and he still travels to and from Saudi in secret, even during the war.[xviii]
It should be reminded that most of these islamist and salafist leaders were actually freed by the regime in the first amnesty in June 2011 decided by the Assad regime, while democrats and other civil activists were targeted, imprisoned and assassinated by the security forces.
The United States has actually declared its interest in getting to know these Islamist militias in Syria.[xix] Their number is considered to range from 30 000 to 50 000 as well.
On the other side, we have jihadists groups especially the ISIS, while Jabhat al Nusra although affiliated with Al Qaida can be understood as a mix between islamists and jihadist. ISIS has progressively been the main group welcoming jihadist foreigners instead of Jabhat al Nusra. Both groups share nevertheless a reactionary and sectarian ideology[xx]. Many demonstrations have occurred against both groups because of their authoritarian practices and reactionary understanding of Islam[xxi]. We would like to point out that the problem is not that it is foreigners that compose mostly ISIS, but the fact that these people uphold a reactionary and exclusive ideology that has nothing to do and is opposed to objectives of the Syrian revolution. In addition to their authoritarian practices and rule, they also impose their reactionary ideology on people. The ISIS imposed for example what it claims is Shari’a approved clothing on schools in the areas it has absolute or even partial control over. Members of the ISIS distributed leaflets in an all girls school in Saraqeb city, Idlib province, telling all girls from grade 5 upwards to wear their extremist interpretation of what Islamic law prescribes women to wear. Warning that all frills that do not follow this rule will be banned from entering the school.
ISIS. It is important to remind that this is not the first time the ISIS interferes and imposes its ideology on Syrian civilians lifestyles, education or clothing. The SOHR actually reported that the ISIS stormed a school in the Tariq al-bab area and kicked out its teaching staff with the threat of violence because girls were being taught by male teachers. They stopped the school and would only reopen it if an all female staff could do the work.
The ISIS in al-Tweihina village, north Reef Aleppo, also banned children from attending schools 2 months ago unless they wore what they deemed was the full islamic attire. For girls this meant an abaya, gloves, and a face cover. For boys it meant shalwar qamiz and a cap. There are several other documented incidents of such abuse by the ISIS.
ISIS has also attacked churches for example in the city of Raqqa, where it has transformed the church into a “Dawa” center[xxii]. ISIS has also broken the cross of Tal Abyad church, a city on Syria’s northern border with Turkey, and seized the building after its congregants had “failed to adhere to their compact of dhimma.”[xxiii]
For those who believe they were part of the revolutionary process in Syria since the beginning, they are completely wrong as we can see in the interview of Omar al Chichani, head of the military organization of the ISIS, published in the first edition of the ISIS’s newspaper called Sana al Cham that appeared couple of weeks ago. He explains that he arrived in March 2012 and that he was surprised to see “people smoking, shaving their beards instead of letting it grow. They listened to songs. And flags of the revolution did not contain the formula of the oneness of God, la ilaha illa Allah. I wondered where I fell! All of these have seemed to me discouraging.
As we can see they are fully part of the counter revolution with the Assad regime.
The differences between the Islamic Front and jihadists groups as we explained should not in the same time lead us to consider the Islamic Front as democratic groups reaching to achieve the objectives of the revolution: democracy, social justice and a civil state that treats everyone equally, regardless of its religion, gender, ethnicity, etc… The Islamic front is actually seeking an Islamic State and has not hesitated to attack some democratic groups and figures as we saw in the past with threats from Zahran Alloush against Douma civil council lately[xxiv], as well as sections of the FSA as we have seen. In addition the Islamic front has not hesitated to seek coalition with ISIS in various regions, especially in the Syrian North East region mostly composed of Kurdish population to attack Kurdish population and the PKK militias PYD. These actions should be condemned. Although some of these groups have condemned the actions of ISIS against churches, without challenging them politically and military, they all share a sectarian discourse against Islamic minorities, especially against Shias and Alawites. This is simply unacceptable.
This clarity of position regarding the Islamic Front does not mean we ignore these groups, there can be unity of actions on the military field especially between FSA and the Islamic Front against the regime and the jihadists, but no illusions should be put into them to achieve any objectives of the revolution.
Kurdish formations have announced few weeks ago the establishment of an autonomous transitional administration in the Kurdish region, after winning several military battles and expanding its control on new regions against jihadist group. The announcement came after talks in the city of Qamishli, which has a Kurdish majority, and four months after that Kurdish leaders of Syria had announced their intention to set up a provisional government. Following this decision, the Kurdish region of Syria is divided into three zones, each with a local assembly as well as representatives in a regional executive. It is actually under this new administration that the first civil marriage in Syria was celebrated in the city of Qamichly beginning of December. The new administration is composed mostly of the powerful Democratic Union Party (PYD ), but not of the Kurdish National Council ( KNC ), a muddled coalition of 16 Syrian Kurdish political parties, backed mostly by the feudal leader Barzani of Iraki Kurdistan, that decided to join the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) in September 2013 . The National Coalition opposed this move and declared that “the PYD is a hostile formation of the Syrian revolution”.
