Samar Yazbek, journalist, author and winner of an English PEN Writers in Translation award, turns our attention back to Syria, the cynicism of the regime, the influence of outside powers, and how these combine at a great cost to the people
Translated from the Arabic by Emily DanbyThree years have passed since the start of the Syrian uprising, enough time to transform the citizens’ peaceful calls for democracy into a two-sided, armed conflict comprising all manners of criminality and human rights abuse.Bashar al-Assad’s regime stands alone as it faces the results of what has happened in Syria: total and unprecedented damage to the country’s infrastructure. The most serious harm has been to the nation’s social fabric and civil harmony, committed in order for the regime to keep its grip on power. The regime has sustained this grip with the help of countries from around the world that have chosen to conspire with the regime for their own benefit, rather than choose the humanitarian option of rescuing a people standing up to systematic execution. As a result, the concept of revolution has lost its meaning and revolution has become war: a battle between multiple armed factions, among which Jihadist groups are playing the major role. Syrian society – and the nature of its struggle – has been transformed because of the violent subjugation by Assad. Syria has become a dark and taunted society where the only contending urges are to kill and to stay alive.Behind all of this is the sectarian problem, exploited by the regime through a form of tribalism in which the policies of expulsion and sectarian massacre have been brutally implemented. The aim has been to turn the revolution away from its goal of establishing democracy, and to attract a form of Sunni Jihadist fanaticism that will stand in confrontation with the Alawite equivalent.So, the Assad regime is continuing its hard-line siege of all areas refusing to surrender to its rule. Women and children are dying of hunger in areas previously controlled by armed resistance groups. Government aircrafts have launched an assault of rockets and bombs against rebel areas and targeted some of them with chemical weapons, as was the case in Ghouta in August 2013. Such towns have become open graves, engulfing all civilians who had not fled their homes.The revolution has strayed from its goal of establishing democracy, and Syria has become a nation still united but threatened with the possibility of division. Among the ranks of the armed resistance, various opposing factions have appeared, none of which express nationalist ideals with the same fervour as they do their non-nationalist visions, such as that of an Islamic state, visions tucked in their gun cartridges… This is the result that Assad has been striving for, during three years of relentless killing and continued incitement to all manner of violence between countrymen. Assad’s behaviour in this respect earns him status as one of the most notable war criminals in human history. This all brings the Syrian crisis to its most complex point yet, where the fighting threatens to grow into a war that would turn the country into a single mass grave, one for Syrians of every political orientation – pro-government and rebel alike.It’s worth mentioning that there are still many proponents of civic democracy within the uprising. Among these are human rights campaigners, activists, and others working with people on the ground. However, due to the lack of support and funds to implement their proposals they do not constitute a very influential movement, not when compared with the well-funded militias and Islamists. Moreover, the voices of these moderates are dispersed, since they have proven unable to create a strong, united movement; meanwhile the political entity representing the revolution remains weak and divided.Neither is there any sign of volition from the international community to help and protect those remaining in Syria. All indications suggest that the world and its governments have agreed to let the conflict take its most protracted and violent course. The international community seems to think its only option is to endure the continued killing of Syrian civilians caught between two sets of suicidal nihilists: the regime and the armed Jihadists. The world and its governments will one day have to witness their shameful place in the history books, when they have ceased watching the slaughter in silent neutrality. About the author
Samar Yazbek is a Syrian writer and journalist, born in Jableh in 1970. She is the author of several works of fiction. Her novel, Cinnamon, is to be published by Arabia Books later this year. An outspoken critic of the Assad regime, Yazbek has been deeply involved in the Syrian uprising since it broke out on 15 March 2011. Fearing for the life of her daughter she was forced to flee her country and now lives in hiding. Her book A Woman in the Crossfire published by Haus won an English PEN Writers in Translation award in 2012. She was also chosen as the PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage in 2012, sharing the prize with the British winner Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
About the translator
Emily Danby is a translator of literary and media Arabic with a particular interest in women’s writing and the literature of the Levant. After graduating from the University of Oxford, Emily became an apprentice on the British Centre for Literary Translation mentorship scheme and has since worked on translations of fiction by authors from Sudan, Palestine and the Levant. Emily has collaborated with Samar Yazbek in translating a number of her works of journalism and fiction.