President Bashar al-Assad: Interview
“Foreign Interference is Red Line”
Syrian Arab News Agency, April 07, 2013
Question: Mr President, you are welcome on Ulusal TV station. My first question might be a bit strange, but I need to ask it, because in the Turkish and world media there has been a lot of information published to the effect that you were killed or that you have left the country. Can you confirm that you are still alive and still in Syria?
President Assad: Clearly you can see that I am here and very much on the ground – not hiding in an underground bunker. These rumors tend to abound every once in a while to undermine the morale of the Syrian people. I neither live on a Russian warship nor in Iran. I live in Syria in the same place I have always lived.
Question: As you know, in the last meeting of the Arab League, the seat of the Syrian Arab Republic was given to the opposition and the discussion was opened about your legitimacy.
President Assad: Real legitimacy cannot be granted from either international organizations, officials outside your country or from other states. The Syrian People alone have the authority to grant or withdraw legitimacy.
If they withdraw it, then you become illegitimate. And similarly if they give you their support, then you are a legitimate president. Everything else is meaningless shenanigans as far as we are concerned.
Question: There are decisions, measures and actions taken against your country by some Arab countries and in the western world. On the other hand, the BRICS countries have taken decisions different from those taken by the Arab countries and the western countries. How do you evaluate the activities, policies and the decisions of the BRICS countries.
President Assad: What you mentioned in your question emphasizes an important point. From the outset, the conflict in Syria was not entirely domestic. There are internal Syrian dynamics at play, but the underlying issues today are more directed towards redrawing the map of the region, and the conflicting interests of the great powers. The creation of the BRICS bloc means that the United States will no longer remain the only global power in the world. …
The BRICS group does not support President Bashar al-Assad or the Syrian state. It supports stability in this region.
Everyone knows that if the unrest in Syria leads to the partitioning of the country or if the terrorist forces take control of Syria, or both of the above, the situation will create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond…
As for some of the Arab or regional leaders which stood against Syria, it is well known that most of these countries are not independent in their political decisions. They act on foreign dictates. Internally, they might support a political solution, but when they are given their orders by the west, they must comply.
Question: Mr President, for the past two years we have witnessed conflict in Syria, armed conflict inside Syria. This conflict is supported on the one hand by the United States, France, Turkey and some Gulf countries. These countries say that the people are fighting your regime, and more than a hundred countries have stated that you should step down. On that background, are you thinking of stepping down and allowing someone else to replace you?
President Assad: I am not bothered by foreign countries being against me; I am a president elected by the Syrian people. We can conclude that for a president to take office or leave office is a National Syrian decision to be taken only by the Syrian people and not by the states which call for that.
Are these states concerned about democracy in Syria or concerned about the blood of the Syrian people?
Let’s be candid. If we start with the United States, we find that it has supported the crimes committed by Israel for decades, since Israel was created in our region. The United States committed massacres in Afghanistan and Iraq resulting in millions being killed, wounded or disabled. France and Britain committed massacres in Libya, with support and cover from the United States. The current Turkish government is knee-deep in Syrian blood. Again are these states really concerned about Syrian blood?
Question: You said that what is taking place in Syria is mainly supported from outside, but we are in Damascus and we can hear the sounds of explosions and there is always the sound of shelling at different distances. Why is this happening in Syria?
President Assad: We are surrounded by a group of countries which are helping terrorists enter into Syria. Of course, not all of these countries are doing this intentionally. For instance, Iraq is against allowing terrorists access to Syria, but it has certain circumstances which do not allow it to fully control its borders. In Lebanon, the situation is divided with some parties supporting and others opposing sending terrorists into Syria. Turkey officially harbors these terrorists and sends them into Syria. Some terrorists enter Syria through Jordan and it is not clear whether that is intentional or not. As long as these terrorists continue to be smuggled into the country, we will continue to fight against them…
Question: Mr President, you said that the Turkish government officially and publicly supports the terrorists and provides different kinds of assistance to those terrorist groups… What happened and pushed things to this situation?
