Ziadeh, who edited books entitled “The Struggle for Reform in Syria”, and “The Reform in Syria: between Domestic and international politics”, is one of the most popular figures of the Syrian opposition movement. Living in the U.S., Ziadeh is the Executive Director of the “Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies”, and at the same time he has lectured at George Washington University. We carried out an interview with Ziadeh, who has been conducting studies on Syria in the U.S. non-governmental organizations and research centers, on the future of Syria.
Could you introduce yourself briefly ?
Radwan Ziya: My name is Radwan Ziya. I’m the executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington DC. I’m also a scholar at George Washington University.What were your expectations before this meeting and now for you what are the results? Are you satisfied with the meeting? Are you much more enthusiastic about the uprising now?We have been waiting for this momentum for quite a long time. People became engaged with politics after what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt. It was a matter of time for us before the uprising in Syria started in March 15. From March 15 until now, we see how much change occurred in Syria and regional countries. Now actually the people in Syria discovered their voice, their power and will, and I’m sure that they will not accept anything less than Egyptian and Tunisian achievement.
What are your perceptions on future of Syria if the regime collapses? A democracy transition or other options?
Christian and Muslim people have lived together for quite a long time. In 1860, when the civil war started, the Muslim people protected the Christians in Damascus. In 1954 the Prime Minister was a Christian. The majority of the Christians are Orthodox. This gives you an idea that there is no such kind of history of sectarian conflict in the Syrian society and will not be in the future for sure. One of the benefits of the Syria Revolution is having one united voice. The Syrian people are one. And this gives you the idea that there will be a prospect of democracy and prosperity. It’s not an easy task, of course, after 47 years of authoritarian regime. There are a lot of challenges in the politics, in the economy, and in the regional context. But, I think with such a human resource and people, I’m very positive that we will come up with democracy. Syria was always in Freedom House reports or in some other reports as one of the worst countries. We need to get out of this list. The Syria in the 1950s has been an avant-garde in progress of the region. Now it has to return back to its own history.
You are talking about the International Criminal Court. Do you connect with the European countries regarding their possible initiatives in the context of for example the International Criminal Court?
We have already made three attempts for this. The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which actually adapted resolution in April 29, will dispatch a mission to investigate all the human rights breaches in Syria. It will work with the Security Council to adopt resolution to further the case in the International Criminal Court. This is the only way to go to the International Criminal Court. It is very important because we believed the opposition is so strong to change the Syrian regime.
Yes, the protesters on the ground have gained the momentum. On April 22, we talked about 84 demonstrations in different cities and towns in Syria. On last Friday, there were 52 demonstrations in different cities in Syria. This gives you an idea that protesters gained the momentum contrary to what the regime claims. The Washington Post and the New York Times claim that they have the upper hand now. Now the people are more engaged in the protests. A thirteen year-old boy have been killed in torture. That galvanized the protests. The reason behind those photos is to send a message to the people that do not join the protests. People are more interested to join the protests.
The regime is suppressing the protesters very harshly. At that point, it is differentiated from Egypt and Tunisia, the security apparatus is standing with the regime. What is your scenario on how the Assad regime will be toppled?
Even that the Syrian army do not give any signal that they will join the protests; at least they don’t have other options. Otherwise, it will open the country to international intervention, because the protests and killings will continue. Nobody can be silent on that. The Security Council will take some actions this week or the next week. This will open up for international intervention, unless the army takes some steps to enforce Basher Assad to step down.
When we look at the history of Syria; when Syria invaded Lebanon, they supported Christian groups. Why and how will they change their mind and start to support the demonstrations? We have now a different situation which is a non-violent. This is quite difficult for the army to argue that “we have to crush them”. It is only peaceful. At the same time, there is a lot of change in the region. This is why the regime has to understand that the change has come to Syria. They need to make important changes. Otherwise, the situation will continue. And it will open up to international intervention. We don’t live in slavery ages. We have to be free.
As a general observation, the oppositions groups in Antalya do not come from inside of Syria. Mainly they are from outside. You say tomorrow you will create a committee. At that point how will that committee create a link between the inside and outside of Syria?
Those people are actually coming from inside. The leaders of some opposition groups are hiding in different cities. It’s a quite difficult situation for any opposition inside Syria to come here. We don’t take any steps regarding this meeting without communicating with them. We are working together. The only thing we can do as Syrians outside is to support the people inside the country. Those who are inside are going to make the revolution and change the country. Those people will make us free. I never met my mother since 2007. The Syrian government banned my mother, my sisters, my brothers, my brothers-in-law to leave the country. My sister is in Syria and her husband is in Saudi Arabia. Now it has been three years; they haven’t met each other. That is only because she is my sister. It has to stop. Such kind of tactics has been used by security. It has to end. This is why the people started the revolution. The reason is the brutality of the Syrian regime regarding the school children. This is the spark of the revolution. Today, the case of Hamza al-Khateeb galvanized the protests more.
My last question is about your ideas bout Turkey’s position. What are your expections from Turkey? Also does Turkey has any influence over the opposition groups?
I wrote a brief policy, which I recommend you to read, published by the Project on Middle East Democracy. This is actually circulating in the conference. One of the recommendations for the US Administration and the EU that they should engage Turkey, because Turkey has leverage on Basher Assad and the Syrian people. We are very thankful to Turkey for this conference. At the same time Turkey has been seen as a leading country in the region. There is much appreciation after the comments of Erdogan. That’s why we need Turkey to support the protesters, the right side of the history. Syria has to be free and not go back to the slavery age. This is why Turkey and other countries have to work on that. They have to help us to achieve our freedom. We don’t need to have bloodshed in Syria and more murders in Syria. This is why more actions by the Turkish government will help us.
In this respect, what kinds of steps can be taken according to you?
First is mobilizing the International Islamic Organization. This is really important. This organization has to take some steps in condemning the violence and playing its role to stop such kind of killings in Syria. At the same time, Turkey has to engage with the opposition. They have to meet with the opposition leaders. They have to work regarding a timetable plan, regarding a transition period. I mean the Syrian regime will end. It’s a matter of months. This is why it is important for the Turkish government to engage with the Syrian people rather than the regime.
General acceptance is that the Allawis supported the regime. If the regime will collapse, how will you deal with the Allawi or the Druze population in Syria?
You know the Christians in Syria are different from the Christians in Egypt. The Christians in Syria are middle and upper class. They have the business community; they are very rich in Damascus and Aleppo. This is why it is difficult to exclude them from political process. This is not the case in Egypt also. This is why there is no concern of fear regarding the Christians. But otherwise, we actually initiated a National Initiative for Change last month, which called the Ministry of Defense and the Chief of the Army to support the protests and enforce Basher Assad to step down. The Minister of Defense is Allawi and this gives the Allawi people guarantee. An important figure from the Allawi community will be a leading figure in the transition period. This was the idea and we still believe that we should be pushing for that. The Druze is already with us and some Allawit are with us too. There are a lot of Allawi who is saying right now that the regime is taking the Allawi community as hostage.
* This interview was carried out during the “Change in Syria Conference”, which was organized in Antalya, on June 1st 2011, by Prof. Dr. Veysel Ayhan, ORSAM Middle East Advisor; and Oytun Orhan, ORSAM Middle East Expert.