| INTERVIEW WITH THE GENERAL MANAGER OF ORIENT RESEARCH CENTER
The questions regarding what is happening in Syria in real terms and how the Syrian issue can be solved have been the ones most wondered about in the recent months. In an environment, where getting information is extremely difficult, having an outlook from the inside becomes more important. Samir Taqi, who was the general manager of a research center in Damascus until recently, currently carries on working as general manager abroad. This interview we made with Samir Taqi, who is one of the specialists first coming to mind when it comes to Syria, gains more importance in this respect. He answered the questions on the subjects such as the latest situation in Syria, the social groups' outlooks on the events, scenarios and Turkey's Syria policy.
Interview: Hasan Kanbolat, Oytun Orhan
ORSAM: Can you briefly introduce yourself?
TAQI: I’m Samir al-Taki. I’m head of a tank tank concentrating about the Syian crisis. We are working in Dubai and we are also working as a think-tank on the strategic situation in th e Gulf.
The regime says that the protesters in Syria are terrorists and gangs who are challenging the authority. Besides the protesters say that these are all civilian protests and the government is killing the civilians. How do you define the situation in Syria?
At the beginning, it took about five months for us to witness the first armed protesters. It needed five months of continuous killing of civilians. Everybody was dreaming that it will become a peaceful outcome of the crisis. But gradually, there have been an increasing number of young people in every neighborhood, they think that if they are arrested, they would be killed. Subsequently, they began to resort to arms. Because of the continuous killing, the people have begun to take arms. Then what happened is that from these neighborhoods in which the regime is no more in control, politically speaking. When there is a need for a demonstration, they ask these armed civilians to encircle the area. When the crowd will come they will deal with them. Demonstration itself will take only thirty minutes perhaps. They will take some photographs, some films, they will send them through the internet. They just disperse. It was a kind of self-defense, defending that demonstration. Defending the capability of the society to keep protesting. Of course later on, there have been those armed people, who have been ordered to kill their own people. They had just refused and began to defect. Now we are having even more than that. This is what we call the armed wing of the uprising. They are not organized. They are very much grassroots people, normal people, just poor and marginalized people, who just saw that they have to defend their own. Of course those people are getting more and more organized. The more Bashar Assad’s forces are pursuing and killing, the more they are creating the impression that there is no way to deal with the regime in a peaceful meaning. The regime will not allow any kind of peaceful protests. Subsequently the people are just desperate. The more he’s making sanctions, the more he’s blocking the access of food, gas, etc, the people are getting desperate. They are getting more and more relying on having their own arms. Of course, in Syria there are arms in every family, especially in the rural areas. It is not difficult to have it. Being ready to defend is an immediate effect and reaction to the behavior of the soldiers. When they enter a house, they destroy whatever kind of wheat, television and humiliate, sometimes rape and kill. There is a kind of anger and humiliation and the people are just retaliating.
How do you think that this violence will end? There are some possibilities, and unfortunately each of them involve violence. First, the survival of the regime, suppressing the protesters harshly, which is a low possibility. The second scenario is the collapse of the regime, which might create more violence. Do we have another scenario which is a peaceful transition to democracy in Syria?
I’d like to point out that the regime’s winning is not possible, why? Syria cannot be a North Korea. Syria is too porous, you cannot encircle the country, and you cannot close it. You cannot turn it into a war economy. You don’t have the resources and it is not the culture. Syria is a mercantile country. You cannot close it. So, it is not possible to dream about a weak leader leading a broken society. I think this is not practical. That’s why I’m pretty sure Bashar cannot stay. So we have two scenarios. One is what I call the maturation of different factors of the collapse of the state. Economically, socially, politically... It is going on. All those factors are maturing together to create a point where everybody will feel the danger without being in danger and decide to avoid the danger and to abort the possibility of shifting towards a civil war. Subsequently, the people will try to do something. We gamble for this. We need to have other factors. We need other than those crisis factors. We need a hugging international community that will hug intercommunal dialogue and that will allow the intercommunal dialogue to facilitate a peaceful transition. Of course nobody is against that somebody is taking the initiative and leading the transition period and guaranteeing the stability and the interests of different composition and communities of the Syrian society, protecting the Alawites, Christians in the transition, and subsequently save the country. I think this is not an imagination. It is not something impossible. We need to do this intercommunal dialogue and international hugging partner. Of course the second scenario is a civil war, which is very much dangerous. But it is imminent. The time is not in our favor. The more time we lose the more people are getting killed. The regime is bombarding Homs, the areas that have certain confessional pattern. Why; why are you throwing your confession in front of the confrontation? Just to give the impression that this is killing this. Why? You don’t need.