President Assad: This man’s mentality is that of the Muslim Brotherhood, and from our experience in Syria with the Muslim Brotherhood for over 30 years, they are a group of opportunists, who use religion for their personal advantage. …
Even before the crisis, Erdogan was more interested in the Muslim Brotherhood than he was in Syrian-Turkish relations and even more than his interest in Turkey itself.
Muslim Brotherhood 2012
“It Is an Obligation to Kill Bashar Al-Assad”
* Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi (“I like MB and consider them the nearest group to be righteous”), told Al-Jazeera that clerics across the Muslim world agree that Assad must be fought against and even killed…
* The general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, Himam Sa’id, likewise ruled that fighting the Assad regime is “a religious duty.”
Assassinations have become a near-daily occurrence
Nir Rosen, Al-Jazeera 3 Oct 2011
The latest victim in a spate of assassinations is Saria Hassoun, the 22-year-old son of Syria’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun. The shooting occurred outside Ibla University on the Idlib-Aleppo highway. Also killed with Saria Hassoun was Mohammad al-Omar, a professor of History at Aleppo University.
Assassinations have become a near-daily occurrence, especially in the central province of Homs, where academics and officials are targeted in a tactic reminiscent those used by the Muslim Brotherhood in their armed uprising between 1976 and 1982.
Question: When we ask Mr. Erdogan about what happened to the Syrian-Turkish relations, he claims that he was honest with President Bashar al-Assad and offered him proposals about reform, but President al-Assad rejected these proposals.
President Assad: Regrettably, Erdogan has never uttered a single truthful word since the crisis in Syria began. None whatsoever and I’m not exaggerating.
The proposals he put forward were very general to the effect that the Syrian people should decide who should be president and what type of political system should govern them. I had previously spoken about these proposals in much more depth in many of my addresses. ….
He knows that we supported dialogue; from day one, we announced that we agreed to conduct a dialogue with all Syrian parties. When the first stage, which was often referred to as ‘the peaceful stage’ failed, they shifted gear and started to support the armed groups.
Question: You said that finding a solution to the Kurdish problem is one of the important issues for the region. Can we hear from your Excellency a broader vision and in detail about how we can solve this issue?
President Assad: We need to be clear, nationalism is different from ethnicity. We live in a mixed region; the fact that you are Turkish doesn’t mean that you can’t be Kurdish or Armenian or Arab in origin with your own culture and language.
This is the situation in Turkey as well as in Syria. When I say Arab, it is not necessarily linked to an Arab ethnicity or race. Both nationalisms, Turkish and Arab, exemplify highly civilised and all encompassing nationalistic models that are meant to be inclusive of everybody.
I believe the most beautiful aspect of this region is its diversity and the most dangerous aspect is for us not to see this diversity as enriching and empowering. When we regard it as a weakness, we invite foreign forces to play us against each other and create conflicts.
Question: Mr President, this is a very important issue. Since the beginning of the events in Syria, certain parties and research centers started to talk about a new project involving the separation of northern Syria, northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey and separating these regions from their central states. … There seems to be a clear plan put forward by western countries in cooperation and coordination with some regional countries to create a greater Kurdistan… Are we moving in the direction of achieving this goal?
President Assad: I don’t believe that the four states in question – Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq – would agree to this proposition. Independent states in today’s world seek integration rather than separation.
Unfortunately our region is an exception which is a sign of backwardness. Today, large countries come together, the BRICS being an example. States seek to come together and form larger blocs because this is a requirement in the age we live in. ….
Every one of these four concerned states should do its utmost to make sure all its people feel that they are first-class citizens with equal stakes in their state. … When a citizen feels that he is second or third class, he is bound to think of separation or even act against his own state.
Question: You used to have an interesting project, Mr President. You talked about the political and economic unification of the five seas and the countries lying among these seas. Can you please explain that to the Turkish audience?
President Assad: This is what I meant when I said that in this age we need to unify. This doesn’t mean becoming a single state in the same way that old states existed in the past, in large extended empires. …
I don’t believe that the right conditions exist now for such a project, because there are problems in Syria, in Lebanon, unrest in Iraq, most of which are a result of western intervention… This doesn’t mean that we should cancel this project. If we each remain confined within our national borders, we will be considered small on a global scale…. We cannot be powerful unless we create such strategic trans-border projects.
