Syria: "Without the United States and its allies the war would have ended a long time ago", interview with Kevork Almassian

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

The Syrian Civil War is raging now from 8 years in the heaths of the Levant and has contributed to changing not just the perception of Middle Eastern crises and the relationship between the Western public and the main newspapers and television companies guilty, in the eyes of most, of having represented the vicissitudes of the conflict in an incomplete or even completely dishonest manner.

Kevork Almassian, Syrian journalist and political analyst, belongs to the Armenian bourgeoisie of the city of Aleppo. With the deterioration of security, he had to flee to Lebanon with the whole family and from there he decided alone to take the road to Germany. He founded "Syriana Analysis", voice of independent journalism "made in Syria" ...

What was the aim of the foundation of "Syriana Analysis"?

In January 2017 decided to launch a channel on YouTube in order to communicate with Westerners with the aim of shedding light on the other side of the history of the war in Syria, which had long been hidden from the Western public. My target audience was the common people in the United States of America and Europe because I had the impression that they were highly uninformed and therefore inclined to support a political elite that would not even hesitate to crash planes on its own skyscrapers (reference to conspiracy theories on the September 11 attacks, nda). For this reason, in the era of "social media", the most effective way to reach this audience was through YouTube, a platform that allows you to spread your message directly to the public while bypassing the most popular narrative of the "Media 'Mass Information'.

Are the "mass media" in the West and the Arab world reliable or have they been reliable in covering the conflict in Syria?

The main mystification that dominates the public debate concerns the fact that the "Syrian Revolution" began peacefully, but then the "revolutionaries" had to take up arms to protect themselves. In reality, we cannot generalize and affirm that the entire "anti-Assad" camp was either violent or peaceful precisely because there was no centralized structure that was directing the protests and protesters. Almost every street there was a leader, usually religious figures, to guide the protesters. According to my research, the protests were peaceful in some areas and not just "violent" but even "terrorist" in others. However, the "Mass Media" presented protests as if it were an organic movement.

When the protests began in Syria in the 2011, first in Dara'a and then in the rest of the country, what was his first reaction? Had he ever thought before that an event of such magnitude could have hit the country?

The first organized protests began in Baniyas, at the instigation of Sheikh Anas Ayrout and their intentions were of an Islamist nature: to close mixed schools and allow teachers with the face covered by the Niqab to return to the teaching benches. However, these details were not clear at the beginning and many Syrians, myself included, could not grasp the events in their entirety. So in the first weeks I was hoping that this movement could lead to more political openings and less corruption, but it took me a few weeks to figure out who the hard core of the movement was composed of and where Syria was heading, especially after the massacre of Jisr al-Shughur where more than 100 soldiers, officers and members of Syrian security forces were killed.

Very often the so-called "Mass Media" in the West, in addition to the partisan propaganda coming from the main news media related to the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, have a tendency to represent the Syrian Civil War as a religious / sectarian war, too if some analysts (including me) have disputed this claim.

A civil war, or a sectarian war, requires the existence of two parts. In fact, the anti-Assad movements, in particular those fighting on the ground against the Syrian Army are largely motivated by religious or sectarian aims. This is not an analysis. Militant groups are honest about this in their rhetoric and in their policy statements. Therefore, I believe that the anti-Assad armed groups are for the most part single-colored, while the government forces, despite the numerous errors, are multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-sectarian and multi-cultural. This greatly helps the Assad government in winning "the hearts and minds" of the various communities of Syria.

Over the years, the "Syrian Civil War" has become a sort of "World War" due to the direct and indirect intervention of many foreign countries and "non-state actors" in the vicissitudes of the conflict. Which states are perceived today by the Syrians as "friends" and which instead as "enemies" from the point of view of popular opinion?

People in Syria are divided. Some define Russia, Iran, Hezbollah as enemies while others define the United States, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar, Turkey and their smaller allies as enemies. In my humble opinion, the latter have for a long time attempted to overthrow Syria's current governing regime not because it is authoritarian, but because of Damascus's foreign policy, which damages American interests in the region. After the 2011, these states began to supply the radical groups in Syria with weapons and this led to an expansion of the scope of the war and hundreds of thousands of victims.