PYD as we have explained in the past[xxv] is determined to hold on to Kurdish areas, and to this end is willing to cooperate or fight with regime forces and rebels depending on the circumstances at a local level. This ambiguous position, in addition to authoritarian practices, was faced growing by opposition within the Kurdish population in Syria and active pro revolutionary Kurdish activists before the rise and attacks of Jihadists and islamist groups on Kurdish population and groups. We, the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current in Syria, reaffirm our commitment and support to the self-determination of the Kurdish people in Syria and elsewhere who suffered discrimination and repression of all the various regimes in the region. Support for self-determination of the Kurdish people do not prevent us from wishing to see the Kurdish people to be a full partner in the struggle against the criminal regime of Assad, which they have been since the beginning, and Islamist reactionary forces, and in the building of a future Democratic, Socialist and Secular Syria. We also condemn the behaviour of Islamists and other reactionary forces and their racist and sectarian attempts to divide the Syrian people. Similarly, the refusal of some in the Syrian opposition, including the Syrian National Council (SNC), to recognize the rights of the Kurdish people in Syria are unacceptable and are no different of the nationalist policies of the Assad regime over the past 40 years
Palestinians of Syria, the case of Yarmouk camp.
The Palestinian camp of Yarmouk in Damascus has been the target of Assad regime attack and imposed blocus for weeks now. Beginning of November 2013, Anwar Raja, a spokesman PFLP-GC pro Assad regime Palestinian group, called for the residents of Yarmouk to be evacuated in order to “cleanse” the camp of armed gangs. This call by the PFLP-GC was rejected by the residents of Yarmouk, who warn that if no action is done to stop the PFLP-GC, a second Naher al-Bared will occur. The refugees of Yarmouk described this initiative an attempt to destroy Yarmouk in its entirety. The residents of Yarmouk refused the call by the PFLP-GC and conducted a sit-in, instead demanding for the crippling siege on the camp to be lifted and for those displaced from Yarmouk to be allowed to return. They called on all factions of the Palestinian leadership from the Palestinian Authority, the PLO, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad as well as the Palestinian Diaspora to respond to their cries for help to prevent the destruction of their home! During their demonstrations they chanted “No migration from Yarmouk, only from Yarmouk to Jerusalem!”.[xxvi] On December 6 2013, new demonstrations were held in Yarmouk camp and throughout Syria under the name “break the siege”.[xxvii] Palestinian and Syrian resilience can be seen once more. The Palestinians of Syria have suffered a great deal of repression from the Assad security forces and this reminds us that at no moment can the liberation of Palestine can be based on the “support” of Authoritarian and bourgeois regime like the Assad regime. The only way forward and real path for liberation must be based on the struggle and liberation of the People of the region. The liberation of Jerusalem goes through Damascus, Cairo, Amman, Beirut, Ryad, Doha, Tunis, etc…
Regional and International Context
The last regional and international events in relation to the Syrian revolutionary process have been the announcement of Geneva II “peace” conference and the Iranian USA agreement on the nuclear issue. Through these two international evens, we once more see that regional and international actors, despite differences and rivalries, are ready to agree and share a common position in front of popular revolutions and in our case the Syrian revolution. Geneva II conference has showed once more the will of on one side the USA, the West and the Gulf countries and Russia and Iran on the other side to reach a Yemeni solution to put an end to the Syrian revolution and in order to maintain the structure of the Assad regime, with or without it.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, issued a statement on November 28 2013 affirming the importance of strengthening international support for the Syrian opposition represented by the National Coalition, considered as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition by the GCC, for participation in the Geneva 2 conference. It added that the conference should lead to “an agreement to put in place a limited timeframe to form a Syrian transitional government with full executive powers, in accordance with the statement of Geneva 1 on January 30 2012”. No clear remarks were said on Assad’s future, while the Syrian regime has repeated that Bachar Al Assad would be the president leading the “transition” in case of agreement with the opposition in the Geneva conference of January.
The GCC also declared that they hoped Iran’s preliminary deal with world powers would lead to a comprehensive solution to its nuclear crisis. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has visited Kuwait and Oman beginning of December, while United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, went to Tehran on end of November.
Iran’s former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, said he wanted better relations with Saudi Arabia in an interview with the Financial Times, while new president new president, Hassan Rouhani declared that Improving relations with regional countries is a central plank of Iran’s diplomatic policy.
