Kilo is described by L’Humanité as “an historic figure of the Syrian opposition”. We have discussed him previously on this site [LH's - ed], as one of the two most important figures of the Syrian, (the other being Haytham Manna). He has long been associated with the National Coordination Committee which has had a strong commitment to a negotiated route to political change in Syria. However, Kilo’s positions seem to have been shifting over recent months: for example after a meeting with the Russian foreign minister on July 9, he proclaimed that “we don’t want to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad. Three weeks ago, he officially declared war on the people of Syria.”
What importance does the “battle of Aleppo” have?
The stake is enormous for both sides. For the regime, the outcome is crucial, because if they lose it will be the prelude to the battle for Damascus, where the Free Syrian Army (FSA) now has a real presence . It is not true that the regime has managed to “cleanse” Damascus. On the other hand, if the FSA loses the battle of Aleppo it will be a huge setback for the Syrian revolution.
Does this mean that the only solution is now through armed struggle?
This is now a war in which peaceful demonstrations have become marginalized. Many of those who were involved in the demonstrations are now fighting arms in hand. But a large part of the Aleppo population has fled the fighting. Some have gone to areas of the city where there is no fighting, others have sought refuge in the surrounding countryside which is not controlled by the regime, others have gone to Turkey.
So the democratic opposition is subordinate to the agenda of the FSA?
We have always called for a peaceful struggle. But today many democrats take part in the armed struggle, not as representatives of their organizations, but as individuals. It is true that if the FSA is defeated, not only in Aleppo, it will be a catastrophe for the opposition. The FSA has become the major force in the internal opposition , which challenges the regime, protects demonstrators, provides food to the people. People have started to move towards the FSA and to work with them. In Homs for example you will find many communists in groups where secularists and democrats are not in the majority. But they have to work with them. There are some jihadist groups, but you don’t find them everywhere.
What is going to happen now that some people are calling for external intervention?
First, we have said that if the FSA wasn’t playing a major role, the demonstrations would resume their role and importance. But at the moment it is difficult because people are being bombed. If the FSA is defeated, all sections of the population, all political currents, will lose. It would mean the crushing of the popular movement.
The solution now is for Syrians to defeat the regime through armed struggle.
No one expects external military intervention.
Every Syrian is convinced that the Americans are seeking the destruction of Syria.
Syrians know that they can only count on themselves. They are fighting under the banner of the FSA, but in fact there are many free Syrian armies which have no relationship with the FSA.
The following is a translated excerpt from an interview with a member of the Damascus Local Coordinating Committee, carried in the French news magazine l’Express on August 23, 2012. He describes himself as a “secular oppositionist” and was in Paris at the time of the interview (whether for the short-term or long-term is unclear).
How do you fit in to the ecosystem of groups opposing the Assad regime? In particular, what are your relations with the Syrian National Council …?
We are an independent coordinating group. Like the majority of coordinating committees we don’t belong to any opposition group in Syria. As far as the Syrian National Council is concerned, it was created with the agreement of a large number of these committees and opposition parties. When we realized that we could not build an internal leadership, due to the repression and arrests, we decided to support the idea of of an external structure which would be an expression of what was going on inside the country. Unfortunately the SNC no longer represents the point of view of the internal opposition, and its popularity is therefore weak.
How do you explain these problems?
It members lack political experience and it has shown itself to be incapable of formulating a political project which expresses the wishes of the revolution. Moreover, certain foreign states are trying to divide it, especially through the channeling of financial support directly to particular groups. So Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood more than the SNC, even though the latter are members of the SNC. Saudi Arabia only sends its aid to the Salafists and Wahhabis. These two countries are in reality taking advantage of the militarization of the Syrian revolution and its need for arms
What is your position with regard to this militarization?
