The latest article by the German publicist and journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer (Todenhoefer) about the situation in Syria was published by the German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” on 13/04/2012 and includes the experiences by Mr. Todenhöfer about his last trip to Syria and the talks with different sides of the Syrian knot and curse.
Jürgen Todenhöfer (Todenhofer) is a known German critic of the US-led wars against Afghanistan and against Iraq and is also skeptical about the last events in Libya. Mr. Todenhöfer was the vice chairman of the executive board at German media company Hubert Burda Media till 2008.
For Mr. Todenhöfer, the Bush administration was deceiving the public during the war in Iraq and the German journalist claims that the US war in Iraq has killed over several hundred thousand Iraqi civilians. Of course, Mr. Todenhöfer was in Iraq himself, several times, especially for the research to his interesting book “Why do you kill, Zaid?”.
Here`s the not professional translation of the mentioned new article by Mr. Todenhöfer (Todenhoefer) about the situation in Syria. In contrast to the usually one-sided articles in Western media, which are also partly build on false information and willfully propaganda, Mr. Todenhöfer not only tries to show both sides, but he also knows that the situation within Syria is not simply black and white.
Syria: The rebels of the Syrian city Homs
Syria in April. Omar is a rebel of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA). My son Frederic and I have met him in a dark back room in Damascus. On 27 February, he fled with his comrades from Baba Amr, the district of Homs, which was their stronghold for months. He wants to return to Homs. In order to avenge his younger brother, who has died in his arms.
Omar had joined the rebels early. He has seen how the army had fired on peaceful demonstrators. Even children were killed. Not specifically, but that doesn`t matter. He estimates the number of his comrades in Baba Amr to about 2000. Ten percent were deserters. Also Frenchmen, British, Americans and Iraqis were there. As consultants and trainer.
I have asked him about the open letter of “Human Rights Watch” (HRW), which accuses the rebels of torture, taking hostages and killing of Syrian civilians. Omar replied that the FSA only kidnaps people, to have a tool for pressure to demand the release of prisoners.
They normally do not kill civilians, but only traitors. You will not be tortured, but “hard interrogated”. Once they are convicted, they are executed. In his presence, 20 Alawite collaborators were “executed”. By headshot or by the cutting through the throat.
Although he had heard from relatives that Assad still has 50 to 60 percent behind him in the rest of the country. But he does not care about the majority. Assad is a man of Israel. He will always fight him.
The next day we met with Rana, a 22-year-old student of history, near the Umayyad Mosque. She wants to continue demonstrate in the suburbs of Damascus. While their demos are getting smaller and smaller. She has no other choice.
Their protests were always peaceful. The FSA was mostly in the background to protect the demonstrators. Their fighters had fired only when the demonstrators were in safety. Now much is out of control.
Rana feels left alone. The most people in Damascus and Aleppo are for Assad. The leader of the opposition in exile, Ghalioun, is just a media puppet that no one takes seriously. Only NATO could topple Assad. That this will cost the lives of people is accepted by her. However, the intervention will not come, because Assad is an ally of the United States and Israel.
Together with Sharif, a Sunni engineer, we drive to Homs two days later. The city is still the most important, but perhaps also the last stronghold of the insurgency. Sharif has said that the rebels had taken advantage of the withdrawal of the Syrian army during the visit of the Arab observer, by the violation of the agreement. The government had then vowed to never again engage in such wholesale services.
Since then, the government controls only about 25 percent of the city. In particular, the Alawite district and Baba Amr. 50 percent are controlled by the FSA, 25 percent are no man’s land. After multiple checkpoints of the regime, where we were controlled, we reached the neighborhood of El Waer. We are in no man’s land.
Frédéric films. Behind us, a white Corolla appears. He passed us and blocks the onward journey. The driver gets out and pulls his gun. He asked, with thin lips, what we are filming here. “The damage to the city,” replied Sharif pale. Through the car window, I asked the young rebel, to show us the worst destruction. Puzzled, he gives us a sign to follow him.
Sinan, a FSA fighter, conducts us through the almost deserted ghost town. About 60 percent of people fled from the violence of both sides. He brings to us to refugee families in in miserable abandoned homes. They were not able to save anything except their life, a few blankets, tin pots and a tiny gas stove.
