by Sachi Twine
Tonight, The MacMillan Center and the Council on Middle East Studies presented a talk by Samar Yazbek in the Luce Hall Auditorium. Yazbek is a Syrian journalist, activist, and harsh critic of President Bashar al-Assad’s totalitarian regime. In her new book, A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution, she presents her own observations of the bloody 2011 uprising, as well as the accounts of young revolutionaries.
As an Alawite dissident, Yazbek was harassed by Assad’s security forces until she eventually fled Syria with her daughter at the height of military brutality. Although Syrian journalists have been killed for broadcasting footage of the violence, Yazbek herself snuck in and out of Syria via smuggling roads in an effort to reveal the truth. In her talk today, Yazbek sought to clarify the roots of the uprising, correct misconceptions about the conflict, and urge people to do what they can to aid an oppressed people.
The audience, composed of about thirty students and community members, some from Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey, received Yazbek warmly. Yazbek spoke passionately, her translator seated by her side. She first discussed the events that finally set off the stirring revolution, namely the March 2011 arrest of fifteen children in Dar’a who wrote an anti-regime slogan on their school’s wall. Demonstrations followed, both in the heart of Damascus and on the countryside. Although they were peaceful, protesters were met with military brutality and gunshots. Yazbek herself was brought to jail and witnessed the torture activists endured. “I saw the young men like carcasses in a slaughterhouse. They hung them from the ceiling all night long,” she recalled.
Yazbek insists that the sectarian war portrayed by the media is not an accurate depiction of the conflict. “Peaceful demonstrations at the start of the uprising included all ethnicities of Syrian society,” she explained. Although some dangerous, well-funded groups of Jihadists and Salafists are now prominent instigators of attacks, Yazbek believes that these extremist brigades were planted by the Assad regime. By inciting purposeful massacres explained by fabricated, sectarian motives, Bashar al-Assad could justify his army’s prolonged violence as a war against terrorists.
But Yazdek is confident in the ability of the Free Syrian Army to defeat Assad’s military. Despite the defector’s simple weaponry, she shared, they have consistently dominated the official army in ground combat. Yazdek believes the Free Syrian Army could prevail with the implementation of a no-fly zone to deter Assad’s air force from bombarding cities and towns. However, she questions the willingness of foreign leaders to support this initiative.
When a Syrian audience member and long-time New Haven resident spoke up, fervently encouraging listeners to support his homeland through letter-writing campaigns or lobbying, Yazbek echoed his appeal. “The whole world is sharing this silent crime,” she added, hoping students will take the initiative to put pressure on their governments.
Of course, Yazbek acknowledges that the fall of the Assad regime will not result in immediate peace and prosperity. Most likely, a governmental upheaval will produce a period of chaos typical of societies undergoing historic change. Although ages of oppression will not easily give way to democracy, Yazbek is confident that the Free Syrian Army and young activists will be prepared for that day when it comes.
Sachi Twine is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.