Shocking crimes of radical groups in Syria
On 22 February 2014, AMRIS members had a SKYPE conversation with Mother Agnes, who was in Damascus at the time. Below is an abridged version of her update on the situation in Syria. This article is a republishing (with thanks) of an AMRIS article by Susan Dirgham, with some additions and changes.
In her update, Mother Agnes refers to the shocking crimes of radical groups in Syria and speaks about their occupation of Adra, a town on the outskirts of Damascus.
The video shows 'rebels' performing public executions at the castle “Krak de Chavalier” in the Wadi al Nasra (Valley of the Christians) region and gives insight into the absence of military rules in the rebels' behaviour. At 5.40 minutes into the video, this horror is replaced by testimonies from people who have escaped Adra, a town besieged by Jabhat al-Nushra. These testimonies support what we have recorded from the skype interview with Mother Agnes Mariam on 22 February 2014.
Syria being ground into dust
In her conversation with AMRIS members via skype on 22 February 2014, Mother Agnes Mariam described how the pace and scale of destruction is accelerating in Syria. She told how Syrian resources were being 'ground into dust'. She said that the people responsible for the destruction appear fearless, making the point that they no longer pretend to justify what they are doing by talking of 'freedom' or 'democracy', because they no longer need to do so. She explained that this is because most of the world's media have normalised the killing and destruction in Syria.
"'Revolution' and fighting against the 'brutal dictator' and the 'Alawite regime' are slogans which have now served their purpose," she said. She added, that "to maintain the status quo of war and terror, however, anything the Syrian government does must be either ignored or completely discredited, and the regime demonized, still."
"Now, even more radical groups are being sent into Syria, and their crimes still shock," Mother Agnes stated.
"I have met survivors from Adra, a large industrial town on the outskirts of Damascus, which used to be an oasis of tranquility and productivity. It’s ‘the working Adra’, a town of workers and government employees. The relative calm of Adra was shattered when it was invaded by armed gangs in December 2013."
This video shows a beheading at the start which was filmed up at the castle “Krak de Chavalier” in the Wadi al Nasra (Valley of the Christians) region. The rest of the video, however, is witness testimony from people who have escaped Adra, a town besieged by Jabhat al-Nushra. These testimonies give credence to the quotes below from Mother Agnes Mariam. If people are troubled by seeing the beheading, start at 5.40 min before viewing.
Middle-aged men who escaped said, “Even in the movies, we had never seen such scary people. It seemed that they were on drugs or under some kind of evil influence,” Mother Agnes reports.
"It is not just one atrocity here and there in Syria which is occurring. The eating of the liver of a soldier last year was not an aberration. In massacres in the villages in Lattakia last year, there was evidence of the roasting and eating of a child. More recently, in Adra, workers in a bakery were thrown into the bakery oven. Those people were not government agents. They were murdered simply because they had chosen to live a normal life and not get involved in politics."
She explains that, "Before the invasion of Adra, many displaced people from besieged areas around Damascus had found sanctuary in this workers’ town. Some of them were activists who spent time making lists of the ‘non-tolerated people’ in Adra: the Alawites, the Christians, the Druze and government employees. They had names and addresses, and so when the militias took over the city they were able to efficiently perpetrate a discriminatory genocide.
Even now, part of Adra remains under the control of the ‘rebels’.
"More than 2,500 people have been abducted. No one knows their fate, however, according to reliable reports, scores of women taken hostage are raped and exhibited naked on balconies every day. Children have been thrown from roofs as the army has advanced."
She said, "I have heard many testimonies of women inside areas held by rebels in different parts of Syria. Many women have been raped and abused. There is nothing normal about war. A mentality can develop which distorts our natural compassion and sense of justice. In these rebel areas, men are encouraged to believe they are ‘lords’ and that whatever they desire can be theirs. When they utter the shaharda – in other words, they say three times “Allah is great” – everything can be theirs: a car, a building, a woman, a child."
Is this to be the future for Syria?
Mother Agnes Mariam said, "Before the siege of Adra, there were many other invasions and sieges, such as that of the old historic city of Homs, where 130,000 Christians used to live. Now almost all the Christians are displaced and their shrines destroyed. This part of Homs was not a military target. It was not taken or invaded after a big battle. There was no oppression in the streets. In February 2012 there was an invasion and today it is a big political story. Fighters say, ‘We are besieged and we are dying’, but in reality, the negotiations of the United Nations have become a safe way for the invading forces to flee."
She described two sources of armed violence:
"In Syria, there are generally two kinds of fighters. Firstly, there are Syrian fighters who took up arms either to protect their families from the perceived or real oppression of some intelligence services; or to simply survive. Those people are willing to enter into negotiations."
The other kind of fighter does not want to negotiate:
"However, the second category of fighter works under the international coalition that is intent on dismantling Syria. As more and more Syrian rebels are noting, these international forces and the fighters sponsored by them show neither care for Syria nor care for the well-being of the majority of Syrian people."
"On the other side, as the violence and strife deepens, corruption deepens. It is the human story of war. There are terrible betrayals for money or out of fear."
There is hope
Mother Agnes Mariam related, however, that,
"Parallel with these atrocities, defilement, betrayal, and corruption, you have the reconciliation process. This process is carried out by good-willed people at grass-roots level.
One result of this process is that many local rebels are now convinced that this ‘revolution’ was a Trojan horse, one used by the international alliance to dismantle Syria. Those rebels brought back into the national fold are also the good fuel, the good incentive of this dynamic for reconciliation and peace.
And despite the warlords on the ground who will do anything to prevent reconciliation and peace, this initiative is succeeding. This reality will be difficult to hide outside Syria. Reconciliation is a breakthrough in this darkness and confusion and it continues to gain momentum despite the efforts to create a de facto partitioning of Syria along the lines of Iraq and Libya."
