‘There is no civil war. It is fabricated’

2012-03-17 09:52

It is a familiar story the Syrian ambassador Bassam Darwish starts telling me when I enter his office in Pretoria this week.

“It is the same as with Libya. There is a war against my country.

The West is using savage ways to incite hatred, trying to spread chaos in that mosaic cultural diversity in Syrian society,” he says with his back facing three portraits on the wall.

One is of former president Nelson Mandela, another is of president Jacob Zuma. But the largest of them all is the one of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who stares blankly into mid-air, as if he can’t be bothered to look at what’s going on right under his nose.

On Thursday, Syria marked one year of escalating violence that initially started as the Syrian people protesting against an oppressive government.

It soon turned into headline news on every television channel in the world and every day pictures of killings haunt our TV screens.

This is part of the problem, Darwish says.

“There is the most savage media war going on, represented by Al-Jazeera and the others.

“There are all kinds of fabrications, you can’t imagine what they brought.

“If you listen to Al-Jazeera you’ll think there is a civil war in Syria. It is completely fabricated; they are part of the conspiracy.”

The conspiracy, according to Darwish, is that the West – which includes Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France and the United States – opportunistically exploited the initial demonstrations last year to their own ends.
“President Assad handled the demonstrations elegantly and immediately started implementing reforms.”

But one reform Assad refuses to implement is to stop the Syrian army from killing its own people.

The numbers are contested, but up to 8 000 Syrians have been killed in bomb blasts, shooting and maiming.
Thousands of families fled their homes.

The trouble started in the northwestern city of Idlibs, then moved to Homs, but eventually moved to the economic capital Aleppo and later the outskirts of Damascus.

The killings have been widely condemned and Assad has failed to make good on many promises to install a ceasefire.

Several United Nations resolutions for Assad to step down and hand over power have ended up on the cutting floor in New York because Russia and China vetoed them at the UN Security Council.

South Africa surprised many when it voted in favour of the last resolution in February, which asked Assad to step down to allow a negotiating process to start.

This didn’t affect relations between South Africa and Syria, Darwish says, because South Africa ensured any covert reference to regime change and foreign intervention was crossed out.

Eventually it all came to nought. Russian vetoed again, apparently because Syria is one of its biggest arms clients, and China followed suit.

Relations between South Africa and Syria stem from Syria’s support of the ANC while the party was in exile.

“On Syrian passports you had a stamp that said you were not allowed to travel to apartheid South Africa,” Darwish explains and then adds: “Syria was one of the first countries in the Middle East President Mandela visited when he came out of prison.”

When the conflict in Syria started, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ebrahim joined an IBSA [India, Brazil, South Africa] delegation to try and talk some sense into Assad and convince him to lay down arms. The mission was roundly deemed a failure.

Now for the most sensitive topic in our interview – Syria is seen as targeting journalists. The bombing of a press centre in Holms killed veteran journalist Marie Colvin of the British Sunday Times.

For this Darwish has a bizarre explanation.

“We did not know they [the media] were there. They [insurgents] bombed the whole building before the army came so they could say it was the army.”

Why would the insurgents, if they are part of the Western conspiracy, kill the very media who are helping them?

“They do this to make videos of the bodies they can send to Al-Jazeera and say it’s the government,” Darwish answers without blinking.

When I leave he gives me a three-DVD pack, with videos made by the Syrian army entitled Chapters of Conspiracy Against Syria.

Images of crying women wrapped in hijabs, bloody bodies with mutilated limbs and arms caches are shown with nostalgic Arabic tunes in the background. A narrator tells of how Syria used to be a place where “men are brave and women are honest”.

But in this conflict both characteristics have become casualties.

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