May 8, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 709

Leader of the Reform Party of Syria: If 20% of Syria's Residents Rose Up, They Would Besiege the Regime

May 8, 2004
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 709

The Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassapublished an interview with Farid Ghadry, leader of the U.S.-based Reform Party of Syria (RPS). The RPS is made up primarily of Syrian citizens living abroad, and was founded shortly after September 11, 2001 to give liberal Syrians a voice; such a voice has not been heard since the Ba'ath Party's rise to power in that country. The RPS calls for a new constitution in Syria, and for the removal of the Ba'ath regime. The following is the interview: [1]

'The Syrian Street No Longer Falls for the Ba'ath's Lies and Deception'

Question: "How was the idea born to establish a party at this particular time, and is it the result of the American will?"

Ghadry: "The idea of establishing a democratic Syrian party arose among the circles of Syrian emigrants in the U.S. following the bloody events of September 11. The idea was discussed among many Syrian exiles belonging to all sectors of Syrian society, and it won overall consensus. The idea crystallized and arose among intellectuals supporting democracy in the homeland and in Europe. We exchanged ideas and opinions about the situation of the Syrians in the homeland and in the diaspora; we held a founding congress; and we published a first communiqué. Then [we held] many meetings in Europe and in the U.S., which were used for exchanging opinions with [other] Syrian opposition members.

"With regard to the second part of the question … the Americans were busy with dressing their wounds, and did not have time to establish a Syrian party just then. This [charge] is illogical. The truth is that the dictatorial Ba'ath regime in Damascus had become accustomed to vilifying its political rivals and giving a score to each opponent. They tried to eliminate us politically even [when we were] in the cradle.

"But the Syrian street no longer falls for the Ba'ath's lies and deception. Marking [people] as traitors was used by the Ba'ath for a long time. Since we are a democratic political organization open to the world, we utilize the experience of the developing peoples in the field of democracy, as the experience [of following Michel ] 'Aflaq was a decided failure, from the hero of Al-Qadisiyya [Saddam Hussein] to the Syrian dictator [president Hafez Al-Assad]. Where is the problem in our cooperating with the U.S. and Europe?" [2]

'The Syrian Political Street Needs a Modern Democratic Organization that will Meet the Aspirations of Many Syrians, Who are Sick of Empty Slogans'

Question: "Why add another party to the already existing parties in the paralyzed Syrian opposition?"

Ghadry: "I largely agree with you, because [the Syrian opposition] is sometimes paralyzed [and sometimes] sick, or is swallowed up within the sterile regime. This is the situation of the Syrian opposition, and reality cannot be denied. But we think there's enough room in Syria for all Syrians, whatever their religion and school [of thought], of all faiths and political nuances. There are nationalist, Islamist, Marxist, socialist, and other [Syrians]. I do not think it's our job to change beliefs, but to accept the other, with his good and bad points.

"I think the Syrian political street needs a modern democratic organization that will meet the aspirations of many Syrians, who are sick of empty slogans such as 'unity, freedom, and socialism,' behind which hide the hangmen of the people; [these hangmen] have turned the homeland into a prison and the civilians into prisoners. I think the Ba'ath has become a mutation distorted by the opponents of social development, who have paralyzed [Syrian] society, [and this society] requires reform so as to eliminate the vestiges of the Ba'ath and replace it with something better."

Question: "They say that you're betting on U.S. military intervention to change the situation in Syria. Is this an admission of your inability to act against the Syrian regime?"

Ghadry: "It is no surprise that the Ba'ath is trying to lead a policy of flinging communiqués and accusations, and issuing denunciations or recommendations… I do not wonder at the ugly names we've been called since we entered the political arena. I do not know how many times I have had to repeat that I am a Syrian concerned about the interests of my people, and that I am not an American Zionist nor a political merchant, as those who trade in our strength and our homeland claim. I call on everyone to search our English-language or Arabic-language website for any expression hinting that we want to enter Syria on an American tank.

"At the same time, I say that if the will of the Syrian people is to topple the Ba'ath by force, we are with it. If the people supports foreign intervention, by military coup or by civil rebellion and paralysis of the state, we support any solution that the street will agree with. We are not importing 'revolutionary' prescriptions in order to try them on our people, which has become the laboratory field of the Ba'ath."

'We are Among the Only Organizations Whose Motto is that the Ba'ath Regime in Damascus is Irreparable'

Question: "What are your connections with the other Syrian opposition parties within and outside Syria?"

