Letzte Woche veröffentlichte Mena Watch ein Exklusivinterview mit Abdalaziz Alhamza, dem Mitbegründer und Sprecher der syrischen Menschenrechtsorganisation „Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently“ (RBSS). Dieses Interview wollen wir nun auch auf Englisch zugänglich machen.
Abdalaziz Alhamza is co-founder and spokesperson of the Syrian human rights organization „Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently“ (RBSS). Since the invasion of the Islamic State in Raqqa and since it has become the main capital of the so-called Islamic State, RBSS has become the only reliable source of the city. The journalist and blogger David Kirsch spoke to Abdel Aziz Al-Hamza about his motivations to found RBSS, the role of Russia and Iran in the Syrian Civil war and his efforts on monitoring human rights abuses of the Islamic State.
David Kirsch (DK): When did you start your campaign and what was the main motivation behind RIBBS?
Abdalaziz Alhamza (AZ): When Islamic State (ISIS) forces invaded Raqqa in January 2014, me and some friends of mine have been living in Raqqa for a long time. When ISIS came to the city, we knew that they are strangers. Although we did not know about them before, we recognized soon that they are an extremist terrorist group.
The invasion of Islamic State changed everything: They established a totalitarian state system, forced the local population to submit to their extremist views, started to execute political dissidents and began to control the media. At this time no one knew about Raqqa, so we decided to start our information campaign about the happenings in Raqqa, to let other Syrians know what is happening in this city. Soon, members of ISIS began to execute some of our friends and colleagues, who have been involved in building up our campaign. ISIS tries to grind down independent local reports out of Raqqa, especially because we criticize human rights abuses by these terrorists. We started to build up a facebook-page, started to report on twitter and began with publishing reports and articles on our website. ISIS started to regulate the access to internet, so we had to change our mode of operation. We were forced to use internet-cafés, so monitoring daily crimes of ISIS became much riskier than it was before. The difference between ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East is that ISIS commits horrible crimes, which especially we Syrians are used to, but we are not used to see it publicly.
So we decided to show what’s actually going on in Raqqa. And, as I said, before 2014, no one knew what was going on there, but right now there are more reports by the international media.
DK: Many European policymakers tend to think that Syrians are in favor of ISIS. What was the behaviour of the local population of Raqqa when the Islamic State invaded it?
AZ: They were shocked, because many were not familiar with executions and terror, and they soon started to recognize, that they can’t protest against publicly. These terrorists are not human, but criminals. They like to kill or behead anyone. You are not allowed to talk to anyone, or say anything against them. The majority of Raqqa’s local villagers hate the Islamic State, because they do not share their extremist views. We decided to start our campaign to support the resistance against these jihadi terrorists. Back in the days we were originally about 16 members; five lived outside of Raqqa, nine reported from within Raqqa. Before the invasion of ISIS we opposed the regime of Bashar-Al-Assad, but as ISIS went in, we decided to report on their crimes. Soon, ISIS tried to stop us from transfering any information from inside to outside, they did not let any media to cover up their crimes. They only wanted their own media, to go on showing their propaganda.
So, three weeks after the start of our project, ISIS made Friday sermons about us, saying that we were infidels and we were against Allah and that they plan to execute us. After that happened, more than hundred persons started to follow us on facebook and twitter. In May 2014, a friend of mine was kidnapped by Islamic State forces at a checkpoint. Two weeks later they executed him in a public school. Until today we have lost many colleagues and friends, who all got executed by ISIS. ISIS is monitoring our campaign on social network, so we have to be very careful.
DK: After the horrible events at New Years Eve in Cologne, many people are drawing connections between those events and the religious beliefs of the Syrians.
AZ: Actually, after what happened in Cologne in Germany, many people started to claim, that the rapists were Syrian Refugees. After the police arrested them, it came out that they were not Syrians. Though it quickly became clear that those events are not directly linked to the Islamic State, some media stations and political organizations like PEGIDA tried to show that the Syrian Refugees are bad people. ISIS is trying to establish an Islamic State, they want everybody to obey to Sharia – clearly, that is not the Syrians’ cause. Most of the civilians in Raqqa don’t approve this ideology. There are still more than a million civilians in Raqqa, and they stand united against this terror group. They can’t say anything against ISIS, because the surveillance system of the Islamic State is controlling them. But most of the civilians did not join them, and this is their only way to show resistance.
DK: What are your thoughts about other resistance forces in Syria? From 2012 to 2015, the number of participating groups increased dramatically.
AZ: Most of the Islamic state fighters came from Iraq and were early supporters of the Al-Nusra Front. No one knows anything about their background, so it is not very clear if they receive any direct support by any country, or not. Al-Nusra and ISIS are not working together, but they share the same ideas, the same views, same ideology. For us, the Assad, Putin, Nusra and ISIS – they are all the same. They are terrorists, who oppress Syrians day by day and commit horrible crimes against humanity.
