Samar Yazbek to RFI “There are no words to describe what I saw in Syrian prisons”
She is now one of the best known faces of the Syrian revolt. The novelist and journalist Samar Yazbek left her country in July 2011. She now lives in Paris. Despite her belonging to the Alawite community, the Shia minority to which also belongs the family al-Assad, she joined the protest against the Regime. Arrested several times, the authorities forced her to visit prisons where demonstrators were detained. A descent into hell that she narrated in the Arab press. Samar Yazbek calls for her community to dissociate itself from the regime that continues to characterize the demonstrators as “armed bands”.
RFI: Samar Yazbek, in Syria demonstrations continue almost on a daily basis, and from Paris you support this revolt.
Samar Yazbek: The Syrian revolt is a peaceful revolt, legitimate. It is the revolt of defenseless and peaceful people. They want justice and equality. They want to live in dignity. But the regime’s response was brutal, and criminal. It is determined to kill… They are a bunch of criminals.
What do you think of the response of the international community?
I think it is weak in general. It is as if the international community, despite the condemnations of principle, closed their eyes to what is going on over there. All these daily killings come to broad day light when people demonstrate peacefully for their rights. They are suppressed, killed, arrested, kidnapped. This is all still covered by the Arab countries, Europe and America. Even if recently condemnations grew in scope, in my opinion, they remain timid and inadequate.
You say you did not immediately join the protest movement. What finally made you decide to?
Actually, my position has never changed. I am a novelist, and my novels already dealt with the military power of the dictatorship. I described how the army took control of society, undermined it from within and eventually turned into a slave society. That’s why I support this revolt, it is part of me. When people were out on the street, I was with them.
You yourself have been arrested. What did you see when the authorities forced you to visit detainees in their cells?
I saw the young men who were arrested. I saw them languishing in their cells. On their bodies, I saw the marks of absolutely intolerable practices. Young people who had been subjected to torture. They made me get into the cells. Their bodies were covered with blood. The features of their faces could no longer be distinguished. They were faces without eyes, nose, or mouth. Some were screaming. It’s as if I were in a slaughter house. It was horrifying … there are no words to describe what I saw.
Why do you think they subjected you to this treatment, showing you the torture?
They wanted to scare me at first. And then they wanted me to relay the official line: that the revolt is not peaceful. As an Alawite they hoped that my voice would join the official line and that I would side with the regime.
As an Alawite, precisely, do you consider that the regime has betrayed the soul and the identity of your community?
Of course. It’s obvious and that’s what I’ve always said. It has betrayed the principles of faith and the principles of the Alawite community, first of all. This faith has nothing to do with the regime. The regime is using the Alawite community as a human shield. They want to push the Syrian Alawite brothers to kill but did not succeed so far. For the Syrians are not duped by the regime’s maneuvers to plant divisions among them.
How do you explain the silence of the Alawite community so far?
There is a real attempt on behalf of the Regime to rally it. First, using the media to relay false information. The Syrian media are lying. They claim that the revolution is a Sunni revolution against them Alawites. This is a lie. It is only a revolt of the hungry and humiliated Syrians for dignity. The Regime is putting a lot of effort for the Alawite to side with it, because among the demonstrators, there are many people like me who belong to this community and have joined the revolt.
Do you fear a civil war in your country?
I have long feared that possibility. But I now dismiss it as protesters continue to proclaim the peaceful nature of their revolt. The Regime has incited some to take up arms but they refused. They continued to show their bare hands in demand of their rights. The Regime kills them, arrests them, strikes them, and the next day, they are back on the streets to protest.Therefore, I believe that civil war does not threaten Syria.
We have a tradition here in France. Writers who engage in politics. Is your call to your Alawite brothers political?
It is primarily a moral appeal. When the rebellion will end and the regime will fall, I will disappear again, I will return to my books. But after witnessing the massacres in my country, I could not keep quiet and wanted to convey the suffering the Syrian regime makes it endure. But I am far from politics, and I do not wish to enter it.
As a woman, and as a woman of culture, how do you imagine the future of Syria?
I think Syria is going through a difficult period. Historically, dictatorships, totalitarian regimes and tyrannies have left behind a lot of problems. But I believe in a better future: despite the difficulties and the extent of the blows the Syrians are now enduring to take their freedom from the hands of the dictatorship. This is better than continuing to live under this Regime. I see a better future but I fear that we have to live another few years of chaos.
For the French original version, click on this link.