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Eyewitness Syria: Interview with delegation members

By staff

Fight Back! interviewed two activists who recently traveled to Syria to provide an eyewitness account of the U.S. war there. Kobi Guillory is a member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and a co-chair of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Wyatt Miller is an activist with the Minnesota-based Anti-War Committee.

Fight Back!: Who did you travel to Syria with?

Kobi Guillory: We were a part of an international delegation with members from the U.S., South Africa, Palestine, France and Canada. It was organized by the Syria Solidarity Movement and contained journalists, writers and anti-imperialist activists from a range of organizations. The list of delegates can be found on this statement we released.

Fight Back!: What impacts did you witness of U.S. intervention in Syria?

Wyatt Miller: We saw terrible damage in areas that had to be liberated from contra militias who were paid, armed and politically whitewashed by the United States. We saw reconstruction efforts in the aftermath, but with the knowledge that there would be a lot more of it if not for U.S. economic sanctions. The sanctions also were visible in the form of high prices for all kinds of basic goods. Fuel prices are particularly high because U.S. troops are still illegally occupying Syria’s eastern oil fields.

Guillory: Entire towns and whole suburbs of Damascus were destroyed by the war. These were people's homes, workplaces, community centers, and more. Half a million people were killed and millions were displaced. Every Syrian family has suffered kidnappings, executions or bombings by the U.S.-backed militias. Now as the people are trying to rebuild, U.S. sanctions and ongoing occupation of Syrian land are making it difficult to buy basic necessities like food and oil.

Fight Back!: While you were there, Syria conducted an election. What did you observe?

Guillory: We witnessed tens of thousands of people celebrating in the streets. In Damascus, we saw sporadic rallies led by unions and youth organizations. We saw two polling places in and around Douma where crowds gathered to voice their support of Bashar al Assad. We were able to observe the voting process. Voters showed their Syrian IDs to the election officials, who gave them a ballot with the names of the three candidates. Residents had the option to vote openly or in a closed booth before depositing their ballot in a sealed box to be counted later. After voting, residents dipped their fingers in ink to ensure they could not vote a second time. Workers from the campaigns of each opposition candidate were also present to observe the process.

Miller: In general, people were really excited about the election and it definitely meant more than just picking a leader. With the war winding down and refugees starting to come home, there was a palpable sense that Syria had turned a corner despite the long road of reconstruction ahead. Assad’s campaign slogan, “Hope through work,” seemed to cater to that sentiment.

Fight Back!: What do you say to folks in the anti-war movement who say that Assad is a dictator and that the movement shouldn’t show solidarity?

Miller: Syria is a republic, where people vote for their president in democratic elections, as defined in their constitution. President Assad is clearly very popular but what’s at stake for Syrians goes beyond any one individual. Syrians told us they were fighting to retain their country’s independence against foreign domination. If the anti-war movement doesn’t have solidarity with that, we’re not really addressing the root causes of war. People will always resist imperialism.

Guillory: I would encourage everyone to examine where their information is coming from and think about who benefits from the portrayal of Assad as a dictator. This narrative also portrays the Syrian people as docile and ignorant when in reality they're very well informed about what imperialism has done to their country. These people have faced a decade of ruthless attacks by foreign-backed jihadist militias and are now being hit with U.S. sanctions that make it nearly impossible to rebuild their homes. The government led by Assad defeated most of the militias and is now leading efforts to rebuild. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the vast majority of Syrians made the informed choice to vote for the incumbent.

More important than the reasons why Syrians voted for Assad is their right to self-determination. As anti-imperialists in the U.S., our responsibility is not to decide how Syria should be governed, but to relentlessly oppose our own government's intervention so the Syrian people can govern themselves.

Fight Back!: What did you observe of Israeli intervention in Syria?

Miller: I was struck by how close Damascus is to occupied territory. You can literally see it – the snow-capped peak of Mount Hermon, known in Arabic as Jabal al-Shaykh, is visible to the west. The upper slopes of the mountain are Syrian land but have been occupied and colonized by Israel since 1967 as part of the Golan Heights. The settlers have built a ski resort there.

We had another reminder of the Israeli presence the night the election results were announced, when anti-aircraft tracer rounds were fired into the sky alongside fireworks in a spectacular display. That occasion was a celebration, but there’s a reason why those guns are there. Israeli jets have routinely bombed Syria throughout the war.

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