We were pacifists for months. 12,000 people were killed in the course of the first seven months of the revolution. Despite this, we continued to express our opposition in a peaceful way. The regime did everything to spread weapons throughout the country, making them cheap. In Dera’a, in the South, we saw soldiers leave weapons on the ground after shooting demonstrators, to provoke them into shooting back. But the local coordinators collected these weapons and returned them to the army, to show that they intended to remain peaceful. Then, with increased number s of demonstrators being killed, a growing number of soldiers deserted. At first it was just individuals who went into hiding without taking up arms. Then entire groups began to desert. They then approached the coordinating committees and offered to protect demonstrators. The coordinators accepted, on the condition that their actions were confined to immobilizing the regime forces so that the demonstrators could march. The deserters were ordered only to kill if it was really necessary. As the number of deserters grew and militants started to take up arms, the FSA became a reality.
Could this militarization have been avoided?
We deeply regret this militarization of the conflict. Unfortunately, it is a situation that was imposed on us. Some soldiers were killed because they refused to fire on demonstrators. Those who had deserted proposed to take up arms only to allow peaceful demonstrations to take place. These soldiers were devoted to the revolution, which was originally peaceful. Last Monday [August 20?] the FSA issued a declaration forbidding its members from belonging to a political or religious party. After the massacres of the shabiha in Aleppo [the execution of Berri clan fighters by the FSA – B.S.], it also decided to adopt the Geneva Convention which forbids the beating and torture of prisoners. These are the values of the revolution.
Now that the revolution has become militarized what space remains for political actions like yours?
The regime has blocked all political solutions from the start of the revolution. When it organized a meeting in the Dera’a neighborhood of Damascus, to hear the grievances of the people, some 250 militants turned up with proposals for reform: end the state of emergency, repeal of Article 8 of the Constitution which imposes a single party. The regime replied that they were expecting people to ask for more schools or repairs to the roads. The same day the 250 participants were arrested. We have always sought a political solution in Syria (petitions calling for a political opening were circulated in 2000 and 2004, for example) but we have always encountered a brick wall.
Can the fall of the regime be brought about in any way other than through armed struggle?
We are counting on the disintegration of the regime and its institutions. The FSA is one way of achieving this. Numerous ministers and diplomats have defected. The movement is affecting all communities, not just the Sunnis, even if the highest officials to have defected, like Riad Hijab, the former prime minister, and Manaf Tlass, a commander of the Republican Guard and childhood friend of Assad, are from this community. At the lower levels, in particular in the intelligence services, numerous Alawites have also deserted. All communities are represented in in the Free Army: Christians, Alawites, Ismailis.
The regime is trying very hard to give a sectarian dimension to the struggle. How can you avoid this trap?
The authorities tried, from the very start, to give a sectarian twist to the revolution, especially in the regions of Homs and Idlib where there are numerous Alawite villages which are bases for bands of regime militia. But a not insignificant part of the Alawites are taking part in the revolution. … It’s the same for the Druze and the Christians. …
We have already taken concrete initiatives to avoid communal problems after the fall of the regime. In particular, we have set up Councils of Civil Accord which are made up of prominent figures, both religious leaders and well known personalities. These councils have as their mission the prevention of sectarian conflict. We should also note that there are no communal problems in the liberated zones. On the contrary, in these regions the population has done everything to avoid them. They have, moreover, demonstrated their ability to take charge of their affairs, by organizing the cleaning of the streets, traffic control, and the protection of public buildings.
The defections haven’t affected the principal actors. The more time that passes, the smaller the core of the regime becomes, but the tougher it becomes.
The attack on July 18 in Damascus killed what were believed to be the principal leaders of the repression. But the policy of repression hasn’t changed, which means that those who are leading it are not those who claimed to be leading it. But the defections are going to continue. The part of the regime that has been destroyed is much more important than that which remains.
The possibility that the Assad clan might go into exile, in Russia or Iran, for example, would that be acceptable from your point of view?
We would wish for Bashar al-Assad to be brought before an international criminal court. But if his departure is a precondition for a political transition, then saving lives is more important than vengeance.
Brian Slocums is a retired social scientist and was a militant in the Canadian and British Trotskyist movement over many years. He is now politically unaffiliated but retains a firm commitment to socialist values, while accepting the need to rethink the means through which they can best be realized.