Freedom or Fear: Voices from Idlib

Assad's offensive on the last remaining rebel territory
Analysis11.09.2018Dirk Kunze, Yara Asmar
Streets of Idlib
The calm before the storm? Idlib's streets this weekendSyrian Activist M.D.

While the international attention was directed towards the results of the Tehran Summit that was held last Friday between Russia, Iran and Turkey, the citizens of Idlib took the streets to express their commitment to the initial values of the Syrian revolution and their refusal to rejoin the Syrian regime. In this respect, the attack on Idlib will result not only a tragic humanitarian crisis but also the extinction of the last sparkles of the Syrian Spring. 

Holding the Syrian revolution flags and screaming against the Assad regime, the citizens of Idlib revived the spirit of the Syrian revolution that broke out in 2011. Millions of people took the streets to express their unwillingness to reintegrate their city in the nation of Bashar El Assad, as described by some. In their slogans and anthems, the fear of mutual Russian and Iranian attacks was not reflected. However, initiating peaceful demonstrations came as message to the world “to show that they are normal people not necessary terrorists”, as described by the United Nations special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura at the Security Council.  

On September 7th, 2018, Russia, Turkey and Iran met on one table in Tehran, to discuss the future of Idlib, northwest province of Syria. This summit came after the visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Bashar El Assad in Damascus where he expressed Tehran’s expectation of a military offensive attack on the last opposition stronghold.
However, Iran’s position was not received positively by the Turkish ally. In this respect, the three-way summit was concluded last Friday with a rejection of Turkey’s ceasefire proposal by Russia and Iran. Erdogan’s refugees’ concerns did not meet with Putin and Rouhani’s interests in liberating the last ‘terrorist-occupied province’ in Syria.

On the other side, and despite the international warnings of a humanitarian crisis in Idlib, the results of the urgent meeting in the Security Council that was held also on Friday indicate unescapable military attacks to be expected. Consequently, De Mistura called for ‘safe corridors’ for civilians who want to escape to safe zones and proposed to set a deadline for the fighters of Haye’t Tahrir El Sham and Jabhat El Nusra to move away from populated areas before the launch of the attack.

Between the negotiations of the major actors in the region and the concerns of the international community, a main voice is missing again from the table of conversations; the voice of the Syrian people. What is going on in Idlib? What is the position of the residents of Idlib? What are their demands and choices? All these questions are worth answering as the international community is witnessing a reorganization of the societal structure of a people who chose at certain point in history to change path and seek freedom.

Streets of Idlib II
This weekend's air raids were concentrated in Idlib's southern suburbs Syrian Activist M.D.

‘We do not care. We certainly do not want to reconcile with the Assad regime’ 

M.D.

The Voice of Idlib

‘We do not care. We certainly do not want to reconcile with the Assad regime’, with these words M.D a Syrian filmmaker and civil society activist summarized the general position of the citizens of his city Idlib to FNF Lebanon and Syria. He added that the economy of Idlib has rebounded since the break out of the revolution in 2011. Consequently, the city started attracting the opposition forces from different surrendered areas such as Homs, Hamma and Eastern Ghouta. According to M.D, Idlib cannot go back and kneel down to the Assad regime after all the atrocities that were committed against the Syrian people. ‘We demand the independence of Idlib from the nation of Assad […] reconciliation is not an option otherwise we would have reconciled with him in other cities’, M-D added.

Under the slogan ‘Our choice is resistance’ (#خيارنا_المقاومة), the citizens of Idlib gathered on Friday in the streets to protest not only against Bashar El Assad but against the international community  whose decisions and resolutions are pushing for more displacement within Syria and aggravating the refugees’ crisis, according to protesters. In this respect, M.D explains that the people of Idlib do not want to settle the conflict peacefully as long as the Assad regime is involved. The peaceful solution resides in accepting Idlib as an independent province under the guardianship of Turkey.

The international fuzz that was created around the result of the Tehran summit did not affect the citizens who are still refusing to move from their city despite the uncoordinated Russian strikes on Friday and Saturday.

The International Responsibility

Similarly to the determination of the citizens of Idlib, the Syrian regime is not ready to compromise with any of its actions. Backed military by Russia and Iran, the regime is focusing on one main goal: destruction of the opposition. Additionally, it is in the interest of Russia to end this financially excessive commitment.

The absence of room for reconciliation on all sides, therefore, only allows for a gloomy prognosis for the conflict to settle peacefully. The Security Council meeting on Friday ended with a set of preparations to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Syria. However, and despite the warnings, the citizens of Idlib were woken up on Saturday by Russian strikes considered to be the most violent since their involvement in Syria. In this context, it is worth asking ‘where are the other major players from this situation?’ According to the Professor of international law at Notre Dame University Dr. Dany Ghossoub, other forces cannot intervene to reduce the effect of the strikes without a clear decision made by the Security Council. Russia and Iran are using the request of Al Assad for backup in order to justify their intervention in Syria. In this respect, the international community should choose between two things, either the respect of the Arab Republic of Syria sovereignty or the safety of the Syrian people. Russia and Iran disregarded the Security Council’s request of creating safety corridors and setting deadlines for the military groups to move away from civilians. Consequently, and in order to avoid this humanitarian crisis, should other forces prepare for an unprompted intervention? Or is there, still, a chance for a peaceful settlement through the use of political diplomatic tools to pressure the Assad Regime through its allies Iran and Russia?
For the people of Idlib, there is hardly more time to answer these questions.

Please click here to access M.D. eyewitness account.

Dirk Kunze, Head of Office Lebanon and Syria.

Yara Asmar, Senior Project Manager Lebanon and Syria .