The opposition inside Syria opposes foreign intervention, while some leaders of the external opposition – who left the country decades ago and lack popular support – see intervention as a way to return, argues Agnes Mariam, a local Christian leader.
The internal, unarmed civilian opposition – which does not belong to any party – wants change, but without violence and widespread destruction, stressed Mariam, the Mother Superior of the monastery of James the Mutilated in Syria’s Qara.
RT: You’ve been in Syria for 12 years. Has there been a difference in your work these years, and in the recent months of uprisings and violence?
Agnes Mariam: Of course, we’ve been facing a reality that is becoming more and more tragic and dramatic. It is a real dissent. For us it was new because we’ve worked in Syria for restoration of the monastery since 1994.
We could really appreciate the security in Syria, which of course is imposed by a regime that is very strong and sometimes sort of totalitarian. But nevertheless, the reality is that everybody was living in security.
When the uprising began we were very happy, because we always felt that there was a need for a change. But very quickly we got bad news from local witnesses from Daraa, Homs and Damascus.
Those civilians, without any political position, they were telling us stories that were contrary to what we saw on the television. So we took position for the objective truth, the real information and also for solidarity, because slowly by slowly, you had to help opposition when there were hundreds of people detained.
RT: So you were also helping the opposition?
AM: Yes, to what we call the internal, civilian opposition, which does not belong to any party and is not armed. We used to have only peaceful demonstrations. In our village, we helped to free people. Also, if there was a need for humanitarian help. We even had opposition meetings in our monastery. And the first appeal for dialogue and reconciliation was in our monastery.
RT: You’re very well aware of the criticism that has been thrown your way. What is your relationship with the Assad regime?
AM: I have no relationship with the regime. We’re a religious entity, and our authority is religious. It is not political or even civilian. We had a mainstream reporter that came to Syria, and for a while I went with him on the scene in December . Then in January, I asked to go to the opposition camp where I could help as an eyewitness.
In the beginning, we did not even know who all those people were. They were one of the unidentified armed gangs. We didn’t know who they were, but they were spreading chaos, disorder, killings and abductions. They knew many kinds of methods to destabilize a country. and also how to implement a kind of preparation for a civil war.
For example, they would kill targeted people, Alawi for example. I have seen in Homs a flock of blood because a day before those unidentified gangs beheaded nine Alawi people – just because they were Alawi. I saw it with my own eyes.
I asked the Sunni population, “Who do you think perpetrated those crimes?” but they did not know. They said those people were dressed as soldiers. Do you think they could be [Assad’s] soldiers?
What do you want me to do? I cannot shut up. If nobody is reporting this, I feel that if I know it and do not report it, I’m helping the criminals. And after, even Human Rights Watch began to talk about things perpetrated by armed insurrectionists affiliated with the opposition. They were crimes against humanity.
RT: The Syrians in general – do they want regime change?
AM: I think yes. The regime has fallen, and there will never ever be the same regime again.
The Christians have been discriminated against not because they are Christians, but because by being Christians they couldn’t participate in Islamist demonstrations. Sometimes, this led to severe violence against them. You know, we had more than 200,000 Christians that had to flee out [of Syria] because of this ambiguous position.
We have to discern between the external [and internal] opposition. Some of the opposition leaders outside of Syria, they have never been back to Syria for 30 years. So they don’t have popular support. They want to be able to come, but with the help of foreign military intervention.
But we have an interior opposition which doesn’t want this kind of intervention. They want changes, but without violence and without destroying everything.
RT: When we talk about a solution, a third way in this conflict, how is this going to happen given that there are a lot of guns in the streets? How can this solution work, and what exactly can be done?
AM: There is a lot of violence, as you know. But it is not everywhere in Syria. The violence is happening near the borders, and is following a specific plan. But in the inner country, you have a large number of people and lands which are not under violence. Also, even in the cities, where there is violence, they have tasted so much of what could be [in Syria] if the country follows Iraq, which is now completely destroyed.
Many of the opposition are beginning to think and to say that that violence is not the way.
Over the last year, more than 1,000 have been invited to the Sahara tourist complex [in Damascus] to think about this third way. The name of this third way is the ‘Musalaha initiative.’ The Musalaha initiative does not come from the opposition or the regime, it comes from the silent majority of the Syrian people, from the leaders of families, tribes and clans. And also from religious leaders.
They met together, and they were very active discussing challenges that nobody can solve but them.
For example, in Homs you had many families completely trapped on the streets and controlled by the [external] opposition. The army was going to bomb them, so they were in great danger. They were trapped for one month, and nobody knew what to do. So Musalaha intervened. They had relatives both among the opposition and among people on the streets. They held secret negotiation and [the people trapped on the streets] could make it out.
RT: There are other Catholic Christian figures who don’t agree with you. They think Syrians need outside help and intervention, yet you both are from the same [Catholic] community. What do you think of this?
AM: I want to say that the Syrian people should define themselves what they want. My claim is: Leave the Syrian people alone! The majority of the Syrian people want change, but the change through peace, dialogue and reconciliation.
I hope that the social tissue in Syria is so strong that they will make a new social pact on a new basis, without the ideology of political parties. It will be stronger, it will be better and it is open to a new future, full of contemporaneous achievements.
And I hope this with the blessing of Patriarch [of the Russian Orthodox Church] Kirill. I give him all my respect and salutation as a believer.