Everybody thinks that if the protests spreads to Damascus and Aleppo it will be very hard for the regime to survive. Why do you think that there is still no uprising in these city centers?
There are lots happening in Damascus, but is dominated in marginalized popular areas. The middle class, because of the heavy killing and the brutal approach of the regime, is just protecting itself. It does not mean that they are not ready. If they withdraw forces, the streets will be filled with millions. Everyone will demonstrate. They will go to the streets and show themselves. You know, in one week, where the governor of Hama withdraw all forces, there were five hundred thousand people in Hama out of eight hundred thousand population. If you stop torture in Syria the regime will fall.
But there are also claims that some parts of the Syrian society is supporting the regime…
If you put the gun on the table and ask “Do you love me?”, I’ll tell you “Yes, I love you”. It doesn’t mean anything. You have to withdraw the gun from the table.
Don’t you think that the Arab Alawite, Druze, and the Christian societies are supporting the regime?
The Druze are involved already. But they are very much vulnerable. We are not asking the small communities to become heroes. We are just asking them not to help the regime. We spare them. We don’t need them to be on the forefront of the uprising. We are not asking them to be involved too much.
What about the Christians?
Christians, Druzes. Ismailis. Politically they are revolutionary. You have many Alawite villages that are in the uprising. They are traditionally revolutionary against the state.
Is there a fear among Syrian people if the regime collapses, the alternative will be worse than the current situation? What does the Iraqi example mean for Syrians?
Of course we have those fears, but I don’t think the Islamists themselves are a danger. What is the danger is fanaticism. The Syrian people aren’t Islamists. But we have a kind of a popular Islam. That was with us since the Ottoman Empire. This kind of tolerant, mercantile and very practical people are living with Jews and Christians. I was living in Aleppo, we were living with Jews. We had lots of Jew friends. Never did I ask my friends. Only after eighteen years of friendship, one of my friends invited me to his wedding and I discovered it was a church. This is how we are living in Syria. This kind of Islam is very much prevailing. But if confessional community grievances grow up and if the regime continues to flare it up, pushing his own people, it is unavoidable. That’s why we are insisting that we have to close this wound. We shouldn’t keep it open too long. This a big abyss which will spill over. We try to finish it. Of course, there will be some grievances an some price. That’s why we need an international support. Syria cannot do it on its own.
Last question. What do you think about Turkey’s Syria policy?
First of all, in principle, I would like to thank the Turkish people, not only about the refugees, but because it was a friendly approach to our people. Of course at the beginning, they tried to make the change from within the regime, which is good but not practical in my point of view. Now, what we need is a Turkish approach to Syrian crisis that will involve all the Syrian society. We have to suppress this impression that the Turks are supporting a certain faction within the Islamist wing. I don’t think this will help the Turkish interests. I think what is more vital for Turkish interests are to see the sooner the possible a soft landing of the democratic changes. I cannot imagine any other country, whether in the region or in the international level that could play the role of Turkey. That’s why it is vital for us to have Turkey hugging this procedure. To do this, the Turks need to be capable of having a dialogue with different components of the Syrian society, not with one. To be a part of the international guarantors of the peaceful and protection of different factions with Syria. Maybe wrongly, there have been the impressions that the Turks are supporting people that are close to them. What we need is to change this perception. At the end of the day, politics is perception.
* This interview was made on February 18, 2012 in Sochi, Russia where the Valdai Forum was held. The interview was conducted by ORSAM Director Hasan Kanbolat and ORSAM Specialist Oytun Orhan.