[Midden-Oosten] "The Syrian Revolution struggles on, " appeal to the global left

Jeff meisner op xs4all.nl
Vr Apr 3 16:50:34 CEST 2015

Read formatted editorial online with links and photos:

The Syrian Revolution struggles on
Mark Boothroyd 
March 29, 2015

Following a demonstration to mark the fourth anniversary 
of the Syrian Revolution, Mark Boothroyd argues 
the reputation of socialist organisations has 
been seriously damaged by their failure to stand 
alongside Syrians who have continued fighting 
for freedom in terrible conditions.

Mark Boothroyd was a founder of the Syria Solidarity Movement.

15 March 2015 marked the fourth anniversary of the Syrian Revolution. On 14
March, over a thousand Syrians from across Britain marched through central
London to mark the start of the uprising against the regime of Bashar
Al-Assad. The march was loud, with activists chanting and singing the
revolutionary songs that have been the hallmark of the Syrian uprising
through four years of demonstration, protest and bloody fighting.

Despite reports to the contrary, the Syrian revolution is not over. Its
flame is kept alive by the Syrian diaspora, who from Brazil to Romania,
Germany to Malaysia, Michigan to London, keep actively supporting the
Syrian revolutionaries struggling for freedom in terrible conditions.

The revolution stills burns brightly in those parts of Syria which have
remained liberated from Assad and Da‘esh (ISIS). In Idlib, the only
province largely liberated from Assad, demonstrations occurred in many
towns and villages to mark the start of the revolution. In Free Aleppo,
threatened by siege and surrounded on three sides by the regime and Da‘esh,
rallies were held accompanied by the traditional dancing and singing which
has been a hallmark of the revolution from the start.

Mostly bravely, and demonstrating the immense resilience of the Syrian
people through four years of barbaric repression, demonstrations were held
in the liberated suburbs of Damascus. Among the bombed rubble of buildings
which have received countless barrel bombs and shells from the regime’s
armouries, revolutionaries gathered to remember the martyrs and reiterate
their determination to keep fighting for the overthrow of the regime.

The march in London was lively, with many young Syrians leading the chants
and singing. Despite everything the mood of the march was positive and
quietly hopeful. This is in contrast with this time last year: the
situation is not as dire as it was a year ago, and revolutionary forces
have secured some small but important victories, defending Aleppo from
encirclement and liberating many towns and villages in the south of Syria.

One year ago

If we look back to last year, in March 2014 the Assad regime was on the
offensive against the rebels. The regime took advantage of the rebel’s
decision in January to fight Da‘esh, a decision that cost them thousands of
fighters as they drove Da‘esh out of Syria and into Iraq. The regime
offensive rolled back substantial rebel gains, and lead to the loss of long
held rebel towns like Yabroud, badly damaging rebel morale and resources
and reducing their hold on many provinces.

While the rebels were reeling from attacks by Assad regime forces backed by
Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Da‘esh turned its retreat into
Iraq into an offensive, taking Mosul and securing huge amounts of US
weaponry from the retreating Iraqi army.

This was to be used against the Syrian rebels when Da‘esh returned a couple
of months later, storming back into Syria and seizing most of the East of
the country including Raqqa, before declaring their ‘caliphate’ in the
summer.  At the time, rebels sarcastically remarked that the first US
weapons they saw in the conflict were in the hands of Da‘esh fighters
coming from Iraq.

Now there is a stalemate, with the regime unable to advance, but rebels
struggling to make significant gains, Da‘esh pre-occupied with fighting in
Iraq, and on the retreat before Kurdish and rebel forces around Kobane.

Hope over despair

Given what has happened what reason do Syrians have to be hopeful? For
those who have not been following the uprising, there appear to be few. For
those who still support the struggle, there are many.

The sheer persistence of the rebel opposition is one. Despite facing
unrelenting attacks for four years, with the Syrian regime backed to the
hilt by Russian imperialism, and bankrolled by the Iranian government by as
much as $500 million per month to sustain the Syrian economy, the rebels
have held out.

Militarily, the regime has not been able to retake many areas of the
country, and its army is now running out of men. Many young Syrian men have
fled regime areas or gone into hiding to avoid the vicious conscription
campaign brought in to provide more cannon fodder for Assad’s forces. Those
who are caught end up on the front lines, and within weeks or days many are
returned home, dead or injured. This is causing massive resentment among
even those supportive of the regime, with activists in regime areas calling
on people not to die for Assad’s throne. Minority communities like the
Druze have protested against the regime and refused to fight for it.