On the way to a hospital, we stopped at a deserted restaurant. The hospital is only 300 meters away. But the military situation is uncertain. Sinan tries to explore whether the road is free by phone. From the roof of the inn, we see the silhouette of the bombed Baba Amr. From the rebel district Khaldia, clouds of smoke rise in the sky.
The neighborhood is under attack. But the FSA is active, too. After a bullet strikes the area alongside us by one of their snipers (FSA), we retreat to the ground floor of the building. Above us we heard the hum of a Syrian drone. A few hundred meters away, where the sniper was suspected by us, grenades have suddenly hit this area in quick succession.
Sharif urges us to go. We do not need to go too far, to see the wounded or dead. At the exit to Damascus, the military stops all vehicles. The road is shelled by rebels. Some cars turn back, others continue in the convoy. We need to go to Damascus. The smoking Homs is not an option, although Sinan had offered us to stay with him.
In our Hyundai, we try to make us as small as possible. Again and again, Sharif touches his earlobe, asking Allah for help. When do we finally arrive in Damascus? We tap the shoulder of Sharif, as the outlines of the city appear after 90 minutes. “Allah Shukur Alhamdullah – thank God, not me”, he mutters.
In Damascus, life goes on as usual – although this can be hardly imagined by anyone in the West. Streets and shops are crowded. The war seems far away. Only occasionally major barriers reminiscent to the four major bomb attacks at the buildings of the security authorities.
Sharif thaws slowly. He has friends on both sides. The conflict makes him deeply sad. Already, not only the government troops, but also the FSA are “killing their own people”. Of the 9,000 dead, at least the half goes to the account of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA). Even women and children were killed by the rebels. In Homs, Alawite and Shiite civilians are getting mercilessly tortured. The Western media reports turn the situation upside down.
Frederic and I stay silent, although we are able to confirm Sharif`s portrayal in part. In Damascus refugee homes, we have met completely broken people who were brutally tortured and wounded by the rebels of Homs. That is the tragedy of civil war, says Sharif, brave freedom fighters become terrorists. Whether the West knows that it supports desperados in Syria?
The rebels took the wrong track. They have left democracy and freedom, but only for hatred and revenge. Because they have never achieved to bring the whole nation behind them, differently than the Tunisian and Egyptian insurgents. Syria threatens to break up by this increasingly sectarian revolution.
How many Syrians, he still dreams of democracy. But that is what Assad is trying to impose now. Of course, he would have had to start with the reforms much earlier. But better now than never! Syria is significant in terms of democracy, human and women’s rights, and much further than e.g. Saudi Arabia.
At the beginning of the uprising, the government has made serious mistakes. However, the rebels were armed from the beginning. In just the first three months, over 200 soldiers and policemen were killed. He visited one of the funerals. These soldiers are children of Syria, too.
The next day, we visit the Greek-Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III. The sober argumentative church leaders understands himself as advocates of religious tolerance in Syria. The coexistence of Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Druze, and Ismailis is a high democratic value. With the foreign support for the revolution, this value is threatened existentially.
The West must stop fueling the conflict. One should not confuse Bashar al-Assad with his father (Hafez al-Assad). The majority of the people are standing behind him. He is astonished by the “stereotyped / one-sided” false reporting of foreign media. Much was made up.
The country needs to be reformed, in fact. The new constitution by Assad is “an important step”. As a Christian, he calls for a speedy silence of the guns. But this time on both sides. And he calls for an “all-party dialogue”. Violence is no solution. Meanwhile, the rebels killed more civilians than the state security forces.
Gregory has written a moving peace manifesto, a desperate “cry for help”: We must settle before it is too late. On the last evening we visit the tiny St. Theresa Church in Bab Tuma. On the gallery, young Iraqi Christians sing Arabic church songs of beguiling beauty.
In silence we listen. With hundreds of thousands of fellow believers, these young people have fled from the chaos in Iran to Syria. Where should they escape, when even Syria sinks in chaos?
The writer is the author of the book: “Demonizing Islam – Ten theses against hatred”