Firas Fayyad is a Syrian born filmmaker and journalist spent eight months in prisons around Damascus in 2011 after filming a movie focusing on the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria. He was arrested and tortured by Syrian security force because of his activism and his opposition to Bashar al-Assad. Osservatorio Mashrek had interview with him about the conflict and the future of Syria.
(by Leonida Reitano) ISIS is losing ground in Syria and Iraq, but has intensified its attacks in Europe. What do you think about this?
ISIS lost quite a number of areas under their control but in turn took over the new areas controlled by FSA. Russian strikes have targeted the area under the control of the Free Syrian Army and have aided ISIS to step int. In practical terms, the loss of ISIS were not as significant as has been promoted. The biggest losers are the moderate opposition, who have been the real target for Russian air strikes. For the Syrians the Russian strikes made them lose confidence in the existence of any solution to the conflict, make them think that this war will be long, and they will be the only loser, so they have decided to flee to Europe. If we want to know the real result of the Russian strikes we have to consider the numbers of refugees who have left Syria between the beginning of the strikes and the Russian withdrawal from Syria.
Does anyone in Syria talked about the relationship between ISIS and Assad? Are there trusted sources which ever talked or discussed openly on this topic?
With the beginning of peaceful protests in 2011, the Assad regime has released a large number of detainees on terrorism charges and they later formed the nucleus of extremist groups and contributed to the migration of foreign fighters across the EU, U.S and Middle East to Syria to expand their power. On the other hand, there were a lot of the recruits, to the benefit of the regime, who were part of ISIS and the Assad regime. These recruits were arrested by FSA with documents which link them to Assad’s intelligence.
The European Countries (Turkey, France, Belgium) that suffered ISIS attacks are the one most involved against ISIS. You see a connection on this?
At first I would like to say that my heart is with the victims of Brussels, France, Turkey. These attacks are horrifying the majority of Syrians as they feel that everything happening affects their ability and their desire to integrate into the countries of asylum as citizens. What is happening in Europe is the result of the conflict with ISIS which is true in the first face, however there are many faces or reflections and reasons can be taken seriously. Firstly, they recruit young men to ISIS. This is the result of the European problems and the continent’s inability to deal with young muslims. This raises many questions; Who does the process of recruitment?; How is this process done?;
How much time is spent on the recruitment process? Has this happened as a result of three years of ISIS or has it occurred over a long period of time behind the scenes.? Secondly this result is directly linked with European reactions about the situation in Syria and the way European governments have dealt with the main problem; Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Let me go through some statements from the Syrian regime since the 2011 revolution and before the European bombings to think about it a little bit and think about the real beneficiary of the results of such attacks. In October 2011 the Mufti of the regime, Badr al-Din Hassoun, the closet person to Assad came out in a threatening speech to European countries. In this speech he threatened to send suicide bombers into European territories stating: “The first shell will fall on Syria, will see each and every one of her sons and daughters to be suicide bombers on the territory of Europe.” As Bashar al-Assad he stated that Europe will pay a heavy price in response to its “support of terrorism” and said in a tv speech: “And soon we will see that the Arab, regional and Western countries that supported terrorism will pay an heavy price.”
What is the Italian role in the Syrian crisis? Do you feel that Italy is supporting the fight against Assad or adopting a more ambiguous policy in comparison to other Western countries?
Italy’s position is very vague on the Syrian issue and it I could not find a clear and explicit position, particularly towards the protection of civilians. In addition to this, Italy has positioned itself in support for Russia and in-turn shows Italy is standing by Assad (but as a proxy). Italy’s support for Russia’s intervention effectively means that they are supporting the Assad regime and recognise the legitimacy of the Assad regime. This has contributed to the continuation of the killing of civilians and effectively enabled the killing of more civilians. This has caused a refugee crisis as civilians realised that with such Italian and Russian support to Assad he will never be removed and therefore they cannot return or stay in Syria.
There are any rumours in Syria that Italy is smuggling weapons to support Assad fight?
There are no concrete documents about Italian weapons being used by the Syrian regime for murdering civilians now. However over the past period before the beginning of the revolution in Syria in 2011, the Syrian regime was importing plenty of weapons from Italy which are now being used to kill civilians. The Syrian people resistance forces are convinced that the weapons are going through intermediaries. However it will take time for it to be disclosed on those who have been involved in the killing of civilians in Syria as well as to uncover the causes of the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe and give an answer to the extreme right who scream about stopping refugees streams.
Italy was strongly supporting the involvement of Russia in the solution process of the Syrian Conflict. What’s your opinion about it?
Let us look at the results of the Russian involvement to know how Italy’s support for the Russians has impacted Syrian civilians in Syria. This period is between Russian raids since its military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015 until the date of the Moscow Declaration withdrawing its troops from Syria at 15 March 2016. Russian attacks have killed 1984 civilians, including 443 children, and 286 woman, and 11 of the medical staff, and 5 journalists (some of them my colleagues.) Russian attacks which targeted civilian sites formed 85% of the total attacks, and all of these sites were outside the control of ISIS and the Al-Qai’da. Inflicting strategic blows on the armed moderate opposition (FSA) and allowing ISIS to take control of area controlled by Free Syrian Army. How does this happen? When Russia is bombing areas under control of the armed opposition, it is causing the decline of the F.S.A. These strategic locations were weakened and destroyed and without any protection, as a result of Russian strikes from the sky, then ISIS have come to dominate them. Russia consider all that is outside the control of the Assad regime as terrorist havens and that all combat forces fighting Assad are terrorist groups, excluding Kurdish forces (or as we call it the Syrian-backed Kurdish militia al-Assad and Russia) who predominantly fight with the Assad regime rather than against it. Since the emergence of Kurdish forces as a faction on the ground, Assad has not announced any tactical or strategic confrontations between these groups and the the loyalist forces. As a result, these militant Kurdish groups have been overlooked as Russia pound other rebel positions. In the end the Russians get their information from Assad’s intelligence, and Assad has determined everything because he is communicating with the Russians with high confidence. The Russians cannot understand the reality on the ground if there was no allies determining areas to bombard and their coordinates. It is a fact that the Russian intervention is designed to expand the control of ISIS forces and the Assad regime in areas that had once been a centre for civil movements, secure places for residents of civilians, and moderate voices who reject Assad’s rule. Russian intervention has led to a surge in migration to Europe since its entry into the conflict, Italian policymakers’ support for Russia has increased the civilian death toll, and catalysed Assad’s scorched earth policy which is levelling entire cities. If anyone was to ask why this unprecedented number of Syrians are pouring into the EU, we should look at Italian policymakers’ support for Russia’s military policy in Syria.