Without the support of the United States and its allies to the Islamist rebels, the war would have ended long ago. Despite my differences with the current regime and some of its internal policies, I fully support Damascus's foreign policy and I think the price the Syrians paid was worth keeping Syria on an axis that would guarantee the highest level of independence and dignity.

After 8 years of continuous war, the conflict in Syria is approaching its natural conclusion with the victory of the domestic and international front that supported the government. President Assad has estimated that, so far, Syria has suffered material damage amounting to over 450 billion dollars, but even worse are the "invisible scars" and the legacy of hatred and distrust between the different ethnic and religious communities that one at one time formed "civil society" in your country. Do you think that the different communities of Syria will be able to live together again in peace and mutual respect as they did before the war?

My answer would be hypothetical because we do not know what the era will be like after the end of the war. But I believe that if we want to maintain a minimum level of social coexistence, there must be a strong state with an army and security forces. Unfortunately, the Middle East is not Switzerland and states must practice their "Jacobean power" to keep some communities together.

In your opinion, what should (or shouldn't) be the place of religion in Syria's society and institutions after the war is over? Will it be possible to finally break the back to Islamic fundamentalism and create a truly secular society?

My simple answer is: NO. A truly secular society is far from becoming in Syria. It would take two or three generations to get there. But because of the consequences of the war: more radicalism and less secularism, I believe that the governing regime is trying to placate the popular base of the radicals and is trying to regain some sectors of the Sunni square through the introduction of more conservative and less secular values . I believe this policy will fail and produce a less tolerant society that will pave the way for more tribulations in the future.

During the war, President Bashar al-Assad was able to impose himself literally as the "pillar of national unity and resistance" and all attempts at "regime change" carried out by foreign powers and Islamists armed have failed. However, the presidential conduct before the conflict and the strategic direction of the war itself was not without flaws; for example, some of the most costly defeats in terms of human lives, suffered by the Syrian Army especially during the period between the 2011 and the 2015, can easily be attributed to a dramatic lack of preparation both by the military leadership and the political leadership . Once the war is over and Syria is again pacified and re-united within its pre-war borders, there will be a showdown at the level of the ruling elites and Assad will be obliged, if not to resign, at least to accept a partial downsizing of its powers and presidential prerogatives?

Those who know the mentality of the current regime exclude these options. Despite the serious flaws demonstrated in the 2011-2018 period, this ruling elite has proved capable of surviving and renewing itself. I do not see the possibility that Assad resigns or compromises with his opponents. The so-called political reforms will remain cosmetic in nature and will not change the character and nature of the power system.

The war saw the proliferation of a variety of armed militias in both the anti-government and pro-government camps. There has been an attempt to unify all the pro-government militias with the establishment, through Iranian assistance, of the "National Defense Force" (Quwāt ad-Difāʿ al-Watanī). However, the influence of some parties and individuals on certain sectors of these armed groups is truly palpable; I am thinking of the influence that the Ba'ath Party has on the "Ba'ath Brigades" or that the Syrian National Socialist Party has on its "Storm Eagles". How will this new situation and "militarization of political parties" contribute to shaping future political balances in parliament and in society in general?

I prefer not to go into details but I firmly believe that, as soon as the war is over, these groups will be integrated into the Syrian armed forces or lay down their arms. After Aleppo was liberated, it took the government two years to disarm most paramilitary groups within the city, especially the so-called "shabihas".

Sooner or later, the Syrian Civil War will end. What will happen then to Syriana Analysis? Will it continue to exist and reconfigure its focus on other "hot spots" of the Middle East and the whole world or will it consider this experience as completed and focus on other objectives?

Syriana Analysis will continue to exist even after the war and will focus its attention on the return of refugees, on reconstruction, on internal issues, etc. I also recently inaugurated Syriana TV in Arabic in order to communicate these issues to the Syrians.

Photo: YouTube / Al Jazeera / Giorgio Bianchi / SANA