Abou Zed, activista sirio residente en Barcelona. / Gabriel Huland
“From the beginning we knew the Syrian people had broken the silence and was fighting for justice and freedom”
Abou Zed is a young Syrian student and activist of the revolution that is shaking the Arab country since March of 2011. The death toll exceeds 200,000 and there are more than 2 million displaced, most of them forced to leave the country and live in subhuman conditions in refugee camps in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Lately the local committees have been denouncing the Assad regime’s practice of cutting the food supply to the Damascene neighborhoods of Muadamiya and Yarmuk, causing the death of countless children from malnutrition. Corriente Roja, as a part of the International Worker’s League (IWP), is conducting a campaign of solidarity with the Syrian revolution.
Abou Zed explained how the protests began and what was his involvement in that. The Syrian people are today between fear of the regime’s brutality and international isolation, due to the hypocritical policy of the UN and major Western nations. Apart from his personal experience, we discussed issues such as political Islam in the civil war, the trap of the Geneva Conference II, organized by the U.S. and Russia, and the role of the local committees.
- Tell us about your personal experience in the revolution
Abo Zed: I began participating in the first months of the protests, on May 2011. We heard about the protests, my friends started to discuss it. We were seeing the videos from the Arab spring. Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. From the beginning of the revolution I had no doubts about what was happening in Syria. I knew that this was the time when the Syrian people broke the silence and started to demand freedom and reforms to achieve justice and democracy in the country. But Assad’s regime started to kill people from the first days of the revolution. At first I was afraid to participate in the protests because I knew what would happen to me if they caught me. But later on, I started to participate because I couldn’t stay silent about all the deaths of innocent people by the hands of the regime. I got caught several times during protests and got beaten in the streets by Assad militias (Shabiha). We were not fighting only for reforms, but to topple the Syrian tyranny.
We knew people were being arrested and some even shot, but we wanted to participate. In Damascus everything was very strict, it was very hard to organize big protests, and most of them were small, especially in the beginning. I was in the last semester of my studies in the University of Damascus. Many students participated in the protests. We had no doubt that we should join them. First, they were all about freedom and justice, we only wanted small reforms. Everything started when Assad forces kidnapped the children and tortured them in Daraa by order of Atef Najib. We wanted him to be punished. I started to participate in protests in Midan, an area in the middle of Damascus, and also in Kafarsouseh. These are two very important districts for the revolution.
- What was the reaction of the regime towards the peaceful demonstrations?
AZ: Assad forces reacted with violence from the first days of the revolution. I was in the first protests in Midan and Kafarsouseh and I saw how the regime forces reacted to the peaceful demonstrations. They used to throw smoke bombs at the people, beat people with electricity sticks and arrest them, and when people refused to run away they shoot them on sight with real bullets. I saw many people getting shot in front of my eyes.
3. What’s the real support that Bashar al-Assad has in Syria?
AZ: In the first months of the protests he had actually more support than the opposition. First because of the fear and also because in a process like this some people just want to stay out of trouble, be neutral. But when he started killing his own people things changed. To create the pro-Assad demonstrations the regime would go to all kinds of education and governmental institutions to put students and employees into buses filled with photos of the dictator and take them to the main squares in Damascus. They are still doing that.
4. What`s your experience with the local committees?
AZ: In all the neighborhoods near where I lived there were local committees (LC). A lot of friends of mine participated in them. The LC were organizing many people and organizing the protests, all the logistics. How to get to the meeting points, how to run away from Assad security forces, secret signs they used to communicate. I wasn’t officially assigned because they are the main targets of the regime. When you get caught by the police the first thing they ask is if you are participating in them. But although I wasn’t officially part of it I used to go with them to the demonstrations and collect money from the people in the neighborhood to support the activities. Mainly to buy food and medicines. One year after the beginning of the conflicts there were already many neighborhoods in Damascus that were really damaged by the bombardment from the regime. Even trying to help the damaged areas was very risky. If the Assad security forces catch you with food or medicine they know you’re going to help the afflicted. They call them terrorists. And if you help a terrorist you become a terrorist yourself. The police had established many control points in Damascus to watch the people, check their ID’s and arrest them.
5. You were in jail for 20 days. How did it happen?
AZ: One day, there was an acquaintance of mine who was shot by Assad forces during a night demonstration and we decided to arrange his funeral. He was 17 years old. He was one of my first friends who died. What we usually do when someone gets killed is a funeral in the next day. So we wanted to do his funeral and make a demonstration to show people that he was killed by the Assad forces, not by the so called “terrorists”. The funerals were very important to show the population who was killing the Syrian people. The regime propaganda says many deaths are caused by the opposition. When we arrived at the place where we were supposed to hold the funeral it was packed with Assad forces. It was impossible to run away. They arrested everyone in the funeral. For the only reason of gathering in the street you could be arrested and taken to jail. They use the funerals as a political weapon to attack the opposition, claiming that terrorists kill people and that they are protecting people from them. We tried to run away from the Shabiha. We hid in a small house, but they found us. I was only jailed for 20 days, but I was really lucky. All the other people arrested that day were tortured and stayed in jail for at least 2 months. I was beaten, but nothing compared to what they did to the others. They were electrocuted and beaten with sticks on their backs. All they want to know is if you participated in the local committees or not. If you participated or organized protests or not. Sometimes they only want to humiliate you; cursing you all the time, cursing your religion and commanding you to say that Bashar is god. If you refuse, they torture you. Make you to take off your clothes and throw cold water on you and let you stay outside to dry and then throw water again on you. And so on…
6. What do you think about the Geneva II talks?
AZ: The idea of a diplomatic and peaceful solution is good. All the Syrians would approve, but I don’t think Geneva II Conference will be different from the other conferences. It will only give more time to the regime to continue massacring the people and to try to get back the liberated areas. This regime is murderous and the only thing that he cares about is to stay in power. Assad has proven he only wants to temporize to regain control of territory. The assassination of the most important characters or leaders (symbols) of the regime in the “crisis cell operation” is an example of the regime’s intention not to accept any kind of negotiation but to kill anyone who opposes him even if he is one of their own. The people established conditions to participate on Geneva II like setting all the detainees free, removing the criminal Bashar al-Assad from the power as a first step and ending the siege on all the liberated cities.
7. Which role are the religious extremists playing in the conflict?
AZ: After maybe a year and a half, people started to understand the exact nature of these people. They come from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other Arab countries. They are soldiers experienced in war and people thought they were coming to help the revolution. At the beginning it was okay, they were fighting the regime. Right now they are causing trouble; they are applying the extremist Islamic rules in some of the areas they control. For example, girls cannot walk in the streets without the Hijab. I heard they killed a young man just for disrespecting his own religion. In Syria we don´t have these extremists, they want to transform Syria in something similar to Saudi Arabia. We don’t want to replace one dictatorship by another. It won’t work. I’ve heard about some conflicts they had with the Free Syrian Army. This is not good. We have to focus on defeating Assad.
 responsible for the security department in the southern province of Daraa
 Operation that took place in May 2012 in which Assad killed 4 important members of the regime and blamed the opposition to gain popular support