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On Uprising’s Anniversary, a Syrian Opposition Voice Says Country is Victim of a Global Proxy War

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Today marks the second anniversary of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people and created at least one million refugees. We’re joined by Rim Turkmani, an astrophysicist and member of the Syrian Civil Democratic Alliance who’s in New York meeting with Security Council members discussing possible political solutions to the situation in Syria. Turkmani warns that Syrian voices for nonviolence are being ignored as foreign actors on both sides fuel an armed conflict. “There’s systematic efforts to marginalize people like us inside Syria and focus only on the armed rebels. And they are the ones now who are stealing all the headlines,” Turkmani says. “Why? Because, yes, there are certain actors, regional and international, who see this as proxy wars, and it’s an opportunity to fight their international opponents. It’s a struggle over Syria, over power, and the Syrians are falling victims to that.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show in Syria, where people are marking the second anniversary of the start of that country’s uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The unrest began peacefully on March 15, 2011, with nationwide protests following arrests in the southern city of Daraa. But over the past two years, the protest has grown into a bloody regional conflict. More than 70,000 people have died, and the humanitarian situation in the country is worsening.

A recent report has warned Syria’s children are perhaps the greatest victims of the ongoing civil war. The group Save the Children says more than two million children are facing disease, malnutrition and severe trauma. The number of Syrian refugees has recently topped one million.

This is U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

VALERIE AMOS: The rise in the number of refugees crossing the border, not just to Turkey but also into other neighboring countries, and the rise in the number of people inside Syria itself requiring help and support points to the serious deterioration in the situation inside Syria and the impact of the conflict and insecurity on ordinary women, men and children in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: As the crisis deepens, the Obama administration is increasing aid to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Washington Post recently reported the United States may provide military supplies, including body armor and armed vehicles.

Meanwhile, France and Britain are pushing the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria as soon as possible so they can start sending weapons to opposition groups. This is French President François Hollande speaking in Brussels at the European Union summit.

PRESIDENT FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE: [translated] We want the Europeans to lift the embargo on the weapons. This does not mean that we want to go toward total war. We believe a political transition must be the solution for Syria. But since we have to put pressure on and show we are ready to support the opposition, we have to go that far. That is what I will tell my European colleagues.

AMY GOODMAN: To find out more about the situation in Syria on the second anniversary of the Syrian uprising, we’re joined now by Rim Turkmani. She is a member of the Syrian Civil Democratic Alliance, an astrophysicist at Imperial College London. She is in New York meeting with Security Council members discussing possible political solutions to the situation in Syria.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Rim.

RIM TURKMANI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the situation there?

RIM TURKMANI: Indeed. As you say, I mean, the uprising started as a nonviolent uprising; however, because of the extreme violence, you know, the way the regime responded to this uprising, things developed very quickly into a very violent movement. However, there have been external actors who were supporting the arming of the opposition, and unfortunately that fueled the violence, increased dramatically the number of casualties, and turned the whole thing into more than a war, rather than a revolution. So nowaday, people don’t talk about democracy anymore. You don’t talk about the original rights and freedoms, which the people two years ago went to the street to protest for. We’re talking more about ending a war.

And I see all these statements, you know, from France and Britain, and even the U.S., are very contradicting and saying that we want to arm the rebels; however, we want a political solution. I mean, for me, a political solution means a peaceful solution. Peace can only be reached through peaceful ways, peaceful means, and can’t be used through fueling the violence. So, I don’t think their efforts will help in calming the situation or dropping the number of casualties in the country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how much of the international support for the resistance in Syria do you see as being more a result of the geopolitical needs of the various actors, the countries in the world scene, and how much of it really responding to the needs of the Syrian people?

RIM TURKMANI: It’s more of a geopolitical struggle, really, over Syria than responding to the needs of the people. I am a member of the opposition, as well. All my group, very active inside Syria, is in opposition, but it’s a nonviolent opposition. That is very clear in its aim to reach democracy. However, we don’t reach any—we don’t get any support. We are—there’s systematic efforts to marginalize people like us inside Syria and focus only on the armed rebels. And they are the ones now who are stealing all the headlines. Now, why? Because, yes, there are certain actors, regional and international, who see this as proxy wars, and it’s an opportunity to fight their international opponents. It’s a struggle over Syria, over power, and the Syrians are falling victims to that.

AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Norwegian counterpart Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Syria and how to deal with the country’s opposition groups.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: I’m not going to vouch on any process over which we don’t have control, but I will tell you that they are adamant, all of them, about what they’re fighting for. And the cause is the cause of the Syrian people. And they have committed themselves to a broad-based government that is going to represent all of the people of Syria, even as there may be some dissension as to tactics or process among them. So, you have to have some patience in this process, even as you approach it with care. And I think that’s exactly what we’re doing.

We want to stop the killing. And they want to stop the killing. The world wants to stop the killing. And we want to be able to see Assad and the Syrian opposition come to the table for the creation of a transitional government according to the framework that was created in Geneva, the Geneva Protocol, which requires mutual consent on both sides to the formation of that transitional government. That’s what we’re pushing for.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Secretary of State John Kerry. Rim Turkmani, your response?

RIM TURKMANI: No, I very much support what he said about working on the framework of the Geneva communiqué of June last year. It’s all what we are arguing for, as well. However, after that communiqué, all the states which signed up to it, they all moved in different directions. They said they were committing to nonviolent struggle and to send monitors for ceasefire; however, they all went in completely different directions, even after monitors were sent inside Syria. Some of these states were actively working to pull out the monitors, and that led to the escalation of violence and dramatically increasing the death toll.

Going back to the framework of Geneva, which John Kerry mentioned, means also a new security resolution to send monitors inside Syria. They are desperately needed. We need monitors, because right now the regime and also some members of the armed opposition, they think they can get away with anything. They’re anonymous. Nobody is watching. There are not even journalists. So, there is a strong need for monitors, even for nonviolent monitors. I mean, it looks like sending monitors through the U.N. mandate is very complicated. We’ll have to wait for the consent of all the states. In the meantime, we cannot wait. The situation is very critical in Syria. This is where I see the nonviolent peace force can play a very, very important role right now, because they can deploy nonviolent monitors straightaway. I’m very confident that will help peace and stability in Syria, because we brokered so many local peace deals, and they fell apart because there was nobody monitoring.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And on the issue of the ascendancy of the armed options in terms of the revolution in Syria, I want to turn to comments made by the Syrian National Council regarding the French and British proposal to lift the arms embargo on Syria. This is SNC leader George Sabra.

GEORGE SABRA: This is a good step towards the right way, and we are looking to see the result of this statement on the—on the ground. Syrian people deserve to get this kind of support, especially from friends of Syria, like France.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And meanwhile, SNC executive member and deputy chair of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Farouq Tayfur, expressed disappointment at the U.S. position.

FAROUQ TAYFUR: [translated] We thank France and Great Britain for their efforts, but we are saddened by the U.S. objection.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So your response to both of these comments?

RIM TURKMANI: Well, these rebels are facing a state army, a very strong state army. So, this tiny support of arming, you know, getting from the U.K. and France, is certainly not going to lead to a major victory. And it’s not going to change even the balance of forces on the ground. It’s only going to increase the death toll. For me, any arm going into Syria is going to be used by a Syrian to kill another Syrian. So at the end of the conflict, that will leave—will leave me with more work to do, the reconciliation, and it will leave me with a society that is divided into winners and losers. And we’ve seen the consequences in Iraq. When you leave a society with winners and losers, one of them will show resilience to the other and, you know, spend years and years trying to stabilize the country, and it just doesn’t work. You know, things get—erupt again and again, and more people die.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, in addition to Rim Turkmani, our guest in studio, member of the Syrian [Civil] Democratic Alliance, here meeting with the United Nations, we are going to be joined by Reese Erlich, who’s just back from Saudi Arabia, a freelance correspondent. We’ll be back with both of them in a minute.

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