Question: Mr President, based on your answer to my question, I want to move to another issue which is related to sectarian war. There seems to be a Sunni-Shiite war going on in the region and many people are talking about this. Do you see these conflicts as sectarian by nature?
President Assad: I believe that the essence of the conflict now is not sectarian. The conflict is between forces and states seeking to take their peoples back into historic times, and between states wanting to take their peoples into a prosperous future.
It is a conflict between those who want their homeland and their state to be independent from the west and between those which seek to be satellites of western powers only to achieve their particular interests.
Question: Nevertheless, outside Syria, in some countries, policies of division and fragmentation based on ethnicities and sects are being officially adopted. … How do you see the future of these political systems?
President Assad: These political systems and establishments which are seeking division and fragmentation are taking us back to life in the Middle Ages. This is very dangerous. …
When I refer to secularism, I’m speaking about the freedom of religions and religious practices. Our region is primarily conservative, most people are religious and they should have the freedom to practice their religious rituals.
We shouldn’t think for a moment that there is contradiction between ethnicities and religions. This is the essence of our thinking about secularism. This is why we should always aim to unify the people in our region.
Question: Concerning dialogue with the opposition. You called for a political solution and for direct dialogue with the opposition. Are there red lines for this dialogue?
President Assad: The red lines are foreign intervention. Any dialogue should be a Syrian dialogue only. No foreign intervention is allowed in this dialogue. Other than this, there are no red lines.
Syrian citizens can discuss anything they want, because Syria is the homeland for all Syrians and they can discuss anything they want. There are no red lines.
Question: In the framework of a sectarian conflict, there are claims which appear on TV stations and some other media outlets to the effect that Syria is ruled by a dictatorial Alawite regime whose only objective is to eliminate the Sunna; and even the assassination of Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti comes within this effort. What is your response to such claims?
President Assad: We have been living together in this country for hundreds of years; and the government has always reflected the diversity of the people and their participation in its affairs.
As for the late Dr al-Bouti, it is ridiculous to accuse the Syrian government of his assassination. This accusation has been made by the same groups who were accusing him, only days and weeks before, of being the mouthpiece of the authorities on religious affairs.
In fact, he was not a mouthpiece for the authorities as they describe him. He never sought any kind of authority; he never wanted to be a minister or a mufti; he never asked for any money; he used to live a simple life. His only fault was that he was at the forefront of a group of religious leaders who stood decisively in the face of the plot to create sectarian strife amongst Syrians.
That is why they assassinated Dr al-Bouti, as well as other religious leaders, one as recently as a few days ago in Aleppo. Everybody who spoke about true religion, about tolerance and moderation in religion was targeted from the beginning of the crisis…
Ikrâh in religion is not allowed
Al-Bouti is of the opinion that Islamist groups do not perform their tasks properly. They do not set a good example for youngsters, have no patience in choosing the long road of da’wa, education and upbringing. They aim gaining power quickly to force (ikrâh) people to accept and apply the norms and values of Islam, while ikrâh in religion is not allowed.
“Ikrâh” means to force someone to do something which they do not want to do (Zekeriya Budak, Leiden 2011)
“That what is sacred in the world is man”
Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun
Turning to education, Dr Hassoun, Sunni religious scholar at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and general mufti of the Syrian Arabic Republic, said, “Let us teach our school pupils that what is sacred in the world is man” since man “is the creation of the creator”.
If we want peace, starting for example with Palestine and Israel, he suggested that rather than building walls, “let us build bridges of peace”.
He also argued that “we must create states on a civil basis, not a religious basis”, adding “I don’t impose my religion on you, nor do you impose your religion on me”. (European parlement, 15-1-2008)
Hassoun: “I see myself as the grand mufti of all 23 million Syrians, not just Muslims, but also Christians and even atheists. I am a man of dialogue.
Who knows, maybe an agnostic will convince me with better arguments one day, and I’ll become a non-believer. And if I’m enthusiastic about the opposition’s political platform, I also might change sides.” (8-11-2011)