In addition to the participants from Syria in the “Change in Syria Conference”, organized in Antalya; opponents, most of whom have to live in Europe, in the U.S., and in Arab countries, participated in the conference as well. We talked to the Syrian activist Yaser Tabbara, who lives in the U.S., who is the member of the human rights organization called “CAIR-Chicago”, an also who is working as an human rights lawyer in his own office in the U.S., on the Conference and the future of Syria, in Antalya. Although the activities of the activists, who live in the U.S. and in Europe, are limited in Syria, they assume a major role in grabbing the attention of the world public opinion towards Syria, and in providing an international pressure on the Assad regime.
Could you introduce yourself ?
Yasser Tabara: My name is Yasser Tabara. I’m a Syrian American attorney. I’ve been practicing law for almost ten years in Chicago. I was born in Chicago, raised in Damascus and then went back to the United States. I studies Political Science and my focus was International Human Rights and Civil Rights Law. I established is a civil rights organization for the defense of the rights of Arabs and Muslims live in the United States in Chicago. Right now I have a law office.
What is your position in the opposition who is gathering here today?
I don’t think it is accurate to call it an opposition gathering, in fact I think what this gathering has proven to the entire world that the position of the Syrian regime and the criminality of the regime is a mainstream position. It is no more a marginal opposition. You know, the Syrian opposition has always been described as disorganized, fragmented, basically weak and non-existent in Syria. Whether it is true or not, it is not what I’m going to get into. My point is that the perception of the opposition by the outside world reflected on the anti-regime position. That’s not true, because there are many free-thinking Syrians that were independent and did not belong to a political group and did not have a political agenda. Basically, those people came together from all over the world to send a very strong message that “We are in support of the Syrian Revolution”. This is something that this conference accomplished.
The committee which is planning to be established will have division among the opposition groups, and some of them are Muslim Brotherhood and Kurds. What do you think about that?
Think that’s another misperception or misconception about this conference. I think this conference is in no way intending to form a transitional council like the one we saw in Libya. This conference specifically is to do one thing only and that is basically support the Syrian Revolution inside the practical and pragmatic steps. And this step is to create a coordinating council; a committee, not even a council. That is basically to bring the Syrian activists from all over the world. There have been a lot of efforts that take place by Syrians in the US, Europe, in Arab countries, all over the world. But these efforts have not been coordinated very well. This conference is attempting to achieve coordination and synchronicity between all these activists, so they maximize the effect of their work. So the results out of this conference is to ensure the continuity of the work of this coordination, we need some sort of a coordinating body. That coordinating body is going to be a committee which is to be elected. There are a number of ways for us to pick that committee and the most popular way that people have agreed upon is to elect. Obviously through voting, you want to ensure that everybody is represented, classic opposition figures, the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Kurds, etc. So that it could be a truly representative committee.
How do you find the conference? Can you find a common ground between different opposition groups?
When I first came to this conference, I had very low expectations. I think I was very pleasantly surprised for a number of reasons. One was to see that amount of division, this sort of perceived problems, visions, predicted that this is going to fail because people were shouting marches and all that stuff. That actually did not take place. It’s been surprisingly civilized and productive. Yes, there are egos, there are people who are classic leaders and do not like to work with others but that has been overshadowed, in my opinion, by the presence of the youth, who is here without an agenda, with only one idea in mind that is to work. There is a lot of youth that you might have observed that is here to do exactly that. The other thing that is happening is to establish a number of workshops, committees to basically discuss ways to coordinate, for example the legal coordination agenda, the preservation of evidence, so that we could put together legal cases. Other areas of media activism, organizing protests basically comes out fully coordinated to bring together tens of thousands, hopefully hundreds of thousands Syrians together across the world at the same time in support of the Syrian Revolution. So a lot of these action items are being produced. That is the second thing that is pleasantly surprising to me as well.
I experienced another conference in another Arab country and when I attend that conference, I can feel that they want revolution. They come together and work. But in this conference, they are trying but they are different. Now I can’t really feel they want to do something together towards revolution. Maybe this is the first time they come together to talk something. But I don’t feel that they want revolution. I joined the Druze meeting in Lebanon, I felt that everybody is thinking the same thing.
This is the first time in the modern history of Syria that you have people from many different backgrounds. Syria is an extremely rich mosaic of religions, ethnic backgrounds, political ideologies, and it has always been said that those who basically stock the fear of sectarianism talk about that the alternative to Basher Assad’s regime is terrible or bleak, we don’t have any future, and we don’t have any hope. But this conference has demonstrated that despite all of these differences we still come together, we still meet we still put together, we are doing our workshops, and we are working towards common action. I would encourage you to attend some of the workshops that take place today. I think what you have observed is the political side of this conference. Any political process is an adversarial process. This group has a particular agenda that it seeks to pass, that group is represented heavily than that, you see the give-and-take. My view is that is a healthy demonstration. The Syrians are meeting for the first time in many years in a democratic process. Of course you are going to see some give-and-take, some conflicts, but nothing is basically developing into disastrous situations. We haven’t seen a disaster. We haven’t seen someone leaving the conference and saying “this is not what I hoped”. We haven’t seen that. And honestly I expected that. I’m very happy and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Do you want to give some message to Turkish government and people?
My first and foremost message is that I think everyone in this conference will be repeating the same exact message. Everyone is extremely grateful to the Turkish people for hosting us, for taking us in, for understanding our plight, for supporting our cause and for opening their country to us like this. This is highly politicized situation; we understand that this is not a very pleasant and easy situation for Turkish people and government. We completely appreciate that. Some people were worried yesterday at dinner that somebody announced the Syrian regime announced amnesty to all political prisoners and the immediate reaction was a demonstration. The demonstration basically said that it was too little and too late. At the end of the demonstration, the protesters made a point “Shukran, shukran Turkiyya”. Everybody was saying it in one voice. That truly reflected the sentiment of the people here. Now on a political level, we would like Turkish government to take even a harsher stance on Basher Assad’s government. We told them what you have done so far is amazing, but you need to take a step further. That step is to call the Assad regime unequivocally an illegitimate leader of Syria to ask the Assad regime to step down and to give weight to democratic process.
Thank you very much.
* 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.