Into this gap have stepped Hezbollah fighters, Iranian Revolutionary Guard,
and Afghan mercenaries who are leading the battles around Dara‘a and
Aleppo. This brings the rebels into direct conflict with the Syrian
regime’s backers, and gives their involvement ever more the character of a
foreign occupation. This is drawing opposition even from within regime’s
ranks: a leading general defected, and two of Assad’s spy chiefs were
sacked after one viciously attacked the other over Iranian involvement in
the Dara‘a province.

In the last several days, Islamic brigades, FSA battalions and the Nusra
Front have liberated Idlib City, capital of the rebel held Idlib province,
providing an immense boost to opposition morale and piling pressure on the
Assad regime whose supply lines between Latakia and Aleppo are now under
threat. The regime forces were shown to be hollow, crumbling in Idlib in
just four days, in a city they have had three years to fortify and defend.

Is the revolution dead?

Politically, the principles of the revolution are kept alive by civil
protest groups, and by revolutionary brigades. Protests continue every
Friday against the regime, although they are far less numerous than they
were 2-3 years ago as people struggle daily to secure enough food to eat
and fuel to warm their homes and shelters.

Most mainstream Islamic rebel brigades are signatories to a Revolutionary
Covenant, committing them to a free, just, multi-ethnic, multi-sect
government once the regime is toppled. The Southern Front, a coalition of
Free Syrian Army groups has issued a Transitional Statement outlining a
process for establishing a democratic post-regime government in Syria.

In the liberated areas, Syrians use their freedoms to resist the injustices
forced upon them by the war. Food shortages in rebel areas draw protest
marches, and many towns and villages have protested the abuses or
corruption of rebel factions, or the implementation of strict Islamic
practices which are alien to Syrian culture.

And the spirit is kept alive in the refugee camps. Protests continue among
Syria’s vast refugee population, approaching 4.5 million people across
Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and the borders of Syria. Many became refugees when
regime forces attacked their neighbourhoods or cities to attempt to quell
protests, or instituted scorched earth campaigns to wipe rebel towns and
villages off the map. Many of those who lead the civil, non-violent
movement left when threatened by the regime, or as the conflict became
militarised and there was little room for peaceful protest between the
regime and the rebel groups. They are now in the camps, and work to sustain
the revolutions principles, hoping to return to Syria once the regime is
gone, and restore Syria.

Isolated and desperate in the capital of human suffering

This is not to say the situation is not devastating. Over half the
population has been displaced; 4.5 million are refugees outside the
country. A conservative estimate puts the death toll at 250,000, with over
a million injured, many of them disabled for life. 250,000 people are still
being held in regime jails, and there are an estimated 200,000 people
missing. 650,000 people are living under siege from regime forces in towns
and cities across Syria. Syria is now the capital of human suffering.

Added to this, the Syrian people feel completely abandoned and isolated.
The international community in the form of the world’s governments has
failed to come to their aid, and their revolution has been slandered by
most progressive and anti-imperialist forces around the world. The
barbarity unleashed by the regime with the tactic support of all the
imperial powers has engendered little more than hand wringing from most
socialist or progressive groups, and in many cases merited diversionary
propaganda or outright apologism for the crimes of the regime.

Large sections of international Palestine solidarity movements have
remained shamefully silent on the issue. A brave few (see also here) have
been consistent in their solidarity and their work has moved parts of the
solidarity movement from an initial silence to more engagement, due to the
position of Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk, but the overall solidarity
with Syrian revolutionary activists and protests over the treatment of
Syria’s people by the regime remains painfully and disappointingly weak.