In the same time, we have witnessed the common call made by Turkey and Iran on November 27 2013, for a ceasefire in Syria before peace talks in Geneva scheduled for January 22.
The various imperialists and regional powers, despite their rivalry, have a common interest in the defeat of the popular revolutions in the region, including in Syria, and in the maintaining of the status quo. Rivalries and differences between Russia and the USA, or Iran and the USA, have led many to describe Iran and Russia as anti imperialists powers, which is completely wrong on so many levels. Indeed we should not misunderstand imperialist rivalries on a world level between the USA, China and Russia as forms of anti imperialism in the case of China and Russia. They might have different tactical aims or choose to back separate actors, but they are all bourgeois powers that are and will always be strategically enemies of the popular revolution, solely interested in a the statu quo with a political context that enables them to accumulate their economic and political capital. The same can be said on the regional level between the different powers, whether Israel, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, etc… The Syrian revolution is a very good example of this case, where we can see officially international and regional states backing different actors and sides but with all ultimately opposing the objectives of the popular revolution in Syria. The Syrian popular movement has very well understood this by its refusal of Geneva II conference and these drawings portraying all the different international and regional actors of the Syrian revolution sitting on the same table with Bachar Al assad to decide the future of Syria. In the same vein, they understand well the implications of the deal between the USA and Iran on Syria: to lead to a political transition respecting both interests while the popular movement’s demands are ignored.
Finally we reiterate that despite all the attempts by the international and regional powers and medias to stop the revolutionary process in Syria, this latter is still very much alive. The message written on this wall represents very much the determination of the Syrian people to continue their struggle until victory:
“I am not concerned with when or where I die; All I care about is for the revolutionaries and their chants to continue filling the earth until there is no more injustice, built on the bodies of the poor and the helpless.” – Taftanaz, Idlib.
We have to understand as well that no regional and international power can be the friend of the Syrian revolution, but only the people in struggle in the region and elsewhere.
We would like to end also by repeating that no solution can be achieved if the democratic and social issues are not dealt together, in other words social demands cannot be separated to democratic demands, neither subordinated, they go in hand in hand. Just like this banner from the Syrian revolutionary youth said:
“Lets go back to the beginning, we want to topple the regime for:
Freedom of media and press
Improve the standard of living and fight unemployment
Free education and health insurance
Equality between genders
The liberation of all our lands”
The necessity to link both demands, social and democratic, while understanding the negative role of regional and international powers are first steps to consolidate and strengthen the independence of the Syrian popular movement against all foreign interventions and attempts to change its course. In this perspective, the role of the left and its growth are key elements in Syria to build the movement on these fundamentals basis.
The building of the revolutionary party, the Revolutionary Left Current in Syria, alongside and inside the large popular movement, firm on the principles of the revolution, (democracy, social justice and no to sectarianism) is not a utopian dream or hope, it already exists, but it is mostly a political necessity to allow the continuation of the revolution and the achievement of its objectives.
The Syrian revolution is far from finished. As they sang and continue to sing it “The Syrian people will not kneel”. And actually it is the Syrian revolutionaries from the inside, under the constant threat of the Assad regime bombings that remind us to not loose our faith in this revolution…
[i]ROBERT F. WORTH and ERIC SCHMITT ( December 3 2013), Jihadist Groups Gain in Turmoil Across Middle East http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/04/world/middleeast/jihadist-groups-gain-in-turmoil-across-middle-east.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&ref=world&
[vii] See previous articles on this blog for example https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/a-response-to-slavoj-zizek-syria-a-pseudo-struggle/ ;
[xi] Charles Lister and Phillip Smyth (November 1 2013) Syria’s Multipolar War, http://beta.syriadeeply.org/op-eds/syrias-multipolar-war/#.UqGzicRJ53p
[xii] For more details see : https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/nature-role-et-place-de-la-resistance-armee-en-syrie/ and https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/syria-debate-and-analysis-on-the-popular-armed-opposition/
[xiii]For more details see : https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/you-can-jail-revolutionaries-but-you-cannot-kill-the-revolution-the-syrian-people-will-not-kneel/ and https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/syria-the-kurdish-question-the-islamists-and-the-fsa/
[xiv] Charles Lister and Phillip Smyth (November 1 2013) Syria’s Multipolar War, http://beta.syriadeeply.org/op-eds/syrias-multipolar-war/#.UqGzicRJ53p
[xv] http://www.liberation.fr/monde/2013/11/27/syrie-le-chef-militaire-des-rebelles-denonce-les-exactions-des-jihadistes_962573 and http://syriaishere.com/ar/article/3957/%D9%86%D9%82%D9%84%D8%A7-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B3-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%85%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%B4-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D8%B6%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A9.html
[xxi] See examples of resistance in previous articles, for example https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/a-response-to-slavoj-zizek-syria-a-pseudo-struggle/