Ghadry: "We are Syrians. Naturally we are in touch with anyone who is interested in Syrians. The goal of all the sides today is to topple the dictatorship and achieve democracy. This is not the right time for argument. We respect all opinions without them being binding upon us, just as we do not impose our beliefs on anyone. After our country is free and ruled by laws and not by whims and personal interests, we will have the time for arguing about the petty details. Today many ties bind us with all shades of Syrian politics, and we have excellent relations with influential organizations within Syria. But we cannot reveal our political connections in light of the current bloody Ba'ath situation. Secrecy protects us and our allies in the homeland."

Question: "Your relations with the other Syrian opposition groups are tense. Why is this?"

Ghadry: "Permit me to disagree. We are among the only organizations whose motto is that the Ba'ath regime in Damascus is irreparable. It is corrupt to the core, and we think that uprooting it and replacing it, as happened with its Iraqi brother, is the best possible treatment. The organizations closest to us hesitate to follow in our footsteps out of fear of harm. Some of them dissociate themselves from us for fear of [harm] to their leaders. Our differing opinions are not the reason for rivalry with the others. We do not quarrel with anyone because of his opinions. Distance, dissociation, and denial of the other are the trademarks of the Ba'ath alone.

"There is no doubt regarding the increasing helplessness and temporary fatigue among the Syrian opposition, and we, as part of this opposition which tries to arouse and to reform, are not acting like pirates towards anyone. At the same time, we are disregarding the plots aimed not only at engaging us in a war of communiqués and [internal] verbal struggle, but aimed also at emptying the opposition of its practical content and distancing it from the [real] problems of the people.

"The ones who see us as enemies because we ruined their sleep, like the 12 parties [who are members of] the [National Democratic] Front, the influential, and the political contractors, are the ones who are, together with the regime, responsible for the situation in the country. [This is] after they failed in all areas and proved their ability to make noise without any impact, and they are benefiting from the status quo."

Regarding the Kurds: 'You Cannot Ensure Your Own Happiness at the Expense of the Misery of Another'

Question: "The Syrian Democratic Coalition, which you gambled would apply pressure to the Syrian regime, failed a few months after it was founded. Why?"

Ghadry: "The birth of every phenomenon emanates from its own particular circumstance… The internal situation is in continued disarray, and we must address the situation in accordance with its conditions, and not in accordance with our wishes as individuals or as parties. We have entered an advanced stage in the struggle for the liberation of the Syrian homeland, and it is inconceivable that we will stop or that they will hinder us with obstacles. The coalition participated in international symposiums, both in the U.S. and in the European Community, and its platform still has additional serious steps in this direction, which we will announce in the future."

Question: "You call for the right to self-determination for the Kurds in Syria."

Ghadry: "We see this problem as we would want others to see us, if we were in the Kurds' place, and this is no reason to accuse us of treason. We are talking of the problem of a people that was expelled from its land, not about the rights of Syrians at the North Pole or in the Nevada desert, but on our rights and our home. I think that the Kurdish people in Syria deserve to live on their land, with all their rights and obligations. It's impossible to deny the culture, language, and customs of the Kurdish people in an attempt to melt them into the Arab melting pot.

"You cannot ensure your own happiness at the expense of the misery of another. I think that the Syrian people, including the Arabs and the Kurds, and all the national and religious minorities, constitute a national tapestry common to all Syrians. It is not a trivial matter to dedicate our platform to solving the Kurdish problem, which is a problem created by the Ba'ath and fanned and exploited in accordance with the needs of the Ba'ath regime."

'All the Fig Leaves are Off, and the Nakedness of the Ba'ath is Fully Exposed'

Question: "Observers say that the Reform Party of Syria does not enjoy a popular base [of support] within Syria."

Ghadry: "Although we are a young party, and despite the damage in our media and the ban on disseminating our publications within the homeland, we can say that our spread across the homeland is good, and increasing. I think that the inauguration of Radio Free Syria will bring our voice to a greater number of people. [3]

"We are working towards an organized program of party members within Syria. It is impossible to believe in the humanity of a regime that killed and jailed masses of innocents in Qamishli, Aleppo, Afarin, and other cities, primarily after it retained control, scattered the obstacles of fear, and exposed its teeth, and is willing to harm innocents and repeat the massacres of Hama and Tadmor in different ways so as to preserve the regime.