This was in evidence on the march when there were only a handful of
socialist activists in attendance. There were no trade union banners, no
political parties, no solidarity campaigns save the Syria Solidarity
Movement. At the rally at the end of the march speakers were all ones who
had a direct relation to what was happening. Paul Conroy, a journalist who
reported from the besieged neighbourhood of Baba ‘Amr in Homs in 2012,
spoke about his commitment to keep reporting the truth, to stop the
governments of the world attempting to rehabilitate the Assad regime and
bury the revolution. Fatima Khan, the mother of Abbas Khan, a British
surgeon kidnapped by the regime and murdered in prison, called for Damascus
to “rise up” and get rid of “killer Assad before he kills you!” Clara
Connolly from the Syria Solidarity Movement asked simply “Where is the
left?” expressing the shock and resigned disappointment of many that a
revolutionary struggle whose effects are going to be as long lasting and as
strongly felt as the Nakba or the war on Iraq, could receive so little

And it is very little solidarity. While Muslim communities across Britain
were sending dozens of ambulances and aid convoys to Syria, young British
Muslim men were travelling to Aleppo to drive ambulances, and doctors were
travelling to Turkey and even into Syria to perform operations on the tens
of thousands of wounded, socialist organisations have not even managed to
send a single ambulance to aid the opposition.

While the opposition wrote their cries of desperation across a thousand
banners, youtube videos and Friday protests, the Left were paralysed by an
unwillingness to break with Cold War ideologies, and defunct anti-war
institutions. The selective internationalism of the anti-war movement has
meant a generation of young Muslims have been radicalised outside, and in
many cases in opposition to the narrative pushed by organisations like Stop
the War. In the absence of solidarity efforts in Britain, some of these
youth have taken it upon themselves to join the struggle against Assad,
fighting and dying with the Free Syrian Army or Islamic brigades.

With the rise of ISIS, and the erasure of rebel groups from the narrative
over Syria, both in the mainstream media and the left, this democratic
revolution has been obscured, and many Muslim teenagers radicalised by the
atrocities they witness online are now heading to Syria not to fight for
freedom but for Da‘esh.

In the absence of political and material solidarity from radical and
revolutionary progressive forces, liberal and conservative voices have
dominated the narrative of how to aid Syria. This has had a marked effect
on Syrians’ own solidarity efforts. A revolution which was anti-imperialist
to its core has felt left with little option other than to beg the imperial
powers for aid.

Chemical weapons

On 16 March 2015 the Assad regime responded to Syrian opposition
celebrations by dropping chlorine gas on the town of Samrin. Six were
killed and over 100 wounded in the attack. The attack came just ten days
after the UN passed a motion condemning the regime’s continued use of
chemical weapons.

In response, the White Helmets, Syria’s volunteer Civil Defence
organisation who save people from the rubble of barrel bombings and other
regime attacks, issued a call for a No Fly Zone over Syria, to stop the
bombs and protect civilians.

This call was supported by the Syria Solidarity Movement. A protest was
organised at the US Embassy demanding a No Fly Zone to end barrel bombs and
chemical weapons attacks.

Faced with these demands, some on the Left will declare this is
‘pro-imperialist’ and use this as an excuse to not take action. This will
just be a continuation of their policy of the last four years of inaction
over Syria, and provide no support for the people on the ground suffering
and dying. This in turn leaves no one for Syrians to turn to, except
Islamic organisations and the ‘international community’. Syria, whose
country is occupied by Israel, is home to hundreds of thousands of
Palestinian refugees and who share a border with Iraq, do not need lectures
on the dangers of imperialism. What they need is support and solidarity.

If there are any activists left who want to rescue the Left’s reputation
over Syria, they need to overcome this narrow minded and dogmatic position
and engage with Syria solidarity efforts and the Syrian opposition community.

Supporting Syrians doesn’t necessitate advocating a No Fly Zone. There are
dozens of grass-roots solidarity projects which can be supported, either
providing support for refugees, medical aid to field hospitals, financing
and publicising civil society groups practising non-violent resistance, or
grass-roots mutual aid efforts to rebuild economies and societies in
Syria’s shattered towns and villages. It is this the Left must involve
itself in, for the sake of the Syrian people, and to demonstrate in
practice its professed support for freedom and democracy.

Syrian non-violent groups have launched a campaign aimed at reaching out to
Western activists and bringing them into solidarity work with the Syrian
cause. Their campaign is named Planet Syria after the fact they seem to be
treated like they are from another planet, despite raising the same slogans
and demands for freedom as people struggling all over the world. They are
calling for an international day of action on 7 April to demand an end to
the barrel bombs, and negotiations to find a peaceful resolution to the
bloody violence which has crushed the peaceful protests, and almost
destroyed the revolution.

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