Since the Russians began to directly intervene in Syria, their common cause became very clear. Both ISIS and Russia use the same propaganda, they want to annihilate all oppositional groups. Both say that they are not acting like terrorists, but indeed they are. Russia’s airstrikes primarily focus on oppositional groups, which fight against ISIS and the Assad-Regime alike. Assad’s barrel bombings and Russian airstrikes mostly target the remaining forces of the Free Syrian Army. They mainly bomb places of Syrian civilians, while ISIS or Al-Nusra are hundred kilometers away. Russia plans to defeat the Free Syrian Army and try to pretend, that there are only extremist groups left, to let the international community think they had to support the Syrian regime. Even in areas where ISIS-fighters are located, civilians are the main targets.
The same logic applies to the Islamic Republic of Iran. If it wasn’t for Iran, Assad would have had to step back on day one of the Syrian Revolution. There is an important economic relationship between Iran and Syria, so Iran was the first country to send about 5.000 foreign fighters for assisting the Regime against the Syrian uprising. But all of these fighters did not make a real change on the ground, so they asked Russia to intervene. After many months of Russian airstrikes, it became clear that the Russian involvement will not make a real change either, it will not stop the War in Syria.
DK: You said that Russian Airstrikes and Assad’s Barrel Bombs don’t target ISIS, but other oppositional groups. It seems that they have no real interest in defeating ISIS. How come?
AZ: It is clear that there are many links between the Assad-Regime and the Islamic State. When you look back to 2004, when the Iraq-war started, Assad assisted hundreds of jihadis entering Iraq from Syria – afterwards he arrested them again. Then, a year after the Syrian revolution had started, Assad freed those Islamic militants to let them undermine the protests, because Assad knew that his regime was very weak. They flowed out of the jails of the Syrian Regime and later became popular leaders of Islamic militant groups.
90 % of Syrian airstrikes and ISIS’ attacks go after the Free Syrian Army, they don’t attack each other. At the same time, there are many signs that ISIS and Assad are cooperating on many different fields. Our organization reported early about their business relations on oil and weapons smuggling. In areas, where ISIS dominates, they share their electricity with the Assad-Regime, but resist to make business with other oppositional groups: the same applies for cities like Al-Hasaka, where both ISIS and Assad rule.
For sure, Assad has been very interested in building up ISIS since the beginning of the war. Look at the totalitarian structures inside ISIS: They knows how to organize, they had a lot of money, especially oil and gas from the very beginning of their rise, they are not beginners, but professionals: They have engineers, doctors and military experts. Although there are problems inside ISIS, they try to cover behind their propaganda and their bloodlust. At the same time, they started to plan terrorist attacks in Europe to draw away the attention of their inner instability. And of course they need to recruit new fighters, so they mustn’t show any weakness.
DK: A few days ago, you participated in a demonstration in Berlin against the Russian involvement in Syria. What do you think of the role of western countries in the Syrian Civil War?
AZ: At first, Germany, Europe and the USA, should sit together to find a new strategy to defeat Assad and ISIS at the same time. Because if we defeat ISIS alone, it will not change anything, and if we defeat Assad alone, it will not change anything either.
The second thing would be to think more about Syria in general, care more about the crimes against humanity. We asked the German government to drop aid and food: that would be more helpful than dropping bombs on civilians. Actually, they said they will do it, but that it would take a long time. When they were asked to join the international coalition, it did not take them one day. This is hypocritical.
They are talking about the human rights, but they did not do anything. They want to stem the refugee flows, but only care about the control of their borders. The situation not only for refugees from Syria is very dangerous in Germany. At the moment, thousands of refugees are waiting to get help from the government, are waiting in lines to enter their camps. What the german government does not recognize: They are playing Assad’s game.
After the events in Cologne, Assad was very happy to see that the majority of German newspapers only talked about the flow of Syrian refugees, but not about the reason, why they went to Germany. Assad has an interest to push the narrative, that Syrian Refugees are the main problem of the ongoing crisis. Right-wing-parties like „Alternative für Deutschland“ or PEGIDA participated in many anti-refugee-demonstrations and expressed their solidarity with Assad and Putin. They share the same views on refugees and the Syrian Revolution.
DK: What are the next steps of your campaign?
AZ: In 2015, we received the International Press Award and it made us really happy. Even if we never thought of getting an award, it gave us hope that so many people got interested in our work. Although it is only an award, it meant a lot to us and we dedicated the price to our friends and relatives, who still live in Raqqa under the daily threats of ISIS. We decided to complete our work until Syria is free again from Assad and ISIS alike. We hope that one day, we can go back home, although we know that this war will take a long time – at least five or ten years – to be ended. But even if the war would find an end, we have to remember that a military solution can never be a real solution for Syria. Airstrikes won’t defeat ISIS, they will just harm more humans – the Russians know that. The biggest problem in Syria is not just to end the war, but to fight the ideology spread by ISIS and the Syrian Regime. Especially the children will be traumatized by the terror of ISIS, so it will take more steps and efforts to rebuild the country.
„Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently“ is not only a media organization – we have a lot of active campaigns inside the city. We publish political magazines inside Raqqa and support our friends with engage in resistance against the daily crimes committed by them. We don’t work for any political groups, or for army groups, but just for the Syrian civilians. We want to assist the Syrians, who live in Raqqa, in surviving and giving them information about the crimes of the Islamic State. The only way to accomplish peace in Syria is to stand with the civilians, which engage in peaceful resistance against Assad and the jihadist militants alike.