"In such a tempestuous atmosphere, we cannot boast of a list of members among our forces [who reside in Syria], and we will preserve the silence as long as we can. The time will come for us to appear openly in order to say farewell to the dictatorial Ba'ath, as the Iraqis did."

Question: "Syrian regime sources emphasize that you are acting in order to please the Jewish and Zionist institutions in the U.S. by declaring that if you gain power, you want to establish comprehensive peace with Israel and then discuss the matter of the Syrian Golan Heights."

Ghadry: "I am not looking for recommendations from the dictatorial regime. This regime is always trying to persuade the people that they should seek solutions to their problems outside the framework of the Ba'ath and blames others for everything. We are sick and tired of this broken record that reiterates the crimes of the 'reactionaries, Zionism, and imperialism' and the good [Ba'athist] pastures of 'nationalism, socialism, and pan-Arabism.' We have become accustomed to seeking the mistakes of the Syrian Ba'ath and its crimes far from Syria.

"The reason is simple: The regime has no means left of persuading the people that it is better than others besides these lies and inventions, and it is mobilizing its veteran propagandists to distort the image of any opposition even before it arises. All the fig leaves are off, and the nakedness of the Ba'ath is fully exposed and has become patterns of ridiculous accusations [in the style of Michel] 'Aflaq, like the statements by Saddam's information minister during the liberation of Iraq from the claws of the 'hero of Al-Qadisiyya' [i.e. Saddam] and his entourage.

"With regard to peace with Israel, there is no doubt that Syria has a greater interest in peace than the Israelis. Simple logic shows that you cannot vanquish a militarily strong country like Israel with obsolete, rusty Soviet weapons on a front that has been quiet for over 30 years. This exposes the lie of the [Ba'athist slogans] about confrontation and liberation.

"I am not a Jew and I am not defending the interests of Israel. I care first of all for the interests of my homeland and my people. We do not need recommendations. Nationalism, as far as the Ba'ath is concerned, is conditional upon agreeing that the Ba'ath is superior. Anyone who criticizes the barbaric leadership, the primitive conduct of the Bath members, and the looting of the state by them has his citizenship stripped from him and is immediately pilloried as a traitor.

"There is no doubt that the Golan Heights is occupied Syrian land. But at the same time I think that as long as the Ba'ath is incapable of regaining it in war, we will regain it in peace. Peace is an urgent need for us as Syrians, and when we regain our occupied lands we will have no reason not to reconcile with and recognize Israel. I am certain that the Syrian people is too smart to fall into [the trap] of the regime's lies about confrontation, liberation, war, and so on. This is nothing but a ploy for tightening the noose around the necks of the citizens, on the pretext of transferring funds for armament and training, as the money is being moved into the private [bank] accounts of the top regime officials so they can build villas and import luxury cars as the citizens starve and the homeland is held back."

'Our Goal is to Restore Freedom and Democracy to a New Syria'

Question: "How do you see the present situation in Syria now, and is it possible to bring about change by peaceful means?"

Ghadry: "No one in Syria wants change through violence, and the regime in Damascus has always spilled innocent blood and its prisons are still full. Today everyone knows that there is no escape from change in Syria, and the top regime officials bear the responsibility for the delay … and the events of Qamishli proved this.

"Today in Syria, 4%- 5% of the population rules the whole country. If 20% of the population would rise up, they would besiege the ruling Ba'ath members.

"We have no choice but to look for them in burrows, caves, and spider holes. There is no doubt that change can be brought by peaceful means, but this depends upon the existence of free and transparent elections under international supervision, at the end of which a legal Syrian parliament will convene to purge the Syrian constitution from the articles of the Ba'ath and strip the Ba'ath of its dictatorship – that is, to cut it off from executive and judicial authority. "

Question: "If there is forced American intervention in Syria, don't you fear a repeat of the Iraqi experience?"

Ghadry: "This is a hypothetical assumption, and the answer to it will remain an assessment only... As I already said, our goal is to restore freedom and democracy to a new Syria, and as long as the goal is clear, so are the means and tools of attaining this. The Ba'ath itself will determine the nature of the change, and we are not in charge [and we cannot] make decisions. The Iraqi tyrant is an example for us, since no one forced Saddam to leave his spacious palace and hide underground. [Rather, he brought it upon himself]."

[1] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), April 18, 2004.

[2] Michel 'Aflaq (1910-1989) founded and led the Syrian Ba'ath Party during the 1940s.

[3] Radio Free Syria recently began broadcasting from Cyprus.

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