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Syrian Journalist: U.S., Russia, Iran and Turkey Helped Destroy Syria, Now They Must Help Fix It

Web ExclusiveMay 10, 2018
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Marwan Hisham is a Syrian journalist from Raqqa, now living in exile in Turkey. He became a journalist after first taking part in the initial protests against Bashar al-Assad in 2011. His new book is illustrated and co-authored by the award-winning artist Molly Crabapple. They first started collaborating in 2014, when Hisham was still living in ISIS-occupied Raqqa. He would send her photographs of life under ISIS, and she would draw illustrations of them. Their book is titled “Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War” and is out next week.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, with Part 2 of our discussion with Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple. They have a new book out. It is called Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War. Marwan Hisham is not his real name. He is a Syrian journalist, grew up in Syria, now speaking to us from Ankara, Turkey. Between them, they have written for The New York Times, The Intercept, Foreign Policy, Vanity Fair, The Paris Review. Molly has brilliantly illustrated, but also co-written, this book with Marwan, Brothers of the Gun. Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Marwan Hisham, one of the extremely instructive things that you do in this book is to give a far more complicated account of the different groups that now constitute the opposition in Syria. There’s a growing tendency, as you know, in reports here in the U.S., and not only in the U.S., to suggest that there are only two camps: There are those who support the Assad regime, and those who are opposed to the Assad regime. Your book gives a much more complex story. So, could you just tell us who is in the opposition now, and all the different countries who are involved in backing different factions of the opposition?

MARWAN HISHAM: So, the opposition now is a very wide umbrella. It’s politically very, very detached from military. I mean, the political opposition was formed mostly by diaspora Syrians, and then some activists joined them. But they do not have any power on the ground. They cannot change anything. They basically—they basically—some people think that they even work for other countries that—you know, the so-called friends of Syria.

And then you have the people on the ground who are taking arm and who are taking over areas. And those people themselves do not believe in that political opposition. And they’re mainly dominated, through time, by Islamist factions.

And then, what we are seeing is that we’ve seen lots of infighting between those groups and lots of—I mean, they started at different categories. They had different political orientation. Many of them basically had no map. They were just, you know, fighting the regime for—but no ideology to and no strategy to what’s going to happen next.

So, among this situation, I think the term “opposition” now is obsolete. I mean, some media even include ISIS as part of the opposition. So, yeah, and it’s really, really divided. It simplifies the situation of the—its space. I mean, also, people who support—who are anti-Assad are also so divided among themselves. And sectarianism like obviously plays a really important role here, unfortunately.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Marwan Hisham, can you talk about the key countries who are very heavily involved in Syria now—Russia, Iran, the U.S. and Turkey—and what they’ve done in Syria?

MARWAN HISHAM: Well, right now, we have three zones, different zones, of influence. The east of the Euphrates, which includes three provinces almost, they are under the protection of the United States and its allies, France and Britain. They have military bases there. And then we have an area of influence in the northwest, under Turkey’s protection. And the area that’s held by the regime is under Russia and Iran’s influence.

So, it’s a practically divided country, and we have almost like borders now, physical borders. Sometimes it’s really hard to travel from one territory to another. Those countries, especially those four countries—the United States, Russia, Iran and Turkey—had played different roles, mainly destructive roles. But they’re also—but they’re also part of the solution. They cannot—we cannot have a solution of the situation now without them, practically speaking, because they are the ones that control things on the ground. And the Syrian fighters, in all of those—in all of those territories, are practically reduced into proxies.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, of course, as you talk about proxies, Israel. I mean, and as we’re speaking, Israel has bombed dozens of Iranian targets inside Syria in the largest attack by Israel since fighting began in Syria in 2011, bombing raid coming a day after Israel accused Iranian forces in Syria of firing 20 rockets at Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights. So, if you could talk about what it means to you that your country, where you were born, is a proxy war for so many outside countries? And when you say all of these parties have to be at the table, how do you see this being resolved? Who coordinates this? Do you see Syria remaining as a single country?

MARWAN HISHAM: As I said, unfortunately, on the ground, it’s divided. And what’s worse than the physical borders that we have, we have borders in people’s minds. And those borders are more serious and more dangerous.

The term “Syria” now is kind of meaningless. People have different definition for it. Each party and its space basically claim to be, you know, the real Syrians. When Assad speaks about Syrians, he basically means people who support him, and entirely exclude the terrorists. So, I do not see any of those parties able in the near future to control the whole country.

And frankly, probably it’s better, because, I mean, people are all so divided, and almost every single person had an issue with one of those parties. So, at least when it is under different—you know, different parties’ control, if you have a problem the regime, you can live under the rebels or under the SDF and so on. This gives some space for people to go back to their homes.

But the only solution that I see that can—you know, and this is practically speaking, it’s not my wish. I wish, you know, the country be unified under a democratic process. But I think the best we can hope for is a kind of federal system, like autonomies here and there under one, you know, central government, something maybe similar to the KRG in northern Iraq. This may be, you know, the only solution that might be possible, possible at that—at this level. This is if we do not enter a new phase, when Israelis and the Iranians fighting on Syria’s ground and causing more devastation and more destruction to cities and death to people.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Marwan Hisham, just to be clear, as you pointed out earlier, these powers that are—external powers that are operating in Syria today, as you pointed out, as you have pointed out, the U.S.-backed coalition was responsible for destroying 90 percent of Raqqa, much like Russia did in Aleppo, and Turkey, as well. So could you speak specifically about those bombing campaigns—in Raqqa, in Aleppo and in al-Bab?

MARWAN HISHAM: So, the Syria regime, and then Russia, when Russia deployed troops, in 2015, pummeled Aleppo for years, for the eastern part of the city. And not a single building was left intact. And then they—when they retook it, basically, it was like unbelievably destroyed. And then, the—Turkey, when it captured al-Bab, I think half of the city was destroyed.

America started to—started its campaign against ISIS in a way that is less destructive under President Obama in 2014. But when the Trump administration came to power, they enforced what they called—what they called, I think, annihilation tactics, or something like that, which is basically—its effect on the ground was seen like clearly. They started to bomb indiscriminately, destroying whole neighborhoods and killing tens of thousands of people in the city of Raqqa. And by the time it was, quote-unquote, “liberated,” there was no city—I mean, just, you know, piles and piles of rubble and the smell of dead bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: Marwan Hisham is a Syrian freelance journalist based in Ankara, Turkey. His memoir, written in collaboration with artist and journalist Molly Crabapple, will be out next week. It’s titled Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War. The great writer Pankaj Mishra said, “Many books will be written on the war’s exhaustive devastation of bodies and souls, and the defiant resistance of many trapped men and women, but the Mahabharata of the Levant has already found its wisest chroniclers.” And here in this country, Angela Davis writes, “A revelatory and necessary read on one of the most destructive wars of our time.”

I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. To see Part 1 of our conversation with Marwan, you can go to, as well as Molly Crabapple. Stay with us.

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