A nation state formed of tribes which need to reconcile
According to Mother Agnes Mariam, one reason for successful reconciliation is that Arab tribes form more than 65% of the Syrian population. A tribe can be composed of 100,000 or two million people, so it becomes a matter of security for the tribe not to have any internal battles. Therefore, tribal leaders willingly enter the reconciliation process for the sake of both their tribe and for the country, as Syrians are generally very nationalistic.
Perception that the New World Order wants to destroy the Syrian nation-state
Mother Agnes Mariam said, "A perspective from Syria today is that there is a New World Order which wants to destroy the nation state. The destruction of the state may be seen to benefit finance, industry or trade control. But the Syrian people believe in their nation; it is the source of their security, their wealth, and their peace."
She believes that the time is ripe for an inter-Syrian reconciliation.
To preserve Syria, however, she believes it is vital that foreign states stop sponsoring foreign fighters to come and fight in Syria.
International community keeps war alive through misleading information
"The battle is a huge one for the people of Syria. They face the hypocrisy of the international community, including the United Nations, the Human Rights Council and some NGOs. The telling of the story of Syria has most often been far from the reality; virtual reports have been created. And despite some improvements, the reality is often still distorted, particularly the overall reality."
Expatriate information 30 years out of date
Mother Agnes Mariam added, "Much of the discourse about Syria has been shaped by the external opposition, mostly composed of people who have not lived in Syria for 30 years. They are effectively waging a war against their version of Syria based on memories dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. The faded memories of these people and their grudges are exploited by forces that wish to destroy another Middle Eastern country."
Non-violent political parties in Syria
She pointed out that, "In contrast to this external opposition and their skewed picture of 21st century Syria, there exists an internal opposition to the Baath Party. This opposition is made up of formal political parties, some in government, some not; as well as informal groups. Prominent members of the internal opposition have experience of regime prisons, however, they maintain a non-violent path toward political change.
"This opposition is ignored by the west," she said.
"To respect it would require governments to back down from their support for a violent ‘revolution’ and the destruction of Syria. In the western media, in UN reports and among NGOs, the pretense is maintained that, by definition, the opposition in Syria is militarized. This is despite there being hundreds of warlords using terror as a weapon of war making up this western sanctioned Syrian ‘opposition’."
"The pursuit of war demands black and white depictions of complex situations," she explained.
"Today, what is happening in Syria has nothing to do with a fight against an oppressive regime.
"Yesterday, [21 February, 2014] we heard the views of people coming in the south of Syria. They say, ‘we would prefer the jail of the government to the normal way of life imposed on us by the rebels’. Every day you have people who are raped, who are cut into pieces, who are beheaded. And the children, instead of attending school, are recruited to commit terror."
"It is a new form of society: a terrorist society."
She asks, "How can there be peace in Syria if the horrors and those who commit them, whether they are ‘moderate’ fighters or Al-Qaeda terrorists, are not condemned? If those who support them are not condemned? As long as the reality is concealed, the death and destruction will continue."
There is a fear that the ancient citadel in the heart of Aleppo will be destroyed.
"As has happened in Iraq, it seems the green light has been given to destroy the cultural and archeological resources of Syria. The memory of our human history in this ancient country, the relics which have been reminders over millennia of our humanity, may be lost forever."
Jihadists organised from Great Britain and Australia
She sees that, "In the 21st century, people are leaving Great Britain and Australia for Syria because they strive for jihad. But this by itself is not the reason they eventually find themselves in Syria. There is a tight network supporting these fighters. Thus, it could be argued there is hypocrisy in the claim that they will be arrested when they come back. They are not supposed to return. They are in Syria to destroy it and are expected to stay until the destruction is complete.
Yesterday, we were told by local fighters, 'If the president gives us bread and electricity, we will surrender because we can work.' But it was not the president who cut the electricity. It is the militias who cut the electricity to deprive the civilian population from a way of gaining a living for their family. It is one way of dragooning ordinary people into the battle."
War in Syria can only end if foreign interference ends
"This is an international conflict occurring in Syria. It is not a civil war. Saudi Arabia commits millions of dollars to keeping the conflict alive, so terror reigns and the country burns, with the blessing of the United States, Turkey, France and other allies. Israel openly provides medical aid to wounded fighters and sends them back to fight the regular Syrian army. It is a dirty war.
Even though Russia and Iran say they want to help Syria, in the end, each country will work for its own interests.
And their interests will not always suit the interests of Syria. Therefore, there must be an end to any foreign interference inside Syria. Syrian people must be left to deal with their own matters in a non-violent way.
It is the reconciliation movement which can help bring peace to Syria, if the world permits it."
Interview with Sister Agnes Mariam ended here.
Film: The Babbila Reconciliation: a Light at the End of Syria’s Dark Tunnel
Film published on 18 February 2014, with this description: "The Syrian government's efforts in promoting reconciliation and amnesty to Syrian militants who took up arms against it has paid off. Babbila, Yalda, and Beit Sahem are three towns in the Damascus countryside that recently had reconciliation between their militants and the Syrian Army. These deals included agreements on ceasefire, lifting of siege, allowing food and aid to get in, and the giving up of weapons - in most cases - in exchange for the residents raising the Syrian flag.
In Babbila, videos of the armed Islamist militants standing side by side with the Syrian Army might have seemed strange a week ago; however, today, this presents a sliver of hope that there might actually be a way out of this conflict, if all Syrians work together to get their country back." (Sources: NDF Media (Syria), al-Mayadeen TV (Lebanon))
Notes were taken by three people and this version is a combination of my notes and Susan Dirgham's notes published on the AMRIS site, with the insertion of headings and some paraphrasing by me.